"If a supplement works it’s probably illegal, if it’s legal it probably doesn’t work very well".
Seriously. Supplements provide little value in comparison to your diet as a whole, which his where your focus should lie rather than the search for the pill or shake which may give you a small advantage.
So don’t take them?
Not necessarily. Supplements can help. Considering the physical demands of functional fitness, HIT or sports like CrossFit® they can be useful in certain areas including getting adequate nutrients, improving performance, better adaptation to exercise, better health, reduced injury rates and improved recovery. For this reason, there are a few supplements that maybe worth investing in.
This is not an exhaustive list nor does it account for individual needs, but it gives an overview of the supplements that may bring about a positive affect on both health and performance. Remember to consult a doctor before taking anything!
For some larger athletes, it can be difficult to hit protein targets from food alone. Therefore, protein powder is a useful addition to bolster protein intake. It is also convenient, cost effective and most are high in the amino acid leucine. If you’re lactose intolerant then consider an egg, soy or vegan blend, which have also been shown to increase protein synthesis that can lead to an increase in muscle mass.
Meal replacements shakes, ready to drink supplements and protein bars can also provide an easy cost effective and convenient way to help boost nutrient needs and help achieve protein and kcal goals. For athletes working long hours or on the move then these types of products can be a useful addition to the diet.
In terms of increasing high-intensity work capacity and lean body mass during training, creatine monohydrate is the most effective performance enhancing supplement currently available to athletes (1). Creatine has been shown to in- crease strength, power, and fat free mass (2, 3). It may also benefit high intensity exercise and even endurance training (4), making it a perfect fit for athletes participating in power and endurance-based sports. Results vary depending on the individual, so make sure that you pay attention to how you feel and determine whether the supplement is beneficial for you. It may cause weight gain and water retention that could make your longer workouts and gymnastic movements harder. If this is the case, try to load your creatine after your training or remove it from your diet leading up to your event. Creatine has about a 4-6-week washout period (5), so you could come off creatine if you worry about water retention.
How do you take it?
The quickest way to increase your stores of creatine is to load (start) at 0.3g. kg.bw per day for approximately a week and then follow by taking 3-5g.day. You can also gradually saturate your stores by loading with 3-5g per day for 3-4 weeks.
Beta alanine is a non-essential amino acid needed for the synthesis of carnosine, a compound that acts as a buffer to muscle acidosis during high exercise and helps reduce fatigue (6). Beta alanine supplementation has been shown to increase concentration and improve performance in several high intensity activities lasting 1-4 minutes and even up to 9 minutes (7). This makes it a great addition for athletes.
How to take it?
Like creatine, beta alanine requires continuous supplementation to have any effect (1g in your pre-workout shake will not do much good). A loading period of 4-6g per day for 4-6 weeks is needed to saturate carnosine stores in order to see performance benefits.
Do you struggle with the tingly sensation? Then divide your dose over the course of the day and ingest with each meal.
Caffeine tablets are an effective way to boost endurance performance and reduce fatigue. Caffeine has been shown to improve performance in several different activities, including endurance and high-intensity exercise (8, 9, 10, 11). Although the literature is divided on the direct impact of caffeine on maximal strength, its ability to improve mood and reduce pain reception makes it a worthwhile addition before any session. Caffeine is more effective when consumed in an anhydrous state as opposed to liquid forms like coffee (12).
How to take it?
Caffeine improves performance when consumed at a dosage of 3-6mg.kg.bw 30-60 mins before training. This equates to around 200-600 mg. Most caffeine tablets contain 200mg. There are no additional benefits associated with a higher dose and there could be adverse effects. People also have different tolerances for caffeine, if you are sensitive to it be aware that it may affect your sleep.
Like beta alanine, sodium bicarbonate also acts as a buffering agent that pre- vents acidosis of the muscle, providing a potential benefit for high-intensity exercise performance. The literature suggests that sodium bicarbonate supplementation is particularly effective for exercise lasting between 1-3 minutes and potentially team sports that require short bursts of energy (13).
How to take it
It is recommended to take 0.3g.kg.bw 60-120mins prior to exercise. One of the potential pitfalls with sodium bicarbonate is gastrointestinal distress (needing the toilet!), so it is advised that you practice taking smaller doses or split the dose and consume with meals prior to any exercise.
Concentrated Beetroot Juice
Eating a lot of beetroot (or foods high in nitrate) can help increase plasma nitrite, which in turn can increase nitric oxide in the body. This increase in nitric oxide can reduce the amount of oxygen needed for moderate intensity exercise and enables you to perform longer during this type of activity.
Concentrated beetroot juices have been developed as a way for athletes to gain the benefits of beetroot. The literature suggests that continuous (long term) and acute (immediately pre-workout) dosing of these types of supplements may improve your work capacity and endurance performance (13).
The evidence for the effect of these supplements on overall performance is slim and more work needs to be done in studying the results among trained athletes across different populations and activities. Currently, the literature only suggests a small incremental improvement in performance and one paper showed nitrate supplementation did not improve overall CrossFit® performance, only the time it took to complete 2000m of rowing (14).
There is also some literature which supports the health benefits of daily consumption of beetroot juice in older populations including improved blood flow and reduced blood pressure (15).
Although it may not provide a huge performance benefit, for competitions or if cost is not a problem then a shot of concentrated beetroot juice may be a worthwhile addition to the diet. Alternatively, the introduction of foods containing nitrate such as beetroot.
How to take it
Look to include high nitrate containing foods such as beetroot, spinach and rocket as part of your diet. You can also consume a concentrated shot of nitrate (310–560 mg) 2-3hrs prior to training or competing (16).
High dose antioxidants
As previously mentioned, high doses of vitamins E and C have been shown to reduce oxidative stress caused by exercise. Although this may reduce pain and muscle damage, this oxidative stress is what leads to adaptation (strength gains), so high dose antioxidants can have a negative effect on performance if used too frequently (17). This is the reason why you should only use additional high dose antioxidants during competitions or during intense training blocks when recovery is particularly important.
1. Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D., Kleiner, S., Almada, A. and Lopez, H. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1).
2. McNaughton, L., Dalton, B. and Tarr, J. (1998). The effects of creatine supplementation on high-intensity exercise performance in elite performers. European Journal of Applied Physiol- ogy, 78(3), pp.236-240.
3. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. (2016). Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® and in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research., (Position Stand).
4. Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J. and Jimenez, A. (2012). Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), p.33.
5. Hultman E, et al. Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1996;81(1):232–
6. Lancha Junior, A., de Salles Painelli, V., Saunders, B. and Artioli, G. (2015). Nutritional Strate- gies to Modulate Intracellular and Extracellular Buffering Capacity During High-Intensity Exer- cise. Sports Medicine, 45(S1), pp.71-81.
7. Saunders, B., Elliott-Sale, K., Artioli, G., Swinton, P., Dolan, E., Roschel, H., Sale, C. and Gualano, B. (2016). β-alanine supplementation to improve exercise capacity and performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(8), pp.658-669.
8. Goldstein, E., Ziegenfuss, T., Kalman, D., Kreider, R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Taylor, L., Willoughby, D., Stout, J., Graves, B., Wildman, R., Ivy, J., Spano, M., Smith, A. and Antonio, J. (2010). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance. Jour- nal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), p.5.
9. Graham, T. E. & Spriet, L. L. (1991) Performance and metabolic responses to a high caffeine dose during prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol, 71, 2292-2298.
10. Graham, T. E. & Spriet, L. L.. (1995) Metabolic, catecholamine, and exercise performance responses to various doses of caffeine. J Appl Physiol, 78, 867-874.
11. Smith-Ryan, A. And Antonio, J.Sports Nutrition and performance enhancing supplements In-text: (Smith-Ryan and Antonio) Bibliography: Smith-Ryan, Abbie, and Jose Antonio. Sports Nutrition And Performance Enhancing Supplements. New York: Linus Leanring, 2013. Print.
12. Hodgson, Adrian B., Rebecca K. Randell, and Asker E. Jeukendrup. 'The Metabolic And Performance Effects Of Caffeine Compared To Coffee During Endurance Exercise'. PLoS ONE 8.4 (2013): e59561. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.
13. Maughan, R., Burke, L., Dvorak, J., Larson-Meyer, D., Peeling, P., Phillips, S., Rawson, E.,
Walsh, N., Garthe, I., Geyer, H., Meeusen, R., van Loon, L., Shirreffs, S., Spriet, L., Stuart, M., Vernec, A., Currell, K., Ali, V., Budgett, R., Ljungqvist, A., Mountjoy, M., Pitsiladis, Y., Soligard, T., Erdener, U. and Engebretsen, L. (2018). IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(7), pp.439-455.
14. Kramer, S., Baur, D., Spicer, M., Vukovich, M. and Ormsbee, M. (2016). The effect of six days of dietary nitrate supplementation on performance in trained CrossFit athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 13(1).
15. Kerksick, C., Wilborn, C., Roberts, M., Smith-Ryan, A., Kleiner, S., Jäger, R., Collins, R., Cooke, M., Davis, J., Galvan, E., Greenwood, M., Lowery, L., Wildman, R., Antonio, J. and Kreider, R. (2018). ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1).
16. Hoon, M., Jones, A., Johnson, N., Blackwell, J., Broad, E., Lundy, B., Rice, A. and Burke,
L. (2014). The Effect of Variable Doses of Inorganic Nitrate-Rich Beetroot Juice on Simulated 2000-m Rowing Performance in Trained Athletes. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 9(4), pp.615-620.
17. Vitale, K., Hueglin, S. and Broad, E. (2017). Tart Cherry Juice in Athletes. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(4), pp.230-239.