Anna Ström in the Chemistry building
 A sports beverage, based on research by Anna Ström at Chalmers University of Technology, has been shown to be able to reduce stomach and intestines problems that sport atheletes suffer from and help them to increase their performance.​
​Photo: Chalmers/Sara Salehi

Her research calms elite athlete’s stomachs

​When professional athletes shall perform under high physical pressure, they need to consume a lot of sugar. That can lead to difficult problems with their stomachs and intestines. A sport beverage, based on research by Anna Ström at Chalmers University of Technology has been shown to be able to reduce the problems and help to increase the athlete's performance.
“We won” the phone was filled with enthusiasm when the entrepreneur Olof Sköld phoned the researcher Anna Ström to tell her that their joint work literally had contributed to cross a goal line in the sports world. It was of course a somewhat peaked description but the runner who had won the Marthon in question and had managed to do it very fast, had used the sports beverage that was based on their cooperation.

The story behind that phone call starts in 2015. Together with the triathlete Mårten Fryknäs, Olof Sköld had identified that many athletes suffered from difficult digestion problems, because they have to consume large amounts of sugar to be able to perform on a high level. Olof Sköld had heard about Anna Ström´s expertise and contacted her. They started to discuss how this problem could be solved, based on Anna Ströms long research on polysaccharides. Polysaccharides is different sorts of sugar that are stuck together. 

“Our discussions and the collaboration became very interesting. I contributed with knowledge and a realistic view on what we could do. Olof Sköld is a super-visionary person. He used his large network to reach out to athletes who could be intrested in trying our idea”, says Anna Ström, Professor at the Department for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. 

Users own experience and new research confirms the effect ​

After testing different configurations of the polysaccharides in her research, Anna Ström concluded that the polysaccharides should be formed as a hydrogel directly in the stomach. In that way the sugar was picked up by the body when it reached the intestinal which made it possible for the athletes to consume a lot of sugar in a short time, without feeling sick. In collaboration with her colleague Luca Marciani in the UK and thanks to a grant from Chalmers Innovation Office, Anna Ström could do a study to verify the research with humans. The study was published in the scientific journal Food and Function.

“By using MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging), we could see that we got a gel in the stomach that was dissolved in the intestine. We also saw that the gel itself prevented the absorption of sugar, by measuring the participants the blood sugar. They were not professional athletes, but the study showed that the concept worked, explains Anna Ström 
They had a recipe for the beverage which made it possible to apply for a patent. Olof Sköld founded the company Maurten that owns the patent. After this stage Anna Ström has not been personally involved more in the beverage, but other researchers have done more studies which have provided various answers on the hydrogels effect. This hasn’t stopped the beverage from becoming popular in the sports world. 

“Many athletes have tried the beverage and continued to use it because they think it works. But now there is also a scientific article that more clearly confirms the hydrogels positive effects on the stomach problems and the performance. The study was done by independent researchers in England, Australia and Scotland and was published in January this year", says Anna Ström. 

Price for impact in society puts the research in the spotlight 

As researcher Anna Ström has chosen the approach "act but not to be seen". She is more comfortable with that role, but she is confident that she would have got more attention if she had whished for it. When she now gets Chalmers Impact Award the withdrawn approach will be changed a bit. 

"Of course, it is very nice and an honor to get this award. I share it with Olof Sköld and a lot of other people, but it feels good to be fronting our work in this context", says Anna Ström

More information, contact 
Anna Ström, Professor at the Department for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

​​​​Text: Jenny Holmstrand 
Photo: Chalmers/Sara Salehi

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Facts: Chalmers Impact Award

Chalmers works in various ways to promote utilisation of research. Chalmers Impact Award was established in 2018 to draw attention to research that has made a big impact on society and to highlight individuals and research groups behind the research.
The prize sum is SEK 100,000 and is to be used to further develop the impact of the research results.

This year’s winner are the research group behind impact case “Springtime” at the Department for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. 

The award motivation reads:
"This year´s winner has received a large societal impact for research and solid knowledge in the field of polysaccharides. Thanks to a close collaboration with external partners, several innovative products in sports health have been developed, and in addition formed a growing company that distributes the products nationally and internationally. Among the users are several good ambassadors for the products, both amateurs and professional athletes. In the long term, this research can probably achieve further impact as other areas of applications are also possible."

Read about previous winners: 
2021: Research on infectious disease models is this year’s impact in society
2020: GESUALDO – simulations of mass transport in soft materials
2019: Railway researchers awarded for societal impact
2018 (in Swedish): Nyinstiftat pris till mätmetod för fartygsutsläpp
Source: Chalmers

Page manager Published: Thu 15 Sep 2022.