Challenges identified for nutritionists supporting para-athletes with lower-limb disabilities

Osaka Metropolitan University researchers interviewed active para-athletes with lower-limb disabilities who compete at an international level, about diet and nutrition. The research team found that what para-athletes considered an ideal diet was not necessarily optimized for improving athletic performance, and even when para-athletes understood diets geared towards athletic performance, characteristics of their disabilities impose barriers to implementing dietary changes. Understanding these concerns and struggles is important for nutritionists who support para-athletes in sports nutrition.

In interviews of para-athletes and their support staff, regarding diet and nutrition, researchers found a gap between para-athletes’ perceptions and nutritionist’s recommendations for able-bodied athletes. The interviews underlined the barriers para-athletes face, which nutritionists should be aware of when providing nutritional support.

Osaka Metropolitan University researchers, Professor Hisayo Yokoyama from the Research Center for Urban Health and Sports, and Specially Appointed Research Associate Miwako Deguchi and Specially Appointed Professor Nobuko Hongu from the Graduate School of Human Life and Ecology, interviewed para-athletes with lower-limb disabilities about diet and nutrition. The survey included six active para-athletes participating in international-level competitions and an able-bodied para-sport trainer to clarify challenges that para-athletes face in sports nutrition.

While athletes without disabilities tend to emphasize intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats as energy sources, almost all subjects interviewed indicated that a diet rich in vegetables and unbiased in terms of nutritional balance was ideal for improving athletic performance. This is thought to be out of a desire to avoid gaining weight which limits wheelchair operation in daily life and to prevent lifestyle-related diseases, resulting in hesitancy surrounding food intake, rather than focusing on diets that provide nutritional benefits for improving athletic performance.

The research team found that diets that para-athletes considered ideal were not necessarily optimal for improving athletic performance, and even when they understood what a truly optimal diet was various characteristics of their disabilities imposed barriers to changing their diet.

“The results of this research will help bridge the perception gap between para-athletes and support staff, including nutritionists and trainers, to facilitate cooperation between them. It is important for nutritionists to fully understand the concerns and struggles of para-athletes to form good partnerships with them and support them in sports nutrition,” Professor Yokoyama concluded.


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Published: 20 Oct 2022

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Rina Matsuki

3-3-138 Sugimoto, Sumiyoshi-ku,
Osaka 558-8585 JAPAN

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Title: The Role of Diets and Dietitians for Para-Athletes: A Pilot Study Based on Interviews
DOI: 10.3390/nu14183720
Author: Hisayo Yokoyama, Miwako Deguchi and Nobuko Hongu

Funding information:

This research is supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (22K11529), for Collaborative Research on Diversity Research Environment Initiative (traction type), and by the OCU “Think globally, act locally” Research Grant for Female Researchers 2021 (No. 2021-2) through the hometown donation fund of Osaka City.