Noelia Bonfanti: "We are built to move. When we remain still, our body atrophies, gets sick…”

Noelia is a teacher at the Training and Sports Nutrition master. She’s an expert in sports nutrition and a nutritionist in high performance sports.

She’s a nutritionist in her private clinic “Sports nutrition clinic Dr. Noelia Bonfati”. She’s a professor of the Master’s Degree in Sports Training & Nutrition, as well as in the Master in Sports Physiotherapy at the Real Madrid Graduate School – Universidad Europea de Madrid. She coordinates the training and sports nutrition module at the school. She’s also the director of a new post-graduate degree in Sports Nutrition at the UEM and the Real Madrid Graduate School. Furthermore, she’s a teacher in the San Jorge University in the city of Zaragoza, as well as in the Universidad Oberta de Catalunya.

You design the diets for high performance athletes such as ACB players, dancers, triathlon athletes etc. What are the day-to-day challenges that you face?

Working with high performance athletes is already a challenge, as it is not only about optimizing the sports performance, but also the recovery, general health and so on. These are the main objectives that come to mind when we think about sports. Working as a nutritionist for high performance - or even amateur - athletes is knowing how to gather all the nutritional aspects, taking all the possible pathologies suffered by the athletes into consideration as well as their physical and psychological form, the relations of the athletes inside and outside the team, the culture and their feelings. All these within a frame of high performance sports and stress, as when it comes to very big sports such as basketball or football, sports are their jobs, their way of living, and avoiding injuries, training to the top and having proper rest, are key parts to these jobs.

From a nutritional point of view, the fear that athletes have when it comes to eating carbohydrates is growing dramatically, since they keep reading about the negative effects on the internet and the media which, as in most cases, talk about overweight people. However sometimes these messages are wrong and way too generic, when nutrition must be personalized to each individual. Meanwhile, we find the abuse of protein supplements can have a negative impact on your health.

Also, it is important to control the consumption of alcohol as a social act. Alcohol can make an athlete’s recovery longer and more complicated.

As a professional and an expert in nutrition, your clients, patients, family and friends surely ask you a lot of questions. What are the fields where you think there’s the most uncertainty? And what are the most commonly spread negative habits?

I think that there is a general ignorance when it comes to nutrition and physical activity. We are not taught how to eat when we are little, and it is very difficult to change as adults, when the bad habits are here to stay. This is how some practices that are not correct - but socially or culturally accepted - spread through generations. Habits that were popular years ago are based in the lack of food, wars, the poor living conditions linked to war and so on. However, nowadays with the amount of food that we have at reach, the high content in sugars, fats and calories, are leading to an overweight population.

This is associated with more sedentary lifestyles, and to a more and more popular thinking of “we need to exercise”, but we never think about it before, and this is a mistake. We are built to move. When we remain still, our machine (human body) atrophies, gets sick, the bone density decreases, we lose muscular strength… Even if we are not overweight.

When it comes to specific nutritional habits, in Spain people are used to cooking with oil, and they don’t realize how much fat and calories that contains, but overall, we don’t think about the oxidation through heat that oil goes through, turning a “good fat” into a bad one. Another thing to keep in mind, is that the ingestion of carbohydrates is huge across the population, and it mostly comes from industrial food with a high sugar content, which can increase the production of insulin and create an alteration of the glucose blood levels. Also, people tend to only eat 3 times a day, not eating a mid-afternoon snack (only for the children). But that makes the population starve until dinner time, and when this happens, they eat a lot of carbohydrates and fat just before going to bed. Also, eating times, are strongly influenced by working hours and study time and are not coordinated with our hormonal cycle. There are more and more scientific proofs that this can lead to a weight increase. Furthermore, it is important to work on creating a habit of not eating the same over and over again. Food must depend on the exercise we do each day. This is key to taking care of your health and body weight.

What is it that you like the most about your job?

I love looking at the human body and how it is influenced by what we eat. I love sports, and I am not sure that you can practice it if your nutrition is not right. I love the fact that we can take care of our physical, mental and emotional health just by changing our nutrition habits and exercising.

I like helping people, regardless of if they are athletes or not. I like to teach them to have a healthy relationship between their diet and their way of exercising, working towards an objective. I also love teaching future professionals in different fields, from a practical point of view rather than only theory, and helping them to become proud professionals of the world of health and physical exercise, and help them to reach more important objectives that will help them make more important and relevant things for the health and performance of their future patients.

What’s the tip that you’ll never forget?

“You have to be conscious of your capacities, of all you can do with them and all you can reach. It is not wrong to acknowledge that to yourself. It is actually necessary”.

What tip would you give to the new students?

To enjoy every minute. To ask, listen, participate… To not let the time go by without living it deeply, as there is just one life, and they are lucky to be in such a prestigious university with such a great chair of professors.