Adolescence is defined by the World Health Organization  as a period of significant growth and maturation occurring following childhood and prior to adulthood, with adolescents considered as those between the ages of 10 to 19. It is well established that this period of significant growth and physical development can be negatively affected by malnutrition [2, 3], as such proper nutrition is of significant importance especially in the competitive adolescent athlete with the added demands of training and competition [4, 5]. In recent times there has been a rise in youth sports participation , however youth athletes may be increasingly pressured to excel in their sport, whether through parents, sporting coaches or intrinsic pressures imposed by the athlete [7, 8]. In an attempt to gain a competitive edge and improve performance many youth athletes turn to nutritional supplements [9,10,11,12]. However, research indicates that youth athletes possess limited nutritional knowledge [13, 14], with much of their nutritional information obtained via illegitimate sources such as the coach, teacher, other athletes, internet, and social media . Potentially, this may represent a miscommunication from non-qualified individuals providing nutritional advice to athletes that leads to nutritional principles being misunderstood and/or incorrectly applied .
Research suggests that collegiate athletes with greater understanding of sound nutritional principles are more likely to apply this knowledge and display positive nutritional behaviors . This is an extremely important consideration, especially for athletes competing in weight-restricted or aesthetic sports wherein youth athletes may feel pressured to restrict caloric intake [18, 19]. Unknowingly, not only may this compromise the athlete’s physical development, such nutritional habits may predispose psychological behaviors towards disordered eating traits. Smith-Rockwell et al.  revealed that in Division I collegiate coaches/trainers 35% reported at least one perceived eating disorder case per year, while 10% reported more than three cases per year. Although many coaches/trainers referred athletes with eating disorder symptoms to physicians, almost one third dealt with these cases themselves. Interestingly, only 30% of collegiate athletes had access to a sports dietitian, and the same percentage reported utilizing dietitians for nutritional advice . Collectively, this would suggest that reliable sources of nutrition information and education, as well as appropriate nutrition services including counseling are required for collegiate athletes.
Within elite sporting environments there appears to be an increasing trend of coaches and athletic trainers providing nutritional advice [20,21,22], and this seems to be common practice especially for strength and conditioning coaches [20, 23]. A survey of elite rugby union coaches  reported that despite responding correctly to only 55% of all questions on the Nutrition Knowledge Questionnaire (NKQ) , 83% provided nutritional advice to their athletes. Studies assessing coach/athlete nutritional knowledge reported a 67% correct response rate . Further research solely in athletic populations (age range: 18–37 yrs) using the same or modified iterations of the NKQ, found nutritional knowledge in elite Australian rules footballers (61%) , professional (54%) and semi-professional soccer players (56%) , is well below the adequate sports nutrition knowledge overall score of 75% as proposed by Torres-McGehee et al.  This would suggest that both athletes and coaches lack sports nutrition knowledge. Although concerning, the apparent lack of nutritional services available to athletes may be responsible, in part, for necessitating this trend.
While nutritional knowledge and source of nutritional information has been extensively reported in collegiate athletes and coaches/trainers [9, 20, 25,26,27,28,29,30], to date, there are no published data on youth athletes from Regional Academy of Sport programs. Recently, Spronk et al.  reported that a substantial proportion of what were predominantly youth athletes (16–18 yrs) failed to meet basic dietary recommendations, especially dairy intake. Therefore, it is unclear whether youth athletes have an appropriate level of general nutrition knowledge and understanding of nutrition principles, as much of the literature has focused upon collegiate and semi- or professional athletes [13, 16, 20, 25,26,27,28]. Given the potential for a lack of exposure to high quality nutrition-related education, nutrition counselling, and qualified sports nutrition professionals youth athletes may be ill-equipped to make accurate decisions regarding their nutritional requirements, and this in turn may negatively impact their health status, physiological development and/or sports performance.
The purpose of the current study was to examine and describe general nutrition knowledge and nutrition-related practices of youth athletes from a non-residential Regional Academy of Sport in NSW Australia. Specifically, this study shall quantify nutritional knowledge in youth athletes across a range of academy sports, as well as identifying athletes’ primary sources of nutritional information. It was hypothesised that regional youth academy athletes would display limited nutrition knowledge, and this would be related to their primary source of nutritional information.