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Achieving Peak Performance: Why Working with a Sports Nutritionist Matters

Katie Kissane, MS, RD

Published in Industry

8 min read

September 15, 2023
a salmon and quinoa bowl
a salmon and quinoa bowl

Despite the critical role it plays in all bodily functions, nutrition is often an overlooked cornerstone of athletic performance. This is where a sports nutritionist comes in—from personalized dietary plans tailored to your specific needs and goals to injury prevention and recovery support.

Just like a general dietitian or nutritionist, a sports nutritionist offers a wealth of expertise in nutrition, energy balance, educational resources. But, beyond this, they specialize in optimizing athletic performance.

In this article, we’ll discover how collaborating with a sports nutritionist can help you unlock your peak performance goals. Read on to learn more!

The Role of a Sports Nutritionist in Athletic Performance

role of a sports nutritionist

Any athlete training for an event or working towards maximizing their performance might turn to a sports coach for direction and expertise. And while that’s important in itself—fueling your body properly is too. Nutrition coaching from a qualified sports dietitian or nutritionist can help you perform your best.

A sports nutritionist provides personalized dietary guidance and nutrition counseling to athletes or any fitness enthusiast. They can help you create a diet plan that aligns with your training regimen, health needs, and performance goals, with a focus on fueling your body for workouts and improving performance, recovery, and preventing injury. 

Sports nutritionists take into account how both macronutrients (like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals) as well as meal structure and timing impact body composition, performance, and facilitate recovery and muscle repair. 

In a world where fad diets and misinformation are common, sports nutritionists can also serve as educators, providing clients with evidence-based knowledge and empowering them to make informed choices that impact their athletic performance. According to sports medicine researcher Dr. Andrew Jagim:

"[Working with a sports nutritionist] is especially important for people who may not have that background in metabolism or physiology to make sure we inform them of what to make of some of the information they're getting."

Benefits of Working With a Sports Nutritionist 

benefits of working with a sports nutritionist

The guidance of a skilled sports nutritionist who is specialized in exercise science and sports dietetics can have benefits that reach beyond what you eat. Many olympic athletes, collegiate or professional athletes, and sports teams work with sports dietitians to make sure they’re best equipped to train for optimal performance.

Let’s explore the benefits of working with a sports nutritionist and shed light on how this collaborative relationship can optimize your athletic performance and overall wellness.

1) Personalized Nutrition Plans

One of the main benefits of working with a sports nutritionist is the creation of a personalized nutrition plan that is compatible with your nutrient requirements and health goals. This tailored approach takes into account the connection between an athlete's unique physiology, health needs, training demands, and performance goals.

 A sports nutritionist may conduct assessments of your level of fitness, body composition, and nutrient requirements so that your diet plan aligns with your specific sport-related needs. These data-driven insights help them design a performance nutrition plan that optimizes macronutrient ratios, ensuring the right blend of carbs, proteins, and fats to support energy demands, muscle repair, and overall performance. 

A sports nutritionist can even help to solidify healthy dietary habits that go beyond training. Referencing a 2021 sports nutrition study he took part in, Dr. Jagim said:

"Through [the study], we identified that the athletes who did have access and then met regularly with the sports dietitian seemed to exhibit more positive or healthier, just general dietary habits, certainly with specific benefits to sports performance. And so this provided strong evidence for why a sports dietitian is beneficial in those settings."

Working closely with a qualified sports nutritionist can help you understand how to strategically time your meals for best results. Nutrisense sports-focused nutritionists are also able to use glucose insights from the CGM to further tailor fueling strategies and experiments. 

2) Helps Prevent or Recover From Injury

an athlete taping their hand

Injuries are an unfortunate reality for athletes of all skill levels. For athletes, injury prevention often begins with a nutrition plan that prioritizes joint health, immune function, and tissue repair. 

Sports nutritionists can identify specific nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which possess anti-inflammatory properties that help safeguard against injury. Sports nutritionists also ensure that an athlete's diet contains essential vitamins and minerals that bolster bone density and muscle function, such as zinc, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and others.

3) Offers Education on Hydration

Hydration is a significant component of an athlete’s performance, making education on hydration a crucial benefit of collaborating with a sports nutritionist. Sports nutritionists can shed light on the impact of hydration on endurance, strength, and overall well-being. 

Sports nutritionists are well-versed in the science of fluid intake and factors like sweat rates, electrolyte balance, and the timing of hydration during training and competition. By understanding an athlete's unique fluid requirements, sports nutritionists help avoid the pitfalls of under- or overhydration, both of which can significantly impair performance and even pose health risks.

4) Helps Athletes Find What’s Best to Eat Before, During and After Training

an athlete eating a healthy meal

Nutrition affects every aspect of athletic performance, from the moments before a workout to the crucial recovery period afterward and everything in between. A sports nutritionist offers personalized nutritional strategies for before, during, and after training sessions. 

A sports nutritionist will work with you to devise a pre-training meal plan, recommending an ideal balance and delivery method of nutrients tailored to your specific tolerance, needs, and training goals. They can also help you create a post-training nutritional regimen, considering factors like protein intake for muscle recovery and carbohydrates to replenish depleted glycogen stores.

How Proper Nutrition Can Enhance an Athlete’s Performance

As we’ve seen, proper nutrition is an important foundation of sports performance. In this section, we’ll explore specific dietary strategies that can affect an athlete’s endurance, power, speed, and other aspects of performance. 

Macro and Micronutrient Requirements

Eating the right balance of macronutrients and micronutrients is an important aspect of any dietary plan, but especially one that focuses on physical performance. Macronutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, are the foundation of an athlete's fueling strategy. 

Micronutrients also have an influence on athletic performance. Here are a few micronutrients that are important to get enough of as an athlete:

  • Magnesium: Supports muscle function and energy metabolism.
  • Calcium: Essential for bone health and muscle contractions, while 
  • Vitamin B12: Plays a role in red blood cell production, critical for oxygen transport during endurance activities.

In short, strategically balancing your macronutrient and micronutrient consumption with your training regimen and performance goals in mind can help keep your energy levels optimized, support muscle function, and improve recovery.

Hydration and Electrolyte Balance

As we mentioned earlier, hydration and electrolyte balance are crucial for athletic performance. Adequate hydration is important for several processes that can affect athletic performance, and electrolytes, which include minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, play a pivotal role in fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signaling. 

During intense physical activity, you lose water and electrolytes like sodium through sweat. This loss can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, and other factors that can significantly hinder performance. 

Electrolyte-rich beverages or supplements can help replenish these crucial minerals, aiding in fluid retention, preventing muscle cramps, and sustaining overall energy levels. Sodium in particular plays a key role in retaining water and enhancing hydration, making it an essential component of an athlete's nutritional strategy.

Dietary Strategies for Different Athletic Goals

Depending on your specific fitness or athletic goal, the type of sports nutrition guidance you receive may be different. Even individuals within the same goal category will require customized adjustments tailored to their personal needs.

Whether you’re looking to change your body composition, build strength, or optimize endurance, working with a qualified sports nutritionist is an invaluable asset.

quote from kasey brixius, cssd

Kasey Brixius, registered dietitian and board certified specialist in sports nutrition at Nutrisense explains how CGMs may be used to help inform nutrition recommendations in sports:

“An athlete can monitor their blood glucose concentrations during exercise to assess adequate fuel intake before or during competition or training. Most athletes will be using a percentage both of fat and carbs at lower intensity exercise so an athlete could use the CGM along with an active metabolic rate test or VO2 max to determine the percentage of fuel being utilized at various exercise intensities.”

-Kasey Brixius, MS, RDN, CSSD, IFNCP

Sports Nutritionist Training

There are a few different paths to becoming a sports nutritionist. The CSSD certification from the Commission on Dietetic Registration mentioned above is the gold standard for registered dietitians who work with athletes. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the CSSD is the first and only sports nutrition certification program to be accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

The NESTA certified sports nutrition specialist is offered by the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association. It’s often geared toward personal trainers and meets continuing education requirements for several national organizations including the NASM and SCNC. 

Other available credentials may include:

  • NCSF Sports Nutrition Specialist
  • AFPA Certified Sports Nutritionist
  • ISSA Nutritionist Certification
  • ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist

However, there is a wide range of eligibility requirements for different credentials and many are geared toward the general public without higher level nutrition science training. 

The Nutrisense Difference: A Nutritionist to Meet Your Athletic Goals

a man with a cgm patch eating a salad

Whether you're an athlete seeking performance optimization, an individual with dietary restrictions on a fitness journey, or someone aiming for weight management, Nutrisense can offer an advantage with its team of nutritionists, each specializing in distinct areas that cater to your specific needs. 

With a comprehensive array of specialties, including sports nutrition, the Nutrisense nutrition team can ensure that your nutritional journey is personalized, effective, and tailored to your individual goals. See how Nutrisense can help you take the first step toward better health today!

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Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the Nutrisense CGM program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.