IAAF statement on optimising sports nutrition points to a ‘food first philosophy’

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/Peter Bernik
©iStock/Peter Bernik
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) releases its consensus statement on sports nutrition for athletes that preaches a food first philosophy as well as a personalised approach.

Writing in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, ​the statement​ gathers the latest findings to assess types, amounts and timing of food and fluid intake as well as supplement and sports food use.

“Sports nutrition is a dynamic and constantly evolving science,”​ said Louise Burke, head of sports nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport.

“A key message is that each athlete should have an eating plan that is personalised to their event and individual needs, periodised to address shifting goals and training practices across micro- to macro-cycles of the annual plan, and able to be put into practice in every environment experienced by the athlete,’’ ​she added.

Supplement caution

In the theme of Supplements and Sports Foods, a food first philosophy is recommended with nutritional needs deemed a priority amongst athletes.

The report states that supplements should only be used under supervision to treat or prevent nutrient deficiencies pointing to five supplements that have an evidence base of contributing to performance: caffeine, creatine, nitrate/beetroot juice, beta-alanine and bicarbonate.

Its authors also discuss the risk of ingesting banned substances in the use of any supplements along with potential disadvantages such as expense, false expectancy, and the risk of ingesting substances banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s List, which are sometimes present as contaminants or undeclared ingredients.

“Major organisations and expert bodies now recognise that a pragmatic approach to supplements and sports foods is needed in the face of the evidence that some products (previously mentioned) can usefully contribute to a sports nutrition plan and/or directly enhance performance,”​ the report said.

“We conclude that it is pertinent for sports foods and nutritional supplements to be considered only where a strong evidence base supports their use as safe, legal, and effective, and, moreover, that such supplements are trialled thoroughly by the individual before committing to using them in a competition setting.”

Team of 50 experts

Along with Lindy Castell from Green Templeton College at Oxford University, Burke and a team of 50 experts look at new developments in sports nutrition to see how they apply to the five core areas of athletics.

These areas are sprints, jumps/throws/combined events, middle distance, long distance and ultra distance/mountain running. Their findings, divided into 12 key themes, form the backbone of the report.

Burke points to a personalised eating plan that is tailored to the athlete’s event and individual needs, periodised to address shifting goals and training practices across micro- to macro-cycles of the annual plan.

According to Burk, “A personalised programme achieved by teamwork between the coach, athlete, and sports science and nutrition experts, will help the athlete reach performance goals as well as achieving a long career through management of the risk of illness and injury.”

Carb consumption

Other recommendations outlined in the report include carbohydrate (CHO) consumption during exercise can provide an additional benefit via the brain and nervous system.

CHO is said to stimulate areas of the brain that control pacing and reward systems via communication with receptors in the mouth and gut.

This “mouth sensing”​ of CHO provides another reason for frequent intake of CHO during longer events, and shorter ones in which it may not be necessary to provide muscle fuel.

Source: International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism

Published online: doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2019-0065

“International Association of Athletics Federations Consensus Statement 2019: Nutrition for Athletics.”

Authors: Louise Burke et al

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