John Brewer, pro vice-chancellor and professor of applied sports science at St Mary’s University, London, told Nutraingredients he thinks manufacturers are the main cause of consumer confusion, and the industry is treading a fine ethical line.
“The causes of consumer confusion, if I’m really honest, are in the ways manufacturers exaggerate their products’ ability to improve performance and health. Often their claims are based on supposition and one-off studies rather than realistic science.
“I would like to see manufacturers be more credible, rather than creative. It is a challenge to encourage them to do this but the question manufacturers have to ask themselves is, do you want an industry based on trying to coerce people with claims that aren’t always genuine?
“Of course, there is this continual desire to have sales and so there’s always that temptation to push the boundaries as far as they can with claims but that leads to confusion as consumers will find these products won’t have the desired affects.”
He asserts that it needs to be made clear that sports nutrition products are only a supplement to a healthy diet as there’s a danger that people will not eat the right diet and try to make up for it with supplements.
He added: “There’s also a danger that people will read that a product can provide a 20% boost in something so they will take five of them in order to increase that benefit by 100% when that is actually leading to them overdosing on other ingredients which is very dangerous.”
Two examples Brewer used to describe how easy it is for people to be mislead are sports energy drinks and energy gels. He pointed out that these will, on average, contain around enough carbs and calories to sustain energy for a one-mile run.
“If you ask someone taking these how much longer they think that product will sustain them for, many of them will think it’s much longer than one mile.
“Everyone has enough energy, without supplements, to sustain exercise for around an hour, to an hour and a half. The biggest challenge in that time is actually dehydration, not lack of energy.”
The professor says he’s pleased to see sports drinks now containing more electrolytes and less sugar in order to better meet people’s rehydration needs.
The other sports nutrition myth that Brewer wants to dispel is the notion that eating lots of protein can make a person muscly when, in fact, more than 2g of protein per kg of body eight won’t have a major impact on muscle mass and could actually lead to an increase in fat, therefore scuppering any six pack dreams.
Brewer would like to see manufacturers making it more clear when their product should be consumed – before, during or after a workout – how many calories they provide and how much exercise that number of calories translates into.
“For example, if you are taking in a sports drink at the beginning of a 30 minute workout, the drink is only going to provide enough energy to sustain you for the first 10 to 15 minutes.”
He would also like to see manufacturers describing their benefits in work rate as opposed to endurance capacity as this is what people actually want.
“You don’t finish a marathon and think, I want to be able to do 10% of that again. You want to be able to do it 10% quicker. You want to improve your work rate which is a harder task.”