Nutrition Nerd: Finding the Right Sports Dietitian
Posted Aug 09 2012 11:07am
I’m sure you all know how important it is to have your nutrition regimen dialed in so that you can meet your running and fitness goals. However, sometimes it is hard to work on improving our overall diets or tweaking our pre-training/competition food intake all by ourselves. Just as a personal trainer or a running coach can help improve your fitness level and performance, a sports dietitian can also be incredibly helpful. Whether you have recently taken up running to improve your overall health or you are a seasoned runner striving to PR, there is a Registered Dietitian out there that is right for you. Here are some tips to finding him/her!
1. Specify your goals and be upfront about your current health: Write down exactly what your health/performance goals are. Sharing this information with RDs you talk to allows them to determine if they are a good match for you. It is also important that you are upfront about your current health. Are you diabetic? Have you had a gastric bypass? Have you ever had/do you currently have an eating disorder? And so on. This information, while may not seem like it is related to your running goals, should be told to your potential RD before booking any sessions. If they are not accustomed to working with these conditions they may be able to recommend a colleague that is more suited to your needs.
2. What do you expect from your RD?: Do you want someone who will provide you with detailed meal plans? Do you want to be able to communicate with your RD regularly between sessions via e-mail or phone? Do you want someone who can track your body composition or certain fitness parameters (VO2 max, lactate threshold, etc) or just a RD who will help you improve your diet? Are your kitchen skills not up to par and you want someone who can teach you how to shop and prepare meals too? Be upfront about what you want and ask if this is a service your RD typically provides to clients. Don’t purchase a nutrition counseling package until you understand and are happy with what you will be receiving.
3. Ask for references: Chances are most RDs will have testimonials on their websites. Let’s be honest, have you ever seen a negative review posted on a company/professional website? I doubt it. Therefore, ask if you can speak with some former/current clients. Ask these references about quality of service, timeliness of responses from RD, if they ever have a problem getting an appointment when they want one, and what they wish the RD did differently.
4. What is the RDs personal athletic background?: For me personally, I would want to see a sports RD who is an athlete themselves and can offer suggestions based upon both scientific knowledge and personal experience. If this is something that is important to you, be sure to ask about it and find someone who seems up to snuff. For instance, during my dietetic internship there was a student who said she wanted to work as a Sports RD, yet her own workout regimen consisted of casual walks and the occasional elliptical session. If your goal is simply to improve overall health than someone like this may be a good fit for you. If you are striving to hit your Boston Qualifying time, than you probably want someone who actually runs!
5. Who is their clientele?: Is your RD generally working with other athletes like you? Find out what populations they see. Do they do professional sports nutrition contract work? How does that impact the attention they can give their general clients? Some Sports RDs work part time for professional sports teams and may travel with them or at least spend their preseason training with them. If that means they are in Arizona for Spring Training and unavailable to work with you during that time, perhaps you should find someone who typically stays in their main office year round!
6. Find someone with a similar “Food Philosophy”:Are you vegetarian? Do you want to have a food only plan or incorporate supplements? Do you have a more natural/holistic or modern approach to your diet? Etc. It is important that your RD is respectful of your lifestyle and will not pressure you to alter your eating habits in a way you are uncomfortable with.
7. Experienced vs. Newcomer?: This decision is an important one. Do you want a well-known, highly experienced RD who is most likely more in demand and therefore more expensive? Or are you okay with trying out a younger/newer sports RD? Their services will probably be cheaper and they may have more time available to spend with you. If you do decide to go for a less experienced RD be sure to ask specifically about their education and training up to this point to determine if you think they are going to be able to provide you with the service you are hiring him/her for.
To get you started on your hunt for the right RD I recommend using this Find an RD search feature on the SCAN website.
Have you ever seen a dietitian to help you with your health and/or running? Was your experience good, bad, or just so-so? What advice would you give to someone seeking to find a Sports RD that is right for them as a runner?
(Tanya is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and is pursuing her PhD in Nutrition and Exercise Science at Virginia Tech. After graduating with her Bachelor’s in Dietetics, Tanya completed an American Dietetic Association (ADA) approved Dietetic Internship through the University of Houston. She has completed many road races from 5k to 25k. Follow her on Twitter @nutritionnerd and at her personal blog Dine, Dash & Deadlift .)