Sporting activities, whether professional or recreational, are often demanding, pushing the human body to its limits. As a result, athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike are continually in search of ways to enhance their performance and speed up recovery. This quest often leads to the use of performance enhancing supplements.
In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into various performance enhancing supplements, their benefits, potential side effects, and more.
Let’s get started.
Understanding Performance Enhancing Supplements
In essence, a performance enhancing supplement, also known as an ergogenic aid, is any substance that provides a mental or physical advantage while exercising or competing. These substances can range from legal supplements like vitamins, minerals, and herbs, to illegal and potentially harmful substances.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 states that vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other botanicals that are taken orally and do not contain controlled substances can be labelled as a “supplement.” Many of these supplements are marketed to boost athletic performance. However, the scientific evidence to support their effectiveness is sometimes lacking or contradictory.
Consequently, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or athletic trainer about the safety and effectiveness of individual supplements before starting any new diet plan.
Types of Supplements
A supplement can contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, or other substances. They can be found in many forms, such as pills, tablets, capsules, gummies, soft gels, liquids, and powders.
In the United States, dietary supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Manufacturers of dietary supplements are required to provide certain information on the product label, including the name of the product, the ingredients, the amount of each ingredient, and a disclaimer that states that the product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
It is important to be aware that dietary supplements are not regulated as strictly as drugs, so there is no guarantee of their safety or efficacy.
Here are some of the most common types of dietary supplements:
- Vitamins: Vitamins are essential nutrients that the body needs to function properly. They are not produced by the body and must be obtained from food or supplements.
- Minerals: Minerals are also essential nutrients that the body needs. They are found in food and supplements.
- Herbs: Herbs are plants that have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. They are available in supplement form or as teas, tinctures, or extracts.
- Amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are available as individual amino acids or as protein powders.
- Enzymes: Enzymes are proteins that help the body break down food and absorb nutrients. They are available as supplements.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are live bacteria that are similar to the “good” bacteria that naturally live in the gut. They are available as supplements.
Dietary supplements can be a safe and effective way to improve your health. However, it is important to do your research and choose supplements from reputable brands.
Hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB) is a compound that occurs naturally in the human body. It’s believed to enhance muscle strength and slow the breakdown of muscle tissue during intense exercise. However, scientific research has not conclusively proven that HMB enhances athletic performance.
When taken in moderate doses of approximately 3 grams, HMB is generally considered safe. However, ingesting large doses of HMB could potentially harm the kidneys.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a fatty acid that athletes often take to reduce muscle damage and increase lean body mass after exercise.
A review of six research studies published in the journal Nutrients concluded that CLA supplements could help reduce body fat in individuals who engage in a resistance training exercise program.
However, CLA can cause side effects, such as an upset stomach, nausea, and fatigue. It can also impact insulin utilization in the body. Additionally, CLA could interact negatively with certain medications, like antipsychotics.
Carnitine plays a crucial role in energy production by transporting long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria, the “powerhouses” of cells. This process allows these fatty acids to be burned for energy, which can help boost exercise performance.
Despite these benefits, science has not yet definitively proven that Carnitine enhances athletic performance. However, many athletes continue to take the supplement.
Consuming more than 3 grams of Carnitine per day can cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. Carnitine can also interact negatively with specific medications, such as thyroid medications and the blood thinner warfarin.
Chromium is a trace mineral in the body, but it’s essential for daily bodily functions. Some claim that Chromium increases lean muscle mass, burns fat, and enhances energy levels. However, it has not been proven to enhance athletic performance.
Taking excessive amounts of Chromium can be harmful as it’s associated with damaging DNA and healthy fats.
Creatine is a natural substance used by muscles to release energy, enhance lean muscle mass, and increase muscle energy.
While Creatine can be produced naturally, it is also synthesized in laboratories and sold as a supplement. Many individuals take Creatine to build muscle mass.
However, Creatine is not without its side effects. It can cause weight gain, muscle cramps, and stomach cramps. Furthermore, excessive Creatine intake can strain the liver and kidneys, potentially damaging these vital organs.
Beetroot juice is becoming an increasingly popular performance enhancing supplement due to its high nitrate content. Nitrates are converted into nitric oxide in the body, which dilates blood vessels, improving blood pressure and blood flow throughout the body, including the muscles, brain, and heart.
Research has shown that consuming beetroot juice before exercise can reduce muscular fatigue associated with high-intensity exercise.
Green Tea Extract
Green tea extract is another performance enhancing supplement that is gaining popularity. A study found that green tea extract, consumed over a prolonged period (10 weeks), improved endurance capacity by increasing fat burning for fuel.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are a type of fat that has gained traction with athletes seeking to increase energy levels and improve endurance during high-intensity exercise. MCTs can also serve as an alternative energy source for athletes on high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets.
However, MCTs can cause nausea and gastric discomfort, so it is advisable to start with a low dose and increase only as tolerated.
Watermelon juice is rich in l-citrulline, an amino acid that can be converted to l-arginine, an amino acid used in the synthesis of nitric oxide, a vasodilator. Consuming watermelon or watermelon juice before exercise can help cut recovery time and boost performance.
Whey protein is a type of protein that is found in milk. It is a complete protein, which means that it contains all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own. Whey protein is also rapidly digested and absorbed by the body, making it a good choice for post-workout recovery.
Whey protein has been shown to help improve sports performance in a number of ways. For example, it can help to:
- Increase muscle mass and strength: Whey protein is a good source of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle. When you consume whey protein after a workout, the amino acids help to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. This can lead to increased muscle mass and strength over time.
- Improve endurance: Whey protein can help to improve endurance by providing the body with the amino acids it needs to fuel long-duration exercise. A study published in the journal “Nutrition and Metabolism” found that whey protein supplementation helped to improve endurance in cyclists by 15%.
- Reduce muscle soreness: Whey protein can help to reduce muscle soreness after a workout. This is because whey protein contains leucine, an amino acid that helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. A study published in the journal “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” found that whey protein supplementation helped to reduce muscle soreness by 40% after a resistance training workout.
- Speed up recovery from workouts: Whey protein can help to speed up recovery from workouts by providing the body with the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. A study published in the journal “Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism” found that whey protein supplementation helped to reduce recovery time from a 10-kilometer run by 33%.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are called “essential” because the body cannot produce them on its own and must be obtained from food or supplements.
BCAAs are important for a number of bodily functions, including:
- Muscle growth and repair: BCAAs are used to build and repair muscle tissue. They are particularly important for muscle recovery after exercise.
- Anti-catabolism: BCAAs can help to prevent muscle breakdown during exercise. This is important for maintaining muscle mass and strength.
- Energy production: BCAAs can be used as an energy source during exercise. They are particularly important for endurance exercise.
- Reduced muscle soreness: BCAAs may help to reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
Do They Work?
There is some scientific evidence to suggest that BCAA supplementation can help to improve sports performance. For example, one study found that BCAA supplementation helped to increase muscle mass and strength in resistance-trained men over a 12-week period. Another study found that BCAA supplementation helped to improve endurance in cyclists over a 6-week period.
However, more research is needed to confirm the benefits of BCAA supplementation for sports performance. It is best to:
- Take them before, during, or after exercise: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some people find that taking BCAA supplements before exercise helps them to improve their performance, while others find that taking them after exercise helps them to recover more quickly. You may need to experiment to find what works best for you.
- Start with a low dose and gradually increase it as needed: BCAA supplements can be taken in powder or capsule form. The recommended dosage is typically 5-10 grams per day, but you may need to take more or less depending on your individual needs.
- Look for a high-quality supplement: Not all BCAA supplements are created equal. When choosing a supplement, look for one that is made from high-quality ingredients and that is free of fillers and artificial additives.
- Store your supplements properly: BCAA supplements should be stored in a cool, dry place. Do not store them in direct sunlight or heat.
If you are looking for a natural way to improve your sports performance, BCAA supplements may be a good option for you. However, it is important to talk to your doctor first and to start with a low dose.
Starting a Sports Supplements Plan
Here are the steps on how to create a sports supplement plan:
- Identify your goals. What are you hoping to achieve by taking supplements? Are you looking to improve your performance, recover from workouts faster, or simply boost your overall health? Once you know your goals, you can start to research which supplements are most likely to help you achieve them.
- Consider your current diet. Are you getting enough of the nutrients you need from your diet? If not, supplements may be a good way to fill in the gaps. However, if you are already eating a healthy diet, you may not need to take any supplements.
- Talk to your doctor. Before taking any supplements, it is important to talk to your doctor, especially if you have any health conditions or are taking any medications. Your doctor can help you determine if supplements are right for you and can advise you on which ones to take.
- Do your research. Once you have identified a few supplements that you are interested in, it is important to do your research. Read reviews, compare prices, and learn as much as you can about the supplements before you buy them.
- Start slowly. When you first start taking supplements, it is important to start slowly and gradually increase the dose as needed. This will help you to avoid any side effects.
- Listen to your body. If you experience any negative side effects from taking supplements, stop taking them and talk to your doctor
- Set realistic goals. Don’t expect supplements to work miracles. They can help you improve your performance and recovery, but they won’t make you a superhuman overnight.
- Be patient. It takes time for supplements to work. Don’t expect to see results overnight.
- Be consistent. The best way to get the most out of supplements is to take them consistently.
- Don’t forget about your diet. Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet.
By following these steps, you can create a sports supplement plan that is safe and effective for you.