Sports nutrition’s toxic twelve

Sports nutrition’s toxic twelve

Sports nutrition's Toxic Twelve, part 1: 12 ingredients to run a mile from

You’re in good shape, now you want to get into great shape. So you pick a serious target and draw up a serious plan. Serious plans always come with serious nutrition so you start researching which is where the problem begins because the rest of the sports nutrition industry doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Behind all their hokey science and clever marketing they’re merrily shovelling all manner of cheap cr*p into their products meaning most are loaded with the same toxic additives, sweeteners and preservatives you’d rightly run a mile from in your daily diet.

These are the same harmful ingredients found in junk food, sodas, and ready meals. Hardly the stuff of performance, unless your idea of performance means being the fittest person you know with diabetes, dentures, and a fast-track to the nearest cemetery...

Which means if you want your serious nutrition plan to work, you need to get serious about eating real food while reading the labels on everything else. The former is easy, the latter seriously hard. 

So we’ve done the hard work for you with this definitive list of ‘The Toxic Twelve’.

Each of these ingredients is a huge red flag letting you know that any product containing them is a ticking timebomb that will derail your performance and health.

Here's part one, the first six (click here for part 2). Avoid these, prioritise real food and prepare for lift off. Your serious goal is now seriously achievable.

Sports nutrition's Toxic Twelve: 1 Fructose

What is it? a manmade sugar, one of the main ingredients in energy gels

What’s the problem? directly contributes to heart disease and diabetes, also associated with cancer and dementia

Technically ‘fruit sugar’ the biggest problems here come from production, a process which removes the natural fibre to turn this friendly sounding sweetener into “alcohol without the buzz” according to Professor Robert Lustig, author of ‘Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease’.

Freed from the fibre that would naturally slow its absorption, fructose is left to slam through the body unchecked causing a wrecking ball’s worth of damage, in many ways similar to that of alcohol.

Heavy use can also depress hunger regardless of calorie intake leading to overeating. Great if you make your money selling the product in question, rubbish if you’re the one actually eating it.

Sports nutrition's Toxic Twelve: 2 Sorbitol 

What is it? a manmade sweetener

What’s the problem? also a laxative

Another sweetener, sorbitol is also commonly used in medicine as a laxative. Exactly what you don’t need halfway into your long run, bike or session as your stomach starts gurgling and the cramps hit…

Sports nutrition's toxic twelve

Perhaps sorbitol was the secret weapon for Viz comic's legendary Johnny Fartpants

Sports nutrition's Toxic Twelve: 3 Acesulfame K/Acesulfame Potassium/E950 

What is it? a manmade sweetener

What’s the problem? may cause cancer

Three names for the same product, acesulfame is another very cheap manmade sweetener and one of the biggest warning flags on any label because it comes with a big cancer question mark.

Despite FDA approval, the tests this approval is based on have been called inadequate by subsequent studies. One in 2006 titled, 'Testing needed for Acesulfame Potassium, an artificial sweetener’ states:

“The 1970s tests of acesulfame - two tests carried out in rats and one in mice - are inadequate to establish lack of potential carcinogenicity”.

Total Workout Bundle
Healthy Energy Bundle
Gift Voucher
Premium Protein

Yup, even the test used to prove it doesn’t cause cancer isn’t up to the job.

Sports nutrition's Toxic Twelve: 4 Potassium Sorbate

What is it? a cheap chemical preservative

What’s the problem? stomach upset, genetic mutation, DNA damage

Meet another fully approved preservative hiding in a ton of food and in way too much sports nutrition. Not only can potassium sorbate mess with your guts in the short term, recent studies have linked longterm consumption to white blood cell damage and suggest it could lead to genetic mutations and cancer.

When eaten alongside anything containing vitamin C it can also damage DNA.

Sports nutrition's toxic twelve part 1

Genetic mutation worked well for The Toxic Avenger, but works rather less well for the rest of us

Sports nutrition's Toxic Twelve: 5 Brown rice syrup

What is it? a manmade sweetener

What’s the problem? may contain arsenic, has one of the highest glycemic indexes of any sugar

Brown rice syrup takes a pretty healthy and nutritious food - brown rice - and turns it into a pure sugar syrup with almost all of the original nutrients removed, and a much higher glycemic index than table sugar. This means big energy spikes and equally big energy troughs very soon after, all with zero nutritional benefit. 

Worse, significant amounts of arsenic have also been found in brown rice syrup.

Sports nutrition's Toxic Twelve: 6 Polydextrose

What is it? a synthetic flavour, filler and thickener

What’s the problem? laxative, causes gas, bloating, diarrhoea and stomach cramps

Polydextrose is so useful it finds its way into many processed foods. It bulks up low-fat products, sweetens low sugar ones, binds products together - there is almost no end to its uses in industrial food production. Trouble is, all that usefulness has caused the industry to turn a blind eye to the fact it plays merry havoc with your guts.

First it induces stomach cramps and a rapid bowel movement or two. Eat again within the same cycle and you’ll graduate to a full-blown liquid evacuation. Severe gas and major bloating are all part of the fun too.

Not what you want mid-race, or ever.

Related content

Sports nutrition's Toxic Twelve, part two: meet the rest of the gang here!

Maltodextrin and sports nutrition: how one ingredient kills gut heath, promotes chronic disease and depletes nutrient stores

The ultimate UTMB guide: the ultimate guide to the ultimate mountain ultramarathon, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc


Chia Energy Gel
Ultimate Daily Greens
Premium Protein
Amore Natural Energy Bar