Nutrition plays an important role in athletic performance, experts say

Jan 29, 2017, 6:09 PM
Extreme Sport Beans by Jelly Belly are designed to give athletes a quick boost of energy during or ...
Extreme Sport Beans by Jelly Belly are designed to give athletes a quick boost of energy during or before a race. (Photo by Tyler Drake/Cronkite News)
(Photo by Tyler Drake/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Runner Jon Gordon, who recently took part in two races during the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon two-day Remix Challenge, has learned the hard way that improper nutrition can spoil a race day.

“I notice the races where I wasn’t able to prepare properly, you feel a little sluggish,” said Gordon, 31, who ran the 5K on Saturday and then the 10K event on Sunday during race weekend. “You feel kind of full at race time. So when I stick to my regimen and eat well I feel like I have a lot more energy.”

Two Valley sports nutrition experts agree that nutrition is vital in helping athletes achieve their full potential.

However, they warn against potential pitfalls associated with the use of supplements.

Simin Levinson, clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University and consulting sports nutritionist for the Phoenix Suns, believes the nutritional side to an athlete’s performance is crucial when done properly.

“I think that nutrition plays a critical role in terms of athletic performance,” she said. “I think of nutrition as being a training partner. Without really paying attention to nutrition a lot of times, what goes into training isn’t going to be optimized.”

Supplement and nutritional companies were out in force during Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon weekend at the event’s Health & Fitness Expo at the Phoenix Convention Center, targeting athletes such as Gordon.

Companies such as Hi-Health, Amino Vital and Sport Beans pitched their products to the thousands of runners passing through the Convention Center.

The number of products and their differences can be overwhelming, even for athletes who focus on the nutritional side of training.

The variety can leave an athlete unsure which products work or even dangerous. Chrissy Barth, a registered dietitian and nutrition coach doesn’t believe supplements should be an athlete’s first choice.

“I always choose whole foods first, because food gives us so many natural vitamins (and) minerals,” Barth said.

Barth and Levinson urge athletes to be careful what supplements they put into their bodies. Many supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“You can’t always believe what you’re reading on the label, because they aren’t FDA regulated,” Barth said. “So with supplements, I always caution my athletes just to be aware of that.”

Levinson said some products have been proven to be beneficial, while others are questionable.

“There are some products that are wonderful, and they have been tested and shown to actually improve performance in a statistically significant manner,” she said. “But there are a lot of products out there that athletes are just kind of wasting their money on, thinking that they’re going to gain a lot of muscle quickly or burn a lot of fat quickly. And, often times, there’s not a lot of evidence or proof that they’re actually effective.”

She said it goes back to the lack of regulation in the supplement industry.

“A product manufacturer can pretty much bottle and put anything on a shelf and sell it if they have an endorsement, or they can market it without having to prove that it’s effective or that it’s safe,” Levinson said.

Barth and Levinson suggest athletes use the NSF International website as a resource to research products and check for proper third-party certification.

Levinson said it’s important for athletes to understand which products are safe and effective, “because a lot of the products are not and they haven’t been studied or tested.”

“I think that’s important,” Levinson said.

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Nutrition plays an important role in athletic performance, experts say