Aaron Argomandkhah is Head of Sports Nutrition at Tranmere Rovers Football Club, and he spends his days doing what he loves. But his journey to career success wasn’t conventional, and it took him on more than one detour along the way.
Aaron’s unusual journey is an inspiration in itself. After failing in his quest to become a dentist, he set up a family catering business — consisting of a coffee shop and outside catering services. He put himself through some chef training, and developed a real love for food along the way. Crucially, however, Aaron took great pleasure in producing healthy food that people love to eat.
Aaron’s enthusiasm and drive ensured his business made money — and employed people. But he was still young, and there was still so much he wanted to achieve in life. He decided to sell his business and go back into education. After acquiring a sports coaching degree and spending a few summers in the USA, Aaron decided he wanted to combine his love of sport, physiology and food. It soon became apparent that sports nutrition was the way forward.
Aaron talked about his thought process at this crossroads in his life:
“The lure of working in football was big. The opportunity to study my masters under the tutelage of some of the biggest names in sports nutrition, including Team Sky nutritionist James Morton and Head of Nutrition for the RFU, Graeme Close, meant doors could be opened up for me.
“I secured a year’s placement with Tranmere Rovers Football Club as part my masters degree at LJMU, and I guess I impressed enough to earn my permanent spot in the backroom staff.”
Aaron deals with challenges on a daily basis
Aaron’s roles as a sports nutritionist involves working as part of a multidisciplinary team — alongside coaches, physios, catering staff and transport staff. Aaron’s role requires cooperation and regular communication with these key team members, which can be a challenge.
Another daily challenge involves setting the mood for the professional athletes he serves. The club has adopted a “first contacts” ethos, which involves creating an environment that promotes a positive attitude. If the players experience positive vibes from the moment they get to work, they’ll be more likely to perform at the top of their game.
Aaron talks about “nutrition interventions”, which involves giving players the food and supplements they need without them even noticing it. This is a daily challenge for Aaron, and it’s one he thrives on.
He said: “If all goes smoothly, none of this should have been laborious or challenging. After this, we get the supplements room set up with shakers in their grid, so that post training nutrition is effortless.
“Lunch is another challenge, as we want the lads to eat right. But if they don’t enjoy the food they might underfuel, so we try to put a twist on foods they will enjoy. We hide veggies like you would a with a child, and we periodise carbohydrates depending on fixtures, training intensity, time of the week and individual body composition goals.
“This is where consultation with players is key. We sit down and discuss their goals, where the fitness coach wants improvement, where management wants improvement and how as a nutritionist I can help them achieve this.”
And all of this happens on a daily basis, which means Aaron has to be confident, organised and available at all times. But things get even more intense during a matchday.
He said: “Matchday brings on its own problems – away travel needs all the food planning. We have to plan what we take to eat on the coach, what the hotel puts out to eat the night before, what should be included in breakfast and how we cater for the individual routines of 18 players while hitting our nutritional goals.
“All of this needs to be coordinated with the catering team and sent out to hotels for menu planning.
“Matchday supplementation also plays a big part in performance. Caffeine gum, energy gels, fruit, vitamin D and creatine are some of the ones we commonly use to enhance performance.
“Following a game it’s important to refuel, especially if you have a game again shortly after. This is where recovery can play a vital part in subsequent performance. We have a Ninja blender we take to all games, home and away to prepare post-match recovery smoothies that are high in antioxidants, carbohydrates and protein
“Our chef also prepares a meal that we can reheat on the coach on the travel back to keep the refuel going.”
Aaron offers advice to anyone interested in sports nutrition
Aaron has already acquired a great deal of experience, but he accepts that he still has much to learn and fine-tune. For such a fledgling career, however, Aaron is rightly proud of his achievements thus far — and he knows exactly what is required for success in sports nutrition.
He said: “To work in sports nutrition for either a sports team or athlete, you almost certainly need to be on an acknowledged register like SENr or else you won’t even be considered for most jobs.
“A masters degree in sports nutrition or postgrad ISSN diploma are the most common pathways to gain the theoretical competency needed for accreditation.
“Beyond this, if you’re an undergraduate, I’d definitely recommend just getting in touch with sports clubs. Offer help with their sport science department, tell them you want to specialise in nutrition and get yourself in the door.
“I get quite a few emails asking to work with our department, and many of the interns that pass through us gain an invaluable insight into how to work as a sport science practitioner. This experience is so vital when going for jobs, not only for the application, but also for knowing what to do once you get the job.”
Has sports nutrition changed since Aaron got involved?
Like most health-based professions, sports science evolves as time goes by. With new comes new ways of approaching sports nutrition. Aaron has to stay abreast of the latest developments in nutrition — which is something he thrives on.
He said: “I wouldn’t say sports nutrition changed a great deal. I came into the field at what I would say was the beginning of the ‘low carb, high fat’ movement, which is a diet tool that can be quite successful if you’re looking to lose body fat.
“This is a debate that is causing a lot of friction amongst practitioners and academics, as nutrition is still largely under-researched. The literature would suggest that there is no metabolic advantage of one diet over any other. The success of a “diet” is its ability to either create a calorie deficit while proving satisfying enough to maintain that calorie deficit consistently in the absence of willpower.
“I’m open minded to either side of the argument, but for sports nutrition, and especially football, there just isn’t the body of evidence yet to suggest this will enhance performance.
“We use deliberate periods of carbohydrate restriction to help with body composition and training adaptation, and to fuel intense training. We also take this into account when managing recovery periods.”
Aaron identifies the common nutrition mistakes he sees regularly
Working as a sports nutritionist for professional athletes is an eye-opening experience for Aaron. Despite being given the best advice — and food — he still sees elite sports stars making crucial errors with their diet. One of the most common mistakes involves a lack of protein in the diet. An athlete requires between 1.8g and 2.2g of protein every day for every kilo of bodyweight, which is a target that gets missed a lot.
He said: “Under-consumption of protein can have a big impact on growth and recovery. For example, an athlete who skips protein for dinner and supper could go up to 15 hours without a protein hit. Considering the amount of protein an athlete needs, they will most likely be missing their total target.
“Also, regular protein consumption helps to maintain a positive protein balance, which ensures athletes are consistently in a state of growth rather than breakdown.”
And it’s not just protein that athletes tend to shy away from. Aaron has to deal with veg-dodging footballers on a daily basis.
He said: “Fruit and vegetables often go out of the window — partly because they can be fussy creatures. Vegetables need to be jazzed up a bit more to make them enticing than say something like a steak would. That’s why smoothies are so important for us, as they taste great but also help the players to get their five a day!”
Aaron is still a young man, and has lofty ambitions for the future. Premier League clubs… watch this space!
What Do You Do?
I’m the Head of Sport Nutrition at Tranmere Rovers Football Club
If you could have any superpower what would it be?
I’d love to be able to fly! You could get to places so quickly, beat the traffic and get incredible views!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I hope that I would have helped Tranmere advance through the football league, and helped to grow a fantastic sport science department that many clubs would be envious of.