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Unlocking nutrition support through digital ecosystems for athletes—podcast

For athletes at the very top of the sport, nutrition plays a pivotal role in fuel, muscle health, inflammation, and recovery. While this might seem obvious, former professional athlete turned personalised nutrition specialist notes that a surprising portion of athletes do not prioritise or understand nutrition to its fullest potential.

In a digitally driven world, athletes have the highest level of access to information about their bodies—and importantly their individual needs—than ever before. Sporting professionals, coaches, and athletic associations are leveraging technology to advance personalised insights with the goal of making intelligent nutritional recommendations that boost optimal performance. However, recent studies suggest athletes might not have sufficient access to the necessary information surrounding nutrition and how to apply it correctly.

In this podcast, Timo Spring, former professional athlete now founder and CEO of Prevess, discusses the need to provide athletes with nutritionist counselling and the potential to enhance this service through digital ecosystems. Tune in to learn more about:

  • How knowledge and support surrounding nutrition is positioned amongst athletes at the top of the sport
  • Learnings from recent studies carried out in partnership with the German Olympic Association
  • How baseline nutritional deficiencies translate to performance loss
  • The opportunity to improve baseline nutrition through foods and beverages, enhancing through additional supplementation 

Guest

 

Timo Spring

Founder and CEO at Prevess

 

If you do like the show, make sure to subscribe and follow the Vitafoods Insights podcast. Feel free also to recommend the show to a friend that you think would enjoy it. 

Vitafoods Insights Podcast

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Podcast Transcript:

Vitafoods Insights: 00:05 Welcome to the Vitafoods Insights podcast. Join us as we explore the latest science innovation, helping the global health and nutrition industry connect, develop and progress. Today's host is Charlotte Bastiaanse, editor.

Charlotte: 00:22 Hi and thanks for tuning into this Vitafoods Insights podcast. It's such a pleasure to be joined today by Timo Spring, who is the managing director and founder of Prevess which is a nutritionist counselling service specialising in the needs of athletes operating through a digital ecosystem. Timo, thanks so much for joining me.

Timo: 00:40 Thank you, Charlie, for having me.

Charlotte: 00:42 So Timo is involved in a number of different investigative projects, collaborating with really elite athletic institutions and exploring the potential for personalised nutrition to support performance. So, today, we're going to talk a little bit about some of Timo's latest findings and what this mean for the development of athletes in the sports nutrition sector overall. But before we dive into all of that, Timo, we'd love to hear a little bit about an overview of you and how you came to launch Prevess.

Timo: 01:09 Yeah, so how I started actually, I did 16 years of professional swimming. So sport was always a part of my life so far. So my last job, we built actually an ecosystem for C-level executives, where we were focusing on biomarkers, sleep cycles, nutrition, as well as movements. And all of this, I was asking myself, why not to build something like that for the broader range of people. So, try to reach as many as possible people. So Prevess actually started with the same direction to put it into prevention. So that's why Prevess actually is also the name, it stands for prevention effortless. So this is actually our goal, we want to help the people in these four pillars in nutrition, movement, psychology and rest. And we started actually what we picked the first pillar of nutrition because the people are mostly used to it as it's not a big taboo nowadays, and a lot of people even on Corona now, with the corona pounds facing their challenges. On the other side athletes, as I mentioned, formal professional athlete, and we see a big, big lack of nutritional counselling there, on the other side is for sure an opportunity.

Charlotte: 02:21 A lot of the specialists have come into the space often do come from a strong, athletic background. And as you mentioned, you were professional athlete yourself. When you were coming up with a conception of Prevess, and thank you very much for highlighting these sort of four pillars, in your view, what is the most necessary challenge for athletes to overcome? And where do you see the opportunity there for nutritional intervention?

Timo: 02:44 When I was dropped off the national team in Germany, I was realising that there was no nutritional counselling at all. So onto the real national team, we haven't had any support there. So I got a bit obsessed and built myself an own database of three now 1000 scientific papers into this field, and started just nutritional counselling by myself more as a side project because I was just in love with this topic. But then I realised step by step that there are a lot of athletes they really don't know, and this is really in communal to the problem, he also was asking, most of the athletes don't understand it. So what is actually really common for the fitness sector is sometimes really not available in the mindset of an athlete. So they're training, they're training and training. Probably now, they're also additionally going into site trainings, could be agility, all these kinds of things about the lose and actually a lot of potential by eating the right things on the right time by structured thing. Secondly, based on that really going deeper to make the opposite approach by not telling you what you need. We analysing with Prevess the bodies of the athletes, and let them know the body let them know what they need.

Charlotte: 03:59 Timo, it's quite interesting to hear your perception of the lack of information and even the prioritisation, I think, of nutrition amongst athletes about what that should mean for them. From our side and the supply chain, we really believe that there's obviously an awareness and have an understanding of how athletes can unlock better performance through what they eat and drink. And so it's really interesting to hear that a lot of athletes actually don't understand the value of nutrition or they don't know how to apply it correctly, or the science behind it. So that's quite an interesting finding of yours. And Timo, you've been collaborating quite recently with the German Olympic Association, investigating this opportunity to improve athletic performance through tailored nutrition. Can you tell us a little bit about that collaboration and maybe some of the key findings that you've unlocked through that?

Timo: 04:46 We started actually last year. Prevess is now almost one and a half years old. When it started, I was investigating the market, trying to find the biggest opportunity in the market and came out that the gap, as I mentioned was myself, still lacking of this kind of information, and for sure there are professional athletes really high Olympians, they do understand what they have to do, and that being professional is not just training, it's also recovery. And this is where we see nutrition comes into place. So that's why after half a year, we started to communicating here with the Olympic centre where I was trained before my young years, and the managing director there. And for that, actually, with the German Association, and German Olympic Association, and yeah, we actually now analyse together with them, almost two and a half 1000 athletes. And the biggest challenge we were facing and the finding were that almost 60% not achieving their daily macronutrient goal. And if we actually make an kind of mathematically estimation, that means if you have a 14 year old athlete, which probably become in some stage, a professional athlete, Olympian, whatever, 20s, 21, somethint like that, they're losing proximately, 10 to 12% of performance. So what that means is actually for sure, it is a multi layer challenge we are facing, and nutritionally what we realise is not making for my or for our view, 100% and transforming to 101%. But we have still not reached 80% of performance here by covering actually the right nutrients for the body to recover in the proper way.

Charlotte: 06:29 That's really, really interesting, Timo. So, 2500 athletes are analysed in the study, which is a significant base, actually, I think, I think you mentioned that they're not achieving 60% of their nutrition goals, which I think is really significant then for their performance loss, which I think you said was a 12% or so. From those findings, and those athletes that you surveyed through the German Olympic Association, what are those results tell us about the state of nutrition amongst professional athletes? You know, could you even tell us what you think that might reflect on amateurs? Because I'm, you know, I'm sure amateur athletes are their own pool, separate to high performance athletes, but you know, are also quite interested in understanding how their nutrition can enhance their performance. And also, you know, what do you think is needed in terms of support? Is this an opportunity to create new partnerships to improve nutrition? Is it about counselling, this obviously, this concept that you're quite passionate about to inform athletes better? What is your view?

Timo: 07:30 You summarised it very well. So by bringing all stakeholders into one place, step by step, so the biggest challenge as always, but this is, let's say, it's not just correlated to us, or it's correlated to any person, any company in the world is communication. So what the German Olympic Association actually dropped off that they lost actually the connection to the athletes. So the functionaries and the trainers, and everyone, and this is really, for sure, I don't know how it is structured in other countries, but in Germany, I have the feeling of still the feeling that is still a high, high competition amongst each other, but not with a bigger focus on for instance, the Olympic Games, or World Championships or something like that. So they fighting each other more than the collaborating on the path. That's the first thing. So we see as at the moment or what the agent not see us, we put ourselves in this position by bringing all the stakeholders together. And we started actually with directly, we call them lighthouses, so our high professional athletes now we have more than 26 athletes that were 16, turning in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. And these athletes, actually, we have almost half of them, so eight, who hadn't had any clue about nutrition, they just ate by chance. This is how they actually got all these nutrients into their body. And since we structured them, we could convince them and their performance in terms of KPIs, we analysed biomarkers, we analysed the gut microbiome, and what was possible in DNA and brought us all together, all the information consideration, and gave them really easy or effortless this helps call and prevents recommendation of actions. This is the lack of. Secondly, we structured step by step for youngers not just the adults, so teens and so on, we brought the parents on the table together because at the end, for sure they go shopping for 14 15, 16 years old. For sure, this will not do if you remember yourself, and this will never happen. So additionally, to that, we talked to the trainers, we talked to the functionaries and tell them guys, we are here to help.  From our standing, the German system is also very special that let's say where comes the money from? So, the money comes from actually from taxation. So every citizen in Germany pays the professional sport in Germany, this whole structures. And I told them guys, we are here to support the athletes. That's how should be the biggest goal, and this always remind me what every time of phases and sets, so we are focused on really what the client wants. Now, we understate we really have to educate them first. But this was just possible in the structure we use by these lighthouses. We had, we started with swimming because I was a professional swimmer, we have no motor sport inside, we have inside soccer on the first week. So really get these people and this is normally how probably always works and that you have someone, your idol, you want to become this idols doing x y, z, probably this is good, should I should adapt it as a teen as a preteen? Or on top of that also, as a competitor? I say okay, where are my potential fields, I can contribute something to become better as my competitor?

Charlotte: 10:50 Interesting Timo. Thank you so much for sharing all of those insights, I think absolutely, it usually does come back to that really strong connection amongst all of those key stakeholders and forming I think this concept or as you talk about an ecosystem, really. That does bring together all the different aspects and really unifies that in order to serve the athlete, who is the key individual here. In your view, you mentioned that obviously, you do quite a lot of testing and measuring of how the athletes are sort of impacted by tailored nutrition. Do you think the greatest opportunity for enhancing optimal performance is through raw foods or vegetables? Or do you see an opportunity here for the supplements industry, that's obviously quite a key area for us as a brand, we really focus on the opportunity for supplementing to address a number of different nutritional needs. Where do you see the opportunity there for unlocking performance through not only foods and beverages but also through supplementation?

Timo: 11:48 So actually, our main focus, as it's called in our let's say, company name is prevention. And for me or for us, the preventive approach should always start with food. So food first. So this is our definitely approach. Most of the athletes they really believing in, let's say packages, which are bling, and blank showed really high marketing tell you you will achieve another 2%, 3%, whatever. But as I mentioned, 60% are lacking of macronutrients, we are not talking about L-carnitine. We're not talking about vitamin D, vitamin, whatever, E; we're talking about the few, and really the essence to train harder to really be on the motorcycle, and a motorsport, on the football, whatever, you know, wherever you are, you need the baseline on that. And if then on top, you need something like supplements, it's for sure. But firstly, you describe it very well, this is a big industry. So we really facing as a startup as well, that you will not just have the certification apart, the challenge of shifting this paradigm from, okay guys, what is it actually a pre booster? What's inside that? What does it contain? Give me the ingredients show it then we actually advocate and tell them, okay, you can easily buy instead of have a carbohydrate gail for your training sessions on, just put a bit of honey inside or just put more natural. And because for sure we also since we're talking to the German Olympic Association, we also supporting actually the educational part of anti doping. This is the big field, so you always have to take care of, so in most of the athletes, that's that's, that's actually the supplement areas, one big part to what got adopted by athletes, ugh, this is crazy. But actually not the baseline, really not, and this is yeah, I can, in some stage, really open up some more details about the studies and surveys. At the moment, they are all closed because of irregularities with the Olympic Association. But this is what we see: we see that more reasonable to really educate from the very beginning and add where it has to be or needs an adding, it needs a supplement. But this is you know, the calling, or the name of a supplement itself. For my side is a definition of additional food. It's not, it should be not your your main food or your resource.

Charlotte: 14:08 Funny enough, I think we've been speaking quite a lot to a bunch of differences in sports nutrition stakeholders and even the panel discussion that we had as part of the Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo that happened in May spoke a lot about that this return amongst athletes where the professional amateur to real foods, to improve based-line nutrition and then fiddling with a supplement in order to enhance recovery performance, etc. But as you say, you know, there's a lot of nutrition, not just amongst athletes, I think it's obviously a wider problem affecting us. So food is not as nutrient dense as it used to be. We're not eating as well as we used to be. So I think there is this greater return. So food and beverages in its most truest form in order to improve that baseline nutrition then enhancing that later on something like a supplement. These are really, really interesting findings and thank you so much for everything you've shared. Prevess as you mentioned, is obviously quite a young company and you're really passionate and sort of engaging in the space. What's next for you? What are you going to continue to focus on going forward now?

Timo: 15:03 I'm really passionate about sport and movement. But on the other side, for sure we are startup, we are not one of the big tech players who can really bet on where the market goes into 5, 6, 7 years, whatever, yeah, to overcome it just by money, and cash flow. So once I keep that aligned, but on the other side, we are really focusing also on esport. We see that as a highly trend and help and actually also there a broader range of health leads, because you can really call them athletes. The German Olympic Association has there some problems in terms of definition from sport management direction, or sport science direction, but for my understanding, or for ours, then it's more kind of fear that they got cannibalised, or they cannibalising the traditional sport. So yeah, this is actually two big parts we are focusing in the next, at least, 12 months, as well with collaborating really with these detection partners. So that means for the gut microbiome analyses, the biomarkers, and as well, the DNA sequences.

Charlotte: 16:07 Fascinating! Well, I can't wait to hear all about it. And as you said, the esports market is really taking off and what an exciting space, so, I look forward to having you on this podcast soon Timo, to talk a little bit more about that opportunity in its own because it's really such a fascinating space that everyone's trying to get a market share of at the moment. Timo, thank you so much for sitting down with me and walking us through what you do in nutrition counselling to really improve nutrition not only for professional athletes, but I think a significant opportunity for amateur athletes as well. So thank you so much. It's been such a pleasure to talk to you today.

Timo: 16:41 Thank you, Charlie. It's always, it's a pleasure to be part of these kinds of associations as you are community based so you're given a great job. Thank you.

Charlotte: 16:49 Thank you, Timo. And to all our listeners, you can find a link to Prevess if you're interested in looking at a little bit more about Timo and what he does with his service. Thanks so much, Tim.

Timo: 17:00 Thank you Charlie.

 

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