Hello and welcome to the BCU Alumni podcast. I'm Bethan from BCU’s alumni team and in each episode we welcome a different member of the alumni community back onto campus to tell us what they've been up to since they graduated. Today, we're joined by Wee Lun Foo, a first team nutritionist at Premier League Football Club, Tottenham Hotspur. After graduating from BCU with a BSC in sports and exercise nutrition in 2020, Wee went on to work at West Ham United and is now based at Spurs, whilst also completing a PhD in sports nutrition in Liverpool.
In this episode we are going to find out more about Wee’s career so far, as well as what goes into being a nutritionist and what it's like to work for a Premier League football club. Wee, thanks so much for coming into the studio today. Yeah, thanks very much for having me. You graduated three years ago now. So what's it been like to be back on campus today?
It's amazing to be back because I haven't been back since I graduated because I've been so busy full on after that. So, yeah, it's good to be back and then it's good to see the facility again because I have so much great memories over here. So yeah, it's just amazing to be back though I didn’t manage to see my lecturer.
But yeah, it's just good to be back. Um, yeah. That's because that's where everything like begins. So when I got started, like actually got into sport nutrition, because before that I was in Ireland, I was like doing sport science and then I wanted to get into the sport nutrition.
So yeah, it's good to be back to see the campus again. So what was it that led you study sport and exercise nutrition in the first place then? Yeah, I think since I was young, I was very interested in sport. I play table tennis and also badminton competitively. Yeah, when I was nine throughout my high school I played those who sports and now I do other sports.
I like basketball and obviously football. I grew up watching premier league since I was like ten or 11. Yeah, so that's how my interest in sport. And then after I definitely want to get do something related to sport. So when I first finished my high school, I was on my show just to everyone now. So I want to get into something in sport and then is sport in Malaysia, it's not that popular, so there's not a large opportunity around.
So I decided to move to Ireland.I was doing sports science over there. So in the course you would learn about psychology and conditioning and then you only do a little bit about nutrition, so you wouldn't do much. I want to get into more and then especially after I listen to a few like podcasts after doing more readings, I definitely want to get into that nutrition.
I'm more interested in food, but not like a big like foodie person. I'm no more interested in like biochemistry and the metabolism thing. So that's probably why I got into Phd as well, because I really into interested in that side. That's why I move to BCU to do sport. I think at that time because I one of the few courses, that's all recognized by sports and nutrition register right in UK.
So I think only five or six.
So after graduating then what were those initial steps like for you? Did you really have like a good idea of what it is that you wanted to go on and do? Yeah, it was difficult that time because it was Covid 2020, so that's like minimum to none opportunity around but I did apply for phd a few at a time. And then I got to the interview stage .
Bot I got rejected so I was quite disappointed at that time because I thought that, you know, I so like gave everything during my undergrad. Yeah I go I first I go for a few placement.
Um, so I definitely want to go into PhD. Obviously that's like no for me at that time. So I went to do, did a master in sport nutrition, which is again, it was amazing experience, even though we have to spend all the time like studying online just in our room because of but there's no face to face learning at that time .
And then that dissertation got published as well. And then also he after I finished, when I finished my master, he offered me the opportunity to do like a research assistant role. So like helping his PhD student with a research project. So that's the for the first few like five or six months when I finished my masters.
And after that spell, also during my master's, also met Mac Johnson, who is the nutritionist for West Ham Men's first team. Right. And I also the Scotland national team as well. So at that time when I started my master, I so I reached out to him. So I just say, can I have a chat to learn about what you're doing and just interested in more like a conversation.
And he was very helpful as well. And then also gave me a job at the time because he got so much time at that time. He also worked for Brentford and Chelsea women. So he asked me like, you know, meal planning. Sometimes he asked me to do research, and then he paid me every month .
I was working with him. Yeah. And then after that he say when I finish my master, that's like there’s a part time opportunity coming out for West Ham. So I, so I got that position sort. So I, working with the academy and women's team, we talk to you about that a little bit more and I transition to full time work.
So that's the second important person. And then the third one is that Professor James Gordon, who I always look out to in sports nutrition as one of the big names in sports nutrition. So I always want to like follow his research and then I really like his work.
So, so he's one of the supervisors for my master project. And then yes, just been very helpful. And then we talk about how I get a Tottenham job later on. He's the one who I reach out to and then his father on the interview panel as well. When I tried to interview for the for the Spurs job .
So he's a nutritionist in English and still sport, he's one of the technical elite, so quite high precision and very experienced. Bobby was the first sport nutritionist in the UK, so he gave me a lot of like interview advice. So whenever I go to interview, I always like Text and I say to him like, what are they looking for in this interview?
I regret that I make that decision to do Master in sport nutrition because I knew a lot of people over there. And then sometimes it's not just like who you know, it's what you know is quite important as well. So yeah, really grateful that I got that opportunity. So what was it like working for West Ham then?
So at West Ham at the start, I was like part time. I joined in middle of the season, so I spent one day a week with the women's team and then one day with the Academy.
Part time you're more like a consultant. And then after the first six months, I managed to transition to full time position.
So my week looks very different every week because just the schedule is very different. So I would do like half for the women's team and half for the academy. So normally for the Academy, normally I would be I try to schedule in the day before the game so I can do like hydration testing on the day before and then maybe I can pass some high carbohydrate snacks to the player.
So the women's team like making sure they take everything they need before, during and after the game. So I would do that, do everything for that.
So sometimes I would stay late just to do like some education workshop . I would do some workshop with the parents. So yeah, a range quite. I really enjoy it because I learn so much from that role because it challenged me in a lot of different ways. Yeah. Because on a day you could speak to a lady like senior women's player and then you can even speak to a young player on the same day as well.
So it was quite intense. But I learned a lot from, from there. So, you know, the first team nutritionist at Spurs.
So, can you talk us through how that opportunity came about? I saw this opportunity coming out like a dream for me.
Yeah. Because I always want to work in first team in Premier League. And now I also want to do pasta at the same time as well. So this was always like the perfect opportunity for me.
So when I first went to it, I didn't have any expectation. I just put my CV, put my cover letter in, and it was quite a long process the hiring process. I think you have to do like a proposal and then you have you have to go for face to face interview. and I always say I reach out to my supervisor.
And then for Premier League, there's so many games as a top level team, they can play up to maybe 50 or 60 games per season.
So what really goes into being a nutritionist then? And, and also can you talk us through what your like responsibilities include?
Yeah, I think nutrition has changed a lot in the last few years because before that it was mainly like part time nutritionist and whereas now you see more and more full time nutritionist and then obviously it can be different between clubs because of the funding level detail .
So we have like three nutritionists. so we have Natasha, she's the head of nutrition so she would more like do it the management side Menu Planning Partners shape and then formalized nutritional strategy. And then we have like Panos Markakis which he's the matchday nutritionist so he would travel to the game ,my main role is to inform the nutrition and strategy at the club.
But I also do like other roles as well, like providing nutrition advice and meal planning for mainly for the injured players and then for some of the young players coming out who are trying to gain muscle. So I will provide advice.
The first study I'm doing is an interview with the player, so I go up to training, do the interview and then yeah, so it varies every day depending on the need. But yeah, so that's my role at a club.
Okay, so what is it really like then to work for a Premier League club and you get to know the players personally?
Yeah. Yeah we do. Obviously we see them every day . you see them on TV and then now you start seeing, them every day. They are really nice people.
Most of them try to talk to us. trying to learn where you're coming from. It's difficult for me because I joined so like mid-season when the season is already going, but yeah, the players welcome you.
So that's very, very helpful for me. So I think working optimally sometimes can be quite intense because of the schedule, you will be in every day and then pre-season as well. Sometimes it could be a double session. So they are trained the morning and then trained in the afternoon again so t they would finish around six or seven.
So it can be quite a long day. Sometimes you just need to accept that Premier League standards are really high if you're trying because you're trying to be the best. So everything you do, like everyone is watching what you do. It's a good pressure so that you sort out, try to push yourself to be to be the best, and then like you get to know to the players.
we use like a menu style system, I suppose. So every day the player will come in, they will pick like what they need to eat. I have their own individual menu. So we actually got the time to actually learn about what the player want to eat.
The player will say what they want for lunch. So we get to learn a little bit more from there. So yeah, it's good to see anything, good to see the differences between we got so many players from like different nationality as well.
I really enjoy this. For me, probably not for everyone because something can be a very long hour and early start for me. I really enjoy it so what does a meal plan look like for a footballer then? Yeah, I think the meal plan is different. It's quite different for individual. I don't think like there will be anything identical.
Yeah. First of all, it depends on the goal, whether you're trying to gain muscle or whether you're trying to lose fat. And then all for the injured player, whether you're trying to prevent muscle loss and try to speed up the recovery from the injury. And then it very much depends on the day as well how high is the training intensity basically trying to push a little bit more carbohydrate and also making sure to play a hydrator and also some of the supplements.
The strategy we use as well and then what you do before the game and then again before the game. It depends on the time of the kick off.
.So sometimes what I would do is I would just to I would get the player to like send me photo of what they eat on that day and I will provide feedback in terms of what they need to improve to add any more carbs or which other nutrient they need to focus on.
And then I will give them almost like an infographic, like a timeline, what they need to do on a specific day like the day before the game. So a restaurant every day will put out like a timeline. So like what they need to eat on this day?
Because we know that. What type of trainings coming out So whether you need more carbohydrate before training after training. So we gave like a timeline for the player. And then also we do like blood tests. So we know that like what player is like, let's say if the vitamin D level is now, then we have like something strategy for that one.
How do you keep them on track? Do you ever have any kind of issues like cheat days?
For me, I think it's I think it's all about education. Everything is about balance.
I think you can still include lighter food because for me, they're probably less nutritious than what other food you eat compared to other food. But I think you can still include it part of your diet as long as you are controlling the portions. And then also when knowing when to eat well for the play, I think it's more about education.
Those are very high fat foods, like a pizza or like a burger just before the game. So it's like educating them, like when to do it. Like maybe the day before, probably trying to stop that. And then for maybe after, if you have a game coming out very soon, you're probably the one to eat something like no good for you.
But educating them that's really important because to me, if you become to restrict it for the player, like if you say to a player or you can eat any burger. The first thing they want to do is to play.
And now obviously we've got control over the food. So what we can put out for breakfast, lunch and then while during the game like pre-match. And so we so we've got some level of control.
But I think the key thing is about education.
So this is something we like to in every episode. A Birmingham quickfire round snobs or pop world? I'm not a nightclub person!
You've been selected as one of our industry icons at this of my festival. So what does that mean to you?
To be honest, I didn't even think about that because I literally just graduated, like, three years ago.
So I feel like an honor to be like part industry icon because you've got so many, many graduates. So yeah, it's just thanks for selecting me and hopefully, yeah, my, my story, my journey can inspire someone. So maybe so. Yeah. It's been been a pleasure. And final question then, if you could go back to your very first day here at BCU, what is the one piece of advice that you would give yourself?
I probably say keep doing what you're doing and then maybe don't give up. Yeah, just sometimes be patient as well because you might not see the result or get what you want from the hard work you're putting in. It might take some time. Just be patient and keep doing what you're doing.
Thanks so much for coming by today and coming on to the podcast.
Thanks very much. If I might see you again hopefully.