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5 nutritional strategies to slow down detraining

Elena Casiraghi, Ph.D. - Equipe Enervit
For weeks now, in every corner of the world, many of us have been forced into our homes with the mission of intensifying and uniting our efforts in reducing the spread of the virus. There are numerous sportsmen and women, and athletes of all levels of experience who are currently adopting strategies to train at home and to curb the loss of fitness – also known as detraining - in preparation for their sports practice to resume on their own fields, as well as in competitions.
At the core of the increase in physical fitness and sports performance, there is undoubtedly the training element, with its regimented training programmes following the balance of three parameters (volume, intensity, frequency of sessions) that together, define the training load. You should know that in addition to the training programmes there is a potential ally that is valuable in achieving every goal: I am talking about daily nutrition. There are, in fact, foods and devices that if adopted consistently, can curb what sports scientists call detraining.

There are foods and tricks that can curb what sports scientists call detraining.

5 foods to stop detraining

The guidelines that are presented in this article have been chosen to counter-balance the slowdown in training, and are relevant not only during this period of blocking sporting activities, but at any moment of the athlete's life when it will be necessary to slowdown or suspend training for a short period. I am referring, for example, to the holiday period, the transitional period between the end of one sporting season and the beginning of the next, as well as those periods or days when, especially young athletes, will have to devote more time to study, therefore suspending training sessions. As well as during periods of illness or travel, and days when athletes cannot engage in their specific training session.

So, what are these foods and what are the benefits we should consider?

1. Cocoa for aerobic capacity

If you have access to bitter cocoa powder (the one commonly used to prepare sweets) or some form of concentrated cocoa, this is ingredient is key in preventing detraining. When preparing, decide whether you would like to add milk or yogurt of any kind, for example, pure dairy, soya, coconut milk or almond milk. The important thing is that these foods should be at room temperature. The heat, in fact, denatures these precious substances.

Details make the difference. In sport they are called marginal gains, so just remember that Nutrition can always make a valuable contribution to your detraining programme.

Cocoa beans are rich in polyphenols and flavanols, and the benefit of these two compounds are two-fold. In the first instance, they provide flavour, and in the second they support the essential maintenance of the blood circulation, this is particularly true of flavanols. It is essential that an athlete who hasn't trained for a few days enables themselves to keep oxygenated and nourish their tissues to support their future performance. Cocoa flavanols - when taken frequently and in abundant quantities - facilitate the synthesis of new mitochondria, the energy units contained in each cell, which are essential in determining the aerobic and middle-bottom athletic capacity.

2. Proteins for muscle tone and strength

Every time you eat, you should take a portion of protein from a lean source (e.g. white yoghurt, semi-skimmed milk, cow's milk, low-fat sliced meat such as beef, raw or cooked ham, bacon, chicken or turkey and once a week, whole eggs). These nutrients will help provide each muscle with the substances necessary to maintain muscle tone and strength. The slowdown of the loss of muscle tone and strength for an athlete has a huge advantage: it keeps the athlete's daily energy expenditure high, in other words it keeps the basal metabolism active.

Last but not least, it also reduces the risk of injury when resuming normal training sessions. If, for example, if you carry out circuit training in the house, try to do so before a meal, such as breakfast, lunch or dinner. The proteins then taken in this meal will be invaluable in optimising the effectiveness of the training session.

3. Sun and Vitamin D

Milk-based foods such as dairy products are rich in vitamin D, as is fish. However, it is not enough to just consume these foods or any dietary supplements to top up levels of this vitamin, which is generally often lacking in winter, and even more so in athletes. Vitamin D is essential to activate vitamin D3, and this is achieved through UV rays. So, it is important that you take advantage of these days, and if you have the opportunity to, spend at least twenty minutes on the balcony, at the window or in the garden, with your limbs uncovered and exposed to the sun. It is very likely that we will need to synthesise more vitamin D during these restricted days, in the same way do during ordinary weekdays when we spend a lot of time inside offices and buildings, without ever having the opportunity to expose ourselves to sunlight.

4. Avoid eating out of boredom

You need to maintain regularity in your meals too. Try to keep to set times for breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner. In every meal, ensure you include carbohydrates – preferring to include those with a medium and low glycaemic index, such as wholemeal sources, cereals, legumes and vegetables - and proteins from lean but high biological value sources such as, white meat, whole eggs, egg whites, fish and tofu.

This, among other things, will help to promote satiety and reduce the desire for indulging in unhealthy foods. If you realise that you are feeding yourself without routine, you may find it helpful to keep a food diary, detailing the food you consume throughout the day and at what time. This simple practice will help you to consume your food in mindful way.

5. The power of vegetables

It's time to put new habits into your lifestyle. Take advantage of this moment of lockdown to consume seasonal vegetables. Fruit (at 2-3 portions per day, but no more than 5) is what your body needs. And if you like them, why not try spices for seasoning. All fruits are in fact, are rich in polyphenols, the precursors of good bacteria in the intestine. This good bacterium transforms into substances that are friendly to the immune system. This is also true of certain types of vegetables, specifically spinach, beetroot, broccoli and celery which, being naturally rich in vegetable nitrates, can offer the same benefits as cocoa (see point 1).

Always complement your fitness training with nutrition, by doing this you can you get the best out of your sessions and reach your maximum goal.

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