AIS Sports Nutrition

The Athlete Dining Hall

Imagine a situation where there is free food – maybe even served 24 hours a day – with numerous choices on offer and plenty of company to enjoy it with.  This is the scenario provided by the Athlete Villages organised for many of the world’s major sporting competitions.  As perfect as it sounds, it presents a number of challenges for the travelling athlete. For young and inexperienced athletes, the temptations and challenges often interfere with achieving nutritional goals.  It is important to understand the special challenges of communal eating and to adopt special eating strategies.

Challenges for the athlete

  • Great quantities of food. You can serve yourself as much as you want from an almost inexhaustible supply. It is easy to eat more than you need.
  • Many choices of food all at once.  When in doubt, most people have it all! It would be terrible to miss out on something nice. This can quickly lead to boredom with the menu.
  • Different and unusual foods.  Some people find it difficult to adjust to food that is different to the way they eat at home, or to food that has been cooked in large volumes rather than individually prepared.  
  • Lack of supervision. Many young athletes find it difficult when they are first required to take responsibility for their food intake
  • Distraction. Surrounded by the eating habits of a large group of people, it can be difficult to concentrate on your own nutritional goals.
  • Eating for entertainment.  Food provides the fuel that powers athletes, but it also fulfils an emotional and social role for athletes - and, perhaps, some stress-relief during the weeks of competition. If the dining room becomes a "hang-out", extra food can be consumed in the name of unwinding and relaxing together.

Tips for eating well

  • Know clearly your nutritional goals and how you can choose food to achieve these.  If you are unsure or used to having other people organise meals for you, arrange to see a sports dietitian for some specific advice.
  • Be aware of the total menu on offer and eat to a plan rather than choosing a bit of everything on your plate as you move down the food line. Make use of menu boards, or "do a lap" of the buffet or dining room so that you can plan your meal as you wait in the queue. 
  • Convince yourself that choosing a bit of everything on your plate is haphazard, and unbalanced – it can quickly lead to unwanted weight gain.  But it can also quickly lead to boredom with the catering, because there is no sense of choosing a different theme each night.
  • Relax. Remember that there is plenty of food for everyone and menu items will often be repeated. 
  • Make use of available information, such as nutrition cards, to learn more about the food that is being served.  When you are unsure, don’t be afraid to ask the waiters or chef.
  • Don't concern yourself with the amount and type of food that other athletes are consuming. The nutritional needs of other athletes may vary quite markedly from your own. Stick to what is right for you.
  • Remove yourself from the food environment once you have finished your meal. Don't leave yourself exposed to "boredom eating".

This fact sheet is based on AIS / National team athletes and is therefore specific to these athletes. Written by AIS Sports Nutrition, last updated August 2009. © Australian Sports Commission.

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