What Can Coaches Do When Athletes Are Not Fueling Properly? (Q&A with Paula Quatromoni)

In this Q&A series, Dr. Paula Quatromoni (DSc, RD) answers some of the biggest questions coaches and athletic staff have to better prevent and assist athletes who may be struggling with eating disorders.

Q: What should a coach do when they suspect an athlete is not fueling properly and needs assistance with nutrition?

A: Best practice is to refer your athlete to a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) for an individualized assessment by a trained nutrition professional. It is wise to build relationships or, at a minimum, a referral network of providers in your local area. You can use the search engine of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org) to Find an Expert by zip code. You can search for specialty areas of practice, like sports nutrition.

Direct your athletes to books written by Registered Dietitians and credible websites managed by sports nutrition professionals. These are great resources for coaches to educate themselves as well! Here are some reliable “go-to” resources:

When it comes to weight, it is best practice for coaches to refrain from having conversations with athletes about body weight or body fat. If a coach has a concern about an athlete’s weight or body composition, coach should bring those concerns to the sports medicine professional. If a sports RD is employed inside the Athletics department or sport organization, he/she would be the appropriate person to hear the coach’s concern, perform an assessment, and have the conversation (if appropriate) with the athlete about weight in the context of personalized goals. Otherwise, the coach should bring his/her concerns to the sports physician, Athletic Trainer or perhaps the Strength & Conditioning coach to discuss whether making a referral is indicated. Referral to a consulting RD in the local community (as suggested above) would be an appropriate next step to get an individualized assessment, customized nutritional plan, and an expert capable of monitoring nutrition and/or weight-related interventions.

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Paula Quatromoni, DSc, MS, RD is a registered dietitian, academic researcher, and one of the country’s leading experts in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders in athletes. Dr. Quatromoni is a tenured associate professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, and Chair of the Department of Health Sciences at Boston University where she maintains an active program of research. She publishes widely on topics including clinical treatment outcomes and the lived experiences of athletes and others with and recovering from eating disorders. In 2004, she pioneered the sports nutrition consult service for student-athletes at Boston University, and in 2016, she led the creation of the GOALS Program, an athlete-specific intensive outpatient eating disorders treatment program at Walden Behavioral Care where she serves as a Senior Consultant. Dr. Quatromoni is an award-winning educator. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition from the University of Maine at Orono, and her Doctorate in Epidemiology from the Boston University School of Public Health.