Professor Louise Burke talks about nutrition and supplements in sport

When you are thinking about whether athletes
need supplements you have got to think about what you think
is a supplement is and we include sports foods like drinks and
bars and protein drinks that might be very useful in terms of just
meeting nutritional needs and sometimes more practical than everyday
foods. So certainly not every athlete needs to take
supplements to get their best performance but there are
sometimes reasons why it might be practical to use specialised
sports foods and then there are a very small list of supplements that can enhance sports performance and whether or not that is important to you will depend on what kind of athlete you are and what you are all the things you have got
left to look at to try and improve your performance. Being the best as an athlete is a really hard
job, there are so many layers of things that need
to be put on top of each other and even when you think of nutrition, getting
the basic day to day eating right, making sure that you are getting the weight
control, getting all the things you need to be healthy
and recover and support your training sessions, that’s so much more important than anything
you can get in a bottle. And some of our coaches talk about supplements
being the sprinkles on the icing on the cake and you have to get your cake with you basic
nutrition right, then you need to learn a little bit about
competition strategies, about how to fuel and how to hydrate and its only when you get all that done is when those supplements which may add a
little performance edge become more important. If you haven’t got a cake and haven’t
iced it then a packet of sprinkles is no use to you
at all. It is one of the most expensive things that
you can do is waste your money buying supplements because not only is it not going to be useful
to you without that cake and the icing that good nutrition and getting your competition
strategies in the right format provide to you but sometimes people who take supplements
think that they are bullet proof and then they don’t bother to go back and
do the cake and icing that truly makes the difference. So even when we work with elite athletes we
make sure that we don’t do anything with supplements until we have the basics right and we have
a lot or practice around competition eating right and only when that is in place do we say right now is the time to consider whether
there is something else that could be useful. Everybody thinks that if something is natural
and it has been put a the shelf and passed by some authority it must be safe and really that is the problem with a lot
of the herbal products in particular but just a lot of supplements in general. There is very little regulation of the industry
compared to other industries you take for granted so just because you see something on a shelf
and just because it says its natural or organic or in some way chemical free it doesn’t
have any health benefits just by that labelling and so really we in fact we probably say that
some herbal supplements are one of the risky kinds of products on
the market because sometimes the amount of information
about what is in the product and the amount of variability that comes within
herbal products is so great that you really can’t be sure
what you are buying. When we talk to athletes about making decisions
about supplements we ask three questions: is it safe; it is
effective; is it legal? So the safety aspect is really important because
people just assume if you buy something in a bottle and it is
available on the market then it must be safe. And in fact because the supplement industry
is so poorly regulated in comparison to some other industries it is quite possible to buy things on the
market particularly when you are buying things on the internet and getting things from overseas and
find a product that isn’t safe and there have been some terrible stories
recently about people dying or having serious problems with their health as a result of
using supplements. Then the next question is it effective? and then you need probably need to get some
good advice on not only has the product got got some science behind it but is it right for your event and
do you have the knowledge of how you might use it to get those benefits. And the last thing is; is it legal? so does this product contain any substances
that are on the WADA banned list. Now there are two problems there because sometimes
the supplements that are manufactured don’t have all their ingredients labelled and so the first problem is that people can
read a label and not understand the ingredients and not match them up to the WADA banned list. But the worst problem is when the product
is contaminated or contains ingredients that are not listed on the label and so the athlete can be taking supplement
and assuming that “well it’s just a supplement it must be
safe, it says it’s really good and that athletes use it so I must be able to do it
too” and then they find out that they have got
an Anti-Doping Rule Violation because they have tested and been found to have banned substances in
their urine. Finding nutrition advice can be tricky for
some people. Certainly there are a lot of good websites
you can look at. The AIS has lots of fact sheets. Sport Dieticians Australia are another group
that have a good website and there plenty of other places that have
some good sports nutrition information on offer. But I think that if you can put some resources
together and actually go and see a sports dietician that could be the best use of money ever
because then you could have all that information made very individualised and practical to you and you would be surprised
how, not cheap, but if you consider the alternative in terms of buying supplements the cost of
a big jar of protein powder or a special little jar of something or other could be even more expensive than having a
session with a sports dietician and I can tell you that the value that you
can get when are investing in long term nutrition advice particularly that is individualised to you is going to
be much better in the long run. Look it’s the million dollar question in
elite sport particularly because you can get the best advice possible, you can look at a product, you can try and
make some decisions about the company and how reputable they are and if whether they have good manufacturing
practices, you can read the label, you can talk to a sports nutritionist or sports physician who can give you some
more insight but at the end of the day it is the athletes own decision. I guess we think about supplements into three
categories and they have different levels of safety or benefits if you like. So we have the category that we call “Sports
Foods” that just contain everyday nutrition but in a practical form that might be useful
in some situations in sport particularly for before, during and after sport when it might
be difficult to eat normal food. Then we have things that we call “Medical
Supplements” where we have particularly vitamins and other nutrients that are provided to people who have a diagnosed
deficiency or a high risk of becoming deficient in a particular nutrient and these can be useful but again they need
to be put into the right context and provided with the advice of a sports physician or a
sports dietician. And then the last category are these special
ingredients that claim to have a direct performance enhancing effect. Now of the three levels of I guess risk or
benefit it is these guys up the end that are promising these performance benefits that
are the probably the most risky. When you are talking about the other two,
when they are made by large companies that are in the food industry or the pharmaceutical
industry then they are probably safer in terms of the
ingredient list but of course if you don’t use them in a way that is sensible you can
still run into problems. ENDS

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