As Sports Evolve, Nutrition Follows

Posted

It’s difficult to quantify the changes in sports nutrition over the past decades, but today’s athletes are bigger, stronger and faster partially as a result of improvements in their fuel intake.

For those who closely follow collegiate or professional sports, tracking favorite athletes also means watching their diet and eating rituals. In recent years, nutrition has exploded in the world of elite sports, driven by changing regulations within governing bodies like the NCAA and by advances in food and beverage research.

The findings that keep piling up tell us what many sports dietitians have been preaching for years- nutrition is not just important for general health, but it can also make a direct impact on an athlete's performance.

The days of strength coaches doubling as nutritionists and making (often questionable) recommendations are over. Long gone is the era when gorging on pizza and cheeseburgers was the sportsman’s path to gaining weight.

The number of full time sports dietitians nationwide rose from single digits in the early 2000's to the hundreds, and that figure keeps growing. Programs that historically budgeted a few hundred thousand dollars on their nutrition, or in many cases nothing, are now spending millions.

In the past, designated nutrition facilities were few and far between. Fueling stations, mobile nutrition setups, and performance kitchens and dining halls are now part of the athletic infrastructure at top institutions.

In terms of day-to-day practice, the profession of sports dietitians has also evolved to include more than just general diet recommendations. For example, nutritionists will include ways that an athlete can reduce inflammation by adding foods like nuts, nut butters, seeds, and tart cherry juice. They may seek to optimize the sportsperson’s oxygen utilization by including foods high in nitrates, like beets or beetroot juice.

In most cases, food recommendation is individualized. A football player’s diet is much different from that of a cross country runner, or a swimmer. The customization usually involves assessing the individual’s macro and micronutrient needs based on his or her goals, training, and lab work.

Not surprisingly, sports dietitians are euphoric about these changes and the positive impact their specialty is bringing to young athletes. Though, one noticeable drawback is the dependency it creates for those active in college sports.

With enormous budgets available to provide meals and snacks on campus, it's absolutely realistic that athletes can spend their entire college careers without ever needing to learn the life skills of grocery shopping, budgeting and cooking.

While their student peers are honing these skills in college, or at least attempting to do so, athletes are being fed practically around the clock. Providing our sports men and women with the proper nutrition has tremendous benefits during their athletic career, but are we putting them at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives?

This realization also highlights the importance of the educational component associated with sports dieticians. Administration officials should make sure that their sports nutrition staff have the tools and resources available to provide ancillary education such as food demos, cooking sessions, grocery store tours, etc.

After all, student athletes are not athletes forever and building nutrition knowledge should be part of their college education.

Lauren Varnau Link, RD, CSSD, is the Director of Sports Nutrition at Purdue University. She is the author of “From Athlete To Normal Human”, available for sale on our site. LaurenlLink@purdue.edu Facebook.com/linktonutrition Twitter LinktoNutrition  Instagram.com/linktonutrition

JISSN, Sports Nutrition

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

BASEBALL July 13, 2010  The NL beat the AL 3-1 in the All-Stars exhibition game. Held at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California, the game was preceded with a short memorial honoring George Steinbrenner who had died early that morning. The AL fielded the likes of Derek Jeter (SS-Yankees), Ichiro Suzuki (OF-Mariners) and Mariano Rivera (P-Yankees), while the AL brought out David Wright (3B-Mets), Albert Pujols (1B-Cardinals) and Roy Halladay (P-Phillies).

20 years ago

SOCCER July 2, 2000  France defeats Italy 2-1 at the UEFA European Championship. It was their 2nd title at the quadrennial extravaganza, which has been held since 1960 to determine the continent’s best national team; Germany and Spain are tied at the top with 3 wins each. One of the most exciting finals in tournament history, France equalized a goal in the closing minute of official time to send the game into overtime and then land a ‘golden goal’ in sudden death.

30 years ago

TENNIS July 7, 1990  Martina Navratilova claims a record 9th Wimbledon singles title after defeating her American opponent, Zina Garrison, 6-4, 6-1. It was Navratilova’s last career grand slam singles after compiling 17 victories since her first one at Wimbledon in 1978. Considered one of the greatest female athletes in the game, the Czech-born and U.S.-naturalized tennis star was ranked No. 1 in singles for a total of 332 weeks, and No. 1 in doubles for a total 237 weeks.

40 years ago

BOXING July 7, 1980  Larry Holmes knocks out Scott LeDoux in the 7th round to retain his WBC Heavyweight title. It was the 35th professional and undefeated bout for the Georgia native who swung one of the fiercest left jabs in boxing history. Holmes battled the greatest heavyweights of his era and he would defeat Muhammad Ali in the 10th round just 3 months after his encounter with LeDoux. The “Easton Assassin” retired in 2002 after posting a career record of 75-69-6.