It's long been an accepted fact that science in sports nutrition is essential. But like most accepted facts, this one's overdue a major rethink
Science has done some awesome stuff. It's put a man on the moon, mapped the human genome, banished a slew of now everyday diseases that used to kill in their thousands, and has ushered in technology today that makes recent science fiction actual reality. Science rocks. But science in sports nutrition? Well, not so much.
Take a time machine back a decade to look at mass market sports nutrition, and all that's changed is the packaging.
Yet the science claims persist. These products are, to read their marketing, on the very bleeding edge of scientific possibility.
In short, WTF?
Science has done some cool sh*t, like SpaceX's new generation of space rockets for example. It just hasn't done anything in sports nutrition
Science in sports nutrition: it's all about psychology
The reason science in sports nutrition is such a big deal is psychology. Not the good kind of psychology that makes us better, stronger, faster or healthier, but rather the sort that helps companies sell more stuff and create a differentiation that doesn't exist between one product and another.
You know, like with shampoo or washing powder.
We all love to think we're much smarter than to fall for what is little more than a con man's sleight of hand but, truth is, we are hardwired to lap this stuff up.
The most famous experiment in this area came from psychologist Stanley Milgram at Yale University in 1963 who proved quite clearly that when influenced by the right authority, most ordinary people could be made to electrocute innocent people to death, simply because an authority figure told them to. No force was required.
In Milgram's experiment, healthy and well-adjusted volunteers had to administer electric shocks to an unseen 'student' on the other side of a partition for each wrong answer they gave to questions the volunteers were given to ask. The student was not in reality connected to any current, and was played by an actor.
The shocks started small and then increased, finally hitting 450 volts. Fatal shocks can occur from as low as 110 volts.
65% of volunteers went all the way to 450 volts despite the student having long since gone from screaming and crying to being completely unresponsive.
The volunteers all wanted to stop, but the authority figure, an actor in a lab coat holding a clipboard simply requested they continue, because "the experiment demands it".
If authority as benign as this - a lab coat and a clipboard - can make people electrocute others because "they were told to", it can absolutely make you buy industrial and ineffective sugary crap in the name of sports nutrition.
Science in sports nutrition: the authority factor and how it works
The simple truth is deference to authority can be useful and we need it to survive. Our brains have so many inputs to decipher daily that if we had to stop and think about every one, we'd barely make it out of bed.
The fact we function, thrive and achieve is entirely because, for many inputs, we have automatic responses so we don't have to think about what to do. We're on autopilot, which leaves us free to work on the big stuff.
Authority is a classic autopilot trigger, often a helpful one at that.
Much authority can be useful, making our lives better and easier. It's when authority is hijacked that problems begin
As psychologist Robert Cialdini explains:
"Conforming to authority has genuine advantages. Early on, these people (for example, parents, teachers) knew more than we did, and we found taking their advice proved [largely] beneficial... As adults, the same benefits persist for the same reasons, though the authority figures now appear as employers, judges, and government leaders.
"Because their positions speak of superior access to information and power, it makes sense to comply with the wishes of properly constituted authorities".
Science is a massive authority.
From an early age we're taught about great scientific discoveries and achievements, about the intense intelligence and study it requires, and how it produces world changing geniuses like Einstein.
Media and culture then reinforce our authority trigger for science, while newspaper, online and TV editors routinely demand science as the backing for any story on health and technology, further stoking the fire.
Science in sports nutrition: how science got hijacked
This is all well and good, until someone decides to use our automatic authority response to all things scientific against us.
Make something look like science with graphs, confusing language, white coats, 'experts', laboratories and equations, and hey presto!
You just created authority.
Now use that authority to tell people they need the products that authority endorses, and watch them buy it.
Here we're back in the world of shampoo, washing powder, and, yes, mass market sports nutrition.
This is why otherwise smart and educated athletes find themselves chowing down product they don't even enjoy.
The science said it was good after all.
It's why otherwise smart and educated athletes persist with sports nutrition products that fail to deliver, or which even deliver obvious problems like stomach trouble, poor energy levels and delayed recovery.
Because the science said it was good.
It's why industrial sports nutrition is still able to use the exact same cheap sweeteners and ingredients used in junk foods, and sell them as performance foods at a huge markup. A huge markup which then pays for more hokey science and around the circle goes.
Knowing when to go with authority and when to blaze your own path is the key to powerful results
Science in sports nutrition: beat the bullsh*t
Fortunately there is a powerful tool we can all use against authority when it's being used against us, and it's this:
Ask how the person using the authority stands to gain from our compliance with it.
And sports nutrition companies gain big time from your compliance with the science they create.
Which is fine if you benefit too by becoming faster, stronger, healthier, and happier. That's a fair deal.
If you don't though and just feel a bit sick, or have a crappy race day experience, or don't enjoy the products involved then you've just been badly taken advantage of.
The only response in this case is straightforward. Vote with your feet and wallet, and avoid all products from any company that treats you this way. It's all they deserve.
Looking for sports nutrition without all the bullsh*t? Head in store at 33Shake.com
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