Improving Your Performance With Supplements?
The question of whether supplements are worthwhile and safe for athletes to use is always a hot topic. The pros and cons, risks and rewards need to be weighed up for each athlete and by each athlete who is considering using supplements. Of course, this is even more crucial for athletes who are competing at a level where they will be tested for banned substances.
WHAT IS A SUPPLEMENT?
‘Supplements’ include all products, as the name suggests, that supplement the diet. Therefore, as a basis, a balanced diet with a variety of foods should be eaten for both general health and optimal performance. This is a critical factor for both short and long term goals. Supplements can support the base diet and include everything from vitamins and minerals, protein powders and sports drinks, to pre-workouts and HMB capsules.
WHY USE SUPPLEMENTS? ARE THEY NEEDED?
The overall reasons supplements are used is to improve performance, physique and/or health. Some of the more specific reasons include:
-fueling training and competition (such as with carb gels or drinks)
-increasing alertness (caffeine is often used here)
-recovering faster after training (often using protein products, particularly whey protein)
-correcting nutritional deficiency or insufficiency (if not possible to do by food alone or for initial correction period, for example, iron deficiency)
-immune support (commonly zinc and vitamin C, probiotics)
Are they essential? For overall survival, a balanced diet should be sufficient in healthy individuals. For performance, there are supplements which can support your training and improve your performance, in a convenient format. It is not always easy during a run to have a jam sandwich (or other high carbohydrate food source), or to have a chicken breast after a weights session, so supplements can be practically very helpful.
Furthermore, they can provide a more consistent level of a nutrient than can sometimes come from foods or drinks. Caffeine is a great example of this. The level of caffeine in one of the most common food sources – coffee – varies greatly between sources and the information is not readily made available, whereas caffeine-containing supplements state the amount on pack.
It is very individual whether an athlete wants to use supplements and which ones they will use. Given they are responsible for what goes into heir body, no one should be forced to use supplements.
WHAT TO KNOW AND CHECK BEFORE USING OR RECOMMENDING SUPPLEMENTS
1. Ensure the base diet is balanced, with a variety of foods. It sounds simple, but health and performance are best supported by a healthy diet as a base
2. The athlete is responsible for what goes into their body
3. Look for products that have been batch tested through Informed Sport (more info below). This is the highest level of quality assurance available that the supplement does not contain banned substances
4. The ‘same’ product can vary between countries, particularly inside or outside of EU, so do not assume the product you buy in another country is the same as what you get in your homecountry
5. If you are seeking nutrition advice, get it from a reputable source. Depending on which level the athlete is competing at, they may or may not receive dedicated nutrition support from a body such a Scottish or English Institute of Sport. Outside of this, as a starting point, you can check registered nutritionists on UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists and registered sports nutritionists on Sport and Exercise Nutritionists Register. To be part of these registers, individuals need to have completed approved education and agree to a code of conduct, which includes not putting an individual at risk
Supplements can help performance and training gains when used in addition to a healthy diet. The athlete is responsible for any food, drinks or supplements they consume. Programmes such as Informed Sport can help athletes choose supplements which have been batch tested, thus giving greater peace of mind in choosing safe supplements.
Informed Sport – http://www.informed-sport.com/
UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists – www.associationfornutrition.or
Sport and Exercise Nutritionists Register – http://www.senr.org.uk/