Wishful thinking or good for your morale?
"Since he stopped eating gluten, Novak Djokovic became world number one tennis player!" One company is not at all shy about using this slogan to promote the powers of its gluten-free products. Yet, while a gluten-free diet is highly fashionable today, dieticians and doctors are preaching to the wilderness when they assure us that cutting out gluten is of no benefit to health unless you suffer from gluten intolerance. We remain desperate to believe that this regime is our modern-day panacea. Sportsmen and women in their quest for achievement are no different to common mortals. From time immemorial, humans have sought to improve their strength, particularly by favouring certain types of food or ingredients. The athletes of antiquity saw the virtue of eating beef from a bull and pork and also of drinking mead. Today, such wishful thinking is channelled towards pills, jellies and drinks fortified with vitamins, caffeine, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and other micronutrients.
Useful or useless?
Supplements may however be justified in the context of elite sport, where the body is submitted to exceptional physical constraints. This is where encouraging results of experiments performed in vitro have the best chance of affecting the biological side of exercise. It is a question of small individual dietary improvements and/or targeted supplements optimising the ‘energy machine’, depending on the kind of exertion (duration, power, repetition...). However, dietary supplements have only modest influence on sporting success, as they account for a mere 1% or even a fraction of a percentage of improved performance. Yet, for someone with the ambition to win, that little extra is part of a whole that, on any given day, could lead to victory and even to breaking a record.
Simple, practical and easy to keep
We can understand that, for sport enthusiasts or casual athletes, ‘sophisticated’ dietary supplements actually have insignificant impact on performance. This is quite simply because casual athletes have not yet stabilised their physical skills (power and muscle strength, lung capacity...) at even the lowest level at which targeted food supplements could provide that little something extra which could actually make a difference. For casual sport, a balanced diet, eating food that is rich in carbohydrates and fats at the right times, adequate hydration and a training strategy that alternates phases of effort and recovery are all the key to sport that brings both pleasure and progress. Nonetheless, energy bars and sports drinks can be very practical in certain circumstances. Such products are compact, resistant, nutritious, digestible and easy to keep. They therefore provide a great snack for a trek in the mountains, prevent drowsiness and reassure sportsmen they are well prepared!