The problem with sports nutrition science

The problem with sports nutrition science

The problem with sports nutrition science is... most of it's cobblers. There's a lot of talk about science in sports nutrition and well aware that science sells, many companies find it cheaper and easier to create this science than to actually make better products 

Which is why the science they're very often using is rubbish. So rubbish, it's not science at all. Think of it as dodgy marketing in a fake lab coat and you're much nearer the truth.  

As an example, how many times have you seen a new gel, bar or drink come out with a bold new claim about how much faster or stronger it will make you?

Pretty regularly right?

These claims are then painstakingly referenced in the ad's small print, always citing the relevant study to back up the claim. But who ever then goes and looks at that study?

No one. 

Which is what the nutrition companies doing this are banking on. Because when you do, it's likely to have more holes in it than your grandad's old Y-Fronts.


Sports nutrition science 1

Sports nutrition science - now with more holes than this this man's Y-fronts

But don't just take our word for it. 

When a team from Oxford University examined 431 claims made in advertising for 104 sports products they found a"worrying" lack of quality evidence backing them up

The studies were there alright, but when examined closely were either out of date, poorly carried out (no control group, etc), funded by the product's manufacturer, or pointless (study proves the point, but only in one-legged parrots, etc).

Here's a fun example from the vast selection to choose from, this time from High5 who claim that by using their products and strategy you "go 26% further at race pace with no additional training". Wow.

Download the full report of this test to see how this modern miracle has been achieved, and you'll almost fall through the holes.

Because while scrupulous attention is given to making the report both dense and long (the full version's here if you're feeling up to it), and while it explains at length how the subjects went an average of 26% further on the same exercise bike challenge when fueling with High5's products at the prescribed rate as opposed to when using their own nutrition products and strategy, at no point is there any explanation of what the subject's previous nutrition products and/or strategy actually were.

The assumption is these subjects were elite endurance athletes who brought their knowledge and experience to the table and were instantly made 26% better by the simple application of High5. 

If this were the case, that would be impressive and you'd expect it to be in the report. 

But it's not.

For all we know the subjects could have all just used 'a couple of biscuits' as their strategy in which case the results are simply 'unsurprising', and have nothing to do with High5 and everything to do with subjects ingesting more calories when taking High5, over far fewer when eating the odd biscuit.

Or maybe the subjects had no idea about endurance at all and just liked eating cat food while riding exercise bikes, which would then just leave the results as 'a sure thing'.

Sports nutrition science


High5 - better than cat food. Possibly

Timing isn't addressed either, so while on the High5 plan the subjects ate/drank at set intervals, on their own plan no timings are given meaning they could have eaten the whole lot in one go after bonking just before the end of the test. 

Again, this would make the results 'a sure thing'.

But we'll never know, because none of this is in the report.

The only hint of the differences between the two strategies is that carbohydrate intake on the High5 strategy was double what it had been on the subject's own strategies. So the only conclusion that can be honestly drawn is:

'More carbohydrates can take you further than less carbohydrates'. 

All of which has nothing to do with using High5 products or not.

It gets better when you dig deeper to discover that High5 also paid for this research. Given it appears to prove bugger all beyond the blindingly obvious, we suggest they may want to ask for their money back.

As a related aside to this grubby chapter, we recently met a former marketing executive from a major sports nutrition company who told us how well the staff of a well-known fitness magazine did on an eight-week test of their nutritional products while undergoing a guided training programme.

"Great" we replied.

"Did you use a control group who also did the guided training programme, but without the nutrition products so you could prove it was your products and not the training that made the difference?", we asked.

"Erm, no", came the reply.

Thought not

If you prefer sports nutrition that actually works, as opposed to sports nutrition that says it works...

Then we have just the thing for you because at 33Fuel that's all we deal in - you can find out more in store here


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