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Interview with the Expert: Jennifer Gibson

Quick Hit Summary

In this “Interview with the Expert” we have the privilege of talking sports nutrition with Jennifer Gibson, MSc, RD, CSSD, IOC DIP Sport Nutrition. Ms. Gibson is a Sport Dietitian at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she works primarily with acrobatic and combat sport athletes. Topics include her background, establishing diets, the USOC’s approach to supplementation as well as some common nutrition pitfalls made by athletes.

About Jennifer Gibson

Figure 1. Jennifer Gibson. Image posted with permission.

In this installment of Interview with the Expert we have the privilege of discussing sports nutrition with Jennifer Gibson, MSc, RD, CSSD, IOC DIP Sport Nutrition. Ms. Gibson’s name may sound familiar to some of you in the CP Community; I briefly discussed a presentation she gave in Part I of my 2013 ISSN conference write-up. As mentioned there, Ms. Gibson is a Sport Dietitian at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she works primarily with acrobatic and combat sport athletes.

Between being a former competitive kickboxer herself, years of experience working with athletes, along with her formal education, Ms. Gibson has a unique insight on how to maximize performance in sports that have weight class restrictions (ie – combat sports) or those that put a heavy emphasis on lean physiques (ie – acrobat sports). Luckily for us, Ms. Gibson is willing to share some of the strategies Team USA uses to work through the challenges posed to this group of athletes. Thus, without further ado, let’s get straight to the interview!

Ms. Gibson, I realize that your schedule is quite chaotic between flying to different competitions, working with athletes at the USOC training facility, lecturing at UC-Colorado Springs while trying to squeeze in something called a social life. Thus, on behalf of the CasePerformance Community, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us today!

First off, tell us a little about your background…

With respect to educational background, I received a bachelor’s degree at Ryerson University and then completed my dietetic education at the University Health Network in Toronto. My masters’ research, completed at the University of Victoria in Victoria, Canada, investigated nutrition and hydration in junior elite-level female athletes. I’m also a distinguished graduate of the IOC Diploma in Sport Nutrition and Level II certified anthropometrist with the International Society for the Advancement of Anthropometry.

Currently I am a full-time registered dietitian and have been with the US. Olympic Committee since 2011. As you mentioned in the intro, I work with acrobat (diving, swimming and gymnastics) and combat (wrestling, judo, boxing, taekwondo and fencing) athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition to my work with the USOC, I’m also an adjunct sport nutrition lecturer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Prior to joining the USOC, I was a sport dietitian within the Canadian sport system, providing support to the national and Olympic teams for tennis, soccer, snowboarding, Paralympic skiing and softball. During this time period, I also advised players the Vancouver Whitecaps and women’s professional tennis athletes.

In working with the Canadian sport system and USOC, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled the world with my athletes providing nutrition support; I’ve worked at 2 Pan American Games (Rio 2007 & Guadalajara 2011, and 2 Olympic Games (Vancouver 2010, London 2012)

Quite an impressive background you have there. Where did your interest in sports nutrition stem from? I mentioned that you competed in kickboxing growing up. Did you compete in any other sports while growing up?

I have been active in competitive sports since I was 8 years old and grew up caring about food as I come from an Italian family. My grandparents made pretty much all food from scratch and almost all fruit/vegetables came from their garden. To this very day, my grandfather still makes wine from his backyard!

I competed in Cross Country racing in high school, competitive volleyball in high school and college as well. These days I still trail run almost daily and enjoy hiking, skiing and cycling as well.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue sports nutrition as a full time career?

It was a dream of mine that started in high school. I attended a sport leadership conference that the top male/female athletes were invited to attend and I met a RD there who gave a talk on nutrition….I was inspired as I loved the sciences and wanted a practical degree program…the rest is history…I started my first full time sport job in 2006, 1.5 years after I graduated my internship.

What led to you becoming involved with the Canadian Sport System's sports nutrition program and later, Team USA?

It took a lot of tenacity and willingness to make sacrifices both personally and financially to work in sport; I realized that I had to be willing to do the hard yards to make it happen! This meant additional education outside of my dietetics degree (masters in exercise physiology, IOC Diploma and ISAK) as well as networking and meeting people in the field from all over the world! Sport nutrition at the most elite level is a very small professional community and who you know is very important for getting the in on jobs.

I took almost a $20K pay cut for my first full time job in the Canadian Sport system and moved across the country to where the job was. I moved 2x again after that to pursue my master’s degree in exercise physiology (that I did while working full time) and then moved again for the USOC job in Colorado.

Switching gears a bit and shifting focus to sports nutrition …

At the ISSN conference, I recall discussing with you the multi-disciplinary approach you take to weight loss for team USA’s athletes. Can you share this approach with the CasePerformance Community?

That is correct, we work with a multidisciplinary team of professionals here – Sport nutrition, sport medicine, strength and conditioning, physiology and psychology. Our approaches are very individually tailored with a lot of clinical testing as the foundation of our recommendations (blood work, body comps, indirect calorimetry, sweat/urine analysis etc). It’s certainly not a “general” approach by any means.

A question I'm often asked is how to determine kcal/macro needs. With your background I'm sure you hear this often as well. For the sports you work with that have tight weight class limits, are there any methods you've found to be particularly effective in determining kcal/macros when establishing baseline guidelines for those you work with?

Really understanding habitual intake is key. You can sit and do all the calculations in the world but every athlete’s body is a bit different and many athletes have adaptations that occur that can result in increased energy efficiency (therefore they may not burn as many calories and the equations say they are burning). Another point is that many of my athletes don’t want to count calories or grams of protein. You can do that in the background but your end recommendations have to be as practical as possible to influence behavior change.

Awesome – I agree with you 100% on everything you just said there! Now, with so many of the sport athletes you work with having weight restrictions, how do you alter these variables when trying to lose weight without sacrificing performance?

I cycle carbohydrate and energy intake relative to energy output vs. a static meal plan. Also it’s important to work with athletes on mindful based eating approaches to help them ID hunger and fullness cues at meal times. The foundation for healthy weight management is a healthy relationship with food!

What role do supplements play in the sports nutrition program of the Olympic athletes you work with?

We are very conservative due to doping risk. We recommend them based on an evidenced deficiency and in the case of sports products, we only look at third party tested, evidenced based products.

If you could play a little “Back to the Future”, go back in time and give sports nutrition advice to yourself during your competitive days, what would it be? In other words, what nutrition pitfalls were you making that you also commonly see in other athletes?

There are two things that come to mind…

  • 1) Thinking you can eat whatever you want because you are burning so many calories and it doesn’t matter for performance.
  • 2) Not really listening to how my body was responding to the food I ate and how I felt. This is really a under used feedback mechanism by athletes, being reflective about how their fuel actually fueled their body that day.

On behalf of the CasePerformance community, I would like to thank you for joining us here today. I realize it takes time to answer these questions. And for those looking for additional information on sports nutrition, does the USOC have any educational resources/papers for public?

For those interested, at the USOC website, we do have a sports nutrition webpage that has some solid information.

Editor's Note – Although I didn't bring this up in the interview with Ms. Jennifer Gibson (as I didn't want to take up ALL of the little free time she has available!), I also want to mention that she has been published in multiple journals such as the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine,1 International Journal of Sport Science and Coaching,2 International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,3 Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability,4 Canadian Journal of Dietetics Practice & Research,5 Applied Psychology Nutrition and Metabolism,6 as well as Human Kinetics7. Add this onto all her other accomplishments and long story short, she has a pretty impressive resume!


1 McDonald, C., Karamlou, T., Wengle, J., Gibson, J., & McCrindle, B.W. (2006). Nutrition and
Exercise Environment Available to Outpatients, Visitors, and Staff in Children's Hospitals in
Canada and the United States. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 160: 900-5.

2 Gibson, J.(2008). Practical Considerations in Applying Theory: How Can We Narrow the Gap Between Sports Science and Professional Practice in Sports Nutrition? International Journal of Sport Science and Coaching, 3, 309-12.

3 Gibson JC, Stuart-Hill L, Martin S, and Gaul C. Nutrition Status of Junior Elite Canadian Female Soccer Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2011, 21, 507 -514

4 Gibson, J., Temple, V., Anholt, J., & Gaul, K. (2011). Nutrition needs assessment of young
special Olympics participants. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability. 36(4): 264-8.

5 Gibson JC, Gaul C, Janzen J.Can J Diet Pract Res. Education and training of sport dietitians in Canada: a review of current practice. 2011 Summer;72(2):88-91.

6 Gibson JC, Stuart-Hill LA, Pethick W, Gaul CA. Hydration status and fluid and sodium balance in elite Canadian junior women's soccer players in a cool environment. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012 Oct;37(5):931-7.

7 Rankin, J & Gibson, J (2013). Nutrition for Weight Management Sports. Clinical Sport Nutrition, 5th edition. Human Kinetics, In press

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Written on January 10, 2014 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: January 10, 2014

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.