There is a lot of different kind of supplements on the market. This blog post will specifically discuss the types of supplements that are used for practical reasons. They’re also the most bought supplements by athletes.
Other blog posts in this series are:
- Should I take supplements or not? How do I know if they’re safe?
- Use of supplements to correct and prevent nutrition deficiencies
- Use of supplements to achieve direct performance benefits
- Use of supplements to achieve indirect performance benefits
Why are supplements for practical use so popular?
Sometimes it is impractical to reach nutrition goals with “normal” food. It’s much easier to add some water to powder than cooking a meal. Besides being the easy solution it solves a lot of practical issues athletes might have. Between two blocks of trainings, it can be easier to digest an energy bar than a bowl of pasta especially when they are scheduled one after another. For bigger athletes that burn a lot of energy in one day, it can be difficult to reach their nutrient targets by eating only whole foods. Supplements can help them reach these goals. For other athletes that need to watch their nutrient intake carefully not to gain excessive weight, a protein shake might be a good solution to reach their protein goals without ingesting too much fat or sugar that often come together with proteins in “normal” food.
While all this is very practical athletes should keep in mind that supplements are not there to replace “normal” food but just to give extra support. A normal healthy daily diet is still the top priority.
Kind of supplements and how to use them
Sports drinks typically contain 5-8% carbohydrates, 23-80mg/dl Na and 11.7-19.5mg/dl K. Sports drinks are mainly used during exercise to replace fluid and carbohydrates. After training, they can be an option for rehydration and refueling
Energy drinks contain a certain amount of carbohydrates together with caffeine, they may also contain some taurine, vitamin B, and other ingredients. The usefulness of these extra ingredients is not always supported by science. Energy drinks are mainly used as a pre-exercise caffeine supplement or used during exercise for a constant flow of carbohydrates and caffeine
Sports gels or sport confectionery
Depending on the brand you’ll find that sachets of 30-40g gel containing approximately 25g carbohydrates. Sports confectionery will contain around 5g carbohydrate a piece. Some of these supplements will have added electrolytes and/or caffeine. The normal use of this supplement is during exercise to provide extra carbohydrates so that training intensity can be maintained.
Electrolyte replacement supplements
Electrolyte replacement supplements are usually powders or tablets that require dissolving in water. They contain much more electrolytes than sports drinks and fewer carbohydrates – 115 – 138mg/dl Na, 40-80 mg/dl K and – 2-4% carbohydrates. The goal of this supplement is to rapidly rehydrate the body after excessive amounts of sweat was lost.
A protein supplement usually comes in powder form that needs to be mixed with water or milk, a ready-to-drink liquid or as a protein-rich bar is usually low in carbohydrates. Each serving contains around 20-50g high-quality protein – whey, casein, milk, egg or soy. It is used mainly after training when proteins are required for muscle recovery and training adaptation. Protein supplements can also be a handy snack during a busy schedule or travels.
A liquid meal can replace a regular meal. It is used in high energy diets where it is difficult to reach nutritional goals with ‘normal’ nutrition while traveling or as a low bulk meal especially pre-events. The content of a liquid meal depends on the brand and product. Generally, they contain 1-1.5kcal/ml: 15-20% of the energy comes from protein, 50-70% comes from carbohydrates and the drink is usually low or moderate in fat. Since the goal is to replace a regular meal, the drink contains some amounts of vitamin and minerals. If you’d drink 500-1000ml you should meet your daily recommended dose.
A sports bar typically contains 40-50g carbohydrates, 5-10g protein and is low in fat and fibers. Just like a liquid meal a sports bar will provide you with some minerals and vitamins. A sports bar can come in handy as a post-exercise snack, during competition or as portable nutrition while traveling.
Protein enhanced food
Because there is more and more proof that proteins play an important role in maintaining lean body mass, muscle recovery and training adaptation some food companies add extra protein in their products. At the moment yogurt, ice cream, cereal bars and milk with extra protein are pretty popular.
All this information is based on a consensus statement of the IOC