Why athletes need to be more educated about sports nutrition
One of the most curious stories I have ever read about sports nutrition is probably the one about Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer who, in 2008 was able to win four medals (including a gold) at the Olympics despite eating 100% McDonald food every day from breakfast to dinner. Quite impressive I would say!
However, no matter if you’re an athlete, a coach or a sports nutritionist, I think the topic of athletes and nutrition should concern you. Therefore, read this post carefully (and the ones which will follow as well!) and you will not regret it.
Although professional athletes tend to be more educated on the topic of sports nutrition than other people who practice sport on a regular basis 1, the reality is that most athletes are not particularly skilled in this field. Some of them know what a healthy diet is, but their knowledge of sports nutrition, in particular, is usually limited.
Also, many people who regularly practice one or more sports might also lack cooking skills or the motivation to cook their meals frequently, ending up relying on unhealthy pre-cooked foods. Surveys among athletes have shown that most of them are unable to identify the role of sport-specific nutrients (e.g. carbs or proteins) and their role in relation to exercise 2.
A common misconception is that proteins represent the main source of energy during exercise 3,4, a fact that explains why so many (professional and amateurish) athletes take supplements that are not always needed 5. Surprisingly instead, “fat-loading” diets have been used by endurance athletes to spare carbohydrates while improving fat oxidation 6.
Another problem occurs when competing in a specific sport implies frequent travels 7. This could become a source of both stress and unhealthy dietary behaviors, especially abroad where habitual foods might not be available. Although professional (elite) athletes usually travel with their team who takes care of all these issues, those who cannot afford this luxury should familiarize in advance with the destination country and pack some food in the luggage as well.
Sports nutrition: what do we need to know?
Athletes need to be particularly educated on the importance of energy, nutrient and fluid balance. The latter are influenced by three main factors:
- The athlete’s body composition;
- The type of sport practiced;
- The environment where the sport is practiced (this is particularly important in relation to the fluid balance).
It is fundamental that athletes set their own individual goals in terms of a more appropriate diet and identify the barriers that could impede the fulfillment of these goals. Common barriers include:
- Misconceptions about what a healthy diet is;
- Poor nutrition knowledge;
- Dietary extremisms;
- Poor cooking skills;
- Frequent travels.
Athletes need to know how to eat an energy- and nutrient-rich diet that supports the physical demands required by the sport they practice and that can guarantee optimal performances
Sports nutrition: take-home messages
- Not all athletes are knowledgeable about sports nutrition;
- Barriers to a healthy sports diet include frequent travel, poor cooking skills, misconceptions and dietary extremisms;
- A healthy diet must provide enough energy, nutrients and fluids to the athlete’s organism and support his/her performance.
Did you know that?
Trained athletes adapt to higher oxidative stress by producing more antioxidants. In fact, endurance-trained athletes have a stronger endogenous antioxidant defence system 8.
- Cupisti, A., D’Alessandro, C., Castrogiovanni, S., Barale, A. & Morelli, E. Nutrition knowledge and dietary composition in Italian adolescent female athletes and non-athletes. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 12, 207–19 (2002).
- Dunn, D., Turner, L. & Denny, G. Nutrition knowledge and attitudes of college athletes. Sport J. 10, 45 (2007).
- Zawila, L. G., Steib, C.-S. M. & Hoogenboom, B. The Female Collegiate Cross-Country Runner: Nutritional Knowledge and Attitudes. J. Athl. Train. 38, 67–74 (2003).
- M. Condon, E., A. Dube, K. & H. Herbold, N. The Influence of the Low-Carbohydrate Trend on Collegiate Athletes’ Knowledge, Attitudes, and Dietary Intake of Carbohydrates. Top. Clin. Nutr. 22, 175–184 (2007).
- Rosenbloom, C. A., Jonnalagadda, S. S. & Skinner, R. Nutrition knowledge of collegiate athletes in a Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association institution. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 102, 418–20 (2002).
- Jacobs, K. A., Paul, D. R., Geor, R. J., Hinchcliff, K. W. & Sherman, W. M. Dietary composition influences short-term endurance training-induced adaptations of substrate partitioning during exercise. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 14, 38–61 (2004).
- Waterhouse, J., Reilly, T. & Edwards, B. The stress of travel. J. Sports Sci. 22, 946–966 (2004).
- Kanter, M. Nutritional antioxidants and physical activity. in Nutrition in Exercise and Sport 245–255 (CRC Press, Daries, Hayley., 1998).