Evi van Ekris is doing the master ‘Nutrition and Health’, and chose the specialization ‘Nutritional Physiology’, which focuses inter alia on nutrition and sports. During her graduate research Evi looked at dietary recommendations for athletes, to develop a number of checkpoints for detecting nutritional problems in athletes in an early stage.
“I started at Wageningen University with the Bachelor Food Technology. It seemed very nice to use my creativity by developing new products. Halfway through the year I found my interest to be more with health and the human body, so I switched to the Bachelor Nutrition and Health. Fortunately this is relatively easy at Wageningen University.
After the Bachelor Nutrition and Health I continued with the Master Nutrition and Health, I chose the specialization ‘Nutritional Physiology’, which focuses on the combination of food and the optimal functioning of the human body."
"During my research I looked at the dietary recommendations for athletes, or athletes who pay attention to the recommendations and which athletes are at risk of inadequate nutrition and health problems. I combined this to a number of checkpoints that can be used to develop a screening tool, to detect nutritional problems in athletes. Such a screening tool exists for the elderly, but not for athletes yet, while sports physicians demand the use of it. I love sports myself, that’s why the subject spoke to me very much and I liked doing the research.
In summary, the main conclusion of my research is the intake of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats to be generally sufficient for athletes, provided that the total energy intake is adequate as well. Most athletes even have a better vitamin and mineral status, than those who do not exercise. Because athletes require more energy than non-athletes, they automatically consume more nutrients and thus can compensate their greater need for these substances.
The energy availability for athletes is especially important, this is the amount of energy from food left for important body functions in the body, after the consumed energy during exercise is subtracted by the energy intake. Is the energy availability too low, an athlete will develop health problems at some point. An athlete will often develop weak bones, and for women the menstruation can stop sometimes.
Athletes who are at higher risk of nutritional deficiencies are the ones who eat unhealthy or restrict their energy intake, for example as a low body weight is very important for their sport, if they want to lose weight, or because they have an eating disorder. However, some athletes are not even aware of their too low energy intake! Athletes who leave out a food group from their diet, such as vegetarians, are also at increased risk for nutritional deficiencies, if they do not compensate with other products.
Deficits not only play a role by athletes, some athletes use too much nutrition supplements, creating surpluses of nutrients, which can result in an adverse health effect. For example, my research showed man who do endurance sports often have an iron overload.”