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Proper nourishment needed for active bodies

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Things that Matter
Sports nutritionist Tracey Pierre, second from left, with other members of the T&T Youth Olympic staff including athletic trainer, Asha De Freitas, from left, Jeannette Small, young ambassador, and Kwanieze John, Chef de Mission, discussing plans with T&T Olympic Committe president Brian Lewis at a press conference held on January 15 at the T&T Olympic House. PHOTO: ANTHONY HARRIS

In an effort to encourage young people with a keen interest in sport to get involved and make a positive difference. I am committed to giving them a voice and space. This week’s Things that Matter column places the focus on sports nutrition and Tracey Pierre, a graduate of Leeds Metropolitan University, who has agreed to put pen to paper and share her thoughts on sports nutrition.

The name “Sport Nutrition” is somewhat of a misnomer, because it implies a special kind of nutrition only geared toward people who play sports. However, in this context, ‘sports’ is generic and much broader in its definition. 


Sport Nutrition encompasses an extremely wide range of potential candidates, including athletes, weekend warriors, gym rats, fitness buffs, diehard aerobic queens and sport fanatics. It includes anyone engaged in physical activity. In fact, if you train and eat food, you’re engaged in sports nutrition.


‘Sport Nutrition’ is an intricate fusion between the scientifically precise and the socially practical. There is an art to nourishing an active body with high quality foods and natural health products in a skilful and safe manner. One must not only be concerned with what we eat, but also the when, where and how. The science of this field helps us to understand the fundamental theories of “why” certain recommendations and decisions are made regarding athlete nutrition. Through careful observation, research and repeated experiment, experts in the field investigate the effect of controlled exercise, food and natural products on the health, recovery and performance of athletes. While optimum nutrition can facilitate significant gains in these areas, poor nutritional choices can have equally disastrous results. As a result, changes to an athlete’s diet very clearly manifest themselves within any one of these three parameters.


Nutritional needs of athletes can vary significantly from those of the average physically active individual and as such, their eating habits require special consideration. An athlete’s dietary needs can fluctuate throughout the cycle various phases of an athletic year. 


Macronutrient requirements often need to be manipulated so as to meet personal goals and maximise the benefits of training, enhance performance in competition, reduce recovery time and minimiae the risk of injury. Though many athletes are committed to their sport and acknowledge the importance of nutrition in preparation, competition and recovery, they often face many situations that challenge their resolve, and make adhering to a programme difficult. 


Outside the realm of micro and macronutrients, individuals in the field of sport nutrition need to have an understanding of the effects of travel and travel related illness on an athlete and the ways in which food and other related interventions are best used to both avoid and treat them.


Evaluation of nutrition knowledge of athletes can lead to a clearer understanding of areas around which an education or intervention programme should focus. It has been suggested that a positive attitude toward nutrition is an indicator of greater responsiveness to education programmes. The nutrition knowledge of Caribbean athletes and coaches, more specifically, those from Trinidad and Tobago, has never been reported in an academic arena. 


Successful integration of a sport nutrition programme requires an understanding of the athletic culture, physiological milestones, and life stressors faced by athletes. Athlete education should therefore be both practical and dynamic.


Professionals in the field of sport nutrition should be competent in:


Ensuring that nutrition plans are focused primarily on the health and well being of the athlete


Applying sport nutrition science to fuel fitness and performance


Conducting and analysing nutrition assessments.


Educating individuals in food selection, purchase and preparation


Addressing energy balance and weight management issues


Addressing nutritional challenges to performance


Developing personalised nutrition and hydration strategies


Understanding the unique needs of vegetarian, vegan other athletes with special diets


Providing clear and concise information regarding the use of supplements and other ergogenic aids


Pierre has a Masters Degree in Sports and Exercise Science with a focus on Sport Nutrition from Leeds Metropolitan University. She has a keen interest in sharing her knowledge and giving back to sport in T&T. She was recently named as the sport nutritionist for the T&T team for the upcoming second Summer Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China from August 16-28.


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