Judith Haudum

Too Many Vegetables - Is that even possible?

While we all know that we should avoid processed foods and adjust carbohydrate intake to training demands, many believe that you can eat as many vegetables and fruits as you want. And it has no consequences. Well... you can. Or maybe not.

I only eat fruits and vegetables, but my weight doesn't go down.

A misconception is that you can't eat too much fruit or vegetables. That's not always correct, and here's why:

Firstly, it all depends on the preparation. If you prepare the salad with a generous amount of high-fat dressing or a lot of cheese, you consume more calories quickly than with a balanced meal with carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables.

Secondly, not all fruits and vegetables are practically calorie-free; some (e.g., starchy vegetables) can significantly contribute to the carbohydrate portion. On days without training, they are a good alternative to the 'classic carbohydrate sources.' Corn and peas would be examples. And then there are fruit varieties that can also significantly increase calorie intake, such as dried fruit (especially if sweetened) and bananas.

But the bigger problem lies in the fact that many athletes believe they can meet their increased calorie and carbohydrate needs with large portions of vegetables and fruits.

Extremely low energy intake

When athletes build their meals around vegetables and are going through an intensive training phase, the energy intake does not match the expenditure. In some cases, athletes not only fail to meet their energy needs, but their intake falls below a threshold, ultimately leading to health consequences, especially if this deficit is repeated over an extended period. This type of low intake is also referred to as low energy availability. (Image: Mountjoy et al)

Many athletes want and need to lose weight to reach their competition weight. Some switch to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which can have long-term negative effects on health. It can also impact performance. Why? Inadequate carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake lead to low energy availability and, consequently, deficiencies. This results in insufficient substrate availability, slow recovery, reduced training adaptation, and ultimately poor health. (Image: Mountjoy et al)

However, it is also important to note that some athletes unknowingly slide into this energy deficit. Some underestimate their energy needs or overestimate their portions, while others do not know their energy needs. For this reason, proper nutrition support is crucial for athletes. Nutritional counseling helps prevent this issue. For athletes, it is important to have a balanced diet that is nutrient-rich and provides sufficient energy through carbohydrates, fat, and protein. These macronutrients don't make us fat; they make us stronger.

Further Reading

Mountjoy et al (2014) IOC consensus statement: Beyond the female athlete triad - Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-093502

Mountjoy et al (2018) IOC consensus statement on relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S): 2018 update. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099193

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