Global Food, Health, and Society

A Colby Community Website for ST297, Fall 2018

Tag: STS

Futuristic Sports Nutrition.

We are currently living in a Digital Age, the 21st Century compared to the previous ones is witnessing the greatest technological developments ever seen. Technology has permeated several aspects of our lives as human beings such as food. Hence, technological advancements have not only led to an increase in individuals’ health and well-being but also is also striving to ensured food security for generation to come. Thanks to technology, today, our food production methods are highly complex and so are our food processing procedures. Similarly, technology has also had tremendous impacts on sports overtime. Technological innovations have undeniably bettered sports owing to better training machinery, and sport genetics research etc.

Sports Nutrition Future

Next, what happens when you combine the power of technology into both food and sports? Sports nutrition as a separate field is already striving to improve performance through highly supervised diets that promise to optimize physical capabilities. So how then can technology influence the field of sports nutrition? Several ideas such as calorie computing applications have been brought to the table while some like wearable calorie trackers are currently being tested. I however believe that such technologies can only do so much for sports, I hold that the true essence of sport will always remain in an athlete’s dedication, practice and talent.

First, sports are extremely demanding physically, besides, work and energy play vital roles in sports. Food is said to be the fuel for the human body. As discussed in blog post one, carbohydrates are the essential requirements for energy. Because of starch intake, the body can convert the foods into glucose and glycogen utilized during sporting activities.

Futuristic Sports Nutrition

However, a big problem for athletes and nutritionists alike, is the ability to track energy intake and expenditure. Researchers have recently turned to technology to solve this problem. Thus, wearable fitness trackers have become overnight sensations. These devices are especially popular in the form of watches. A wrist device that can calculate an athletes’ energy expenditure while performing physical activities. This information is useful to both the athlete and their nutritionist in terms of recommending the appropriate amount food and nutrient intake.

Now, these devices act like sensors therefore tracking movement and by use of algorithms they can estimate the number of calories burned by an athlete.

Wearable Fitness Tracker

But, there lies a huge problem with this method, Sophie Charara, a sports blogger argues that “to give us an idea of how complex this estimation is, workout programs can make calculations based on age, gender, height and workout length.” She furthers that “our future challenge will be working out how much muscle mass you’re using. This is one of reasons why calories burned differs so much between different sports played for the same amount of time.  So, we need to add more data points when tracking these activities.” (Charara) The demands for these products are skyrocketing yet their results solely based on estimations.

Second, athletes’ food regimens are shaped by strict instruction from their nutritionists. Athletes are tasked to carefully watch their body weights thus they must constantly monitor and measured their calorie intake. This may nonetheless prove a difficult task for most athletes. Interestingly, technology aims to solve this problem as well. Recently, a phone application called MealSnap was launched. According to Sara Novak “after taking a picture of a food item, the info is transmitted to a calorie database and within minutes it returns the range of calories in your meal.” (Novak)

MealSnap App

MealSnap can certainly proof beneficial to a lot of athletes but there is a big question of the app’s accuracy.

Like MealSnap, there is also a smart scale called The Situ. This device can “look up ingredients, weigh the item and get you an immediate read-out on calorie, salt, sugar, protein and fat.” (Ben Schiller)

The Situ

In addition, this scale is said to be linked to the athlete’s phone. Indeed, such a device seems to be a must have as it promises to deliver. Nevertheless, even if an athlete was to thoroughly abide to this device, the margin of the performance will be lesser compared to if they were to heed a nutritionist’s advice.

Further, the intake of fat has proved detrimental to athletes. This is because fats take longer to digest therefore slowing the athletes down which ultimately affects their game performance. Technology again offers to provide a solution to this problem.

SCiO Device

Recently, a device named SCiO was introduced to the market. This is a tiny pocket molecular sensor’ that fits on the athlete’s keychain. SCiO “tells you the nutritional facts of what you’re about to put in your mouth.” (Jessica Leber) This device is also connected and transmits information to their mobile phone. Likewise, the google glasses are also said to see exactly how much you have eaten and promises to unveil the nutritional information on an athlete’s eating habits. (Dr. Grame. L. Close) In the same way, there are contact lenses capable of measuring blood glucose levels. Moreover, meticulous research is being done on these new technological fronts. Some researchers are even proposing a pill that sits in the human’s digestive organs and externally transmits information on the exact food quantity and type. (Dr. Close)

Finally, is this the future of sports nutrition? These new innovations are quickly gaining both momentum and popularity within the sports community. However, they all seem to have major setbacks that need to be adequately addressed. These devices and apps also prove a threat to the careers of sports nutritionists. Their increased usage eliminates the need for nutritionists because they both serve a similar purpose. Likewise, the cost of these devices is also an obstacle to them becoming widely adopted. Not all athletes are able to comfortably purchase them. I caution that if indeed this is the future for sports nutrition, then, tech developers ought to find more collaborative, less affordable and realistic approaches with actual nutrition researchers who still believe in traditional methods.

Works Cited

 

Sports Nutrition; a Historical Perspective

In our society today, individuals are generally responsible for their own health, thus food intake among other things is now a carefully monitored and well thought out process. Likewise, the fascination over sports today is bigger than it has ever been. Sports athletes not only have to cater to their health and well-being but also strive to improve their game performance. The competitive nature of sports tends to push athletes to the extremes regarding their bodies. Athletes are tasked to carefully regulate and balance their meals to first avoid burn out due to the intense physicality of the games and second to stay on top of their games while maximizing their bodies capabilities.

Cycling Intensity

The link between food and sports is as important as any other field such as food and pathology or food and infant physiology. Sport nutrition or exercise nutrition is termed as “the application of nutrition principles for the purpose of improving training, recovery, and performance.” I contend that despite rigorous practice and dedication, without proper nutrition, an athlete will be unable to maintain high levels of performance while playing.

Although the academic field of sports nutrition officially began close to three decades ago, the practice of monitoring athletes’ food intake dates to as early as the history of competitive sports itself. Athletes have always been under the watchful eyes of either their coaches, parents, or colleagues on what to and what to not eat. Such information/advice however does not stem from the individuals themselves, but from medical research results. Sports nutrition is said to have begun in scientific labs. In her introduction chapter to her book the Fundamentals of Sports and Nutrition, Marie Dunford anecdotes the story of 1904 Olympic marathon gold medalist Thomas Hicks. Who ran the marathon in extreme heat weather conditions, along the entire course of the marathon, there were only two water stations which did not serve as sufficient considering the intensity of the race. Hicks therefore re-fueled during the race by eating eggs and sipping on brandy. Despite his win, He was in terrible condition and in need of medical attention. Because of the rising desire for competitive advantage through careful food intake, scientists (some, even sportsmen and fans themselves) were tasked to uncover the biological benefits in foods to aid sports.

The Thomas Hicks occurrence had far reaching effects on the sports and medical community in the early 20th Century. Consequently, demanding efforts were directed to laboratory to avoid such happenings in sports again. Dunford notes that in the 1930’s, Swedish scientists embarked on carbohydrate and fat metabolism research. This study gave way to the study of glucose and glycogen. During these early periods, the initial priority of  such research was to increase athletes’ energy and to understand how muscles stores energy in form of glycogen. Claudia Ridel describes that in 1924, the first studies to unveil the role of carbohydrates were conducted and showed that there was an “association between low blood glucose and the symptoms of fatigue and confusion.”

Glycogen Storage

Ridel furthers that glycogen storage was found to be a limiting factor to performance. Henceforth, carbohydrates were directly associated to energy.

On the other hand, several studies were done to discover the role of proteins to improve athlete performance.  In the 1940’s, proteins were found to increase muscle size. The more muscle an athlete had, the more glycogen they would be able to store hence offering that competitive advantage not only in form of energy but also endurance. Following this discovery, the demand for protein in the sports industry skyrocketed. This led to the birth of the protein supplement industry i.e. protein shakes and bars which has today grown into a million-dollar industry. Further, vitamin research was also underway in the same period. Vitamin studies at the time were aimed at combating diseases. Sport nutrients researchers however stressed on the importance of macro-nutrients which could be sourced from vitamins too. Multivitamin research especially gave emphasis to amino acids and their effects on the muscles.

Creatine

Creatine was later discovered to convert adenosine diphosphate therefore re-energizing muscle tissues. This discovery served as a revolutionary milestone in sports nutrition. A combination of protein, amino-acids and creatine was described to be the ideal to not only increase muscle size but also ensure optimize its capabilities.

The field of sports nutrition is evolving, and I have explored some of the key historical perspectives in the discipline. So much has changed since the early and Mid-20th Century regarding the development of this field. Majority of discoveries made were well received and adequately utilized among sports communities. Some of the findings however were altered for the wrong purpose and gave rise to the increased use of steroids and performance enhancing substances. The rise of technology has also had tremendous impacts on the development of sports nutrition, developments that I will explore in the next post.

References

  • Dunford, Marie. Fundamentals of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010.

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