The Starting Line: Nutrition vs. Sports Nutrition

Swimming World November 2021 - Nutrition - The Importance of Iron- Low Means Slow! By Dawn Weatherwax

The Starting Line: Nutrition vs. Sports Nutrition

By Dawn Weatherwax, RD,LD,ATC,CSCS

Nutrition vs. Sports Nutrition

All of the probing and poking around in the realms of nutrition and physiology has resulted in a science that combines the best knowledge from both arenas. Good nutrition is essential to good health, no matter who you are. Sports nutrition takes the principles of good nutrition a step further. It looks at what you do with your body, and tailors both the things you eat and when you eat them to enhance your activities. It takes into account the big picture—all your trainings and competitions—whatever it is you like to do.

Sports nutrition also takes into account the various nutritional needs of different sports. If you’re a weightlifter, you’re going to eat differently than a swimmer. Tailoring nutrition to activities can do amazing things for athletes of all shapes, sizes and persuasions. It can do the following:

• Maximize growth, development and performance at the same time
• Maximize concentration, strength and speed
• Minimize fatigue and enjoy the process
• Reduce errors
• Optimize trainings
• Minimize recovery time
• Avoid plateaus
• Maintain health and reduce injuries
• Attain and maintain ideal body composition

Sports nutrition gives “eating to live” a whole new meaning. Nutrition is just nutrition. Sports nutrition will get you to where you want to go. Following a good sports nutrition program can enhance athletic performance and decrease injuries.

Sports nutrition focuses on four main factors that help support optimal health and exercise performance:

1. Appropriate food and fluid selection
2. Timing their intake to enhance performance and recovery
3. Any testing to support the process (metabolism, fuel in the muscles, labs specific to athlete (i.e., blood work) body composition
4. Appropriate supplementation

What is the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?


Aim of profession: Often work at a community, organization and population level, providing information and advice about foods to promote health and food sustainability. They may also work with healthy individuals seeking to improve general health well-being vs. individuals with medical or complex conditions requiring nutrition therapy.

Accrediting body: There is no national industry authority governing nutritionists.

Level of education: Nutritionist courses can vary in length and quality, ranging from university degrees to online courses.


Look for credentials:

• RD (Registered Dietitian),
• LD (Licensed Dietitian)
• RDN (Registered Dietitian with an Emphasis on Nutrition. Means same as RD)

Aim of profession: Dietetics is a specialization on top of nutrition studies. As such, dietitians can work in any of the areas that nutritionists work but, additionally, they provide nutritional advice for treatment of diseases and conditions to optimize health.

Sports Dietitian

Aim of profession: A sports dietitian provides individual and performance-focused nutrition plans for athletes. They use testing, blood work and any other science-based techniques to further the athletes’ goals.

Optional Add-ons: Many dietitians who specialize in sports also have other emphases or degrees: exercise physiologist, athletic training (AT or ATC), strength and conditioning, personal training, functional nutrition.

Accrediting body: Complete an Accredited Dietetics Program Accredited Practicing Dietitians and Accredited Sports Dietitians commit to ongoing training and education.

Level of education: Bachelor’s and master’s degree (new); 5+ years of study at university; Takes an average 6-7 years of schooling


As a coach, parent or an athlete: If you want to maximize training and performance outcomes, remove the guesswork or save time and minimize sickness, it is important to make sports nutrition as much a part of the program as the training. Reach out to a sports dietitian in your area. If you do not have one locally, then search for one to do virtual options. The goal is to set up for optimal success in all areas and create a network that allows that outcome!


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Dawn Weatherwax (RD, LD, ATC, CSCS) is a registered/licensed dietitian with a specialty in sports nutrition and founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go and Dawn Weatherwax Sports Nutrition Academy. She has been working with swimmers for over 25 years and has launched a sports nutrition academy for athletes. She is also a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, which is the premier professional sports nutrition credential in the United States. In addition, she is an athletic trainer with a certification in strength and conditioning from The National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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