Nutritional supplements for athletes

There are hundreds and hundreds of supplements targeted to athletes because of their alleged potential of improving sports performance. After all, who wouldn’t want to have the resources to get the one up on the opponent, if all it requires is a little supplementation here and a little boost there? The almost endless list of dietary (nutritional) supplements meant to enhance performance is nearly impossible to strain out what is good and what is bogus. This article will help the determined athlete figure out just that. If you’re an athlete preparing for serious competition, or just an exercise fanatic, no matter what you’re specific goal is, you’re all most likely after the same thing: a boost of power and a substantially greater endurance capacity.

Types of Nutritional Supplements
Ergogenic aids, another term used to describe nutritional supplements designed to enhance sports performance, work on different aspects of the mind and body. The two main classifications are sports-enhancing techniques (the first 2) and taking a performance-enhancing substance (the last 3).

  • Mechanical Aids: Designed to increase energy efficiency by providing a mechanical edge. For example, a runner may use lightweight running shoes.
  • Psychological Aids: The purpose is to enhance psychological processes and increase mental strength. Hypnosis is a commonly practiced psychological aid to help remove psychological-related barriers.
  • Physiological Aids: These are meant to amplify the naturally occurring physiological processes that affect sports performance, specifically increasing physical power. Blood doping can increase the oxygen capacity of an athlete.
  • Pharmacological Aids: These aids combine the efficacy of psychological and/or physiological aids to increase physical power, mental stamina and strength, or mechanical edge.
  • Nutritional Aids: Nutrients in these aids are also meant to influence psychological and/or physiological processes to behave in the same way as pharmacological aids, but they either contain protein or fat.

Sorting Through the Material
Here is a simple guide to help you get started on sifting through the different kinds of dietary supplements promoted for their ability to improve sports performance. Some of the most commonly used supplements, in the category of nutritional aids, are listed below.

  • Sodium Bicarbonate: Acts as a buffer system for the anaerobic lactic acid energy system. When the lactic acids system kicks in, excess hydrogen ions build up in the muscles, leading to premature fatigue. The sodium bicarbonate evens out the hydrogen build up by providing an alkaline counterpart. However, this only works in events lasting 1-3 minutes. Baking soda is commonly taken to provide the effect—0.3 grams for every kilogram of body weight.
  • Carbohydrate Loading: This is a process that takes at least 6 days. The first 3 days—minimal carbohydrate intake in combination with a lot of exercise. The next 2 days—consumes a diet primarily consisting of carbohydrate and exercise load is reduced. The idea is to boost the glycogen stores by depriving the body of them; if the body thinks it needs more, it will store what it can. This will provide maximum energy.
  • Creatine: Creatine is made in the body and can also be consumed through food. Generally, it boosts muscle power. Supplementation is recommended in 2-3 gram doses four times a day for 10 days before competition. This is the practice of “creatine loading.”
  • Caffeine: This aid is a natural nervous system stimulant. It increases contractility of cardiac and skeletal muscles, helps metabolize fats and therefore stores muscle glycogen stores.
  • Sports Drinks: Since dehydration and depletion of carbohydrates and electrolytes are two main causes of exercise exhaustion, supplementing with sports drinks containing mostly carbohydrates and electrolytes is a perfect solution.

Best Advice for Supplement Use
Some sports organizations prohibit the use of certain nutritional supplements. Many dietary supplements that are essential nutrients or food substances are legal; on the other hand, there are some that have been banned. Androstenedione, which is classified as an anabolic steroid, is illegal; ephedrine, a stimulant, is also not allowed. Always be aware of your sport organization’s specific requirements, as the prohibitions vary between sports. Consult with a coach, registered dietitian, or a nutritionist.


Last updated on May 10th, 2010 and filed under Nutritional Information. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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