Researcher wins prestigious Sport Nutrition Award

Thursday 8 June 2017

Associate Professor David Rowlands was recently honoured as the winner of the 2017 Gatorade Sport Science Institute - American College of Sports Medicine Sport Nutrition Award.

Researcher wins prestigious Sport Nutrition Award - image1

Dr James Carter, Director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and Associate Professor David Rowlands, winner of the 2017 Gatorade Sport Science Institute American College of Sports Medicine Sport Nutrition Award.

Last updated: Friday 3 June 2022

Associate Professor David Rowlands from the School of Sport and Exercise was recently honoured as the winner of the 2017 Gatorade Sport Science Institute (GSSI) - American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Sport Nutrition Award.

Dr Rowlands received the award at a banquet dinner event during the 64th ACSM Annual Meeting, held in Denver in the United States last week.

His abstract, regarding the impact of ingesting multiple carbohydrates (in liquid and/or solid form) during long-distance triathlon performance, was selected as the winner by a review panel from ACSM and GSSI.

High-performance athletes rely on two sources of fuel for their muscles while competing – fat and carbohydrates. Fat is a large source of energy and provides the base fuel for endurance exercise. During prolonged intense efforts, the muscle requires a ready source of carbohydrate, which comes from glycogen stored in the muscle and from blood glucose derived from the liver, which is why some runners carb-load with lots of pasta and potatoes for example, right before an event.

However, pre-existing muscle and liver glycogen stores are limited to about 2-3 hours, which means athletes must rely on ingesting carbohydrates while exercising to maintain the carbohydrate-energy required for intense efforts. This can be in the form of food and liquids.

Dr Rowlands says the mixture of carbohydrates athletes choose is important, “as the body is under immense stress during competition and different people’s stomachs will respond better or worse to different fuels. Some can handle solids while others prefer gels or sports drinks. Also, the blend of carbohydrate appears to matter. Choosing the correct blend and form of carbohydrate for your body can be the difference between minutes or seconds off your time.

“In previous studies in the lab, multiple carbohydrates (fructose and glucose) enhanced energy provision to the muscle, fluid absorption, gut comfort and performance, compared to glucose alone, but this effect was so far only tested with sports drinks and we didn’t know effects in real competition,” Dr Rowlands says.

Because all athletes do not simply consume sports drinks alone, Dr Rowlands wanted to determine if this benefit would also apply to athletes who use a mixture of sports drinks, gels and bars, which also had never been examined in actual competition.

“Your body can only absorb so much carbohydrates through certain gateways, and fructose and glucose are absorbed across the gut via different gateways. Imagine your gut is an hourglass - no matter how much you pour into it, only so much can go through at a time. By adding fructose your gut has another way of absorbing more carbohydrates, and increased performance may result from the faster transport of the multiple sugars across the gut wall via different pathways,” he says.

His study involved testing 74 male triathletes taking part in two half-ironman races in Taupo and Tauranga over the summer of 2013-14. One group of athletes took the fructose mix and the other control group had the standard mix.

Both groups ingested the carbohydrate supplements before and during the cycle and run legs of the triathlon splitting their energy intake over the bars, sports drinks and gels as they usually would.

Dr Rowlands says the fructose mix provided small [0.5 per cent or 1.6 minute] gains, which were less than expected, but are an adoption worthy benefit to half-ironman triathlon performance. “Given the low risk of harm and the financial and practical cost, it would be a worthwhile adoption for long-distance athletes.”

He was excited to receive the award. “I believe my field study was a breakthrough in sport science showing that promising findings in laboratory models could be translated to large sample controlled trials in the field, and is a current topic of huge relevance to endurance athletes, nutritionists, and sport scientists. It also showed that inferences from early lab studies are often over-inflated, which has been noted as a problem in medical science [drug trials] and performance nutrition with funding backing from industry.”

As well as the prestigious accolade, Dr Rowlands received a cheque for US$2500.

College of Health Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane Mills congratulated Dr Rowlands for his work. “I am really delighted for you personally as this level of international recognition for your work will contribute greatly to your reputation and profile. For the College of Health, I’m very proud that we have such a stellar researcher on our team.”

Click here to read Dr Rowlands’ paper.