Catering for Athletes’ Dining Halls

Competing at a world event or National Games is one of the highest athletic achievements for some athletes. As sports dietitians, we know that optimal dietary intakes ensure peak performance. For many sports dietitians, we focus on preparing athletes nutritionally for these events. But have we considered that client preparation can be irrelevant if the proper foods/menu, education and timing are not made available within dining halls where athletes compete and train? This article outlines the challenges for sporting event food service caterers to provide the necessary elements of an athletes’ training table, ensuring sports nutrition principles are met. This presents exciting opportunities for sports dietitians to work with food service caterers to positively influence athletes’ eating habits in competitive dining halls.

Food provision in dining halls can be challenging for athletes for many reasons, mainly because of the array of unfamiliar foods available to them. It can be equally challenging for the food service caterer due to: 1) The range of energy requirements by sport; 2) Lack of knowledge of nutritional requirements by sport; and 3) The ability to provide suitable foods for all cultural and diverse preferences and special dietary requirements by sport. Herein lies the challenge for a single caterer to meet all of these priorities. This is further complicated by temporary kitchen set ups in less than ideal settings, and limited food service staff who lack training in appropriate nutrition for athletes.

Elite athletes at competitive levels choose foods based on nutrient composition above familiarity, visual appearance and aroma (Pelly et al., 2006). Cultural values and taste are also major determinants of food choice with athletes in mass meal settings (Nestle et al., 1998). Cooperative relationships between sports dietitians and catering are essential to produce menus that provide adequate nutrition for sport while meeting athletes’ taste/preference requirements. Sports dietitians employed directly with third party catering companies have a powerful influence and are the most appropriate professionals to develop, analyze, and implement dining hall menus for athletes’ villages.

My role with Compass Group Canada has included making recipe modifications with culinary staff and providing detailed analyses of menus and recipes. Sports dietitians are the most logical and credible professionals to perform these duties since they have the most appropriate tools and current sports nutrition knowledge.

Specific nutrition services for athletes within the dining hall was first trialed at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and then I trialed similar services as the food service Sports Dietitian working with Compass Group Canada, at the 2009 Canada Summer Games and Molson Canadian Hockey House at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Menus and sports nutrition resources were made available on nutrition websites; this allowed athletes, parents, coaches, and nutrition coaches to view the menus before the Games, submit dietary concerns, and to plan competition meals in advance. Point-of-choice nutrition cards were developed by food service sports dietitians, based on menu and food item analysis. These provided athletes with detailed information to help them make informed choices to meet their competition diet requirements. The nutrition cards included ingredient and potential allergen information, energy, carbohydrate, protein, and fat content. In addition, the website alerted viewers that sports dietitians would be available at the dining hall from 6 am – 9 pm to support athletes with any of their sports diets concerns. I was also responsible for the education and training of all food service staff on sports nutrition recommendations, ensuring compliance with standardized recipes, maintaining uniform serving sizes and risk management to reduce cross-contamination with food allergens.

Food Service Sports Dietitians should work together with sporting associations to develop and support an international nutrition policy that makes it mandatory for suitable menus in athlete dining halls that will meet the performance, cultural, and unique dietary needs of elite athletes.

Angela Dufour, MEd, P.Dt., IOC Grad Dip Sports Nutr, CFESports Dietitian/ Regional Marketing Manager, AtlanticCompass Group CanadaHalifax NS T: (902) 441-3990a E:

Source: Dietitians of Canada, Practice – Fall 2010

Dufour A. (2009) Point-of-choice nutrition cards. Compass Group Canada. 2009 Canada Summer Games, Charlottetown, PEI

Nestle M, Wing R, Birch L, DiSogra L, Drewnowski A, Middleton S, Sigman-Grant M, Sobal J, Winston M, Economos C. (1998). Behavioral and social influences on food choice. Nutrition Reviews, 56(5), S50–S74.

Pelly F, King T, O’Connor H. (2006). Factors influencing food choice of elite athletes at an international competition dining hall. 2nd Australian Association for Exercise and Sports Science Conference, Sydney, Australia.

Pelly F, O’Connor H, Denyer G, Caterson I. (2009). Catering for the Athletes’ Village at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games: The role of sports dietitians. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 19, 340-354.