How much does a proper diet affect an athlete’s form? Is it really critical?
Nutrition is extremely important. A proper diet and a good training regime are crucial factors in shaping sports results. I always begin my work with an athlete by asking how many times a day he or she trains. They usually say that they train two, sometimes three times a day, depending on the sport. I then ask if they give their absolute best when training, and they always say they do. I ask if the same applies to their diet. That is when they begin to wonder: do I give it the attention it needs? This leads to self-reflection. However, I am very lucky to work with very experienced sportspeople who reply that they give their absolute best in every aspect, including nutrition. This is vital because the right nutrition is not just about general health. The proper diet aids full post-training regeneration. And in sports, no progress can be achieved without regeneration.
What are the key ingredients in an athlete’s diet?
We often wonder: a diet for a sportsperson? What should I go for? What supplements should I buy? But when it comes to an athlete’s diet, it’s back to the basics.
INTERVIEW WITH SYLWIA MAKSYM
NUTRITIONIST FOR THE POLISH NATIONAL WOMEN’S FOOTBALL TEAM
It will probably be very expensive. After all, “you can’t just buy it in your local store”.
Actually, you can. All the ingredients can be bought in your local store. The most important rule is to concentrate on the main nutrients: proteins and carbohydrates, but also fats. Fats are really important because they support our nervous system and biological renewal. Each portion should contain 20 to 40 grams of protein. The amount of carbohydrates needs to be adjusted to the intensity of training. We also need to look after our hormonal system.
Once we have taken care of the basics, we can think about general health and working on our sports abilities. Anything else is “gravy”. This is where supplementation comes in, for example Vitamin D3, although this is crucial for everyone, not just sportspeople. As a nation, we simply love supplements, but it’s important to remember that each supplement needs to be carefully matched to our lifestyle and needs. What matters most is that we focus on eating unprocessed foods, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and cereals.
How different are the nutritional needs of sportsmen compared with sportswomen?
Naturally, their calorie needs are different, but even this is not clear-cut. Sometimes women can have similar calorie requirements to men. Female football players are a good example – sometimes they need as much as 3000 kcal a day.
It will depend on their position on the football field, the intensity of training, their height and body mass. We women, should not be worried about consuming too many calories because this is a matter of individual needs. How different is the diet? Women simply tend to prefer sweet foods. After a match they will often choose sweet dumplings or a chocolate brownie, whereas men will have a steak or pizza. But diet doesn’t depend on our sex – these are all stereotypes which don’t need to be followed.
You are known for promoting “plant-based fuel”. Can a professional sportsperson go completely vegan?
Most definitely, but providing properly balanced meals at training camps may prove to be a challenge. Everything will depend on the preparation. If I, the national team’s nutritionist, can work with the chef, we can come up with a balanced diet. If a team doesn’t have a nutritionist and a sportsperson requests a vegan dish, they tend to be served fried cheese. When they say that they don’t eat meat, they’ll get fish. This can prove difficult and frustrating.
Is it important to provide fruit and vegetables at training camps?
Definitely. During the recent training camp in Gdansk, we received a huge delivery from Biedronka. What really put a smile on my face was the amount of figs. I’m always trying to encourage players to try new flavours. A number of players asked me what they were. Everybody is familiar with dried figs but not with fresh ones, and they are a rich source of vitamins and antioxidants. Bananas really don’t need to be our only option. Figs can be an excellent fruit to eat in the training season. They’re also rich in fibre, although this won’t be an issue in a properly composed meal, and figs are an excellent source of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.