Functional nutrition is all about understanding what your body specifically needs and tailoring your nutritional choices accordingly, says Thomas Robson-Kanu, Premier League footballer and founder of The Turmeric Co. Here, he talks us through how to get started with functional nutrition, plus everything you need to know about those all important health and fitness benefits… 

Nothing scares an athlete more than injury. As a youngster with a promising sporting future, I was devastated by one. Eventually, I couldn’t compete without regularly having injections in my knee. It wasn’t sustainable. The doctors told me there was almost no chance I’d be able to have anything close to a career as a professional athlete.

Conventional medicine had come up short. So, I tried to understand the problem and fix it myself. I read up on the medicinal powers of hundreds of natural ingredients. I experimented with them until I stumbled on raw turmeric root. Ayurvedic medicine has utilised turmeric’s properties for thousands of years. Yet, in all of my consultations, no doctor had ever mentioned it.

The mixture I was making on my kitchen table made use of its powerful anti-inflammatory properties and alleviated my symptoms in a way regular medicine simply didn’t. The swelling became manageable, I was able to play again and went on to have an incredible career. Taking a functional approach to my health and nutrition helped me totally change my life for the better.

What is functional nutrition?

We all want to live happy, balanced lives. But, we’re all different. We’re different heights, different weights and different shapes. We have different genetics, ancestries and lifestyles. Our goals, too, are often unique to us. What might work for one person, might not for another. So, generic diets and fitness plans can only take you so far.

Functional nutrition is all about understanding your body’s specific needs and tailoring your nutritional choices based on those needs. Depending on where your deficiencies are, you might increase your intake of particular vitamins or minerals. You might start incorporating a probiotic into your diet to rebalance the bacteria in your gut. Or, you might even increase your intake of carbohydrates.

A functional approach to nutrition encourages you to become more mindful of your body – to know it better, listen to its signals and respond with what’s right for you.

How to get started with functional nutrition

Due to the individualistic nature of functional nutrition, it’s difficult to give bespoke advice without knowing the state of a person’s physical health. However, a tried and tested foundation for a functional and nutritious diet is one you fill with whole foods, fruit and veg and fewer processed foods.

‘Whole foods’ refers to food that’s undergone minimal processing. This means it retains a high amount of its nutritional composition. If you’d like to learn more about which foods might benefit you, book an appointment with a functional nutritionist or speak to your doctor.

Whatever you do next, take some comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed and confused by information on nutrition! I’ve found a functional approach to be the most well-rounded, sensible and least pressurising way to frame your thinking around health and nutrition.