Factors Influencing Athletes’ Food Choices

Highlighting a study by Karen L. Birkenhead and Gary Slater, Sports Medicine 2015. Get the originally published article here.

Key Points

  • There are few studies exploring factors influencing athletes' food choices, yet the demands of many sports require high energy intake.
  • There is some evidence to suggest food choices are influenced by factors specific to sport, such as performance.
  • Food choice is dynamic, complex and continually changing and more research is needed with athlete populations where food choices are likely influenced by the demands of sport.


Athletes make food choices on a daily basis that can affect both health and performance. A well planned nutrition strategy that includes the careful timing and selection of appropriate foods and fluids helps to maximize training adaptations and, thus, should be an integral part of the athlete’s training programme. Factors that motivate food selection include taste, convenience, nutrition knowledge and beliefs. Food choice is also influenced by physiological, social, psychological and economic factors and varies both within and between individuals and populations. This review highlights the multidimensional nature of food choice and the depth of previous research investigating eating behaviours. Despite numerous studies with general populations, little exploration has been carried out with athletes, yet the energy demands of sport typically require individuals to make more frequent and/or appropriate food choices. While factors that are important to general populations also apply to athletes, it seems likely, given the competitive demands of sport, that performance would be an important factor influencing food choice. It is unclear if athletes place the same degree of importance on these factors or how food choice is influenced by involvement in sport. There is a clear need for further research exploring the food choice motives of athletes, preferably in conjunction with research investigating dietary intake to establish if intent translates into practice.

Sport Science Infographic by @YLMSportScience