Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9501-4901

Date of Award

Summer 6-27-2022

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Nutrition

First Advisor

Rafaela G. Feresin

Second Advisor

Anita M. Nucci

Third Advisor

J. Andrew Doyle

Abstract

Background: Nutrition plays a critical role in an athlete’s performance, recovery, and overall health, but previous research has shown that many athletes fail to meet their nutritional needs. Furthermore, the failure to meet energy needs may result in a condition known as relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). Current literature on RED-S highlights the adverse effects inadequate fueling can have on an athlete’s performance. Fortunately, there has been an influx in the number of registered dietitan nutritionists (RDNs) working in collegiate athletics, and it is hypothesized that sports RDNs can further support athletes by showcasing proper fueling strategies to minimize the risk of RED-S.

Objectives: To assess the relationship between sports nutrition knowledge, RED-S risk, and access to a sports RDN in collegiate athletes from NCAA Division I and Division III universitites in Georgia.

Methods: Collegiate athletes and athletic staff were recruited to complete a web-based questionnaire. Nutrition knowledge was assessed using a 20-question sports nutrition knowledge questionnaire (SNKQ). Athletes were also asked to complete the six question disordered eating screen in athletes (DESA-6) to determine risk for RED-S.

Results: A total of 34 participants (n = 25 collegiate athletes, n = 9 athletic staff) completed the study. Mean total SNKQ score was 69.8 ± 16.5% for athletes and 70.6 ± 12.4% for athletic staff. Both athletes and staff scored the lowest in the supplement sub-section (66.7% (50.0), 66.7% (50.0), respectively) and the highest in the weight-management sub-section (80.0% (30.0), 80.0% (40.0), respectively). Four athletes scored ≥ 3 on the DESA-6, indicating disordered eating and elevated risk for RED-S. A significant negative correlation was found between DESA-6 scores and total SNKQ score (p = 0.01, r = -0.50), micro- and macronutrient sub-score (p < 0.05, r = -0.35), and weight management sub-score (p = 0.00, r = -0.55). No significant differences were found in SNKQ scores or DESA-6 scores between participants attending a university with a full-time sports RDN versus those without (p > 0.05). However, athletes and staff who reported previous nutrition education scored significantly higher than those who had not.

Conclusions: Collegiate athletes and athletic staff have overall inadequate sports nutrition knowledge, but improvements have been made, particularly in knowledge of hydration and weight-management. Relative energy deficiency in sport remains a concern in the athlete population, and inadequate knowledge may result in an increased risk due to lack of awareness of proper fueling strategies. Athletic departments may better support their athletes by hiring full-time sports RDNs who can educate and empower athletes to utilize nutrition as a means to improve health, better athletic performance, and gain a cutting edge over their opponent.

Funding Sources: There are no funding sources.

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