Should We Eat Like Elite Athletes?

11th May 2020
Lots of people envy elite athletes. However, not everything that glitters is gold. Here, we'll look into their diets and see if it's good for us.

Food is key in social relationships, and in the working lives of some people. For elite athletes, sports are a way of life, and food is an element that they need to be aware of. What problems do professional athletes encounter regarding this issue?

Nowadays, since the media talk about sports diets, many people try to adopt this lifestyle. The main reason is that they think it’s “healthy.”

However, we need to keep in mind that elite athletes have access to professionals who constantly supervise what they do. Also, they don’t have the same requirements as someone who performs a different activity. Is it worth eating like an athlete?

High-performance centers for elite athletes

Many athletes live in high-performance residences or have experienced this way of living early in their careers. Sports residences often have catering services to provide food. This can have advantages and disadvantages.

Benefits

Having someone in charge of food saves time and headaches. Not having to decide what to eat can help elite athletes that don’t know how to cook or don’t have time.

In addition, this diet changes based on their training periods and restThis way, they optimize nutrient intake to the max.

On the other hand, it’s likely, although not always the case, that a nutritionist or dietitian supervises the diet. If this happens, they take individual preferences for different foods into account. Also, there’s more control over what food they’re eating and when.

Another advantage, although it’s not the case for all athletes, is adapting the menus based on individual allergies and intolerancesThey could also change the menu based on any pathology. For example, if an athlete has irritable bowel syndrome, they’ll change the fiber intake.

A woman cooking in the kitchen.

Against

Unfortunately, those benefits aren’t always possible since sometimes there’s no nutritionist or dietitian in charge of each center. Not all centers require someone to oversee the athletes’ diets.

Also, companies tend to want to spend as little money as possible. The direct consequence of this is boring menus that don’t have a lot of variety.

When the residence is public, they need to comply with certain regulations. However, private centers have full control over what they do.

One of the main consequences of lowering costs is by using lower quality cooking oils. It’s common to find centers where they use sunflower oil instead of extra virgin olive oil.

Elite athletes don’t know how to cook

Elite athletes hardly have any free time. Their lives revolve around training, tournaments and concentrations. Therefore, lots of them don’t know how to cook or don’t have any interest in it.

Faced with this, trainers and sports federations can take different measures, such as organizing cooking courses. Another measure that doesn’t require lots of money is to give athletes simple recipes.

Elite athletes and competitions

The goal of training sessions is to go to a competition in the best physical and mental state. During practices, they should also try nutritional strategies. That way, they can avoid last-minute problems on the big day. However, external factors sometimes play a decisive role and ruin all their hard work.

Stress

Stress is the biggest enemy of elite athletes on competition day. Digestive discomfort is common, but it’s not always because of food. Although eating lots of carbohydrates with a high glycemic index can cause issues.

Also, panic attacks before competing can lead to gastrointestinal problems and even incapacitate athletes during a competition. Teaching them how to handle nerves before competing is just as important as the food they eat.

Travel

Traveling is common in lots of sports, such as surfing or tennis. In these cases, the dietitian or nutritionist is in charge of the food choices. Modifying their diets on competition days can have negative consequences on sports performance.

A tennis player in a match.

Researching the culinary culture of the destination country or contacting the catering services are important strategies to analyze their food options. When in doubt, it’ll be better to turn to basic foods before eating new ones.

Also, competing in different time zones can alter elite athletes’ hormones. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for circadian rhythms. Taking supplements can help reduce the effects of jet lag.

Conclusion: is it good to eat like elite athletes?

Eating like an athlete isn’t a good idea for the general population. Athletes are exposed to high training loads and stress. Therefore, following the same nutritional guidelines would most likely cause anxiety.

Controlling your food like gymnasts can have a negative impact on anyone, and most people aren’t prepared for it. So, it’s a good idea to plan a diet with a nutritionist based on your own needs and goals.

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