Sports Nutrition

SSA Blog: Peter's podcast - the change in football nutrition

A quick glance at the podcast charts sees ‘That Peter Crouch Podcast’ firmly inside the top 10 (at the time of writing the podcast is 3rd in the Apple Podcasts Top Chart in the UK). In the show Crouchy is refreshingly honest about his time as a Premier League and international player. In a number of episodes, Crouch describes the contrasting levels of professionalism at the beginning and end of his playing career. Sport science is often the basis for that contrast. Every element of a footballer’s life has improved; training, tactics, diet, recovery, travel, the list goes on…   

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Alex Ferguson famously wrote that “sport science was the biggest and most important change in my lifetime”.

Sport science is now at the heart of elite football. Gareth Southgate’s appointment as England Manager has seen a shift in the approach to building a ‘performance programme’ akin to the marginal gains mantra that developed over multiple Olympic cycles by British Cycling. Coaches such as Guardiola, Klopp and Howe have sport science teams working across every area of player development, recruitment and performance. Much like British Cycling, these new performance led programmes offer sponsors opportunities to become part of the team, to support players, coaches and other staff in delivering part of the jigsaw required to compete at the highest levels. Integrating products, expertise and support within the club structure can add significant credibility sorely lacking in many traditional sponsorships.

One example of the drive to professionalism mentioned during the Crouchy podcast was the change in nutrition, particularly the post-match meal. The team talk about the transition, with some nostalgia, from a few cans and stopping off for fish and chips to now, where the team bus is equipped with a kitchen and the team chef travels with the players to ensure the correct post-match nutritional balance.

Mention is also made of the two-hour window. This is the period within which players will gain the most benefit from refuelling post-match. It is a story football nutritional sponsors have been trying to tell for some time with limited success.

A number of clubs have nutritional partners. The model is now fairly standard across the game. Provide product and a rights fee and off they go. While the products are part of the performance story and the credibility of use is not in question, they still find cutting through to a football audience a hard sell.

The nutrition category is one of the most interesting and should be one of the easiest to activate, yet success is limited. The football market is still dominated by Lucozade and to a lesser extent Gatorade. Both have tried to incorporate a wider nutritional product range. So far, both have struggled to leverage the UK’s biggest sporting market to make these new products a success. 

While nutritional supplementation is important and plays a key role in supporting performance, nutrition partners have the opportunity to go deeper and support performance over and above a well-stocked cupboard of products in the sport science office. They should be moving to offer clubs a full nutritional support package from the first team chef all the way down to parental support for youth team players. A few workshops and leaflets are just not good enough anymore. 

Obviously, there are considerations regarding continuity and control from the clubs point of view when relying on a sponsor to provide key staff or critical expertise. But Clubs should also be thinking about how their performance programmes can offer credible and integrated support to sponsors whilst still benefiting their performance goals.

There are only so many ways a nutrition brand can recommend that you eat within two hours of exercise to maximise recovery. If it is at the heart of the players’ diet plans, recovery, preseason training and the bus ride home, then shifting its message to a more holistic and brand led story should have more resonance and impact with fans. Brands need to prove they share in the common goal of supporting the team. Modern fans, who want to feel part of the club and closer to the players, seek behind the scenes insight at every level, and will act on the knowledge they gain in their own lives. Clubs need to support their partners allowing them to become the conduit for fans to access this information, therefore presenting sponsors as a credible vehicle through which fans interact with the club.  

If nutritional partners and clubs can work together more closely and use sport science as a genuine platform to activate their relationships then perhaps, just perhaps, nutritional sponsors could start to unlock the massive opportunity that football really offers…       

 

Sport Science Agency works with brands, broadcasters, rights holders and agencies to create insight, experiences and content from the latest sport science research. If you want to know more just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink. 

SSA Blog: Federer's dark secret

Even the most disciplined athlete might be forgiven for reaching for a chocolate egg or two at this time of year. Whatever your preference, it is hard to avoid the plethora of treats available over Easter. But is this such a bad thing? Could athletes actually see some benefit from indulging in a little chocolate over the Easter holiday?

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Chocolate has an established place within the sport sponsorship family. Winter sport, in particular, has benefited from a long-term relationship with Milka across mainland Europe. Not to be outdone the American Ski and Snowboard Association has partnered up with Hershey’s. In the UK, Cadbury has experienced an up and down relationship with sport. A successful sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic Games prompted its recent confidence to sign up as the Official Snack of the Premier League. However, back in 2003 Cadbury had to endure a backlash to it's partnership of the Youth Sport Trust, which the Food Commission criticised for “encouraging unhealthy behaviour” with its proposed school sports rewards scheme.

Whilst a little of what you like is said to be good for you, remember that not all chocolate is born equal. Dark chocolate is rich in cocoa-derived phytochemicals that may have bioactive properties including caffeine and flavanols (Stellingwerff et al, 2014) and the potential health and performance benefits of these flavanols is currently of great interest within nutritional research.

The dietary flavanols that occur naturally in cocoa powder (namely Epicatechin, Catechin and Procyanidins) have been found to provide anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and cardiovascular health benefits - such as decreased blood pressure and improved blood circulation. The last of which has been identified as a potential means of enhancing nutrient and oxygen delivery to the working muscles and removing waste by-products, potentially enhancing performance and recovery.

In an earlier blog, we examined how Roger Federer is able to maintain such incredible levels of performance well into his mid 30’s. Interviews across national and international media discussing the various factors such as genetics, training adaptations and psychological maturity followed. But did we miss a contributory factor? Perhaps the secret of Federer’s success is linked to one of his long-term sponsors, the Chocolateries’ Lindt…

Dark chocolate consumption has now been identified as an alternative means of raising the bioavailability of nitric oxide, the compound thought to be responsible for the health and (albeit mixed) performance benefits associated with beetroot juice. But how does eating a bar of dark chocolate translate into performance benefits for athletes and could it be the secret behind Federer’s success?

The reality is, at present the literature is in its infancy and, subsequently, is sparse. Stellingwerff et al (2015) and Decroix et al (2017) have observed that acute doses of dark chocolate can have an effect on key processes that could lead to performance benefits. However, both studies failed to establish a link to improved exercise performance.

It may be the case that dark chocolate needs to be consumed over a greater time-period for the physiological changes to provide performance benefits. Patel et al (2015) examined the impact of supplementing both dark and white chocolate (40g/day) for two weeks. The authors found that in a subsequent bike test, the gaseous exchange threshold (during sub-maximal exercise) and time-trial performance (2-minute max sprint) both increased following the supplementation of dark, compared to white chocolate. Unfortunately, as the flavanol and nitric oxide concentrations were not directly measured, the causality of these performance benefits could not be definitively established.

So even if Roger Federer has been an avid consumer of Lindt’s Excellence dark chocolate it’s difficult to link his continued performance excellence with this new area of nutritional interest. However, with Easter upon us and many hoping to enjoy a traditional chocolate treat, it seems that if you manage to fit in a few training sessions and then opt for dark chocolate, you can justify it as part of the latest nutritional research.

Even if a positive performance impact is still to be established, if it’s good enough for Roger…

Happy Easter  

 Sport Science Agency works with brands, broadcasters, rights holders and agencies to create insight, experiences and content from the latest sport science research. If you want to know more just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to meet and share a bar of dark chocolate or go for a healthy performance boosting drink. 

SSA Blog: The diet of a champion

The Formula 1 season kicks off today in Australia with all eyes on World Champion and pole sitter Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton is, without doubt, the sports biggest draw and maybe it’s only true crossover star. He goes into the season chasing a 5th world title, which if he achieves it would move him up to joint second on the all time list.

Midway through last season, a different spotlight was shone on Hamilton after he announced his decision to follow a vegan diet. Many questioned the wisdom of this lifestyle change at such a time, but any criticism was soon overshadowed by his imperious form following the mid-season break, which saw him storm to the driver’s crown with two races remaining.

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Hamilton is by no means the first major sports star to promote the virtues of a vegan diet. Perhaps the most famous advocate of a vegan, or predominantly vegan diet, is NFL star, Tom Brady. Brady, at the age of 40 has the most super bowl wins of any current NFL player. His longevity and continued success have created considerable attention around his diet and training practices. Brady’s diet is reportedly vegan throughout the year except during the winter playing period when he introduces limited lean meat to help with protein intake.

But are there performance benefits to such a diet for athletes?  

In a 2010 paper, Drs Fuhrman and Ferreri suggest potential training and recovery benefits linked to a vegan diet. They attributed this to high antioxidant, micronutrient and carbohydrate rich foods that a plant-based diet would provide. A recent review by David Rogerson, based at the Academy of Sport and Physical Activity at Sheffield Hallam University, also highlighted evidence a vegan diet could promote health in non athletics populations. To substantiate the claim, he points to lower rates of obesity and reduced incidence of heart disease and cancer among vegetarians and vegans. However, the same review outlines that individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets tend to be more health-conscious and therefore other lifestyle factors (e.g. exercise) may confound these effects. Rogerson concludes that currently when examining athletes, there is a lack quality scientific evidence to support any major performance benefit linked to a vegan diet.

There can be no doubt, however, that veganism is becoming more visible. It’s not only Hamilton and Brady that feel they are benefiting from a shift in traditional nutritional strategy, David Haye and Venus Williams have also moved to a plant based diet. Often this is linked to a desire to extend their careers and an increased focus on health. With all of them now past their 30th birthday it provides a new avenue for commercial partnerships beyond sport.

The growing influencer trend across social media has left sport stars with fewer traditional endorsements opportunities in the later stages of their careers. This is due, in part, to their lack of relevance among digital natives who look to people like them for product reviews, lifestyle tips and day to day information about health, diet, exercise and fitness.

However, major dietary changes and health based transitions focused on conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer are the domain of the middle aged. These audiences are looking for role models to support a change in their behaviour rather than, in the case of generation Z, a behaviour to follow in the first place.

This trend opens the door to athletes maintaining a career into their late 30’s and even early 40’s who can create an opportunity for themselves by highlighting their switch to vegan or plant based diets. Moving away from their sporting glories, instead showcasing their story of change, the process of adoption and the shift in behaviour, adapting to a new lifestyle for health and performance reasons.

Now 33, Lewis Hamilton’s status within Formula 1 and across the globe as a sporting icon is secure. The narrative surrounding his two year transition to veganism creates a new, less performance focused story providing the extra ingredient that maintains his relevance to fans and even opens the doors to a new, older and more affluent target audience away from the track. Watch this space for the Lewis Hamilton cookbook and range of vegan ready meals!

 Sport Science Agency works with brands, broadcasters, rights holders and agencies to create insight, experiences and content from the latest sport science research. If you want to know more just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink.