Newswise — May 15, 2012, St. Petersburg, Fla. — The first survey of sports registered dietitians (Sports RDs) and students of dietetics from the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) confirms that while the “science of nutrition” is trending steadily upward, it’s still perceived to take a back seat to strength training and injury prevention, the other two major factors that enable athletes to perform at their best.

“At least sports nutrition is no longer buried in the trunk under a spare tire,” quipped Melinda Valliant, PhD., RD, CSSD, a leading CPSDA member who earned her doctorate in Exercise Science and directed the survey from her office at The University of Mississippi in Oxford.

Despite a rise of hiring in recent years, full-time Sports RDs--defined as those working a minimum of 40 hours per week with athletes in a structured athletic program--are employed by fewer than 40 major college and professional sports teams. The survey revealed that in most cases, one college-based full-time Sports RD is counted on to counsel and provide well balanced meals for an average of 548 student athletes.

The gradual but inescapably higher presence of full-time Sports RDs is evident in that both teams in the two most recent BCS football championship games had a full-time Sports RD on staff, as did the New England Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl. Even last year’s World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals employed the part-time services of a CPSDA member “culinary chef,” who the Cardinals hired full-time in 2012.

But those watershed snapshots belie the fact that only 164 Registered Dietitians in the U.S. rise to the level of what the CPSDA defines as a qualified “Sports RD,” based on standards set by the three-year-old national not-for-profit organization that include a “food-first” approach to nutrition, relying on nutritional supplements only as a secondary measure; thorough knowledge of supplements; and a willingness to assume responsibility for food and supplement security to protect athletes from compromised foods, performance-enhancing drugs and banned substances.

Dr. Valliant said the survey showed total annual expenditure for food in major college athletic programs, excluding nutritional supplements, ranged from $150,000 to $675,000, with an average of $461,000. “Travel meals” over the course of the year cost the typical college an average of $250,000, 10 percent of which covered “game day snacks.” Annual expenditure for nutritional supplements by colleges, all of them driven by high profile football programs, ranged from $5,000 to $500,000, yielding an average budget of $129,625 per college athletic program.

With 300 of the CPSDA’s nearly 700 members being college students of dietetics within two years of graduation, Dr. Valliant reported starting salaries for Sports RDs beginning at $42,000, and an average salary among full-time Sports RDs to be $75,050, with the higher paying jobs bordering on $90,000 for seasoned professionals. Demand this Spring for more experienced Sports RDs, however, notably those with dual credentials in strength and conditioning or athletic training, has already pushed a handful of salaries for Sports RDs well above $100,000.

“This survey confirms that the great majority of our younger members can expect to invest long hours for relatively modest compensation, but that’s the price all relatively new sports specialty groups have had to pay to stake their ground in the competitive world of big time athletics,” conceded CPSDA President Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS, perhaps the best known and certainly most well-traveled Sports RD in the business.

Sixteen percent of the Sports RDs surveyed have been feeding and counseling athletes for more than 15 years, while 25 percent have been on the job fewer than three years, reflecting the youth of a specialized profession that demands up to 80 hours per week in peak season. Fifty-nine percent said they worked a “minimum” 40-hour work week, but the true grit required of Sports RDs was best reflected in the CPSDA’s recently released documentary “Sports RDs Rising,” where CPSDA Vice President Amy Bragg, RD, CSSD from the University of Alabama, was among nearly all major college Sports RDs who portrayed the challenges of feeding so many with so few. A trailer of the 16-minute documentary is on the CPSDA web site at

Of the 106 surveyed with conferred degrees, all have a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics and, of those, 86 have advanced degrees. The survey also showed that RDs who specialize in sports reside in a wide variety of practice settings, ranging from the athletic department to the university health center; and that those who do not work “full-time” as Sports RDs are often hired on a part-time basis by college and professional teams as nutrition counselors.

“We remain vigilant in conveying to Directors of College Athletics and to pro sports General Managers that the science of nutrition is still highly undervalued,” said Alabama’s Bragg.

Dr. Valliant, Ellis and Bragg will be available to members of the media during the CPSDA’s 4th Annual Conference and Symposium May 16-19 at the Tradewinds Grand Island Resort on St. Pete Beach, FL. To phone them, please contact CPSDA Director of Communications John LeGear at (cell) 708-431-6919 or E-mail [email protected]

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