Fueling Up on Food for Fitness

WebMD Live Events Transcript

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome, Dr. Benardot. It's evening there in Greece. What did the marathon runners have for dinner tonight?

BENARDOT:
The marathon runners have not eaten yet. They'll have dinner probably around 8 o'clock in the evening, an hour from now.

They go out for an evening run about 6:00, then come back, shower, and go to dinner. When they have dinner; dinner is as different for each marathoner as it is as for individuals. In general, there's a focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, some lean meat, some good, whole-grain bread (the Greek bread here is phenomenal), and lots of fluids.

MODERATOR:
Are there any big "no-no's" for the runners, diet-wise?

BENARDOT:
These are very excellent, talented, experienced runners, and one of the reasons for their success is they've learned what the no-no's are. In general they are shying away from foods high in fat and focusing on foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, and that's exactly what they should be doing.

MODERATOR:
So no Atkins adherents there, I guess!

BENARDOT:
There is no Atkins adherence; there's no reason for it. I can't think of a single study that shows that endurance athletes would do better consuming an Atkins diet, which is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do you think about wine and other spirits as part of an athlete's diet? Does wine rally aid in digestion as the ancient Greek athletes insisted, or is that just a good excuse to drink up?

BENARDOT:
That's really an excellent question, especially given where we are. There's a tremendous individual variation in alcohol tolerance, but in general, the closer we come to an important competition the more important it is for athletes to shy away from alcohol of any kind. They're young active people with no digestive difficulties that would be aided with the consumption with wine, and we know that alcohol may detract from performance, so we encourage them to eliminate all alcohol.

In fact, this encouragement is hardly necessary for this group of athletes. They're true professionals and they know what's best, including alcohol avoidance.

MODERATOR:
Of course, another food associated with that part of the world is olive oil. Can you talk about the role of oils in a good diet, and how olive oil differs from others like canola?

BENARDOT:
Olive oil and canola oil are both very high in oleic fatty acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid. It's also very high in antioxidants; particularly vitamin E. Our athletes are now consuming about 20% to 25% total calories from fat. Olive oil is an excellent choice for contributing to that level of fat.

The island of Crete, where we are staying by the way, has truly excellent local olive oil, and this resort harvests its own olives to make its own olive oil. The athletes have been enjoying this olive oil a lot on their fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh salads.

"Protein is an area of common concern for athletes. Studies generally show that the protein requirement per unit of body weight for athletes can be twice as much as for nonathletes."


MEMBER QUESTION:
What is the difference between what the marathoners eat and what the sprinters or short-distance runners eat?

BENARDOT:
That's an excellent question. The higher the intensity of exercise the greater the reliance on carbohydrates for muscular work. But also, the sprinters are much more muscular and bigger than are the marathoners, so they require a far higher total intake of calories to support that mass. The major difference between the more power athletes, such as sprinters, and the more endurance athletes, such as marathoners, is total calories. The type of diet they consume that is the distribution of carbs, protein, and fat, is in fact very similar, again, with a focus on complex carbohydrates, relatively low fat, and moderate protein.

There's good evidence that per unit of body weight endurance athletes need more protein than power athletes, but in fact the amount of protein that both groups of athletes consume is probably more than they need to support their muscle mass.