Dan Davis, Nutritional Therapist, | 03 August 2012
So the world is in Olympic mode. The UK is gripped with hundreds of different sports, some that most of us have never taken much notice of before. Even friends of mine that had no interest in the games have become entranced since the fantastic opening ceremony - women's gymnastics and beach volleyball seem to be the most popular topics of conversation!
As is regularly mentioned by the organisers of the games, and the politicians who granted the funding for the magnificent stadiums and Olympic village, one of the aims is to inspire all generations to take up sport and exercise. And if I'm not mistaken it seems to have worked. My gym for one appears to be a lot busier. Kids seem to be in the parks more, trying to emulate the athletes on the screens, and our television channels are filled with advertisements for sport, equipment and sports ‘health' products.
Regular readers of my column will no doubt be aware of my thoughts on marketing when it comes to food and food products. And it seems the 30th Olympic games is a marketing agents dream come true. I'm not referring to the world's biggest burger chain, nor the leading manufacturer of a certain cola drink, although it still enrages me that these corporations are allowed to be associated with an event that should promote global exercise. But I really shouldn't go into that!
What I'm referring to is slightly more subtle, and perhaps not so much unscrupulous advertising but more inadequate information. Last year I had the good fortune (or not, depends on how you look at it) to coach my son's football team, under 10's. Every week, for training and match days they would all turn up with a drink for half time or rest time for training. Brightly coloured 500ml bottles with luminous orange, red or green liquid inside. All of them have the word SPORT plastered down the side of them. Now obviously I can't name specific brands or manufacturers, but I'm sure you've seen them. Your supermarkets, like my local store, probably have an entire aisle dedicated to them. So these products are marketed as sports nutrition, we are prompted to believe that they will increase performance, endurance, concentration and improve health. The TV and media marketing emphasises an athletic man or woman, powering down a track or football pitch, bursting across the finish line or scoring a wonder goal. The athlete is more often than not a world class name, at the top of his game, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to be the face of the product.
This is the subtle marketing I mean. All kids want to be their heroes don't they? They'll copy their kit, their moves and what they eat, drink and ultimately endorse. And right now, all it takes is a small Olympic logo or the Olympic rings to be added and the product is linked to the games - whether they are a direct sponsor or not. They pay thousands to use that logo by the way, but it's a drop in the ocean compared to the revenues they'll generate.
So what is the problem with our kids or us drinking these drinks? After all these big stars drink them, we see them on TV squirting them down their necks before during and after a race or match. True, that is not in doubt. But these are ENDURANCE athletes! Professionals at their game. They train every day for hours on end putting their bodies under great stress and pushing themselves to limits we can't comprehend. A 9 year old playing 40 minutes of football a week, or an adult doing one spin class and a brisk walk twice a week will not burn a fraction of the energy a pro does.
Let's look at estimated energy burnt during different sports. Its estimated that during a football match an outfield player will burn between 600-700 calories. Depending on their size a runner can burn between 2,500 and 3,500 calories during a marathon. Rugby players can burn up to 800 calories in a match. Bradley Wiggins, the Brit who just won the Tour De France reportedly ate 7000 calories a day, which is not surprising as they can burn up to 2000 per hour whilst racing. Remember this isn't including training up to an event.
The muscles in the body store carbohydrate, in the form of glycogen. Also stored in the liver, glycogen is actually the secondary energy source for the body. The primary being fat stored in the adipose tissue layer. But you have to consider that an athlete's fat percentage is very low. So during an endurance event distance athletes like marathon runners and distance cyclists will deplete their glycogen stores and if not replaced will hit what is known as ‘the wall'. These guys will take onboard fast absorbing carbohydrates or sugars, high on the glycemic index (or, GI). These are the sports drinks, gels and carb bars we see advertised regularly. Graeme Obree, who twice broke the world record for the 4000 pursuit cycling event recently revealed his refueling diet 'secrets'. Jam sandwiches on white bread! Obviously not something I would recommend in general, but when you're burning the calories these guys do, it won't affect your weight. And it's a fraction of the cost of the 'health drinks'.
On average these 500 ml sports drinks range between 120-150 calories per bottle. So consider a non athlete, an adult or a child drinking two of these bottles a day. That's up to 300 calories of your daily limit taken, possibly a seventh of your overall calorie intake without filling you up or any real nutritional value. They are predominantly sugar based, and as I've discussed before, high sugar intake will affect blood sugar balance which can lead to diabetes and obesity.
The manufacturers claim these drinks are perfect for performance and endurance athletes. But if that was the case, you would find them in specialist sports shops, and their revenue would be modest. Instead, they fill aisles and aisles of supermarkets, where they are bought by people, both adults and children, who really don't need that sort of sports nutrition. That modest revenue becomes a multi-million dollar industry. Even more sinister when you discover that two of the highest revenue brands are owned by a pharmaceutical company and that leading cola manufacturer.
So, when your child goes off to rugby practice, a football match or even rides their bike, or when you go to spin class or go for a power walk, take a nice cold bottle of water. You won't be drinking your calories. For 300 calories I can give you a wholemeal pitta pizza recipe which you'll love even more.
So instead of getting in Olympic fever, the marketers way. Lace up your trainers, grab the bike from the shed or get to your local pool. Get the kids to copy their heroes in the right way, and maybe lead by example. I'm copying the weight lifters this year!!
1 Wholemeal Pitta Bread– 180 Calories
1/8 Cup Tomato or Pizza Sauce – 15 Calories
1/3 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese – 80 Calories
1 Slice of Smoked Ham – 15 Calories
Mushroom – 5 Calories
Green Peppers – 5 Calories
Add any other Sliced/chopped veggies of your choice – Calories Vary But Healthy Calories!!!
Total Calories = 300
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Spread sauce over the pita
Layer half the cheese and sliced or chopped vegetables
Top with remaining half of cheese
Bake for about 10 minutes
All the best, till next time,
Dan Davis is a Nutritional Therapist based in London and Kent in the UK and a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Panel. To learn more about Dan, please go to his Biography page here
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