Moonshot _ 21


There are few areas in which the effects of nutrition have been so comprehensively researched as in sport. In numerous studies, proteins and carbohydrates repeatedly play the main role. Not only their quantity and the time of intake are decisive for performance, but also the quality of the raw materials used. This aspect is unfortunately often neglected in reality. Because the tendency to flatten out is big in the food world: what on the outside claims to be quality is often on the inside just “the same stuff, now with mango flavour”.

Meanwhile, the nutrition of professional athletes is analyzed and optimized by complete teams of nutritionists and cooks. The individual metabolism of each athlete is of course taken into account. However, professionalism and individuality often come to an end at the latest when it comes to purchasing: that’s when standard food from supermarkets and wholesalers comes onto the plate.

With this phenomenon of operational blindness, certain parameters are stored so firmly as given that the thought of a possible optimization does not even occur. In the seed banks of this world, for example, 800,000 varieties of wheat with the most varied chemical compositions are archived. It’s hard to believe that none of these are supposed to be super wheat that could enhance the performance of top athletes.


Competitive advantage Essen

Competitive athletes are modern gladiators: fighters in huge arenas where the winner is the star. Celebrated by the crowd, they are considered to embody ancient virtues such as strength, courage and determination. But performance thinking also has another side: dangerous food supplements and an unprecedented number of doping offences.

Around the world, sports scientists and nutritionists are looking for new ways to give athletes a safe, effective and legal competitive edge. One effective lever is nutrition: because well-chosen foods give more energy, increase performance, improve concentration and accelerate muscle recovery. Incidentally, the ancient gladiators already knew this: Studies of bones in gladiator cemeteries have shown that the historic martial artists did not feed on meat, but on lentils, beans and cereals.


Historical meat-belief

“You hit like a vegetarian,” Arnold Schwarzenegger said to Sylvester Stallone in 2013 in the film ‘Escape Plan’. At the time it was still an insult. Today, Schwarzenegger would probably take that as a benevolent compliment. Because according to his own statement, the former bodybuilder today eats 99 percent vegan food. In the documentary ‘The Game Changers’ Hollywood stars like James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger inform about vegan nutrition and dispel old myths. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “It is a misconception that we can only grow big and strong through meat and animal proteins. One of the experts speaking in the film is Dr. James Loomis, former team doctor for the San Louis Rams NFL team. He says, “One of the biggest misconceptions in sports nutrition is that we need animal protein to perform at our best.” No matter whether animal or vegan: Even when it comes to the nutrition of top athletes we should consistently question supposedly eternal truths.


The biology of proteins

In weight training the intake of protein concentrates is standard. But how useful are the protein powders really? From a medical point of view it is undisputed that our body is dependent on proteins: Nine of the 20 amino acids that make up proteins we cannot produce ourselves. So we have to absorb them through our food.

Muscles, heart, skin, hair and brain are largely made up of proteins. Depending on age and weight, up to 13 kilograms of our body is pure protein. When we eat proteins, different digestive enzymes in the stomach and small intestine break them down into their components – the amino acids. Some of these are absorbed through the intestines and then transported into body cells. Excess amino acids are not stored, but are excreted via the kidneys.


Recreational or competitive athlete?

A healthy adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight daily. This is no problem with the mixed diet common in Europe. On this basis, the recommended amount is even more likely to be exceeded. The normal amateur athlete does not need any special protein products. This is different in competitive sports. In a study, researchers from the US Army concluded that the effect of additional proteins depends on the training condition: If you are already trained, proteins help build muscle mass and increase muscle strength. If, on the other hand, you are untrained, there is no effect.[1]

People who exercise for several hours a day need two to two and a half times as much protein as a normal person. Since we cannot store protein, protein intake should be taken when you want to regenerate your muscles quickly or increase muscle mass. This applies to bodybuilders as well as footballers who strain their muscles several times a week over a longer period of time. This is because microscopically small cracks in the muscle fibres are created in the process, which must be repaired – by proteins. Here, full-value proteins with a high proportion of essential amino acids have proven to be the best.


Protein for all

Protein products are right on trend and now account for around 75 percent of the total market for sports nutrition. Protein bars and protein shakes are the two strongest product groups. Whereas in the past it was only bodybuilders and strength athletes who consumed proteins, today it is young fitness bloggers who offer the right protein shake to support their body tuning programme.

Once arrived in the young generation, the triumphal procession of protein products continues in all sports and fitness areas. Their youthful image and the promise of a good body feeling are in the foreground. Of course, in addition to energy balls, bread and muesli with a particularly high protein content are also popular. Interestingly, while protein products are booming, sales of slimming products are declining significantly. So people are no longer just interested in losing weight, but in being fit and strong.


Energy source carbohydrates

The image of carbohydrates has suffered in recent years. Cereal products in particular have been in the negative headlines too often. Nevertheless, carbohydrates are still an important source of energy for athletes – especially during long, continuous or high-intensity training. Although the human body can use fat, proteins and carbohydrates as a source of energy, carbohydrates are the primary fuel for sporting activities for two reasons. This means that carbohydrates can provide a greater amount of oxygen to muscles. In addition, unlike fat, carbohydrates can be broken down very quickly without the supply of oxygen – providing additional energy for maximum performance. By the way, under very intensive and long strains, the body uses not only carbohydrates and fats but also proteins to provide energy.


Advantages of a low GI

In order to maintain a constant level of athletic performance over a longer period of time, blood sugar fluctuations should be avoided if possible. Carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (GI) help here: they lead to a slow release of glucose into the bloodstream after digestion. Consumed before endurance training, they provide the contracting muscle with a sustainable source of energy. Since high insulin levels promote carbohydrate oxidation, the gentle insulin response of low GI carbohydrates can also be beneficial for substrate metabolism. In addition to an improvement in performance, the result would also be the conservation of muscle glycogen during endurance training.


Individual service response 

In top-class sport, the right carbohydrates can make the difference between winning a title or finishing at the bottom of the rankings. Whether or not it promotes performance depends largely on the glycemic reaction – and this can vary greatly from athlete to athlete. Although the categorisation of products with low, medium or high GI gives a rough guide, it can be completely wrong for the individual. Since the glycemic response is highly individual, no one food will provide the same performance improvement for all people. This realization does not make it easier to sell performance-enhancing products. But we have to accept, for better or worse, that there are no successful uniform concepts in the field of sports nutrition either.


[1] Pasiakos et al., The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 2015

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