Nutrition and Sport: Help or Hype?


Steve Hines, DipION, Nutritional therapist and sports nutrition specialist

Year of publication: 

Remember  Beijing 2008…the fastest man on earth… Usain Bolt smashing the world record winning the Olympic gold medal in the 100m? What a moment! But unless you’re him, the difference between winning and coming last could be as little as 0.1 of a second. This is true of many sports – the difference between legendary status and mediocrity could all come down to 1% of the things you do, specificity, attention to detail. And this is why the emerging field of sports nutrition counts.

Gone are the bad old days of a few pints after the game, or the concept of carbohydrate loading for every sport. Walk into any sports club a few years ago and there would have been jelly beans, sugar-loaded sports drinks and carbohydrate bars everywhere. Thankfully even this scene is now changing.

 The belief is still strong amongst athletes and coaches that carbs such as rice, pasta and potatoes provide energy.

Carbohydrates are important for energy production but fats, and to some extent proteins, can also be oxidised to provide energy. In order for these nutrients to be turned into energy a whole host of micronutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, iron, copper, sulphur and CoQ10 are required. These micronutrients also act as antioxidants that help to reduce the damage done by free radicals generated during exercise. Obsolete carb sources such as jelly beans don’t provide much in the way of micronutrients, nor do pasta or potatoes really provide a great deal of nutrition. Instead these macro and micronutrients primarily come from good quality meats, fish, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.

Proteins in the form of meats, fish and eggs are essential to repair damaged muscle fibres post-exercise, to run the pathways of detoxification through the liver and to build the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine that improve attention and motivation.

Essential fats from oily fish, nuts, seeds and fish oils help to quiet down inflammation in joints and muscles created during exercise, they improve insulin sensitivity so fuel can get into muscles faster and they can improve the ability of the heart to deliver oxygen to the body.

Something as simple as hydration can also have a huge impact on performance. As little as two percent dehydration can cause an:

8% loss of speed

 ■ 10% loss of strength

 ■ 20% loss of cognitive function

For some people sports nutrition might conjure up thoughts of pills and potions to increase testosterone or add lots of muscle. However, sensible use of sports supplements in conjunction with good nutrition could give you that extra yard, help you push that little harder. A good starting place would be taking a post-workout protein and carb shake to restock and repair muscle, a multivitamin and mineral to replace nutrients lost in the sweat or burnt up turning food to fuel and using certain drug-screened nutrients that improve cortisol and testosterone ratios to speed recovery and improve performance. Clearly good sports nutrition helps improve performance and could be the difference between legendary status and mediocrity, unless of course you are Usain Bolt who loves chicken nuggets and yams! 

SPORTS, athletes
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