Nutrition Knowledge of Division One Collegiate Athletes Opposed to Non-Athletic College Students

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This research proposal seeks to examine the level of nutritional knowledge of division one collegiate athletes compared to the nutritional knowledge of college students that do not compete at a division one level. This may include college students competing in lower level sports, intramural sports, or no sports. This research will look at both level of athletic competition, as well as the level of nutritional knowledge. The data will be collected through the use of a survey, and the target population will be students attending Loyola Marymount University (LMU). The working hypothesis for this research is Division I collegiate athletes are more knowledgeable about nutrition than non-division one college students. If proven to be true, the results of this research can be used to improve the overall nutritional knowledge of all student-athletes and non-athletes who are constantly eating on the go


Collegiate athletes are put under a high level of physical stress through consistent and constant training within their particular sport. In order to stay competitive, collegiate athletes have to maintain their athletic abilities throughout the year; not just during their athletic season. Collegiate athletes also endure a high level of pressure from coaches, family, friends, and the campus community to produce results within the sport while maintaining their grades to remain eligible. Additionally, Division I collegiate athletes often have the added pressure of media attention. The multiple sources of pressure can put collegiate athletes at risk of bad decision making, which can then lead to consequences on the field, such as avoidable injuries. One of the areas in which collegiate athletes need to maintain strict regiments is with their eating and exercise. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to preventing injuries. 

For most collegiate athletes, maintaining a healthy weight is not about “dieting.” It is about balancing nutrition with their level of physical activity. For example, football players need to eat a significantly higher amount of calories to balance the intensity of their workouts. Otherwise, they would begin losing weight, which may put them at risk of injury or exclusion from playing. Despite the need for higher calories, it is also important that they do not fill their diet with empty calories and saturated fats, which may lead to other significant health problems. Nutritional knowledge and understanding are paramount to the success of a collegiate athlete. Since Division I schools receive a higher level of media attention and a greater emphasis is placed on the importance of sports, their student-athletes are provided with better resources. This includes more comprehensive nutritional education, as well as continued follow-up, support, and resources to help them stay active and maintain a healthy weight. 

This study is designed to compare the nutritional knowledge of Division I collegiate athletes, as opposed to non-division one collegiate athletes. Despite the clear need for high nutritional knowledge, the available research suggests that collegiate athletes, even Division I collegiate athletes do not have appropriate levels of nutritional knowledge. However, the research found does not pertain to non-athletes. Despite the apparent lack of adequate knowledge, it is still unclear whether Division I collegiate athletes have more or less nutritional knowledge than other college students. The available research also reveals some important information regarding differences in nutritional knowledge between male and female athletes. Although gender differences are not an exact focus of this study, it is clearly a solid topic for additional research and consideration. 

Literature Review

The available research on the nutritional knowledge and habits of collegiate athletes is plentiful and diverse. Collegiate athletes have been the focus of numerous research studies, in part, due to the known importance of nutrition to collegiate athletes’ health and performance. The literature review for this study revealed several conclusions that were not initially expected; particularly in the comparison between male and female collegiate athletes. Although the types of studies and conclusions varied, one thing remained constant throughout the research. Hinton et al stated it best in their article “Nutrient Intakes and Dietary Behaviors of Male and Female Collegiate Athletes” (2004), “Optimal athletic performance results from a combination of factors including training, body composition, and nutrition. Despite the increased interest in nutrition and the use of dietary supplements to enhance performance, or in some cases doping athletes, some collegiate athletes might be consuming diets that are less than optimal.” The available research on the nutritional knowledge of athletes, even Division I athletes, is not generally positive. 

Studies indicate Division I athletes do not display a high level of nutritional knowledge. In the research conducted by Hinton et al (2004), the dietary intakes and behaviors of Division I collegiate athletes were examined. This research studied both male and female athletes, who were actively participating in intercollegiate athletics at an NCAA Division I school. The results of this study showed that only 15% to 26% of the collegiate athletes were consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates and proteins to accommodate their training schedule (Hinton et al., 2004). Additionally, research showed that 62% of the female athletes expressed a desire to lose weight (Hinton et al., 2004). This desire is significant because it signifies the strong potential for low body image, which is not associated with their athletic performance. Due to the high risk of injury, it is essential that collegiate athletes maintain weights appropriate for their level of competition. The issue of weight and personal appearance was found to be a problem among female athletes in multiple studies. 

Multiple research studies on the nutrition knowledge and activity of collegiate athletes revealed the prevalence of eating disorders among female athletes. Mark Reinking and Laura Alexander, authors of “Prevalence of Disorder-Eating Behaviors in Undergraduate Female Collegiate Athletes and Nonathletes” (2005), attempted to determine whether or not there was a clear difference between athletes and non-athletes in regards to eating disorders. Their study focused specifically on students from an NCAA Division I school. 84 female collegiate athletes and 62 non-athletes participated in the study.  They found that there was a significant difference between athletes and non-athletes in general (Reinking & Alexander, 2005). However, there was a significant difference between lean sport athletes and non-lean sport athletes. “Within the athlete sample, the high-risk group included 2.9% of the non-lean-sport athletes and 25% of the lean-sport athletes (Reinking & Alexander, 2005). Lean-sports refer to sports such as gymnastics, while non-lean-sports refer to sports such as softball and rugby. 

These results have been revealed in other studies as well. Jaimee Heffner, Benjamin Ogles, Ellsa Gold, Kimberly ann Marsden, and Michael Johnson, authors of “Nutrition and Eating in Female college Athletes: a Survey of Coaches” (2003), found that there was a more significant problem within gymnastics and Division I female athletes than other sports and divisions. They surveyed 303 coaches of female collegiate teams. 40-item surveys were used to collect data. The collected data was organized based on sport and division. This is how conclusions were made, which suggested collegiate gymnast coaches experienced the highest level of issues with eating disorders among athletes. “Many coaches have encountered disturbing eating among their athletes and some of their coaching attitudes and behaviors may inadvertently increase the risk for such disturbances” (Heffner et al., 2003). This suggests a strong lack of nutritional knowledge among athletes, as well as coaches. Although the current research is looking at the nutritional knowledge of students, the nutritional knowledge of collegiate coaches is also an influential indicator. 

Although the current research is specifically on collegiate athletes, it is likely that the nutritional issues and eating disorders found in female athletes are associated to a lack of nutritional knowledge and support received while still playing as a high school athlete. Elliot et al, authors of “Preventing substance abuse and disordered eating: Initial outcomes of the ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives) Program” (2004) ran a pilot program for high school athletes that could be converted into a program for collegiate athletes. Elliot et al. (2004) studied 928 students in 18 different schools and 40 different sports teams to develop a health program for high school age females that will help prevent and correct alcohol, tobacco, drug use, and eating disorders. Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives (ATHENA) did weekly forty-five minute about healthy sport nutrition, effective exercise training, drug use, and other unhealthy behaviors. It was found that the social pressures to maintain a particular body image that normal teenage females experience were even greater in the context of a sports team, but the drug use and disordered eating that results from poor body image was more effectively reversed when correct nutrition was taught and encouraged in that team-based social group (Elliot et al., 2004). This study demonstrated the positive effect nutritional education can have on a student-athlete. This information can be translated into programs for collegiate athletes. 

Coaches are put in positions of authority and influence. However, this and other studies have demonstrated an overall lack of nutrition knowledge among coaches. Torres-McGehee et al, authors of “Sports Nutrition Knowledge among Collegiate Athletes, Coaches, Athletic Trainers, and Strength and conditioning Specialists” (2012), demonstrated the overall lack of nutritional knowledge by both coaches and athletes. Their study consisted of participants from Division I, II, and III schools. All participants were given the Sports Nutrition Knowledge Questionnaire, which consists of 20 multiple-choice questions. The results of the study showed that athletic trainers (AT) and Strength and Conditioning Specialists (SCS) had high levels of nutritional knowledge (Torres-McGehee et al., 2012). However, coaches and athletes demonstrated a significantly lower level of nutritional knowledge. Although coaches and athletes depend on ATs and SCSs for their knowledge and advisement, there is a clear need for nutritional education programming. The researchers strongly suggest that both coaches and athletes need to be providing with better resources and programs in order to improve their overall understanding of nutrition. 

Although the research studies so far have looked at collegiate athletes from multiple divisions, it is clear that the level of nutritional knowledge does not appear to be higher for Division I athletes over other collegiate athletes. Cole et al., authors of “Evaluation of Dietary Practices of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Football Players” (2005), looked specifically at Division I athletes. They found that athletes lack an overall knowledge of basic and needed nutrition. Doug Long, Christina Perry, Scott Unruh, Nancy Lewis, and Kaye Stanek-Krogstrand authors of “Personal Food Systems of Male Collegiate Football Players: a Grounded Theory Investigation” (2011), found that collegiate football players attempted to eat healthily, but lack the basic knowledge needed to do so successfully. The players were asked open-ended questions in order to gain insight into their general eating schedule and food choices. Planning hydration, macronutrient strategies, snacks such as nuts or hard-boiled eggs, and healthful choices were common themes among the data collected. Overall, researchers concluded that the collegiate “athletes planned their meals around academic and athletic schedules while attempting to consume foods identified as healthy” (Long, Perry, Unruh, Lewis, and Stanek-Krogstrand, 2011). This study, once again, demonstrated the need for nutritional education programs. 

Another factor connected to the nutritional knowledge of collegiate athletes is the knowledge and use of supplements. Nancie Herbold, Bridget Visconti, Susan Frates, and Linda Bandini, authors of “Traditional and Nontraditonal Supplement Use By Collegiate Female Varsity Athletes” (2004), surveyed 162 female athletes and found that half of them used supplements at least once a month. 60% of them asserted they took supplements for “good health” but could not define exact reasons, and 53% asserted that most of the information they received regarding the use of supplements came from friends and family (Herbold, Visconti, Frates & Bandini, 2004). The use of supplements, whether traditional or non-traditional, can be positive to an individual’s overall health, however, it can also be non-consequential or even detrimental. Although these student-athletes are attempting to be healthier, nutritional education that includes information regarding the use of supplements appears necessary. 

This hasn’t been the only study to confirm student-athletes rely primarily on friends and family for nutritional information, which may or may not be true or applicable to collegiate athletes. Froiland, Koszewski, Hingst, and Kopesky, authors of “Nutritional supplement use among college athletes and their sources of information” (2004), also took looked at the sources of nutritional information. Froiland et al. (2004) studied a group of participants that were 115 male and 88 female Division I athletes, all from the same university.  Froiland et al. (2004) were looking into ways that male and female athletes chose to obtain their information about sports supplements, along with what they knew about nutritional substances. A six-part survey was reviewed by athletic trainers, dietitians, and nutritional therapist. The survey was then administered to the participants.  It was found that female athletes predominantly relied on information from family members while male athletes went to nutritionists, peer athletes, and coaches for information.  These results indicate what social groups certain athletes trust the most. Although it may appear, at first, glance that male athletes have more reliable sources of information, research has already indicated that coaches are not good sources of nutritional information. 

Although all these studies suggest the need for better nutritional education, they do not provide a great deal of insight into effective nutritional education. Mary Kunkel, Lynne Bell, and Barbara Luccia, authors of “Peer Nutrition Education Program to Improve Nutrition Knowledge of Female Collegiate Athletes” (2001), ran a pilot program for nutritional peer educators. The female athletes within the program were assigned a peer educator, who met with them on multiple occasions to provide information, as well as support. The study found the use of peer educators to be a positive experience for both the athletes and the educators (Kunkel, Bell & Luccia, 2001). This program displayed strong potential for implementation in other Universality settings. 


The target population for this study will be Loyola Marymount University students. The LMU students will consist of a random sample of LMU Division I varsity athletes and a random sample of LMU students that do not participate in Division I varsity athletics. The information will be collected through the use of a survey (See Appendix A for the survey). When addressing prospective participants, the following script will be used:

“Hello, I am doing a survey about nutritional knowledge amongst students at Loyola Marymount University. I was wondering if you would please be willing to take my survey then return it to a box in the front of Malone labeled “Survey Return” or hand it back to be during convo?” 

Students who agree to participate will then be provided with the survey. The survey consists of ten multiple-choice questions and five personal/demographic questions. The personal/demographic questions will allow for the survey results to be examined within the proper context. For example, the questions include questions regarding age, gender, and athletic status. This will enable researchers to identify possible trends related to these qualifiers. Once the surveys are collected, they will be separated based on the independent variable. The results of the first ten questions will then be recorded and compared between the two groups. The demographic questions will help to clearly define the makeup of the two groups. 

The independent variable within this research will be the activity or sports level. This would be defined as division one collegiate athlete or college student that does not compete at a division one collegiate level. The dependent variable is the nutritional knowledge of college students. The nutritional knowledge will be defined as knowledge of caloric value and nutritional needs. These levels will be determined based on how the participants answer the first ten questions of the survey, which are based on nutritional knowledge and understanding. The independent variable will be determined by how the participants answer the last five questions of the survey. 


The hypothesis for this research is division one collegiate athletes are more knowledgeable about nutrition than college students that are not division one collegiate athletes. The results of the survey will prove this hypothesis to be either true or false based on how many division one athletes positively answered the first ten questions, compared to the non-division one college students. There are three possible results. The first possible result is that the division one collegiate athletes are more knowledgeable. The second possible result is that the division one collegiate athletes are less knowledgeable, and the third possible result is that there is no significant difference in the levels of nutritional knowledge between division one collegiate athletes and non-division one college students. The third possible result will have two possible implications. If both groups score high on the survey, the implication is that all the students are knowledgeable about nutrition, regardless of athletic participation. However, if both groups score poorly on the survey, the implication will be that all the students have a low level of nutritional knowledge, regardless of their athletic participation. The research already suggests that Division I athletes will score poorly on a nutritional knowledge survey. It will be interesting to view the results of this comparative study between athletes and non-athletes. 


In order to most accurately interpret this research, the results will need to be broken down by gender, age, athletic status, fraternity/sorority status and exposure to hazing, and what sport the collegiate athletes play. Although the independent variable being examined is solely the athletic status of the student, the other factors may influence the implications of the results. For example, the overall results may support the hypothesis. However, after further examination, it may be revealed that this is only true for male athletes. The possible implications of this may include that female athletes are not being provided the same nutritional education and resources as the male athletes. 

Regardless of the actual results, there will be clear implications, which can be used in further research, as well as in the development of better nutritional education programming. For example, if differences are found in nutritional knowledge, that information can be used to better improve the nutritional knowledge of the other group. If both groups are found to have low levels of nutritional knowledge, this information can be used as an indicator that nutritional education programs and resources need to be made more available to students. If both groups are found to have high levels of nutritional knowledge, it could lead to research on why students at LMU have obtained such a high level of nutritional knowledge. The information from that study could then be used to improve nutritional education programs at other universities that may not have similar results. Another course of additional research may be to repeat the study at multiple universities to determine if the results are consistent at the university level, or if the results at LMU are unique to the LMU community. Information revealed from future research can be used to improve overall nutritional knowledge among all college students. 

The differences between male and female athletes in regards to nutritional decisions and the risk of disordered eating described in the literature review may not be a result of decreased nutritional knowledge among female athletes. Although not directly a factor, this may be important for consideration as it may affect the results of this research. Research suggests that female athletes, particular athletes in lean-sports experience a higher level of pressure in regards to their body image. It is distinctly possible that female athletes actually have a high level of nutritional knowledge, which they use to pursue disordered eating. The results of this research may have multiple implications and foundations for further research. 

Limitations of this study may include the limiting of participants to students at Loyola Marymount University. Regardless of the results, the research would need to be duplicated at multiple Division I universities in order to determine if the results are representative of college students, or if Loyola is somehow more or less educated than other Division I schools. Additional limitations may come from the length of the survey. Although each of the questions is seeking specific and measurable information, there are only 10 questions. Creating a slightly longer survey with at least two questions seeking similar information would give participants a greater opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. However, longer surveys may result in fatigue while taking the survey. This happens when research participants get tired or bored of reading and answering questions. They tend to skim over the remaining questions and answers, which may negatively affect the reliability of their answers. 


Cole, C., Salvaterra, G., Davis, J., Borja, M., Powell, L., Dubbs, E., et al. (2005). EVALUATION OF DIETARY PRACTICES OF NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION DIVISION I FOOTBALL PLAYERS. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(3), 490-494.

Elliot, D. L., Goldberg, L., Moe, E. L., DeFrancesco, C. A., Durham, M. B., & Hix-Small, H. (2004). Preventing substance abuse and disordered eating: Initial outcomes of the ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives) Program. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 158, 1043-1049. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from

Froiland, K., Koszewski, W., Hingst, J., & Kopecky, L. (2004). Nutritional supplement use among college athletes and their sources of information. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Medicine, 14, 104-120. Retrieved February 13, 2013, from,%20Placebos,%20Panaceas/sports%20supplements.pdf

Heffner, J., Ogles, B., Gold, E., Marsden, K., & Johnson, M. (2003). Nutrition and Eating in Female College Athletes: A Survey of Coaches. Eating Disorders, 11, 209-220.

Herbold, N., Visconti, B., Frates, S., & Bandini, L. (2004). Traditional and Nontraditional Supplement Use By Collegiate Female Varsity Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 14, 586-593.

Hinton, P., Sanford, T., Davidson, M., Yakushko, O., & Beck, N. (2004). Nutrient Intakes and Dietary Behaviors of Male and Female Collegiate Athletes. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 14, 389-405.

Kunkel, M., Bell, L., & Luccia, B. (2001). Peer Nutrition Education Program to Improve Nutrition Knowledge of Female Collegiate Athletes. Journal of Nutrition Education, 33(2), 114-115.

Long, D., Perry, C., Unruh, S., Lewis, N., & Stanek-Krogstrand, K. (2011). Personal Food Systems of Male Collegiate Football Players: A Grounded Theory Investigation. Journal of Athletic Training, 46(6), 688-695.

Reinking, M., & Alexander, L. (2005). Prevalence of Disordered-Eating Behaviors in Undergraduate Female Collegiate Athletes and Nonathletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(1), 47-51.

Torres-McGehee, T., Pritchett, K., Zippel, D., Minton, D., Cellamare, A., & Sibilia, M. (2012). Sports Nutrition Knowledge Among Collegiate Athletes, Coaches, Athletic Trainers, and Strength and Conditioning Specialists. Journal of Athletic Training, 47(2), 205-211.

(Appendix A omitted for preview. Available via download).