In conversation with Dr. Peter Jenoure, senior physician of the Swiss Ski Federation
Dr. Jenoure, once during a lengthy altitude training camp in Davos, Moroccan world record runner, Said Aouita, said that Swiss cheese provided him with the strength he needed to achieve peak performance. Do you agree with this?
If you examine the composition of cheese, you will find that it does indeed contain protein and fat, minerals and vitamins, but it is completely lacking in carbohydrates. From this point of view, cheese cannot be regarded as an optimal form of nutrition for a sportsman or woman. This is because a top athlete's muscle motor is mainly driven by carbohydrates.
After all, no one can live only on cheese.
Exactly. And that brings us to one aspect which I feel is very important. If we look at nutrition solely from the motor point of view, that is, as the body's energy supply, we are completely ignoring the psychological aspects of eating. Experience which is continually being made in this area has shown how important the psychological environment is for competitive sportsmen and women. Nutrition can contribute much in this regard.
So you explain top performance as being the result of the successful interaction of many components . . .
. . . let's say, just like a mosaic, or a jigsaw puzzle, if you like. Talent, physical condition, training and the right kind of coaching all constitute important factors. And if we examine this more closely, we see that nutrition plays a key role in many areas.
How about a small example?
Well, correct nutrition is necessary if training is to bring about maximum success and improvement. However, it is also essential to incorporate recovery phases into a strenuous training programme, to give the opportunity to replenish its reserves. Here, once again, nutrition is of vital importance.
Earlier you spoke of the psyche.
That accounts for a substantial part of performance at the highest level. And nutrition is also of significance in this respect. Eating within a group means relaxation, and also relieves stress. Much can be gained in this way. Mealtimes have become and extremely important element of training, particularly for a Ski Federation trainer. Mealtimes spent together must not be disturbed by external influences.
Yet we hear so often that sportsmen and women live out of tins and bags of strength-giving mixtures . . .
Of course it is possible to scientifically compose and ideal food mixture containing everything an athlete needs. He or she would be able to consume it within 30 seconds, without even having to sit down at the table. But in my experience this idea has only ever met with resistance at Olympic level.
It takes the pleasure out of eating.
Exactly, the pleasure element. And the social aspect of sitting down and switching off. I do not wish to idealise nutrition as the key to success, but it nevertheless forms an integral part of many of "mosaic stones". After all, one of these stones is health, something which we have not yet mentioned. The right nutrition does not guarantee a win. But the wrong nutrition makes a victory practically impossible.
Perhaps we might return to your initial remarks. If cheese does not contain carbohydrates, why does cheese figure at all in the picture you have just outlined?
Cheese plays an extremely important role here. It is part of the well-balanced diet which I consider to be correct. But also, for example, because of the element of pleasure it provides, not to mention the fact that it acts as a source of animal protein...
...with which vegetarian athletes can replace the protein otherwise present in meat. You mentioned a well-balanced diet. Can we dispel for once and for all the image of athletes tucking into steak and salad?
You will always fine sportsmen and women who attribute their performance to extremely one-sided eating habits. However, people are now becoming increasingly aware that the one and only key to success is a well-balanced diet.
Chantal Bournissen's favourite recipe
Easy, inexpensive, serves 4
Place half of the potato slices in a dish and adjust the seasoning.
Sprinkle over the leek, cover with the remaining potato slices, and season.
Scatter the red pepper over the top.
Beat together all the ingredients for the liquid filling and pour over the vegetables.
Bake in a pre-heated over at 220 degrees C (425 degrees F) for 15-20 minutes.
Sprinkle with cheese, then brown in the oven for a further 8-10 minutes.
Provided by Swiss Cheese Union Inc.
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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This page modified January 2007
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