What are athletes' preferences regarding nutrition education programmes? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Background. In elite sport, high performance is entwined with optimising nutrition. Nutrition education can improve nutrition knowledge and associated skills, enhancing the likelihood of healthy dietary behaviours in athletes. The impact of which contributes to achieving optimal performance outcomes. Currently, research in this area has largely focused on an educator-designed educational framework to achieve this goal. However, limited research exists which assesses the preferences of athletes towards their nutrition education delivery. This study aimed to explore those preferences among elite athletes in New Zealand to create an athlete-led nutrition education framework. Methods. Elite athletes' preferences were explored through focus groups using a conceptual, deductive framework, with subsequent inductive analysis to investigate emerging themes. To achieve diversity of opinion, participants included 20 elite male (n = 5) and female (n = 15) New Zealand athletes, across various sports, aged 17 to 30 years. Focus groups were recorded and transcribed for thematic analysis of themes. Results. Through the conceptual framework, four key areas were established for preferences: content; format; facilitator; and pedagogy. The major themes identified under content were a curriculum that educated athletes on how to integrate nutrition with training requirements, while including activities to enhance skills required for implementation. Preferences for format included a six-month programme, beginning in the off-season, with face to face interactions with the facilitator. Online preferences focused on the enhancement of communication between athletes and facilitator. The personality of the facilitator was described as someone who was non-judgmental, approachable and knowledgeable, with a preference for someone who holds a nutrition degree at minimum. Pedagogy preferences included an interactive classroom environment and the facilitator engaging in regular two way feedback with the athletes. Conclusion. Elite New Zealand athletes had clear preferences towards their nutrition education with regards to content, format, the facilitator and pedagogy. Nutrition education interventions should focus on athlete preferences in these areas to enhance the overall efficacy of these interventions. Further research in this area should look to gather responses from a larger group of the athletic population, applying quantitative enquiry to better develop a consensus of preferences.