What is the right diet for serious athletes?


We have chosen the right sport, which is fun and not boring. We follow a tailor-made training program, we respect the recovery period suitable for muscle strain. What is missing to be a true athlete? “A diet that takes into account age and the type of physical activity we practice”, replies Michelangelo Giampietro, coordinator of the study group on nutrition and sport of the Italian Society for Human Nutrition. In fact, there are many mistakes on the DIY table and they often depend on false myths or beliefs that are not very scientific about them.

Accessories? Not so much… Consider the collective love of protein: just walk into any supermarket and find all kinds of protein foods and drinks that, in addition to aiding a high-protein diet, would be ideal for athletes, according to proponents. It’s a pity that there is no evidence in this regard: even the guidelines of various sports federations suggest that even professional athletes do not need tons of protein, at most 2 grams per kilogram for strength sports or 1.8 grams / kilogram for endurance sports, while the amount for the general population is 0.9 grams/kilogram.

Accessories? In a nutshell…«Proteins are used to repair muscles after training and build mass, but if you follow the right diet, you do not need supplements or protein foods», sums up Giampietro. “There is nothing more or better about supplements than what is found in food: they should only be used as an extreme measure when it is not possible to cover the needs of certain nutrients despite changes in the diet or if they are simply unable to change habits. In addition, in real food, which also costs less, nutrients are more effective: instead of a protein bar, it is better to eat bread and bresaola, maltodextrin gels, popular among athletes, can be replaced with honey”.

However, the high-protein craze is only one of the many mistakes of those who exercise: as the expert explains, “one of the most common mistakes is to overestimate energy expenditure related to movement, perhaps trusting the calories burned shown on the display of gym equipment or tracking tools, accurate for heart rate evaluation, but much less reliable for counting calories burned.

An adult who does physical activity two hours, three times or four times a week does not differ much from the needs of the general population, and only elite athletes who train five or six days a week for hours have specific nutritional needs and eat huge rations of food for everyone else. Even for children and young people who have to reckon with the increased need for energy for the phase of growth and development, it makes no sense to give gargantuan snacks after an hour of sports.”

Carbs are better. The rules to follow at any age and for any sport are few and simple: drink enough to replace the fluids lost through sweat, ensure the amount of calories corresponds to the actual energy expenditure and take in the extra energy necessary to sustain the effort. mainly from carbohydrates, only partially from proteins. “Whereas you normally need 2-4 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, that goes up to 6-10 grams per kilogram for athletes and 12 grams/kilogram for those who do long endurance events,” states Giampietro. “On the other hand, fat only increases in the diet of those who do extremely demanding sports and use a lot of energy: those who do the ironman (a very tough triathlon that involves swimming almost 4 km, cycling 180 km and running). 42 km marathon). km, note give a lot of energy with a smaller volume ration”.

children… Therefore, most children, teenagers and adults who exercise at a normal level do not need special diets or supplements, but just make sure they follow a varied and balanced Mediterranean diet. Professional athletes generally have nutritionists who monitor them for their specific needs; needs modification when the exercise is performed by an elderly person. “In this case, the need for energy is slightly greater than was believed in the past, and above all, protein intake must be increased”, warns the expert. “With age, the efficiency and speed of muscle protein synthesis decreases, therefore in seniors, regardless of physical activity, protein intake must increase from 0.9 to 1.2 grams per kilogram, which is needed for an adult athlete.

…and older. In particular, branched-chain amino acids such as leucine are necessary to support protein synthesis (amino acids are the “building blocks” that make up proteins and animal foods such as milk, meat and fish or even soy and almonds). rich in leucine, ed.); furthermore, older people who do sports need to drink more because their thermoregulation is less effective and they feel thirsty later. You also need to make sure you have a good intake of calcium and vitamin D to prevent age-related bone loss. Finally, some increased attention is also suitable for sports women of childbearing age who must be careful about their iron intake.

Female. A recent study by the American Cleveland Clinic highlighted this: up to 35 percent of female athletes are iron deficient, and the percentage rises to 52 percent in adolescent athletes, because in those who train a lot or engage in endurance sports such as running or cycling, physical exertion increases inflammation and thus and the production of hepcidin, a hormone that prevents the proper assimilation of iron in the following hours. Athletes who train several days a week have more problems with absorption, and microtrauma, greater intestinal motility, and greater exercise-induced sweating contribute to the loss of more iron, increasing the likelihood of anemia, fatigue, difficulty recovering from exercise, and lack of energy. decrease in muscle strength and also strength.

“Today there is a tendency to go on weight loss diets to be light and perform better by having to carry less weight, widespread among women but also among male athletes,” adds Giampietro. “Energy and nutrient deficiencies can cause loss of menstrual cycles in women, but also eating disorders, hormonal changes and osteoporosis with stress fractures in both sexes. It is therefore dangerous to “play” with nutrition in the pursuit of performance: to get a body without an iota of fat, it is better to be a healthy athlete with extra pounds than to have nutritional deficiencies,” concludes the expert.


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