Merging Science-Based Nutrition and Athletic Coaching

Merging Science-Based Nutrition and Athletic Coaching | Food & Nutrition Magazine | Volume 9, Issue 1
Photography by Lori Brady

While on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps in South Carolina, Ken Roberts was a drill instructor who trained to be a martial arts teacher. Part of that training involved learning how nutrition affects athletic performance and recovery, which he implemented with recruits and drill instructors. “The effects amazed me,” Roberts recalls. “My team had more energy, performed better and got sick less often. They also recovered faster from injuries. I knew then that I wanted to be a dietitian.”

In 2017, Roberts retired from the Marine Corps to earn a graduate degree and complete his internship. Now, he’s the owner and CEO of Top Nutrition & Performance, LLC, in Belleville, Ill. “I always knew I would open my own facility to serve the local community and build up the dietetics profession in the sports world,” Roberts says.

Roberts is an athlete, too, naturally transitioning into obstacle course racing, which he notes is similar to Marine Corps training. He also has trained for ultra-races and cycling and triathlon competitions, putting his nutrition education into practice. “I sought out certifications through USA Triathlon, USA Track and Field, Ironman University and the American Council on Exercise to provide science-based coaching methods with my evidence-based nutrition,” Roberts says.

Some of Roberts’ clients are endurance athletes who are training and competing in running, cycling and triathlon events. “I write all the training for them and help with their daily nutrition, as well as sports nutrition,” he says. Other clients are members of the community, often adults who took up running and cycling without a coach. “Many are easily influenced by social media and mixed messages from bloggers and running or cycling stores,” Roberts says. “These individuals try nutrition practices that are not beneficial for them in the long run and will often over train or train through injuries they sustained from training too much or too hard. As a coach and dietitian, I do my best to educate the public on safe practices.”

That includes the high school students on his triathlon team, which he began coaching in the spring of 2019. “USA Triathlon influenced me to create an opportunity for local high school athletes to get involved in triathlon,” Roberts says.

In all his interactions as a registered dietitian, Roberts helps people establish a healthy relationship with food using an open-minded and understanding approach. “A lot of people have tried so many diets that they have unrealistic and confusing beliefs about food and nutrition,” Roberts says. “I explain to people that food is connected to our very identity — it’s in our memories, holidays and traditions, religions and ideological beliefs. It helps to understand where a person is coming from; when you understand someone, you are in a better position to provide them the help they want.”

Lauren Fox
Lauren Fox is the managing editor of Food & Nutrition Magazine and senior manager of creative media at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.