New insights in sports-nutrition

Table sugar is an easy and affordable energy source for top athletes: just one of the conclusions from research by TiFN PhD fellow Jorn Trommelen. The scientist, now an assistant professor, defended his thesis at Maastricht University, October 3, 2019. 

Trommelen was fascinated by sports nutrition, but could find no dedicated course in the Netherlands. “So I decided to study Nutrition and Health, at Wageningen University, and do a sports nutrition internship at Maastricht University”, he explains. He enjoyed it all: the topic, his colleagues, the research. “I soon learnt that a TiFN PhD would embellish my CV, so I applied and was accepted.”

Post-exercise recovery
Trommelen’s PhD research led him into the possibilities of carbohydrate and protein ingestion as nutritional interventions to improve post-exercise recovery. “I looked, for example, at muscle glycogen repletion rates, performance during prolonged exercise and overnight muscle protein synthesis after training”, he illustrates.

Affordable energy source
Trommelen learnt that sucrose (table sugar) is actually a good, affordable and widely-available energy source. This is because sucrose is composed of two different monosaccharides. “This does not imply that sugar is good for everyone at every moment; it should fit with your energy expenditure”, the scientist stresses. Trommelen also discovered that consuming extra protein just before sleep improves recovery after exercise. “Most athletes consume protein-rich foods during the day, but an extra portion at night would be very beneficial.”

According to the young scientist, sports nutrition is a very tangible topic, and one with a very broad appeal. “Despite the complex research methods we use, such as isotope labelling to investigate uptake of amino acids in muscle tissue, people understand our goal: improving athletes’ performance via nutrition”, he says. “I believe this is the reason I am often asked to give lectures, and my posts on social media elicit so many responses.“

During his PhD, Trommelen not only gained a deep understanding of sports nutrition, he also learnt the importance of critical evaluation, especially of scientific papers. “Those skills are very useful now in supporting students and in my follow-up research.”

Sports-nutrition books
The PhD research focus was on revealing the importance of proteins before sleep in improving muscle recovery and synthesis in athletes. Trommelen and his colleagues are now looking whether this approach would be beneficial to other groups of people as well. “We want our knowledge to be translated into food products and practical guidelines – insights that can inform the type of sports-nutrition books I devoured when I was a student.”