SPECIAL REPORT: Sports Nutrition Ahead of Rio 2016 & How to Stay Clean in Sport


01 Aug 2016 --- As the world prepares for the Rio 2016 Olympics, thousands of athletes descend upon Brazil in search of sporting glory, while millions of fans around the globe get ready to tune in for their favorite events. But behind this prestigious competition is a disturbing truth that has come to the fore again this year: Doping.

Sports nutrition goes well beyond the professional athlete as the trend becomes more mainstream and the benefits of supplements loaded with energy, protein and other ingredients are marketed more than ever.

FoodIngredientsFirst spoke with two experts in sports nutrition and drug testing; Dr. Tom Bassindale, forensic and analytical science lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and founder of MyNutrition, Thomas Coleman, who both gave an overview of the doping dangers as well as the growing trends in sports nutrition and how best to stay clean and healthy.

“We have seen a few high profile examples of athletes falling foul of doping through supplements this year. One can argue that this was through ignorance, contamination or that they were aware of the risk and took it anyway. Ultimately the athlete, not the coach nor the nutritionist, nor the doctor, nor anyone else, is responsible for what passes his/her lips and is found in his/her bloodstream,” Coleman tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“Therefore, the athlete must be vigilant about taking sports nutrition products. Many do contain substances which are on the WADA list. Why take the risk and what can an athlete do? Athletes compete at the very highest level where recovery and performance margins are so fine, that giving up something as simple as a supplement may mean the difference between a medal or not.”

“There are companies who are now providing sports nutritional supplements which have been individually tested for all substances on the WADA list and certified. These may provide better security for athletes in terms of exposure to risk of contamination.”

Coleman says his advice to athletes is the same as to any person looking to enhance performance or outcomes - don’t place too much value on the gains that can be achieved through pills or powders and instead focus on other areas where emerging science is highlighting the benefits of rest/sleep and optimum nutrition through whole food sources and the right mindset.

“Don’t forget the industry of nutrition is powerful, lucrative and marketing is often confused with real science. How can the power of thousands of different types of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and compounds found in a fresh vegetables be reproduced in a pill, when we are still discovering these powerful nutrients in the plant? It simply cannot.

“There has been a huge increase in the desire for information is sport nutrition from the mainstream. It appears people have started to recognize that good nutrition is a powerful driver of not only performances but outcomes, results, how we look and feel.”

“This recognition for me is true but somewhat misplaced. People are correct when recognizing that nutrition is powerful but looking for amazing results in pills and powders in probably hampering their efforts. The starting point must be the food and liquids they consume on a daily basis. Gaining an understanding about the hierarchy of nutrition is crucial as well as understanding the difference between marketing and science.”

The recent debate about safety and health benefits in sports nutrition means that ingredients with approved and official health claims and safety records from the likes of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and popular brands from companies have an advantage.

Dominik Mattern, business development manager sports nutrition at Capsugel believes this type of endorsement is one of the main reasons for an upturn in an ingredient like creatine appealing to other sports enthusiasts and not just serious bodybuilders.

Controversies like the McLaren report alleging a state-run doping program that involved Russian athletes, government officials and the secret service alongside the Maria Sharapova and other cases, have dominated headlines in the run up to Rio 2016.

But Mattern says these incidences can actually have a positive impact on consumers looking for natural alternatives and wanting to stay away from controversial ingredients and hyperbolic claims.

“I think this gives a positive boost to the whole category. Now there is an opportunity in the market to create better and safer products, focusing on ingredients that have a positive performance endorsement by EFSA. It is important to have products out there that are endorsed by pharmaceutical grade science.

“This, coupled with the movement towards cleaner and more natural products, is positive and also resonates well with the vegetarian-based products that Capsugel offers such as Vcaps Plus, which in addition to being vegetarian, has KO and OU Kosher and Halal Certification, and is gluten and preservative free.”

In terms of professional competing athletes, what substances they can and cannot take is governed by the World Anti Doping Code, a lengthy document athletes should live by as ultimately it’s their responsibility to stay clean. Updated annually, the WADA list is available online and details all prohibited substances and methods.

“All one has to do is take a look at the list and see the recent scandal with Mamadou of Liverpool to understand that clarification is needed. A decision to ban an athlete even on a temporary basis can have devastating consequences on his or her career from a professional and financial perspective,” continues Coleman.

“Getting a call wrong could undermine WADA. Patience, clarity and support are needed from both ends as well as scientific rigor.”

His sentiments are echoed by expert Dr Tom Bassindale: “There has been a long history (at least 17-18 years I know of) of sports people failing drugs tests due to contaminated supplements of foodstuff. There were a lot of examples in the late 90s and early 2000s with nandrolone and others and there are more recent examples such as the South African rugby players failing tests for DMAA/methylhexaneamine from contaminated supplements.

“There are also examples of foodstuffs being blamed for positive tests. For example, clenbuterol in meat from China or Mexico amongst others.

“The best way for athletes to ensure they are not going to fail a test due to these is to be very careful about what supplements they are taking. Firstly think about whether you really need to take it, then buy it from a reputable supplier who has their products batch tested specifically for sports.

“Look for things like the informed sports logo or search on the web. Also each ingredient should be checked to see if it is banned using web tools available from the anti doping agencies.”

“Non branded supplements bought via the web or from 'some bloke down the gym' probably pose a greater threat than from a sports retailer who uses the bigger brands. The use of over the counter medicines also poses a risk if athletes have not used the web to check the ingredients list (good example is Alain Baxter the British Skier using a nasal decongestant that contained banned methamphetamine in the US),” adds Dr. Bassindale.

“The industry needs to try and be consistent with the naming of ingredients. For instance DMAA, methylhexanamine, 1,3-dimethylamylamine, 1,3-DMAA and geranamine are all names of the same banned product.”

Whilst recognizing the crossover into mainstream for many sport nutrition products, Dr. Bassindale also stresses the importance of diet.

“Most recreational athletes now use bars gels and powders for sports. Many of these are effective, I myself often use gels and sports drinks for longer distance running/cycling. However, I'm sure many of us non-professional athletes could improve diet first before taking some supplements, myself included.”

by Gaynor Selby

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com

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