Nutrition is essential for an athlete’s performance, recovery, and overall health. We are what we eat. What we put into our bodies affects everything from athletic performance to sleep, weight, fitness, and how well (or not) athletes recover from injuries.
Depending on the size of your club/team, you may have a nutritionist or registered dietitian on-staff or supporting the team as consultants. However, coaches, especially those in Strength & Conditioning (S&C) roles, need a decent, in-depth working understanding of nutrition and how you can help players improve their diets and stay on-track.
In this article, we provide five steps coaches can take to improve their knowledge of nutrition and the ways they can better support athletes in their nutritional choices.
The Importance of Nutrition Knowledge for Coaches
Athletes with healthy diets perform better. Hundreds of scientific studies prove this, as is the case with better diets and the general public. Health and diet have always been closely linked, and this is even more important in this age of convenience foods, “junk” foods, and highly processed meals.
Better nutrition enhances injury prevention, stamina, and helps athletes grow and maintain muscle mass, energy levels, and mental clarity. Coaches with nutritionist knowledge can give their athletes a competitive edge.
5 Ways to Fulfill the Role of a Nutritionist for Your Team
Because athletes do more, asking more of their bodies than most people, they have enhanced dietary needs. As medical professionals and nutritionists point out: “In addition to consuming sufficient amounts of calories and macronutrients, athletes may also require more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for peak recovery and performance.”
Here are the five ways coaches can play a more active part in the nutrition and diets of the whole team to help improve their performance and overall health.
1. Get Nutritionist Certification
There are numerous certification schemes for coaches, and it’s recommended you get certified if you want to understand the role of diet and nutrition for athletes properly. It’s even more useful if you don’t have a nutritionist on-staff.
Options for nutritionist certification include the Precision Nutrition (PN) scheme, and the ISSN and ISSA also provide courses that combine the science, psychology, and coaching elements to act as a nutritionist for your team. Any of these are worth investing in to support your team more effectively.
2. Understand Your Athletes’ Dietary Habits: Ask Questions
Every athlete needs a personalized nutrition plan. What they eat and when they eat is influenced by training and fitness goals and numerous other factors. In order to create a personalized nutrition plan, you need to be clear on each player’s current dietary practices.
Food logs, using apps, are helpful for this, or you can start with a simple survey to assess what, how much, and when your players are eating and drinking. With this, you can put together a more detailed nutritional plan tailored for every athlete.
3. Ask Athletes to Keep Food Logs
Athletes keeping food logs for tracking eating patterns and identifying areas for improvement is an essential part of ensuring a high-quality, calorific, and nutrition-appropriate diet is maintained. Apps like MyFitnessPal are useful for this.
According to the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), athletes need a ratio of the following:
Adequate hydration is always essential, and certain nutritional supplements are also useful, although not always medically proven beyond the value of enhancing a high-quality diet and sleep routine.
An athlete’s weight and body mass, exercise goals, and level of activity (e.g., training) all influence the amount of calories they need to consume and when in the day they should eat. Hence, the importance of keeping food logs so coaches can see whether they’re on track or if changes need to be made.
According to ISSN guidelines: “Athletes weighing 50–100 kg may require 2,000–7,000 calories per day. It also notes that athletes weighing 100–150 kg may need to consume 6,000–12,000 calories daily to meet training demands.”
4. Implement Nutrition Office Hours
Having “Nutrition Office Hours” as a coach will encourage open communication and can foster trust and adherence to better diets and healthier nutritional practices. Make sure to setup open hours for this and anything else related that athletes need to discuss with you as a coach. At the same time, keep asking for and tracking food logs.
5. Tracking Progress, Continuous Monitoring, and Suggestions
It’s important for coaches to provide ongoing assessment and adjustment of nutrition plans. This could involve a weekly review of food logs or asking players, “How’s the diet coming along?”
Here are a few ideas for healthy meals ⏤ and these will, of course, vary according to age, fitness goals, training plans, sex, weight, and activity:
Snacks are an important way for athletes to meet their calorie and nutrition needs and stay well fueled throughout the day, such as smoothies, carrot sticks, hummus, tuna, greek yogurt, fruits, and peanut butter.”
Summary & Key Takeaways
As a coach, you can act as a holistic mentor through nutrition integration and encourage coaches to embrace continuous learning when it comes to sports nutrition. When you take on a nutritional role, you can enhance your teams’ performance through better nutrition.
In most cases, you’ll find that when players are healthier, training and competitive performance improve, and so will mental health, mental clarity, sleep, team cohesion, and their ability to win games and competitions.