THE ICING ON THE CAKE VOL. II Interview with Dr Chiara Veronese Biologist Nutritionist, expert in sports nutrition


Interview with Dr Chiara Veronese Biologist Nutritionist, expert in sports nutrition

The nightmare of every endurance enthusiast… Protein catabolism, although a normal biological process in the body, for those who do sports, especially endurance sports, can become the cause of various problems and disorders that affect not only performance but also overall health.

The tool with which to act positively to prevent the onset of the phenomenon, or to manage it if it has already occurred, is nutrition: so let’s have a chat with our expert to better understand what we are talking about and to secure some useful advice to avoid it!

NBS: Hi Chiara, welcome back! Would you like to explain what catabolism is and what its antithesis, anabolism, is?

CHIARA: Good morning everyone, and thanks for the welcome! It’s important to understand that catabolism and anabolism are two physiological processes. In catabolism, large molecules are broken down into small ones, giving the body energy, while in anabolism, smaller molecules are transformed into larger ones, such as glucose, fatty acids and proteins. In short, we could say that catabolism gives the body energy and anabolism steals it.

However, catabolism is often given a negative connotation, referring more specifically to protein catabolism. Those who do endurance, ultra trail etc. use two energy substrates, carbohydrates and fatty acids. When performing a long duration activity, carbohydrates are left aside and fatty acids come into play, if the athlete does not have a diet rich enough in these elements, If the athlete does not have a diet rich enough in these elements, or, as is often the case, has a body composition with little fat mass (great marathon runners have 4/5%), these conditions can lead to a lack of energy substrate to use, so the body is forced to take energy from protein catabolism.

It is estimated that only 6% of total energy can be taken from protein and this is not the preferred route for the body to take: if this happens, we should be on our guard because we risk reducing muscle with a whole series of very negative metabolic effects.

NBS: Let’s get a few things straight, cardio and weight training: when do either trigger protein catabolism processes and why?

CHIARA: Cardio training, especially if it’s long, has the effect of making the body produce cortisol, but the problem isn’t the cortisol itself but an unbalanced relationship with testosterone. Weight training also causes the body to produce testosterone, so it is difficult for the ratio to become unbalanced and as long as the ratio is good there is no problem.

Incidentally, one of the reasons for high cortisol values in the blood is hypoglycaemia, so an athlete who eats little, low in carbohydrates and fats, and who does not produce testosterone introduces himself to protein catabolism as a metabolic pathway for glycogen synthesis.

The symptoms of protein catabolism are tiredness, fatigue and even a form of depression and loss of motivation… we can’t do what we were doing the day before, in terms of both performance and duration.

NBS: If you realise you have developed symptoms of protein catabolism, what should you do?

CHIARA: reconsider your diet, starting from the premise that it’s not a protein diet that we need, it’s not proteins that are the basis of a sportsman’s metabolism but carbohydrates and fatty acids. It’s difficult to do this on your own, of course, and I always recommend consulting a professional whose job it is to educate the sportsman or woman on the right diet. For example, one of the mistakes most people make is training on an empty stomach in the morning: this was a practice adopted by marathon runners to adapt the body to take energy from fatty acids, but I always advise against it! We have to put fuel in our bodies to make sure the journey is safe and long!

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