Healthy Eating for Your Active Lifestyle

Did you know the global sales of sport and fitness nutrition supplements is expected to exceed 8.8 billion USD by 2020? That’s because athletes continue to seek a competitive edge through food and supplements. 

We are becoming faster and stronger and continue to push the limits of performance. What was once thought impossible in sport and fitness has now become the starting point for performance. In the 1800s, the men’s world record for the 100-meter sprint was 10.8 seconds. Compare that to Usain Bolt’s 2009 Olympic world record of 9.58 seconds. With this expectation of increased performance, athletes are looking for ways to stay competitive. In fact, the global sport and fitness nutrition supplement industry is expected to exceed 8.8 billion USD by 2020.

What are some of the hottest sport nutrition trends this year? Are they right for you?

Beetroot extract

What are the product claims?

  • improved stamina and reduced muscle tiredness
  • increased power and strength
  • reduced blood pressure

How does it work?

When you exercise, your oxygen levels decrease. Your body responds by producing nitric oxide to increase blood flow and deliver oxygen to your tissues. Nitric oxide also increases muscle contractions of type 2 muscle fibers and brain activity. This improves sport performance.

Beets contain a compound called nitrate which is concentrated in beetroot juice. During exercise, nitrates from food are converted into nitric oxide, increasing the natural nitric oxide levels already made by your body.

What does the research say?

Several studies show that when swimmers, runners and soccer players added beetroot extract, they had positive performance outcomes.

So, what about eating whole beets? The research showed that individuals who ate one cup of whole beets prior to a race improved their running performance. However, the concentration of nitrates can vary in whole beets, based on growing conditions and soil type. And, the fibre content of whole beets could potentially cause cramping or diarrhea when eaten prior to competing. So, whole beets may not work for every person.


The science seems to support supplementation with beetroot extract for an edge in endurance sports. However, keep in mind that you would need to eat beets or drink beetroot extract every day to keep seeing results. This can be expensive. One bottle of beetroot extract costs about $4.00 (most people would need more than one bottle/day) and you could (heaven forbid) just get tired of eating beets every day! 

Carbohydrate (CHO) mouthwash rinses

What are the product claims?

  • improved stamina and reduced time to muscle tiredness
  • improved brain function
  • avoid cramps and diarrhea

How does it work?

People who exercise for more than one hour benefit from eating carbohydrate (CHO) that tops up glycogen stores. CHO also stimulates receptors in your mouth, activating areas of the brain involved with motivation and reward. This has a direct influence on your mood and perception of effort. Therefore, you feel like you have more stamina and a reduced feeling of fatigue. Because of those mouth receptors, simply swishing and spitting CHO can send the same signal to your brain as actually swallowing the liquid. This effect seems to be stronger when muscle and liver glycogen stores are lower as it causes oral receptors to be more sensitive.

What does the research say?

Although results have been mixed, most of the research shows a benefit with CHO mouth rinses. Several studies have shown improved performance with moderate to high intensity exercise lasting around one hour, especially in cyclists and runners. Interestingly, it seems that CHOs do not need to be ingested for comparable performance results.


CHO mouth rinses may be an excellent alternative for individuals who struggle with stomach discomfort when they drink large volumes of CHO-containing fluids during exercise. It appears that the brain is a key player in fatigue – mind over matter.

Tart cherry juice

What are the product claims?

  • natural anti-inflammatory
  • improves recovery time after exercise
  • reduces muscle soreness

How does it work?

Muscle fatigue and inflammation are common for individuals who regularly push their bodies in endurance or strength-based exercise. One of the best methods to prevent muscle damage during exercise is to consume proper nutrients prior to exercise. Tart cherries naturally contain high doses of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds reduce inflammation and muscle breakdown, common outcomes of exercise.

What does the research say?

Tart cherry juice has been shown to be an effective recovery method in both endurance and strength training. Generally, it has been found to be most effect on a single-day training/competition or multi-day tournament when the body is at its highest level of stress. In one study, marathon runners who drank cherry juice for five days prior to the race and on race day had less muscle damage after the race, as well as lower levels of inflammation. They also recovered muscle strength faster than those who did not drink cherry juice post-run. Similar results were noted in cyclists who had less muscle damage and inflammation.


Tart cherry juice is a safe and natural product that seems to improve muscle recovery in intense exercise for endurance and strength. An added benefit is that it is food rather than a developed supplement that often resultsin reduced side effects and contamination risk.


While these are just a handful of new products creating a buzz, nothing can beat a balanced diet as a foundation for every active individual. Working with a registered dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition is a great strategy to make sure you have this foundation before experimenting with sport supplements.

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Barbara Ingliss, RD

Registered Dietitian

Barbara (BSc, RD) is an Edmonton-based registered dietitian and blogger for Nourish Move Thrive®. She enjoys helping her clients develop healthy relationships with food and themselves.

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