The alliance between diet and health is well recognized, however, it is frequently difficult to establish a causal relationship between a particular dietary component and a specific health endpoint. This is of special interest particularly for environmental pollutants, as most of them reach humans through the food chain. In recent years, a number of studies have determined the occurrence of various chemical contaminants of notable concern in foodstuffs, while the human health risks for general populations through the dietary intake of these pollutants have been also assessed.
Athletes, and in general, sportsmen and sportswomen have been detected as population groups with specific nutritional requirements, and markedly different diets. Also, a significant proportion of athletes attempt change their weight in order to enhance their competitive success, or may be also interested simply in weight loss for appearance, or due to health reasons
In a recent study, published in the December issue of Food and Chemical Toxicology, food consumption by sportsmen/women of meat, dairy products, cereals and pulses was found higher than that of the general population. These food groups, with the exception of pulses, showed comparatively higher concentrations of the analyzed pollutants. In contrast, food groups like fish and oils/fats, which showed also important levels of contaminants, are less consumed by sportsmen/women than by subjects of the general population. The dietary intake of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, and other pollutants by elite sportsmen and sportswomen of Catalonia, Spain, was assessed, and was found higher than the general population.
The results of this study indicate that the consumption of those food groups (dairy products and cereals) showing the highest contribution to the intake of these pollutants should be diminished. The calorie requirements might be replaced, at least in part, by a higher consumption of products such as potatoes and pulses, whose contribution to the total dietary intake of environmental pollutants is notably lower. This would be also of especial relevance for diets relatively higher in fat, which have been shown to be beneficial for exercise in which energy expenditure is high, while time for recovery is limited. Anyhow, exercise is associated with improved health and not with chronic ill health other than sports related injuries.
The recommendations of this study are focused on the potential improvement of the beneficial effects of exercise.