DOI: 10.3390/nu16040497 ISSN: 2072-6643

Nutritional Considerations of Irish Performance Dietitians and Nutritionists in Concussion Injury Management

Emma Finnegan, Ed Daly, Lisa Ryan
  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

Sport-related concussion incidence has increased in many team-based sports, such as rugby, Gaelic (camogie, hurling, football), and hockey. Concussion disrupts athletes’ brain function, causing an “energy crisis” that requires energy and nutrient support to restore function and heal. Performance dietitians and nutritionists play a role in supporting athletes’ post-injury nutritional demands. This study aimed to investigate Irish performance dietitians’ and nutritionists’ knowledge and implementation of nutritional strategies to manage and support athletes’ recovery following concussion. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with seventeen (n = 17) Irish performance dietitians and nutritionists recruited from the Sport and Exercise Nutrition register and other sporting body networks across Ireland. Participants practised or had practised with amateur and/or professional athletes within the last ten years. All interviews and their transcripts were thematically analysed to extract relevant insights. These data provided valuable insights revealing performance dietitians and nutritionists: (1) their awareness of concussion events and (2) their use of nutritional supports for concussion management. Furthermore, the research highlighted their implementation of ‘novel nutritional protocols’ specifically designed to support and manage athletes’ concussion recovery. There was a clear contrast between participants who had an awareness and knowledge of the importance of nutrition for brain recovery after sport-related concussion(s) and those who did not. Participants presenting with a practical understanding mentioned re-emphasising certain foods and supplements they were already recommending to athletes in the event of a concussion. Performance dietitians and nutritionists were keeping up to date with nutrition research on concussions, but limited evidence has prevented them from implementing protocols in practice. Meanwhile, participants mentioned trialling/recommending nutritional protocols, such as carbohydrate reloading, reducing omega-6 intake, and acutely supplementing creatine, omega-3 fish oils high in Docosahexaenoic acid, and probiotics to support brain healing. Performance dietitians’ and nutritionists’ use of nutrition protocols with athletes following concussion was linked to their knowledge and the limited scientific evidence available. Nutrition implementation, therefore, may be overlooked or implemented with uncertainty, which could negatively affect athletes’ recovery following sports-related concussions.

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