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NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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Kinesiology Professor Studies the Effects of Protein in Sports Drinks

By Amanda Rivera
10/05/06

PHOTO: Test subject in Human Performance LabCompetitiveness is an ingrained aspect of every sport.  This may be why the makers of sports drinks Gatorade and Accelerade (similar to Gatorade but with added protein) have stepped off the sidelines and begun an all-out battle to claim first place among athletes’ choice of hydration.  Dr. Mike Saunders, James Madison University Kinesiology Professor, has spent the past four years attempting to end the debate by conducting a range of experiments exploring the effectiveness of carbohydrate and protein sports drinks on endurance performance and recovery time.  Despite the nature of his studies, Dr. Saunders has not yet chosen sides: “I just want to answer the scientific questions and I’m trying to stay as much as I can above the fray.” 

As a competitive distance runner in high school and college, Dr. Saunders quickly became interested in the ability of carbohydrate sports drinks to better athletic performance.  During this time, Gatorade was making significant headway as researchers began to acknowledge its positive effects.  “I felt like I missed the boat, that it was a really interesting area, but I just came along too late to be able to get involved with it,” says Dr. Saunders.  However, 2002 introduced a growing availability of sports drinks with both carbohydrates and protein and Dr. Saunders was, hence, able to pursue his interests, yet down a slightly different avenue. 

Along with the help of a graduate student, Dr. Saunders began his studies initially PHOTO: Test subject in Human Performance Labusing commercial carbohydrate and protein drinks that were available.  Employing competitive cyclists in the Harrisonburg community as his test subjects, Dr. Saunders discovered that the sports drinks with added protein promoted a longer ride towards exhaustion.  After these studies became published, grants allowed him to delve deeper into his research.  Dr. Saunders now uses grants from American commercial beverage companies and a European company, which provides the raw materials to make his own sports drink concoctions in the lab. 

Additional funds have also supported the purchase of vital research equipment, including a machine which allows Dr. Saunders to simulate a virtual course for cyclists to ride.  Through this machine, he discovered that a majority of the increased endurance performance was found in the latter stages of endurance events.  Another significant finding concerned a decreased recovery time for athletes who drank the sports drink which contains both carbohydrates and protein.  To determine recovery time Dr. Saunders used blood samples to look for key blood markers of muscle damage and the newly acquired interpolated twitch device to detect aspects of muscle fatigue.  Despite these major findings, Dr. Saunders’ work remains unfinished.  He says, “Everyone time we do a study, we answer one or two questions and we probably create two or three more ones that come up.” 

PHOTO: Test subject in Human Performance LabDr. Saunders’ work has afforded him the opportunity to visit various places to discuss his findings.  This past year, he spoke at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, as well as Osaka, Japan and several other conferences in the U.S.  In about a month he will attend a round-table discussion in the Netherlands where he has been invited by the Dutch Olympic Committee to discuss ideal nutrition for competitive athletes.  He will also present a seminar, “The role of carbohydrate & carbohydrate/protein beverages in recovery from endurance exercise,” the next day.  As various studies exploring the effects of both sports drinks like Gatorade and Accelerade are continued, Dr. Saunders also maintains his applied research in hopes of defining the mechanisms behind the direct effects of protein on endurance performance and recovery.  Once Dr. Saunders’ research does reach a definitive end, he says that he’ll let marketing companies deal with the rest: “If it gets to the point where both the scientific community and the athletic community both agree that it works, then they’ll be no shortage of products available to the athletes.”