I am going to be honest: The word “trend” always makes my skin crawl when it comes to nutrition. Nutrition trends are typically either under-researched claims; claims that develop from research with results that are not statistically significant; or claims that contain real results from legitimate research but have not been researched over a long enough period of time.
Before you stop reading, I also want to acknowledge that not all trends are faulty, and many are worth intelligently investigating. Intelligently investigate by using common sense, asking questions of health professionals around you, and understanding that trends become truths if they can stand the test of time. We want the trends we experiment with to be safe and effective.
As a board-certified sports dietitian, I choose my words carefully when a client or friend asks me about a nutrition trend. I understand my word holds value, and I will be the first to admit when I need to research a topic more before offering my educated opinion. With that in mind, I polled my current and past clients on sports nutrition trends they have questions about as we enter 2019. I narrowed them down and would like to share with you what I believe are the three top nutrition trends to know more about this year.
1. Whole Foods as Nutritional Supplements vs. a Pill
Supplementation is just that: a supplement. It should be treated as such and not taken unnecessarily. Supplementation is needed when you are not getting elements in your everyday diet that your body needs to function appropriately. If you feel you are lacking a needed nutrient, take the whole-foods approach to supplementation before grazing the nutrition supplement aisle.
Why? First, nutrition supplements are poorly regulated by the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They do not undergo safety, purity or quality testing and are very easy to put on the market. It is only when a problem is reported that the FDA steps in to investigate the supplement. Pretty scary, right? Second, claims made by supplementation companies do not equal fact. Health benefit claims or pill content are not closely regulated and should be researched before purchase. Lastly, under- or over-absorption can become an issue. Even if a supplement is legitimate, we only absorb a percentage of that vitamin, mineral or nutrient because our bodies simply are not able either due to quality of the product, or there are not enough available receptor sites for full absorption.
On the other hand, you could overdose on a vitamin, mineral or nutrient. This is commonly seen with overconsumption of vitamins A, D, E and K and iron. If possible, consume whole foods to meet your needs medically and/or for activity demands. You will adequately absorb what is ingested and you will feel more confident regarding safety. It is important to consult a dietitian for safety when choosing a nutrition supplement.
It is also important to note the healthy trend of using whole foods and whole food ingredients before, during and after exercise to reach nutrition-related performance goals. What you choose is extremely individual based on taste, tolerance and personal outcomes. Experiment with products and chat with a dietitian about individual tolerance.
Generation UCAN’s Superstarch started to trend in 2012 and has grown in popularity as of late. I maintain an open mind about this trend, but would like to see more statistically significant research on the product. Through working with clients, the main positive result I have observed is this product helping some of my endurance athletes with gastrointestinal issues before, during and after endurance activity.
I have two issues with this trend: the concept of slow-release carbohydrates during endurance activity being a positive feature; and the question of its fat-burning capabilities and effectiveness during an endurance event. My issues arise from the benefit of fast-absorbing glucose sources being ideal during endurance activity due the nature of the actions. A spike in blood sugar to assist muscles to perform is appropriate if consumed appropriately for maximal performance. Fat can be utilized as an energy source at lower heart rates, but that is something that is not preferred by our bodies during sustained endurance activity. This varies slightly from athlete to athlete, but incrementally consuming 45g up to 90g of simple carbohydrates an hour after 1 to 1.5 hours of activity provides our bodies with the glucose needed to sustain activity and perform with maximal results.
Consuming a product that slows down the digestion of glucose can result in unmet nutritional needs biologically demanded by the body during activity, as well as result in increased blood flow to the digestive system when we want that blood flow to be more focused on the muscle and energy systems used during performance. This topic is intriguing, but I look at the science before the trend and what our bodies need during activity. Again, it’s important to look at what stands the test of time and what our bodies biologically need during endurance activity.
3. Gut Health
Gut health is on the rise as a topic of conversation, and rightfully so with disease-related consequences of a poor gut, as well as gut health affecting brain health. Gut health also sets the foundation for effective absorption for needed nutrients during activity. Our digestive system is extremely adaptable and is able to sustain quite the blow. However, as we age, our adaptability weakens, and damage can be hard or impossible to reverse.
Going back to my first point, I do not recommend jumping to a supplement in pill form to aid this legitimate trend. Three things you can do now to improve your gut health: 1) Eat a variety of plant-based foods, specifically grains and non-starchy vegetables. Fiber and a variety of nutrients through foods that are efficiently absorbed are ideal for maintaining gut integrity. 2) Consuming fermented foods consistently in moderation can help maintain good bacteria in your gut. Some common options are yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and tempeh. 3) Drink water as your main source of liquid throughout the day. This is needed for efficient bodily functions and aids in digestion, especially fiber. Artificial sweetened beverages, sodas, concentrated fruit juice, etc. shouldn’t take the place of the liquid our bodies need most. I recommend you consume a minimum of half your body weight in ounces, plus what is needed during activity.
With so many additional nutrition-related topics trending now, please consult a health professional for more information, and use common sense when learning of an intriguing trend by research and questioning claims. Use caution. If a claim is made that is just too good to be true, it is indeed most likely too good to be true.
Special thanks to Mandy Leonard, Jennifer Camoriano, Angela Smith, Annie Reese and Dawn Brooks for their contributions to this article.
Katie Rhodes-Smith MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a board-certified sports dietitian and founder of OWN-Nutrition, LLC (www.own-nutrition.com). She is based out of Little Rock, Arkansas, but works remotely with multisport athletes exclusively, specializing in triathlon nutrition. Katie applies a research-based approach to her practice.