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What are sports supplements?

Sports supplements are also called ergogenic aids. These are products designed to enhance athletic performance and recovery. They are available in different forms and products. These were previously only available as sports supplements, such as protein, amino acids, creatine, and joint general supplements like vitamins, minerals, herbs, and botanicals.


What are the benefits of supplements?

Sports supplements can provide benefits over everyday foods. The most common is the bodies ability to absorb the nutrient and convenience.

Whole food should be the foundation of any diet, but demands on athletes impact the time available and adversely may impact the time to prepare meals. Supplements are an alternative to low quality convenience food. They provide a convenient method to support nutritional requirements, whether for additional calories, protein, or vitamins and minerals. Additionally drinking a shake post-exercise when supplements are required is easier than preparing and eating whole food recipies.


The structure of supplements allows an athletes body to digest and absorb nutrients far quicker than whole food. The speed of digestion is crucial post-exercise to initiate the recovery process and maximise protein synthesis. Nutrients like free form amino acids are absorbed the quickest as they easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

Supplements allow an athlete to consume adequate quantities of various nutrients that would typically be difficult to consume through food.


When should an athlete use supplements?

The requirement for and use of supplements will differ depending on the individual based on level physical activity levels, lifestyle and diet. An elite athlete building towards a competition or completing an intensive programme will “supplement” their diet with targeted supplements more than an individual who trains once a day. The athlete must recover quickly between sessions to maintain performance levels. However, an individual that exercises once every evening may only require supplements before the single training session to increase energy and focus after a day at work and supplements post-exercise to initiate the recovery process.


Are supplements just for men?

Traditionally companies marketed supplements towards the bodybuilding industry, with large muscular men with campaigns fronted. There is a misconception around who should use supplements, putting off many females from using them. However, there are differences between the male and female anatomy, our organs, muscles and energy systems work. It is also a common misconception that using supplements, mainly after training, will guarantee an athletes physique.


The human body has the ability to change and adapt to the training and diet. Sports supplements can assist the the rate of adaptation through enhanced performance and recovery. Gender does not affect the way sports supplements effectiveness. Whether the target is to lose weight, build muscle, become fitter and healthier, or improve as an all-around athlete, supplements will support training, diet and achieve training or performance goals.


What supplements are available, which are the most effective?


Whey is widely available, compared to casein and soya products. It has the capacity to stimulate the rate of muscle protein synthesis and decrease the rate of protein degradation after exercise. Whey has a significant stimulatory effect has associated with its high leucine content and rapid rate of digestion. (Campbell et al. 2007)


Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – These essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) enhance protein synthesis and adaptations to training. BCAAs help decreases exercise-induced muscle enzyme release, which can often indicate muscle damage – Promoting an anti-catabolic hormone profile. They also aide the decrease in protein degradation.


Creatine monohydrate is an effective supplement, it allows an aththlete to increase and undertake high-intensity exercise, it will stimulate lean muscle mass increases during training. Research has shown it is a safe and highly effective supplement to use. (Buford et al. 2007)


Beta-alanine is naturally occurring amino acid. Carnosine is a primary substance available in the human skeletal muscle. It increases neutralisation of acid during high-intensity exercise, delaying the onset of fatigue. (Trexler et al. 2015)


Caffeine is most effective when consumed in an anhydrous form, such as powders, capsules or tablets. It can pass through membranes of nerve and muscle cells delivering positive neural and muscular effects. It can deliver a heightened sense of vigilance during high-intensity exercise periods. (Goldstein et al., 2010).


Fish oil has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, including lowering blood pressure. Fish oil can ease inflammation after exercise, lower body fat by increased protein synthesis. (Smith et al. 2011)



Bloomer C. (2009) Effect of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid on resting and exercise-induced inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers. P321-357

Buford T, (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition P4-6

Couet P (1997). Effect of dietary fish oil on body mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders P637-643

Goldstein L (2010). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition P7-5

Smith L (2011). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clinical Science (London) Journal 121, P267-78

Trexler P (2015). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition P12-30

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