Ask the Expert: Tom Coughlin (Nutritionist – Scottish Rugby)

Athletic Evolution

Tom is the Performance Nutritionist at Glasgow Warriors Rugby Union Club and works for the Scottish Rugby Union, heading up the nutrition education and delivery for their age-grade pathway. Tom also consults with various individual athletes of mixed abilities, from recreational to Olympic level. He holds an MSc in Sport & Exercise Nutrition from Loughborough University and a Bachelors in Sport & Psychology from the University of Stirling. 
Athletic Evolution
1)What has led you into youth sport?
Primarily, being involved with the Scottish Rugby Union has allowed me to work with a number of different youth age-groups from u16s through to u18s. Those groups in particular are at a very important age to promote good nutrition, due to the importance of physical development and also good habits which will aid them in their future careers. It’s therefore quite rewarding seeing these young athletes move up the ranks into academies and subsequently senior teams.
2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?
It’s difficult to state a single biggest influence for my practice. There always are fundamentals that should influence nutrition practice such as PubMed research to identify nutritional requirements of the group / individuals you’re working with. For example, there’s some great research coming out of Leeds Beckett on youth rugby. I’d actually say that working with youth athletes has greatly influenced my practice with senior athletes. The skills you develop working with younger groups, such as being able to explain concepts in a simple and fun format are just as useful for the older athletes. Additionally, working with senior level athletes often indicates gaps in their knowledge or skills which can in turn influence my practice with younger athletes, making sure these areas are covered.
3) What is your particular area of interest?
The link between nutrition and psychology is particularly interesting to me. It’s an essential link to understand for any nutrition practitioner, so it’s not only interesting but extremely important too.
4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 
Spending time educating young athletes (and their parents) on the value of nutrition is essential to building good habits and positive-relationships with food. Providing these athletes with the nutrition education and skills they need to be healthy and perform, whilst also building a good support system around them could make a real difference and allow them to fulfil their potential.
5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
It’s difficult to state a single best piece of advice, however you can often get really good feedback and advice from the athletes that you’re working with. You are there to help them, so let them influence your practice and you’ll probably see better results as a consequence.
6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 
I would say that it’s really important to engage with youth athletes on their level. They haven’t signed up for a university module on sports nutrition or exercise physiology. They just want to know what to eat and drink, when to do so and also get some skills to help them do that. These athletes will probably get enough “lecturing” at school, so change it up by making things as practical as possible!
7) Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?
As I mentioned earlier, if you’re involved in rugby, there is some great information coming out of Leeds Beckett through Carnegie Adolescent Rugby Research (CARR). If you’re interested in S&C or nutrition then I’d strongly recommend that you follow their work. Apart from that, staying up-to-date with the latest research, in your particular sport, on PubMed is always a good idea.
8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites etc.)
My Website:
Facebook page:
Thanks to Tom for his time and expertise! For more great content like this, follow us on Facebook!
Are you a grassroots youth sport coach or PE teacher who wants to improve the athleticism of your athletes?? Check out our Fundamental series athletic development programs here.