Sports products: I’ll have some of that!

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To believe or to not believe, that is the question?

The screening of Panorama’s “the truth about sports products” last month seems to have sparked a huge debate on the use, and more importantly, the effectiveness of advertised sports products.  Like most people, I have an opinion and like Panorama; I intend to voice that opinion, as well as my opinion on their programme!

The makers of the show criticise sports companies for only relaying certain pieces of information in an attempt to sell their product.  Yet, they did exactly the same thing whilst trying to “run down” sports products!  Don’t get me wrong; in some ways I agree that sports products are over-priced, over hyped and there is an obvious over reliance on them but I do strongly believe that some do have a place in endurance sport.

What I found frustrating is how Panorama chose to compare athlete’s, how can you compare the energy boosting choice of a cyclist to that of a runner.  An Olympic cyclist may be able to eat a jam sandwich during a race, but I cannot imagine watching as an Olympic Marathon runner chews a jam sandwich whilst running sub four minute miles.  It is not a like for like comparison!

If Panorama compared the difference in performance of two runners of the same standard during a marathon, one consuming a sports supplement and one drinking only water it would have been much more beneficial to the viewer and more so to all the runners and athlete’s watching.  Further to that I think the results would have been a lot different.  As an endurance event progresses beyond 90 minutes your energy reserves will begin to deplete, common sense dictates that to continue to produce the same output your body will need to have these replaced.  Without the jam sandwich at your disposal, what would you choose?  Personally, it would be a carbohydrate gel with a sip of water for me.

As for the debate about when and how often to hydrate! How can you compare how often an army consume water to how often an endurance athlete consumes water?  As I write this I am not sitting gulping water every 15-20 minutes, I shall drink as soon as I feel thirsty, like the army.  However, during a marathon when I know I am loosing fluid as each mile passes I will have a small sip of water every 15-20 minutes!  As a wise person once told me, this wise person being an Olympic Marathon runner; “It’s all about keeping the bucket level”.Some people may drink too much water, I totally agree with the dangers of this but it is all about balance.  In my humble opinion, this comes with experience and a marathoner runner should have worked out a drinks plan before even reaching the start line.  As they say, what works for one runner may not work for the next!

I can’t finish without the good old “what shoes will I buy” (or NOT wear) debate, a conversation which quite often lasts for the duration of a weekend long run.  I have to mention barefoot running, the naturalists out there would never forgive me if I didn’t!  However, I will offend them straight off by saying that things have changed; people, bodies and the environment in which we live and exercise are different in this day and age!

In theory I agree that there are benefits in running barefoot, first and foremost it promotes efficient running, thus reducing the risk of injury but at the same time what good is efficient running if I cut my foot on a piece of glass one mile into my run!?  Unless you are in a safe environment such as a well maintained track or a treadmill I just don’t see how you can fully explore the benefits of barefoot running.

Gait Analysis, over pronation, under pronation, stability, support, cushioning… blah, blah, blah…. This is one part of the shoe argument I did agree with!  What did we do before all of this!?!?!  I cannot remember the last time I was browsing through the running shoes in my local sports store without being advised by the young assistant as to the benefits of this new shoe, or another nice shoe.

Of course it is just coincidence that the very same shoe is the most expensive on the shelf!  When I ask what these new benefits are and how they can help me as a runner, I chuckle as they try to explain the so called benefits as if they were reading from a script.  If you haven’t experienced this I recommend it!  It will brighten up your day!

“Wear what is comfortable” – One of the very few worthwhile comments to come out of a frustrating, one sided programme.

In summary, I thought the programme created more questions than it answered.  Any person worth their salt (oh, in case you didn’t know, it helps reduce cramps) will tell you that Paula Radcliffe will benefit more from a sports supplement than young Jimmy who visits the gym twice a week for 45 minutes at a time.

Used sensibly, supplements will assist the performance of most athletes’ during endurance events!

By Lee Matthews (Running Enthusiast/Annoyed Panorama Viewer)