Sport nutrition - How athletes can benefit from world consensus on sport nutrition
All athletes taking part in the Athens Olympics this summer will receive a booklet of practical guidance on nutrition in sport. This booklet, translated into a variety of languages, was written by members of the International Olympic Committee’s working group on nutrition as a condensed version of information presented to the IOC’s second Consensus Conference on Nutrition for Sport, held in Lausanne last summer.
Another major output of that conference – the first for 12 years – was a one-page consensus statement debated by all participants and intended to highlight the key role of nutrition in sports performance.
The Consensus Conference brought together a group of 30 experts from around the world for three days of discussion and debate on a wide range of topics. Participants were selected to represent a wide spread of expertise in the various specialist areas of sports nutrition, and included scientists, doctors and dietitians. Some had seldom stepped outside the laboratory and had little involvement in the world of élite sports performance, while others were engaged in advising athletes on a daily basis and had no foothold in laboratory-based sciences.
This eclectic mixture ensured that discussions were guided by sound scientific principles, taking account of the latest research findings but also of the needs of athletes living and training in the real world.
Frankie Fredericks, one of the world’s all-time great sprinters, who took part as a representative of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, made sure that the scientists kept practical issues at the forefront of their discussions.
Improved awareness of nutrition
The conference highlighted a number of new developments in our understanding of sports nutrition that have taken place in the 12 years since the first conference was held in 1991. Apart from advances in scientific knowledge, there is now a much wider acceptance of the role of nutrition in performance, while athletes have developed much greater awareness of their nutritional needs.
In recognition of the importance of good nutrition and the need for athletes to have access to the best available advice, the IOC Medical Commission had established a Nutrition Working Group in the summer of 2002, charged with the responsibility of advising the Commission on all matters relating to nutrition.
One of the first actions of that group was to identify new developments in sports nutrition and to look at ways of communicating this information to athletes and those who work with them, which led directly to the Consensus Conference.
This conference was a clear statement from the IOC that it recognises the importance of nutrition to athletes. Now effort must be directed towards harnessing the IOC’s considerable influence and resources to communicate the key messages to the athletes.
The scientific evidence reviewed at the conference was published as a series of papers in the January 2004 issue of the Journal of Sports Sciences(1). This will be a valuable resource for those who wish to see the evidence on which the recommendations are based, but is of limited value for those more concerned with practical implementation.
The booklet to be made available to Olympic athletes this summer is a condensed version of the most practical information presented to the conference.
The third output from the conference was the one-page consensus statement reproduced overleaf. Although this was the briefest of the outputs, it caused the most debate as it forced participants to decide what they could agree on and where they differed. Brief though it is, this statement highlights a number of crucially important issues, each of which needs to be explored by any serious athlete.
The statement is, of necessity, broad and generalised. For athletes’ nutritional goals vary considerably according to the demands of their sport, while individual goals vary according to training and competition cycles.
Another issue, discussed at length in the conference, was that of the enormous variety of food choices that an athlete can make in striving towards his or her nutritional goals. Rather than complicating matters, this diversity offers boundless opportunities for athletes to enjoy the pleasures that food provides, while working to enhance their performance.
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