Sport supplements are a multi-million dollar business. Athletes often look for alternative nutrition to perform at their best, but not everything on the market is useful or necessary for athletes to use. Many athletes use sport supplements as part of their regular training or competition routine, including about 85% of elite track and field athletes. A supplement is something added to the diet, typically to make up for a nutritional deficiency. Supplements commonly used include vitamins, minerals, protein, creatine, and various “ergogenic” compounds. These supplements are often used without a full understanding or evaluation of the potential benefits and risks associated with their use, and without consultation with sports nutrition professional. There are pros and cons to taking sport supplements.
Sports supplements can help enhance energy use, energy production and recovery. A few supplements may be helpful to athletes in specific circumstances, especially where food intake or food choice is restricted. Vitamin and mineral supplements should be used only when a food-based solution is not available. Sports drinks, energy bars, and protein – carbohydrate shakes may all be useful and convenient at specific times. There are well-documented roles for creatine, caffeine, and alkalinizing agents in enhancing performance in high-intensity exercise, although much of the evidence does not relate to specific athletic events. Ideally, all athletes should get all their nutritional requirements naturally from a well-balanced diet but sport supplements can be used in addition to well-balanced nutrition. Here are some tips and information about the more common over the counter supplements.
Fish oil tablets are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids namely Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are essential and cannot be made in the body. Hence, they need to be obtained from the diet. It has been reported that these essential fatty acids are useful in:
- Reducing muscle soreness
- Improving oxygen and nutrient delivery to the muscles and other tissues
- Reduce inflammation which results from muscular fatigue and over exhaustion
- Increasing muscle synthesis
On top of the sports side of things, these essential fatty acids are associated with better cognitive performance and memory as well.
Research suggest that 1.3 -2.7g of omega-3 fatty acids per day is ideal for a normal range diet. it is important to note that 1 g of fish oil is not equal to 1 g of omega 3s. There are several options on the market, always compare the amount of serving recommended per day to the amount of EPA and DHA on the label to figure out how much you actually getting out of it.
Sodium bicarbonate commonly known as baking soda is a naturally occurring alkaline salt. Bicarbonate is chief buffering system in the body and it regulates pH of body. Exercising can lower the pH of the body, making the body more acidic, which can lead to fatigue, lactic acid buildup. Lactic acid production in the body as a result is the main acidifier. The theory with sodium bicarbonate is that it buffers lactic acid produced during anaerobic metabolism. So, it basically allows you to train for longer prolonging the lactic acid buildup. There is good scientific backing that it improves high intensity exercise.
The general protocol is to ingest 0.3g per kg of body weight, to be taken 1-2 hours prior to exercise. It needs to be taken before exercise, because we want to prevent lactic acid buildup prolonging our training time.
Sodium bicarbonate may be unpalatable, so it can be mixed in juice. Sodium bicarbonate should always be consumed with lots and lots of water because it can cause stomach upsets and gastrointestinal distress.
Caffeine is a mildly addictive stimulant found naturally in cocoa, tea and coffee. It acts on the central nervous system. Caffeine is also added to energy drinks, soda and some medication. It is known to:
- Boost energy levels
- Alleviate fatigue
- Increase concentration and focus
- Has sound evidence that caffeine may enhance the performance for a range of sports:
- Endurance (>60mins)
- High intensity (1-60min)
- Team and intermittent
The safe consumption of caffeine is up to 400mg per day considered safe limit for adults. Pregnant women can consume < 200mg per day or none at all and children and adolescents 100mg per day or less (keep it to a minimum).
How much caffeine is too much? 500mg or more a day is considered too much. This will vary from person to person depending on tolerance levels. Some symptoms of caffeine overconsumption are:
- Stomach upset
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
Protein requirements are absolutely essential for keeping you at peak performance and building and maintaining muscles. There are 2 main sources of protein supplements namely powder or liquid supplement. The 4 most popular protein supplements are whey, egg, casein and soy. We do not necessarily need protein supplements; we can try and get all our needs through the diet. it may be hard for some people to actually hit the protein requirements through whole foods. So, a always aim for good quality protein sources and some protein supplement with the diet can be a big advantage. Taking protein supplements can be more convenient and may actually offer unique benefits.
Whey protein is the most popular protein supplement. Its amino acid profile suited to muscle building and it is abundant in leucine, which is an essential amino acid important in initiating protein synthesis. Moreover, whey is rapidly digested particularly suited as a post work out source of protein.
Casein is the second most popular protein supplement compared to whey. Casein protein is digested slower than whey, which results in a steadier release of amino acids over the course of several hours. As a result, it is a good general use protein supplement. If somebody is sick and they need to get more protein in their diet to build themselves back up, casein would be the ideal choice. It is also a good protein to have before you go to bed, because it actually helps with muscle recovery when you are sleeping. Casein is ideal if you want to achieve your daily protein requirement.
Creatine is a naturally occurring protein made in the body and stored in the skeletal muscle. The dietary sources include meat and fish. It is available in single supplement form and it is often used as an all –in-one replacement drinks or powders. Creatine combines with phosphorus to form an energy rich compound that fuels the body during high intensity activities for instance, weight lifting and sprints.
Creatine supplementation, that raises the levels of this energy rich compound by 2%,:
- boots levels in skeletal muscle
- improves performance,
- helps the body recover faster in between your sets during training
- increases lean body mass
- reduces fatigue
Creatine is described as the most effective nutritional supplement available to athletes to increase high intensity exercise capacity and muscle mass during training. The gains in muscle mass does appear to be a result an improved ability to perform high intensity exercise that enable the athlete to train harder, therefore promoting greater training adaptations and muscle hypertrophy. Creatine can also reduce muscle acidity allowing more lactic acid to be produced before fatigue sets in. it can also reduce muscle protein breakdown following intense exercise, that can result in greater strength and improved ability to do repeated sets. Creatinine is suited for weight lifting team sports and high intensity short sprints.
There is no evidence of detrimental side effects amongst healthy individuals in short or long-term use of creatinine. Some individual experience mild side effects such weight gain and intramuscular water retention. This is partially due to increases in muscle tissue. The best form of supplement is Creatine monohydrate. It is the most widely available form, widely researched one and it is the only certain to work. It comes in a white powder form that easily dissolves in water.
Creatine monohydrate is recommended to take 1x5g dose per day for 12 weeks followed by a 4 week break and is best taken post workout. However, it needs to be taken daily as it takes a while to build up in the body.
So, remember folks, Nutritional supplements do not compensate for a poor diet but they may add to a good one and give you the edge! It is always recommended to consult a sport dietitian before you take any of these supplements for a more individualized result.
- Williams M. H. Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Minerals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2005; 2(1):43–49.
- Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American college of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the international Society for Sports Nutrition. http://sajcn.co.za/index.php/SAJCN/article/view/685.
- Protein supplements and exercise. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/72/2/551S/4729598.
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