Nutrition and physical activity

The close relationship between proper nutrition and physical activity is a concept that is now widely spread both in the sports environment and among the general population. Among the different opinions and the many indications that run through the corridors of gyms, it often happens, however, to get confused and to move away from what is really the scientific evidence supporting the health and optimal performance of those who practice sports.

Nutrition and physical activity

Why associate proper nutrition with sport

So let's try to clarify and understand how and why it is essential to associate the right diet with the physical exercise we do.


Proper nutrition is certainly an essential aspect for obtaining a good metabolic efficiency. On the other hand, physical activity contributes to the energy balance of the organism, increasing caloric expenditure and mobilizing the reserves of substrates (especially lipids and carbohydrates), modifies the body composition and increases the efficiency of the muscular and cardiorespiratory system.


The success of a balanced and complete physical activity program can only be guaranteed by a healthy, balanced and balanced diet.


The priority objectives to be pursued, in setting up a correct nutritional proposal for a person who practices sport at both competitive and amateur level, are basically:


To ensure the best possible state of health;

  • adjust the energy intake to real needs;
  • respect the correct distribution of food rations during the day according to training and / or competition commitments;
  • promote an optimal condition of hydration;
  • increase the muscle and liver reserves of glycogen with generous supplies of carbohydrates;
  • prevent hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia;
  • Avoid any condition of gastrointestinal "discomfort", even by regularly consuming functional foods containing substances with pro and pre-biotic activity capable of guaranteeing the right balance of the intestinal microflora.


The Mediterranean diet for sport

The Mediterranean Nutrition Model , typical of the gastronomic tradition of the coastal regions (peach-vegetarian diet), is still the one that best responds to the real and complex metabolic needs of the athlete , because it is rich in foods capable of guaranteeing good health. General health and efficient intestinal function.



The Mediterranean food pyramid is an attempt to summarize in a single image the frequency with which different foods should recur in eating habits, both in the short term (one day) and in the medium term (one week).


It is aimed at all individuals, takes into account the evolution of times and society, highlighting the basic importance of physical activity, conviviality at the table and the habit of drinking water and suggesting favoring the consumption of local products on seasonal basis.


Starting from the base of the pyramid there are foods of vegetable origin which are characteristic of the "Mediterranean diet" for their abundance in non-energetic nutrients (vitamins, mineral salts, water) and protective compounds (fiber). Going up from one floor to another you will find foods with a higher energy density and therefore to be consumed in less quantity, in order to reduce any overweight and prevent obesity and metabolic diseases.


 Sport and Nutrition

The binomial "sport and nutrition" has the primary task of preventing health, strengthening the organic and conditional physical capacities and improving sports performance.


All in the context of a balanced and satisfying relationship between food, body and movement.


For this reason, we must first of all counter the dangerous tendency to depend on the false myths of a wrong sports culture (see doping phenomenon or, more simply, the excessive use of dietary supplements and nutritional supplements) and the fads of inadequate diets and eating styles.


The limitation of these types of approaches lies in ignoring the close link between nutrition, energy metabolism and physical response to exercise.


It is therefore evident the importance and the need for proper nutrition education and information to always be associated with movement education and physical preparation.


Furthermore, a correct approach to the phenomenon cannot disregard adequate assessment procedures (body composition analysis and nutritional status assessment) that allow us to establish the energy needs, nutritional needs and needs of the individual athlete, to set up an adequate food program. , balanced and balanced, to be combined with individual specific training loads. Hence the need to always rely on qualified and specialized specialists (doctors, dieticians, nutritionists), able to develop a personalized diet plan according to the needs and activities of the individual athlete.


The nutritionally balanced diet for athletes

The indications given in the Harvard Medical School “My Plate " can make meal management easier by suggesting volumes and distributions that make it nutritionally balanced.


The diet provides through food the molecules useful for carrying out physiological functions, promotes an increase in muscle mass, optimizes physical work, and finally replenishes the losses due to physical and mental stress of the athlete.


The first step in determining if a diet is adequate for the physical activity performed is to evaluate the total caloric intake in relation to the type of training performed.


For an accurate and personalized definition it is always advisable to consult a specialist (doctor, dietician, and nutritionist).


An inadequate or lower than necessary calorie intake can in fact compromise physical strength and resistance to fatigue, create unfavorable metabolic alterations for muscle growth and tone and lead to an inadequate intake of many micronutrients (magnesium, iron, zinc etc., ), significantly damaging the quality of performance, growth (for adolescents) and health in general.


Once the required amount of calories has been established, the next step is to evaluate the intake of the individual macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins.


As for the general population, even for athletes, most of the food ration must be made up of carbohydrates, i.e. sugars.; these must in fact represent about 55 - 60% of the entire daily amount of energy as they constitute the main energy substrate for the muscles in activity and are able to provide a good amount of energy (about 4 Kcal. per gram of substance). They are therefore indicated both in rapid and intense sporting gestures, as well as in prolonged activities. For the most part (80%) they must be "complex sugars", such as those contained in cereals (pasta, bread, biscuits, rusks, rice, corn, etc.) and in tubers (potatoes). The remaining 20% ​​is entrusted to the "simple sugars" (common sugar, honey, jams, sweets, fruit, etc.). Glucose is the preferred fuel for energy purposes, over fructose and galactose, which must be transformed primarily into glucose.      


The proteins they mainly perform a plastic function and are indispensable for all the vital functions of our organism. During the training phases (and in any case always during growth and adolescence) proteins are essential for building muscle and bone matrix. On the other hand, in the phases in which growth is stabilized, proteins are used to keep the muscles in good condition and repair the tissue losses that always occur during sports. They should be taken in quantities equal to 1.0 gram per kilogram of ideal body weight. In particular physiological situations such as growth, muscle strengthening phases and when sports activity is practiced for a long time, daily and with high commitment, the protein intake can be increased up to 1.8-2.0 grams per kg. of body weight.


The fats they are nutrients with a high energy content: they yield 9 Kcal per gram and are used as an energy source, together with carbohydrates, in long-term and medium-low intensity sporting activities. Muscle tissue stores fat in the form of triglycerides. During exercise, triglycerides are attacked by enzymes and transformed into free fatty acids, which in turn are metabolized to produce the energy necessary for muscle contraction. Fatty acids are used as a source of muscle energy for long-lasting activities. The lipids that are consumed first are obviously those (scarce) that are already present in the muscles, in the space inside the muscle bundles. Fats must represent a variable share, depending on the circumstances, between 25 and 30% of the total daily energy, and are taken both as fats contained in food (milk, cheeses, meats, salami, eggs, fish, oil seeds, dried fruit, etc.), and as "condiments" (oil, butter, etc.). Above all, we recommend the intake of unsaturated and / or polyunsaturated fats of vegetable origin, with particular regard to extra-virgin olive oil, maintaining a level of saturated fats, of animal origin, not exceeding 10% of total calories.

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