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While I was in New York earlier this week, I had a chance to chat with Asker Jeukendrup, the new “global senior director” of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. After Amby Burfoot’s wide-ranging interview with him in September, I was curious about what that would mean both for his research and for Gatorade — which, as I wrote about in a Globe article back in 2009, had seemed to be moving away from evidence-based science and toward marketing gimmicks like adding theanine to “improve focus.”
So, after our conversation, I’m now at liberty to reveal… well, nothing. Asker promises that the Gatorade formulas will change, possibly in the short term but certainly in the medium term as new research directions yield results. What those research directions are he wouldn’t reveal, but he emphasized a shift from hydration to the full spectrum of performance nutrition. Two key focuses: energy delivery and recovery. What does this mean? His previous work on “multiple transportable carbs” (which he made famous for PowerBar) showed that the bottleneck for athletes trying to get carbs to their muscles is getting the carbs across the intestinal wall. My totally uninformed guess is that he’s looking at novel ways (different types of carbs? different molecular structures? different ratios?) of getting carbs across that barrier more quickly.
One other interesting nugget. A few months ago, I blogged about a study that included an unverified claim that Haile Gebrselassie lost 10% of his body mass due to dehydration during his world record marathon run. Jeukendrup has worked extensively with Geb — and though that data is confidential, I pressed him a bit about this claim. He confirmed that the 10% figure was reasonable. Geb’s a very small guy who’s capable of working at an inhumanly high work rate for an extended period of time. The result: he generates a huge amount of heat, and thus sweats a lot, likely more than two litres an hour. It’s not practically possible to drink anywhere near this much at world-record marathon pace, so Geb loses a ton of weight.
So the obvious question is: does this rather severe level of fluid loss hurt Geb’s performance? Jeukendrup’s guess: no. The primary mechanism through which dehydration might hurt performance is through reduced blood volume forcing the heart to work harder. But you can compensate for reduced blood volume to some degree: for example, your veins (which return the oxygen-depleted blood to the heart) contract, effectively shortening the circulatory loop. Geb’s example doesn’t prove anything either way — obviously it’s possible that he’d be a 2:02 guy if he drank more. But it’s hard to argue with a world record, unless we have some compelling reason to think that dehydration held him back (and I can’t think of one).