Coaches & Nutrition
I want to take a minute to discuss the role and responsibility of the coach when it comes to the nutrition education of their athletes.
This is a topic I deal with often. I see too many athletes come to me after past coaches have provided nutrition advice that has hindered performance and influenced a poor relationship with food. It’s common to over hear in races, athletes saying ‘oh my coach said I could only have 1 gel, or my coach told me to stop eating dairy’. It shocks me and saddens me that these athletes are being given eating advice by an athletic coach (not a sports dietitian) and that they are taking it (wtf athletes!?). This needs to change.
Coaches, you are the expert in coaching sport. Training your athlete to do the best by building their body to be strong based on performance history zones, plans, heart rate, mood, goals etc… Sport dietitians are the experts on the nutrition side. Telling that athlete how to fuel to match the demands of your training program, create that strong body, be ready for the next session and be energized throughout competition. These things go together. As a coach, you should respect the big picture of athletic wellness which encompasses training, nutrition, recovery, and mental health, and be willing and able to refer your athletes to experts in fields outside of your own.
I respect coaches who value the input of a sports dietitian and nothing makes me cringe more than coaches who give out eating plans and specific fueling advice. Sports dietitians see it far too often, coaches and trainers telling athletes to give up certain foods, eat only ___ during workouts, or advise sketchy supplements. You wouldn’t go to a therapist to get a weight lifting plan right? Same concept, athletes do not trust a coach who feels they are a nutrition expert (unless they actually are credentialed as such bc then you’ve found a winner!). Coaches, stop preaching a discipline you aren’t educated in because your athletes will suffer from your limited advice. Athletes are such special individuals, with specific nutrition needs (timing, grams of carbs/kg, etc…) and with specific nutrition concerns (body image, bone density, iron levels, etc…) that it takes someone truly educated in these specific areas to truly address an athletes eating habits in a way that optimized performance AND a healthy overall body.
The Coach’s Responsibility:
Take note of athletes who are excessively fatigued, losing weight, constantly injured.
Watch for athletes refusing to eat.
Watch for athletes consuming high amounts of junk food.
Have water, bars, and gels available at practices.
Ask athletes to take fueling breaks.
Add reminders to training plans to “drink & eat” (not what or how much, just to do it….).
Remind athletes that nutrition is an important part of their athletic success.
Bring a sports dietitian in for a nutrition clinic.
Have knowledge of the basic guidelines (see resources below!)
Do NOT act like an expert. Do NOT give specific nutrition advice.
Have a list of resources to refer athletes to and use it!
Overall, when it comes to nutrition, your job is to be aware of the relationship your athlete has with food, reinforce that eating/ drinking is vital acknowledge that nutrition plays a large role in your athlete’s success. That’s it. No more nutrition advice, go back to what you do best; training that athlete to perform!! Staying up to date on athletic training principals, best techniques and how to best analyze data is a big enough job. No one expects or wants you to ‘know it all’ and being able to refer athletes out to other health & sport disciplines makes you a more respected coach and makes your athlete a better overall competitor.
And athletes, realize that you go to your coach for training knowledge and unless they are a sports dietitian, they shouldn’t be telling you how and what to eat. If they are giving you individual instructions on nutrition, they are not a good coach and you should really look elsewhere. Guys I can’t stress how important it is to go to a SPORTS DIETITIAN, not a ‘certified nutritionist’, seriously if your coach tells you they are a nutritionist, question that nutrition education just like you would vet them before signing on to train your body.