Sports nutrition: Singapore’s elite athletes focusing on food first, supplements second

Sports nutrition is 'coming back to mother nature'. ©iStock

Alternative sources of protein and a greater focus on ‘food before supplements’ is shaping the sports nutrition practices of Singapore’s elite athletes.

According to Dr Richard Swinbourne, head of sports nutrition at the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI), athletes in the City State are increasingly benefitting from a range of non-dairy sources of protein.

“We are seeing an uptake of vegetable protein – brown rice protein and golden pea protein [in addition to dairy sources],” he said.

“Both of those have a complete amino acid profile, and are wonderful solutions for athletes who are lactose intolerance or just for those who do not like an animal protein and prefer a vegetable source.”

Dr Swinbourne, who spoke at a recent Protein Now event organised by Fonterra, is part of the team in-charge of the health and dietary requirements of Singapore athletes such as Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling.

He also said athletes were increasingly preferring to try and get the full spectrum of basic nutrients from natural foods, instead of relying more on commercially prepared supplements.

“At a food level, we are coming back to mother nature again. Many years ago, it was all about the clean and green image, and then we got very synthetic,” he said.

That said, supplement use for enhanced performance in particular continues to popular.

Pushing hard

“I am actually seeing a trend where athletes are now understanding and appreciating the importance of their own safety around supplementation,” he said.

“But much work still needs to be done, as a lot of athletes are much relaxed in that space, so we need to keep pushing hard there.”

While the athletes at SSI do receive supplementation, Dr Swinbourne said they have a ‘food first and supplements second’ approach when it comes to nourishing their athletes.

“Supplementation are always prescribed at an individual level, we are food first and supplements second,” he said.

SSI is also careful about the supplementation that its nutrition team prescribes, always making sure that the supplements given such as whey protein, multivitamins, energy gels, sports drinks, beta alanine and beetroot nitrate do not contain any substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

“The products that our athletes use have been through our labs, and are shown and tested to be clean of banned substances,” he added.

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