Limited research exists on the effect of a sports dietitian (SD) on athletes’ dietary habits and nutrient periodization, which is the deliberate manipulation of macronutrient intake to match training goals. Further, the difference in dietary habits between men and women collegiate athletes has been understudied. A survey questionnaire examining dietary habits and practices was administered to athletes at two universities that employed a full time SD. Not all athletes used the SD as their primary source for nutritional guidance. The purposes were to examine the effect of a SD as a primary source of nutrition information, and the effect of gender on dietary habits in collegiate athletes.
Three hundred eighty-three women (n = 240) and men (n = 143) student-athletes (mean ± SD: age = 19.7 ± 1.4 years) from 10 collegiate sports took a 15-minute survey consisting of questions on dietary habits and practices. Topics queried included eating habits, breakfast habits, hydration habits, nutritional supplementation use, pre-workout nutrition, post-workout nutrition, nutrition during team trips and nutrient timing. Data were sorted by the athlete’s source of nutritional information (i.e., sport dietitian, other). Data analysis consisted of descriptive statistics and two-way Pearson X2 analyses (p ≤ 0.10).
When a SD was indicated as the primary nutrition information source, athletes appeared to have a greater understanding of nutrient periodization (47.12 percent vs. 32.85 percent), were more likely to have school-provided boxed meals while on team trips (21.29 percent vs. 6.77 percent) and also less likely to consume fast food while on team trips (9.90 percent vs. 19.55 percent). Men athletes consumed fast food or restaurant meals more frequently, had higher weekly and more frequent alcohol intake during the competitive season. Women athletes were more likely to prepare meals, eat breakfast seven days a week and have school-provided boxed meals.
Positive effects on dietary habits were observed when a SD was the primary nutrition information source. Practitioners should be aware of the gender differences in alcohol intake, fast food consumption and knowledge of nutrient periodization. Collegiate athletes and athletic staff members could benefit from SD access to safeguard against dietary habits detrimental to performance.
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