We interviewed Victòria Pons Sala Ph.D. a specialist in Sports Medicine, a doctor in Human Nutrition and head of the Department of Physiology and Nutrition CAR. Pons has been one of the speakers at the third edition of theSC Trade Center Talks, the series of the SC Trade conferences, with the theme “Women in Sport: Health”.
People are practicing more and more sports compared to the last five or ten years. There is a boom of cyclists, runners, paddle players… What nutritional recommendation do you want to share?
Making such a general nutritional recommendation is a bit complicated but in some way we just need to see how much training is done. People, who go to the gym three times a week do not need to change their diet, however they cannot skip lunch to do sports. This turns complicated when there are people who do more intensive activities and cover many kilometers a week, then they would have to increase this ingest a little bit. We must learn to eat well, to eat the three food groups at all meals: vegetables, carbohydrates and proteins, to have basic micronutrient coverage. For instance, if I lose weight because I have trained or run one more day this week, I must increase the amounts a little bit and ideally distributed among the different groups.
In general, do people eat well?
If we had to do a kind of x-ray of society in general, without taking athletes into account, we may say that mostly of them eat healthy. However, if we talk about athletes we work with, our task is to teach them eating correctly and amending their deficiencies. It is also true that the more rushed lifestyle we have in cities with these long tiring hours, the less time we have to take care of food. In childhood and school years many children have lunch at school, but with the right attitude and interest of their parents, they may rectify the lack of food groups during dinner time. It is a matter of interest and care. There is not much awareness in eating habits, but my task is, among other things, to teach how to eat healthy and to cover the most important needs we have.
What do you think about this type of initiatives such as the SC Trade Center Talks?
I find it very interesting because on many occasions it is dealing with topics that in the end are informative and formative. Concerning of women and sport, many times there are circumstances that have normalized living with an upset situation while training. In fact how they react with one type of training to another, what happens to them throughout their menstrual cycle in relation to how they achieve their training goals, and so on. It is important to know them, but above all to deal with them.
What do you think of the SC Trade Center facilities?
Very cool, I have not been there before, but I think they are comfortable, spacious and well prepared to host events.
Is nutrition everything in sport?
No, sport is everything: training planning, training, nutrition and health recovery. I would say that they go together and even more so for an elite athlete.
What is the role of nutrition?
Performance is multifactorial. You need to eat well because you have to get back energy reserves, because you need micronutrients that you will consume every day, therefore the lack of them will make you feel tired and you will not recover optimally. Nutrition is one more ingredient, but to prepare the muscular strength you need for the sport that concerns, in other words to train what corresponds. Basically, to avoid overloading the metabolic pathway. It is also important the physiological adaptation you have, to control training, such as oxygen consumption, performance and lactate you accumulate. So, training is multidisciplinary and nutrition is important.
What is the nutrition that CAR athletes should have? Is there a standard nutrition? Is it divided by discipline?
At CAR we have a fantastic food offer. Athletes have three first courses and three second courses to choose from and a great variety of fruits, dairy products and then an elaborate dessert. At the same time there is a buffet with 18 ingredients so that everyone can find what they need. The task of the nutrition department is to teach them to choose from all these foods. In the dining room there will be a rhythmic gymnast who will eat very little or a girl who will have to take care of her body composition and will find that there will be a risotto, but also a pasta, a little elaborated rice or a legume and she can mix it with vegetables to adjust the portion. What concerns us most is that they have a very varied offer that allows them to learn to choose, especially when the Olympics are approaching or when they come back from hard competitions.
Does the diet change at those times or is it exactly the same?
The diet of an athlete always changes, but it does not depend so much on the competition. Imagine a swimmer who is in his volume stage and who can be swimming 75 kilometers a week and, on the other hand, arrives at the competition and, given that he does more specific intensities, at best swims 45 kilometers. He cannot eat in equal amounts. Then fair rations must be made. If there is a period in which you introduce more muscular strength work, then you will probably use some supplement to improve the hypertrophy response and surely, if you work more strength, it will be to the detriment of, perhaps, more cardiovascular or aerobic work. Everything is combined. So, an athlete’s nutrition is absolutely living. It is always conditioned by the training planning.
Should women have a different diet than men?
Women by their nature must take care of moments of fragility with certain nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium. Men also suffer stress fractures and also have deficits, but somehow and according to their hormonal behavior, women can have more fragile moments. What really conditions the most is the sport modality you need and then the specific moments in which you may have some physiological problem. Specifically, a woman who is very thin and who has a cyclic sport with repeated microtrauma, happens to have a low vitamin D, a low calcium intake and menstrual period is paused, so she will have a more dangerous scenario in her mineralogical content. In this aspect, these are situations that should be taken care of, but it could also happen with a guy with similar conditions.
From your point of view, being in charge of nutrition at CAR, what do athletes value the most?
We expect they learn to choose what they get; we guarantee the results. For instance, in some people what we do is to record their food for a week, analyze the energy and composition of the diet and then together with them, we see the lack of nutrients they have and guide them on what food sources they need to find. All this kind of work is done at CAR. What I value is that there is an adequate energy as well as the ability to combine all the micronutrients. Basically, there is a topic to learn and a considerable help is given. We usually work every second on their knowledge with groups or individual sessions. There are people who eat very well and others do not.