Scientific and technical assistance on food intended for sportspeople

Question Number
EFSA-Q-2015-00403
Issued
24 September 2015
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Abstract

The European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to compile existing scientific advice in the area of nutrition and health claims and Dietary Reference Values for adults that is relevant to sportspeople and to inform the Commission on how such scientific advice relates to the different conclusions and specifications of the report of the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) of 2001 on the composition and specification of food intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sportspeople. The scientific advice provided by the SCF and the subsequent scientific advice of EFSA do not differ regarding: a) the essential role of carbohydrate intake in relation to physical performance, and particularly in relation to the recovery of normal muscle function after strenuous exercise, and the role of vitamin B1 on carbohydrate metabolism; b) the role of hydration and carbohydrate supply in the maintenance of physical performance during endurance exercise, as well as on the role of electrolytes (particularly sodium) in the maintenance of adequate hydration during exercise and in post-exercise re-hydration; c) the essential role of protein in the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, and the role of vitamin B6 in protein metabolism; d) the essential role of micronutrients and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on body functions which may impact either athletic performance or specific health risks for athletes; e) the ergogenic properties of caffeine in endurance exercise; and f) the ergogenic effects of creatine in physical performance during short-term, high-intensity, repeated exercise bouts (i.e. in sports that require explosive, high-energy output activities especially of a repeated nature). In addition, EFSA completed the task of establishing Tolerable Upper Intake Levels for vitamins and minerals initiated by the SCF and provided advice on the safety of caffeine, also when consumed prior to intense physical exercise. 

Summary

In accordance with Article 31(1) of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, the European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for scientific technical assistance on food intended for sportspeople. More specifically, EFSA was requested to compile the outcomes of scientific advice in the area of nutrition and health claims and Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) for adults that is relevant to sportspeople and that was provided by the EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) to the Commission after the adoption of the report of the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) on the composition and specification of food intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sportspeople. EFSA was also requested to inform the Commission on how such scientific advice relates to the different conclusions and specifications of the SCF report.

All published Scientific Opinions of the EFSA NDA Panel in the area of health claims were screened to identify scientific evaluations of Art. 13(1) claims or claim applications under Art. 13(5) or Art. 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 for which:

  • the target population was either active individuals in the general population or subjects performing physical exercise, and/or
  • the claimed effect was related to aspects of exercise performance, such as: i) physical performance, endurance capacity, endurance performance, muscle mass, muscle strength, lean body mass; ii) muscle fatigue, water absorption, or the rated perceived exertion/effort during exercise; iii) recovery from muscle fatigue, restoration of muscle glycogen stores, and skeletal muscle tissue repair after exercise; iv) energy-yielding metabolism;
  • the claimed effect was related to certain health risks for athletes, such as: i) upper respiratory tract infections, ii) exercise-induced inflammation, iii) oxidative stress, iv) joint function.

All published Scientific Opinions of the EFSA NDA Panel in the area of DRVs (for energy, water, macronutrients and micronutrients), including Scientific Opinions on Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) for nutrients, were also reviewed in order to gather relevant information for the present report.

The scientific advice provided by the SCF and subsequent scientific advice of the EFSA NDA Panel do not differ regarding:

  • the essential role of carbohydrate intake in relation to physical performance, and particularly in relation to the recovery of normal muscle function after strenuous exercise, and the role of vitamin B1 (thiamine) on carbohydrate metabolism;
  • the role of hydration and carbohydrate supply in the maintenance of physical performance during endurance exercise, as well as on the role of electrolytes (particularly sodium) in the maintenance of adequate hydration during exercise and in post-exercise re-hydration;
  • the essential role of protein in the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, and the role of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) in protein metabolism;
  • the essential role of micronutrients and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on body functions which may impact either athletic performance or specific health risks for athletes;
  • the ergogenic properties of caffeine in endurance exercise; and
  • the ergogenic effects of creatine in physical performance during short-term, high-intensity, repeated exercise bouts (i.e. in sports that require explosive, high-energy output activities especially of a repeated nature).

Whereas the SCF referred specifically to the quality of glycaemic carbohydrates (i.e. with a high glycaemic index) when advising on the composition and specifications of carbohydrate-rich foods intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sportsmen, the conditions of use for the claim evaluated by EFSA were established for all glycaemic carbohydrates. The reason is that claim related to the role of all glycaemic carbohydrates on the recovery of normal muscle function (contraction) after strenuous exercise and not to the relative efficacy of different types of glycaemic carbohydrates in achieving the claimed effect, and therefore this aspect was not assessed by the NDA Panel. A health claim application on a combination of glucose and fructose and improves performance in active individuals performing endurance exercise compared to the intake of glucose alone was submitted to EFSA and then withdrawn during the evaluation.

The two bodies concluded that protein requirements of athletes could be covered by established dietary guidelines, since higher energy needs would result in higher protein intakes on a body weight basis if the protein contribution to total energy intake is kept at about 10–12 %. Neither the SCF nor the EFSA NDA Panel considered that particular protein sources or protein components could have a beneficial effect for athletes on muscle mass or performance beyond what could be expected from high quality protein or protein in mixed diets.

Neither the SCF nor the EFSA NDA Panel considered that athletes may have specific requirements for micronutrients or n-3 LC-PUFA (e.g. beyond the requirements established for the general population), or that athletes would benefit from supplementation with these nutrients. The only health claim related to essential micronutrients specifically addressed to sportspeople (and not to the general population) which was evaluated by the Panel with a positive outcome related to vitamin C and the function of the immune system during and after intense physical exercise. Higher doses of vitamin C (beyond the Population Reference Intakes) were considered by the EFSA NDA Panel to be required for such benefit. The task of establishing ULs (or safe levels of intake) for vitamins and minerals initiated by the SCF has been already completed by EFSA and may serve as guidance to judge whether the intake of high levels of some vitamins and minerals through supplementation, a practice that is particularly popular among athletes, may pose a risk to health.

Whereas the SCF considered that caffeine ingestion prior to exercise enhanced performance in short-term intense exercise lasting approximately five minutes, the EFSA NDA Panel found no convincing evidence for such an effect. The safety of caffeine consumption in conjunction with intense physical exercise, which was not evaluated by the SCF, was considered in an EFSA opinion following a request from the European Commission during the process of authorisation of health claims on caffeine and physical performance.

The SCF warned about consuming creatine in hot conditions prior to exercise and notes the lack of robust data regarding the safety of long-term creatine supplementation, particular at doses higher than recommended. The EFSA NDA Panel did not assess the safety of long-term creatine supplementation because safety assessments are not foreseen in the framework of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 and no safety concerns were raised by risk managers regarding the long-term supplementation with creatine at doses of 3 g per day in the health claim authorisation process.

Neither the SCF nor the EFSA NDA Panel found a solid basis for the use of other food constituents as nutritional ergogenic aids to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort and especially for sportspeople.

Whereas the SCF only considered health risks for athletes in relation to the intake of essential nutrients, EFSA assessed several health claims on the relationship between food constituents other than essential nutrients and health outcomes which have been linked to specific health risks for athletes, including the reduction of the risk of URTI, the reduction of systemic inflammation, the protection of cells and molecules against oxidative damage, and the maintenance of normal joints. All these claims have been evaluated by EFSA with negative outcomes. The target population for the majority of these claims was the general population. Physically active subjects or subjects performing sports were only mentioned specifically within the target population of claims on glucosamine and collagen hydrolysate and maintenance of normal joints.  

Published
29 September 2015