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Sports Nutrition Isn’t Scary: Myth Busting

We get a lot of questions on a daily basis from athletes regarding the facts about sports nutrition, ranging from information they’ve overheard from a friend or training partner, to “facts” they’ve read on the internet.

So we’ve rounded up the most commonly asked myth’s we hear about sports nutrition, to give you just the facts.

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“Protein will make me bulky”

This is a common misconception; especially for female athletes who are worried that protein will add muscle mass, which may decrease performance in a particular sport. It takes time, discipline and a particular training program to add muscle mass, along with appropriate protein intake. Nonetheless, testosterone levels play a key role in building muscle mass. Females generally have low testosterone levels (compared to males), making it difficult to build muscle ‘bulk’. Protein is still used to repair muscle damage and allow cells to function properly(1). Endurance athletes (both male and female) must also consider that to gain weight and add muscle, you must match or consume extra calories than what you burn off. This is hard for endurance athletes because if you’re in a calorie deficit, weight gain is almost impossible. Protein can actually make you leaner as the body burns more calories digesting protein compared to other foods(2), it also helps maintain the muscle mass already built.

“Endurance athletes don’t need much protein”

Endurance athletes need more than just energy. The maintenance, repair and growth of lean muscle mass all depend on protein and a deficiency can lead to muscle weakness and fatigue. Muscle mass is important to help increase power output(3), supporting joints and preventing injury. Think of your muscle fibres as having tiny workmen, every time you exercise, workmen repair the muscle fibres that have been damaged. If you don’t fuel the workmen with protein (and carbohydrate) they won’t repair the damage!

“The more protein per serving, the better”

Research has suggested that the optimal amount of protein to take on at any one time is 20-25g, ideally every 3-4 hours(4). There is minimal increased benefit of consuming over this amount at any given time(5). However, there is evidence to suggest that increased muscle mass requires a higher protein intake to help maintain.

“All protein is the same”

The protein that you take depends on your goal, time of day and training status. Fast digesting proteins such as whey is ideal to take post-exercise when the body will absorb nutrients more effectively. Soy protein is a vegan/vegetarian alternative to whey. A milk based protein digests slowly and is ideal to take before you go to sleep, to continuously feed muscles with protein(6).

Revocery

“The most important aspect of recovery is protein”

Recovery involves four main considerations; carbohydrate, protein, hydration and vitamin intake. Carbohydrate is considered the main recovery food, as this is the fuel that needs to be replaced so that you are able to go again. Protein assists muscle rebuild, while re-hydration helps the body’s water to return to a normal state. Taking vitamins post exercise, particularly vitamin c and iron can help support immune function, which is suppressed after intense exercise(7).

“It doesn’t matter when I take on nutrients post exercise”

The ideal time to take on nutrition post-exercise is within the ’30 minute window’. This refers to the 30-minutes after you finish your session when the metabolism remains high. Here, your body will absorb nutrients like carbohydrate, protein and vitamins more effectively and transport them around the body to be used(8).

Energy

“I should use a combination of carbohydrate sources to gain the most energy”

The average athlete can absorb and use around 60g of carbohydrate per hour. Adding multiple sources of carbohydrate together i.e maltodextrin, glucose and fructose has the potential to allow an individual to process up to 90g of carbohydrate per hour, but fructose comes with a severe risk of stomach problems i.e cramping during exercise(9). In addition, taking 90g of carbohydrate per hour during exercise may only be necessary for exercise lasting over 5 hours. A single carbohydrate source like the maltodextrin used in SiS energy products is ideal to take on at 60g per hour(10), reducing the risk of stomach distress.

“Gels and bars are only for competition”

It’s important to practice your sports nutrition during training, to ensure your body can tolerate and respond well to it during competition. Some athletes ‘train high’ and ‘train low’, referring to days when they fully practice their competition energy intake (e.g using gels and bars to hit 60g per hour) and days where they train with low energy intake i.e shorter training sessions.

“Thick, sugar based gels are best during endurance exercise”

The more hypertonic a solution is and the longer it will take to digest. Hypertonic means that the concentration of the solution is higher than what is in the body. Thick gels that are high in simple sugars are usually hypertonic and when consumed, this draws water into the gut to help it digest. This is what can cause stomach problems(11) during exercise and why most nutrition companies suggest that you take water with their gels. Aim to take an isotonic gel to combat this issue.

“I can use fat as an energy source”

Fat is the predominant energy source for low intensity exercise like walking or a low intense cycle. As soon as you increase the intensity of exercise, you become more dependent on carbohydrate as an energy source (12). If you have ever ‘hit the wall’ you know how it feels to completely deplete your carbohydrate stores!

Hydration

“I should just drink when I’m thirsty”

During cold conditions, drinking to thirst is fine. When conditions are warmer or you are undergoing prolonged exercise, a hydration plan should be put in place to prevent the negative effects of dehydration. How much you should drink depends on your sweat rate, which can be worked out by weighing yourself before and after exercise, in a range of conditions(13). Aim not to lose any more than 2% of your pre-exercise body mass by taking on fluids regularly. This could look like 250ml of fluid every 30 minutes.

“Electrolytes will dehydrate you”

Too many electrolytes (salts) with insufficient fluid and this will increase the concentration inside the body, leading to dehydration. It is recommended that during exercise where sweat loss occurs, an athlete should consume between 300 – 500mg of sodium (the most Important electrolyte that is lost through sweating) per hour along with appropriate fluid to match sweating rate (13). However, electrolyte intake along with fluid intake is highly individual. If you don’t lose much fluid during exercise, then it’s likely that you won’t lose as much electrolytes compared to an individual who sweats heavily.

“Water will rehydrate better than sports drinks”

Water contains a minimal amount of minerals compared to what the body needs during exercise. The addition of electrolytes to water helps the body use fluid better by absorbing it and retaining it in the system(14).

Immunity

“The more vitamins I take, the better”

Increased vitamin intake (well over 100% the RDA) has been shown to decrease training adaptations post exercise(15). Free radicals in the body (break down muscle and cause muscle soreness) are reduced, causing less muscle damage. This might sound good, but it is during this time when muscles rebuild and cellular adaptations occur. If you prevent this, then the body will struggle to adapt!

“It doesn’t matter when I take vitamins”

The bodies immune function is supressed between 3-72 hours post intense exercise. This leaves individuals at a higher risk of contracting minor infections. This is the ideal time to take on vitamin c and iron, which are directly linked to supporting immune function(16).

References:

  1. Moore, D. R., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., & Hawley, J. A. (2014). Beyond muscle hypertrophy: why dietary protein is important for endurance athletes. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 39(9), 987-997.
  2. Acheson, K. J., Blondel-Lubrano, A., Oguey-Araymon, S., Beaumont, M., Emady-Azar, S., Ammon-Zufferey, C., Monnard, I., Pinaud, S., NielsenMoennoz, C., Bovetto, L. (2011). Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 9(3), 525 – 534.
  3. Moore, D. R. (2015). Nutrition to support recovery from endurance exercise: optimal carbohydrate and protein replacement. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(4), 294-300.
  4. Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W., Broad, E. M., … & Hawley, J. A. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology, 591(9), 2319-2331.
  5. Witard, O. C., Jackman, S. R., Breen, L., Smith, K., Selby, A., & Tipton, K. D. (2014). Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(1), 86-95.
  6. Babault, N., Deley, G., Le Ruyet, P., Morgan, F., & Allaert, F. A. (2014). Effects of soluble milk protein or casein supplementation on muscle fatigue following resistance training program: a randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 1.
  7. Gleeson, M. (2007). Immune function in sport and exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 103(2), 693-699.
  8. Atherton, P. J., Etheridge, T., Watt, P. W., Wilkinson, D., Selby, A., Rankin, D. & Rennie, M. J. (2010). Muscle full effect after oral protein: time-dependent concordance and discordance between human muscle protein synthesis and mTORC1 signaling. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 92(5), 1080-1088.
  9. de Oliveira, E. P., Burini, R. C., & Jeukendrup, A. (2014). Gastrointestinal complaints during exercise: prevalence, etiology, and nutritional recommendations. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 79-85.
  10. Jeukendrup, A. (2014). A step towards personalized sports nutrition: carbohydrate intake during exercise. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 25-33.
  11. Morton, D., & Callister, R. (2015). Exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP). Sports Medicine, 45(1), 23-35.
  12. Hawley, J. A., & Leckey, J. J. (2015). Carbohydrate dependence during prolonged, intense endurance exercise. Sports Medicine, 45(1), 5-12.
  13. Kreider, R. B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Campbell, B., Almada, A. L., Collins, R., … & Kerksick, C. M. (2010). ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), 1.
  14. de Oliveira, E. P., & Burini, R. C. (2011). Food-dependent, exercise-induced gastrointestinal distress. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 8(1), 1.
  15. Nikolaidis, M. G., Kerksick, C. M., Lamprecht, M., & McAnulty, S. R. (2012). Does vitamin C and E supplementation impair the favorable adaptations of regular exercise?. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2012.
  16. Schwellnus, M., Soligard, T., Alonso, J. M., Bahr, R., Clarsen, B., Dijkstra, H. P., … & Van Rensburg, C. J. (2016). How much is too much? (Part 2) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of illness. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(17), 1043-1052.
Ted Munson (Performance Nutritionist)
Written By

Ted Munson (Performance Nutritionist)

Ted is a Performance Nutritionist here at Science in Sport.