With 16 records, 695 clubs and 91 international goals, Lionel Messi has become one of the world’s greatest footballers. Despite his hard work and talent, the champion had to overcome serious health conditions and poor diet to reach the top.
Born in Rosario, Argentina, Messi loved football, the most popular sport in his South American hometown. However, being the shortest player his age at his hometown club dashed his hopes of success as a professional.
As an adolescent, Messi was just over four feet tall, far from the average six-foot footballer.
Messi was nine years old when Diego Schwarzstein, M.D., diagnosed him with a rare disease called growth hormone deficiency (GHD). It occurs when the pituitary gland produces insufficient amounts of growth hormone, leading to impaired height and physical development.
It is a genetic condition or it can be acquired later in life and can be either mild or severe. Treatment consists of daily injections of growth hormone. There is no record of the severity of Messi’s condition at the time of diagnosis.
“Lionel got treatment at the right time,” Schwarzstein told BBC News in a recent interview.
He started at nine and finished at fourteen or fifteen when he was in Barcelona. “But it was the right time to fully grow with the help of this hormone,” Schwarzstein said.
At 5 feet 7 inches as an adult, Messi makes eye contact with the shorter members of the team.
Without treatment, Messi may have experienced health risks that would have made a career as a professional athlete nearly impossible.
Severe growth hormone deficiency increases the risk of hypoglycemia in young children and can affect heart health. Perrin White, professor and chief of pediatric endocrinology at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas “In some cases, it may be associated with poor muscle development,” MD said.
Untreated growth hormone deficiency is associated with decreased lean body mass, increased fat mass, decreased bone density, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
“There are reports of decreased quality of life associated with lower energy levels in adults. [for the untreated],” Molly O. Regelmann, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at Montefiore Children’s Hospital in New York, told The Epoch Times.
Growth hormone treatment can be abused by athletes who take high doses to promote muscle development.
White warned that the practice is medically dangerous because high doses can have adverse effects, such as an increased risk of diabetes.
However, dosage can be monitored with a blood test for a protein regulated by growth hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).
“As long as IGF-1 is normal for age, there is no unfair advantage in athletes,” White said.
Studies evaluating the effects of growth hormone when used in healthy young people have found no performance benefits.(1, 2)
Messi wasn’t looking for benefits, he needed treatment to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
Messi’s doctor admitted that the goal was to treat his disability, not to gain an edge in sports.
In a 2018 interview, Lionel Messi admitted that his diet was so unhealthy that he regularly vomited during matches.
“I haven’t eaten well for years. Chocolate, soda, everything,” Messi told La Corniza TV. “That’s what made me throw up during games.”
“Now I take better care of myself. I eat fish, meat and vegetables. Everything is organized and orderly.”
Giuliano Poser, a nutritionist and kinesiologist, told Messi that he started eating healthy by eliminating processed foods from his diet, he told AS.com. Then I added foods rich in vitamins, grains, vegetables, fish and olive oil.
“Nuts and seeds are also very good,” Poser told Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo. He warned Messi that sugar is the “worst thing” for muscles.
Like many nutritionists, he advises avoiding overconsumption of meat.
“The amount of meat that Argentinians and Uruguayans normally eat is too much because it is difficult to digest,” he said.