The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?! About Sports Products

There was episode of Panorama entitled ‘The Truth About Sports Products’ which aired on the 19th July informed us that 1 in 5 of us in the UK attends a gym, and 12 million of us take part in a sporting activity. Those of us, and much of the rest of the population I suspect, then spend our hard earned money on sports products which we believe enhance our performance; but do they?!

Here is my summary of the topics covered:

First up for the critics were Sports Drinks. We spend a quarter of  billion pounds per year on such products which are endorsed by athletes and widely available in supermarkets next to fruit juice and squash! The long and the short of it is that there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that you get a significant benefit from consuming such drinks (unless you are an Elite Athlete). Carbohydrate based drinks specifically work for endurance athletes who need to replenish stores over long periods of times. However, the rest of us, just need water, sugar and salt. As for sugar free sports drinks; they are just bottles of glorified water, providing hydration only.

Next up, they talked shoes. Running shoes. I myself have training shoes for the gym which I run in for distances up to 5k. Over and above that, I have a pair of running shoes, which I feel help me to perform better when I am running. Claims are, that structured running shoes control pronation (rolling of the foot) which reduces injuries. But evidence suggests that the risk of injury is determined by factors such as distance and recovery which are controllable by the individual rather than the shoes they choose to wear.

I have never bought a pair of shoes based on analysis of my gait, however I have had my gait analysed in a store. My issue with that being, I don’t feel they are any more qualified than me to tell me what type of shoes I need to be wearing (and I have a degree in Sport & Exercise Science). Experts suggest we get our gait analysed, but there is no evidence to support that structured trainers prevent injury.

Where does barefoot running come into this? With the recent explosion of barefoot shoes (an oxymoron, I know) onto the market, the question is, are they beneficial? Running barefoot in theory makes our feet stronger, which in the long term can reduce injury. But it takes a special kind of person to pound our pavements with no shoes on.

I currently use barefoot shoes for training. They come on a scale of 0 to 5; I have a few 3.0’s and a 5.0. I kid you not, that after having trained for months in my 3.0’s I wore the 5.0’s one day and they made me late for my class as my feet were restricted meaning I couldn’t walk as fast!

The final subject in the programme; nutritional supplements. I bet you currently use some or have given them a go right?! Someone must have, as we spend 100 million pounds on the stuff each year! They all promise to be a short cut to your best performance. The truth is, there are no short cuts in life and you can get all the nutrition you need from a well balanced diet. The Flying Scotsman shared his world record breaking secret with us – his pre-training meal is….drumroll…a jam sandwich and water. What does he have after, in place of a sports drink? Toast, sardines, broccoli and carrots!

I myself have a few “supplements” and products that I like to use; in no way do I think they are magical, I just like them for one reason or another. Overall, I don’t think the evidence provides any solutions, it just makes us more aware of what we are consuming.

The moral of the story is, marketing is powerful, consumerism is rife! You just need to work out what works for you and what doesn’t. Whatever the solution though, it shouldn’t cost you an arm and an leg!



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