Food choice decisions of collegiate division i athletes: A qualitative exploratory study

Kaitlyn M. Eck, Carol Byrd-Bredbenner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Limited research has examined athletes’ food and health beliefs and decisions and the congruence of these decisions with recommendations from nutrition professionals. This study aimed to improve understanding of athletes’ food-related beliefs and practices to enable nutrition professionals to more effectively enhance performance while protecting athletes’ health. Division I college athletes (n = 14, 64% female) from a variety of sports were recruited to participate in 20-min semi-structured phone interviews about food and nutrition-related behaviors and cognitions. Data were content analyzed to identify themes and trends. Prominent factors influencing athletes’ food choices were potential benefits to health and performance, availability of foods, and recommendations from sports dietitians. Foods commonly consumed by athletes, including fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, were generally healthy and aligned with sports nutrition recommendations. Athletes avoided energy-dense nutrient-poor foods, such as fast food and fried foods, with the goal of improving performance. Some athletes took supplements (i.e., multivitamin, iron, protein) on the premise that they would improve health and enhance performance or recovery. While athletes’ nutrition behaviors are generally congruent with current recommendations, findings highlighted misconceptions held by athletes related to the benefits of some supplements and the belief that packaged/processed foods were inherently less healthy than other options. Nutrition misconceptions held by athletes and incongruities between athletes’ nutrition knowledge and behaviors suggest that dietitians should aim to dispel misconceptions held by athletes and provide additional guidance and information to support athletes’ current healthful behaviors to ensure these behaviors extend beyond their college athletic career.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2322
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


  • Athletes
  • Eating behaviors
  • Sports nutrition


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