by Mark J. Fine
Early last week, Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero revealed that he saw an Italian nutritionist to help him gain better fitness.
Although having suffered a knee problem in December, Agüero is looking to be this year’s Barclay’s Golden Boot winner, having 25 Premier League goals under his belt so far. The Argentinian striker claims that part of his secret was visiting a nutritionist in order to gain an edge on his fitness, which has plagued him in prior years. As a result, the nutritionist instructed him to cut out red meat, pasta, and sugar from his diet.
Its not been made clear why or what he is eating instead of these things, but I’m sure we can guess.
Most diets are based upon a proper balance of the ‘big three‘: roughly 57% carbohydrates, 14% proteins, and 29% fats by calorie count is recommended for the average person. However, the endurance athlete will need a different set of parameters to satisfy the need for higher levels of energy for longer periods of time.
Footballers, as well as distance runners require a longer burn solution that typically calls for higher carbohydrates and less fats to make them more efficient, not as easily tired, and therefore less susceptible to injury. Such a ratio would probably be altered to something closer to 73% carbohydrates, 20% proteins, and only 7% fat.
For the purposes of this assessment we’ll only look at effects of these nutritional components, not the overall calories. For that we would need to know the average energy burnt in a week. With all the intense training that is done over the course of the week, in addition to a game day performance, that’s probably an astonishing amount to begin with.
Based upon these premises, we can look at the things Agüero cut out of his diet, one by one, and make assumptions on how or why it was done.
Sugars are great for short bursts of energy, but do nothing for endurance athletes. Refined sugar contains no value-added components to our diet: no fibre, no minerals, no proteins, no fats, and no enzymes. It is considered to be ’empty’ calories, containing little value.
Sugar is a fast-burning by-product of pure carbohydrates that gives us a short burst of energy when metabolised, which also changes the pH of our blood, making it more acidic. The acidity then aids in the depletion of calcium and magnesium from our bones and muscles, which in turn makes us susceptible to bone fragility and muscle cramps – and ultimately bone fractures and other muscle-related injuries.
It’s quite obvious why sugar would be eliminated, but not as clear for pasta. Pastas are essentially made of semolina and regular flours with some eggs. You get some protein, very little fat from the eggs but a high level of carbohydrates from the flour. Each ounce of pasta typically has 0.5g of fat, 3.5g of protein, and 21g of carbohydrates after cooking.
Carbohydrates are ideal for endurance athletes and should be a major part of the diet. They are necessary for processing fats and proteins into energy. However, as any diabetic will tell you, carbohydrates will break down into sugars. For the endurance athlete that can be ultimately detrimental to muscle health.
So while Agüero may have cut pasta from his diet, it may have been because he was eating too many carbohydrates to begin with. Quite frankly, like all flour-based carbohydrates, once you start it’s rather hard to stop – try eating one slice of pizza and calling it quits. Carbohydrates are indeed addictive to those of us that crave it.
Red meat used to be considered good for muscle health. If you can consider eating the muscles of a large mammal helpful in growing and strengthening your own muscles that’s fine. It’s certainly good for weight lifters, but not necessarily good for endurance athletes.
Technically, red meat is extremely high in proteins, which is the part you want when eating healthy. However, depending upon the cut of meat and how it’s prepared it can also include a moderate-to-high level of animal fat content. Even the leanest of red meats contain some level of fat.
Fats are good for endurance athletes only when in the presence of carbohydrates or they become counter-productive. This is because fats are only oxidized in the presence of carbohydrates, the excess of which is stored in the body for later use – and that’s where it gets tricky. Hypothetically speaking, just how much is really too much? The magic answer in this case is: less is always better than more.
Athletes strive to maintain a lean body mass of between 95 and 97%. Any excess fat gets stored in the body, not only loading us down, but when accumulated in the gaps of our muscles it can change the way our muscles operate – and that can lead to injuries in a finely tuned athlete.
So without red meat where does the protein come from? Chances are, the Citizen was switched over to either leaner chicken or turkey meat. Chicken and turkey is typically 0.5g of fat, and 7g of protein for every ounce of meat. In comparison, a lean top sirloin is roughly 1.7g of fat and the same 7g of protein for the same portion – more than three times the fat.
Last Week: Taking a walk – the perfect low-impact exercise.
Next Week: Five ways to prepare for marathon training.