Outstanding teachers, Asker Jeukendrup

We spoke with Asker Jeukendrup, his work as an applied scientist commenced at the age of 11 when he started recording his own training and progress

He began to work with elite athletes during his PhD and since worked alongside athletes in many sports including cycling, marathon running speed skating, triathlon, swimming and tennis. During the 20 years of working in elite sport he learnt to translate detailed and often complex scientific findings into practical advice helping coaches and athletes achieve their goals.

What is your relationship with the Real Madrid Graduate School - Universidad Europea?

A.J.: The last few years I have been teaching sports nutrition in the Master's Degree in Sports Training and Nutrition.

Tell us about what you are working on at the moment. Any new projects on the horizon?

A.J.: I amd working on a number of very excisting projects. Most projects are consulting with athletes or teams, mostly in the sports of football, triathlon, cycling and many Olympic sports. I am also developing new software for athletes. This software, currently available in beta, is available under www.fuelthecore.com and will help athletes put together a nutrition plan based on scientific evidence. The plans (for nutrition just before and during activity) are specific to the goals, the event, the level of the athlete and personalised according to personal preferences and tolerances.

Your research interests have always been the metabolic responses to exercise, especially endurance exercise, the interaction between nutrition and exercise, sports nutrition, gastro-intestinal complaints during exercise, training and overtraining. What areas of nutrition and exercise are you most passionate about?

A.J.: I am interested in all aspects that influence performance. That is most aspects of sports nutrition really. Most nutrition either has a long term or a short term effect on performance. Most of my work has focussed on the regulation of fat and carbohydrate and I think this is an extremely important area where there are still a lot of questions. 

Mysportscience is your destination for objective and evidence based advice across a wide range of sports science topics including endurance sports and sports nutrition. The site keeps you up to date with the latest research and turns the complicated science into easy to understand, practical applications. What is your key objective with this project?

A.J.: There is a huge amount of misinformation out there. Many people have opinions and beliefs but these are not always grounded in science. I am trying to provide a platform with more balanced views so athletes have a place to go to for credible and balanced information. The blogs try to make sometimes complicated science into easier to understand language and make it more practical. The views expressed are discussed in relation to the totality of evidence. I am trying to dispell some of the myths and in that way help athletes to optimise their performances.

You are a keen triathlete today with over 21 Ironman races completed including 6 times at the World Championship in Hawai. Do you think that being an athlete has helped you to achieve your professional objectives?

A.J.: There is no question that being an athlete makes it a lot easier to understand an athlete. As an athlete I often have the same questions and struggles in turning science into practical application. Being an athlete is what got me interested in human physiology and nutrition in the first place. I wanted to understand what the limitations are of human performance. When working with athletes, this is important too as they know you can relate to them. 

What tips would you give to amateurs who want to be healthy and improve their performance by improving their diet?

A.J.: First don't believe everything you read and try to obtains the skills of critical reading and listening. You need to be able to disntinguish good from bad information. If someone tells you one thing, you hear something in the news, read something in a blog, or see and advert, how do you know it is real? You need to have the skills to recognise good and bad information and disntiguish science and psudoscience. In terms of the diet itself: there is not one diet that is better than other diets. The optimal dietary requirements vary from person to person and from day to day. It is about understanding what the needs are base don your goals and activities.

Questions from Real Madrid Graduate School students

What are the most common diet mistakes committed by amateur athletes?

A.J.: Making last minute changes, trying new things just a few days before competition or even in competition. It is important to develop routines, and trying and testing things before using them in competition. Many athletes go for extremes, drinking very Little, drinking a lot high fat, high carb, but often it is about finding the balance. The answer is never in the extremes.

A lot of athletes follow other people´s tips, myths, rumors, articles in blogs without any scientific background… What would you tell them? Which publications and authors would you recommend (in addition to your own website)?

A.J.: This is a good question. The reason I started www.mysportscience.com was because I did not think there was anything out there that did the same thing. There are some good articles about specific topics but there is not one place that has sports nutrition information made available for athletes in a language that is easy to understand and practical and that discusses the evidence in a balanced way. So I struggle to think of another site.

What do you think that the nutritional trends for 2107 will be?

A.J.: Personalised and periodised nutrition.

How can we avoid gastrointestinal discomfort that many athletes endurance feel with taking isotonic drinks and energy gels?

A.J.: Often the problems do not come from drinks or gels but they are simply race related. It is anxiety that is partly to blame for GI problems. This is why we see a lot of problems in athletes who dont event take drinks or gels.

The other problem is that athletes only use drinks and gels in races and not in training, never practice with it and than suddenly during the most intense exercise, start to take these drinks and gels. The gut is extremely trainable. So regular use of “race nutrition” will adapt the GI system.

Long distance races are a balance between getting enough fluids and carbohydrate and not getting an upset stomach. Some of this is a clever race nutrition plan, some of it is training!

Is it just a matter of osmolarity or there are other factors that influence this intolerance?

A.J.: GI-problems are very individual and so are the causes. There is not one smple solution for everyone. Personally I don't think that osmolality has a huge role to oplay. The amount of carbohydrate is a much greater factor, but for some people osmolality may play a role too. Having said that in a study at Ironman Hawaii we did not see a relationship between high salt intake (whihc would cause a very high osmolality) and GI problems.

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