Sports nutrition firms and researchers are continually tweaking formulations to solve the perennial paradox of endurance sports: the fact the human gut can struggle to process the sugar load required to fuel efforts over multiple hours.
Gastro distresses bound across the endurance sports spectrum for this reason.
The likes of alginate hydrogels and shifts from the somewhat standardised 2:1 glucose to fructose ‘dual fuel’ ratio attempt to address the issue.
The CBD sports nutrition sector had its game significantly boosted in 2018 when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed the hemp-derived cannabinoid from its list of banned performance-enhancing substances – the market duly took off.
But the complex molecular profile of many CBD products means steadfast anti-doping guarantees remain difficult to achieve for a category seeking a legitimate seat at the table of clean sports performance.
“The sports nutrition category was slow to adopt CBD, but it’s now appearing in various products including pre-workout formulas, recovery drinks, and post-workout products,” said Rick Collins, partner at Collins, Gann, McCloskey & Barry in New York. “But drug-tested athletes use CBD products at their own risk.”
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) puts it this way: “Many products which claim to be pure CBD extract or oil from the cannabis plant have traces of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or other cannabinoids. Thus, a consumer who buys a CBD oil, extract, or other CBD product should be aware that there is a high likelihood it is a mixture of CBD and other prohibited cannabinoids, such as THC.”
USADA special advisor Amy Eichner told us anti-doping labs “can test for and detect other cannabinoids” of which there are more than 100 in common industrial hemp extracts – and all of which are banned by WADA in-competition except CBD (cannabidiol) along with THC below a certain threshold.
“Our recommendation to athletes is to not use any cannabinoid product, such as a CBD preparation, during or close to a competition,” Eichner said.
The first-ever pan-European good manufacturing practice (GMP) for sports nutrition is the topic of hot debate as industry weighs up whether it will help enforce quality and weed out bad actors lacing products with doping analogs like steroids and stimulants.
Specialized Nutrition Europe (SNE) and The European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM) argue the voluntary GMP will build confidence in the sector among elite and other athletes.
However, the European Specialized Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), Europe’s largest sports nutrition-focused industry body, says the standard is ill-defined and will sow confusion.
Beetroot shot market leader Beet It is challenging other beetroot players to put up their nitrate (NO3) numbers or ship out of the rising sports nutrition category.
“Athletes are being misled by beetroot products that are not labelled with their nitrate content, or by beetroot products that do not provide an adequate dose of nitrate per serving,” said Beet It brand manager, Jonathan Cartwright.
Cartwright explained this labelling coyness by pointing to a 2018 study that found many beetroot drinks and supplements contained nitrate levels below the 300mg efficacious dose backed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and in some 200+ peer-reviewed studies.
“Our data reveal marked variation between different products and often even between different samples of the same product,” researchers in that study concluded.
Lawrence Mallinson, the managing director of UK-based Beet It owner James White Drinks, added that achieving beetroot nitrate potency and consistency was a supply and formulation chain challenge not paid due respect by many manufacturers in the sector.
“Beetroots have highly variable nitrate content and unless you try very hard – as we do – to ensure the beetroot juice is highly concentrated in a way to protect the nitrate – there is likely to be little there,” Mallinson said, noting a consumer would need, “293 pills of one particular product to get the nitrate equivalent of one of our Beet It shots.”
The IOC in a 2018 consensus statement found nitrate could aid muscle function and athletic performance when consumed at daily doses of 310-560mg.