Getting it right

What does good nutrition advice for adolescent athletes look like? Maybe like this:

This is one of several charts in ‘Nutrition for Swimming‘, an article in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, written by a team of researchers from the UK, Norway, and Australia. This table acknowledges the different levels of exertion and varied demands of training. It then matches nutritional advice to those demands, with an emphasis on performance.

Or like this.

This powerpoint, from a physician at UCLA responsible for improving the performance of the university’s athletes, acknowledges the individual nature of nutritional needs, and the importance of goals in establishing eating patterns. Also, this presentation flags UNDEREATING as the main nutritional concern for athletes.

And this is pretty good.

This table – from the consensus statement released by the American College of Sports Medicine along with the main dietitians’ associations in the US and Canada – does something novel. It recognizes that evidence in nutritional research is evolving, and some evidence is better than other evidence. They rate their confidence in the evidence and then explain why it matters.

Simply put, good nutritional advice for teenage endurance athletes in general, and swimmers in particular, has the following characteristics:

  • Athletic goals drive the nutritional advice.
  • Guidance is specific to the athletes. Nutritional concerns that relate primarily to people in middle-age and later are not raised.
  • The difficulty of consuming enough food is acknowledged.
  • As such, nutritional guidelines for consumption of macronutrients and calories are mostly expressed as minimums, not maximums.
  • The threat to the athlete’s health that comes from undereating is emphasized repeatedly.
  • The threat to the athlete’s performance that comes from undereating is emphasized repeatedly.
  • The dangers of fat restriction (or restriction of any macronutrient) are emphasized repeatedly.
  • None of the macronutrients are demonized or discussed in a manner that suggests they are toxic or dangerous.
  • The different nutritional needs of men and women are discussed.
  • The seemingly extreme diets (in terms of quantity consumed) of elite athletes are openly discussed. These nutritional approaches are not disparaged or dismissed as unhealthy.
  • The evidence for nutritional recommendations is candidly evaluated. Where the evidence is truly inconclusive, recommendations are not offered.
  • The advice is kept as simple as possible, but not simpler than that.

I mean, is that so hard?