Happy National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day!
It’s been a pretty busy spring break here in Troy, with training, traveling to races, team dinners, and game nights (and squeezing in schoolwork that needs doing) – but I couldn’t let RDN Day go by without putting in my two cents about the importance of good nutritional habits in athletics. It’s one of my biggest passions, and this is the day to talk about it!
In the last 10 years, the number of full-time Sports Dietitians at DI Universities has quadrupled. Over 50 universities now offer nutritional services to their athletes. This trend is pointing sharply upward – soon, you’ll be the outcast university if you’re the only one who hasn’t hopped on board. Some of the biggest reasons for this change are the performance and safety benefits that only an RDN can bring to the athletic department. An RDN can work specifically with an athlete to resolve nutritional deficiencies, develop a plan to work toward weight gain, loss, or maintenance, aid recovery from training or injury, and encourage healthy attitudes towards food and self. An RDN can also work with an entire team at once, providing advice on key topics such as hydration, post-workout recovery, and pre-competition fueling. Many campuses with RDNs have snack bars for athletes to pick up something that will help them out after practice, and RDNs also often attend games and practices to provide healthy fuel for the team. After the strict food provision rules were repealed in 2014 by the NCAA, universities gained an amazing opportunity to aid their athletes in achieving better health and performance.
Why is sports nutrition a thing? Why is it increasing in importance? With the ever-lowering of records in sports like Track and Field, every little bit of edge counts. Every advantage must be gained – when training is at its best, we must look elsewhere to improve further. Strength and conditioning is the focus right after sport-specific training, and sports nutrition should fall in line right after that. Athletes cannot gain muscle mass from training without consuming enough fuel, plain and simple. The fuel put in will affect the quality of the athlete’s performance, not only because of its effects on weight and size, but its function as adequate fuel in the body as well. Showing up to practice properly fueled can improve the quality of training, thus leading to greater improvement. Through proper recovery fuel, athletes can maximize their gains. Preventing eating disorders or improper attitudes toward food and body image is also essential to ensuring athletes reach their full potential.
Due to the expanding nature of sports, even youth sports, in America, it is inevitable that everyone continue looking for more ways to get better. Kids are starting earlier, training harder, and focusing more on sport than ever before in a quest to be the best. Nutrition, however, is often the “elephant in the room” when it comes to performance improvement. Some parents do feed their kids well in an effort to make them healthier and stronger, but many throw a fast food bag back to the backseat on the way to a second or third practice. Kids need adequate macro- and micronutrients to become their best and strongest. Especially while they are still growing and learning, a good diet can be encouraged and become a routine for life. When doing research for a paper on the National School Lunch Program, I learned that the younger kids are exposed to healthful foods, the more likely they are to enjoy them later on. Exposure is key. We should teach kids about the functions of certain foods, and how they can help them reach their goals. I believe that nutrition should be a component of education from a younger age – if kids are eating, they should be learning about it! Also, I feel that if high schools were able to provide the services of a dietitian to their student athletes, they would see more college signings happen. The performance implications are that great!
There’s my spill. Happy RDN Day, and I hope this serves as food for thought about the power of your own choices, no matter what your responsibilities in life are. You get to choose what you put in – you have been given a great opportunity to make yourself a more successful athlete, or simply a healthier and better-feeling human being! Drink water, consume the proper amount of fuel for your daily activities, and choose colorful, fresh foods whenever you can – these are my top tips for better performance in whatever you do.