Nutrition and sport - Training begins at the table

Regarding the relationship between nutrition and physical activity, it is commonplace, but incorrect, to believe that those who practice sports should always eat more, increase their protein intake and take special foods or supplements. In reality it is more correct to suggest a qualitatively-quantitatively adequate diet to the physiological needs of the subject.

Nutrition and sport - Training begins at the table

These needs tend to be overestimated in most cases, with a consequent risk of excess malnutrition. On the other hand, there are, although rarer, cases of malnutrition which mainly affect young agonists who practice quantitatively and / or qualitatively deficient diets.

A proper nutrition for athletes is aimed at getting an indirect positive effect, while preserving the individual's health by optimizing the metabolic conditions for the activity and providing the most suitable substrates optimal "recovery" post-exercise muscle .




Usually those who practice a sport at an amateur level train on average 2-3 times a week, for a maximum duration of about 2 hours; physical activity of this magnitude almost never involves an additional energy requirement. A fortiori, in these cases there is no need to resort to particular dietary products or food supplements. On the contrary, we must be careful because in the event that the income is systematically higher than the expenditure, it is possible to gain weight even in a period of full training.


Therefore, a dietary increase can only be taken into consideration in those who carry out an intense organized sporting activity and for competitive athletes.





To achieve a good state of physical fitness and therefore be able to have satisfactory athletic performance it is essential that regular training is accompanied by a correct and adequate diet for the activities performed.


The water supply of a sportsman must be abundant, not limited to the time of main meals, but distributed throughout the day even during sports, especially if carried out in conditions of high temperature and high relative humidity. In fact, a slight dehydration (water deficit greater than 2-3% of the weight) is enough to have a noticeable decrease in sports performance. It is therefore advisable to drink 400-600 ml of water 2-3 hours before training; during training it may be useful to sip 150-200 ml of water every 20 minutes and it is important then, after training, to replenish the water losses, drinking a quantity of fluids equal to 1 and a half times the weight lost.


During training, especially if long and intense, drinks containing adequate quantities of water, salts and simple sugars, which allow to save muscle glycogen, may be indicated; these are iso-hypotonic drinks (250-300 mOsm) made up of: water, a carbohydrate content (sucrose, malt dextrin, fructose) and a small saline portion.





Compared to training or competition, one of the peculiarities of sports nutrition is that the composition and timing of meal intake must be modulated taking into account the training or competition time. This is in order to optimize digestive processes and metabolic conditions for carrying out the activity, as well as to provide the most suitable substrates for optimal muscle "recovery" after it.


The general pre-exercise dietary recommendations can be summarized as follows:


  1. Take a good amount of complex CARBOHYDRATES (pasta, bread, rice, potatoes) 3-4 hours before exercise, to keep blood sugar as constant as possible and optimize hepatic and muscle glycogen reserves.
  2. Provide a moderate amount of noble and lean proteins (to ensure the supply of branched chain amino acids - BCAA = branched chain amino acids -; however, if less than 3 hours pass between the meal and physical activity it is better not to take them, for most digestive effort that they involve).
  3. Limit the amount of fats and fibers, which lead to longer digestion times, possibly adding olive oil and a little Parmesan cheese for seasoning, cooked vegetables as a side dish and a little fruit at the end of the meal.

If the purpose of the meal before the sporting commitment is to optimize the hepatic and muscle carbohydrate stocks (to provide fuel for the performance of the activity), the goal of the post-training / competition meal is instead to replenish the hydro- saline and carbohydrates and promote the repair and synthesis of muscle fibers, trying to bring the body to a phase of "super compensation", improving the initial performance level.


We still remember the determining role of water, before, during and after physical activity.





An adequate diet in caloric intake and balanced in MACRONUTRIENTS (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) and MICRONUTRIENTS (vitamins and minerals) can guarantee the athlete a correct state of psychophysical health and good sports performances.


In competitive sports, high muscle work, intense sweating and high energy consumption can lead to the need for supplementing some nutrients , since it is not always possible to reach the necessary quantity with nutrition.


Amateur sportsmen, those who practice team sports (football, basketball, tennis, etc.) or individual sports (swimming, gym, cycling, etc.), for a duration of about 1 or 2 hours, 2 to 4 times a week, they generally do not need to use supplements, unless otherwise prescribed.


The intake of supplements must therefore take place when there is an effectively demonstrated need, using only products protected by law and under the supervision of a doctor or nutritionist. Pay close attention to the use of supplements considering that, in some cases, excessive intake of proteins, vitamins, minerals or other substances can be harmful or cause unwanted effects.


Furthermore, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) states that "more than 20% of supplements on the market for athletes may contain substances that are not declared on the label, but which could lead to a positive anti-doping control".




The "doping" is the use of pharmacological substances in order to improve sports performance.


These substances are prohibited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and are listed in a list, updated periodically, created by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).


The Italian ANTIDOPING REGULATION begins with Law 346/2000 to arrive at the Technical-Implementation Document of the WADA World Anti-Doping Code and related international Standards (ANTIDOPING SPORTS STANDARDS-NSA) in force since 10 March 2016.


Using drugs for indications other than those for which they have been approved can very often be harmful to health, especially if these substances are taken during adolescence, the growth and maturation phase of the organism.


The risks associated with taking these compounds are often underestimated and difficult to predict. It must also be considered that very often the body of the sportsman, who carries out intense physical activity, undergoes stresses at the limit of the physiological, such as severe dehydration (resulting from sweating) or an almost maximum commitment of the cardiocirculatory function, conditions in which the pharmacological and side effects of a substance can be strongly modified with possible very serious consequences. Dehydration and reduced renal function lead to an increase in the plasma concentration of the drug, with the possible onset of toxic effects.


The use of high doses or incongruous combinations of doping agents increases the risk of developing neuropsychic disorders and chronic disabling diseases.


Psychiatric effects can occur: paranoia, depression, anxiety, increased aggression (caused by anabolics and CNS stimulants).


The CNS stimulants and erythropoietin may cause effects on the cardiovascular system , such as sudden increases in pressure and blood viscosity, thereby raising the risk of sudden death from heart attack and stroke, especially if co-exist other risk factors (such as high levels of cholesterol and / or triglycerides, diabetes, hypertension, etc.).


The anabolic cause adverse effects on secondary sexual characteristics, including testicular atrophy, gynecomastia, prostate and kidney disease in man or masculinization, disfiguring acne and baldness in women. Finally, the possibility that anabolics or growth factors at high doses, if used for long periods, can increase the risk of onset and aggressiveness of tumors should not be underestimated.




Alcohol has been included in the WADA list of prohibited substances since 2008. It alters the metabolism of carbohydrates, inhibiting glycogen synthesis and stimulating glycogenosis, with consequent premature depletion of carbohydrates (early onset of fatigue and decrease in sports performance) .


Alcohol increases the production of acidic compounds such as lactate and ketone bodies, lowering the pH of the blood. Remember that too low blood pH values ​​can lead to metabolic acidosis which is responsible for symptoms such as fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting and in extreme cases can even lead to coma.


Ethanol decreases the efficiency in the blood transport of iron , altering the synthesis of the different transferrin isoforms and causes a lower absorption of vitamin B12 and folate , the deficiency of which implies an increase in the volume of red blood cells, predisposing the subject to anemia megaloblastic and to damage to the nervous system.


Alcohol is particularly toxic to our mitochondria, the cellular organelles that produce energy and among other things synthesize heme.


Therefore, a decline in heme production, associated with a reduced absorption of vitamin B12 and an alteration of transferrin causes the transport of oxygen to the tissues to be seriously compromised.


Alcohol also reduces testosterone levels, limiting protein synthesis up to 24 hours after its consumption (it compromises the increase in muscle mass) and has important effects on the central nervous system , altering muscle contraction, worsening reflexes, time reaction and coordination skills .


Important messages for those who play sports:


  • We must not think that the calorie intake must increase dramatically. In this regard, a classification based on the level of physical activity is appropriate.
  • Physical performance cannot be artificially amplified: in other words, only training and consistency can improve results. It is often mistakenly believed that those who practice sports should have a particular diet; sometimes there is an incentive to make use of supplements by "experts", who do not know in the least the eating habits, the state of health, any familiarity with some pathologies of the person. It is thought that if you do not take supplements you cannot "go fast" or "grow muscle mass". In reality, at any age and especially if we consider adolescence, the most correct message is to have a qualitatively-quantitatively adequate diet.
  • It is essential to set reasonable goals, that is, commensurate with the real abilities and potential of each one.
  • It is always advisable to be wary of non-authoritative advice, such as word of mouth, the web or the temptation to imitate the dietary indications provided to friends and acquaintances: each indication must be personalized on the basis of some elements including, for example, age, gender, body constitution, metabolic consumption, season, level of intensity and type of sporting activity practiced.

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