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Athlete Assessment

The initial encounter(s) with an athlete sets the stage for all future work achieved together. Athlete assessment is a crucial first step in providing appropriate and effective nutrition strategies. The goal of the initial visit is to establish the baseline of the athlete’s current position and what the individual’s nutrition and performance goals are. The information that is gathered here will dictate the direction of future nutrition guidance.

All individuals looking to improve health and performance through dietary practices should undergo a thorough professional nutrition assessment and provide the practitioner with a detailed understanding of the physical demands of training and competition. This includes an assessment of the periodized training program. Relevant biochemical and medical information is collected by the practitioner, which includes any potential risks or red flags that have nutrition implications. The weight loss practitioner then completes an anthropometric assessment and in many cases collects body composition measurements. The sports dietitian will then usually ask about normal daily dietary patterns and intake by using a 24-hour recall or a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). The individual may also be asked to keep a 3-day diet record prior to the initial consult. Once all of this information is compiled, the practitioner can then formulate pertinent nutrition recommendations to support the goals of the athlete.

Importance of the Athlete Assessment

The link between nutrition and performance has long been established. There is no doubt that optimal nutrition strategies allow athletes to maximize their training efforts and to reach their athletic goals. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for nutrition prescription; rather, nutrition recommendations must be individualized. A thorough and comprehensive nutrition assessment will facilitate a customized plan. While this nutrition plan will constantly be revised as the needs of the athlete change (due to training periodization, competition goals, body composition changes and goals, etc.), the nutrition assessment provides a solid foundation for plan development.

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Ideally, sports dietitians and nutrition professionals are not working in isolation but rather are part of an athlete’s “team” of experts, including but not limited to coaching staff, medical staff, exercise physiology experts, and sports psychologists. When working together, the team can provide cohesive and integrated recommendations. It can be challenging and even counter-productive when athletes are receiving conflicting messages from different providers. Feedback from other team members can be integrated into the nutrition assessment to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the athlete.

The nutrition assessment identifies athletes at risk of nutrition-related problems. Lack of energy for training, impaired recovery, inability to achieve body composition goals, among other challenges faced by athletes can be at least partially the result of poor nutrition practices. The nutrition assessment helps to identify any problematic nutrition habits and can improve many aspects of training and performance. Additionally, information gathered during the assessment will guide interventions and target education as it is relevant to the athlete.

There are many factors affecting a nutrition plan, including but not limited to the sport type of the athlete, the athlete’s specialty or sport position, where the individual is in the periodized training schemata, and the training schedule. Individual characteristics of the athlete need to be considered, including age, sex, weight, height, body composition, genetics or physiological information, and health status. Of course, the athlete’s nutrition and performance goals must be identified so that nutritional goals can be prioritized.

This is a complex process requiring the collection of many different inputs. This chapter will highlight relevant information that should be gathered during the nutrition assessment as well as identify practical recommendations when it comes times to formulating a plan.

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