Study reveals challenges with nutritional knowledge and dietary behavior of para-athletes

Researchers conducted an online survey on nutrition, dietary behavior, and body image with 32 national and international level para-athletes with physical disabilities such as spinal cord injury or limb defect/amputation. Results showed that about 40% need assistance in procuring and cooking food and that it is difficult to achieve their ideal diet on their own. Also, although para-athletes with a good body image rated their eating habits as healthy, they had a low percentage of correct answers to questions about nutrition.

Despite achieving national and international levels of success, this study reveals that there is still a need for highly competitive para-athletes to improve in nutritional knowledge and dietary behavior

New study reveals that para-athletes might be in need of nutrition education and a support system for eating behavior. Published online in Nutrients, the study sampled 32 para-athletes and 45 university student athletes without disabilities and found that the percentage of para-athletes with enough nutritional knowledge was lower than that of university student athletes. Also, results showed that about 40% of the para-athletes needed help with procuring and cooking meals.

“As para-sports have increased in competitiveness, their athletes are expected to perform at a high level” says lead author and specially appointed research associate Miwako Deguchi, “however, nutritional support for para-athletes has lagged far behind their able-bodied counterparts.”

In collaboration with her colleagues from the Osaka City University Graduate School of Medicine, OCU Graduate School of Human Life Science, and the Research Center for Urban Health and Sports, the research team surveyed 32 para-athletes with physical disabilities who participated in international competitions and 45 university students without disabilities from athletic teams at OCU and Osaka Prefecture University.

In a web-based questionnaire about their nutritional knowledge, eating behavior and body image, para-athletes who said they knew their ideal amount and way of eating showed significantly higher body image scores, based on the Japanese version of the body appreciation scale. When partnered with the mean score of both general and sports nutrition knowledge of para-athletes being substantially lower than the university student athletes, “it seems the para-athletes made judgements about food-intake based on subjective perceptions such as “I feel good” and “there is nothing wrong with me” and not necessarily on nutritional knowledge,” suggests Associate Professor Hisayo Yokoyama.

In addition, the study found that 40% of the para-athletes need assistance in obtaining and preparing food and have difficulties in achieving their ideal diet on their own, yet only a small number of athletes mentioned a dietitian as a source of nutrition information or receiving nutrition advice. “This may be due to the lack of available guidelines as the dietary behavioral problems vary between each para-athlete’s unique disability,” says Specially Appointed Professor Nobuko Hongu. “It also may be that they do not have access to dieticians with the appropriate knowledge about sports nutrition.”

Through this study, a clarification the actual situation of para-athletes’ dietary practice has been made, in addition to sorting out the factors for this situation into comprehensible groups (i.e., eating perception, nutrition knowledge and body image). This will allow for the establishment of nutritional guidelines for para-athletes, and as the research team summarizes, “we want nutritionists/sports dietitians a part of the para-athlete team to help them perform at their best through sports nutrition strategies, and the results of this study has further strengthened our desire to do so”

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Published: 29 Sep 2021

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Rina MATSUKI

Osaka City University
3-3-138 Sugimoto
Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka
558-8585 Japan

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The OCU “Think globally, act locally” Research Grant for Female Researchers 2021 through the hometown donation fund of Osaka City.