Skip to Main Content


Catering for athletes and providing advice to caterers is an exciting and challenging task. The main role for the dietitian is to design menus and recipes that meet the nutrient needs of athlete groups and satisfy a wide variety of individual tastes, expectations, dietary regimens and cultural preferences. Working directly with caterers provides the opportunity to select suitable foods for consumption and potentially influence the eating behaviour of athletes. Unfortunately, sporting venues and institutions that supply food for athletes do not usually employ a foodservice dietitian or cater adequately for athletes’ needs. Commonly, the available foods contradict sports and general nutrition principles.

This chapter focuses on the approaches involved in providing menus and meals, their impact on athletes’ food choices and the role of the dietitian in a catering environment. The dining hall of the athletes’ village at major events (e.g. the Olympic Games) and live-in residences (e.g. the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS)) are examples of working models of large-scale residential catering for elite athletes. Practical tips and strategies for the self-catering of athletes living away from home are also included.


Determinants of food choice by individuals and athletes are complex and influenced by many factors (Sobal & Bisogni 2009; Birkenhead & Slater 2015). Individuals may make over 200 decisions a day on food choice (Wansink & Sobal 2007). The Determinants of Nutrition and Eating (DONE) framework maps the predictors of food decision-making in adults across multiple disciplines using a socio-ecological approach that addresses individual, interpersonal, environmental and policy-related factors (Stok et al. 2017). At the individual level, physiological (e.g. sensory perception), demographic (e.g. age, gender, socioeconomic status), psychological (e.g. mood, food beliefs) and situational (e.g. hunger, time constraints) factors may play a role.

In athletes, recognition of the role of food and nutrition in sports performance can affect food choice (Birkenhead & Slater 2015). Other determinants include performance expectations, stage of competition, concerns about body composition, and gastrointestinal (GI) comfort (Smart & Bisogni 2001; Pelly et al. 2018; Pelly & Thurecht 2019).

The Athlete Food Choice Questionnaire developed by Thurecht and Pelly (2019) measures key determinants of food choice in athletes, including the nutritional attributes of foods, emotional influences, food and health awareness, influence of others, usual eating practices, weight control, food values and cultural beliefs, sensory appeal and performance. Performance was the greatest influence on food choice in 385 athletes during two major competition events using this questionnaire (Thurecht & Pelly 2020).

Individual factors influencing food choice

Physiological factors

Hunger is the primary physiological driver to eat. Moderate- to high-intensity exercise can temporarily suppress appetite (King et al. 1994; Deighton et al. 2013); however, ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.