In sports, nutrition is as important as performance, and physical effort since the body needs the best preparation to face the muscular fatigue it will undergo, whether in the gym (hypertrophy) or in high-performance sports. Sometimes more than the micro and macronutrients we get from an average diet is needed (depending on the sport practiced). Therefore, it is healthy to acquire them through extraordinary methods, such as isolated protein, vitamins in capsules, gels, etc.
According to the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) classification, there are different groups of sports supplements. This division is based on evidence, medical recommendations, effects that they can cause in the body when consuming them, and even which ones are prohibited on the market. These supplements are divided into A, B, C, and D according to the level of studies that one has of them and how safe they are to consume.
Next, we will explain the breakdown of each group and the reason for its location on scientific grounds.
Remember that before using any supplement, it is essential that you consult your doctor or nutrition expert so that they can guide you on the type, quantity, and frequency with which you should consume them.
GROUP A SUPPLEMENTS
In this group are the foods with a reliable and proven scientific basis and evidence in professional athletes over time. Some are the following:
Sports drinks (isotonic, electrolyte drinks)
They are the cheapest and easiest supplements to find. Brands like Gatorade®, and Powerade®, among others, are intended to give the body fuel almost instantly, with elements such as sugars, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. On the other hand, oral electrolytes are recommended (and often used) for long-term sports, providing carbohydrates and a strong electrolyte charge.
This type of drink has a challenging moment of consumption since it can be taken before, during, and after exercise. By taking isotonic drinks or oral electrolytes, the sweated ones are replaced, postponing thirst and, therefore, physical exhaustion. For better performance during exercise in the gym, it is advisable to hydrate with this type of drink (Australian Institute of Sport).
This supplement is recommended by thousands of nutrition experts and is culturally associated with the gym.
Being a high-cost product with a high load of macro and micronutrients, several factors should be considered before starting the consumption of isolated protein, such as exercise load, goals, lifestyle, daily energy requirements, eating plan, etc.
Although the “common” protein can be obtained from common foods such as meats, seeds, vegetables, or dairy products, the isolated protein is ideal for its practicality, rapid digestion (specifically in post-exercise situations), and even for its easy consumption in case of lack of appetite. There are different types, depending on the athlete’s needs; some are whey (milk whey), casein, hydrolyzed, soy, vegan, etc. (Australian Institute of Sport).
Isolated proteins can be found in gyms, specialized centers, supermarkets, and e-commerce.
Creatine is one of the supplements with the most studies and scientific evidence, but what is it for?
This amino acid, found in fish and red meat, is naturally present in our muscle cells; however, its capacity is insufficient to maintain long-lasting recovery after muscle fatigue, like the one that usually occurs in the gym. For this reason, the consumption of creatine monohydrate increases the storage capacity of this amino acid in the cells, allowing faster muscle recovery and less fatigue, which eventually means better performance in the sporting activity that is practiced (Australian Institute of Sport ).
Like isolated protein, monohydrated (or micronized) creatine can be found in specialized centers, some supermarkets, and in e-commerce.
Extending its presence in the supplement market more and more, sports gels are sachets with concentrated carbohydrates (65-70%) in a gel consistency. Its composition allows these carbohydrates to be digested faster and take effect almost immediately.
Some gel packs also contain caffeine, sodium, and electrolytes. Its consumption contributes to better sports performance since it adds energy, delays fatigue due to thirst, and contributes to the sodium balance during the long-term performance (Australian Institute of Sport).
Sports gels can also be found in e-commerce and specialized centers.
Group B Supplements
In this group, some supplements are beginning to appear on the market, and although their consumption is commercial, it is recommended under supervision and monitoring of effects.
Carnitine is the most famous supplement of this group, which also exists naturally in our bodies. In fact, of the 100% carnitine we naturally have in our bodies, 90% is stored in our muscles. The function of this amino acid is the transport of fat to the cells, accelerating the process of burning it and using it as fuel.
One of the reasons why the consumption of Carnitine as a dietary supplement is not so recommended is because there is already enough in our system. However, its consumption is recommended (always under supervision) in long-term sports (+30min). Moreover, in people with a vegan diet, most Carnitine is also obtained from animal meat (Australian Institute of Sport).
Controversial keto diets have shown rapid growth in the last couple of years, and with this has come criticism. Some doctors and nutritionists do not recommend this diet because by eliminating carbohydrates from it, important sources of fuel for day-to-day are lost. Consult your doctor before starting any keto diet.
As a complement to keto diets, keto supplementation has emerged, based on salts, magnesium, and calcium, among others. By adding keto supplements to the diet, the system relies on fat as a fuel source, so weight loss does occur. Specifically, it is recommended for long-term sporting events.
However, being largely based on salts, keto supplementation can cause gastrointestinal problems (Australian Institute of Sport).
This is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. Commonly and commercially known as Omega 3, our body cannot produce it, so it is achieved through supplementation, either in gel capsules or in liquid.
Its consumption is recommended for better heart health and general well-being. Also, benefits have been detected in muscle and brain health and the protection of lean mass. In the sports field, Omega 3 is recommended in cases of joint injuries, long periods of rest (due to immobilization or injuries) to avoid losing lean mass, and after exercises with a heavy load that causes swelling in the body. In case of not consuming fish in the diet, this supplement is also recommended (Australian Institute of Sport).
Curcumin comes from turmeric and has been used as a seasoning and essential ingredient in Indian and Chinese food for centuries. However, it also has certain sports benefits. Among them, its function is as an aid for rapid muscle recovery, joint inflammation reducer, and improving muscle performance by using optimum nutrition gold standard Supplement. Consumption may vary depending on the athlete, but consumption is generally recommended 48 hours before or after exercise (Australian Institute of Sport).
Group C Supplements
In this section are the supplements that do not have scientific evidence or benefits detected in athletes sufficient to express opinions informed by health agents.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (lipoic acid)
Commonly, this supplement is known as a “burner,” as it helps burn fat and provides energy. It can be found naturally in red meat and vegetables such as carrots, beets, spinach, broccoli, etc.
One of its main characteristics is that it works as an antioxidant, thus protecting the brain and preventing some liver diseases.
Lipoic acid may be effective in people with obesity and high cholesterol. However, there is no scientific evidence of a noticeable improvement in sports performance. It is recommended to take it with caution and always consult with a nutrition expert (Australian Institute of Sport, 2021).
Basic and essential branched-chain amino acids are a supplement found mostly in dissolvable powder form. It is common to see the sale of BCAAs in specialized centers and e-commerce, but what is it? What is it for?
Culturally it is known that it can postpone fatigue and tiredness during sports performance. However, no scientific evidence supports the need to take these amino acids as a supplement since it is argued that the effectiveness in muscle building is greater with a high protein diet (Australian Institute of Sport, 2021).
Tyrosine is another non-essential amino acid found commercially in capsules/tablets. Its main function is to favor the cognitive response to “extreme” climates in heat and cold, which can be translated into better reflexes, greater concentration, and overall better mental performance, especially for long-duration events.
However, insufficient scientific evidence supports that Tyrosine supplementation is directly related to better physical performance in athletes (Australian Institute of Sport, 2021).
Beta-Hydroxy Beta-Methylbutyric Acid (β-hydroxy-β-methyl butyrate) is commercially consumed via capsules. By being present and improving the process of protein synthesis, HMB contributes to the hypertrophy process, which is why its common use is perceived in bodybuilding athletes, both amateurs, and professionals. Like most supplements in group C, there is no scientific evidence to show an improvement in sports performance that does not already provide a high-protein diet (Australian Institute of Sport).
Group D Supplements
These supplements are prohibited or authorized with a high risk of polluting side effects that could yield a positive result in anti-doping tests. Most of the D supplements that will be mentioned can be found in pre-trainers used for gym performance.
Various sports institutions ban it; however, this commercial stimulant is commonly found in “energy-boosting” and weight-loss supplements. (Lattman, 2013) (Cohen, 2012)
To date, positive cases have been found in anti-doping tests, and at least 5 deaths have been related to this stimulant due to the excessive stimulation of the central nervous system that it causes.
Also known by the term “GW1516”, this substance increases muscular resistance exponentially. It has had different problems in the world of sports since, in the beginning, it was classified as carcinogenic. However, in the testing process, the dose in rats was erroneously executed. (New Scientist, 2013)
After this, and until today, it is a substance prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which has found it in tests with positive results in sports such as cycling and athletics.
Although there is scientific evidence that proves the benefit that this supplement gives to the immune system, in resistance in long-distance sporting events, and the growth of muscle mass, colostrum is not recommended for consumption in competitions since, according to the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) it is probable that an anti-doping test will be positive since this supplement contains elements of IFG-1, a hormone that benefits growth. (WADA (World Anti Doping Agency), SF)
This substance (alkaloid) can be found in stimulants, its origin comes from the Strychnos nux vomica seed, and its function is to increase physical performance, significantly stimulating the central nervous system and blood pressure (Vogue, 2017). However, a poorly controlled dose can be lethal, causing convulsions that lead to death. Even strychnine is used as a pesticide for rodents and birds. (Morales, 2014)
Supplementation is widely recommended by doctors and nutritionists worldwide, as it gives the extra “push” that we need to perform better in the sport we practice.
However, it must be clarified that our positive results will always be reflected thanks to the performance and accumulated effort of our good general eating habits, perseverance, and sports progression. Always see your doctor or nutritionist before purchasing and consuming any of the supplements mentioned in this blog.