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Have you ever found yourself wondering if there was any truth to sports nutrition claims you hear thrown around from time to time? For instance, can chocolate really boost physical performance? Does one really need to ‘carb up’ the night before a race?
We’ve asked UW Health Sport Performance’s sports nutritionists to put these questions and more to the test.
Myth 1: Chocolate helps your athletic performance.
It’s often said that dark chocolate is healthy and carries a powerful nutrient punch. However, is the punch strong enough to improve physical performance?
In a 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition researchers from Kingston University examined this exact question by having a group of moderately trained individuals complete a baseline trial on stationary bikes, followed by two ‘chocolate’ trials. The ‘chocolate’ trials involved eating white or dark chocolate for 14 days prior to undergoing the cycling test. In all each individual completed three exercise trials.
The research team found that consumption of dark chocolate led to significant improvements in distance covered over a 2 minute cycling time trial as well as improved oxygen usage compared to when the participants hadn't eaten any chocolate (the baseline test) and when they ate the white chocolate.
It is believed that the positive performance benefits were due to dark chocolate's high flavonol content, which may improve blood flow during exercise.
Based on this study, it is the dark chocolate (which is generally considered greater than 70 percent cocoa content) that appears to give your physical performance a boost.
Answer: TRUE – only if dark though!
Myth 2: If you use whey protein to help with your post workout recovery and overall health, make sure it’s only from grass fed cows.
One of the primary differences between grass and conventional fed cows is their fatty acid profile, with the former having slightly higher levels of omega 3 and CLA levels. However, due to the filtration process used in production, there is very little fat present in whey protein. Thus any differences between the two have no impact on human health.
There is some concern that conventionally fed cows treated with hormones (rBST/rBGH) may impact the hormone levels present within milk. However, when looking at research, there is little evidence to indicate that hormone levels differ within milk; much less the whey protein derived from milk.
Based off current research, there is little evidence indicating that whey protein from grass fed cows is any healthier or holds greater post workout recovery benefits than whey obtained from conventionally fed cows.
Myth 3: You should carb load the night before a race.
One of the most common practices for endurance athletes is to ‘carb-up’ the night before a race and for good reason – no one wants to ‘bonk’ during a race and see their speed drop to that of a snail. [For those not familiar - ‘bonking’ refers to running out of glycogen, the body’s storage form of carbohydrates.]
That leads us to question - is a massive pre-race ‘carb up’ necessary to prevent ‘bonking’ and fuel your performance?
Generally speaking, if you’re already eating a moderate to high carbohydrate diet (2.5-5g/lb of bodyweight), adding in extra carbohydrates beyond this amount will likely have minimal impact on race day performance. Simply cutting back on training volume the week before a race plus keeping carbohydrate intake consistent will often be all that’s needed to ensure glycogen supplies are well stocked.
However, if you’ve been eating a lower amount of carbs leading up to the event and/or the race is longer (think marathon, triathlon; not a 3k- or 5k-run), increasing carbs above normal intake can be quite useful.
Answer: True; however the impact it will have on race day performance will be influenced by – 1) the duration of the event; and 2) the amount of carbohydrates you’ve eaten during the days leading up to your pre-race ‘vigil’ meal
Myth 4: Sports drinks can help you perform better.
Attend any sporting event and you’re bound to see athletes drinking sport beverages such as Gatorade™, Powerade™ and similar sport drinks. These drinks, which usually consist of sugar and electrolytes, are often marketed as a preferred source of hydration to power you through a workout or athletic event. However, quite often, these needs can be met in a much healthier fashion; simply drinking water and having a proper whole food based pre-game meal/snack will supply the body with lasting energy.
So when does it make sense to use a sports drink?
Research indicates that ingesting carbohydrates (such as the sugars found in sport beverages) during a workout/athletic event enhances physical performance when competing in events involving more than 60 minutes of continuous activity. Think triathlons, road races - not a single game of baseball or intermittent training session! Besides providing energy, sport beverages can also speed up the rate at which your body absorbs fluid versus water alone. However, outside of more extreme temperatures and/or intense training/game play, the difference is often negligible on physical performance.
Answer: False – outside of more intense training/game/races, consuming a sports beverage likely won’t help very much vs. simply consuming water and proper pre-event nutrition.
Myth 5: Caffeine can improve your performance.
Caffeine is one of the most widely studied ergogenic (performance enhancing) substances on the market. Multiple research studies have shown that when taken in doses of approximately 1.5-2.5 milligrams per pound of bodyweight caffeine can increase physical performance from 3 to more than 10 percent. However, as with most supplements, some people will respond to the effects and some people won’t.
Pro Tip – Caffeine can cause GI issues in some individuals. If looking to give your race/game day performance a boost via caffeine, be sure to experiment with different doses during the practices leading up to the event to see what will work best for you.
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