For athletes seeking an edge in performance and recovery, supplements can seem enticing. However, not all products provide clear benefits. This article explores the evidence behind popular supplements and provides guidance on smart supplementation strategies.
Protein supplements like whey, casein and soy are well-supported for athletes:
- Whey protein is fast-digesting and ideal post-workout to aid muscle protein synthesis.
- Casein is slow-digesting and provides sustained amino acid delivery overnight.
- Protein supplements are convenient when whole food intake is inadequate.
Most athletes can benefit from 20-40g protein supplement on training days.
Creatine is one of the most extensively studied supplements:
- Increases phosphocreatine stores in muscle which supports high-intensity exercise.
- Provides small but meaningful gains in strength and power for many athletes.
- Safe when cycled with loading and maintenance phases.
The majority of athletes can expect performance benefits from creatine use.
Beta-alanine boosts intramuscular carnosine levels, improving buffering of acidosis during high-intensity exercise:
- Benefits high-intensity athletes like sprinters, team sport athletes.
- Requires consistent intake over 6-8 weeks to notice performance effects.
- Well-tolerated with minimal side effects at recommended doses.
Beta-alanine provides a well-researched edge for certain athletes.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
BCAAs may aid muscle protein synthesis and reduce exercise-induced muscle damage:
- Most applicable for endurance athletes to support muscle mass during training.
- May assist recovery when combined with adequate protein intake.
- Benefits are small and consistency is required to see effects.
BCAA supplements are generally safe when used as directed.
Caffeine is popular for its ergogenic effects on the central nervous system:
- Enhances mental alertness, focus and perceived exertion.
- Improves endurance and high-intensity exercise performance.
- Safe in moderate doses of 3-6mg/kg body weight per day.
Caffeine provides a reliable, low-cost boost for many athletes.
Nitrate-rich beetroot juice improves oxygen efficiency during exercise:
- Benefits endurance capacity and high-intensity performance.
- May assist team sports requiring repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise.
- More research needed on long-term safety and effects.
Nitrates show promise but require further study.
Antioxidant supplements aim to reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress:
- Vitamin C, E, selenium, carotenoids are common ingredients.
- May support immunity and recovery, especially with heavy training loads.
- More research is needed on clear performance impacts.
Diet alone meets antioxidant needs for many athletes.
Many other supplements lack consistent, high-quality evidence for athletes, including:
- Branched-chain amino acid supplements
- Fish oils
More research is still needed to recommend widespread use.
Supplement Safety and Regulation
While supplements may seem natural, safety considerations include:
- Inconsistent quality control and potential for contamination.
- Drug interactions from other medications or supplements.
- Adverse events, especially at high doses over long periods.
- Lack of medical supervision common with self-prescribed use.
Consult a sports dietitian for guidance on appropriate supplement protocols.
Smart Supplementation Strategies
Some best practices for athletes include:
- Focusing on proper nutrition from whole foods first.
- Using research-backed supplements strategically versus randomly.
- Consulting medical experts on individual needs and goals.
- Cycling supplements to avoid long-term use of some ingredients.
- Monitoring for effectiveness and side effects over time.
With care and guidance, select supplements can provide a small performance edge when combined with solid nutrition habits.