The Sport Science Myth Part 3, by John Weatherly

Editor’s Note: John Weatherly concludes his three-part series on the myth of American sport science looking at corporate “Sports Science” institutes. See Part 1 and Part 2.

The first two parts of this series helped define and determine how rare sports science is in the US. This article will focus on the MusclePharm Sports Science Institute along with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute to see what these company sports science institutes actually do for real athletes and sports.

The MusclePharm Sports Science Institute

The MusclePharm Sports Science Institute makes some big claims. Yet remember the points that I and Russ Greene made in the “Mooned by NSCA Sponsors” series on MusclePharm: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

As a quick refresher, MusclePharm is the NSCA’s lead sponsor for education and research. MusclePharm has been sued for overstating protein content (saying there was over twice the protein in a supplement than what independent testing revealed) in one of their supplements, is on the verge of financial collapse, has violated federal securities laws, has used the registered CrossFit trademark without authorization, and used NSF certifications and labels without authorization; and had one of their executives plead guilty to the FDA for delivery and introduction of misbranded drugs (steroids or steroid clones) that were sold as supplements.

While we could focus on several of the 6 stages, let’s hone in on 4 Athlete Protocol. The first two sentences under 4 Athlete Protocol say,

Science and sport go hand in hand in our product development. A real world application is crucial and our MusclePharm Sports Science Institute in Denver gives athletes and our team a cutting edge to make it all happen.

Do you remember what my mentor, former USOC Head of Sports Physiology Dr. Mike Stone, said in his presentation?

“These observations dealing with the athlete environment highlight one of the problems with typical scientific studies that isolate or control subject environments. Studies must be carried out in which the complete environment of the athlete is taken into consideration. For example: observations of the effects of two different strength training protocols may produce very different results if one study was untrained subjects or even athletes but the training protocols were in isolation from other aspects of the athletes’ life (e.g. other aspects of training, practice etc.). Even a cursory look through the scientific literature clearly shows that there is very little comparative research on athletes while functioning in their complete environment” (Slide 60).

Let’s take a look at “athlete protocols” with research from MusclePharm’s Sports Science Institute and see how it measures up. I’ll start with a presentation from the recent 2015 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) National Conference. It’s the first one listed here, and is by Joy et al. The title is: “Performance Effects of 10 Weeks Supplementation with a Purported Testosterone-Boosting Supplement.” You can view the abstract here.

Pay attention to the Methods
Eighteen trained men were subjects. It doesn’t define how highly-trained the subjects were. Apparently they aren’t athletes competing in a specific sport, because nothing is mentioned about this either. All it says is eighteen trained subjects. I’m assuming this means resistance trained, but we are left to guess. Does it mean they lifted weights recreationally for a year or more, or what? Observing the bar graph under “Results on the Leg Press”, it doesn’t appear the subjects were very strong. One group received a testosterone-booster supplement (TB) while the other group got placebos in this double-blind experiment. The subjects trained 3 days a week using a daily undulating periodization protocol for 8 weeks. The last 2 weeks of the 10 week study used overreaching followed by a taper. From tests (1RM strength, peak power and velocity, VJ, 30 sec Wingates) the researchers concluded the group getting the TB improved strength and prevented decreased performance associated with overreaching.

My Take
This study has very little value for competitive athletes. The subjects only trained 3 days a week for 10 weeks and apparently were not practicing for a sport. Thus, by not having competitive athletes as subjects or a sport involved, it is hard to see how this qualifies as “sports science?” It tells you about 25-26 year old males with normal testosterone levels who have some training experience. It’s not “sports science!”

So, this recent presentation from the 2015 ACSM National Conference wasn’t sports science. Let’s observe publications coming out of the “MusclePharm Sports Science Institute.”

It gets even worse with the publications! You have to scroll down to the fifth one until you can read a publication or abstract. This study by Falcone et al. is titled: “Subcutaneous and Segmented Fat Loss with and without Supportive Supplements in Conjunction with a Low-Calorie High Protein Diet in Healthy Women.”

This study used 37 recreationally-trained women as subjects for 3 weeks. This is not sports science!

The next study (6th one down) by Vogel et al. uses recreationally active females as subjects. Once again competitive athletes that play sports are not even used as subjects!

The next study is by Joy et al. and titled: “28 Days of Creatine Nitrate Supplementation is Apparently Safe in Healthy Individuals.”

This is another study on non-athletes from the “MusclePharm Sports Science Institute.” A small consolation is you can read the entire study. Scroll down to the last paragraph in the “Discussion” section, which reads,

“This is the first study to examine the safety of CN. From the present results, we can conclude that CN in doses of up to 2g are safe for human consumption for a duration of 28 days. All measured variables remained within the normal range across groups, with the exception of BUN which was not statistically significant when the groups were compared. Therefore, CN supplementation may be contraindicated for those already high in BUN. Additionally while the differences observed for absolute monocytes and lymphocytes appear to be due to variability and remained within range, CN may be unadvisable for daily consumption for those with a weakened immune system. In the present study, CN was supplemented for only 28 days, and future research may be interested in examining CN for a longer trial period to confirm its safety. Moreover, future studies are required to determine the efficacy of CN, as the combined effects of nitrates and creatine on both longitudinal and acute changes in performance and body composition are currently unknown.”

So they think CN is safe for 28 days but longer than that they don’t know? Have they been selling this stuff without knowing the long-term safety? Regardless, this is yet another non-athlete subjects study from the “MusclePharm Sports Science Institute.”

The only two “studies” I saw under Published Research Papers at http://www.mpssi.com that appeared to have some relevance to athletes were two “review type papers” on body composition. One study on cluster sets was somewhat interesting but again did not use athletes participating in sports as subjects, so it has little relation to “sports science.”

In summary, out of sixteen publications that you can read abstracts or the entire text for only “two reviews” under Published Research Papers on body composition would even come close to real “sports science.” The rest of the studies didn’t even use athletes as subjects. How is this “sports science?”

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute has been around since 1985. It has a main lab along with mobile and satellite labs.

It’s interesting with their long history (30 years) and team of scientists that the Gatorade Sports Science Institute recently changed their stance by finally telling athletes to listen to their thirst, and admitting that there’s no evidence that dehydration causes heat illness.

This is also quite a change from ACSM’s 1996 position stand which encouraged athletes to drink” as much as tolerable.” The change occurred after CrossFit exposed Gatorade’s corruption of hydration science.

Why did it take Pepsi-owned Gatorade and the Gatorade Sports Science Institute so long to change its stand? Why did it take so much pressure and rare but tragic deaths (which may have been preventable) from hyponatremic encaphalopathy to get Gatorade to change its marketing? For clues we can start at the beginning of the Gatorade empire.

Dr. Robert Cade et al. invented Gatorade in the mid 1960s.

The following is derived from Darren Rovell’s, First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon.

Stokely-Van Camp bought the Gatorade idea from Dr. Cade et al. in 1967. The concoction did not taste good so the scientists at Stokely added sugar. Ingredients in Gatorade have not changed much at all over the years. Changes have been related to safety (i.e., ingredient perhaps safer), cost (cheaper), or better taste. This near absence of change over 45-50 years since Gatorade was invented has led to speculation about the real purpose of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI). GSSI has funded a large number of studies over many years. Could it be possible that almost nothing has changed in sports drink science to improve Gatorade in around half a century?

Dr. Robert Cade, the inventor of Gatorade, didn’t think so! Cade had received around $8 million in royalties from Gatorade, but by 1989 he and his colleagues were focused on creating a superior product to Gatorade. The product was Thirst Quencher 2 (TQ2). Cade gave cyclists TQ2 and Gatorade in a head to head battle in May of 1989. TQ2 beat Gatorade on heart rate and changes in blood volume. Cade believed TQ2 would give prolonged endurance athletes a 30 percent longer workout than Gatorade.

https://www.uff.ufl.edu/FacultyEndowments/ProfessorshipInfo.asp?ProfessorshipFund=006937

Gatorade inventor Robert Cade didn’t think Gatorade worked optimally for athletes: https://www.uff.ufl.edu/FacultyEndowments/ProfessorshipInfo.asp?ProfessorshipFund=006937

Cade agreed to the University of Florida having patent rights to TQ2. The University of Florida would license TQ2 to Phoenix Advanced Technologies for an initial fee to produce the formula. Dr. Cade would be a paid spokesman for TQ2. Cade told the media TQ2 performed and tasted better than Gatorade.

This made the Gatorade Trust and Quaker (who owned Gatorade at the time) upset. They believed any sports drink advances by Dr. Cade belonged to them. So, they sued Dr. Cade, Phoenix and the University of Florida. Gatorade sued its own inventor for making what he considered to be an innovation!

It took a couple years, but Cade and Phoenix eventually decided to settle. Phoenix sold TQ2 to Quaker, and Quaker took TQ2 off the market. This is quite interesting since the Gatorade that Quaker obtained from Stokely and that Pepsi later acquired from Quaker has been virtually unchanged.

Gatorade (fully owned by PepsiCo) is a high-level sponsor of the NSCA, ACSM (since 1991), and has relationships with almost every trainers organization. For example, Gatorade publishes a newsletter twice a year that includes a column on “sports science” by a GSSI member for the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS).

The GSSI walks a tightrope between public education and using the GSSI to sell product. Educating the public may be the stated goal, but it is not possible to disregard the fact the GSSI is a part of Gatorade and Gatorade is a part of Pepsico, which is a huge company in business to make money.

Additionally, while hydration and nutrition can be considered components of what makes up sports science, this does not deal with the complete athlete environment. Under “Specific Topics for Performance, Training Adaptations, and Recovery,” I found only one study that was done on basketball, baseball, or football. So, while they have satellite labs, they must not be studying the Big 3 American sports very much.

It’s also interesting that low-fat chocolate milk is touted as an excellent recovery drink for athletes, and I haven’t seen comparisons with Gatorade products such as Gatorade’s Whey Protein Bar for recovery.

Beet-root juice has been popular with athletes, and I haven’t seen this compared yet to Gatorade products either.

You’d think the “Gatorade Sports Science Institute” would be publishing all kinds of head to head studies on various drinks and recovery nutrients using different athletes as subjects. I haven’t seen too many of these. What has the “Gatorade Sports Science Institute” been doing for athletes and coaches?

There’s also the possibility that if you are exercising less than an hour it really doesn’t matter much as long as you drink to thirst. Water is probably still as good as it gets here.

Different groups are starting to catch on, recognizing that sugary sports drinks like Gatorade are closer to a can of soda than an elite athletic performance beverage and that, by extension, “sports science” published by groups like the GSSI are more akin to an advertisement. San Francisco lawmakers unanimously voted on June 9th, 2015 to require all advertisements for sugar-sweetened beverages to display this warning:

“WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.”

So there will be warning labels on Gatorade advertisements in San Francisco. This is good ammunition to have in case you run into marketers disguised as sports science, sports medicine, athletic training, or strength and conditioning personnel.

Summary

In this sports science series, we learned sports science is almost non-existent in the US university system. Many seem to like to think they are sports scientists or use the term sport scientist, but few actually work with athletes in the complete athlete environment in the US. Additionally, we reviewed how companies use the title “Sports Science Institute” without studying athletes or sports (i.e., MusclePharm), or as a possible marketing front (Gatorade).

MusclePharm and Gatorade sponsor the NSCA. Of course, Gatorade is also a big sponsor of ACSM. Where is the sports science? Does this resemble marketing, sales, and special interests more than sports science? Something has to be done to help coaches and athletes in America’s biggest sports of baseball, basketball, and football. Our universities and organizations such as the NSCA and ACSM have failed miserably.

About the Author: John T. Weatherly has undergraduate and graduate degrees in exercise science. He was a research assistant to the former Head of Sports Physiology for the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and has helped with conditioning programs for athletes in Olympic sports as well as professional baseball, college football and an NBA player. In the 90’s, John published and reviewed articles for the NSCA and was an NSCA media contact on the sport of baseball. He helped initiate the first study on a rotary inertia exercise device at the University of Southern California (USC) and has consulted with the exercise industry on various topics, including vibration.

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