How to choose your sports nutrition? (1/2)

More and more brands are entering the sports nutrition market in recent years. New products are constantly appearing in the specialized shelves. New concepts, new active ingredients put forward, new packaging, it is becoming very difficult for consumers to find products that correspond to their needs and disciplines in front of the multitude of choices available to them. So how to choose the right sports nutrition products? What are the reflexes to have to guide your choice? Should we rely on the comparisons available on the web? We will try to help you through this article to make your choice easier.

Define your nutritional profile

First of all, it is important for each of us to try to define our sports and nutritional profile. Indeed, depending on the discipline practiced and the level of each individual, nutritional needs will be different. The type of effort is the first thing to consider when refining your profile. High intensity but short-lasting sports, intermittent sports (racket sports for example), team sports or endurance sports must be clearly separated. These will of course require increased nutritional requirements and the implementation of precise feeding and hydration protocols to maintain a constant effort as long as possible. This first selection axis will allow you to situate yourself and direct your thinking towards the type of product that corresponds to your needs.

High-intensity and short-lasting sports will require explosive and immediate energy that can be provided in the form of an energy gel or carbohydrate-rich solid nutrition. These products should be consumed before the start of the effort since it is often impossible to use them during the exercise because of the short duration of the exercise.

Intermittent sports such as tennis, for example, will consume more energy. Our advice will be more oriented towards taking an exercise drink with solid nutrition (bar or fruit jelly) to use when changing sides. The sequence of matches and the intensity that some of them can achieve must also lead to the use of a recovery drink at the end of the match.

For team sports, the difficulty of hydrating during games should encourage consumers to anticipate their hydration and diet. Thus, taking an exercise preparation drink or an exercise drink before the game must become a reflex. During half time, third time or quarter time, it will also be important to continue to hydrate with an energy drink or to eat a gel, bar or fruit jelly. Finally, the use of a recovery drink is also recommended.

For endurance sports, it is important to think in terms of effort duration. There can be many product choices. We will come back to this in the second part of our article.

The second element to keep in mind is more subjective. It’s about everyone’s preferences. Do I prefer energy drinks, gels, solid nutrition (bars, fruit jellies, etc.)? What is the main criterion that will guide my choice? Price, taste, nutritional quality…?

How to decrypt a product?

To choose your sports nutrition products correctly, you need to be able to analyze their main strengths and weaknesses at a glance.

1/ Timing of consumption: the stated purpose of the product must be quickly identified. To do this, you will very often find pictograms or even information about the recommended time of taking. In general, it is written “BEFORE THE EFFORT”, “DURING THE EFFORT” or “AFTER THE EFFORT”.

2/ The origin of the Manufacture: it is important to know the origin of the product in order to avoid any risk of infringement of the anti-doping standards in force. Moreover, it is obvious that the “made in France” reassures. The requirements in terms of food safety, traceability and compliance with anti-doping standards applied in France are such that products manufactured in France fully comply with consumer expectations.

3/ Compliance with anti-doping standards: all products resold in France by specialized stores or certified online shops must comply with the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Code published by the World Anti-Doping Agency and which you can easily find on the Internet. For this reason, sports nutrition brands must undertake to comply with the only authentic standard governed by AFNOR (Association Française de Normalisation). This AFNOR NF-V94-001 standard, which has been in place for several years, governs a set of rules and good practices to be respected by manufacturers offering products for athletes. It is therefore not uncommon to find on some products the mention “Compliant with the NF-V94-001 standard”. However, there are still certification bodies such as the “Sport Protect” or “Wall Protect” labels that some brands use to certify their products.

4/ The list of ingredients: the latter indicates all the ingredients used in the manufacture of the product in order of importance. It is this list that will allow you to know the sources of ingredients that allow you to establish nutritional analysis. You will thus be able to find the types of carbohydrates used (most of the time sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltodextrin…), the types of proteins also (of animal or vegetable origin), the sources of vitamins and minerals and finally the additives used (thickeners, texture agents, acidity regulators…). Allergens also appear on this list. They are often in bold, italic or at the end of the list after the mention “allergens”.

5/ Nutritional analysis: it is from this that you will know if the product corresponds to your nutritional needs. This analysis is generally stated for 100g of product and for one dose of product. Refer mainly to the column that indicates the quantities for a catch because it is this one that will inform you of the effective contribution that the product will provide.

This analysis must follow a precise order starting with the energy value, the amount of fat (including saturated fatty acids), the carbohydrate content (including sugars), dietary fiber, protein, salt and finally minerals, vitamins and other ingredients.

NRVs (Nutrient Reference Values) are generally expressed for a dose. They make it possible to quantify vitamin and mineral intake in relation to the nutritional intakes recommended for the population and defined by EU Regulation 1169/2011. Depending on the type of product used (before, during or after exercise), it is important to ensure these intakes. Indeed, some brands recommend many products to use to achieve your efforts and their cumulative intake leads to significant exceedances of NRVs. We will come back to this in our second part.

Among all these elements, it is not easy to find your way around. This is why it is necessary to prioritize its reading axes. In the second part of this article, we will detail precisely the active ingredients to be taken into account according to the type of product (exercise preparation product, exercise product and recovery product).

Since it is difficult to anticipate the selection criteria of prices and tastes, we will focus on analyzing the nutritional quality of the various products on the market.

Should we rely on the comparisons found on the Web?

By searching carefully, you will be able to find on the Internet many product comparisons that are supposed to make your choices easier. These comparisons are interesting since they make it possible to reference almost all the products on the market on the date of publication of the article. At first sight, it is always interesting to be able to compare several products at a glance, especially in terms of price positioning, but it is important to make the right distinction. These comparisons are mainly based on nutritional analyses provided by the brands. They are based on the reading of these analyses and the criteria applied by the person writing them. Ideally, it would be interesting to support these comparisons if each of the products were physically tested in order to add an additional dimension to these tests. The appearance of the product, its texture, its taste, its ease of use are criteria that are excluded from these comparisons but are extremely important for consumers. Indeed, all users expect are good, practical, easy to use and above all effective products. This is why the tests carried out by some specialized magazines are more relevant since the products are subject to ratings that take all these aspects into account. Needless to say, sports nutrition products must be tested before being used in competition.

Moreover, most of the comparisons met are based only on a fairly simplified analysis of the products. Indeed, the quantity of carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, some vitamins and some other ingredients are compared. However, it comes down to comparing products that all contain more or less these ingredients essential to athletes. To be relevant, comparisons should go further by examining the quality of these ingredients since, depending on the source used, a product can go from any good to any bad. Small details also make big differences. Some products provide, in addition to the main ingredients I have just mentioned, many innovative active ingredients that provide them with high added value and technicality that improve their effectiveness. Some brands devote a lot of time to Research and Development to develop increasingly innovative formulas designed to improve the daily lives of athletes. It seems essential when comparing products with each other, to take into account all the ingredients that make up the product and the innovations made, whether relevant or not.

In our second section, which will be published soon, we will go into detail about the right reflexes to adopt when reading a nutritional analysis and a list of ingredients. We will also specify the criteria that should guide your choice according to the type of product (before, during or after exercise).

J. RAOUX, Labs Nutrition