Supplements in sport – which ones work?

The use of supplements by athletes is almost universal, and used correctly and appropriately, can help to achieve optimum performance.

However, clever marketing by supplement companies often exaggerates or invents nutrition claims. The use of pseudo science is common, using seemingly impressive words and phrases.

Unfortunately, the driving force behind the supplement use of many athletes is not sound science. It is common for athletes to be motivated by the fear that competitors are taking a supplement, and if they do not, then the competitor will have the edge.

This results in money being wasted on products that simply do not work. More importantly, they are a distraction from the factors that can really enhance health, recovery and performance.

It may not be cutting edge, but the sound foundations of good nutrition need to be firmly in place (focusing on carbs, protein and calories from nutrient dense foods). These, coupled with optimum timings of nutrient intake is the basis for ultimately achieving the best performance in training and competition.

There are a select few supplements, however, that have a good amount of evidence behind their effectiveness:

  • Recovery shakes – Carbohydrate & Protein, for use after exercise. Carbs allow glycogen replenishment of the muscles and help to shuttle protein in to the muscle for repair and growth. Although carbs and protein can be sourced from food, sometimes it is more convenient to take as a supplement.
  • Protein shakes – for higher protein needs of resistance training (lifting weights), these can be a more convenient and often cheaper way to achieve requirements.
  • Creatine – increases muscle mass, strength and high intensity exercise performance. Effective for sports involving short periods of maximal intensity and repeated bouts with intermittent rest periods.
  • Vitamin D - bone health, immunity, muscle maintenance, reduction in risk of some cancers.

    A selection of supplements.......

    A selection of supplements…….

  • Omega 3s – anti-inflammatory, also protects against heart attacks and strokes, may also benefit memory and general mental performance.
  • Probiotics - maintains gut function and health, preventing the immunosuppressive effects of intense exercise, and reducing susceptibility to illness.
  • Multivitamins – when you can’t guarantee that your diet is always a healthy and balanced one.

A dietitian can carry out an assessment and advise on the most appropriate supplements to take (if any), dose and timings*. Advice is tailored to take in to account factors such as specific sport, training goals and food intake.

*Dietitians do not sell nutritional supplements and do not have a commercial interest in promoting them.


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