There are many different kinds of supplements on the market. This blog post will discuss the types of supplements that are used to achieve direct performance benefits.
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 for practical reasons
- Use of supplements to achieve indirect performance benefits
Some generic truth about supplements
The fact a supplement was scientifically proven to enhance performance doesn’t necessarily mean it improves the performance of anyone. 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.
Now, about performance, which supplements are we talking about?
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. Those supplements are caffeine, creatine monohydrate, nitrate, sodium bicarbonate and possibly also beta-alanine.
What are these supplements good for?
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.
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.
Nitrate (or beetroot) improves vasodilatation and reduces oxygen costs of different activities. Therefore, it an improve performance in endurance as well as high-intensity exercises.
Sodium bicarbonate, as well as beta alanine, buffer the acidity in the muscle, which can help to sustain high-intensity performance. While they both aim for the same outcome they work slightly different. Sodium-bicarbonate improves extracellular buffering capacity. Beta-alanine improves intracellular buffering capacity.
A more detailed explanation about the use, mechanism, dosage, effects and side effects can be found in the blog post of each supplement specifically. Remember these supplements are just a tip of the iceberg. The base should always be a good nutritional base and adequate nutrition around training
All this information is based on a consensus statement of the IOC