There are more and more people who practice sports and tend to take on increasingly demanding sports challenges: marathons, mountain races or trails, etc. A proper diet is essential to improve sports performance without harming long-term health. Anna Bach and Laura Esquius, experts in nutrition and sport and professors of the Studies of Health Sciences of the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), have published the book ‘ Food in physical activity and sport ‘ in order to solve the doubts regarding this issue with a scientific basis.
One of the key elements for the practice of sport is hydration since a loss of water of only 2% of body weight reduces the capacity of performance in 20-30% . “It is important to drink water from 30 minutes from the beginning of the physical effort to compensate for the loss of fluids and after an hour it becomes essential,” says Bach, director of the University Master’s Degree in Food in Physical Activity and Sports UOC In addition, “hydration before, during and after sports is key to preventing injuries, especially muscle and joint,” says Bach, who is also a member of the UOC FoodLab research group .
However, rehydration should not include only water. “It is necessary to include in the recovery of liquids mineral salts and carbohydrates for an immediate restoration of the cardiovascular, muscular and metabolic physiological functions of the organism”, explains Laura Esquius, professor of the mentioned master and also director of the postgraduate of Nutrition, Sports Performance and Health of the UOC. Thus, it is advisable that drinks after exercise carry sodium and carbohydrates , such as glucose or sucrose.
In addition to sodium, which regulates water in the body, it is very important that the diet helps maintain a good level of other minerals . Among the trace elements, zinc has been shown to be key to regenerating muscle damage caused by exercise and that a calcium deficit can cause cramping, among other problems.
The anemia is one of the main limiting performance and recovery, so we must pay close attention, especially in the case of endurance sports and s vegetarians and women athletes . However, according to experts, we must rule out that it is a “false athlete’s anemia”, an adaptive and transitory mechanism that occurs in response to training. It can be detected, since, although the plasma volume can grow up to 20% and the hemoglobin concentration is usually low temporarily, other indicators of anemia, such as low ferritin levels, do not appear.
You also have to be very alert to eating disorders. Beatriz Galilea, psychologist and collaborating professor at the UOC, explains that “we know that there is a percentage of athletes worried about their body image, their weight and the influence they have on sports performance.” In the case of some athletes or athletes subject to a high requirement, eating disorders add to the alteration of the menstrual periods or the absence of these and to a greater fragility of the bones, with risk of injury. It is what is known as the “triad of the female athlete.” However, eating disorders “no longer affect only the female sports population: we also find them among high-level male athletes”,
To prevent risky behaviors, he recommends that “athletes, coaches and parents devote time to healthy nutrition education for sports practice.”
These and other factors are part of the nine errors of sports nutrition that experts have identified. The following practices, in some voluntary cases, may impair performance and, in the long term, health:
1. Inadequate energy intake , in some cases due to insufficient diets (as in the case of some gymnasts) or excessive (which can occur in sports such as weightlifting or throwing).
2. Imbalance in the proportions of the immediate principles of the diet, with an excess of proteins and fats.
3. Diets with an excess of meat foods, saturated fats and carbohydrates of rapid absorption.
4. Insufficient consumption of plant-based foods (legumes, vegetables and fresh fruits).
5. Insufficient fiber consumption .
6. Deficit of minerals (mainly calcium, zinc and iron) and vitamins (especially B complex).
7. Insufficient water intake .
8. Excessive alcohol consumption , especially in some team sports.
9. Errors in scheduling of intakes regarding quantities and time distribution.