Sport and exercise careers

Sport and exercise

Sport and exercise help us to keep our bodies fit and healthy and can be used to help patients recover from illness and injury. Biologists play an important role in identifying and developing the best ways for doing this.

Follow a career in biology and you can make a difference. You could play a vital role in patient recovery or help to train an Olympic athlete.

Training athletes

Biologists play a key role in supporting athletes to improve their performance and meet their full potential. Exercise physiologists monitor how an athlete’s body performs during a particular exercise. They take measurements such as:

  • maximum oxygen uptake
  • hydration
  • body mass and density and percentage body fat
  • energy expenditure and running speed.

They use this information to highlight the athlete’s individual strengths and weaknesses, and work with coaches to develop personalised training programmes that help to improve fitness levels and maximise the athlete’s performance.

Exercise physiologists investigate the effects of nutrition and training on performance and recovery from injury. For example biologists have linked high-intensity endurance exercise to a reduction in immune system function leading in an increase of cold and flu infections. This is important information for athletes who complete in events such as triathlons or marathons as it helps plan their training to incorporate a balance of exercise and rest that limits the impact on their immune system. Food scientists and biotechnologists produce food and energy drinks to maximise performance, while microbiologists and pharmacologists work to develop treatments for diseases that occur commonly in athletes (e.g. foot infections in football and basketball players).

Keeping healthy

Life expectancy is increasing. As people live longer it is more important that we keep our bodies healthy. Epidemiologists help us understand the link between exercise and disease and this knowledge can be used to inform public information campaigns on how, and what type of, exercise can be used to prevent (and reduce) diseases like high blood pressure, heart failure, obesity and osteoporosis.

Recovering from injury and disease

Exercise can be used for rehabilitation from diseases, like cancer and heart attack. Physiologists can help design exercise ‘prescriptions’ and monitor patients to aid their recovery.

Physiotherapists help and treat people of all ages with physical problems caused by illness, accident, injury or ageing. They work with patients to identify and improve their movement, function and well-being. They aid rehabilitation by developing treatment programmes that help restore body systems (for example, muscular and respiratory systems). Treatment can include manual therapy, massage, specific exercises and the use of technological equipment, like ultrasound. Physiotherapists also provide advice on how to avoid injury.

Where do these biologists work?

Physiotherapists and exercise physiologists work in a range of settings - including hospitals, health centres, industry, schools and universities, private practices and sports clubs. Teamwork is very important to these roles. As well as being able to build up a rapport with athletes or patients, it is important to maintain communication with their relatives or carers and to work with other professionals like GPs,  nurses, coaches and social workers.

There are also jobs that involve communicating to the public, school students, journalists and the government.

Job titles you might see for biologists working in sport

Physiologist, sports scientist, exercise scientist, physiotherapist, epidemiologist, food technologist, lecturer, pharmacologist, sports rehabilitation, sports therapist, personal trainer, nutritionist, biochemist, biomedical scientist.

Further information

Becoming a Biologist – Degrees and Careers in Biology (Royal Society of Biology)

Biomedical scientist (Prospects)

Clinical exercise physiology (The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences)

Exercise physiologist (Prospects)

Exercise physiology (and general physiology) (The Physiological Society)

Physiotherapist (NHS Careers)

Physiotherapist (Prospects)

Sports science (The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences)