This past week I had the privilege of working with the board certified sports dietitian for West Virginia University. I never thought I would enjoy it nearly as much as I actually did! I had the opportunity to test body composition, go over the results, conduct nutrition assessments and consultations, help athletes set goals, and even speak with entire teams regarding nutrition.
Body composition testing and results was the justification for most of our appointments. It is extremely important for athletes to know where they stand and to determine if their body promotes optimal performance for their sport. While BMI (Body Mass Index) is the most commonly talked about, it is almost never used with athletes. BMI is really just an over simplified way to assess height and weight. BMI should not be looked at on athletes because they typically have a large amount of muscle which weighs more than fat. Instead of BMI, a body composition test will determine the amount of lean body mass (organs, bones, and muscle) and the amount of fat mass an individual has. A healthy range for females is between 18-28% fat mass but it is not uncommon for athletes to get down below that. As long as the female is performing well and still menstruating then she may get as low 10%. Males have a healthy range from 10-20% but it is not uncommon for male athletes to get down to 5% before it is of a serious concern.
Each sport has different dynamics and different demands. For example, gymnastics and cross country athletes tend to be leaner where as football players will tend to be much larger. The sports dietitian will meet with all the athletes at WVU individually to discuss their body composition and works closely with the strength and conditioning staff to help them reach their optimal performance. In addition to completing individual consults, we completed dining hall tours, grocery store tours, spoke with all the wrestlers and gymnasts as a team, spent time in the weight room with the football players and spoke with the strength staff, and observed the menu planning meetings for traveling sports. This rotation has greatly improved my confidence and interest in sports nutrition.