Posted 02/10/2020 in Category 1

How Do Sports Nutritionists Use Social Media?

How Do Sports Nutritionists Use Social Media?

Sports nutritionists are frequently consulted by athletes across all levels. Getting advice on nutrition for sport can help improve performance, reduce the risk of injury and/or illness and help recovery. 

Being able to connect with athletes and share key messages around sports nutrition with the general public is obviously important for practicing sports nutritionists. One way to do this is through social media. Social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc) enable users to create and share content online. Further, technology can provide sports nutritionists with the opportunity to deliver scalable interventions to sports performers given the reach and ubiquity of social media, particularly among the age group of people likely to be competing professionally. To illustrate, in the UK, in 2020, there are 40.63 million users of social media with 93% percent of adults between the ages of 25 to 34 in 2019 having a  social network profile.

To explore how sports nutritionists used social media David Dunne and colleagues used a mixed methods approach with participants who were registered on the Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register. They also had to be currently working as a sports nutritionist in the UK or Ireland with professional athletes at the highest level of their sport, or those competing in the elite Olympic domain.

Forty-four participants completed an online survey detailing their social media use. Out of the sample five reported not using social media. Of the remaining participants 97% reported it being beneficial with pictures/infographics being the preferred type of content which was used by 77% of the participants. The next preferred type of content was text (62%) followed by brief (<30 second) videos used by 29% of the sport nutritionists while 21% used longer (30-90 second) videos. 

In addition to using social media to share information it was used by 71% of participants to keep up to date with the latest research, find recipes (39%), athlete training information (27%), and researching products and foods (23%).

Interestingly all participants had a twitter account with over half of the participants also reported having accounts with Facebook (93%), Whatsapp (86%), Linkedin (86%), Instagram (68%) and Snapchat (52%). 

Follow up interviews were conducted with 16 of the participants to gain a more detailed understanding of their social media use. Five higher order themes, as well as 5 sub-themes, emerged through thematic analysis of the interview data. 

Three of the higher-order themes were classified as enablers and these described social media use as a communication medium change (e.g., athletes respond better then through email), mobile learning (e.g., as it is on the phone and immediately accessible people can respond quickly) and visual learning (e.g., rather than reading the information can be presented visually).

Two of the higher-order themes were classified as challenges. These were the lack of digital training and the time required to produce the material. 

This was an interesting study that showed the breadth of social media use among sports nutritionists. There are many findings to emerge from the study but two notable ones caught our eye. The first being that if sports nutritionists use social media then awareness of techniques in other related fields such as behaviour change and computer science are important. If a technological medium is used to bring about behavioural change then sports nutritionists could avail themselves of knowledge and good practice on both those areas. Second, given the ubiquity of social media use it was interesting to see that only 5% of participants had received formal social media training in how to develop social media skills and resources for online interventions, whereas this training would be of interest to 84% of participants. 

The paper also outlines a range of practical implications for both the individual practitioner (e.g., training) and the sport nutrition community (e.g., development of specialised online platforms for the delivery of sports nutrition information).  While the paper is limited through the self-report measures collected – rather than observing real-time engagement – the paper itself does provide an interesting overview of social media engagement by sports nutritionists and how this can be developed individually and by the profession. 

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David M. Dunne, Carmen Lefevre, Brian Cunniffe, David Tod, Graeme L. Close, James P. Morton & Rebecca Murphy (2019) Performance Nutrition in the digital era – An exploratory study into the use of social media by sports nutritionists, Journal of Sports Sciences, 37:21, 2467-2474, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2019.1642052