Nutritional supplements in sport

Sports science is having an increasing impact in the world of business, and the area of sports nutrition is no exception. Top sportsmen and women are always looking at ways of improving their performance, and do so in the knowledge that their bodies are similar to a Formula 1 car – no matter how good the engine and the driver, if you put in the wrong fuel, it won’t perform very well!

As a consequence, athlete’s from all sports are always looking for new nutritional supplements that might give them the edge over their opposition, and a huge multi-million pound industry has consequently developed supplying specialist foods and drinks to sports people. Manufacturers are always trying to develop new products that will enhance performance or recovery, whilst recent regulatory changes mean that advertising claims telling consumers about the potential benefits of a sports nutrition product now need to be backed by proper scientific research.

The University of Bedfordshire’s Sports and Exercise Science department is at the forefront of such research, and is currently completing a series of three research studies for one of the UK’s leading sports nutrition companies, investigating the impact of their supplements on areas such as weight loss, metabolic rate, muscle strength and endurance.

This is exciting work to be involved with, since in order to withstand scrutiny from the public, and to meet advertising requirements, the results must be capable of being presented at academic conferences and published in scientific journals. They can also have a real impact on the sales and profits of the companies, but at the same time good science must not be influenced by a desire to find the “right result” – making sure that we adopt experimental procedures where neither the scientists nor participants know whether they are taking a real supplement, or placebo, is therefore crucial.

We are fortunate that our sports science laboratories enable us to collect oxygen uptake values or measure muscle size with state-of-the-art equipment, and we also have an environmental chamber that enables us to create temperatures and humidity levels that are closer to those found in tropical environments than they are to those in Bedford! Participants are normally asked to undertake a range of physical tasks – often involving exercise until exhaustion – and then comparing their performances and physiological responses both with, and without, the supplement. In this way, we can see whether the product and its ingredients really do work, or whether the manufacturers need to go back to the drawing board and try something different!

Are you interested in sports nutrition? Would you like to design the nutritional supplements of the future to improve athletes’ performances? If so, check out the areas that you could work in below.

  • A sports nutritionist – provding information and advice about the effects of food and nutrition on health and well-being
  • dietitian – helping people to make informed choices about their lifestyle and what they eat
  • research scientist in performance nutrition – carrying out research into the best foods to eat before, during and after competitions
  • lecturer in sports nutrition – teaching and carrying out research into sports nutrition in universities and colleges