Mediterranean College of Sport speaks to sports nutritionist Maya Borg about the importance of proper nutrition and how a specialist works with student-athletes to help them achieve their goals.
For any young student-athlete, nutrition is a key consideration, as eating and drinking the right things, in the right quantities and at the right times, is vital to ensure the body is prepared to meet the demands of training and perform at the highest level.
The contribution of a sports nutritionist is therefore crucial in helping student-athletes remain at their best.
Maya Borg, a Sports Nutritionist with a Master’s from Sheffield Hallam University, explains that sports nutritionists work closely with coaches and sports science teams, analysing individual athletes’ dietary intakes and producing reports for other members of the sports science team, as well as educating student-athletes on sports nutrition topics.
“Within a multidisciplinary sport science team, the role of a sports nutritionist helps bring all aspects of the team together, as they are involved in the nutrition, performance, clinical and psychological aspects of the sport,” Borg says. “A sports nutritionist bridges the physical aspects of health and well-being with the mental facets.”
Borg uses an athlete-centred approach during nutritional consultations, to encourage student-athletes to learn and to develop the right behavioural habits. This approach ensures that she gains an in-depth understanding of the athlete’s needs and wants, on the basis of which she can set realistic goals, provide easy and straightforward advice, and prepare convenient and budget-friendly recipes.
“Sports nutritionists must also work around a student-athlete’s school timetable and other typical day-to-day routines to help them maintain the right behavioural habits, such as what time they wake up, how they get to school and training, and how their weekend differs from this,” Borg says.
“The right behavioural habits are crucial in order to empower student-athletes to build lifelong, meaningful knowledge with the aim of safeguarding their health. My philosophy is to teach the ‘why’ of nutrition concepts in an interactive, innovative, and engaging way to create the right culture.”
In consultations with teenage student-athletes, Borg begins by identifying the athlete’s goals, and understanding more about their personality profile and lifestyle. She also seeks to understand a typical training day, including the food and drink they typically consume, and whether there are any barriers—both practical, such as time, and psychological—to be overcome.
The nutritionist will then carry out a 24-hour dietary recall to gain a detailed description of the athlete’s current diet as well as understanding any dietary preferences, allergies or intolerances. All of this is coupled with outlining the athlete’s typical week in terms of exercise and other daily energy demands such as hobbies or private tuition, and anything that may be positively or negatively impacting their energy levels.
Finally, the sports nutritionist will ask about medication, injuries and illnesses, and take body composition measurements.
“The nutritionist will write a follow-up email to parents summarising the key points, outlining the recommendations, and providing an example meal plan and dietary strategy,” Borg explains. “Instructions will also be given where appropriate, such as what ongoing social support looks like and which healthcare professionals to contact in case of other special requirements.”
Engaging the athlete’s parents in the process is vital because parents influence their children’s eating behaviours by making certain foods available over others, and by serving as role models of diet and lifestyle, according to Borg.
“Providing the student with take-home recipe cards and other health-related educational resources is an effective way of engaging both parents and their children,” she explains.
“Furthermore, when consulting younger individuals, it is a must to share the children’s consultation reports with their parents. These would include an overview of the child’s measurements, recommended timings and quantities for meals and snacks. It would also offer the appropriate guidance for tackling food allergies and intolerances, diabetes, weight management and other clinical conditions such as nutritional deficiencies, irritable bowel syndrome or PCOS, if the child suffers from any,” adds Borg.
The Mediterranean College of Sport is set to be one of the most pioneering educational and sporting facilities in the Maltese islands, aiming to develop future athletes of international calibre. The co-educational college is set to open its doors to students in September 2024 and will be housed adjacent to St Aloysius College in Birkirkara. For further information please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org