On the surface, success in sports comes from hard work, talent, dedication and consistent practice. However, as the industry continues to grow and more money is pumped into competitions around the world, these basic fundamentals won’t get you to the top alone.

Lev Yashin was a legendary Soviet Union goalkeeper, nicknamed the “Black Spider”, who self-confessedly smoked cigarettes and downed vodka before matches. Although Yashin is often regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play football, the sport has come a long way.

Since the days of Yashin, the industry has made strides in several aspects on-the-field, such as strategy and opponent analysis, however, one subject that has been enhanced more than any is nutrition. Kush Mahan, CEO and Co-Founder of ZoneIn, said: “The interest in learning what to do for your health and for your performance has changed massively.”

“The interest in learning what to do for your health and for your performance has changed massively.”

Kush Mahan

Just like the aforementioned on-the-field areas, nutrition has benefited from advancements in technology and with the sudden improvements in AI, companies in this space are beginning to take note – such as Zoneln.

ZoneIn is an AI-driven platform that is customised to the nutrition requirements for some of the largest sporting organisations across the globe, working with athletes and clubs from leagues, such as the Premier League, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, MLB, Olympics and NCAA.

Although now at the top of the sporting pyramid, ZoneIn didn’t begin there. Mahan said: “The goal was to at the beginning, fill the gaps in personalised nutrition.”

But not everyone has access to the information, Mahan played squash professionally and struggled to access a dietician, he continued: “So our first goal was to solve the issue for athletes that don’t have access to anything. How do you help them with AI get access and teach them what they should be doing specifically for their body, for their goals and for their sport?”.

In the realm of high-level sports, nutrition stands as a cornerstone, especially evident in the realm of US college sports. Currently, ZoneIn is working with schools in the US to not only help student athletes, but provide them with the education they need to take the next step in becoming professional.

Just like in Mahan’s own experience playing squash, college athletes face barriers.

“You’ve got around 500 athletes in each school, if they’re lucky, they have dieticians on campus, but they still don’t speak to the dieticians on a daily basis or have a daily meal plan,” Mahan added.

This is where accessibility comes into play via the ZoneIn app. Through the app, college athletes are able to see exactly what they should be eating, acting like a dietitian “inside their pockets”, Mahan explained.

In total, ZoneIn offers three solutions, an athlete nutrition platform, a dietitian management platform and a meal ordering solution for kitchen services. At the heart of each of these solutions is AI, a technological advancement that is taking the world by storm.

Sports has welcomed AI with open arms and is leading the way in many cases. Earlier this year, for example, Liverpool FC announced it was using TacticAI, a system created by Google DeepMind to provide experts with tactical insights, particularly on corner kicks, through predictive and generative AI.

Mahan said: “Our system allows a dietician to reach nearly nine times more people than if they didn’t use our system because of all the automation and the AI.”

“Our system allows a dietician to reach nearly nine times more people than if they didn’t use our system because of all the automation and the AI.”

Kush Mahan

One of the biggest advantages of using AI is eradicating the need for manual processes, thereby allowing people to focus on more important aspects of their work, which is highlighted through ZoneIn’s solutions.

“We are saving a dietician, hours and hours on athlete management. Understanding what this athlete needs and how do I build them a meal plan or build them a recommendation engine for what they should have in the facility and outside the facility, is such a manual process,” Mahan added.

“They would usually use Excel, Word docs and generate PDFs, which people ended up throwing away because it’s a piece of paper.

“On the kitchen services side, it is really helping them control their inventory. How much did I actually make on a day to day basis? And what do I actually need for the athletes that are here for the staff that are here, so I’m not over producing?  We save teams over $10,000, sometimes a month, just on preventing food waste.”

What sets ZoneIn apart from other nutrition companies is its ability to create fully personalised plans, demonstrated by the variety of organisations that the company works with. 

Mahan said: “A college team, or youth academy with or without a dietitian does not have the same app as a Premier League club has. Everyone’s app becomes very, very catered by feature sets, to what their core needs are.”

The Denver Nuggets, NBA Champions, stand as a prime example of an organisation that not only recognises the significance of nutrition, but also acknowledges the necessity of an efficiently operated app. This team is among the prestigious clientele of ZoneIn.

Abbey Lathrop, Denver Nuggets Performance Dietitian, commented: “ZoneIn has greatly helped streamline personalised nutrition delivery and the ‘made to order’ meal process in our facility. 

“The platform has enhanced athlete dietary analysis and helped to create a more efficient kitchen, ensuring effective management of food inventory and that our athletes, coaches & staff are well-fed & able to perform at their best.”

Mahan mentioned that when himself and his fellow Co-Founder Craig Friedman first approached these big organisations they were surprised by the systems these teams were using.

Commenting on the systems, Mahan said: “Extremely outdated, extremely manual, no systems in place and using about three or four different products to solve one or two problems. Our goal as we saw it was  to consolidate the systems into something far more efficient.”

Looking forward, ZoneIn is set to prioritise efficiency in its newest collaboration with the Canadian Olympic Committee as the country’s athletes prepare for the upcoming Paris Olympics later this year.

The sports industry continues to evolve, the significance of nutrition and efficient management systems cannot be overstated. 

It is fair to say that from the days of Lev Yashin to the present, sports has undergone a significant evolution, with advancements like those offered by ZoneIn highlighting the growing importance of nutrition and technology in maximising athlete performance and who knows maybe these innovations would have made Yahsin even greater.

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