To be able to work out effectively a bespoke, individually adjusted training plan is required. This is also the case for nutrition, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Recreational athletes that complete two gym-sessions per week, and otherwise just sit at their desk require fewer carbohydrates (e.g. bread, rice, pasta, potato) than for example endurance athletes that are in a competitive phase. Therefore modern nutrition recommendations for sports nutrition, as well as for daily demands, contain carbohydrate intake recommendations adapted to the level of physical activity.   

The renowned nutrition scientist Prof. Dr. oec. troph. Nicolai Worm has developed a Mediterranean Flexi-Carb Pyramid for the lifestyle of today. 

It’s a flexible nutrition model to primarily choose the amount of carbohydrates depending on the amount of muscular activity. Professor Nicolai Worm explains: “The less we move, the less our body tolerates carbohydrates. The more we stress our muscles, the better we get to grips with them – i.e. they more useful they are for us. Nutrition and muscle activity cannot be separated, and therefore the amount of carbohydrates needs to be adapted in an individual and flexible manner, depending on the level and intensity of the activity.” In addition, the Flexi-Carb Pyramid is based on different national dishes from the Mediterranean regions. “The most up-to-date scientific evidence suggests that modern nutrition inspired by the Mediterranean way of cooking, using plenty of vegetables, nuts, fruits, pulses, dairy products, healthy fats, fish and meat is health-promoting”, the expert Prof. Nicolai Worm says.

The grouping of different foods in the Flexi-Carb Pyramid took place on the basis of four objectively measurable criteria. The more of them are fulfilled, the further down the pyramid the foods are placed: 

  1. Energy density: the energy density of food is defined as the amount of calories per 100g of that food. If this lies below 125kcal/100g it is defined as low calorie density. Accordingly, these foods can be found further down the base of the pyramid. 
  2. Nutrient density: foods with a high nutrient density (among others vitamins, minerals, fibre) per 100 kcal can be found on the lower steps of the pyramid. The ‘emptier’ the calories are, the higher up they are placed. 
  3. Carbohydrate content/glycaemic index: foods with lower carbohydrate content are typically at the bottom of the pyramid. 
  4. Degree of processing: fresh, seasonal foods should come first.  

“Only in ‘cases of doubt’ for foods that need to be classified we rely on the data from longitudinal, observational studies. Our trust in epidemiology is not as high as that in objectively measurable criteria”, Professor Worm explains.  

The foods on the lower steps of pyramid can be consumed daily, and in ample amounts, those on the higher steps should be consumed in relation to the level of physical activity. Those who move more therefore can eat more carbohydrates.



© Corinne Mäder Reinhard, Senior EU Sport Nutrition Manager PowerBar.

International Olympic Committee post-graduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition