Two top nutritionists working in elite sport have returned to the University of Stirling to celebrate their graduation. 

Paola Rodriguez-Giustiniani, who is based at Premier League football club Brighton & Hove Albion and Andrea Flores Mendez, who works with UAE Team Emirates cycling, marked the end of their PhD and Masters studies, respectively. 

The pair celebrated alongside Judith Robertson – former Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission – who received an Honorary Doctorate in recognition of her leadership and longstanding commitment to human rights and humanitarianism.  

Glasgow Warriors hero Johnny Matthews also turned heads at the ceremony on Wednesday, arriving on campus fresh from his team’s celebrations to mark the achievements of his sister Victoria, who received an MSc Psychology of Sport.

Johnny – top try scorer in the United Rugby Championship (URC) for 2023/24 – was part of the Warriors team that was crowned URC champions on Saturday, with an epic win over Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria. 

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Paola, originally from Venezuela, completed a PhD in Sport and Exercise Science, thanks to the support of Hibernian Football Club and the Gatorade Sport Science Institute. After six years with Hibernian, she moved to Brighton two years ago as the club’s Lead Nutritionist and is enjoying the challenge of working in top-flight football. 

She said: “Working at Hibs helped me a lot, it taught me how to interact with players, work with the coaches and the other sports professionals involved. It has been an amazing experience so far working in the Premier League. Of course, it’s such a huge league with a huge audience and, at the beginning, it was hard to believe I’d made it there! 

“I work very closely with the men’s team which involves doing body composition assessments, one-to-one consultations, and I do a lot of work with the kitchen and catering operation, to adapt nutrition to the training demands and get the best out of the players. Every nutritionist will tell you the same thing – we cannot do our job completely if we don’t have good chemistry with the chef!” 

Home to Scotland star Billy Gilmour, Brighton qualified for the UEFA Europa League last season, marking their first participation in European club football. 

Paola Rodriguez-Giustiniani is based at Premier League football club Brighton & Hove AlbionPaola Rodriguez-Giustiniani is based at Premier League football club Brighton & Hove Albion (Image: University of Stirling)

Paola said: “Last season was particularly busy – I travel everywhere with the team, so playing in Europe meant a lot of planning, working out hotel menus and preparing for training camps. It can be a lot to juggle when you are also trying to keep up with the science, new research and developing new strategies.” 

Andrea, who is based in Mexico, worked alongside the country’s first ever Tour de l’Avenir winner, Isaac del Toro, before joining Team Emirates to lead nutrition for its new development team. She travelled back to campus following a three-week altitude training session in Italy and a successful Giro Next Gen event, to receive a MSc Sport Nutrition.  

Andrea said: “Tour de l’Avenir is like Tour de France for under-23s and being part of Isaac’s success is definitely a career highlight.  

“I started cycling as a youngster and also raced before carrying on the sport for fun, so it’s exciting now to be working ‘behind-the-scenes’ in cycling. The Masters gave me a really good knowledge of how to apply research to my role and I enjoyed speaking English every day, which is vital in my role now working with international athletes.” 

UAE Team Emirates topped the 2023 UCI teams rankings and launched its development team ‘UAE Team Emirates Gen Z’ at the start of 2024, to help young riders on their path into the professional ranks. 

Andrea is excited about the impact she can have in the new set-up.  

She said: “Nutrition is so important, especially in endurance sport and is such a big factor in performance. I really enjoy being able to have such a significant impact on the athletes, their results and how they feel. Nowadays, they are very aware of and understand the importance of nutrition, so are keen to follow the plan, are open to learning and ask a lot of questions.  

“The idea of a development team is to prepare younger riders to be on a world tour team one day – they are very young with a lot of years left if they continue to be successful, so it’s important to be somewhat flexible and not as strict with them so they still are able to perform well but also enjoy the sport.” 

In total, 2,271 students are celebrating their graduation at the University of Stirling’s summer ceremonies this week.