Sports nutrition: A new-age career opportunity for retiring athletes

Sports nutrition is getting keen interest from many athletes not only for their current sporting requirements, but also from the perspective of their future careers.

The author is a sports nutritionist for Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and a host of other IPL stars.   -  Reuters

I have worked in nutrition for athletes for two decades. For the last two years, many of my fans and clients have been asking me, “How do I become a sports nutritionist? Is it a good job? Do you get to meet celebrity players all the time? What do I need to study to enter this profession?”

Sports nutrition is getting serious attention from athletes as a crucial part of their performance. More and more players are hiring support teams for muscle training, physiotherapy, massages, mind coaching and sports nutrition. This enhanced awareness and experiential knowledge of these sciences are getting keen interest from many athletes not only for their current sporting requirements, but also from the perspective of their future careers.

What is sports nutrition?

Sports nutrition is the study and practice of nutrition and diet with regards to improving athletic performance. Food is an essential part of many training regimens, being popular in strength sports (such as weightlifting and bodybuilding) as well as endurance sports (cycling, running, swimming, rowing, et cetera). Sports nutrition focuses on the type and quantity of fluids and foods that athletes consume. In addition, it deals with the consumption of vitamins, minerals, supplements and other organic substances that include carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

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As chief nutritionist at Qua Nutrition clinics, my job includes the following:

  • Administering nutrition counselling to individuals
  • Engaging in menu development plans
  • Creating nutrition-rich food service initiatives
  • Spearheading nutrition education for teams, groups and wellness programmes
  • Using nutrition to facilitate the professional development of teams
  • Analysing clients’ blood and gene tests, and advising nutritional interventions
  • Monitoring athletes’ programmes and ensuring nutrition keeps pace with the training
  • Injury protocols in nutrition for athletes
  • Tournament guidelines and food protocols during travel
  • Recommendations and analysis of supplements and herbs
  • Creating content and communication for the media, seminars and workshops
  • Mentoring dietitians and sports nutritionists in different sports and categories

My advice for future sports nutritionists

Learn to like science in school. Biology is important. Learn everything you can about the human body.

Maths is also important. You need to balance proteins, carbs, fat and calories. This is all mathematics, and addition, subtraction and percentages are key to designing a good nutrition diet plan for an athlete.

Learn to speak English. Globally, advanced sports nutrition teaching is conducted in English. Your opportunities to learn, travel and experience what other experts do will depend of your ability to read, write and speak fluently while interacting with global sports specialists, or even to understand YouTube videos.

Learn to love food. Understand all foods. Google them. Cook them. Be able to talk to people about how food provides you nourishment, recovery, energy and happiness.

Sign up for a plan with your local nutritionist. While changing your diet, don’t just follow the plan; learn from your sports nutritionist. Ask him or her to give you homework. At every assessment, you can submit your homework on what you learnt since the last visit. You can learn about the various types of proteins or do a project on what is vegan food or start asking questions on each supplement you take. A quick tip is you can register your curiosity on nutrition at my personal teaching space, www.institutenutrition.com.

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Education can be the stepping stone to glory for many athletes. You can earn a degree in basic nutrition while training for your sport. It takes four to six years to be good in the science of nutrition. Many sportspersons feel that they can get a job after doing a six-week online course. But it would be best if you earned a degree, preferably a bachelor’s in science. Once you retire from your sport, you can pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition. Do not rely on certificate courses.

Anil Kumble once told me that he could not play or practise until he finished his lessons on nutrition, and his parents did not allow him to skip his engineering degree even though he was already playing for India. Today, he runs successful businesses, and he attributes this to his education.

In India, 97 percent of nutritionists and dieticians are women as the courses for the last five decades have been part of a home science degree. It is only in the last 10 years that pure nutrition courses are being offered. Since nutrition in India is approached from the perspective of the kitchen and a homemaker, the sports nutrition industry has not received encouragement. But I predict that sports nutrition will become a lucrative profession in the next two decades and many athletes will enrol to become nutritionists.

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A sports nutritionist in India can earn anywhere between $4,000 and $40,000 per annum based on experience and qualifications.

Some part-time learning resources

Udemy is an excellent place for students and athletes to satisfy their appetite for nutrition. Even if you are 14 years old, you can do some of the courses offered and ask yourself, “Do I love this? Can I retain these learnings?”

Another great place online is Coursera. Search for nutrition courses and do a few. Get acquainted.

Study.com also has excellent options.

Once you are serious and older, search for courses offered by the Sports Authority of India.

A lot of hard work is needed in the early years as a trainee and a junior nutritionist, when the income is far from glamorous. I remember that my qualifications and salary when I was younger did not draw praise from family or friends. It is a profession that requires the investment of time and effort. Give yourself 10 years to become a sports nutritionist. Even medal-winners will tell you it takes decades to become a champion!

The author is a celebrity sports nutritionist at Qua Nutrition clinics and counts Virat Kohli, Mayank Agarwal, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer and a host of other IPL stars as his nutrition clients. If you wish to intern or train under him, write to learn@insitutenutrition.com