A02 Exploring the factors that influence the food choices of 14- to 16-year-old competitive cyclists in the UK


  • Katie Bonnar University of Westminster
  • Sinead Roberts University of Westminster




The natural growth and maturation process for young people is metabolically taxing and, for young athletes, there is added pressure to ensure sufficient energy to sustain sporting pursuits. Adolescence is also a time of increasing independence coupled with a continued dependence upon guardians. There is an increasing understanding of the physiology and expected nutritional needs of the competitive youth cyclist, however understanding of their nutrition knowledge and behaviours lags behind. The aim of this study was to explore the factors which influence the food choices of 14- to 16-year-old competitive cyclists in the UK, to inform the development of effective and sustainable nutrition support frameworks for this demographic. To do this, one-to-one semi-structured interviews were conducted in-person or online with these athletes. Questions focussed on understanding the athletes’ sources of information, perspectives, and perceived level of agency surrounding their food practices. Interviews were conducted with a total of five athletes (female = 4, male = 1). Audio recordings were transcribed and inductively coded by hand to check for saturation before being compiled into a larger data set which was analysed for concepts and themes. The final codes were interrogated by an external researcher to further increase their validity. Data analysis revealed five key themes for this sample: influence, practice, personal narrative, opportunity, and optimal support. Subthemes for influence were parents, coaches, experiential learning, community, the external cycling world, peers, and externally contracted support. Subthemes for practice were fluid and hydration, carbohydrates, protein, caffeine, and food culture within cycling. Subthemes for personal narrative were application of knowledge, categorisation, lack of motivation, personal control, food as enjoyment, and superstition and ritual. Subthemes for opportunity were family support, independence, and planning. Subthemes for optimal support were guidance wanted and bespoke solutions. Though saturation was not achieved, the sample showed homogeneity across a number of areas and across sexes. Participants expressed a desire for nutrition guidance and, in particular, solutions tailored to their circumstances. They would prefer to receive nutrition support from trusted coaches who know them and their training loads, in an informal manner rather than through formal nutrition support from a professional. There was scepticism about the ability of a nutritionist to understand their unique sporting needs. Recommendations include further research into this population and also an examination of the knowledge and support required by guardians and coaches of youth cyclists to develop a practical approach that supports the athletic triangle.