The current scientific consensus can be grossly simplified to: Carbs before and during exercise; protein after. But a research veteran who holds a post at UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) suggests the best performance gains may lie outside that narrow framework.
“The best post-exercise blend is 3:1 carbohydrates to protein,” says professor John Brewer, who was once the England football team’s World Cup sports science chief, and is now head of Sport, Health and Applied Science at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, London.
“The carbs help glycogen recovery and the protein is used for muscle recovery and repair. But the key is the volume of protein because over 2 g / kg of body weight per day will deliver minimal benefit due to a negative nitrogen balance. Protein is vital for muscular mitochondria.”
“Some of this can be achievable by ‘regular’ diet, but for high-level athletes supplementation is almost always employed.” These included protein shakes, bars and food supplements.
He said serious athletes need to think about nutrition seven days a week not just on ‘game days’ and that carbohydrates were useful in more high impact activities beyond endurance sports.
Professor Brewer emphasised replacement of fluids as some athletes could lose as much as 2-3 litres during certain activities.
Some athletes like marathon runners overdo it on carbs and gels during races.
“3-4 gels are all you need in a marathon,” he said. “The average body stores enough glycogen for 16-18 miles [of the 26.2 mile marathon distance] and then the body is able to burn fat. The average human body actually has enough fat for 40 marathons. So using fat as an energy source and training the body for that is important too.”
This need to perform has fed ongoing issues with athletes doping to compete at the top level. In such an environment some argue truly optimised nutrition could, in part at least, reduce the temptation for some athletes to try doping products if comparable gains can be had via authorised nutrition channels.
Professor Brewer will present some of his detailed enquiry into the area at Food Vision in Cannes on March 18-20, where he will affirm the importance of supplementation to modern athletes under greater physical duress than ever before as money has ratcheted up pressure in elite sports.
This year’s event, presented by NutraIngredients and FoodNavigator, features two streams of food and nutrition innovation with global business leaders, scientists, consumer behaviourists, marketeers and more. More details are here.