Departing Newcastle Falcons lock James Hudson has revealed longer-term ambitions of a career in sports nutrition, when his playing days come to an end.
The 31-year-old hopes that will not be for some time yet, having signed for Gloucester, but is not missing a trick when it comes to the bigger picture.
Hudson said: “I want to work in sports nutrition, with athletes and clubs. That is the plan.
“I did my first degree and my masters in biochemistry, and since then I have done the International Olympic Committee diploma in sports nutrition. I have been trying to do a research project and have made some good contacts at places like Northumbria University, but you can’t really do an intervention study during the middle of a season.
“I have done a bit with some of the Falcons boys, working with food diaries and things like that, and the strength and conditioning coaches have been a huge help. It is looking at recovery and things like that, but it is an interesting area and one I am keen to pursue.”
Using his time at Newcastle wisely, the England Saxons lock added: “I have been lucky enough with the Falcons Community Foundation to get into a few schools, and speak to their top-end sports pupils. It is good practice for me in terms of doing my nutritionist stuff, and one of the things I always cover with that age group is supplement use.”
Use of nutritional supplements in elite sport is commonplace, but Hudson has been alarmed by some of what he has found. He said: “Right up to first-team level you have to educate players on issues like safety, and it always amazes me when you sit with a group of 14 to 18-year-olds and ask them who uses supplements.
“The number of hands going in the air is typically quite a few, but after I have shown them a video or talked them through a few things the reaction can be quite different.
“It is just trying to make them aware of things like contamination issues, and even though they are generally not drug-tested athletes at that age there is still a safety issue in terms of what they are putting into their bodies.
“In a lot of cases they are taking stuff they don’t even need, and until guys are 18 there is no real necessity for them to be taking anything.”
The former Bath and London Irish man added: “The education stuff I work on with them is about getting everything you need by eating the right foods, and supplements only really have a place in certain situations in elite sport.
“Examples of that would be where you physically can’t get enough food into your body to get the calories you need, certain times of the year where you are maximising recovery between multiple sessions in the same day. Kids of 16 to 18 are generally training once a day, maximum, so it is not like professional rugby where we can train three times a day. Managing their intake around that is the key.
“During my time at the Falcons we had a great partner in Optimum Nutrition, with whom we worked very closely. We knew exactly what was in every single product they gave us, it was all batch-tested and they don’t make products which are just there for the sake of it.
“For kids who perhaps don’t know what they are after they can flick open a Men’s Health or Muscle and Fitness magazine, where a steroid-using body-builder is posing and telling them to take a certain supplement to make them stronger, faster or whatever.
“The pressure on them to be bigger and stronger is there quite early on, and in some cases they are leaving themselves open to being caught out by not really understanding what they are putting into their bodies.”