On April 16, 2021, the third (digital) edition of the Sports & Nutrition Conference was held. More than 800 nutrition and sports professionals took part! The theme was ‘How can you prepare an athlete for peak performance?’. The conclusion that emerged from the day was that good preparation is essential when aiming for peak performance. Crucial elements are the right mindset and behaviour, as well as the right balance between nutrition, training and rest. In line with this, ‘If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’ was a frequently heard quote.
Chair for the day, Jeroen Wouters (Innovation Manager Sports & Nutrition Papendal), opened the conference with an introduction on the right combination of exercise and appropriate nutrition for an optimum sporting performance. A great deal of innovation in this area is taking place at the National Sports Centre Papendal in the Netherlands. To give just two examples: the use of an app to monitor the nutrition and fluids intake of athletes, and measurement of various biomarkers to optimize and personalize nutrition advice.
Watch part of the virtual conference environment in 20 seconds
The right mindset
Next up was Dr Marleen Gillebaart (Assistant Professor of Psychology), who talked about achieving goals. The first step is the right mindset. You have various possibilities for promoting a good mindset in athletes. When an athlete achieves success, for instance, it’s important to provide positive feedback not only on the delivered performance but also on the process that led to it.
After this presentation, it was time for the parallel sessions; here participants could choose from a range of presentations that were divided into ‘tracks’ with a specific focus. During Track 1: ‘Preparing for the ultimate goal’ the contributors discussed issues such as achieving a good sporting performance under extreme conditions. For instance, athletes are preparing for the Olympic Games in Tokyo with the help of heat acclimatisation techniques (such as training in a climatic chamber). Among other things, this helps to lower heart rates and create a better perspiration capacity. Track 2: ‘Nutrition for peak performance’ focused on themes such as nutritional support in team sports. In order to make a real impact here, it’s important to build good collaboration with the entire team staff, in addition to the athletes themselves. Finally, Track 3 looked at the role of protein in, among other things, endurance sport. In recent years, an increasing amount of research has been done in this area, with most attention being given to the acute effects of proteins for recovery after prolonged exercise.
How to make a difference as a coach
How can coaches, such as nutrition experts, help athletes to realize their goals? This was the question addressed by Francesco Wessels (coach for the Olympic coaches) in his interesting speech. His most important piece of advice: make the difference by influencing the behaviour of the athlete you are guiding. This is more important in preparing for peak performance than just transferring knowledge!
Preparing for the Olympics
The day was rounded off by the Olympic victors Dafne Schippers and Marit Bouwmeester, who spoke about the role of nutrition, training and mindset when preparing for peak performance. Basic nutrition with the focus on proteins forms the starting point for these top athletes. Important moments for protein intake are breakfast and just before going to bed: ‘this contributes to muscle recovery during the night’, says Dafne. When it comes to dealing with setbacks, Marit’s advice is ‘control the controllables’: influence everything you can influence, but don’t invest your energy in things you can’t influence.
Have we whetted your appetite for the presentations? You can view the recordings (in Dutch) here.