Popular Supplements Taken by Athletes
The global dietary supplement marketplace is valued at more than 130 billion USD and has consistently grown for the past 3 decades. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that there are more than 85,000 dietary supplement products available for consumption in the US alone. The primary challenge is the lack of international consensus on how to categorize these products as there are no standards that ensure quality and integrity in the supplement marketplace.
Given that dietary supplements and their ingredients are manufactured in different countries, mislabeling, and knowing where the source materials come from can lead to safety concerns. The latter occurs when there is the accidental or deliberate inclusion of ingredients in products such as fillers, additives, mold, bacteria, etc. Dietary supplements are not strictly regulated before they go into the market because they are classified as food products and not medicines. Once they reach the market, which is not hard, the FDA will only remove a supplement from the market if there is evidence of safety issues. While these supplements are not necessarily recommended, the information below is presented to provide guidance and resources that could help GSU students make informed decisions about supplement use.
When it comes to hydration status and exercise it is no question that adequate hydration provides improved exercise performance. While water is the gold standard, many people enjoy consuming Gatorade, Powerade and other sports drinks which are the most commonly consumed but are typically not necessary for those who are not high performance or endurance athletes who need their electrolytes replenished. Electrolytes include sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium and provide different functions in our body and are lost when you sweat. These nutrients can be found in the foods we eat in a balanced diet. For those working out to keep in good health, most do not need to drink sports drinks. If you do decide to opt for a sports drink, choosing one with low or zero sugar would be a good choice to avoid extra added sugars in the diet.
Other drinks people may be consuming are those containing caffeine such as energy drinks or coffee and teas. There are lots of studies and research on caffeine as it gives an energy boost before a workout and it can be useful for performance. However, too much caffeine can affect sleep, anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rhythm. While consuming caffeine before a workout has shown to have positive effects on performance it is important to pay attention to the amount of caffeine and the source. Most supplements and energy drinks have a higher amount compared to coffee or tea and the central nervous system is stimulated which can result in a heightened sense of awareness and decreased perception of effort. For safe consumption of caffeine, 100 mg is the recommended amount before a workout.
Protein Powders, Creatine, and BCAAs
Protein is a nutrient that supports muscle recovery, muscle growth, and athletic performance. Most physically active people are able to meet their protein needs through food alone, but protein supplements can be a convenient option if time or food availability is limited. There are many protein supplement options, such as protein powders. If consuming a protein powder to help meet daily protein needs, choose a powder that contains all essential amino acids. However, keep in mind that protein powder is meant to assist in meeting daily protein needs. It is not recommended to meet all protein needs through a supplement.
There are many other protein supplements commonly used by athletes. Creatine is a non-protein amino acid that is found in red meat and seafood. Creatine is stored in the muscles, and it helps provide energy during high-effort exercises. Taking a creatine supplement could be beneficial to athletes who are looking to boost power output and further strength gains. Specific guidelines on the recommended creatine intake can be found here.
Another common protein supplement is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement. BCAAs are a type of essential amino acid that is found in chicken, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, and soy. However, studies regarding the effectiveness of this supplement are conflicting. Overall, it is important to prioritize eating adequate protein both 0-2 hours after exercise and throughout the day in order to support athletic performance.
Written by nutrition graduate students: Kate Lane, Laura Sanchez, and Madison Sutton
- Dunford, M., & Doyle, J. A. (2019). Nutrition for Sports and Exercise (4th). Cengage.