Finding the right sports dietitian can be a difficult process, but with a few helpful tips, it can be made a lot easier. From looking for qualifications to experience in working with athletes, here are six ways to make sure you’re finding the best professional for your needs.
Look for Education and Certifications
When selecting a sports dietitian, it’s important to look for qualifications that match your needs. At minimum, the professional you choose should hold a diploma in sports and/or nutrition from an appropriately accredited institution. Their certifications should also be up-to-date as per any regulatory requirements relevant to your country or area. Beyond this, having additional certification from specialist associations can be beneficial, so make sure you check for these too. For sports dietitians, this is a CSSD - which means the dietitian is a Board Certified Specialist in Sport Dietetics.
It's good to know that a CSSD is NOT required for the dietitian to be qualified to provide nutrition advice and counseling to athletes. However, it is one further way to show the dietitian is a qualified expert in this area. It is a much better indicator than, say, how many Instagram followers they have!
Check References, Reviews, And The Dietitian's Experience
The best way to ensure you’re getting an expert, experienced dietitian is by checking their references and reviews from previous clients who are serious athletes. Ask for recommendations from other athletes and coaches, or look online for reviews of the dietitian’s services. It’s also important to consider any awards or honors they may have won to verify their expertise in the field.
Another quick tip: is the dietitian an athlete him/herself? While this is by no means the biggest indicator of the dietitian's expertise, it does indicate that they are in the industry and understand athletes' needs from a psychological and emotional perspective. Often, dietitians who are athletes themselves are able to connect with their athlete clients in ways other dietitians cannot simply due to following the same passions and experiencing the same nutrition and training needs.
Finally, finding a dietitian on Training Block is a great way to ensure the dietitian you are working with is truly a professional who has experience and expertise in working with athletes. The Training Block network is exclusive to vetted sport performance experts, so you can rest assured that you are in good hands when you connect with a dietitian on the Training Block platform.
Confirm Their Experience With an Athlete’s Diet and Fueling Needs
Sports dietitians know they need to work on specific diets tailored to the needs of athletes, so it’s important to ensure that the one you choose is experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to creating meal plans optimised for your sport. Ask them questions about their methods and what kind of nutritional advice they generally offer, such as when to eat certain types of food or which supplements may be helpful. Also, good sport dietitians will promote adequate fueling, not weight loss or calorie counting, during heavy training.
Make Sure They Are Up to Date With Trends & Research
Nutrition is constantly evolving and advancing, so it’s essential that your sports dietitian keeps up to date. Ask them whether they are familiar with the latest scientific evidence and dietary research for athletes, as well as what kind of continuing education they have undertaken. After all, you want a dietitian who practices the most effective methods – the ones based on evidence-based research and proven techniques.
If you are a female athlete, ask the dietitian whether they understand the unique needs women have when training during their menstrual cycle. Turns out, women have different needs througout the phases of their cycle, and your dietitian should be able to help you meet your unique needs in every phase to ensure you are recovering properly and optimizing your training.
Understand What Services Your Dietitian is Willing to Provide
It’s important to understand the different types of services your potential dietitian is willing and able to offer. If you want detailed and personalized nutrition advice that takes into account your individual body and needs, make sure they can provide this type of service. Some dietitians might only be willing to provide basic nutrition advice while others may be able to provide more advanced or specialized nutrition plans.
Also: do you have any unique needs that require special expertise, such as Celiac disease, or a history of eating disorder, or RED-S? If so, make sure to work with a dietitian who has specific expertise in that area. There are many dietitians who not only work with athletes, but have clinical experience working within certain specialties. As mentioned above, Training Block is a great place to find the perfect sport dietitian to work with, who fits the bill for your unique needs.
Stay Away From These Warning Signs
While these are by no means absolute indicators, we have found that there are a few red flags that are helpful to consider, and ultimately stay away from, when choosing the right sport dietitian for you. Things to consider:
(1) Does the dietitian promote a fad diet, like the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, or bulletproof coffee to their athletes? If so, we want to say this nicely- RUN AWAY. These diets are proven to be harmful both to athletes' performances, and to women in particular. Find a dietitian who supports a balanced, intuitive and well-fueled diet.
(2) Does the dietitian favor specific supplements and brands like powders, shakes, energy bars, gels, or other name brand marketed foods, to the exclusion of real food? It turns out that many of these foods are expensive alternatives to otherwise "normal" everyday fueling options, and some can be downright dangerous. Look for a dietitian who provides easy, accessible fueling options (for example, as Kelsey Pontius has pointed out, a cookie and a Honey Stinger provide the same results for pre-workout fueling needs) and not just package results.
(3) Does the dietitian work with you medically in a state where they are not licensed? State laws vary, but make sure the dietitian you are working with is appropriately licensed in your state.
(4) Is the dietitian trying to provide you with a generic program? Your needs are unique based on your individual training, genetic makeup, dietary restrictions, hormones, and relative vitamin and mineral levels. This varies widely person to person, and even for the same person can vary considerably during different phases of training. Work with someone who tailors your nutrition needs to YOU.