The truth of the Giro d’Italia is in the cyclists’ guts, and in the potatoes | Sports

Dainese, in black, on the left, a pedal stroke before winning the Caorle sprint against Milan, the giant in purple, on the right.
Dainese, in black, on the left, a pedal stroke before winning the Caorle sprint against Milan, the giant in purple, on the right.Massimo Paolone/LaPresse (LAPRESSE)

With his victory on Monte Bondone, on Tuesday, João Almeida amazes the same Italian journalists who he horrifies minutes later when, during the press conference, in front of everyone, he grabs a thick ketchup sachet and sprinkles it generously, with the illusion of a child, a white rice and chopped tortilla box that he begins to devour with great appetite. “I hope my nutritionist doesn’t find out,” the Portuguese joked, winking falsely mischievously, because he knows that his nutritionist, like those of all the teams, know perfectly well what the runners eat, the amount per milligram, and the content, carbohydrates, a lot. ; proteins, not few; minimal fat And gastronomy does not enter into the calculations of most specialists, nor does variety. In any case, the most up-to-date in the science of nutrition and performance, may even tell you to add some boiled potatoes or a sweet potato to the concoction, that the starch, and the fiber it generates, is cool.

The researcher Manuel Fernández Sanjurjo, from the Department of Functional Biology of the University of Oviedo, has come to this conclusion, to that of the beneficial effect of the consumption of tubers, complex carbohydrates and fiber, on the performance of cyclists, who in the Vuelta In Spain in 2016, he conducted an investigation based on the analysis of several days of the feces of 16 runners, eight from Astana and eight from Mitchelton, to verify the composition of their microbiota, mainly due to diet.

The cyclist is heart, lungs and muscle, and the guts are the mirror of his engine. In the entire digestive system, but especially in the large intestine, and more in the colon, live a kilo and a half, more or less, of live microorganisms, some 40 trillion bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea. Its composition and variety modulate key aspects of health and disease, such as metabolism or the immune system. And it is believed that it influences many more aspects. A revealing saying circulates in the scientific community about the weight of such a population: we know more about space than about the microbiota.

“The relationship of the microbiota with performance is total,” says Fernández Sanjurjo, a doctor in molecular biology. “In 2018, researcher Jonathan Scheiman, from Harvard University, published in Nature Lactate, a residue from muscle combustion, also passes the intestinal barrier and is eaten by Veillonella bacteria, which convert it into butyrate, a short-chain acid that improves muscle metabolism. They rectally introduced butyrate into some mice, and they increased their resistance. The publication was like, wow, we have reached a before and after in this, a turning point in the relationship between performance and microbiota, because it is real”.

The analysis of the microbiota in the 2019 Vuelta allowed Fernández Sanjurjo to marvel because he obtained a result that he did not expect, the almost perfect translation between the state of the runners’ microbiota, its variety, a reflection of the variety of the diet they had followed the preceding weeks, and the final result. “When the statistician sent us the final image of the study made with the data we sent him, he told us, look, there is an almost perfect relationship between the microbiota and the general classification. I didn’t expect it,” he says. “Depending on which microbiota you arrive at a competition with, you will perform like this. And the best was that of those who included potatoes or other tubers in their diet. All these bacteria are very relevant to predict performance”.

Molecular biologist Blanca Bermejo, from the Rx2 sports medicine center, is one of the leading Spanish experts in microbiome and performance. “It was seen that cyclists specifically had a different microbiota than other athletes, because they had a large amount of prevotella, which synthesizes branched-chain amino acids, such as lysine,” she explains. “It is very preponderant over the others, something completely different from the general population, but many times when we describe the general population with respect to athletes, there is already a prior selection, the athlete is already selected.”

The microbiota of the cyclists worsened throughout the race because the cyclists, forced by the need to replenish hundreds of calories per hour daily, resort to simple carbohydrates via gels, bars or liquids and follow a less varied diet than when training. And they eat less potato, with its fiber that the stomach does not digest, but in the large intestine the bacteria let it ferment and then extract all the energy, which they transform into short-chain acids. “The next step will be to resolve the question: is the good microbiota the cause of good performance or the consequence of the cyclist’s good form?” says the researcher. “And if it is the cause, can it be improved directly, with prebiotic, probiotic or postbiotic products or just with diet?”

Some teams, including Giro d’Italia leader Geraint Thomas’ Ineos, always concerned with offering cyclists a varied diet outside of stage hours, have begun testing their riders’ feces. They hope their performance managers find the answer and the product, because for now, it is not a question of giving runners butyrate suppositories, which are not mice. But, surely, from the outset, they will already add potatoes and sweet potatoes to their diet.

“It has been the calmest day of the Giro, although we have not gotten rid of 10 minutes of rain either. I only had to worry about eating well”, says Thomas after the flattest stage, between the Alpine foothills and the beach of Caorle, north of Venice, a plain through which the river Sile flows, calm as the peloton. , the flattest river, because it is not born in the mountains, but in the valley, the son of a freshwater spring, and, transferred to the old bed of the Piave, it irrigates rice fields until it flows into the Adriatic, where the cyclists arrive at the sung sprint of the 17th stage, with the victory of the local Alberto Dainese. Movistar worked the entire stage to cancel the break, but their lone sprinter, without the support in the last kilometer of his designated launcher, Max Kanter, could not enter the sprint, resolved in the photo finish between Dainese and Jonathan Milan. “The finish was chaotic, but the team protected me very well,” says Thomas. “And I have arrived in one piece.”

Three hard days await the men in the general classification, two days in the mountains and a time trial. The sprinters have the last chance left, Rome, final of the Giro, on Sunday.

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