There are all sorts of very healthy foods that are recommended as part of an elite athlete’s diet. However, consideration needs to be given to the issue of “timing”: a schedule adjustment that must be taken into account in order to know when these foods can be consumed if the athlete needs to compete or train afterwards. Although these foods may contain very healthy ingredients and nutrients, due to the fact that they take a long time to digest, or cause gas or bloating, they should not be eaten before practising sports.
Dr. María Antonia Lizarraga, specialist in Sports Medicine and Nutrition, explains, it is important to know what an athlete is eating and especially what they are eating before, during and after physical training. The key, she points out, is for them to know when food can be eaten so that it does not cause any issues in regard to digestion.
In general, on training or match days when there is very little time for digestion, it is recommended that small quantities of food are eaten, preferably liquid meals rather than solids, and foods which contain only a small amount of fibre.
Which are these healthy foods that are not recommended before playing sports?
One example is wholegrain foods such as cereals or energy bars because their high fibre content can cause flatulence or bloat. For this reason, it is recommended that these types of foods are not consumed within a 2-3 hour period prior to training.
The same goes for many vegetables that are high in fibre such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts, which are very gassy. They are very healthy, and it is recommended that they are eaten twice a week, but since they take a long time to digest it is better to consume them on lighter training days.
Another example is milk and dairy products. These contain vital nutrients, but milk or milkshakes should not be consumed right before training or if there isn’t sufficient time to digest them; it is better to consume them after exercise or before going to sleep.
It is also advisable to eat legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and beans a few times a week as part of a healthy diet due to their high fibre content. However, it is recommended that athletes eat them when they do not have a heavy training session or a match. If the athlete trains mid-morning, for example, they could eat them for dinner or for lunch the next day. These types of food are more easily digested in puréed form or mixed with vegetables.
The Barça Innovation Hub team