Sports Nutrition Myths Busted


Coconut water for hydration? Are protein supplements a must for big guns? Can you perform optimally on a vegan diet? Pasta the best option for carbo-loading? We separate fact from fiction on five of the most common sports nutrition myths.

Myth 1:  Coconut water works as well a sport drink

Its touted to be a miracle drink and the go-to beverage after a workout. Word is that it’s better for rehydrating you than standard H2O.  When you sweat you lose electrolytes like sodium and potassium as well as water. After a long (> 1 hour) or a very intense workout you need to replace both for optimal rehydration. Water therefore on its own is not best rehydration drink. Coconut water contains sugar and electrolytes (especially potassium). For this reason, coconut water may be better for rehydration after a workout that is longer than an hour. However, the main electrolyte in sweat is sodium and isotonic sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade or Lucozade Sport have more sodium than coconut and thus if you are a hard core athlete for optimal rehydration that is what you need. 

Myth 2: Protein supplements are a must for building muscles

One of the biggest myths is that eating large amounts of protein equates to big biceps! Strength athletes – or those involved in high volume, high intensity training – do have higher protein requirements (1.2 – 2.0 per kg body weight per day) then endurance athletes (1.2 – 1.8g per kg body weight per day) who have higher requirements that the general sedentary population (0.8-1.2 per kg body weight per day). However, providing energy requirements are met a healthy diet will provide enough protein to meet any increase requirements. Protein should ideally be evenly distributed every three to four hours across the day. Post workout the addition of 20-25g of protein will promote muscle repair. Ultimately however, muscle is gained through a combination of resistance training and a diet that contains adequate energy and carbohydrate. If you only focus on protein without enough carbs then your body will use the protein for energy instead of muscle building. Additionally, too little carbohydrate will lead to low energy levels which make it very difficult for you to train and perform at your best.

Myth 3: You can’t perform optimally with a vegan diet

Without a doubt, vegan athletes can – and do- excel in sport. The key to eating an effective vegan sports diet is to include enough leucine, the essential amino acid that triggers muscle synthesis. By swapping animal proteins for plant protein you reduce your leucine intake by about 50%. For athletes, consuming 2.5g of leucine every three to four hours during the day optimises muscular development. This means that vegan athletes need to eat adequate nuts, soy foods, lentils, beans and other plant protein regularly at every meal and snack. A good vegan diet must be well planned.

Myth 4: When your body needs fluids, you will feel thirsty

Thirst is not a reliable gauge of fluid needs during exercise. Infact, by the time you feel thirsty during a workout or competition they are already dehydrated (i.e. you have already lost about 2% or more of body weight as fluid). A decrease in exercise performance typically occurs at this point. For this reason, it is important that you work with a dietitian or sports nutritionist to work out a bespoke hydration strategy that is tied to your sweat rate, that doesn’t rely solely on sweat 

Myth 5: Pasta the night before an endurance event constitutes carbohydrate loading

A single high carb meal like pasta the night before a big competition is not an effective method for boosting muscle glycogen levels. Carbohydrate loading typically requires a combination of tapering exercise while increasing carbohydrate consumption slightly and its usually done over a few days.


  1. Chaubey et al 2017. Comparative Study on Coconut Water, Carbohydrate Electrolyte Sports Drink and Sodium Enriched Coconut Drink on Measures of Hydration and Physical Performance in Athletes. IOSR Journal of Sports and Physical Education (IOSR-JSPE) e-ISSN: 2347-6737, p-ISSN: 2347-6745, Volume 4, Issue 3
  2. Laitono O et al. 2014. Improved exercise capacity in the heat followed by coconut water consumption. Motriz, Rio Claro, v.20 n.1, p.107-111, Jan./Mar. 2014 DOI
  3. British Dietetic Association Fact Sheet. Sports Nutrition. Accessed here: Sport and exercise | British Dietetic Association (BDA)
  4. Meltzer S et al. The complete Book of Sports Nutrition. A practical guide to eating for sport. New Holland Publishers. 2005. Pp12-30
  5. Kerksik et al. 2018. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 15:38