Athletes and Food as Fuel: Choosing Premium Over Unleaded

Student Author(s)

Sarah Krueger

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Teresa Heinz Housel

Document Type


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A shift in American food culture has termed food as the fuel for an on-the-go nation. However, in sharp contrast with the culture of quantity over quality and fast food, athletes use food as fuel in a much different way. Previous studies have examined the advantages as well as disadvantages of how athletic involvement influences a person’s use, perception, and relationship with food. Most athletes, especially professional and college athletes, have access to more nutritional information than the average American, which would suggest that their foodways are different and possibly healthier. However, these athletes have also been said to have higher levels of pressure placed on them, which can lead to disordered eating habits. This study uses interviews with college athletes and non-athletes to understand what their eating habits are and, if they are athletes, how they relate food to their involvement in sports. In addition, textual analysis of news articles about the diets of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, NBA basketball player Michael Jordan, Olympic volleyball player Misty May-Treanor, and Olympic swimmer Janet Evans will also be used to evaluate the way elite athletes construct foodways. I expect to find through both the interviews and textual analysis that food is used to increase performance and fuel the body to function at its best. Although college and elite athletes comprise only around .13 percent of the American population, uncovering ways in which athlete foodways vary from the norm can benefit the population by highlighting the benefits that can come from upper-tier athletics. This study’s results can also be used to inform the general population how to better relate to foodways and make nutrition and exercise choices that positively shape their foodways.

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