Dietitian blog: Old School to New School - Part 1
Dietitians are often viewed as the traditional “food police”. We scrutinize your food choices and tell you how much you should eat and drink. We dictate what is right and wrong.
Most athletes want to know exactly what foods and in what quantities they should eat to achieve certain goals such as weight loss or how to properly fuel during a particular training cycle. This is the “numbers and math” you may be familiar with, especially if you have ever tinkered with online formulas for determining calorie or protein/fat/carbohydrate needs. Sport dietitians have been taught a range of formulas to develop nutrition plans for athletes. Here is a simple example of something I recently read in a textbook: “To figure out the average female athlete’s daily calorie needs, multiply 37 times her weight in kilograms. Take 45-65% of this number to get calories from carbohydrate. Divide by 4 to get the number of grams…” It is easy to get buried in the numbers and lose sight of the athlete’s goals.
It is true that dietitians’ formal education includes learning medical nutrition therapy guidelines to help treat a variety of medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and gastrointestinal disorders. In these cases, it can be appropriate to provide very specific calorie or nutrient needs to affect a disease state or outcome.
But for sports nutrition, many dietitians are making a shift from the “numbers” and rigid meal plans to an emphasis on the quality of one’s nutrition. Nutrition quality can include aspects such as teaching athletes how to become aware of their hunger and satiety levels, build healthy relationships with food, and food combinations to maintain energy levels. Sports dietitians stay abreast of the scientific evidence related to nutrition and sport performance, but no longer do we define “good” nutrition simply by the number of nutrient grams and calories per day. A bigger, more qualitative look at nutrition will reveal many intricacies than classic definitions of good and bad nutrition. It is an exciting time for the new wave of sports dietitians and athletes, so we will explore these topics in future posts!
Dina Griffin, MS, RD