Wishful thinking or good for your morale?
"Since he stopped eating gluten, Novak Djokovic has become the world’s 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 tend to remain unheard when they assure people that cutting out gluten is of no benefit to their health unless they suffer from gluten intolerance. We still wish 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 people have sought to improve their strength, particularly by favouring certain types of food or ingredients. The athletes of antiquity were convinced of the virtues of bull’s meat, pork and mead. Today, such wishful thinking is channelled towards pills, jelly capsules and drinks fortified with vitamins, caffeine, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and other micronutrients.
Effective or ineffective?
Supplements may, however, be justified in the context of elite sport, where the body is submitted to exceptional physical stress and strain. This is where encouraging results of experiments performed in vitro have the best chance of being applied to the biological component 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, strength, repetition...). However, dietary supplements have only modest influence on sporting success, as they account for no more than 1% or perhaps even only for 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 a new record.
Simple, practical and easy to digest
It should now be clear that for sport enthusiasts or amateurs “sophisticated” dietary supplements actually have insignificant impact on performance. This is quite simply because such athletes have not yet stabilised their physical skills (muscle strength and resilience, lung capacity...) at a level where targeted food supplements could provide that little something extra which could actually make a difference. For amateur sports, 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 exertion and recovery are all the key to activities that bring 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, counteract fatigue and reassure sportsmen they are prepared, come what may!