Nutrition Behaviour, Technology and Monitoring Progress – Research Review
Guest: David Dunne
In this discussion with David and the daveynutrition team we discuss:
- The future of technology and the impact it can have on behaviour for health and performance
- Mistakes in what’s measured in sports nutrition, we can monitor more than just two elements
- Are we getting people to think about their actions and behaviours that impact health and performance?
- How do we capture when people are thinking and planning?
- Wearable technology is going to be a big part of the future of sports nutrition providing people with feedback on work completed and the energy and nutrients required to meet those demands
A brief history of performance nutrition
Performance nutrition is a relatively new discipline compared to disciplines like physiology, coaching and strength and conditioning. Much of the research, particularly research done many decades ago would be criticised for its real world relevance and application. Much of the research was done in lab settings which are highly controlled and lack the environmental elements and psychological stressors that can hugely impact performance. We have seen a huge increase in the interest in sports nutrition and the quality of the work being done. In the 1950s there were just 53 research studies done, compared to 2021 where there were over 3500. Things are now developing quickly which will bring more and more information that will shape our understanding of what works and what doesn’t in nutrition.
The impact of performance nutrition
Performance nutrition undoubtedly impacts health and performance, that has been proven by decades of research and the stories of millions of athletes across the globe. A quote I repeatedly use to emphasize the value of nutrition is from Clyde Williamson who is one of the authors of the Oxford Textbook of Sports Medicine. He stated that “After natural talent and appropriate training, an adequate diet is known to be the next most important element for enhancing the training and performance of sports people.” With the margins between winning and losing often being so tight, why would anyone not want to crystallize their nutrition strategies?
What is performance nutrition? It’s about how much, the composition, and the timing of food intake to allow people perform at the physical and mental best, and optimally recover. A big question for people in the nutrition industry is how do we communicate that nutrition is such an important facet for them to understand and implement as part of their performance strategy.
Things to watch out for, the future of performance nutrition
Some of the key areas of research, development and innovation in sports nutrition are:
- Wearable technology like smart watches, heart rate monitors, blood glucose monitors and sweat rates
- Personalised nutrition, knowing more about what works for individuals rather than general recommendations
- Genetic testing or DNA sequencing – simply put, knowing more about food and nutrients that are suited to our genetic makeup
Wearable technology – seeing is believing?
Our key aim is to communicate more effectively about its benefits so more people recognise its value? A big part of communicating this value is looking at the things in daily life that impact our decisions, motivation and how we feel, not just how we look, our weight or our body composition. Looking at areas that provide more evidence of the value of nutrition like wearable technology is certainly an opportunity. Sometimes ‘seeing is believing’! We need the evidence in front of us to see the energy we are expending or the demands being placed on our body and mind. While there is no question that having more detail and feedback on work completed and physical demands can be beneficial, we in daveynutrition believe that understanding that data and being able to develop the awareness and skills of how that session ‘feels’ is vitally important. Technology will never tell us everything we need to know, and having a well developed reflective practice in place is a key part of developing a process for long term success.
Personalised nutrition; having more detail and understanding of what is relevant to the individual compared to the guidelines. A simple example of this could be sports drink formulation with the amount of carbohydrate, electrolytes and even the flavour which feels more suited to a person’s preferences and needs. An even more simple example of this could be preferences of type of food, the timing and the format, liquid vs solid food to meet a person’s needs. Bringing confidence and clarity to how a person meets their needs can be extremely empowering.
Empower with daveynutrition
The empower program with daveynutrition has a huge focus on developing the tools for people to better understand what are the factors that influence their day to day decisions, what are the key things that help them be consistent with good practices? Has the individual developed knowledge to help them navigate the food environment for years to come? Have they developed a group of consistent habits that are health-promoting, enjoyable and designed for long-term success? It was only when we really started to look at the language that people were using by examining feedback that we began to recognise that people are consistently seeking to feel more ‘confident’ by having more ‘clarity’ on what works and what doesn’t.
Conclusions from the paper
- “Innovation is at the core of sports nutrition research and has pushed the field forward even before sports nutrition was recognized as a separate discipline.
- We are at a critical stage in the evolution of this discipline primed to utilize new technologies to support the success of specific sports and individual athletes.
- Sharing data in new and more efficient ways, integrating field based physiological measures, and personalized prescriptions are key opportunities to advance sports nutrition.
- Technological advances should not be used in haste and must first be evaluated to determine their functionality and value to the athletes health and performance.”
Having more information and data can be extremely beneficial when used in the right way or placed in the hands of people with the skills to interpret it. We have however seen repeatedly that over provision of information can be as damaging as insufficient knowledge or information by creating confusion and overwhelming the person. As David mentions in the discussion, personalised prescription of nutrition information and individualized recommendations is ‘exciting’, it opens up so much more potential for athletes to better understand what works for them. Technology enables clarity and allows for better systems that can be ‘dynamic’, even if things don’t go to plan. The layers of information and the feedback we can access is going to develop faster and faster in the years to come, there is no doubt we are in a fascinating and now fast moving space. The ability to reflect and understand our body, mind and in unique demands without looking at a device will remain a vital skill, one we are keen to help people develop.
David Dunne is a performance nutritionist for a range of professional and Olympic organisations. He has experience working with an array of elite sports from Harlequins, Queens Park Rangers FC, Bradford Bulls, British Fencing, British Canoeing and Professional Golfers.
David is the CEO & Co-Founder of Hexis Performance and is currently completing his PhD in Nutrition, Behaviour Change and Technology.
Find out more about David:
Jonvik, K.L., King, M., Rollo, I., Stellingwerff, T. and Pitsiladis, Y., 2022. New opportunities to advance the field of sports nutrition. Frontiers in sports and active living, 4, p.852230.
Williams C. Diet and Sports Performance. In: Oxford Textbook of Sports Medicine. Harris M, Williams C, Stannish W, Micheli L (eds). Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1996.