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Nutrition and Performance in Sport

Christophe Hausswirth

Chapter 3. Nutrition and lifestyle

Topic 11. A Balanced Diet

Eve Tiollier, Christophe Hausswirth, Véronique Rousseau, Amélie Fosse, Axel Heulin, Yann Le Meur et École Lenôtre

Texte intégral

Questions and answers

Key points
A balanced diet is defined as meeting the qualitative and quantitative requirements for the body’s maintenance, development and activity.
The nutritional requirements for people who practise a moderate activity do not differ from those of the equivalent sector of the general population (same age, same gender). In contrast, regular intense physical activity requires food intake to be adapted, especially for micronutrients.
The balanced diet recommended for an athlete is the same as the diet recommended for a non-athlete in terms of consumption indicators. In most cases, this covers macronutrient and micronutrient requirements.

What is a balanced diet?

1A balanced diet results when the qualitative and quantitative requirements for the body’s maintenance, development and activity are met by food. No single food contains all the necessary nutrients; it is thus necessary to eat a wide range of foods.

2We are commonly encouraged to eat “a bit of everything”. However, this recommendation is not only too imprecise to be useful, but is also inaccurate, because even though it is true that no food is forbidden, there is an appropriate amount for each type of food.

3Since we do not eat nutrients, but food, recommendations should be formulated in terms of food. Most of the models used to illustrate a balanced diet are based on the notion of food groups: fruit and vegetables; dairy products; the meat, seafood and eggs group; fats; sweets; and drinks. Quantitative recommendations are given in numbers of portions of each food group that should be consumed every day.

4To facilitate understanding, these recommendations can be associated with a graphical representation, which varies according to the geographical area (e.g. it has the shape of a pagoda in Asia, of a plate in England, of a pyramid in the USA). In France, the food pyramid model was adopted in the 1990s. This concept makes it easier to visualize the recommended daily intake in a simple and easily retained image. The food pyramid provides both qualitative (food group) and quantitative (number of portions per food group) information. In addition, each food group is represented by a colour, which reinforces the teaching aspect of this model.

5More recently, within the context of the “Nutrition and Health” national programme (the most extensive French campaign relating to food, which took place from 2001 to 2010), the notion of “consumption indicators” was adopted. These indicators rely on the same concept as the food pyramid, i.e. by recommending a number of portions for each food group, but without the graphic representation.

Do athletes have specific nutritional requirements?

6To answer this question it is necessary to distinguish between the various nutritional requirements, in terms of energy, water, macronutrient and micronutrient requirements.

7Obviously, practising a physical activity increases the energy requirements in line with the amount of energy expended during exercise. These energy requirements depend on the frequency of training sessions, their intensity and length. Therefore, energy expenditure varies greatly from one athlete to another and, for the same athlete, between the different training phases.

8Practising a physical activity can lead to significant water loss, mainly due to sweating. This loss is generally in the 1 to 2 l.h−1 range, but it can be double that as it is extremely variable and depends on various factors, including weather conditions, duration of exercise, individual adaptations and level of training. Given the deleterious effects of dehydration on performance and, especially, the risk of serious accidents (e.g. heat stroke), this must be compensated for by supplementary water intake.

9In terms of macronutrients and micronutrients, the level of practice must be taken into account. Thus, practising a physical activity one to three times per week does not appear to increase the nutritional requirements; these will be covered by a diet adhering to the recommendations established for the equivalent sector of the general French population (same age, same gender) – provided the energy expenditure is covered. However, athletes who practise an intense activity (between one and three hours a day) four to five times a week have different nutritional requirements. Thus, more precise recommendations have been made for carbohydrates and proteins, expressed according to body weight, and according to energy expenditure for micronutrients.

Is a balanced diet for an athlete different from that for a non-athlete?

10There is no specific model of a balanced diet for athletes. Nevertheless, the balanced diet expressed in consumption indicators (number of portions recommended for each food group) represents the ideal model for any diet and is thus also valid for athletes, whatever their discipline.

11This model is general enough for each individual to adapt it according to their own energy expenditure, tastes, culture, social and family constraints.

12The two parameters making the model highly adaptable are, first, the portion size (which takes into account each individual’s energy expenditure, according to gender, age, physical activity and genetic factors) and, second, the choice of food in a food group (the model can be adapted to the individual aspects of food behaviour, in line with preferences, culture, social and family constraints).

13The athlete can also adapt their food intake to meet the needs corresponding to their level of physical activity by consuming food during exercise (hydration and carbohydrate intake during exercise) or just after (recovery snack). This specificity of the athlete’s diet does not appear in the consumption indicators and is an additional recommendation specific to this population.

Should diet be adapted before a competition?

14The diet need not vary much before a competition. Nevertheless, a few adaptations might be recommended, especially when selecting which foods to eat in a food group (easily digestible food should be favoured). It can also be useful to slightly increase the proportion of starchy foods.

15However, when the athlete wishes to optimize their glycogen stores to aid performance in a long event (greater than one and a half hours), this balance is particularly modified over the 48 h preceding the event, both quantitatively (the athlete must eat large amounts of carbohydrate) and qualitatively (low-fibre foods, rich in rapidly assimilated carbohydrates should be selected) [see Fact sheet No. 3 Competition, p. 258].

Are proteins particularly important for athletes?

16Even though it has been shown that taking part in intense physical exercise (1 to 3 h.d−1, four to five times per week) increases protein requirements, we must distinguish between different types of exercise. Thus, the protein requirements for endurance athletes go from 1.2 to 1.4−1 of body weight per day, whereas the requirements of professional athletes in strength sports go from 1.3 to 1.5−1.d−1). These requirements correspond to the amount of proteins necessary, on the one hand, to ensure protein synthesis linked to growth phenomena, tissue repair, increase in muscle mass and enzyme synthesis and, on the other hand, to balance oxidation of amino acids (protein components) when they are used as energy substrates. However, it is important to note that the use of amino acids as energy substrates during exercise is closely linked to several factors: concomitant carbohydrate consumption, dehydration and duration of exercise. In favourable conditions, amino acids only contribute 8 to 10% of the total energy consumed.

17Unlike carbohydrates or lipids, proteins cannot be stored in the body. Consequently, when they are needed, they will be obtained from structural or functional proteins.

18Because athletes’ protein requirements are so much higher than those of non-athletes (0.8−1.d−1), it is easy to understand why protein intake is so important for athletes.

What are the best sources of protein?

19Proteins are made up of unitary elements called amino acids, of which there are 20 in total. Among these, eight are “essential” because they cannot be synthesized in the body. The quality of a protein source is therefore determined based on its capacity to cover the body’s requirements in these eight essential amino acids.

20The main food sources of proteins are products of animal origin: meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products. The proteins from these foods are very high quality, as their composition in essential amino acids is close to the body’s requirements.

21Some vegetables also contain proteins: cereals (wheat, rice, etc.) and pulses (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.). However, the quality of these proteins is not as high because they all lack one of the essential amino acids. However, if cereals and legumes are consumed together, or if one of the two is combined with a source of animal proteins, the meal provides high quality proteins.

To what extent are the athlete’s carbohydrate requirement increased?

22Carbohydrates are necessary in the athlete’s diet as macronutrients represent the main substrates used during intense exercise lasting between a few seconds and a few hours. However, the latest data with regard to athletes’ carbohydrate requirements indicate quite variable amounts depending on the level of practice:

  • between 3 and 5−1.d−1 for light training or technical training;

  • between 5 and 7−1.d−1 for moderate training (1 hour per day);

  • between 6 and 10−1.d−1 for intense endurance training (1 to 3 hours per day);

  • between 8 and 12−1.d−1 for daily training exceeding 4 or 5 hours and in disciplines requiring large amounts of energy.

23Fewer data are available with regard to carbohydrate requirements in strength sports; nevertheless, recently published figures indicate a recommended intake range between 4 and 7−1.d−1, depending on training phases.

24It is not easy to directly compare these requirements to those of non-athletes, because the recommended carbohydrate intake for non-athletes is expressed as a percentage of their total energy intake (TEI) rather than in−1.d−1. However, based on the total recommended energy intake for an inactive person, we can estimate the non-athlete’s carbohydrate requirements (50 to 55% of TEI) at about 4−1.d−1. This figure, which is much lower than the carbohydrate requirements of a trained athlete, highlights the importance of carbohydrates in the diet of high-level athletes.

Because of their high carbohydrate requirements, can athletes eat a lot of sweets?

25The main food sources of carbohydrate are starchy foods (pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, etc.), fruit, sweetened dairy products and sweets (sweet drinks, candies, chocolate bars, sweets, ice creams, jam, etc.).

26All public health studies agree that carbohydrate requirements should mainly be covered by foods with a low glycaemic index. The glycaemic index reflects how extensively glycaemia (the blood sugar level) varies after eating a type of food. Therefore, foods with a low glycaemic index induce a very slight and progressive increase in glycaemia. On the contrary, foods with a high glycaemic index induce a rapid and significant increase in blood sugar. Very schematically, the glycaemic index corresponds to the old idea of opposition between “complex sugars” and “simple sugars”, except that these notions were, wrongly, based on the nature of the carbohydrate (complex carbohydrates = complex sugars; simple carbohydrates = simple sugars). Inversely, the glycaemic index reveals that breads like baguette, although composed of starch (complex sugar), result in a very rapid and significant increase in glycaemia (thus, they have a high glycaemic index), whereas a simple sugar such as fructose is assimilated much more slowly than pasta or rice. The glycaemic index was therefore developed to better reflect reality.

27The glycaemic index depends, firstly, on the characteristics of the food (amount of carbohydrates, starch digestibility, presence of proteins, lipids or fibres, etc.), but also on other factors such as, for example, the duration of cooking (longer cooking increases the glycaemic index). In addition, whether the food is consumed alone or as part of a meal plays an essential role. Indeed, the presence of fibres, proteins or lipids in the meal contributes to decreasing the glycaemic indexes compared to those measured for foods eaten separately. This principle reinforces the advantage of having complete meals and avoiding eating between meals.

28Foods which have a low to moderate glycaemic index include cereal products (pasta, wholemeal bread, couscous, brown rice or wholegrain rice), cereals like muesli, fruit and pulses (chickpeas, lentils, navy or kidney beans).

29Foods with a high glycaemic index include honey, jam, sweets, sweet drinks and sweet cereals (generally marketed for children). Some starches also have a high glycaemic index; particularly (well cooked) white rice, dehydrated potato flakes and breads like baguette. Wholegrain bread or sour-dough bread have a lower glycaemic index.

30However, although the beneficial effects of consuming food with a low glycaemic index are often extolled, it is important to remember that food with a high glycaemic index has a real interest for the athlete in the context of exercise. How the glycaemic index can be used to favour energy storage in the hours preceding an event has not yet been determined, but it is an accepted fact that consuming carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index during exercise optimizes the oxidation of endogenous glucose. In addition, consuming food with a high glycaemic index during the early phase of recovery promotes better glycogen replenishment (in both the muscle and liver) than food with a low glycaemic index.

31To sum up, the athlete should mostly consume carbohydrate derived from, preferably unrefined, cereals (pasta, couscous, brown rice or wholegrain bread), fruit and pulses (depending on digestive tolerance), and keep sweet products for use during exercise (energy drink) and during the early recovery phase (sweetened dairy products, energy bars or sweet drinks).

What role do lipids play in the athlete’s diet?

32Athletes often have a negative image of lipids (that is to say fats) and think they hinder performance. Nevertheless, this nutrient has an essential place in the athlete’s diet for several reasons.

33First of all, lipids, just like carbohydrates, are a source of energy, but they can be stored in greater quantities. In theory, one could run for more than 120 hours before these stores are completely depleted! Beyond this well-known role as energy substrate, lipids also play a major structural role: they are part of the composition of cell membranes, influencing their characteristics, particularly fluidity, deformability, and how other components integrated into the membranes (carriers, enzymes and receptors) function. Some fatty acids (unitary fat elements) are also precursors of essential factors involved in controlling biological processes such as inflammation, immunity or coagulation.

34The importance of fats in food is such that the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for lipids has recently been increased. The recommendations established in 2001 indicated that lipids should represent between 30 and 35% of the total energy intake (TEI); the revised recommendations (from 2010) recommend an intake corresponding to between 35 and 40%. These percentages are, of course, for the general population, and not specific for athletes. However, there are no indications that athletes need to increase their lipid ration, despite greater energy expenditure. Thus, lipids should represent at least between 25 and 30% of the TEI for athletes, as these specific recommendations have not been updated recently.

35This triple role of lipids – energetic, structural and functional – and the need to cover requirements in essential fatty acids, gives lipids a major role and justifies a minimum recommended intake. In particular, athletes who excessively restrict their lipid intake must be informed of this. Food rations containing less than 25% lipids or providing less than 1 to 1.2−1.d−1 are really not recommended.

36Finally, beyond these quantitative aspects, it is essential to consider the qualitative aspect of lipids.

What are sources of good fats?

37As such, there are no good fats or bad fats. The term “lipids” refers to different families of fatty acids, which are the unitary entities of fats. The specific roles of these must be explained. Fat families are classified based on their biochemical structure –in particular how saturated the fatty acids are (determined based on how many double bonds they contain). The following families can be defined:

  • saturated fatty acids (no double bond),

  • monounsaturated fatty acids (one double bond),

  • polyunsaturated fatty acids (several double bonds); the location of the first double bonds determines the “omega-3” and “omega-6” subfamilies.

38Only two fatty acids are “essential”, because they cannot be synthesized in the body and must be provided through food. These are omega-3 (α-linoleic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid). A third fatty acid, DHA, was recently qualified as essential because it is not well synthesized in the body. DHA is a member of the omega-6 family, and is a major component in visual and cerebral structures, it is also essential to their function.

39There are no particular recommendations for athletes as regards the qualitative aspect of lipids. As a consequence, the recommendations for the general population also apply to athletes. Within the framework of the revised DRI, there are particular quantitative recommendations for essential fatty acids:

  • % of TEI, or 4.4 g.d−1, for linoleic acid;

  • % of TEI, or 1.8 g.d−1, for α-linoleic acid;

  • 250 mg.d−1 for DHA.

40In addition, it is recommended that the ratio between linoleic acid and α-linoleic acid be less than five. As regards nonessential fatty acids, only some of them are subject to recommendations. Among them, saturated fatty acids should be limited to 12% of the TEI (with a limit of 8% for a sub-group of saturated fatty acids, the excess of which favours cardiovascular diseases). With regard to these recommendations, three important ideas emerge:

  • for fats, the qualitative aspect is important,

  • some fatty acids (essential fatty acids) are necessary in the diet,

  • finally, some fatty acids (saturated fatty acids) should be limited, not because they are intrinsically harmful, but because their excessive consumption is.

41The food sources of essential fatty acids are:

  • α-linoleic acid (omega-3): rapeseed oil, walnut oil, walnut,

  • linoleic acid (omega-6): sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, etc.

  • DHA: fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout and halibut.

42Our traditional diet contains a lot of omega-6 (linoleic acid family), but it is more difficult to meet our omega-3 (α-linoleic acid family) requirements. Since the two families (omega-3 and omega-6) should be balanced, and because our diet contains an excess of omega-6, we must try to limit omega-6 intake and, on the contrary, increase omega-3 intake.

43Sources of saturated fatty acids (the excess of which must be avoided) include fatty meat, cheese, pastries, deli meats, butter and cream.

How important are vitamins and minerals in the athlete’s diet?

44It can seem trivial to say that the athlete’s nutritional requirements do not only involve the energy aspect, but we must underline the major implication of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements) in all the body’s main functions.

45B vitamins are highly implicated in energy metabolism, while some other vitamins and minerals are involved in protection against radical species, as free radical trappers (vitamin C, vitamin E, β-carotene) or as antiradical enzyme cofactors (zinc, copper, selenium and iron). Calcium and magnesium are involved in muscle contraction, and magnesium also plays a role in energy metabolism and nerve transmission. Chrome is necessary for carbohydrate metabolism, through its role as insulin cofactor, while iron plays a major role in oxygen transport. These few examples illustrate the omnipresence of micronutrients in all the mechanisms involved in performing physical exercise.

46This raises the question whether practising a physical activity increases micronutrient requirements. Theoretically, there are several arguments suggesting that it does: electrolytes are lost through sweating, there is an increased use of vitamins involved in energy metabolism, increased urine excretion due to exercise and increased free radical production.

47However, there is currently nothing to indicate that the athletes’ requirements in terms of minerals (sodium, potassium, chlorine, calcium and magnesium) and trace elements (zinc, copper, manganese, iron and chrome) are greater than those of the corresponding general population (same age, same gender). Nevertheless, significant sweating (especially during extended physical activity and in a hot atmosphere) could potentially increase requirements.

48Recommendations with regard to specific vitamin intake were given to athletes performing intense and repeated exercise, depending on the type of sport practised. In particular:

  • endurance athletes, who need increased levels of vitamins with a role in energy production (B1, B2, B3 and B6) and of antioxidant vitamins (C, E, β-carotene);

  • strength athletes, whose vitamin B6 and antioxidant vitamin requirements are increased.

49Finally, we must add that athletes who adopt a restrictive diet, especially those performing in aesthetic sports or sports with weight categories, are more likely to suffer from micronutrient deficiency. Therefore, they must be closely monitored.

Is it possible to cover micronutrient requirements with food?

50Micronutrient requirements should primarily be covered by food. This requires the inclusion of foods with a high nutritional density in the diet. Nutritional density refers to the micronutrient content of food, relative to its energy content. An indicator for nutritional density has recently been proposed: the SAIN score (a French notation system indicating how a certain food meets nutritional recommendations). This broadly lists 23 nutrients. For each nutrient, it represents the average percentage of requirements provided by 100 kcal of food. It thus indicates how well food covers micronutrient requirements. Based on SAIN values, the most interesting food groups in terms of coverage of micronutrient requirements are vegetables, seafood and fruit.

51The counterpart of the SAIN is the FTL (“food to limit”) score, an indicator of nutritional defects. This score estimates the average excess of three components (salt, saturated fatty acids and added simple sugars). Thus, while the SAIN score assesses food quality, the FTL score assesses its defects. Both have been recognized as particularly important to discriminating foods based on their contribution to overall dietary balance. Food can thus be divided into the following four categories:

  • class 1 (most favourable profile): high qualities, low defects,

  • class 2: low quality, low defects,

  • class 3: high qualities, high defects,

  • class 4 (most unfavourable profile): low qualities, high defects.

52According to this classification, the foods likely to contribute the most to a balanced diet are fruit and vegetables, eggs, milk, low-fat and low-sugar dairy products, most seafood (fish and shellfish) and unrefined starchy foods. The least favourable are sweet and savoury snacks, sodas, some cheeses, most deli meat, fatty meats, high-sugar and high-fat dairy products.

53A study based on this classification shows that it is entirely possible to meet all the nutritional recommendations through a normal daily diet. However, this requires selection of foods with the most favourable profile (it is impossible to cover the recommendations when eating only food with the most unfavourable profile).

What is the role of “dietetically incorrect” food in a balanced diet?

54Dietetically incorrect food can be defined as foods rich in saturated fatty acids (fried food, pizzas, etc.), rich in simple sugars (sodas, sweets) and rich in both sugars and fats (chocolate bars, pastries, etc.). These foods have a high energy density, providing a high number of calories for a small ingested amount. The energy density is calculated as the calorie intake for 100 g of a given food. For instance, 100 g of fatty, savoury or sweet products (ice cream, sweets, croissants, pies, crackers, crisps, etc.) provides an average of about 340 kcal, whereas the average energy density of fruit and vegetables is only 34 kcal per 100 g, or ten times lower! Consuming food with a high energy density thus favours a high overall energy intake.

55Some studies have shown that the volume of food ingested is one of the major elements controlling intake. Thus, satiety is triggered when a certain volume (which the eater has learned to equate to adequate) has been consumed. In this context, it is logical to suppose that eating foods with a high energy density increases the risk of consuming excess calories. In addition, most of the time, foods with a high energy density have a low nutritional density (low micronutrient levels), and this is really not recommended for a balanced diet.

56Nevertheless, these foods are often consumed because they are a real source of pleasure. So, to what extent is the consumption of food from this category compatible with a balanced diet? The answer was given by a study using the two indicators mentioned above, SAIN and FTL. The results of this study show that it is possible to meet the nutritional recommendations, despite consuming food with the most unfavourable nutritional profile (low qualities and high defects), if at least two-thirds of the total food has the most favourable profile. In this study, food with the unfavourable profile represented up to 20% of the daily ration!

57As a consequence, “dietetically incorrect” food can be compatible with nutritional recommendations, provided foods with a favourable profile for a balanced diet (fruit and vegetables, eggs, milk, low-fat and low-sugar dairy products, seafood (fish and shellfish) make up the majority of total food. It seems more useful to encourage educating tastes, so that foods promoting better health also become a source of pleasure.

How should energy intake be divided throughout the day?

58Most studies investigating the different modes of energy distribution throughout the day were performed in a context of preventing obesity and excess weight. However, it is still possible to draw relevant conclusions for athletes. Indeed, it appears that the frequency of meals throughout the day influences the daily energy intake, control of appetite and biological parameters such as glycaemia and insulin. Thus, taking fewer than three meals a day perturbs appetite control and is associated with greater variations in the biological parameters involved in glycaemic control, a situation that is not recommended.

59When considering skipping a meal, breakfast is often selected. However, it turns out that although regularly eating breakfast increases the daily energy intake, this is never associated with excess weight. In a certain number of studies, this behaviour was even linked to a decrease in the risk of becoming excess weight! In the same field, a meta-analysis investigating the behaviour of teenagers at breakfast shows that 12 studies out of 16 found a link between not having breakfast and an increase in body mass index (which is an indicator of excess weight). However, this link was not systematic.

60It is now acknowledged that not eating breakfast results in a decrease in mental performance during the morning, especially in terms of short-term memory. It is thus reasonable to think that this behaviour also affects the athlete’s learning ability, especially in technical sports.

61In contrast to these results, recent data show a favourable effect of increasing the number of meals on appetite control and on the evolution of blood parameters (glycaemia and insulin). An Australian study involving 1273 men and 1502 women, aged 26 to 36, reveals that the number of individuals respecting the recommendations in terms of nutrients increases with the number of daily meals. In other words, individuals who divide up their food consumption most throughout the day (for a given total calorie intake) have a lower body mass index. Thus, individuals consuming between four and six meals a day were less subject to weight problems.

62Increasing the number of meals also appears to be an interesting strategy in a context of weight maintenance. Thus, a model with three meals and two snacks per day is presented as an efficient strategy to maintain weight on a long-term basis (more than five years) after significant weight loss.

63All of these data are thus in favour of distributing energy intake throughout the day as follows: three meals and two snacks a day.

64This model also turns out to be in keeping with the recommendations given to athletes, especially with regard to snacks. Having a snack during the early stages of recovery helps to optimize the replenishment of energy stores (see Fact sheet No. 1 Energy recovery, p. 235).

65By the same token, to optimize muscle synthesis in a context of muscle mass gain, it is recommended that each of the five to six meals taken per day provide about twenty grams of protein; snacks should preferably be eaten close to the time of training, ideally just after.

66With this model of three meals and two snacks per day, it is important that athletes consume their snack around the time of training, ideally during the early stages of recovery.

Is hydration part of a balanced diet?

67Water is the main constituent of the body, representing 60 to 70% of total body mass, with muscle containing 73% and adipose tissue 15%. Water also plays an essential role in the physiology of all the major bodily functions, and thus in all the mechanisms linked to performance. According to some seminal studies in the field of hydration, a water deficiency corresponding to a 2% loss in body mass reduces aerobic capacities by about 20%. Several studies in this field also show that dehydration – caused by heat, humidity and physical exercise – leads to an increase in perceived fatigue and reaction times in simple exercises, as well as the percentage of mistakes made, while also decreasing short-term memory capacity. Finally, dehydration has a real impact on specific movements and technical elements involved in some disciplines. For all these reasons, it is essential to maintain an optimal water status throughout the day, particularly during exercise (see Fact sheet No. 10 Hydration, p. 342).

Practical applications

68Every day, the athlete needs to learn how to appropriate and apply his individual water and food plans.

1. Drinking well

69For more information about hydration, see Fact sheet No. 10 Hydration, p. 342.


71The sensation of thirst is a bad indicator (body dehydration = reduction of 10% of physical capacities) So you need to drink before being thirsty!

72 Throughout the day, follow the following hydration plan:

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73 Objective: optimal hydration

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74 Additional recommendations

75 Drink a variety of types of water, because each type of water has different properties

76 "Eat water" in the form of fruit and vegetables

2. Reference daily intakes

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3. Fatty, salty and sweet foods, alcoholic drinks

77 Limit and or reduce the amount of fatty, salty and sweet foods you eat

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78 Limit or cut out alcoholic drinks (See Fact sheet No. 13 Effects of alcohol, p. 381)

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79 Example of frequency of intake for these foods, tolerated during training, but to be avoided before a competition

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80 Additional recommendations

81 Know how to identify fatty, salty and sweet food so that you can limit them

82 Avoid eating them all on the same day

83 Avoid eating fast food just before training and during the period before a competition

84 Learn how to balance the frequency of fatty, salty and sweet foods during the week

4. Examples of snacks and meals

Before exercise

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After exercise

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5. Health-food advice

85 Duration of a meal

86 A balanced meal should last at least 35 minutes

87 Eating slowly allows you to:

  • savour the taste of your food

  • better perceive satiety (disappearance of the feeling of hunger) which appears about 20 minutes after the start of the meal

  • facilitates digestion

88 Don’t forget that eating should always be a pleasure!

89 Duration of digestion

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90 Meals

91 In general, 3 meals and 1 or 2 snacks

92 Plan to have a snack if the time between two meals is greater than 4 or 5 hours

93 Never skip a meal. Skipping meals results in:

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6. Types of cooking to favour

94 To limit the losses in vitamins and minerals from vegetables during cooking and to avoid adding fat

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95 Other tricks to avoid losing vitamins and minerals from vegetables

96 Keep them in the fridge, in the vegetable compartment

97 Do not keep them for too long after buying them: eat them quickly

98 Wash them rapidly under cold water, do not let them soak in water

99 Avoid cutting them into small pieces

100 Sprinkle them with fresh lemon juice before cooking

101 Avoid cooking them in a lot of water, unless you are going to drink the cooking water

7. Seasonal fruit and vegetables

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Mediterranean penne and vegetable salad

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Photo credit: Thibaut Ruggeri.

102Serves 2

103Preparation time: 45 minutes

104Cooking time: 30 minutes

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106 150 g penne pasta

107 100 g chicken breast

108 1 tablespoon olive oil

109 10 g pesto *

110 5 g chopped parsley

111 5 g chopped basil

112 40 g marinated artichokes

113 40 g roasted yellow bell pepper **

114 40 g roasted red bell pepper **

115 60 g green asparagus (2 spears)

116 10 g red onion

117 20 g washed rocket salad

118 50 g roasted tomatoes

119 10 g black Taggiasca olives

120 5 g roasted pine nuts

121 10 g parmesan shavings

122 Salt, pepper, paprika

123 1 small handful of coarse salt

124Pesto (about 150 g)

125 2 bunches of basil

126 1 garlic clove

127 50 g pine nuts

128 50 g olive oil

129 25 g grated parmesan

130 Salt, pepper

131Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 11 to 12 minutes.

132Drain and set aside.

133Season the chicken breast with salt, pepper and paprika. Wrap it in clingwrap and steam for 10 minutes.

134Peel the aspargus, tie them in a bunch and cook in a saucepan of boiling salted water.

135Check if they are cooked with the point of a knife, cool them in ice water.

136Chop the roasted bell peppers and the red onion. Cut the chicken breast into thin slices.

137Slice the marinated artichokes.

138In a large bowl, mix the pasta with the chicken and pesto. Add the olive oil, olives, roasted peppers, red onion and roasted tomatoes. Add the chopped basil and parsley.

139Serve on plates decorated with rocket, pine nuts and parmesan shavings.

140* Pesto

141Blend the basil, garlic and pine nuts together. Add the olive oil.

142Add the grated parmesan, salt and pepper.

143** Roasted bell peppers

144Stick the thyme, rosemary and garlic into the bell peppers. Wrap them in foil and cook at 180 °C for 30 to 45 minutes.

145Allow to cool before peeling and deseeding.

146Marinate in olive oil.

147Chef’s note

148This pasta salad is rich in carbohydrates. This dish also contains proteins and covers half of the Dietary Reference Intake for vitamin C. Note: the lipid content can change drastically depending on the amount of pesto you add! To balance your diet, this dish is best served with a starter made from raw vegetables, and with a dairy product or some fruit for dessert.

149Nutritional analysis per person

Energy (Cal)

Carbs (g)



Lipids (g)

Protein (g)



Cherry delight

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Photo credit: Thibaut Ruggeri.

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150Serves 4

151Preparation time: 30 minutes

152Cooking time: 35 minutes

Difficulty: Image 100000000000002F0000001FA759C52D.jpg


154 60 g plain flour

155 250 ml semi-skimmed milk

156 2 eggs

157 100 g granulated sugar

158 10 g drop vanilla extract

159 1 g salt

160 250 g pitted cherries

161 5 g butter

162 Icing sugar (for decoration)

163Grease the tins with butter and sprinkle with sugar.

164Sift the flour.

165Beat the eggs with the salt, sugar and vanilla extract.

166Add the flour and milk.

167Put the cherries in the tins and pour over the batter. Bake in the oven at 160 °C for about 35 minutes. Allow to cool and dust with icing sugar.

168Chef’s note

169This dessert mainly provides carbohydrates. It it not lipid-rich, but it is a good source of protein (as much as a slice of ham). It can be served with a main dish containing a small amount of starch.

170Nutritional analysis per person

Energy (Cal)

Carbs (g)



Lipids (g)

Protein (g)




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