What Does A Sports Nutritionist Do When Not Meeting Clients?
Many people believe that my job just involves meeting up and talking to clients about what they are eating but it is a lot more complicated and time consuming than that which is why I often discuss the issue of people giving out nutritional advice who aren’t properly qualified or people looking for nutritional advice on the internet for a certain sport. The nutritional requirements for sport is a very serious issue and one which must be addressed properly to ensure both safety and success. So what is a sports nutritionist’s role?
I thought it would be interesting to share what I do behind the scenes when I am not actually out meeting and talking to clients as that is only a small part of the job I do.
Due to the wide range of sports and individuals I work with it sometimes means I will come across a sport I am not too familiar with. When this situation occurs It means I first need to get a better understanding of the sport, the energy demands and rules etc to allow me to be able to tailor the advice to suit the individual. This will usually involve researching the rules from the governing body as well as watching numerous videos of athletes from that sport and making notes regarding nutritional issues. Some of the range of sports I have worked with and will all provide different challenges include:
- Martial Arts
- Endurance Running
- Multi-Discipline Sports (such as triathlons/iron man triathlons)
- Plus many more
Every sport has different nutritional requirements and the nature of each sport will also determine how the athlete is able to prepare, refuel and rehydrate. For example, a marathon runner knows exactly what distance they are going to be running and where the hydration/fuel stations are prior to the race. However, in a sport such as tennis there is no set time limit to the length of a match which can have serious effects on performance if they have not planned properly. A men’s singles match at Wimbledon is 5 sets which means it could end up being 3, 4 or 5 sets and last anywhere from 1 hour to as much as 5 or 6 and could be a very high intensity and can end up having numerous tie breaks. In the first round at Wimbledon in 2010, the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut took an astonishing 11 hours 5 minutes to finish over 3 days. They were playing for an incredible 183 games and the final set alone lasted over 8 hours. This match has now set a record for the longest in history.
With this in mind it is vital that this possibility is discussed with the client and that they understand what they should be doing to ensure that risks such as fatigue, dehydration, cramp etc are limited.
A big part of the work I do with a client is analysing food diaries. This allows me to get a better understanding of my clients current diet, including food choice, preparing for an event, recovery, refuelling, hydration as well as looking at specific macronutrients, overall calorie intake and focusing on specific vitamins and minerals to ensure they are performing at their optimum level, taking into account the challenges their sport may spring up and maintaining a good general health. (Check out some of the clients I have been working with)
The image to the right shows an example of a clients initial food log. They were taking part in an ultra endurance event which meant they required a large amount of carbohydrate in order to sustain the high training volume. This highlighted a huge issue with the balance of macronutrients as well as the overall calorie intake being far too low which could have resulted in some very serious consequences if it was left unchanged.
This information allows me to work with the client and make plans to improve certain areas of the diet as well as setting achievable goals to help them to meet the targets set and will provide a good basis to progress from.
Following this I will then look at other aspects of their nutrition requirements such as hydration and can work out how much they are losing in sweat and create a personalised plan for how much they should be drinking to ensure they are suitably hydrated without running the risk of over-hydration.
Another huge part of my work is keeping up to date with current research. As a member of the British Dietetic Association as well as the European Institute of Sports Science I have access to a huge range of scientific papers and literature. This ensures I am able to keep up to date with all the new research which comes out. It is very important that my clients understand what I am advising them and so I must make sure I am able to break down the complicated science into a way that is easily understandable for people.
I often get clients who have conditions which will prevent them from eating a normal diet such as coeliac disease, diabetes etc as well as people who might work shifts which can be very disruptive to a normal diet. It is important that these people get a good understanding of how their situation can be overcome to ensure they can perform at their best when it comes to competition as well as making sure they are completing it safely.
Another big issue that often gets overlooked and is vital that they are addressed is environmental factors such as extreme temperatures and altitude. These can pose a big challenge when It comes to a persons nutrition and can throw up issues such as higher sweat rates, reduced urge to drink resulting in dehydration and hypoxia which causes a deficiency of oxygen in the blood.
Many of my clients compete in a place they are not familiar with whether it is a totally different country or just another part of the UK but means staying in a hotel where they are unsure of the food options available and will differ from what they are used to for training. This is a big challenge and one that must be considered quite early on to ensure there are no big surprises when it comes to race day as this can easily result in illness, stomach issues, increased nerves etc which are best to be avoided!
Hopefully this will give you a better understanding as to a small part of the work I do and what kind of thing I am doing when I am not meeting clients.
If you feel you need assistance with your diet and want to improve your performance for a specific sport or goal contact me to find out how I can help.