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The future of sport and exercise nutrition

This is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Sport and Exercise Nutrition by Marie Dunford, PhD, RD.


The future of sport and exercise nutrition is bright. There have been tremendous advances in knowledge and its application, particularly in the last 15 years, and more advances are expected. The number of full-time jobs is slowly increasing. Athletes at all levels are looking seriously at the role nutrition plays in training, recovery, and performance. As athletes compete at the professional level for longer periods of time than in the past, nutrition becomes particularly important because of its role in recovery and good health. Although no one can predict the future with accuracy, some likely developments in the field of sport and exercise nutrition are outlined here.

Job Opportunities

The number of full-time jobs in sport nutrition is expected to slowly increase. A major issue is credentialing and the distinction between sport nutritionists and sport dietitians. In the United States, there is no requirement for people who work in the field of sports nutrition to be licensed. Thus, individual employers set the qualifications for the job. At the present time, the strongest credential in terms of education and experience appears to be the board-certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD), which requires that the person be a registered dietitian.

Dual Areas of Expertise

Most athletes would benefit from the expertise of a sport dietitian. Unfortunately, budgets at the high school and club levels are usually small and strained, so it is beyond the budget to hire such a person. Being certified in two areas, such as sport dietetics and strength and conditioning, could be beneficial because there may be enough money in the budget for a full-time person who is qualified to work in both areas.

Entrepreneurial Skills

An entrepreneur is someone who sets up and finds financing for new commercial enterprises. The field of sport and exercise nutrition is ripe for entrepreneurs. New forms of communication such as video conferencing, text messaging, and social networking Web sites may provide the platform for some creative ways to counsel athletes about nutrition.

Nutrigenomics

Nutrigenomics is the use of genetic information to determine the specific nutrients and type of diet a person needs to prevent disease. Scientists have already shown that specific nutrients as well as general dietary patterns can influence genes. Therefore, one of the forefronts in the field of nutrition is creating personalized diets based on a person’s unique genetic makeup.

Genetic testing can identify variant genes, which are slightly different from the usual form of genes. The difference can be very small; for example, only one of the hundreds of building blocks of the gene may be different. Variant genes are not necessarily bad. However, some can contribute to disease states or undesirable health outcomes.

One of the best examples of nutrigenomics comes from studies of a variant gene that affects the metabolism of folic acid. People with this variant gene are at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Those who have the variant gene benefit from a daily folic acid supplement (Stover & Caudill, 2008).

Some genetic variations already discovered may be of particular interest for athletes. For example, three variant genes associated with antioxidant activity have been identified. A link between caffeine and bone loss has been discovered, but only if one particular variant gene is present. Several variant genes are known to be pro-inflammatory, and this response can be offset to some degree by eating oily fish or supplementing with fish oil. There are also variant genes associated with abnormal levels of blood sugar and insulin (Arkadianos et al., 2007).

In the future, athletes may be genetically tested, and physicians and sport dietitians may use the information to tailor diets that reflect specific variant gene–nutrient interactions. An individualized plan can be created, and that plan may include the use of vitamin or mineral supplements as medications. Nutrigenomics, or personalized nutrition, is likely the wave of the future.

Molecular Biology and Sport Nutrition

When we think of nanotechnology, we think of things being very small. Computers, telephones, and other communications devices have been revolutionized by nanotechnology. It is likely that sport nutrition will be revolutionized by the study of the human body at the smallest level, which is the molecular level.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in sport nutrition came with the study of muscle cells in the late 1960s. These studies were conducted at the cellular level and yielded new information about muscle glycogen. The ability to maximize the amount of carbohydrate stored in muscle cells by adopting a high-carbohydrate diet proved to be one of the most important discoveries for athletes. Today, scientists in the fields of nutrition and exercise physiology are also looking at changes at the molecular level. For example, they study specific enzymes in muscle cells associated with the metabolism of muscle glycogen. These studies yield very specific information about cellular processes that, in turn, may be applied to athletes to improve training, recovery, or performance. For example, studies of enzymes in muscle cells led to recommendations about nutrient timing.

It is hoped that molecular biology will better our understanding of protein metabolism. Protein is one of the more difficult nutrients to study in the body because it is found throughout the body and it is hard to measure small changes in protein status. In particular, athletes are interested in maximizing muscle growth and minimizing muscle damage from resistance exercise. Ultimately, scientists will understand protein synthesis and breakdown on the molecular level, which will lead to more specific recommendations about the amount, type, and timing of protein intake for athletes.

Keeping Up With New Knowledge

Nutrition and exercise physiology are evolving fields. Part of the responsibility of a sport-related professional is keeping up-to-date with the newest recommendations. Thus, continuing education is not only necessary, it is imperative.

One way to stay abreast of new developments is to attend conferences. Organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Dietetic Association (ADA), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) feature nutrition lectures and workshops at their annual meetings. These forums also give participants a chance to ask questions directly of the speaker.

There has been tremendous growth of online offerings in the area of sport nutrition. University courses offer comprehensive coverage of the subject. Professional organizations and companies, such as Human Kinetics, also offer numerous self-study courses. Online courses are convenient and beneficial, but interactivity may be limited.

Journal articles are very important in the dissemination of knowledge. Some are review articles, which summarize the most recent information about a topic. Other articles report the results of new studies. These articles offer more specific information about a subject, but the reader must incorporate this information into the body of knowledge about that topic. The National Library of Medicine Online (PubMed) is a free search engine that anyone can use to access the database containing the article citations. In some cases, the full text of the article is available free of charge, but more often only the abstract is available.




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