Soccer teams are now in Brazil playing the 2014 FIFA World Cup, one of the most important sport events worldwide. Here in Argentina, it means more than a sportive event. The whole country paralyzes, people literally stop working to watch the games (while eating not very healthy snacks…) The most exciting part of the World cup starts today with the best 16 teams (Argentina, Argelia, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, USA, Suiza, Honduras, Brazil, France, Mexico, Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Costa Rica, Nigeria). Now, elite players prepare to play each game at maximum pace with not much time between games to recover. Diet may have its biggest impact in this phase.
Getting the right amount of energy to perform well is key, says FIFA on a nice nutrition segment of its website. Each team has people that carefully choose the right foods and fluids for players to eat during training, pre and post game and for recovery. A good diet can help support consistent intensive training while limiting the risks of illness or injury. That’s why many teams have dietitians or nutritionists on their delegations. For instance, USA´s team coach Jürgen Klinsmann has Danielle LaFata, MS, RD, balancing the high calorie needs of athletes with healthy eating. Klinsmann himself models healthy eating by emphasizing organic and local varieties of whole foods in his own diet. “He’s very involved,” team dietitian Danielle LaFata said to the Associated Press. “I think he’s more nutrition conscious than myself sometimes.” The US soccer team is urged to eat more fruits and vegetables and goes through a case of avocado each day! Meanwhile, Italy´s team nutritionist Elisabetta Orsi, emphazises a tricolor diet: “Pasta is our preferred fuel, and before matches we play with the tricolore: pasta with parmesano (white), prosciutto (red) and extra virgin olive oil (green), our natural medicine brought from Italy”, said Elisabetta to the Corriere dello Sport. But, unfortunately Italy couldn´t do it to this round of the Cup and were sent home. Lastly, according to the AFA website, Argentina´s delegation in Brazil does not have a dietitian in the team. They have chef and a kitchen assistant. They are not fueling on alfajores anymore... The New York Times reported that, Lio Messi used to be rewarded alfajores for scoring goals when was a kid. Now, Argentine players’ diet is based on carbs (pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes and rice), proteins (grilled meats like chicken, fish and beef) and vegetables (like broccoli, asparagus, spinach and green beans). For dessert, seasonal fruits and queso y dulce (an Argentinean dessert made of cheese and dulce de batata which is a sweet potato hard jam). All foods are local (Brazil) except from dulce de leche and dulce de batata that were brought from Argentina. What about the Argentinean asado? They eat this typical Argentinean barbecue while in Brazil but without organ meats. And, I suppose mate is present too!
At this stage of the Cup, the margin between victory and defeat is small. Attention to detail can make that vital difference. Maybe we can learn from players to chose foods (our fueling) more wisely to “perform” better in our life. See the FIFA nutrition booklet here and:
From the Academy Website: U.S. Men’s National Team Dietitian Fuels Performance:
Proper hydration. Even the slightest dehydration will impact performance. Playing soccer in Brazil's hot and humid weather increases fluid needs, and players may require as much as 10 liters per day. Electrolyte beverages, fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies contribute to a player's hydration needs. All contain vital nutrients such as potassium and magnesium, which are lost in sweating.
Food first. In a sports world of heavy supplementing, Team USA's goal is to get their primary fuel from nutrient-rich foods. If needed, supplementing is customized for the individual, but food always comes first. An example of a meal three to four hours prior to a game would include whole grain pasta with Bolognese sauce, chicken breast, grilled asparagus, watermelon and pineapple.
Post workout eating. In order to minimize muscle soreness and maximize muscle recovery, post workout smoothies with the right amount of protein and carbohydrates are given after workouts within 30 to 45 minutes. One post-workout snack LaFata makes for the team includes 25 grams of whey protein mixed with water and 1½ bananas.
80/20 principle. Athletes should eat highly nutritious foods including lean proteins, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy 80 percent of the time. The other 20 percent can be other foods that might be higher in fat and sugar. Team USA has their "20-percent meal" 24 to 48 hours after a game. After that, it's back to fit eating.
High nutrition with healthy fats. Players achieve high calorie needs by blasting their diet with a variety of plant-based foods while also adding healthy fats through nuts, seeds and olive or canola oils. The higher the calorie needs, the more generous you can be with healthy fats.
Healing foods for injuries. Team USA has dealt with their share of injuries at the World Cup. For injury recovery, LaFata recommends emphasizing whole-grain foods such as oatmeal, quinoa and wild rice. Other injury recovery foods include fatty fish, green leafy vegetables and legumes.
As of today, trans fat still the villain in the diet and unsaturated fats the good ones, but when it comes to saturated fats, it seems that the paradigm is shifting. A study published last March, questions –again- the harmful effects of saturated fats. I said again because, I remember an article in Science magazine from 2001 questioning the medical community and the US government for misinterpreting the scientific evidence, arguing that fat (whether saturated or not) are not the culprit of obesity and cardiovascular diseases, and blaming refined carbohydrates for this.
The study I was mentioning at the beginning is the one published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and is a systematic review and meta-analisis (with more that seventy studies included) concluding that current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats. Contrary to this, the latest 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk recommend a reduction of saturated fats to 5-6% of the total calories, when the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a 10% of saturated fats.
The old study of the Seven Countries (1958), authored by Dr. Ancel Keys, and widely referenced because it found a correlation between saturated fats and increased LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular risk is also criticized. Many put in doubt the methodology of the study and it’s believed that Dr. Keys picked certain countries and left outside of the study countries that have high consumption of saturated fat with lower rates of heart disease, like Sweden, Germany and others.
So, what we recommend now as food and nutrition professionals? Of course that LDL cholesterol is not the only one factor to consider when assessing cardiovascular risk. Other factors are now important like being overweight, lifestyle, other serum lipids, etc. I don’t personally believe that is necessary to further decrease saturated fat intake to 5-6% of calories. Even more, the AHA/ACC guidelines don’t distinguish the type of saturated fats, when it is believed that dairy fats and vegetable saturated fats like coconut may not affect cardiovascular risk and may be even beneficial. I think that the answer is the total diet approach, considering ALL factors in the diet, like intake of fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants total calories, etc. I agree with the AHA/ACC in promoting a Mediterranean style diet, encouraging consumption of vegetables and fruits, nuts, legumes, fish and vegetable oils. Lastly, we have to be careful because this reconsideration of saturated fats can be misunderstood with what people want to hear…like eating free amounts of butter, cheese and other sources of saturated fats.
What do you think?
Check out my chimichurri rub recipe published at Food and Nutrition Magazine and other healthy tailgating recipes: http://www.foodandnutrition.org/May-June-2014/Spicy-Chimichurri-Rub/
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