Some generic truths about supplements
The fact that a supplement was scientifically proven to enhance performance doesn’t necessarily mean it will improve your performance. Every supplement works under certain conditions. If those conditions do not apply to you, you are wasting your money.
You should always experiment with a new supplement in a training session before taking it in crunch time. If you can, try to simulate a competitive situation during that session. Only if you don’t experience any adverse effects you can consider taking this supplement in a competition. Pay attention to the origin and brand of the supplement and ensure the risk of contamination with prohibited substances is very low.
What is an ergogenic aid?
An ergogenic aid is a substance that may enhance your performance. At the moment there are only a handful of supplements with an adequate level of support by quality research, that may directly improve performance and are not listed as doping. We enlisted and explained some of them.
Caffeine is useful for endurance sports as well as supramaximal and/or repeated sprint tasks. It reduces the perception of exertion and improves vigilance and alertness. It can promote fat oxidation and temporarily increase energy expenditure.
Amount: 3-6 mg/kg body weight which is equal to about 2 shots of expresso or 1.5 energy shot for a 75kg athlete.
Timing: Drink your espresso about an hour before a fight in competition, or the most challenging part of training.
Negative effects: Be careful heavy daily caffeine use can have side effects like insomnia, nervousness, fast heartbeat, irritability, restlessness, and others.
Creatine is one of the most studied supplements in the sports world. It is sometimes described as the strongest legal drug, it would be a shame to miss it out of fear. Creatine monohydrate increases the creatine stores in the muscle. This is mainly interesting for high-intensity sports as it leads to greater gains in lean mass, muscular strength, and power.
Amount: Dissolve creatine monohydrate in water or a carbohydrate-containing beverage. Do not exceed the recommended dose!
- Loading phase: Take during the first 6 days of supplementation 0.3g/kg/day. Divide this amount into doses of max. 5g spread over the whole day to increase absorption.
- Maintenance phase: After six days you switch to a maintenance dose of 3-5g per day
Timing: Take it before or after training. Since it’s mainly about increasing the storages of creatine in your body, timing is not crucial.
Negative effects: The main disadvantage of creatine is weight gain, which in combat sports is not always desirable. The weight gain can be caused by increased muscle mass, but also to a certain degree of fluid retention. Water retention can be restored to normal levels by ceasing creatine supplementation for 4 weeks.
Beta-alanine improves performance in short and intense activities (30sec – 10min) by buffering the acidity of the muscle.
Amount: Take a chronic supplementation of 65mg/kg per day. This translates into about 3-6g per day depending on your bodyweight.
Timing: Beta-alanine is a supplement that can be taken in the off-season, you don’t need to train to enjoy its benefits. Doing so you can already experience the benefits at the very beginning of the season. When exactly you take the beta-alanine doesn’t really matter, however it’s recommended to divide the total amount into smaller doses of 0.8-1.6g and leave at least 3-4 hours between every dosage.
Negative effects: Beta-alanine was found to be a safe supplement. A large dose at once might have side-effects like itchiness, rash or paresthesia (tingling in the toes and fingers). These side effects disappear over time (about 1 hour) and are rather harmless.
Sodium bicarbonate is one of the cheapest supplements on the market. You can just buy it in your convenience store in the baking section. Sodium bicarbonate, also known under the name baking powder, can improve performance in high-intensity exercises lasting 1 – 10 minutes. Just like beta-alanine it counters the acidity (sour feeling) in the muscle and thereby prolongs the time to exhaustion.
Amount: Dissolve 0.2 – 0.4 g/kg of sodium bicarbonate in a drink of choice.
Timing: Take the mixture 60-150 minutes before the event starts. To avoid gastrointestinal problems you can consider taking the total dose in multiple smaller doses over a period of 30-180min.
Negative effects: Gastro-intestinal problems and high sodium content
The supplement nitrate is better known as beetroot juice. Beetroot is naturally rich in nitrate, while it’s far from the only plant source, it is the most practical to juice and takes in. The main benefit of sports performance is that reduces oxygen costs and can, therefore, prolong activity. It is found most beneficial for exercises 1-10min, but also longer aerobe exercises can benefit from this supplement.
Amount: Ingest 6.4-12.8mg/kg nitrate.
Timing: Acute performance benefits are seen within 2-3 hours after ingestion of a nitrate supplement
Negative effects: Apart from having a not so tasty flavor, there are very few side effects. There might be some gastrointestinal problems, therefore it should first be tested in training. Beetroot can give your urine a harmless red color, which might be scary if the reason is unknown.
A more detailed explanation about the use, mechanism, dosage, effects and side effects can be found in “Making Weight and Everything Else”.
Remember these supplements are just a tip of the iceberg. The base should always be a good nutritional base and adequate nutrition around training
Based on the latest consensus statement of the IOC regarding supplements.