Background: Mediterranean diet (Med-D) has been previously suggested for athletes, but Paralympics usually have a low intake of plant foods. Orthorexia nervosa (ON) can drive dietary intake of both athletes and gym attendees.
Objective: We aimed to compare dietary intakes and food habits of elite wheelchair basketball athletes (WBA) and able-bodied individuals who practice or not sport activity and with different fat mass percentage (FM%).
Methods: We recruited 15 WBA from the Italian National team and 3 control groups (15 each group): healthy individuals who do not practice any sports activity (NSA) and gym attendees with low (GAL, FM%<17) and high (GAH, FM%>18) FM%. Food consumption was monitored by a 3- d diary, while Med-D scores and ON score were evaluated through standardized questionnaires. In WBA we also assessed Neurogenic Bowel Dysfunction (NBD), GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), allergy questionnaire for athletes (AQUA) and Starvation Symptoms Inventory (SSI).
Results: In WBA, ON correlated with GERD and SSI. WBA and GAH with eating behavior of ON had higher adherence to Med-D, whereas NSA had less adherence to Med-D. Sub-score, including fruits, vegetables and legumes, was higher in the GAL and GAH groups compared to the WBA and NSA groups. Med-D was inversely related to animal protein intake (PRO-AN) in NSA and GAL. FM% was inversely related to PRO-AN in WBA and GAH, and to ON only in GAH. In WBA, PRO-AN and vegetable protein intake correlated with both carbohydrate and energy intakes.
Conclusion: In WBA, commitment to wellness (ON and Med-D adherence) could be a response to gastrointestinal and starvation symptoms. WBA should be involved in setting their own individualized dietary strategies.