Day 91 – Sports Nutrition

by Dan


I watched a TV programme last week on the BBC about the science (and lack thereof) behind sports products. The programme came from the angle that manufacturers of products like carbohydrate energy drinks, protein shakes, running shoes etc make very bold claims that aren’t actually backed up by hard science.

Whilst I have mixed views on the subject (sports nutrition is certainly convenient even if it isn’t any better for you than real food), it did cause me to have a think about my own use of these products.

The programme attacked running shoe manufacturers and questioned why you would need to spend significant sums on the right shoe, when many run in cheap shoes or even barefoot. They gave different types of shoe to the South African army and concluded that the injury rates were the same for both. I think this was flawed for two reasons:

1. Armies are trained and conditioned to run huge distances. They don’t have the same brittle bones and weak muscles of the average person. Shoes are much less likely to make a difference to them. Not really a fair test if you ask me!

2. I have run on a treadmill in different shoes, and watched a video to see the effects of each. The difference is obvious. I know from direct experience that some shoes are better for my running style than others, and have switched over to them to prevent injury. I do agree however, that this isn’t buying shoes based on their marketing claims (which isn’t necessarily a good idea), but the shoe DOES matter for the average runner, and you should try them out at a specialist store.

Ok, so I am happy with my shoes, but what about nutrition? I go to the gym regularly, run a lot, and usually take in fluids etc whilst doing longer but less intensive sports such as tenpin bowling. For each of these I have used specialist sports nutrition. I’m not sure I have been taken in by the marketing as such, but more the fact that these products are the “norm” nowadays. Using them is just what you do, right?

The programme has caused me to challenge this assumption. When running for long distances (1-2 hours or more) I still feel it is important to fuel your body on the move and straight afterwards. This can be achieved by real food if possible, or sports products if that isn’t convenient (i.e. just finished a long running event away from home, and need to refuel on the move). However, for gym sessions and shorter runs, and especially bowling, why would I need these things? These are activities that drinking water and eating a banana are more than capable of fuelling!

Following the programme, I stopped using all such products as a trial. A week later, I honestly feel no different. Admittedly I haven’t gone for a run of 1hr+ in that time, but when I do I will continue to ensure I fuel and refuel properly, and will use convenient products where relevant, but for the shorter stuff I will no longer buy fancy products.

How does this simplify things? Financially for one thing – I dread to think what I used to spend on protein shakes and sports drinks! Also no need to cart a protein shake shaker to and from the gym, or to remember to clean and refill it each day. Finally listening to my own body and consuming more simple things like water, fruit etc should be a much more natural experience.