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Nutrition for sports performance: issues and opportunities

  • Ronald J. Maughan (a1) and Susan M. Shirreffs (a1)


Diet can significantly influence athletic performance, but recent research developments have substantially changed our understanding of sport and exercise nutrition. Athletes adopt various nutritional strategies in training and competition in the pursuit of success. The aim of training is to promote changes in the structure and function of muscle and other tissues by selective modulation of protein synthesis and breakdown in response to the training stimulus. This process is affected by the availability of essential amino acids in the post-exercise period. Athletes have been encouraged to eat diets high in carbohydrate, but low-carbohydrate diets up-regulate the capacity of muscle for fat oxidation, potentially sparing the limited carbohydrate stores. Such diets, however, do not enhance endurance performance. It is not yet known whether the increased capacity for fat oxidation that results from training in a carbohydrate-deficient state can promote loss of body fat. Preventing excessive fluid deficits will maintain exercise capacity, and ensuring adequate hydration status can also reduce subjective perception of effort. This latter effect may be important in encouraging exercise participation and promoting adherence to exercise programmes. Dietary supplement use is popular in sport, and a few supplements may improve performance in specific exercise tasks. Athletes must be cautious, however, not to contravene the doping regulations. There is an increasing recognition of the role of the brain in determining exercise performance: various nutritional strategies have been proposed, but with limited success. Nutrition strategies developed for use by athletes can also be used to achieve functional benefits in other populations.

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Corresponding author

* Corresponding author: Professor Ronald J. Maughan, fax +44 1509 226301, email


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