Muscle Foods, Italian Style

28 Oct

Combine southern Italian genetics with outstanding degrees of developed muscularity and an advanced formal education in nutrition and fitness and the result is an Italian champion bodybuilder such as Gianluca Daniele. An impressively built professor who has taught at the university in Naples, and operated his own fitness gym in Salerno, after winning Italian national and European bodybuilding titles, Gianluca Daniele is as comfortable talking about the chemical structure of fatty acids as he is about muscular growth.

Add to this the fact that Gianluca’s home home province has an excellent mixture of natural food sources—from vegetables and wheat to fruit and seafood caught along its own coastline—and you can understand why this part of Italy is an ideal nurturing environment for Italian fitness athletes. It’s also the region that has contributed most over the centuries to the national culinary arts, from pizza to lasagna, eggplant Parmesan to spaghetti meatballs. And while many food lovers might think these are all recipes for weight gain, you can in fact easily lower the high fat, cholesterol and sodium content of these dishes by substituting or avoiding certain ingredients. Cheeses, meats (except the leanest cuts) and sausages are items to scale back on, but this restriction still leaves you much to enjoy as far as recipes based on poultry, seafood, pasta, and fresh herbs and vegetables.

What to Leave in, What to Leave Out in the Neapolitan Diet

What then does a bodybuilder educated in nutrition from this region of Italy consider a treat? “In my off-season, I like to eat pizza,” Gianluca admits, “but in Italy you can easily find good foods (chicken, fish, pasta, eggs) for the bodybuilding diet.” Fresh beans and lentils, another popular staple that provides an excellent source of fiber, are prominent in Italian dishes, from the main course to the salad. If you are concerned about the sodium level in canned beans, you can always rinse them. (Lentils don’t require rinsing).

While pasta is a central feature of Italian cooking, you should keep it unadulterated (minus the cream sauces and cheese). A half-cup of plain pasta has only about 100 calories and less than one gram of fat. Olive oil is the other staple to use in moderation. It is low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats (good for the arteries), but it still contains around the same number of calories as any other fat.

“I find the best combinations of proteins, carbs and fats before a competition is 60% protein, 30% carbs and 10% fats. The best type of food is fish (tuna) and chicken breast, while 100 percent powdered proteins and egg whites are the best proteins. I think potatoes are the best carbohydrates because they have a very slow release of sugar, so they do not turn into fat so readily. Finally, the fats I prefer are the nonsaturated fats, the vegetable ones, because they are easy to metabolize.”

Gianluca summarizes both the first-hand experience he has had himself in dieting for bodybuilding goals — and the insights he has gained in helping others with the right Italian-style nutrition — this way:

On Precontest Dieting

“I find the best combinations of proteins, carbs and fats before a competition is 60% protein, 30% carbs and 10% fats. The best type of food is fish (tuna) and chicken breast, while 100 percent powdered proteins and egg whites are the best proteins. I think potatoes are the best carbohydrates because they have a very slow release of sugar, so they do not turn into fat so readily. Finally, the fats I prefer are the nonsaturated fats, the vegetable ones, because they are easy to metabolize.”

On the Best Regional or National Staples for Bodybuilding

“Italy is famous for its Mediterranean diet. My region, in particular, offers many genuine kinds of food, which are perfect for a bodybuilder’s diet. These are organic chicken and meats, fruits, and extra-virgin oils.”

On the Best Local or Nationally Available Supplements

“The supplements I normally use are from the brand Genesis Nutrition-especially powdered proteins, aminos, creatine and pyruvic acid. These have been superior to any other product I have used because of their high protein content. They are easy to dose for a diet because they come in 1-gram pills.”

Some Nutritional Tips to Follow in Italian Foods

Look for alternatives to cheese-laden dishes like thin spaghetti with red clam sauce. Other healthful low-fat, nutrient-rich national winners: chickpeas and past soup; potato gnocchi with pesto sauce; rice cake; thin spaghetti with eggplant, zuppa di finocchio (fennel soup; mussels marinara; chicken marsala; chicken piccata.

gianluca daniele

Gianluca Daniele

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