Optimum Sports Nutrition (Advanced Research Press Incorporated, 1993) by Dr Michael Colgan (figure 1) is a sports nutrition book that was written for athletes. The main aim of the book is to inform the reader about the importance of applying science to nutritional in order to aid sports performance and improve physical ability in a drug free manner. This is done by approaching each aspect of nutrition in a separate chapter that sets out a framework to allow precise calculations of intakes necessary for peak performance. In addition, Dr Colgan explains the reasons why the recommended levels of protein and certain micronutrients are often too low for athletes and highlights how disregarding the governmental recommended levels is essential to athletic performance. The early chapters look at macronutrient levels, and then subsequently the book deals with vitamin and mineral intakes, supplements and finally performance enhancing drugs.
Figure 1. The front and back covers of my well worn copy of Optimum Sports Nutrition by Michael Colgan. Back in the 1990’s, this was the sports nutrition book to own.
The book is considered a classic of its time, not because of its brilliance, but because for a long time there simply was no other comparable book on the same subject. In that respect Colgan broke new ground and produced a book that every athlete had to have. At the time there were a number of very good nutrition books available, but very few sports nutrition books. This distinction was important because Colgan emphasised the importance of increased dietary intakes required for athletic performance. Rather than just dealing with what improved health, Colgan bridged the gap from health to fitness. At the time, the only other sport nutrition book worthy of consideration was Fred Hatfield’s Ultimate Sport Nutrition. However, this book did not have the same level of detail as contained within Optimum Sports Nutrition, and dealt with the basics on a much more superficial level. As a result of the lack of comparable books, most athletes who required information regarding sports nutrition had this book. Everyone serious athlete and trainer I knew certainly did.
While the book was considered a classic at the time, reading it now shows how some of the information has become dated. The basics within the book are still sound, and the macronutrient and micronutrient chapters that fill the first two thirds of the book make the book a worthy purchase. Although the nutritional sciences have moved on, following the recommendations in these sections would still be considered good advice even two decades later. The weakest part of the book is perhaps the section on performance enhancing supplements. The main problem with this section is that Colgan makes a number of errors in judgement as to the benefits of some supplements. His biggest mistake was failing to anticipate the importance of creatine monohydrate (figure 2). Although to be fair to Colgan, research into the supplement was in its infancy. To Colgan’s credit he does discuss the dangers and benefits of anabolic steroids in a rational and unemotional manner.
Despite its faults, Optimum Sports Nutrition is still one of the best sports nutrition books every written. Often, when a good idea comes along, people question why nobody thought of the idea sooner. This is exactly the impression I have been left with after owning a copy of Optimum Sports Nutrition for almost 20 years. The information it contains is very basic, but its beauty is in its simplicity. Colgan managed to create a simple message and communicated that message very clearly. And this is the greatest strength of the book. Without a doubt this book changed the direction of sports nutrition and was pivotal in creating a revolution in athletic training. And in this regard the book should be regarded as a seminal piece. If one book has epitomised the struggle of the athlete against physical adversity, using nutrition as a weapon, this is the book. I have always thought a better name for the book would have been the Sports Nutrition Bible. Here endeth the lesson.