ArticlePDF AvailableLiterature Review


Athletes make food choices on a daily basis that can affect both health and performance. A well planned nutrition strategy that includes the careful timing and selection of appropriate foods and fluids helps to maximize training adaptations and, thus, should be an integral part of the athlete's training programme. Factors that motivate food selection include taste, convenience, nutrition knowledge and beliefs. Food choice is also influenced by physiological, social, psychological and economic factors and varies both within and between individuals and populations. This review highlights the multidimensional nature of food choice and the depth of previous research investigating eating behaviours. Despite numerous studies with general populations, little exploration has been carried out with athletes, yet the energy demands of sport typically require individuals to make more frequent and/or appropriate food choices. While factors that are important to general populations also apply to athletes, it seems likely, given the competitive demands of sport, that performance would be an important factor influencing food choice. It is unclear if athletes place the same degree of importance on these factors or how food choice is influenced by involvement in sport. There is a clear need for further research exploring the food choice motives of athletes, preferably in conjunction with research investigating dietary intake to establish if intent translates into practice.
Factors Influencing Athletes’ Food Choices
A Review of Factors Influencing Athletes’ Food Choices
Karen L. Birkenhead
School of Health and Sport Sciences
Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering
University of the Sunshine Coast
Maroochydore, DC, QLD, 4558, Australia
Gary Slater
School of Health and Sport Sciences
Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering
University of the Sunshine Coast
Maroochydore, DC, QLD, 4558, Australia
Corresponding author: Ms. Karen Birkenhead, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering,
Phone: +61 7 5456 5078
Fax: +61 7 5459 4880
The final publication is available at Springer via
Key Points
There are few studies exploring factors influencing athletes’ food choices, yet the demands of many
sports require high energy intake.
There is some evidence to suggest food choices are influenced by factors specific to sport, such as
Food choice is dynamic, complex and continually changing and more research is needed with athlete
populations where food choices are likely influenced by the demands of sport.
Athletes make food choices on a daily basis that can affect both health and performance. A well planned
nutrition strategy that includes the careful timing and selection of appropriate foods and fluids helps to maximize
training adaptations and, thus, should be an integral part of the athlete’s training program. Factors that motivate
food selection include taste, convenience, nutrition knowledge and beliefs. Food choice is also influenced by
physiological, social, psychological and economic factors and varies both within and between individuals and
This review highlights the multidimensional nature of food choice and the depth of previous research
investigating eating behaviours. Despite numerous studies with general populations, little exploration has been
carried out with athletes, yet the energy demands of sport typically require individuals to make more frequent
and/or appropriate food choices. While factors that are important to general populations also apply to athletes, it
seems likely, given the competitive demands of sport, that performance would be an important factor influencing
food choice. It is unclear if athletes place the same degree of importance on these factors or how this is influenced
by involvement in sport. There is a clear need for further research exploring the food choice motives of athletes,
preferably in conjunction with research investigating dietary intake to establish if intent translates into practice.
1. Introduction
It is estimated that individuals make food choice decisions approximately 220 times a day [1] and these
are influenced by a multitude of both external and internal factors [2]. A number of approaches have been used to
explain the processes and motivations behind food choice [3-6] and many have been used to explain the eating
choices of various populations, including athletes [7, 8].
Food choice is known to be influenced by many factors, including taste, convenience, price, and cultural
and/or religious beliefs [2, 6]. The literature also reports a strong influence of food availability and security [9].
In addition to these factors, individual knowledge about food and nutrition as well as personal and/or family
beliefs are also known to influence food choice [10, 11]. Amongst athletes, involvement in sport and the
recognized importance of food and nutrition on sports performance is also likely to play an important role [7, 8,
12, 13]. Furthermore, it is probable athletes are influenced by coaches, the behaviours and practices of other
athletes and the culture within sport [8, 14]. Concerns about weight and body image are strong influences on food
choice for general populations [15] and have similar effects on athletes where attempts to achieve physique and
body weight goals for performance and/or aesthetic reasons contribute added pressure [16, 17]. Additionally, the
influence of the media and social facilitation can have a strong influence on the food choices of both athlete and
general populations [18-20]. Factors important in food choice may differ based on the athlete’s priorities, as sport
participants can range from the recreational (leisure or amateur sport) to the elite (compete at the national or
international level) [21, 22]. However, despite a large body of research with general populations, there are few
studies examining this issue amongst athletes. This review explores the factors that influence food choice and
eating behaviours with an emphasis on issues unique to sport. As the research is limited, athletes from the
recreational to elite level are included, along with differences that may exist between these groups. The
multidimensional nature of food choice is highlighted along with the limited understanding of this area within
athlete populations.
2. Approaches to understanding factors influencing food choice
Numerous approaches have been used to describe individual behaviours in relation to food choice and
dietary intake [4, 6, 23, 24]. Furst et al., [6] describe the food choice process, a model that incorporates the
influence of past experiences, individual ideals (e.g. expectations and beliefs), personal factors (e.g. food
preferences and health status) and resources (e.g. skills and knowledge) on food choice. These components help
to shape an individual’s ‘personal food system’ which is used to make a final food decision [6]. The food choice
process has been used to explain the eating behaviours of older adults, families and a small number of athletes [7,
8, 25, 26]. Other approaches provide different perspectives to understanding why people select foods and include
factors such as, the environment, social influences, personal beliefs and skills [10, 23, 24]. For example, eating
decisions have been described as dependent on the environment, location or situation in which the food choice is
being made [24, 27]. This may include what is available and whether the individual is alone or in the presence of
others, which can influence the amount and type of food consumed [28, 29]. In social situations where meals are
eaten with others, both athletes and non-athletes report food choices are often influenced by what teammates or
peers chose to eat [7, 11].
Personal identity or self-image may be a factor in food choice [30, 31]. Individuals may describe
themselves as a certain type of eater, such as ‘not a breakfast eater’ or ‘meat and potatoes guy’ [31]. They may
have multiple identities with some more important at certain times than others [31]. Many individuals identify
with an athlete role where participating in sport provides a strong sense of self [32]. This is observed at all levels,
but greatest in elite athletes and males [32]. As such, many decisions are made, which can include food choices,
that support their role as an athlete [33].
Confidence in food management skills, including the ability to prepare, purchase and buy food, may
influence food choice [23]. For some, life and past experiences can determine what foods are eaten as cooking
skills learnt at an early age may help with decision making [23]. In contrast, many young athletes, faced with
limited cooking skills, are challenged when they move away from home where meals were often provided by
parents [34].
Factors important in individual food choice have been investigated using quantitative tools, such as the
Food Choice Questionnaire (FCQ) [35]. Designed to address the importance of several factors (e.g. health, mood,
convenience, sensory appeal, natural content, price, weight control, familiarity and ethical concern), this approach
has been used to measure the food choice motives of various populations, including consumers from around the
world [36, 37]. This approach has also been used to study the food choice motives of adolescents, dental students
and the motives behind organic food choices, however, it has not been used on athlete populations [38-40]. Overall,
a greater understanding of the various approaches used to study food choice behaviours is important when
investigating the factors that influence the food choices of athletes.
3. Determinants of food choice
3.1 Physiological and biological
3.1.1 Hunger and appetite
Historically, the primary factor believed to influence individual food choice was to satisfy biological
hunger typically driven by appetite and satiety [41]. Indeed, hunger is a factor that can motivate individual food
choice [6] and may override the importance of preference [42] and price [6] particularly the more food deprived
an individual becomes. Under these circumstances, research reports the immediate availability of food is more
important than taste to the food deprived individual [42]. Exercise may increase the appetite of athletes and,
therefore, it is possible this may be a bigger driving force to eat amongst this population [8].
A large body of research with non-athletes (both active and sedentary) reports a temporary suppression
of appetite following moderate to intense exercise, often referred to as exercise induced anorexia [43-46]. This
may be related to changes in appetite regulatory hormones, body temperature, and/or reduced blood flow to the
gut [45, 47, 48]. However, appetite suppression is not always evident with differences likely the result of variations
in study design, particularly regarding the intensity, duration and type of exercise [45, 49]. Furthermore, the effect
of exercise on appetite suppression may vary based on sex and environmental conditions [50, 51]. In a group of
sedentary, overweight/obese individuals, females reported no difference in hunger ratings following exercise of
moderate intensity (50-65% VO2max) while males reported decreased hunger and less desire to eat [51]. Appetite
is suppressed at higher altitudes [50] and during exercise in hot environments [47]. In contrast, although hunger
was not assessed, research suggests exercise in colder temperatures may stimulate appetite based on increased
energy intakes [52]. Athletes train and compete in a range of environments and a greater understanding in this
area could assist the nutrition practitioner in catering and planning meals for athletes attending training camps
under various conditions.
Despite a wealth of research exploring the impact of exercise on hunger and appetite is it still unclear
how this influences energy balance and the regulation of body weight [49, 53-55]. Considering the typically higher
energy expenditures of athletes [56] it might be reasonable that hunger may have a greater impact on food choice
in this group. However, very few studies have explored this effect in athletes or how this influences dietary intake.
In fact, studies exploring the relationship between hunger, appetite regulatory hormones and dietary intake have
not been consistent [49, 53] with some showing a poor coupling between these variables [57]. In healthy non-
athletic males there was no difference in energy or macronutrient intake despite variations in hunger ratings and
appetite regulating hormones when endurance (60 minutes continuous cycling at 65% VO2max) versus sprint
interval (6 x 30 second Wingate tests) exercise was performed [49]. Research shows athletes may eat despite a
loss of appetite [13] or may ignore hunger cues and restrict intake in order to meet weight goals [58]. These
behaviours appear to conflict with the appetite suppressive effects of exercise and suggest hunger may not be a
primary motivator behind food choice. In fact, relying on hunger as an indicator of an athlete’s energy needs may
not be appropriate when working with this population [59].
3.1.2 Macronutrient balance
It has been proposed that homeostatic mechanisms associated with fat, carbohydrate and protein balance
help regulate eating behaviour and energy balance [60-63]. For example, the lipostatic theory suggests signals that
arise from adipose tissue regulate energy intake when fat stores are challenged, such as during energy restriction
[63]. Likewise, imbalances in carbohydrate or protein (i.e. low carbohydrate, low protein or low calorie diets)
may stimulate regulatory signals that lead to eating in order to restore macronutrient balance [61, 64]. Furthermore,
depending on the extent of protein or carbohydrate deprivation, attempts to restore balance may lead to overeating
if foods selected are low in the macronutrient that is out of balance [61, 64].
The glycogenostatic theory proposes depleted glycogen levels drive food intake behaviour in order to
restore carbohydrate balance [62]. Low carbohydrate availability should reduce glycogen stores and generate a
net negative carbohydrate balance, thereby leading to increased eating until carbohydrate availability is restored
[65, 66]. The protein leverage hypothesis suggests if diet patterns shift to favour lower protein foods (i.e. percent
protein of the diet drops below dietary requirements) this may act as a signal driving increased energy intakes in
order to restore protein balance [61, 67, 68]. However, short intervention studies exploring the glycogenostatic
theory have reported either increased, decreased or no change in energy or macronutrient intake during a period
of ad libitum eating [69-74]. Greater energy and macronutrient intakes post exercise may be related to substrate
oxidization [75]. High carbohydrate oxidizers (who potentially rely more heavily on glycogen stores) may be
more likely to eat in the post exercise period in order to restore carbohydrate balance. However, this is not
universally seen in research investigations, with differences potentially relating to experimental design and the
population group being studied [75-77]. In studies that included an exercise protocol, the consumption of
carbohydrate during exercise may have played a role [75, 76]. Instead of substrate oxidation driving eating
behaviours, it is possible when participants consumed carbohydrate during exercise, glycogen stores remained
stable and the post exercise drive to eat was reduced [78]. Finally, these findings may differ due to length of the
post intervention assessment period (i.e. 4 versus 24 hours), exercise protocol (i.e. moderate to intense), duration
(i.e. long versus short) and sample size [70, 71, 73, 77, 79].
There is also some support for the protein leverage hypothesis when subjects had greater energy intakes
after four days on a low protein diet (< 15 % of energy) [67]. Energy intake decreased in subjects who followed
a high (30%) versus a low (5-15%) protein diet for 12 days [68]. However, those on the high protein diet were in
a negative energy balance with reduced intake occurring mostly at meals [68], while those following the low
protein diet ate more snacks between meals. Both of these studies also showed reduced hunger ratings and,
therefore, differences in energy intake could be related to the role of protein in satiety [80, 81]. Furthermore, when
protein balance is challenged due to suboptimal intake, it is possible the body will adapt with an increased
preference for protein rich foods in order to restore balance without increasing energy intake [82]. Given that
many athletes fall short on the appropriate distribution of protein across the day [83, 84], and the protein needs of
athletes are higher [12], the protein leverage concept may play an even greater role amongst individuals with
active lifestyles.
Much of the literature surrounding macronutrient specific regulatory systems relates to energy intake and
obesity [61, 85-87] and it is possible these theories apply differently to athlete populations where it is common
practice to consume carbohydrate during exercise and training adaptations may alter substrate utilization [88, 89].
3.1.3 Fat free mass, resting metabolic rate and hunger
Studies exploring the relationship between hunger and dietary intake typically focus on appetite
regulatory hormones associated with adipose tissue and the gastrointestinal tract [49, 90, 91]. However, recent
research suggests fat free mass (FFM) and resting metabolic rate (RMR) may play an important role [92-95]. One
of the largest contributors to RMR is FFM [96] and this may be a factor driving food intake in both overweight
individuals and athletes who typically have greater absolute amounts of FFM [12, 95, 97]. It is possible the higher
FFM may influence food choice by acting as a physiological signal that stimulates appetite and subsequent eating
behaviour. Consequently, there is a need to investigate the potential role of RMR and FFM on hunger and dietary
intake and how this may differ amongst athletes, especially considering the body composition of athletes can vary
both within and across sports and over a competitive season [7, 59].
Overall, the role of hunger, macronutrients, fat free mass and metabolic rate on food choice in both athlete
and general populations remains unclear. It is possible the influence of these factors may differ in athletes as a
result of physiological and psychological adaptations that include an increased sensitivity to satiety signals and/or
an improved ability to regulate energy balance [98-100].
3.1.4 Taste and food preferences
Taste is an important determinant of food choice across different age groups and cultures [101-103]. This
is not surprising as the aroma, taste, texture and appearance of food provides pleasure and enjoyment making for
a rich and varied sensory experience [104]. In the absence of economic and availability issues, sensory appeal is
thought to be the most important determinant of individual food choice [105]. If a food does not appeal to the
senses, regardless of price, availability or nutrient content, it is unlikely to be eaten [105]. However, the
importance of taste can differ based on sex, income and age and is often considered with other priorities, such as
health, weight or financial concerns [2, 6]. Individuals living with chronic disease may emphasize health over
taste when they avoid favourite nutrient poor foods in favour of those they believe are healthier [2]. Likewise,
weight conscious individuals will prioritise low energy foods that support their body composition goals over more
palatable choices [106]. Those with lower incomes will balance taste over cost when making food choices [6].
The influence of taste can differ between individuals and groups, such as in family settings when meals can be
determined by food preferences of the whole family [107]. Although weight goals are a concern for many athletes,
the sensory aspects of food remain important to many [7, 108]. However, amongst athletes, taste may become less
critical prior to an important game or event when foods that benefit performance are preferred [7, 33]. Some
athletes avoid preferred foods before competition in order to meet weight specific goals [58]. Overall, taste has a
strong influence on food choice, but importance likely varies with eating occasion; how this applies to athletes or
influences performance goals is unknown.
3.1.5 Gastrointestinal discomfort
Individuals with food allergies or intolerances will avoid certain foods to reduce the risk of an allergic
reaction or minimize discomforts, such as gastrointestinal (GI) upset [109, 110]. The food choices of athletes can
also be influenced by GI issues that are not due to health or disease concerns, but are unique to sport. A common
complaint for many endurance athletes includes intestinal discomforts such as heartburn, bloating, diarrhea,
cramps, nausea and vomiting while exercising [111-113]. Depending on the severity of GI upset, this may impact
performance and overall race outcome. Consequently, experience with GI issues may influence food choice not
only during, but leading up to, an event. Studies report athletes will change their eating patterns and food choices
prior to a race in order to avoid GI discomfort [13, 111]. Athletes appear to learn from experience and through a
process of trial and error adopt nutrition strategies that work for them [13, 111].
3.2 Lifestyle, beliefs and knowledge
3.2.1 Lifestyle and motives for participating in sport
Factors important in food choice can vary depending on the ideals or lifestyle preferences of an individual
or group [5, 101, 114, 115]. For example, individuals grouped according to lifestyle range from the “rational”
consumer more interested in food preparation and nutrition to the “conservative or uninvolved” consumer who
places more importance on convenience [116]. The health conscious consumer often places greater importance
on exercise, nutrition and weight control [101]. Consumers who place greater importance on health and nutrition,
often include more females, older adults and those with higher incomes and education levels [15, 117]. Individuals
may participate in sport as a way to become physically active and this may be motivated by health or weight loss
reasons [118]. Likewise, motives for participating in sport also include competition [119, 120]. The limited
number of studies with athletes report performance or competition is one of the most important influences on food
choice for both individual and team sports [7, 8, 13, 108]. Furthermore, the importance athletes place on food
choice may vary with the phase of the season, the type of sport and competitive level [7, 13, 108]. For example,
hockey players are more relaxed about food choices during the off season when performance is not critical, and
more competitive triathletes tend to favour foods that maximize performance. Athletes involved in power or skill
based sports place less importance on factors that influence performance (such as the nutrient content of foods)
than those in endurance sports [108]. This may relate to a belief that nutrition plays a minor role for those involved
in these sports. When exploring food choice motives these issues must be considered as importance may vary
depending on the level, training period and type of sport in which an athlete participates.
There are many other reasons people take part in sport, including friendship, stress release and personal
gratification [33, 119, 120]. These individuals range in age, fitness levels and personal backgrounds and their
motives for food choice may differ to the elite athlete who competes at an international level [120, 121]. Motives
for participating in sport may influence the importance placed on food choice as personal goals may differ from
an athlete with physique goals to another who enjoys the freedom of eating whatever they desire [21, 120].
Although research is scarce, the motivation to participate in sport may be based on a lifestyle choice that influences
food choice. This is important to consider when working with athletes as some may not be open to nutrition advice
if changes to a meal plan interfere with other factors they identify as important.
3.2.2 Health Beliefs
Health is an important factor in food choice for many individuals and is often associated with better
dietary habits [15, 122]. For example, individuals who value health report greater intakes of fruits, vegetables and
fibre [101]. These individuals also tend to make similar healthy lifestyle choices by not smoking and engaging in
more physical activity. The importance of health is influenced by age, sex, education, nutrition knowledge and
physical activity level [123]. Studies report males, younger individuals and those with lower incomes place less
importance on the value of health [37]. However, this can be influenced by nutrition knowledge with research
showing younger individuals with greater knowledge value healthy eating and engage in more physical activity
than their less active peers [124]. Furthermore, health can have different meanings for people and for the athlete
may include feeling well for their sport and having a lean, athletic appearance, while for others it entails avoiding
unhealthy habits, such as smoking and drinking [7, 120]. Overall, it is unknown if the reported link observed in
general populations between physical activity, healthy eating and the importance of health also applies to athletes
as their exercise motives may be performance rather than health orientated. It remains to be investigated if the
higher physical activity level of athletes means they place high importance on health when selecting foods.
3.2.3 Nutrition knowledge
Nutrition knowledge and beliefs can influence food choice [6]. Knowledge is described as both an
awareness of nutrition as well as the ability to practically apply this when choosing healthy foods [10]. As such,
the athlete’s knowledge about nutrition, both general and sport specific, may impact their food choices and
subsequent dietary intake. Likewise, their beliefs about nutrition and level of knowledge may determine the
importance placed on food choices as influenced by the athlete’s understanding of the role of nutrition on health
and sport performance. Nutrition education is often used to help change human behaviours and is provided with
the expectation that greater knowledge will lead to improved dietary practices and better food choices [125].
Research has shown an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption in adults with improved knowledge [126] and
that college students with greater awareness of nutrition guidelines eat healthier [127]. The health and sport
specific nutrition knowledge of athletes is not well understood and there is only weak evidence supporting a link
between greater knowledge and healthier food choices [128, 129]. Furthermore, despite an awareness of sport
nutrition, athletes do not always put knowledge into practice [130]. Athletes of higher calibre (international versus
national level) have been reported to have a greater level of nutrition knowledge, which may influence the
importance placed on food choice [131]. However, despite greater knowledge, elite athletes, who compete
internationally, may place performance above all else when making food choices [132]. Although limited research
suggests the dietary intake of athletes may be influenced by nutrition knowledge, further investigation is needed
that also takes into consideration additional factors that may be important in the athlete’s food choices.
3.3 Psychological
3.3.1 Body image and weight control
Research reports weight is an important factor in food choice, particularly for those concerned with body
shape and size [35]. Cognitive dietary restraint is referred to as the conscious restriction of food intake in order to
control body weight [133]. This may include ‘diet rules’ such as choosing products low in fat and calories or
restricting selected food groups [134, 135]. Dietary restraint has been researched extensively in non-athlete
populations, particularly in the areas of weight loss, dieting and disordered eating [18, 118, 135-138]. Similarly,
amongst athlete populations dietary restraint has been explored in relation to disordered eating, bone health and
ovulatory disturbances [16, 139, 140]. Many athletes attempt to modify body weight and composition believing
this will enhance performance [97]. Likewise, many athletes are susceptible to pressures to modify body
composition to achieve a lean, athletic look [7], particularly in sports where leanness and low body mass are
emphasized [12, 16]. In sports where body weight and shape receive greater attention, such as gymnastics and
swimming, both male and female athletes are at increased risk for disordered eating [17, 141]. Hence, these issues
can be factors influencing food choice as athletes restrict food intake to meet weight goals for aesthetic or
performance reasons. Given that body mass and physique have been shown to influence performance outcomes
in sport [142, 143], physique goals may influence the food choices of athletes. Overall, weight concerns may be
a driving force influencing the food choices of many athletes and future research exploring this area is needed. It
is possible, even within these sports, weight concerns are influenced by competitive level and personal goals.
3.3.2 Hedonic Hunger
The growing worldwide epidemic of obesity and chronic disease demonstrates people eat for reasons
beyond satisfying hunger [18, 41, 144]. Opportunities to consume a plethora of palatable, easily accessible and,
for the most part, inexpensive food choices, continue to grow. It is for this reason many argue that food choices
today are largely influenced by what is referred to as hedonic hunger, where individuals have an ‘appetite’ for the
pleasurable tastes of food [41]. Research exploring hedonic hunger reports differences, following exercise,
between compensators and non-compensators [145]. Compensators are described as those who make up for the
energy cost of exercise with an increase in food intake, whereas non-compensators do not [145]. In addition to an
increase in energy intake, compensators score higher on hedonic hunger than non-compensators and this may be
associated with the belief that food is a reward for exercise. Amongst athletes, the influence of hedonic hunger
may be influenced by sport specific motives. For example, it may be expected hedonic hunger would differ
between the restrained athlete closely controlling body weight and the athlete who believes a benefit of training
is being able to eat more food [120].
3.4 Social
3.4.1 Meal patterns, availability, social facilitation and marketing
What people eat can be driven by social influences associated with daily living, such as meal patterns [6,
24]. Hectic work and family schedules make convenient foods important in the lifestyles of many people, with
preference placed on meals that are quick and easy to prepare [101, 146]. Due to the added pressures of study and
school commitments, many young college students rely on store-bought, prepared foods and rate convenience as
important in food choices [147]. A demanding training and competition schedule is common to many athletes,
many of whom are responsible for purchasing, preparing and managing their dietary choices [8]. As such, athletes
may adopt strategies that help them meet energy demands, which include planning ahead in order to have foods
available after training or consuming frequent meals and snacks [7, 84, 148-150]. Athletes may value foods that
are convenient and easy to prepare as suggested from research investigating triathletes whose eating patterns were
influenced by convenience as they managed a busy schedule [13]. Likewise, it is one of the reasons college athletes
reported convenient food choices were important [7, 8]. Habits are behaviours that are repeated on a regular basis
that help alleviate the need to make conscious and ongoing decisions about food choices [151]. For the athlete,
regular routines, established to meet busy schedules, may become habitual and may allow decisions to be made
with minimal thought involved [8]. As such, habits may also be a factor in the athlete’s food choices.
Finally, food availability, social facilitation and marketing may influence food choice [20, 29, 30, 152,
153]. Today’s eating environments offer limitless opportunities to consume food and evidence shows this can
influence what and how much people eat [1, 28]. This includes social facilitation when people adjust their food
choices by eating more (or less) food or make healthier choices in the presence of others [18, 29, 154]. This is
seen with athletes who report over eating in dining halls due to the abundance of available options and/or from
making second trips to the food line after observing teammates eating food that looked appealing [7, 8]. Similarly,
the food choices of young athletes can be influenced by the eating choices of senior, more experienced teammates
[8]. Food marketing and labelling as well as the media and advertising can influence food choice [19, 155]. For
teenagers, food outlets, media, school and advertising can have a greater influence on food choice outside the
home when parental control is reduced [146]. The media and advertising are a common source of nutrition
information for many consumers, including athletes, and this may influence their food choices [34, 111, 155].
In summary, research demonstrates how meal patterns, availability, social facilitation and marketing can
influence food choice. However, it is uncertain how important these factors are to athletes. Research with general
populations show food choices made when convenience is a priority are of lower nutritional value [156] and it is
possible this also occurs with athletes. However, it is unclear how the media, social facilitation or various eating
environments influence the athlete’s food choices and further research in this area is needed.
3.4.2 Culture and religion
Culture represents a shared set of values, characteristics, attitudes and beliefs that help guide the activities,
decisions and behaviours of individuals [157]. Different cultural groups have a range of beliefs and practices and
these can influence food choice [5, 158]. Customs and traditions within cultures are typically passed onto children
and, therefore, transfer across generations [5]. Cross cultural differences and similarities in food choice motives
have been reported with consumers from around the world [36]. Within cultures, individuals vary in the
importance they place on consuming traditional foods based on other factors they find important. Those who value
health or weight control may avoid certain ethnic cuisines viewing them as higher in calories [159]. Athletes from
around the world come from a range of sporting, religious and cultural backgrounds and, as such, their food
choices may be influenced by cultural beliefs, traditions and values [160, 161]. For some athletes, family traditions
and ethnic background have little importance on food choice [8], whereas for others making food choices based
on religious beliefs is of utmost importance [162]. The culture within sport may influence food choices where
traditions and beliefs are strong and the value of nutrition may not be recognized [14]. Indeed, long held customs
may override health and sport recommendations in favour of performance as seen in making weight sports, such
as wrestling and horse racing [58, 163]. Overall, cultural influences are important determinants of food choice
and may be an important factor to athletes.
3.5 Economic
3.5.1 Cost and income
Price can influence food choice due to financial constraints, particularly for lower income individuals,
students and youth [101, 147]. Elite athletes on a limited budget report financial constraints interfere with making
food choices that support a healthy diet [34]. Indeed, those at the elite or professional level, who train full time,
report financial issues are a major stressor [164]. Likewise, budget friendly food choices are a priority to the
college athlete responsible for purchasing their own foods [8]. However, many who take part in sport are employed
full time and work professional jobs where financial concerns may not be an issue [165]. Indeed, participation in
certain sports can be costly and therefore, attracts only those who can afford to take part [33]. For these sports,
equipment, competition fees and a number of other expenses require a substantial monetary contribution [165].
In certain cases, income level is not always the driving force behind the importance of price in food choices. For
many, obtaining good value for money is important, regardless of price [166]. Therefore, although research is
limited, it is possible the importance athletes place on price may vary depending on income level and be associated
with motives other than the bottom dollar.
4. Future directions and conclusions
The food choice motives of athletes have been explored in only a small number of studies and further
research is needed across a range of sports, competitive levels and during different stages of a season. This should
include a greater focus on the influence of culture, both within and outside sport, particularly in recognition of the
growing number of participants in sport worldwide. More research exploring the nutrition knowledge, both health
and sport specific, of athletes is needed, including how this relates to food choice motives and dietary intake. It is
important to consider how taste, one of the strongest determinants of food choice, may differ amongst athletes
and how this may change across sport and with athlete specific performance goals. The influence of appetite and
hunger and the potential role of macronutrient balance in food choice requires further investigation, in particular
related to the changing eating environments in which the athlete trains and competes. These include the non-
homeostatic factors related to food environments, such as food marketing, along with restrained eating practices,
which may override internal cues associated with appetite and hunger. Overall, in view of the unique environments
in which the athlete makes food decisions and the impact of physical exercise on energy demands, the factors that
influence the food choices of athletes is an area worthy of further investigation.
This review demonstrates the many physiological, social, psychological and economic factors
influencing the food choices of both sedentary and athlete populations. Findings suggest factors important to the
general population, such as taste, health and weight control are also important to athletes. However, despite the
numerous factors known to influence food choice in general populations, it is difficult to say if and how these also
apply to athletes. An athlete’s calibre, type of sport or stage of training may also play a role. Furthermore, the
pressures associated with body shape and size, common to many athletes, may also influence food choice.
Appreciating the highly competitive world of sport and the demands faced by athletes to excel, it is possible
performance also plays an important role in food choice, but this is expected to be influenced by a variety of other
factors. Lastly, while this review highlights the multitude of factors that may influence food decisions, it is
important to remember that food choice is dynamic and importance may vary depending on the time, location and
changing situations in which the athlete makes food choices.
No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no potential conflicts
of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.
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... Athletes' food consumption has not yet been studied from a climate perspective. In-depth studies of factors influencing individuals' food choices among high energy consumption groups, such as physically active people, are sparse and primarily based on surveys (Birkenhead and Slater 2015;Stickler et al. 2022). Previous studies have rated performance as the most influential factor in athletes' food choices. ...
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Abstract A high food intake can contribute to increased greenhouse-gas emissions, and therefore consumers with a high energy intake are important to include when exploring sustainable foodways. In this paper, semi-structured interviews and a seven-day food record were used to understand the climate impact of food, analyse mundane food practices, and identify sustainable routines among high-energy consumers represented by a group of recreational athletes. Social practice theory and the interdependent relationship between competence, material, and meaning unfold an Athletic performance-related food practice with a focus on performance, time-saving strategies, structured eating, and a possible Climate-conscious athletic performance-related food practice where the food practice also includes important sustainability aspects. The results indicate a high carbon footprint from high energy and dairy and whey protein intake. Some recreational athletes demonstrate an awareness of the climate impact of food, but they need to be convinced that more sustainable ways are possible without jeopardising athletic performance.
... Bunun yanı sıra, kadın atletlerin erkek atletlere kıyasla daha çok risk altında olduğu da belirtilmektedir (Darcy ve ark., 2013;Martinsen & Sundgot-Borgen, 2013;Sundgot-Borgen & Torstveit, 2004). Yeme davranış bozuklukları kısa vadede performans üzerinde olumsuz etki gösterirken uzun vadede önemli sağlık sorunlarına ve ölüme yol açabilmektedir (Birkenhead & Slater, 2015;Martinsen ve ark., 2014). ...
... Making food decisions is important for athletes' health and performance. Planning proper nutrition strategy and timing and selecting appropriate foods are vital to optimize training adaptations and performance (Birkenhead & Slater, 2015). ...
Lockdown order during the COVID-19 pandemic creates new norms of lifestyle, including food accessibility. To understand whether this situation might affect food purchase behaviour (FPB) and diet quality in exceptional people such as athletes, online FPB and diet quality index-international (DQI-I) questionnaires were distributed to 299 university athletes but only 195 responded. The survey found FPB score of respondents was 63.3±14.1, whereas the DQI-I score was 61.8±13.2. A strong relationship between FPB and DQI-I scores, r(193) = .64, p<.00001, was determined. FPB and DQI-I were not affected by gender, age and college seniority differences. Keywords: Food purchase behaviour, diet quality index, athletes, COVID-19 eISSN: 2398-4287 © 2022. The Authors. Published for AMER ABRA cE-Bs by e-International Publishing House, Ltd., UK. This is an open access article under the CC BYNC-ND license ( Peer–review under responsibility of AMER (Association of Malaysian Environment-Behaviour Researchers), ABRA (Association of Behavioural Researchers on Asians) and cE-Bs (Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies), Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia. DOI:
... Behaviours are part of a dynamic and interactive system, they do not occur in isolation (Atkins & Michie, 2015). Therefore, a long list of all the potential behaviours that may affect the ability of the athlete to consume 25.1 MJ each day was developed, drawing upon relevant literature (Birkenhead & Slater, 2015). This list included detailed input from the athlete and significant others (i.e. ...
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The primary aim of this thesis was to evaluate the dietary intake, energy expenditure and energy balance of young professional male rugby league players across the season.
... These results show that eating behavior is mainly related to the elements of the environment where individuals behave, i.e., food choices are situational or circumstantial (Doucerain and Fellows, 2012;Sobal et al., 2014). The social factor is considered to be one of the main components affecting food choice (Birkenhead and Slater, 2015), even though there are few experimental studies that examine social facilitation in relation to food selection (Ruddock et al., 2019). Thus, this study demonstrates the relevance of the environment on eating behavior, specifically on food choice. ...
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Diets based on meals that provide a large amount of energy and consumed frequently often increase the rate of growth of the body mass index (overweight or obesity) and, in turn, the risk of suffering from non-communicable diseases. In order to make a food choice, it is necessary to search for foods in the environment, taking into account physical and social variables (contextual variables) which, together with individual variables, delimit the situation of food selection. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of social facilitation, portion size, salience of food, and food preference or rejection on the selection of energy-dense foods by young college students. To do so, we performed a factorial experiment in which unaccompanied and accompanied participants (levels of social facilitation) as they went through the process of choosing from different options of main dishes, beverages, and desserts then noted the reasons for their selection (preference or rejection of the food). Results showed significant differences between the group of accompanied participants and salience of food in the selection of the energy-dense main dishes and desserts (pizza, spaghetti, and chocolate cake). A significant relationship was also identified between accompanied participants, hedonistic/sensory reasons (food preference or rejection category), and salience of food in the selection of the energy-dense main dishes. In conclusion, key findings of the variables that constitute the situation that predicts the selection of energy-dense foods have emerged from this study, when participants and the given level of social facilitation (in this case, being accompanied) were faced with the conditions of the food salience of the meals of their preference regarding its taste and appearance.
... The diet of athletes is determined by various individual factors, including psychological ones [2,17]. One of the significant factors is the sense of self-efficacy, a defined personal resource, related to the belief in the ability to achieve intended goals, including health and nutritional ones [12]. ...
Background: In research on the subject, the predictive importance of personal resources is indicated for diet quality. Objective: The aim of the study was quantitative assessment of diet depending on the level of generalised self- efficacy among elite Polish basketball players. Material and methods: Food diaries (2 training days and 1 no training day) of 48 basketball players were analysed. Further assessed were 144 food rations based on the Diet 6.0 program, and the results were compared to the current Polish nutritional standards. The Generalised Self-Efficacy Scale (GSES) was also used. Statistical analyses were performed by estimating Spearman's rank correlation coefficients (p<0.05). Results: The share of energy from proteins, fats and carbohydrates was 18.2%, 29.4% and 52.4%, respectively. Of the mineral salts, the average diet contained: 2,107.6 mg sodium, 2,918.3 mg potassium, 736.3 mg calcium, 1,372.2 mg phosphorus, 380.1 mg magnesium, and 11.6 mg iron. Of the vitamins, the average diet contained: 1,100.3 μg of vitamin A, 5.3 μg of vitamin D, vitamin E in the amount of 8.2 mg, 78.1 mg of vitamin C, 1.1 mg vitamin B1, 1.3 mg vitamin B2, 1.9 mg of vitamin B6, 271.7 μg of vitamin B9 and 4.7 μg of vitamin B12. It was also shown that as the sense of self-efficacy developed, the supply of energy, water, protein, digestible carbohydrates, energy from carbohydrates, sucrose and PUFAs also increased in the players' diets. At the same time, along with the increase in self-efficacy, the supply of: Na, K, Ca, Mg, P, Fe, Cu and iodine as well as vitamins: A, E, B1, B3, B6 and C, also increased in the players' diets. Conclusions: Incomplete diet balance has been demonstrated, as well as significant relationships between the level of self-efficacy and the supply of certain nutrients in the diet of elite Polish basketball players. The obtained results indicate the legitimacy of diet monitoring and nutritional education as well as considering personality traits in activities promoting maintaining a proper diet among athletes.
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Background Nutritional intake is important for young football players; however, little is known about the factors that influence their nutritional adherence. Purpose The aim of this study was to investigate players’, sports nutritionists’ and coaches’ perspectives of the barriers and enablers to adhering to nutritional recommendations within a professional football club. Method Individual interviews, based on the Capability, Opportunity, Motivation – Behaviour (COM-B) model and Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF), were conducted with 13 players (18 ± 1.3 years), 12 sports nutritionists, and 10 coaches from 2, 12, and 10 professional football clubs, respectively. Thematic analysis was used to interpret the data. Results Seven key themes were generated relating to the players’ barriers and enablers to nutritional adherence: (1) Capability: (a) Nutritional Knowledge; (b) Cooking Skills; (2) Opportunity: (c) Training Venue Food Provision; (d) Nutritionist Accessibility and Approachability; (e) Living Status: (3) Motivation: (f) Performance Implications; and (g) Role Modelling. Conclusion Inadequate food provision within the training and home environment, and limited time with the sports nutritionist were key barriers to nutritional adherence in youth football players. Football clubs should allocate more time for sports nutritionists to deliver nutrition support and sports nutritionists should aim to control the players environment to support optimal nutritional intake.
Background and Study Aim. Nutrition knowledge is related to dietary behavior in athletes. Therefore, it may also have an impact on performance. Athletes with better nutrition knowledge have more healthy dietary habits. This meta-analysis study focused on the impact of gender on the nutrition knowledge levels of physical education and sports stakeholders. Material and Methods. This study adopted a meta-analysis research design, which is used to analyze, synthesize, and interpret quantitative findings from an array of studies through advanced statistical techniques. A meta-analysis involves combining the findings of studies carried out in different places and at different times on the same topic and obtaining a quantitatively accurate result based on a large sample. This study employed the Comprehensive Meta-Analysis (CMA, v. 2.0) to determine effect sizes and the variance of each study and to compare groups. Cohen’s kappa intercoder reliability and outlier tests were performed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). Results. We focused on 31 studies with a total sample size of 4575. We calculated the effect size of each study. We found a statistically significant effect size in favor of female stakeholders (d = 0.15; 95% CI -0.22 -0.09) in the fixed effects model, which was a weak result according to Cohen’s classification. We determined a statistically significant effect size in favor of female stakeholders (d = 0.15; 95% CI -0.29-0.01) in the random-effects model. These results suggest a slight difference in nutrition knowledge levels between male and female physical education and sports stakeholders. This result can pave the way for further research. Conclusions. It is understood from the physical education and sports stakeholders that there is a weak difference in the nutritional knowledge levels of women compared to men. It is thought that people who study on sports nutrition and nutrition programs will benefit from the present finding. In addition, it is estimated that the researches to be carried out on the relevant subject will take the current study as a reference.
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Nutrition knowledge (NK) is one of several factors needed to establish proper eating habits and is especially important for athletes. The aims of this study were the following: to assess the NK of athletes from the Fútbol Club Barcelona; and to study its possible association with self-perceived level of NK, attitude towards nutrition, sources of information, and some dietary habits. We performed a cross-sectional study in two parts. First, we assessed the NK of elite athletes (n = 264) and compared it to the NK of technical teams of different sports (n = 59) and non-athletes (n = 183) of different ages and levels of education. Second, we investigated the associations between NK and other variables. To assess NK, we used a previously validated questionnaire Nutrition Knowledge Questionnaire for Young and Adult Athletes (NUKYA). Athletes showed a low median score (25.1 points), similar to the scores obtained by high school students (19.5) and university Philosophy students (29.0), and significantly lower than the scores of the sports technical team (58.5, p<0.05) and final year students of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (74.6, p<0.05). Moreover, we found statistically significant associations between NK and self-perceived level of NK (n=240,ρ=0.2546,p=0.0001) intake of fruits and vegetables (n=111,ρ=0.2701,p=0.0041), and intake of discretionary food (n=111,ρ=−0.2008,p=0.0001). Athletes with lower scores tended to overestimate their competence in nutrition (Dunning-Kruger effect). We concluded that NK of athletes needs to be improved through education plans that should consider aspects such as the proper selection of information resources and the importance of not consuming supplements without the adequate prescription. Incorporation of technical team and families to the education plan should be considered.
Conference Paper
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The situation of the problem: based on the questionnaires for evaluating the sports motivation, the characteristic of the athletes of the two targeted clubs: CSS Baia Sprie, respectively CS Alpina Baia Mare. Experiment design: the pilot study conducted from October 2018 to October 2019, integrates motivating factors. The questionnaire focused on these factors was applied to groups of subjects from the two sports clubs. Methods: The cumulative scores of the three factors: PM-Motivational persistence, LTPP-long-term pursuit of goals, CCP-pursuit of current tasks, RUP-recurrence of unattainable goals allow athletes to persist, to invest time and effort, not to abandon in pursuit of the proposed objectives. Analysis and interpretation of results: The questionnaire focused on these factors was applied to groups of subjects from the two sports clubs. Two evaluations were considered, one initial and one final. The evaluation of the results of the questionnaires was based on the analysis of the correlations of the three factors mentioned and the motivational persistence of psychological test subjects to detect stress levels, in order to reduce its intensity, awareness of well-being and high sports performance. Discussions and conclusions: the general conclusion is to increase the motivation of skiers using a intervention program, Psychological Screening Inventory, applied twice. It all depends on one thing, the motivation with which we take action, perform tasks, solve problems and never give up, as well as through the experiment applied to awareness of well-being and achieving high sports performance of performance athletes.
Conference Paper
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Introduction The process of food selection is complex and in addition to taste and sensory perception, selection may be influenced by food quality, and convenience, health and nutrition beliefs in addition to psychological, social, cultural and economic influences 1. Few studies have investigated the relationship between or relative importance of various factors influencing food choice in elite athletes. Understanding these factors is integral to the development of athlete nutrition programs to ensure negative influences are identified and appropriate targets and strategies for change can then be implemented. This study aimed to investigate factors that influence food selection in the unique environment of the dining hall of the athletes' village during the Melbourne 2006 (M2006) Commonwealth Games.
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Serious leisure' cycling has developed as a reinterpretation of the traditional form of the sport. This short term, informal, unstructured and unconventional conceptualisation represents a challenge to participant numbers in the mainstream sport. The purpose of this study was twofold: (i) to ascertain the cultural, subcultural and ecological factors of participation in this new conceptualised form enabling clubs, associations and governments to a deeper understanding about participants practices and (ii) as an ongoing validation to previous qualitative work (see O'Connor and Brown, 2005). This study reports on the development and psychometric properties (principal components analysis, confirmatory factor analysis) of the Cyclists' Motivation Instrument. Four hundred and twenty two cyclists (371 males, 51 females) who were registered members of the state competitive cycling body completed a fifty-one item instrument. Five factors were identified: social, embodiment, self-presentation, exploring environments and physical health outcomes and these accounted for 47.2% of the variance. Factor alpha coefficients ranged from .63 to .88, overall scale reliability was .92, suggesting moderate to high reliability for each of the factors and the overall scale.
The way in which metabolic fuels are utilized can alter the expression of behaviour in the interests of regulating energy balance and fuel availability. This is consistent with the notion that the regulation of appetite is a psychobiological process, in which physiological mediators act as drivers of behaviour. The glycogenostatic theory suggests that glycogen availability is central in eliciting negative feedback signals to restore energy homeostasis. Due to its limited storage capacity, carbohydrate availability is tightly regulated and its restoration is a high metabolic priority following depletion. It has been proposed that such depletion may act as a biological cue to stimulate compensatory energy intake in an effort to restore availability. Due to the increased energy demand, aerobic exercise may act as a biological cue to trigger compensatory eating as a result of perturbations to muscle and liver glycogen stores. However, studies manipulating glycogen availability over short-term periods (1-3 days) using exercise, diet or both have often produced equivocal findings. There is limited but growing evidence to suggest that carbohydrate balance is involved in the short-term regulation of food intake, with a negative carbohydrate balance having been shown to predict greater ad libitum feeding. Furthermore, a negative carbohydrate balance has been shown to be predictive of weight gain. However, further research is needed to support these findings as the current research in this area is limited. In addition, the specific neural or hormonal signal through which carbohydrate availability could regulate energy intake is at present unknown. Identification of this signal or pathway is imperative if a casual relationship is to be established. Without this, the possibility remains that the associations found between carbohydrate balance and food intake are incidental.
In brief: The triathlon makes heavy demands on the body and especially on glycogen supply. This article describes the self-reported diet practices of 25 elite Australian male triathletes during training and racing. They consumed a mean of 4,095 kcal/day, 59.5% of which was carbohydrate, 13% protein, 27% fat, and 0.5% alcohol; glycogen and protein intakes met or surpassed recommended levels. Intakes of five vitamins and two minerals also exceeded recommendations, and iron status was satisfactory. The athletes ate carbohydrate mostly in complex form, snacking frequently to get enough for energy needs. Few subjects trained deliberately to build up a tolerance for consuming food and fluids during competition.