Nutrition certainly has a huge impact on athletic performance, but whether supplements can improve performance and build muscles or not should be considered along with safety and illegality issues.
Supplements commonly taken by athletes include vitamins, minerals, proteins, caffeine and various “ergogenic” compounds. But unfortunately they are usually taken without understanding the possible benefits and risks associated with them.
As a general rule for vitamins and minerals supplements: unless an individual is deficient in a given nutrient, supplementation with that nutrient does not have a major effect on performance, but for athletes involved in heavy training may need supplements especially when food intake is restricted or food –solution is unavailable.
Sports drinks, energy bars, and protein-carbohydrate shakes may all be useful and convenient at specific occasions.
To see basic information about the use of dietary supplements go to The truth about supplements.
Ergogenic means “work enhancing”; athletes are overly promised and tempted by advertisements and testimonials from their colleagues and coaches about the effectiveness of ergogenic aids (which are substances or techniques taken to improve exercise performance capacity, training adaptation and increase muscle mass).
Some of these substances help, but a lot of researches show that most of these substances are either false or exaggerated claims, or may contain excessive doses of potentially toxic ingredients that pose health threats.
Here are some examples and facts about some common ergogenic aids -These examples do not represent endorsement-:
1- Amino Acids:
Protein or amino acid supplements in the form of powder or pills are not necessary and should be discouraged. Intake of large amounts could cause stress on kidney and liver, dehydration, hypercalciuria (excessive urinary calcium excretion), and deficiencies of other nutrients.
Is an amino acid normally produced in the body, and most of its dietary sources come from meat. Creatine supplies most of the energy for short-term, maximum exercise such as throwing or swinging the bat.
Creatine supplementation does enhance performance of short term, repetitive, high-intensity activity, but it doesn’t enhance endurance activity.
No side effects have been reported when taking creatine supplements doses of 5 g/ day.
3- Human Growth Hormone:
Is produced naturally throughout life in sufficient amounts, it is taken by athletes since it stimulate protein synthesis and other functions, but taking HGH is banned by the IOC (international Olympic committee), it has sides effects including skin changes, darkening of moles, course facial features, thickened fingers and enlarged organs and bones. Other effects include diabetes, thyroid disorder, heart disease, menstrual irregularity and others when taken in large doses.
4- Anabolic Steroids:
Steroids are hormones responsible for secondary male sex characteristics, athlete take it to increase muscle mass and strength, but taking steroids is illegal, it has adverse effects impacting the liver, serum lipids, and mental behavior among others.
5- Dehydroepiandrosterone(DHEA) & Androstenedione:
They are both naturally-produced precursors to testosterone and other anabolic steroids, there is no evidence supporting the claim that says that DHEA & Andro enhance muscle building, nor was the safety established. Even if they actually increase testosterone levels, it potentially has the same side effects as androgenic anabolic supplements such as steroids and growth hormones.
EPO is hormone produced by the kidneys to promote red blood cells production; athletes take it to increase oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood to tissues, to improve performance, it is also banned by the IOC. It can lead to thick or viscous blood when combined with dehydration; that can cause heart attack or stroke or elevated blood pressure.
Some research support that caffeine enhances endurance performance due to enhancement of fatty acids release and thus conserves glycogen stores, but it doesn’t seem to offer benefits for high-intensity exercises. The diuretic effect of caffeine could have negative consequences on water reserves especially for athletes participating in long-distance events.
As a restricted drug by the IOC, caffeine is considered as a doping agent if urine caffeine concentration above 12mg/L.
Athletes need to understand that more is not always better, since too much of certain substance may contribute to serious health problems, and supplements-use does not compensate for poor food choices.
It is your responsibility to be SMART about your supplements choices. For most advertisements about supplements; when money is the prime motivation, be aware that the information may be biased.
- L. Mahan, S. Escott-stump: Krause’s Food & nutrition therapy: 12th edition.
- E. Whitney, S.Rofles: Understanding nutrition: 12th edition.