LA Galaxy Performance Blog presented by Herbalife

Interview with LA Galaxy's Director of High Performance and Innovation: Jim Liston | LA Galaxy Performance Blog presented by Herbalife


Herbalife is the sports nutrition and presenting partner for the LA Galaxy. Herbalife Dietitians work closely with the LA Galaxy technical staff to make sure we are maximizing their nutrition to support performance goals.

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background.

My name is Jim Liston and I am the Director of High Performance and Innovation for the LA Galaxy. I started my second stint with the Galaxy in 2021. I worked with the Galaxy from 1998 to 2003 as well, and was fortunate enough to be a part of the group that won the first MLS cup for the Galaxy in 2002.

I have a Bachelor of Science from UMass and a Master of Education from Springfield College, which I received in May of 1992. Six weeks after graduation, I drove across the country to California because it had been a dream of mine since I was young.

Other background, at least from a soccer side… I worked with Chivas USA for a couple years, I consulted with the Columbus Crew for two years, and I spent a number of years in Toronto as the Director of Sports Science, with the highlight being the Treble winning season of 2017. But when the opportunity came to come back to the Galaxy, I jumped at it.

What inspired you to begin working in professional sports and what was your pathway to working with LA Galaxy?

As an undergrad, I started as an engineering major and I didn’t like it, then I thought I would get into law and realized that was a job where you do homework all day, every day, and passed on that. I bartended and worked at the campus center hotel, so I kind of fell into becoming a hotel-restaurant management major, then moved to Florida and got out into the field for a little bit and realized that it wasn’t where my heart was. So I kind of figured out what I didn’t want to do, and decided what I wanted to do. So I moved home to go back to school. It’s funny because I grew up in Springfield, MA, but never thought about attending Springfield College when I was in high school. Yet Springfield College is basically a physical education school. I realized while living and working in Florida that if I didn’t get into teaching, coaching, sports, that I was going to be unhappy. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be teaching and coaching, and in sports.

I received a Masters in health science in 1992 and moved to LA, I did some personal training, corporate fitness, trained women’s fitness competitors and a lot of youth athletes in the early ‘90s. The MLS started in ‘96 and the Galaxy played out of the Rose Bowl and business partner Ritch Finnegan connected with current coaches Greg, Dan, and Kevin when we trained at World Gym. In 1997, the team didn’t have a very good year, so I just offered it up to those guys to train in the offseason. We would train out in front of the Rose Bowl, train in the gym a couple days, we’d do spin class, we’d run Mt Wilson, we’d run Arbor Street… We trained hard. In 1998 Octavio Zobrano was the head coach and he offered me a full time job as the first full-time strength and conditioning coach in the league, so I jumped at it. It was the chance of a lifetime. I think sometimes you’re “lucky”, but it’s really when preparation and opportunity meet.

Back then, I was a performance staff of one. I wrote the menus, designed the on-field training exercises, put together the gym programs, used heart rate monitors to measure player load, executed return to play protocols. As Tommy (Tom Williams - Head of Sports Science with the LA Galaxy) would say, you’re the Swiss Army knife. I love the sport, I love the environment, and I feel very fortunate to have a second go with the Galaxy.

Can you please describe what a typical day in the life of your role looks like today?

The big difference now is that it is a little less hands-on, and there is more observation, mentoring, and sharing of ideas. In my role now, it’s First Team, Second Team, and Academy, and when I first came in, it was to try to add stability to the department after a lot of people left and we had to do a lot of new hires. Creating an environment, hiring, and providing some stability throughout the organization from the performance and medical side takes a long time. The first year was putting in the infrastructure of people and processes in place.

Now, in the last couple of years, we’ve brought in a lot of good people in their areas, and I really believe you hire people that are better than you at what their expertise is, and you let them go. From a performance/medical side, you can offer guidance, some experience or wisdom, but you get to a point where you are managing and teaching more than you’re actually on the field delivering. That being said, I will still clip drills with our GPS system and I’ll still be on the field coaching and teaching, if necessary.

Why is your role crucial for the team’s success?

My job is to make sure that the players get what they need on a daily basis to optimize their performance. To make it difficult for Greg and the coaches to decide who is in the starting lineup, who is on the 20-man roster, and who is not in the roster. Our mission at the club is to win games and compete for championships, our purpose as a department is to help the players to become better every day. That requires hiring the best people, letting them share their expertise, and to guide them where necessary. When I first started you just did everything, and there was really little vision other than getting through the day.

Another part of my role is to knock down silos. In sports, there can be a coaching silo, a performance silo, a medical silo, a front house and management silo, there’s an off-site medical silo, etc. Somebody needs to knock down these silos or at least get on the tightrope between the silos, to communicate and share information, to keep our daily purpose in mind, which is to help the players be great every day. To communicate and collaborate with people from different departments is essential to my role.

What is the most challenging part about your role and how do you respond to it?

The challenging part is continually improving communication between club stakeholders. That will always be a challenge because there is a healthy friction between performance and medical, and there is a healthy friction between the two of those groups and the coaching staff. 

I’ll use data collection as an example. We collect this GPS information (training volume, training intensity), so why does it matter? My role is to know why it matters and how it relates to performance and then who do I need to communicate to and share this information? It’s a challenge to take that information and put it into a digestible form that is understood by all parties. And from that, you can then collaborate and maybe get better as a staff. We’re all support staff. We’re all supporting the players’ journey to being great, period. If we can just juggle all the balls and keep them in the air, and sometimes it can feel like you’re juggling cats. Sometimes I need to wear my gloves, so I don’t get scratched.

Do you have a personal nutrition or food philosophy?

Mine is kind of simple. I have 5 meals a day, have a snack within 30 minutes after exercise, then eat within 2 hours - I’ve done that forever. I then make sure I have a starchy carb, fibrous carb, and a lean protein at every single meal. It could just be a scoop of Herbalife protein powder, frozen banana, blueberries, strawberries, a little bit of apple juice, and then I’m getting carbs and protein post-workout, then I’m on with my day. The last thing would be that I make sure that I get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 5 different colors every day.

Describe your favorite meal you’ve ever had.

That’s super tough. I think I’m going to say chili, cornbread with butter, and an IPA. The chili’s got to be somewhat spicy and I do prefer it with ground beef, beans, nice and tomato-y. Then red-hot cornbread, a couple pieces with butter and an IPA. That would be my top meal, and pizza is number 2! I love good pizza, especially pepperoni pizza.

What is your favorite Herbalife24® product and why?

I’m going to go with the Herbalife24® Rebuild Strength Vanilla Ice Cream protein powder, just because I probably have it most often. I love the way it changes the texture of a smoothie, the little bit of vanilla flavor, then pop in a banana, apple juice, some strawberry and blueberry, and it’s a homerun for me. But I do eat the Protein Bites a lot. I’ll have coffee with a couple Protein Bites a few times a week. I like to have coffee and a little bit of food prior to running or working out to settle my stomach, then I usually work out anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour after that.

I know I’ve given you two already, but I’ve got to tell you that when you and Erica make the slushed ice beverage, the Herbalife24® CR7 Drive slushed ice beverage is a legend in the summer. In the summer to come in and get watermelon mint or something, it blows you away. I would recommend that to anyone who is reading this that they try their own slushed ice beverage. I think the problem is that the staff will drink them all before the players, so it takes two batches.

Do you have any advice for anybody pursuing a job in professional sports?

I would say two things. Find a school that has a program in, whether it’s kinesiology, sports science, nutrition, or physical education, that puts you in a situation where you’re on the field, on the court, in the swimming pool, that gives you multiple experiences with different sports. Then once you find your passion, go volunteer to be an assistant coach on a youth sports team, attend practices, go to games, pick up cones… because you need to understand the language of the sport. If you’ve played soccer and you’ve been in it long enough, you probably understand it, but you haven’t seen it from the coaching side, you’ve only seen it from the playing side. It’s different - you’re managing the kids, you’re coaching and teaching the kids, you’re trying to manage the parents, or at least manage their expectations. If it’s a recreational sport, the parents’ expectations are relatively low, but if it is a club sport and they’re spending $3,000-$5,000, then their expectations are high. You definitely need experience from the coaching side, not just the playing side. 

Those two things are key. When you volunteer, you don’t really need to know how to do much, you assist the coach on whatever they need. Once you’ve done that, then you can figure out your niche. Is it, I want to help with recovery, I’m interested in sleep, I’m interested in nutrition, I’m interested in performance on the field, I’m interested in quantifying performance using GPS systems…?  It’s about where you would find yourself most happy and be able to make an impact, because it is all about finding a job. You’re going to spend good money to go to college, then you need to get a job to pay for college.

I know that’s a lot of words. You need to go to a school that gives you the opportunity to have a ton of experience in different sports, and then you need to go out and volunteer in the one you think you’re going to make the most impact in. Then decide what impact you can make, how you are different and are an asset to the team.

Can you leave us with 3 fun facts about yourself?

  1. I was born in Massachusetts, but in my heart I’ve always been a West Coast person.
  2. I feel that my happiest place is to be with family, and to be at the beach in New Hampshire with my family. I’m a dad of two daughters in their late-twenties and they’re a delight!
  3. I did improv off and on for four years, and I performed live at the Candlefish theater in Hollywood.