Like I have mentioned, my first grad school online course is sports nutrition. A huge topic in sports nutrition is supplements. Supplements have a booming industry with snazzy marketing getup that makes alluring promises and claims. I myself have about five different types of protein powder in my pantry (yes protein powder is classified as a supplement, not food). Do you ever wonder if these powders and supplements are worth the cost? Here is the nitty gritty on sports supplements:
They are not regulated in the same manner as prescribed medications. This means that the ingredients and the dose may not be accurate to the label.
Supplements are NOT required to be proven EFFECTIVE or SAFE before being sold. So you may just be wasting your money and they actually could be harmful!
Some supplements may contain banned substances – this could be detrimental to a collegiate athlete as well as a pro.
So proceed with caution with sports supplements. It is best to partner with a health professional, like a Registered Dietitian, that can determine the safety and pros and cons of a supplement in your circumstances. Continued research is needed for many sports supplements and over the vast choices, only a handful have been proven effective. Which sports supplements have been proven effective?
1. Protein – protein supplements are proven equal to other dietary sources of protein. This means that the protein powder is utilized by your body in the same manner as say, protein from a grilled chicken breast. Protein powder is not guaranteeing weight loss or the increase in lean body mass – both which depend on activity level and overall composition of the diet.
2. Creatine – proven effective for increasing lean body mass in combination with high-intensity training. The factor most people leave out here is the second part – training. Creatine is for high intensity activities like power lifting and sprinting, however it may have no effect in an endurance athlete.
3. Caffeine – proven effective as a central nervous system stimulant to likely improve endurance and intensity. Caffeine is proven to stimulate you, which may improve performance.
4. Multivitamin and mineral – proven effective to increase nutrient intake to help reverse nutrient deficiencies (although not likely to improve performance in those without nutrient deficiencies). If you are deficient in a nutrient, that deficiency may affect your athletic performance. Ask your doctor about tests for nutrient deficiencies.
5. Vitamin C and/or E – vitamin C is effective in decreasing the duration of a cold but not in the prevention of a cold. Otherwise effectiveness depends on the balance of oxidants and antioxidants and excessive amounts may upset the balance. We release free radicals during exercise and antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E play an important role in the balance.
If you are wanting to try a sports supplement, make sure you do research and talk with a doctor or health professional. Do not buy sports supplements on an impulse while at the grocery store as you are taking in all the marketing messages that are not necessarily even true. Athletes do have increased protein needs compared to inactive individuals, so adding protein powder to your day is likely a good point to start.
Dunford, M. & Doyle, J.A. (2012). Nutrition for sport and exercise (2nd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.