In Case you Missed it – A Snapshot from ISENC – International Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conference December 2013

ISENC- International Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conference, Newcastle

17th, 18th, 19th December 2013

Still mulling the ISENC conference over in my mind.  Although I tweeted throughout the conference, I wanted to share some snippets in a blog format for ease of reference.  There was a huge amount of material presented, so this is a snap-shot view to give you a flavour of the 3 days and a few quotes that I found interesting.

The excitement was palpable when I arrived at the conference hotel on the 16th December.  I had been looking forward to this conference for months. ISENC2013 had no shortage of A-list speakers from the Sports Nutrition Field which was one of the main reasons I considered attending a conference so close to Christmas!


Professor Louise Burke: Evidence-Based Practice in Sport and Exercise Nutrition

The lecture hall was jam-packed for Professor Louise Burke’s opening presentation and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Louise presented on carbohydrate and fluid guidelines to illustrate how the limitations of current research and lack of understanding of real-life issues in sport have led to confusion regarding evidence-based practice in a potentially simple issue of sports nutrition.

Key quotes:

“There are no medals for having the highest levels of signalling proteins, there are no prizes for being able to run or cycle to exhaustion and there are no rat races in the Olympics”.

“Why do have have to have 2 camps – high fat versus high carbohydrate – we shouldn’t be looking for either/or but how we can get the best of both for the athlete’.

“The best outcomes in sports nutrition can be seen to involve the sum of evidence + practice + placebo effect”.

Professor Bill Fraser: Vitamin D – What Are We Measuring and What Should We Be Measuring.

Another fantastic session on Day 1 was Professor Bill Fraser’s presentation.

Serum 25 (OH) D concentration is the best indicator of Vitamin D status.  Vitamin D analysis is being done incorrectly in many cases.  It would seem there is some disagreement in terms of defining what levels determine Vitamin D deficiency, sufficiency etc.

Key quote

‘The idea that Vitamin toxicity is not real is an old wives tale and a chestnut that we need to roast today’.

I left this lecture feeling that I have a lot more to learn about Vitamin D and like so many areas of nutrition – this one is not cut and dry!!

Other Key Take-aways from Day 1

We also heard a number of presentations in relation to The Female Athlete Triad.  It is no longer considered a Triad and the new term RED-S – Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport has been coined and affects men and women.  A new IOC consensus statement on RED-S has been drawn up and will be presented in BJSM in April 2014.  A one-page summary will be issued on January 15th 2014 by the IOC.

There were some truly magical moments at the conference – the most magical of all was undoubtedly hearing Professor Dave Costill speaking on the first evening.

What an absolute gent who displays complete humility about his work despite an incredible career, inspiring sports scientists and sports nutritionists alike across the globe.  Word has it that Professor Costill doesn’t speak at events like this very often, so it was a privilege to hear him speak.

You could hear a pin drop for the entire time he was speaking so I guess everyone else was as much in awe as I was to be in the presence of greatness.


Plenary Session: ‘The Paleo Diet: from origins to contemporary approaches for health and performance – are we going too far?’

Day 2 got off to a wonderful start with the Plenary Session. This for me was the draw of the entire conference.  I get asked about the Paleo Diet on almost a daily basis by sports people and clients looking to lose weight.

It seemed like I wasn’t the only one interested in this topic, as the lecture theatre was packed to capacity at 9am.

One stand-out point from Professor Louise Burke’s presentation was that if you search on PUBMED for Paleo and Athletes, 0 results come up. 

However if you Google Paleo and Crossfit, you will get 2.5M hits. 

This point highlights the dearth of scientific evidence on the Paleo Diet for Athletes, it just doesn’t exist, but plenty of unscientific articles and opinion pieces on this topic abound.  She took us through the book Paleo for Athletes, and asked the question are we chasing something that doesn’t really exist?  It was amusing to see that essentially this diet can be whatever you want to to be and don’t be fooled, there are plenty of carbohydrates in there!!

In essence, it appears to be a bit of a mis-sell and just a very peculiar and roundabout way of packaging Sports Nutrition Guidelines with a few strange quirks added in (no dairy but whey protein ok, low carb but dextrose ok – huh??!!).

Professor Burke summed up with

“What’s all the fuss about?”

Professor Nanna Meyer followed this with a thought-provoking presentation on the environmental impact of dietary choices such as Paleo.  For each kcal produced from meat an input of around 10 kcal of grain is needed, or in other words, 8-10 times as much grain.  2-7kg of grains are needed to produce 1 kg of animal protein.  Is the Paleo diet sustainable going forward?  Her answer was NO.

Key quote:

“Food should have a place (know it’s source, locally produced), a face (farmer) and great taste”

Professor Kevin Tipton: What’s New in Protein Intake and Muscle Gain?

This was an overall conference highlight for me was a and stand-out presentation.  Again, the lecture theatre was packed to capacity and word had it that even Professor Dave Costill couldn’t get a seat in the house for this one!!

Key quotes:

“Availability of ALL essential amino acids is important for optimal response of MPS”

“Acute post-exercise MPS appears to be maximised with intake of approximately 20-25g of high quality protein – stimulate a rapid hyperleucinemia”.

“The anabolic window of opportunity for protein intake is not 1 hour, but likely 24 hours+ post exercise, so if you can’t get your protein in immediately post-exercise, no need to panic” – “But if you do, is it going to hurt? No, so why not! ”

Most of the scientific research about protein synthesis in athletes is with supplements – we have much less data on actual foods –> much more research on this is needed”

I will blog separately about this one as it was a wonderful refresher and update on this topical area.

An Interview with Dame Kelly Holmes

Day 2 ended with a lovely Christmassy cheese and wine reception followed by Professor Louise Burke interviewing Dame Kelly Holmes on stage.  Fascinating and very enjoyable to hear about her journey to Olympic success.


Professor Asker Jeukendrup: Exercise-Induced GI problems – Causes and Solutions.

This presentation was the main reason I stayed on for the 3rd day of the conference and it was justified waiting for.

Professor Jeunkendrup very kindly gave us his take-home points at the outset of his talk in case we fell asleep during the presentation!!  Here they are!

“The gut is one of the most important organs for most athletes”

“The gut doesn’t always work well during exercise”

“There are a number of things that an athlete can do to reduce the risk of GI problems”

“The gut can be trained”


There may be some nutritional strategies to prevent gut barrier dysfunction (i.e. reducing oxidative stress, arginine, glutamine, probiotics) but more studies in humans needed to investigate further.


Professor Jeunkendrup reported on the 2012 Chicago marathon study which set out to try and understand the relationship of GI distress with history, nutrition and genetics.

“9.4% of participants reported severe GI distress and that more females were affected than males”.

“A higher incidence of GI distress was associated with a history of GI distress, reduced carbohydrate intake rate and increased (slower) finish time”

“Slower times were also associated with lower intake rates of carbohydrate and fluids”


He summed up:

 “Not a whole lot of evidence that carbohydrates cause these GI problems.  Need to find the causes of these problems somewhere else”

Other take-away points from Day 3

Dr. Graeme Close gave an informative and amusing presentation on Dietary Supplements for Muscle gain on Day 3.


Key comments:

“Supplements that increase anabolic hormones are probably no better than watching Braveheart”.

“Only a few supplements i.e. protein and creatine support protein synthesis” – but it doesn’t have to be a supplement – could be food.

“Use of some protein supplements such as whey protein can have advantages in terms of convenience”

“We may be over-complicating things by looking at supplementing 6.25g whey with 5 g of Leucine versus an optimal 25g dose of whey protein”.

“However, if you can’t get optimal dose of whey protein, there may be a role for rescuing lower quality protein with Leucine”.

Day 3 Finale – Quick-fire top ten topical questions in sports and exercise nutrition.

This session was for the die-hards who stayed at the conference until the bitter end!!  I am happy to say I was a die-hard and it was well worth sticking around for 😉  Each presenter spoke for 3 minutes on their topic and then questions from the floor followed.  The chosen topics were all related to the potential to improve performance via nutritional strategies targeting the brain and CNS.  Here, I just cover a few of the questions.


Can we be sure that the effect of mouth sensing is achieved by carbohydrate or sweetness?

Study by Chambers et al (2009) – Scans showed that there was greater and more diverse brain activation with both Glucose and Maltodextrin compared to Artificial sweetener:

1. Independent of CHO type: monosaccharide versus polysaccharide

2. Independent of sweetness


Does carbohydrate rinsing work best if athlete is fed or fasted?

“More effective when athlete fasted but only a handful of studies.  More research needed”.


Can we make firm recommendations on the best way to achieve the carbohydrate mouth sensing effect – rinse or swallow?

“Rinse for 5 seconds and then swallow.  Numerous receptors throughout the GI tract so why not make the most of them and get the best of both worlds by rinsing and swallowing!!”

PhD student, Mike Newell held his own and gave a witty commentary on the practical considerations of using slushies to get the potential benefits of the cooling/rinsing effect in the real-world.  Sounds great in theory but you may find that the practicalities of not having a power supply or fresh water or not being able to make it fast enough for the number of athletes without it melting scupper the best made plans!!


My brain was well and truly fried after this final session and I was ready to go home for Christmas!!

The Personal Touch

Another serious plus about this conference was that all the speakers were very accessible at this conference.  There was a great attendance but not so much that it became impersonal.  There was ample opportunity to chat to speakers during question time or directly after their talk but also over coffee and lunch breaks and during the social gatherings in the evenings.  It was also a great opportunity to network with fellow Sports Dietitians, Performance Nutritionists and Sports Scientists working in the field of Sports Nutrition and to put faces to some of the tweeps I have been chatting to on Twitter.

Great Content

Although I have highlighted a few of my personal favourite topics, each day was jam-packed with fantastic content and it was an almost impossible task to select a few without doing a disservice to the many, many fantastic speakers who presented.

Closing of the Conference

Professor Ron Maughan summed it up very well at the closing of the conference:

I’ve been to conferences where it’s all about the learning but no fun and a few where it’s been all about the social side with very little learning”


At ISENC they aim for both fantastic learning AND a fun element.  I think they achieved that at the 2013 ISENC.  Met great people, had great fun and learned so much.  Well done to Dave Roberts and the ISENC2013 team.  For anyone with a keen interest in Sports Nutrition, this conference is a MUST!

Bring on ISENC 2014!!

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