Functional nutrition is all about understanding the specific needs of your body and tailoring your nutritional choices based on those needs, says Thomas Robson-Kanu, Premier League footballer and founder of The Turmeric Co ( Here’s how to get started with it… 

Nothing scares an athlete more than injury, and 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, and so I tried to understand the problem and fix it myself.  I read up on the medicinal powers of hundreds of natural ingredients and experimented with them until I stumbled on raw turmeric root. Turmeric had been used in ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, but in all of my consultations, it hadn’t been mentioned. 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 totally changed 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, and so generic diets and fitness plans can only take you so far.

Functional nutrition is all about understanding the specific needs of your body 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 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 can I get started?

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, but a tried and tested foundation for a functional and nutritious diet is one packed with whole foods, fruit and veg and fewer processed foods. ‘Whole foods’ refers to food that’s undergone minimal processing, therefore retaining a high amount of its nutritional composition. If you’d like to learn more about which foods might benefit you, you might consider booking an appointment with a functional nutritionist or speaking  to your doctor.

What next? 

Whatever you do next, take some comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone in being 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. Over the next few articles, we’ll dive deeper into the function of different ingredients for different aspects of your health, such as exercise, work and sleep.

Functional nutrition changed Thomas Robson-Kanu’s life for the better