The role of nutrition in sport


Nutritional planning is an essential aspect of preparing a top athlete. The great variety of sports disciplines and situations throughout the season requires sports nutrition to be a certain degree of specialization. The knowledge of the biochemical and physiological bases of the exercise allows to know the routes of use of the nutrients and to design the most suitable nutritional and supplementation strategies for the training period, pre-competition, competition and recovery. Thus the diets of athletes who make explosive efforts are rich in protein, while those who compete in endurance tests need a greater contribution in carbohydrates, although fats are their main substrate during effort. In other disciplines, diets vary according to the time of the season. In addition, the diet must always be personalized, allowing the most optimal body composition parameters to be achieved for the athlete.

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Behind a high-level athlete there are many professionals, including a coach, doctor, physical therapist, psychologist and nutritionist. Sports nutrition is a discipline that has evolved in recent times, thanks to the body provided by various scientific disciplines, such as Biochemistry and Physiology, among others. There are many situations that the sports nutritionist has to deal with and knowledge of the use of nutrients is essential for proper diet design and supplementation.

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Thus, the events that require explosive efforts, such as a 100-meter smooth run, will depend on creatine phosphate and ATP produced anaerobically by fast-twitch muscle fibers. Therefore, the diets of this group of athletes are aimed at supporting muscle hypertrophy. At times of the season when overload cycles are carried out, the diet becomes richer in protein. A normal person’s diet usually contains an average of about 0.8 g of protein / kg weight. Speed athletes can consume up to 2 g / kg weight at certain times of the season. Creatine can also be consumed as a supplement a few days before with the idea of having the maximum deposits. The energy provided by creatine phosphate is instantaneous and ends quickly. In a normal person, creatine will be depleted within 2 to 3 seconds of starting exercise. Athletes who reach the 100m Olympic Final, have a high capacity to store creatine supplements and perform the race practically depending on this metabolic substrate. In anaerobic tests of longer duration, creatine-phosphate does not work and the energy produced becomes dependent on anaerobic glycolysis, which, although it allows rapid availability of ATP, entails acidification of muscle fiber due to the production of lactic acid. , which implies that the effort can only be sustained for a few minutes.

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At the opposite extreme are extensive aerobic-type races, such as the marathon or road cycling. In these tests, the athlete must depend on durable energy systems, such as fats. Mobilized fatty acids from adipose tissue enter the muscle mitochondrial Krebs cycle in the form of acetyl-CoA. In these conditions, the Krebs cycle is working at its maximum and it needs the help of carbohydrates from glycogen. When glycogen stores are depleted, even though there are enough fatty acids, the speed of the Krebs cycle is considerably reduced and the athlete must slow down. It is the well-known “bonk” of cyclists and marathoners. To do this, a week before the race nutritional glycogen overload strategies are carried out, with the idea of filling the tanks to the maximum. These strategies consist of depleting muscle glycogen reserves on the 6th and 4th day before the test, through very intense workouts and with low carbohydrate diets. Three days before the test, we proceed to consume a diet rich in carbohydrates (70% of the total Kcal, a normal diet contains 55%) along with total rest. This allows the usual glycogen reserves to be increased by up to 40%. Today, this strategy has been refined due to the risk of injury that it entails, carrying out nutritional refinement strategies.
However, not everything is based on the energy provided by fats and carbohydrates. Other sports that apparently have an aerobic gesture, such as mountaineering, whose gesture is basically walking, do not depend entirely on glycogen deposits, or even fat deposits. In hypoxic conditions that occur at extreme altitudes, the absence of oxygen prevents the correct oxidation of fats, starting to oxidize carbohydrates through anaerobic metabolism. However, glycogen reserves are limited and during prolonged efforts at altitude mountaineers must resort to gluconeogenesis (de novo glucose synthesis) from amino acids from the breakdown of muscle proteins.

For this reason, the diet of mountaineers must also include an extra supply of protein and muscle hypertrophy during the season. In summary, it is clear that the diet of a tennis player is different from that of a footballer, and that the diet of a swimmer is not at all similar to that of a basketball player. Things are more complicated in sports disciplines where technical gestures, position on the field or environmental circumstances add new variables. Therefore, the sports nutritionist must take these factors into account and manage to design personalized diets adapted to the particular situation of each athlete.

62 thoughts on “The role of nutrition in sport

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