In the last years’ sports science in India and specifically, sports nutrition, has gained traction. This interdisciplinary field is as important as training for athletes to maintain a good performance. The popularization of this field of modern sports medicine started after the Commonwealth Games in 2010, still, most people don’t know the benefits of it. That’s why in this article, we explore them as well as the current problems in the diets of professional athletes.
Differences in eating habits between professional sportspersons and non-sportspersons
A well-balanced diet is enough to maintain good health for most of us. However, even if we exercise, we probably don’t spend as much energy as a professional athlete. That’s why their diets will and should differ.
Having this in mind, the most common mistakes made by sportspersons is the failure to consume sufficient food or consuming too much of one type of food and not enough of the other. Studies around the world have shown that athletes tend to skip meals, eat too much protein and fat, and not have sufficient fiber and carbohydrates in comparison to non-sportspersons.
Hima Bindu Malla, Ph.D. in Food and Nutrition from the University of Delhi, explains the habits of Indian athletes as follows: most of them, skip at least one meal, especially breakfast. They also show a low carbohydrate intake, high consumption of proteins and fat, low levels in iron, thiamine, and riboflavin.
These bad habits can impact the athlete’s performance more than one can imagine. For example, nutritionists and dietitians have proved the importance of thiamine in sports endurance and the absorption of carbohydrates. Good absorption of carbohydrates is crucial to keep the level of energy needed for training and competitions.
Not only do these diets affect the sportsperson’s efficiency but they can also be detrimental to their health. In most countries, female athletes suffer from menstrual irregularities because of their eating habits, and in India, Malla noted a prevalence of hypertension. Professional athletes are also more prone to develop eating disorders than non-sportspersons.
Benefits of balanced eating in athletes
Over the years, sports science and nutrition have discovered the advantages a good diet gives to sportspersons. As we explained, thiamine is very useful but also vitamins like A, E, C, zinc, and selenium help to recover from injuries faster and experience less fatigue after a long training session.
Carbohydrates help maintain blood sugar levels and fuel the body with energy to withstand competition and training. On the other hand, protein and fat help the growth and repair of body tissue. It is important to have an expert assess each person’s diet to know exactly how much of each food group should the athlete eat according to their body weight, age, gender, and the sport they practice.
The quest for excellence may make the athlete take drastic measures like long hours of training or fasting, but in the long term, this will affect their performance. Not eating enough and exhausting oneself can cause dizziness, muscle cramps, and injuries.
For sportspersons, the use of supplements is also common but in excess, these can cause permanent damages to the kidneys and bladder. It is far more effective to have a balanced diet that fits the athlete’s profile.
At the end of the day, not only athletes but the general public has to be educated in nutrition to make a conscious decision about their eating and health. In the case of sportspersons, it is highly recommended they attend to a specialist in sports nutrition to not only eat well but to increase their performance, just as they have a trainer, they should also have a dietician on call.