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Fitter, Stronger, Faster: The Athlete’s Diet and the Pursuit of Healthy Lifestyles in the Netherlands and the UK (1945-2016)

In our present age, both scientific and popular interest in the ‘athlete’s diet’ is at an all-time high, although its ambiguous ideals have not gone unnoticed: is the sports nutrition hype creating healthier consumers, or does it foster new eating disorders? Less noted, however, is that this broad interest in the food choices of athletes has a surprisingly long history. Since World War II, scientists and governmental institutions have struggled to strengthen and hold their grip on consumers, while athletes’ biographies, cookbooks and popular sports media provided influential guidance in the public’s pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. The ‘athlete’s diet’ therefore symbolized a quest for the perfectly constructed body, while offering the promise of total nutritional control.

This project focuses on the cultural history of the athlete’s diet and analyses its influence on modern ideas and practices regarding lifestyle and health. A sociocultural historical analysis of its mediation and reception – based on sports magazines and related media – helps us understand the complex interplay between various agents – athletes, commercial food producers, governmental agencies, mediators, and audiences – in the shaping of ambiguous cultural ideals. In this way, the project will explain how athletes were able to utilize their increasing celebrity status to encourage lifestyle changes among the population.

Supervisors: Prof. Marjet Derks and Prof. Jan Hein Furnée

Researcher: Jon Verriet

Financing: RICH

Start: September 1, 2017