How is an athlete’s diet?
There’s no question that nutrition has a direct effect on our health. We are what we eat, and science has proved the existent relationship between nutrition and certain illnesses. But, what role does it play in sporting performance? And, what do athletes eat?
Robert Bausells, is a sports nutritionist. He is currently working for Reus Deportiu Football Club, Reus Deportiu Hockey Club and beyond our borders he is working for FC Beijing Institute of Technology and FC Kairat de Kazakhstan. We have caught him between appointment and appointment to clear up some questions. Do you want to know what he has told us? Don’t miss it!
Is there a “diet” for athletes?
There isn’t a unique diet that suits every athlete. What exists is some common eating patterns consisting on high complex carbohydrate diets (55-65% of the total caloric volume) which are the healthiest because it takes longer for your body to digest. We can find them in rice, pasta... on the contrary, simple carbs, like sugar, are less healthy because they cause sudden peaks of energy that we don’t really want.
Then there would be around 15% of proteins and the rest, would be healthy fat from nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado….
So, each athlete needs his/her specific diet. How do you design one?
Of course, a marathon runner doesn’t burn the same as a football player or a hockey player. Marathoners ’s trainings are of long duration and low intensity hence, they burn more fat than carbs. However, a football player undergoes a lot of changes of pace and needs more carbs than fat as his/her source of energy.
Therefore, first we need to know the sport we are talking about and then the goal that the athlete wants to achieve: increase muscle mass, reduce fat, recover from an injury or enhance athletic performance. From there, we need to know his/her routines and life style: what does he eat, how does he eat, at what time does he eat, pathologies and clinal background, etc. All these information is vital to design a tailored diet, focussed on achieving his/her goals.
Interesting …. Does the diet plan affect injury recovery?
Yes, and you must take it into consideration. When an athlete is injured and stops his activity, he loses his muscle mass. The aim, thru a diet plan, is to slow down as much as possible the loss of muscle mass to recover faster. The most common is to increase the protein, vitamin C, collagen or creatine intake, among others, thru the diet and dietary supplements.
Could you explain a specific case?
I am currently treating the Reus Deportiu FC football player Ricardo Vaz, who injured his anterior cruciate ligaments. He got surgery and immediately, jointly with the physiotherapist, we started working on his recovery. We tailored for him a less caloric diet than usual, and supplemented it with protein, creatine, multivitamins and vitamin C. On top of these, we included gelatine intake that helps strengthen cartilages and ligaments. The physiotherapist’s work is the most important, however the diet gives a positive boost.
We probably assume that professional athletes know how to eat healthy, but…
It’s strange, but most athletes do not eat as good as they should. The ones that do it right are normally the ones that are in their professional maturity when they are fully aware that they must take more care of themselves to get the same results that they previously could obtain with less efforts.
Which are the most common mistakes you deal with at your office?
The first mistake is not having breakfast. There are a lot of athletes that don’t have breakfast because they are not hungry when they get up. At CF Reus Deportiu, for instance, that has been dealt with making players have breakfast at the Club before training.
Dinner is also a critical point, especially when talking about young professional athletes who live by themselves or home sharing because they tend to turn to fast food just like lots of students when leaving home for the first time… The difference is that they can’t have that lifestyle if they really want to advance in professional sport and in competitive sports.
It must be difficult to resist the temptation of a tasty pizza or a hamburger….
They can eat it, but occasionally and preferably after the game or competition, which is the best time to rapidly replenish the glycogen lost by the muscles. They also must keep in mind the type of pizza and hamburger they eat…. Eating a pizza full of sauces is not the same as eating a vegetable pizza, for example….
However, you might know athletes that eat poorly and perform good
Yes, especially when they are young because the body resists everything. But then they have a higher risk to get injured. What is more, with a balanced diet they could improve, even more, their performance.
And the other side of the coin?
Nowadays, most athletes are aware of the impact of diet on their athletic performance. Conscious eating has become a worldwide known phenomenon at all levels. It is known by professional and amateur athletes and by athletes who compete and by those that don’t compete.
Can everything the body needs be obtained thru food intake?
Yes. A balanced diet can fulfil all nutrient needs.
And then, what do you have to say about the supplements that athletes take that are usually commercialized in containers with aggressive, muscle worship designs?
These products are designed to quickly absorb the nutrients. Meaning, its bioavailability is really high. For example, if an athlete needs to ingest certain amount of protein to face a challenge, the body will absorb them faster in a shake than eating a steak.
Then, shouldn’t we demonize these supplements?
No, because they are necessary. A healthy diet should be the basis, but in a lot of situations athletes can’t replace what they burn with solid food. An athlete can’t eat the equivalent 5.000 calories in healthy food a day, which is the equivalent of a table full of food. Or, for those athletes that must eat after a game to recover but are not hungry…. In these cases, liquid supplements are a good option.
Mind you, look for well formulated and security tested supplements. Otherwise athletes can test positive in doping controls.