While out of action with a toe injury, United keeper Jamie Ashdown set up his own dietary supplement business. Phil Hay reports.
In his first season at Leeds United, Jamie Ashdown lived for FA Cup weekends. Or any juncture where Championship football took a back seat. He was Neil Warnock’s knockout goalkeeper and a reliable one too.
Leeds enter the FA Cup at Rochdale this afternoon with Ashdown sat at home, recovering from a broken toe which is likely to mean his second year at Elland Road goes down as a non-event. An X-ray on his injury before Christmas was encouraging but United cannot count on having him available before the season ends.
The frustration for Ashdown is that, as the experienced understudy for Paddy Kenny at Elland Road, he was needed very recently. With a fit Ashdown to call upon, it is unlikely that Brian McDermott would have gambled on Kenny’s damaged ankle as he did at Nottingham Forest last weekend and again at home to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday. And so a league debut went begging again.
Ashdown concedes that it was he who gambled in the summer, returning hastily from a previous operation on his toe in the hope of dislodging Kenny as United’s number one and earning an extension to a contract which runs out in June. He had spoken at the end of last season about the meagre satisfaction of four appearances in the League Cup and another four in the FA Cup. Six months on, he would settle for either.
“When you lose the opportunity to play games and prove what you can do it’s incredibly frustrating,” Ashdown said.
“Unfortunately after the summer I rushed back from a previous op simply because I’m passionate about staying at Leeds. The club have been so supportive and I’m doing all I can to get fit, provide competition for Paddy and hopefully earn a new contract.
“It’s been a devastatingly slow injury for me and once I get the okay from the surgeon I’ll begin light training. Naturally I’m desperate to get back at it.”
Ashdown is 33; a relatively young age in the goalkeeping fraternity but old enough for him to start thinking about what he might do when his days as a player end. Injury encourages that sort of reflection too.
His ambition after retirement is to become a coach but last year he set up a new company, Trusted Pro Supplements, to supply the dietary and nutritional products which professional athletes now take as a matter of course. Supplements are everywhere and as Ashdown discovered, the industry is a minefield with limited regulation and meagre clarity about what is safe, what is worth taking and what complies with UK Anti-Doping laws.
He was encouraged to look into the market by the death of Claire Squires, a runner who died during the London Marathon in 2012. Her inquest found that a nutritional supplement she had taken before the race, Jack3D containing DMAA, was a factor in her death. DMAA was later declared an unlicensed medicinal product in the UK.
“When I heard about Claire Squires I looked further into the dangers of supplements and what was safe,” Ashdown said. “It spiralled from there.
“Ninety per cent of professional athletes use supplements, varying from a multi-vitamin – which most people need these days – through to creatine.
“I’ve taken multivitamins and glucosamine (a substance which strengthens and protects joints) since I was about 20. I had a back problem and I realised that I didn’t have to suffer aches and pains every morning if I started taking glucosamine.
“For me personally, I’m now nine per cent body fat for the first time in my life. In fact, my wife says I’m in better shape than when she met me 14 years ago. Taking in the right nutrients and refuelling after training is vital for your performance the next day. If you feel good the next day you can train harder so fitness and performance levels increase.
“But the more I looked into supplements, the harder it was to find the right level of tested products. I felt there was a need for more transparency when an athlete wanted to buy a product.”
The threat to health is one strand of the danger facing athletes who take supplements; the other is the severe consequences of a failed drugs test. UK Anti-Doping recommend that athletes only use products listed by and registered with Informed-Sport, a firm who test them as extensively as possible. Ashdown’s company, as the name suggests, also promises to stock safe and reliable supplements.
Several of United’s players now source them from Ashdown’s business, though the keeper says he does not “self-promote” and “those that want to come to me”.
“Most of the people I talk to use supplements that aren’t tested by Informed-Sport,” Ashdown said. “Yet UK Anti-doping states that all athletes choosing to take supplements should be using Informed-Sports registered products.
“There isn’t any supplement that guarantees 100 per cent safety to a drugs fail. But our aim is to get as close to that as possible.”
It might sound like Ashdown is on the road to retirement but he hopes his business will one day “run itself”. The preferred path for him after his goalkeeping career ends will be coaching and before then, several more years as a player. He is crossing his fingers for a new contract from Leeds when the summer comes. “It would be naive not to look at the future in this industry,” he said. “Football’s such a short career in comparison to a ‘normal’ one. But I’ve always wanted to be a goalkeeping coach.
“I definitely want to pursue all areas of football, including the sports science side, but I’d still want to go outside and train. With this new business, I just want to make life simple for athletes when choosing supplements because it isn’t worth risking your career on. If I can make a difference in the industry in terms of safety, I’ll have done what I set out to do.”
For more information, visit: www.trustedprosupplements.co.uk