Sports nutrition for athletes with food intolerances

3 MIN 15 December 2023

Sports nutrition is essential for athletes wanting to guarantee high performance during physical activity. Furthermore, only by getting the right sports nutrition can athletes guarantee their physical well-being: on and off the field. Every athlete must therefore monitor -with the help of the relevant professionals- any food intolerances that could affect not only their sporting performance but also and above all their health conditions.

What are food intolerances and why can they be dangerous for our health?

As the Italian National Institute of Health explains, food intolerances fall into a group of disorders that cause adverse reactions to food. Food intolerances are more common than allergies and differ from them because the reaction is not caused by the food system. The most frequent food intolerances are enzymatic, i.e., due to an inability, owing to congenital defects, to metabolise certain substances present in the body. The most common of these include intolerance to lactose, which is the sugar contained in milk, and celiac disease, an intolerance to gluten, a protein highly present in wheat.

Food intolerances are diagnosed by exclusion, possibly after having investigated -and therefore excluded- a food allergy. To do this, under the advice of a doctor, the suspect food is identified, eliminated from the diet for 2-3 weeks and then reintroduced for another 2-3 weeks. If the symptoms disappear when the food is removed from the diet plan and then return when it is reintroduced, then it is a food intolerance. Treating food intolerances, in the same way as allergies, involves eliminating the foods that trigger adverse reactions from our diet (or eating them in minimal quantities). The most common symptoms are flatulence, diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal pain.

Food intolerances inhibit an athlete’s sporting performance

As we have seen, a failure to monitor any food intolerances can have repercussions on our health. The symptoms caused by eating substances that are not tolerated by their body have an impact on the mental and physical well-being of athletes. There is a risk of causing generalised inflammation and various types of disorders, both physical, with episodes of diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, headache, and psychological, including generalised stress and exhaustion. All symptoms that will inevitably have a negative effect on the athlete’s performance, as well as their health.

This is why “abolishing” all foods to which the athlete is intolerant brings nothing but benefits, in terms of well-being and performance. In addition to removing the discomfort caused by poorly tolerated foods, it also provides more energy and alertness during physical activity. This reduces the risks associated with muscle mass injuries, such as tears and strains, as well as improving the body’s lean mass. It also brings obvious advantages in the recovery phase as the body will be less tired.

Sports nutrition for people suffering from food intolerances

If an athlete is diagnosed with food intolerances, the advice is to be supported by an expert in the field, such as a nutritionist, who can devise a specific diet for the amateur or competitive athlete that combines the physiological needs of their body with maintaining their high performance in the field. This is what great sports champions like Novak Djokovic or Martin Castrogiovanni, both celiacs, have done. While it is true that celiac disease involves eliminating gluten from our sports diet, and therefore removing wheat and other types of cereals, it is also true that these are not the only carbohydrates we can consume in our diet.

By taking the right precautions, the right balance can be maintained between the essential macronutrients of our sports nutrition, 55% of which must be carbohydrates. Gluten-free cereals that must be included as part of an athlete’s sports diet are rice, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, corn and above all quinoa, an excellent fuel during physical activity. Potatoes are also essential as they are rich in potassium, another fundamental mineral salt to be consumed both before and after training.

For a snack before training and after physical activity, Cetilar® Nutrition has designed gluten-free protein energy bars, rich in proteins, which balance all the macronutrients the body requires (in a balanced 40-30-30 formulation). They are available in peanut and cranberry and cheese and pear flavours: 60 grams for a snack rich in two mineral salts: iron and magnesium, in Sucrosomial® form, which support and contribute to reducing tiredness and stimulating normal metabolism.

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