Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Endurance athletes perform better if they avoid these foods

Onions, soya, beans and pistachio nuts are all healthy, but endurance athletes are better off avoiding them in the week before a race, according to sports scientist David Nieman of Appalachian State University. These foods contain large amounts of the oligosaccharide raffinose [structural formula shown below] and, in an experiment involving 20 experienced cyclists, Nieman showed that raffinose reduces endurance performance.

Nieman gave 20 cyclists 85 g pistachio nuts daily and then got them to cycle 75 kilometres. On another occasion he repeated the procedure, but didn't give the cyclists pistachio nuts.

The 85 g pistachio nuts provided the cyclists with 480 kilocalories. Pistachio nuts also contain high quantities of the oligosaccharide raffinose, which beneficial bowel bacteria like to feed on. The pistachio supplementation provided the cyclists with 5.3 times the normal amount of raffinose.

The pistachio nut supplementation reduced the cyclists' speed by almost 5 percent over the 75 kilometres.

Endurance athletes speedier if they avoid these foods

The cyclists' blood contained more sucrose and more raffinose after they had consumed pistachio nuts. This is probably because the cyclists' digestive system worked less well as a result of the intense physical exertion, and therefore substances that would not normally do so entered the blood.

Endurance athletes speedier if they avoid these foods

Endurance athletes speedier if they avoid these foods

Endurance athletes speedier if they avoid these foods

The more raffinose there was in the blood, the more (12Z)-9,10-dihydroxyoctadec-12-enoate or for short: 9,10-diHOME the researchers detected. [Structural formula shown here.] 9,10-DiHOME is released when immune cells start to fight real or suspected intruders. The substance can induce cells to commit suicide, and reduces the activity of the cells' mitochondria. Nieman thinks that 9,10-diHOME explains the reduction in performance that he observed in the cyclists.

Nieman suspects that his discovery will lead to a new way for endurance athletes to boost their performance: by reducing the amount of raffinose that they consume in the last week of pre-competition preparation.

"If confirmed by other research groups, I believe a new sports nutrition policy will be developed that will recommend that athletes avoid foods containing raffinose in the days prior to endurance competition", the researcher announced in a press release from his university. [ November 19, 2014]

Nieman does not advise athletes to completely cut out foods that are high in raffinose. "Pistachio nuts, beans, oat bran and other foods that contain raffinose are extremely nutritious and essential to a healthy diet", he says. "When athletes are training for intense competitions like long-distance cycling or marathons, this study suggests they should limit some of these raffinose-containing foods during the week prior to competition to maximize their overall performance."

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 19;9(11):e113725.

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