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Sports nutrition ingredients - now also in shampoo, lube and cosmetics

Posted by James Eacott on

Mainstream sports nutrition ingredients are, apparently, specially formulated to boost athletic performance. Yet in everything else, from cake and hair dye to pesticide and 'intimate' lube, they're just filler. What the blazes is going on?

Something very strange is afoot in the world of ordinary sports nutrition. The core ingredients in many products - each uniquely designed to boost speed, strength and recovery according to their proud marketing blurbs - are also found in a lot of other products too, and this is where it gets weird. Because not one of these other products or uses for these same ingredients has the vaguest whiff of performance or health about it. 

Quite the opposite in fact. 

Because these ingredients are packed into everything from junk foods and shampoos to bedroom lube and crop-spraying pesticides. None of which stops them from being completely legal food additives, but when their regular homes are in products like these, common sense suggests eating them is unlikely to be great for you.

sports nutrition ingredients 33Fuel Amore Energy Bar

You only need to unwrap your sports nutrition to see how real it is. With just eight real ingredients, 33Fuel's Amore energy bar is all food and all performance

We'll never use any of these ingredients at 33Fuel. For us cutting corners when it comes to health and performance makes no sense, but regardless of your standpoint here knowledge is power which is why we've pulled together this handy guide of the most common double agents found in mainstream sports nutrition so you can see for yourself where else they're moonlighting, and make your own call as to whether you'd like to eat them or not.

Ready? Then let's get to it. 

1 Potassium sorbate 

In ordinary sports nutrition

Potassium sorbate is used by most of the big players in the sports nutrition market where it's used to increase the shelf-life of many products, including most energy gels.

Everywhere else

It's a chemical preservative used in cakes like Mr Kipling’s French Fancies, soft drinks and ice cream, and processed sauces/dips like Doritos Nacho Cheese. Nothing against any of these if that's your bag, but you don't need a PHD in nutrition to see they're hardly performance foods. 

Meanwhile in the cosmetics aisle, potassium sorbate's in a wide range of products including hair remover, eyeliner, contact lens solution, shampoo, and 'intimate’ lube. Mmm, delicious.

Why you might want to avoid it

Linked to stomach distress in the short term, longterm consumption of potassium sorbate has also been linked to white blood cell damage. 

Read more about potassium sorbate here.

Sports nutrition ingredients intimate lube

Potassium sorbate – helps you run faster AND lube your intimate parts?

2 Maltodextrin

In ordinary sports nutrition

Maltodextrin is the backbone of ordinary gels and energy drink powders and is often the main ingredient. It's also in most mainstream whey protein powders and turns up in a lot of ordinary electrolyte powders. In short, it is the go-to carb for the sports nutrition industry.

Everywhere else

You’ll laugh or cry when you realise just how prevalent maltodextrin is in junk food. Among other things, it’s at the heart of Pot Noodles and Cheez Whiz. 

In the world of agriculture it's sprayed on fields as a pesticide, and back in the cosmetics aisle it's the used as a binder, stabiliser and filler. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel even found maltodextrin "had the highest reported cosmetic ingredient use".

One high street cosmetic brand uses it in glitter because it "helps all ingredients such as synthetic fluorphlogopite and colour pigments bond," while another hair care company explains it's "the key ingredient to volumunous hair"

If that has put you off your old energy gels at least you can now use them as travel shampoo.

Why you might want to avoid it

The key problem with maltodextrin is its ability to spike blood sugar and damage good gut bacteria. Stable blood sugar levels and a healthy gut are key to optimal health and athletic performance and maltodextrin is negative to both. 

Learn more about maltodextrin here.

sports nutrition ingredients - junk food

Maltodextrin - super carb to ordinary sports nutrition companies, cheap filler to everyone else...

3 Sodium benzoate

In sports nutrition

Sodium benzoate is a preservative used by almost all of the biggest sports nutrition brands and is particularly common in energy gels regardless of price.

Everywhere else

Sodium benzoate “inhibits the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, mould and other microbes” and is particularly effective in acidic foods so is widely used in soft drinks, desserts and condiments.

Preservatives work well in junk foods and, as we’ve seen, in cosmetic products so it's no surprise to find sodium benzoate in hair dye, deodorant and shampoo. 

Why you might want to avoid it

There’s a lot of concern around sodium benzoate having carcinogenic properties (capable of causing cancer in living tissue). This is because when it's consumed alongside food containing vitamin C, sodium benzoate turns into benzene, a known carcinogen. 

For more on sodium benzoate, click here.

4 Whey

In sports nutrition

The by-product of cheese production, whey's the core of almost every ordinary protein powder and bar and is indeed effective at building muscle, but the potential downsides of whey aren't really worth it in our opinion when there are perfectly natural, viable alternatives that are just as easy to use and cost the same.

In everyday products

Away from muscle and recovery products, you'll find whey in all manner of places that really wouldn't make it through the door of any gym you care to mention. 

For example, whey is the main ingredient in the fascinating Cheeze Whiz. If you’re like me, you just tilted your heard at the screen and pondered "What the God almighty is Cheeze Whiz". Well, let me inform:

Cheeze Whiz is a processed cheese sauce - a combination of whey, flavourings, maltodextrin and some lovely colourings to give it that comforting yellow glow.

You’ll also find whey in microwaveable burgers, crisps (‘chips’ to our American friends), and ice cream sandwiches.

Why you might want to avoid it

Whey can cause digestive issues and has been linked to increased acidity in the body which in turn can slow down recovery and could even be related to osteoporosis over time as the body leaches calcium from the bones to counter the increased acidity in the blood. 

Our article comparing whey and plant protein highlights the pros and cons of both protein sources. 

sports nutrition ingredients - crisps

You’ll find ordinary sports nutrition ingredients the highest quality health foods. Like Doritos

5 Natural flavourings

In sports nutrition

Natural flavourings are used in sports nutrition because after all the processing, the base product is usually left with little remaining taste. 

In everyday products

If a product isn't palatable enough, likely due to low grade ingredients and/or heavy processing, natural flavours are added to achieve something tasty. But as they're natural, surely there's no problem? Well...

Why you might want to avoid them

This is an interesting one. The word 'natural' suggests there might be some goodness after all, but that's not the whole story. 

Natural flavouring originates as an extraction from something natural, but soon after chemicals are added and the end result then closely resembles artificial flavouring with some scientists suggesting there's little difference between the two. 

Up to 80% of natural flavouring can in fact be something else, with that 'something else' comprising anything up to 100 further ingredients from a list of 3,000 food additives, none of which then need declaring on the label. 

The end result is you really have no idea what you're eating when natural flavouring turns up. 

sports nutrition ingredients - 33fuel better fuel energy drink blend

We didn't use any flavouring in our Better Fuel Energy Drink. We just used really delicious wholefood ingredients. Old-fashioned I know, but that's just how we roll

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