Common sports nutrition questions

Do I need to take protein shakes and supplements?

• Among recreational gym-goers, protein supplementation has become increasingly popular for muscle building, but is generally unnecessary.

• For most active people the body’s protein needs can be easily achieved from a healthy, varied diet, with good choices of high quality, lean protein foods being incorporated into meals and snacks.

• After competition sports or an intense training session, high quality protein powders can be a more convenient and transportable recovery method when there is limited access to food, and may be effective for maintenance, growth and repair of muscle.

• Unlike protein supplements, high protein foods will typically also contain essential vitamins and minerals.

• A whey protein shake contains around 20g of protein – 20g of protein equates to half a chicken breast or a small can of tuna.

• Taking protein far in excess of requirements through high intake of protein supplements may cause long term health risks (e.g. may increase the risk of poorer bone health and osteoporosis or accelerate any existing kidney problems).

When exercising, should I drink anything other than water?

 

In most cases, for exercise and activities up to one hour, water is sufficient for hydration.
Exercise that is longer and more intense, other types of drinks may be considered.

Sports drinks:

Isotonic sports drinks contain carbohydrates in the form of glucose, as well as electrolytes such as sodium.
The electrolyte sodium will replace any lost from sweating and enhance rehydration.
Glucose will replenish carbohydrate stores.
Sports drinks have been shown to help endurance performance for active individuals performing endurance exercise (e.g. participating in a marathon).

However, remember that sports drinks are similar to other soft drinks that contain sugars. This means that they can be high in calories. So they are only suitable if taking part in high-level endurance sports or if sweat loss is high.

• Milk:

Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk has been shown as an excellent post-exercise recovery drink.
It naturally contains vitamins and minerals that can replace those lost via sweating and enhance rehydration (sodium), as well as assisting in muscle function and bone health (potassium and calcium).
It also naturally contains high quality protein and some carbohydrates, and is relatively cheap to buy.

• Energy drinks:

Many people think sports drinks and energy drinks are the same. But it is important to note that they are very different.
Energy drinks typically contain high levels of caffeine and sugars.
They are not designed to replace the electrolytes lost in sweat and may contain other ingredients with stimulant properties.
If consumed in excess, energy drinks can lead to severe health problems such as heart problems (cardiac rhythmic disturbances) and caffeine intoxication.

As some are high in sugars, they can increase the risk of tooth decay especially in those with poor dental hygiene and could encourage high calorie intakes, which may cause weight gain.
Energy drinks should not be consumed in place of sports drinks during exercise.

Should I take vitamin or mineral supplements?

• Consumption of a healthy, varied, nutrient-rich diet, which contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, starchy foods, some lean protein foods and some low fat dairy foods, should provide all the vitamins and minerals that most physically active individuals require.

• There is little evidence to suggest that vitamin and mineral supplements. If you are consuming a healthy, balanced diet, can improve performance.

• Similarly, poor food choices cannot be compensated for by taking supplements. Supplements can be expensive and in very high doses can actually be harmful.

• However, supplements may be necessary for certain population groups.
For example, vitamin D is mostly obtained through action of sunlight on our skin in the summer months, and there are few rich food sources, so some at risk groups such as children under five years, pregnant and breastfeeding women and adults over the age of 65 are recommended to take a supplement.