Performance Nutrition – Insights and Learnings
The COM-B model of behaviour change is widely used to identify what factor needs to change in order for a behaviour change intervention to be effective. The model cites capability (C), opportunity (O), and motivation (M) as three key factors capable of changing behavior (B). Recently, we were joined by Gavin Rackard, Lead Performance Nutritionist at Connacht Rugby, for a webinar focused on ‘Performance Nutrition: Practical Insights and Learnings from Professional Sport’.
Throughout his discussion with Setanta’s PJ Wilson, Gavin discussed his own nutritional philosophy, focused on ‘empowering people I work alongside with a set of skills and knowledge to help them build excellent habits and do the basics to the highest standard every day.’
Below is an outline on how Gavin utilises the COM-B model of behaviour change in his performance nutrition philosophy with the teams and athletes he works with.
The COM-B Model Applied to Performance Nutrition in Connacht Rugby
As mentioned above, there are three key factors capable of changing behaviour. These factors interact overtime so that behaviour can be seen as part of a dynamic system with positive and negative feedback loops. Capability refers to an individual’s psychological and physical ability to participate in an activity. Opportunity refers to external factors that make a behavior possible. Lastly, motivation refers to the conscious and unconscious cognitive processes that direct and inspire behavior.
- Physical Capability – Ensuring that the athlete has the ‘know-how’ to shop and cook for performance is a key factor. It’s important to understand if the athlete has the skills to meet certain recipe guidelines or reach a certain recommended amount of protein in their diet. If their skills are poor here, it can be beneficial to provide the athlete with cooking demonstrations, recipes, and batch cooked meals to improve their behaviour.
- Psychological Capability – Having the knowledge and memory of nutritional habits is an important skill for athletes to develop. If a player is injured or they are coming out of a surgery, it is required to recommend a certain volume of protein to their diet. If they can hit that volume of protein by following a new recipe that has been given to them and they follow up that habit week on week, they’re then building that psychological capability of actually being able to repeat and build nutritional habits.
Environmental opportunities are valuable to encourage positive behaviour. If an athlete’s environment is consistent then they can rely on excellent habits. There are two environments that are key to creating positive behaviour in a player. An athlete’s home environment is needed to ensure that it is stocked with food that is going to allow them to play at a high level. For example, good low fat or full-fat dairy options, relevant lean meats, lots of fruit and vegetables.
Secondly, their work environment needs to be pushing them towards making positive behaviours. Look at the feed/fuel zone the athlete has in work. Does this environment allow them to make positive behaviours? If the answer is no, then you need to question your nutritional philosophy because you will not be helping them to improve their habits. If their environment is good in both home and work then that will make everything a lot easier.
The final factor which is important for behaviour change to occur is motivation. This refers to automatic motivation and reflective motivation. We can use the cue-routine-reward system here to encourage the athlete when they have improved in an area. For example, if a player has made an improvement in aspects such as meal prep, tracking food, or improved body composition and receives positive feedback from a coach or intrinsically, the athlete begins to feel really good then it’s rewarding the player. This will in turn motivate them to want to continue with this process.
Intrinsically Aligned – Performance Nutrition and Behaviour Change
Nutrition and behaviour change are intrinsically aligned, which in turn alludes to this philosophy. It will give athletes every opportunity to optimise their health and performance. This is underpinned by the basics of the COM-B model of behaviour change. This philosophy is a form of reassurance, by putting it in place, knowing the structures and being confident in what you’re saying is right given the evidence.