We all love seeing progress in our training – the feel-good factor of a new PB is a high like no other – and with so many products out there insisting they can improve performance and recovery, it can be very easy to get swept up in the hype. So much so, that the sports supplement market is worth a staggering £650 million a year. But how many of these specialist sports fads really do what they claim? And are they really better than whole foods? According to leading dietician and health writer, Dr Carrie Ruxton, fitness fans, “woud be better sticking to simple food options,” rather than buying specialist sports foods and drinks.
“The fitness industry is flooded with products claiming to improve performance and recovery, but while specialist sports foods might be worthwhile for elite sportspeople looking to gain a few milliseconds on the world record, ordinary foods offer a more effective option for people simply looking to get fit.”
Dr. Ruxton, gives her verdict on five fitness fads that aren’t what they claim and gives some simple food solitions…
These have come a long way from elite sport and are now seen as something to swig on the bus home. Apart from their contribution to plastic bottle mountains, what do they do for us?
Carrie says: “Electrolyte and energy drinks are often packed with sugar and caffeine but are rarely worth having unless you’re exercising hard for more than an hour. The acids in the drinks also contribute to tooth erosion“.
Simple solution: A glass of skimmed milk has been shown to hydrate people more than a sports drink. The combination of sodium and potassium in milk is thought to be the reason according to research in the British Journal of Nutrition.
A handy protein bar may seem like a convenient snack to eat on the go but delve below the packaging and you often find a less healthy alter ego. The long shelf life of protein bars can also mean a whole load of additives.
Carrie says: “Protein bars typically contain 15-20g of protein but a third of their weight is sugar which puts most of them in the red traffic light. The average protein bar gives you 150-200 calories per serving which is pretty high for anyone trying to watch their weight”.
Simple solution: A high protein snack is great after exercising so try a lower sugar option such as a couple of boiled eggs.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA)
These essential protein building blocks are used to target performance and stop muscle breakdown after exercising. At £10-20 per bottle of pills, they can be a pricey addition to your sporting diet.
Carrie says: “The European Food Safety Authority looked at the claims make for BCAA but didn’t find enough evidence to support them. In contrast, there are several good studies on beetroot which show enhanced exercise efficiency, probably due to the high nitrate content which boosts circulation, muscular contraction and energy uptake by cells. Beetroot also helps to reduce muscle soreness after exercise“.
Simple solution: Beetroot is a purple powerhouse that can be bought ready to eat and infused with flavours so are a convenient and tasty way to supercharge a salad and boost nitrate and antioxidant levels to help your muscles recover faster after a work-out. New research has also shown beetroots’ ability to boost sports performance and improve recovery is heightened in less fit individuals than elite athletes.
The go-to product for gym-goers but are they really an essential ingredient for muscle-building? Most protein shakes are based on whey, a by-product from cheese making.
Carrie says: “All protein helps to build and repair protein. However, the average person needs 45-55g of protein a day but eats up to 65-85g. Even someone exercising a few times a week only needs around 70g of protein a day so we’re getting enough in our diets. Protein shakes contain 20-40g of protein per serving which could push our daily intakes too high”.
Simple solution: Eat protein from meat, poultry, fish, beans or pulses 3-4 times a day to spread out your intake. These natural products can supports muscle repair more than downing a protein shake.
A popular supplement in the gym, creatine is a type of protein that provides the energy for muscle contractions. But is it worth the hype?
Carrie says: “Creatine works but only in older adults who are doing regular resistance exercises, according to the European Food Safety Authority. This means that regular gym-goers are probably wasting their money. Excessive creatine has been linked with weight gain, anxiety, kidney problems and nausea”.
Simple solution: The body naturally makes creatine in response to the specific amino acids found in seafood, nuts, spinach and soya. Try a Thai-style stir fry using prawns, edamame beans, peanuts and green leafy veg for a tastier way to gain muscle energy.
Natural foods, such as beetroot, milk, eggs and seafood can do just as much, if not more, for our bodies than expensive sports supplements. For the majority of people, exercise is part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle to improve strength and fitness and food is the key to fuelling this. To maximise fitness performance research proves it is better to eat a healthy diet, full of natural produce, rather than waste hours seeking the latest fad.