Athletes: nutritional risks

Exercise is good for your health, when it's moderate and regular. For the true sportsman or woman, there are risks to be managed

As I define it, a sportsman or sportswoman is someone who practices sports for more than an hour more than four times a week. A sportsman or woman's diet must be adapted to his or her sex, age, sport, and intensity. The aim is, on the one hand, to improve performance, promote recovery and prevent the risk of injury and, on the other, to avoid loss of muscle and bone mass.

Beyond this adaptation, the athlete is confronted with nutritional risks that must be managed:

1) Intense exercise induces significant oxidative stress linked to overconsumption of oxygen by the mitochondria. Athletes also often suffer from chronic inflammatory outbreaks. It is therefore essential to have a good, natural, and diversified antioxidant diet and anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet gives pride of place to vitamins and minerals, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, zinc, polyphenols (green tea, red wine, cocoa), diallyl disulfide (garlic, onions, leeks) and sulforaphane (crucifers, radishes, mustard). It is low in saturated fatty acids (red meat, milk, cheese), fast sugars, salt, gluten, and alcohol. It also avoids all toxic substances.

2) Athletes are often in a state of tissue acidosis, because, on the one hand, intense or endurance physical effort produces lactic acid and, on the other, they lose a lot of alkalizing minerals through perspiration and urine (they have to drink a lot). This can lead to osteoarticular and muscular problems. The accumulation of acids in connective tissue must be countered by providing plenty of alkalinizing minerals, via vegetables and possibly supplements.

3) Last but not least, many athletes experience digestive issues. This is due to the fact that effort, especially endurance effort, leads to transient intestinal hyperpermeability. Indeed, during such an effort, the body directs blood flow primarily to the heart and muscles, leaving the intestine with little blood supply. When the effort is over, the mechanism reverses, with blood flowing to the intestinal wall. This generates oxidative stress, which in turn leads to hyperpermeability of the intestinal wall for a few hours. Shocks generated by certain sports, such as running, may also contribute to this condition. During these periods of hyperpermeability, everything the athlete ingests passes into the bloodstream, including additives and toxic substances, as well as intestinal bacteria. To temper this problem, athletes are advised to increase their intake or supplement with probiotics, omega-3, vitamin D, zinc, and glutamine.

Beware: if transient hyperpermeability is repeated too often, it can become permanent, in which case it's crucial to regenerate the intestine. Otherwise, in addition to a chronic inflammatory state leading to tendonitis and weakened immunity, the athlete may suffer from endotoxin aggression, resulting in malaise and the development of autoimmune diseases and food allergies.

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Runner picture by Alexander Redl