The Benefits and Dangers of Supplements for Athletes

Scoop of chocolate whey isolate protein in a black plastick contProducts such as protein powders, creatine, amino acids, mega-dose vitamins/minerals, weight loss aids, and energy boosters flood the shelves of nutritional supplement stores, all claiming to provide rapid, almost magical results. While athletes work hard to reach their goals, many people wonder if supplements actually give them a competitive edge. They can, and in many cases do, but there are several factors one needs to be aware of when taking supplements.

Nutrition courses or a sports nutrition diploma can inform students about which types of supplements enhance different levels of performance. For example, a weightlifter focused on body composition would have a different cocktail of supplements added to their regimen than say, an endurance runner – and vice versa. Also, factors such as dosages, side-effects and what time of day a supplement is taken play key roles.

The proper use of supplements is a widely debated topic in sports nutrition and sometimes, the employee at the local nutritional supplement store may not be able to give us the most accurate information.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular sports nutritional supplements and weigh some of the pros and cons:

Protein

Protein is said to be the most important nutrient an athlete needs to boost performance. In supplement form, protein is most commonly found in powders and occasionally in tablets. There’s a wide range of protein powders on the market, making it easy to fit into the dietary program of any athlete.

Protein powders are derived from various sources such as whey, egg whites or soy, and each has specific pros and cons. Whey protein, for example, is commonly used for muscle-building, as it has a fast digestion rate which supports the development of lean muscle. It can also curb hunger and support fat loss.

The downside is that many companies focus on making protein powders delicious rather than nutritious, and their product may contain tons of sugar and other flavoring additives that would be counterproductive to the development of lean muscle.

Creatine

Creatine is believed to be a naturally occurring compound that can be found inside the body. Synthetic creatine is commonly used as a performance supplement, usually in powder form dissolved into a glass of water or juice. This supplement results in increased energy for athletes and also promotes muscle growth.

Creatine has been scientifically tested and proven to improve athletic performance during intense workouts and activities. Other benefits are that it is a low-risk product and it is relatively inexpensive.

That being said, using creatine excessively may place stress on the healthy functioning of the bladder and kidneys. It has also been reported that not everyone metabolizes creatine equally, which means that for certain people, creatine may not provide the energy burst associated with the supplement at all.

Vitamin Supplements

Vitamin supplements can make up for any shortfalls that athletes make in their dietary choices. Vitamins are needed by the body in order to perform many essential functions such as:

  • Digesting food
  • Eyesight
  • Regulating the nervous system
  • Heart function

With sometimes rigorous training schedules, it may seem like a good idea for athletes to take several vitamin supplements, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Some vitamins, including A, B-6, C and D, can cause toxicity symptoms when taken in high amounts. For example, more than 10mg per day of vitamin B-6 can lead to a loss of feeling in the arms and legs, and high doses of vitamin C can cause abdominal cramping. Students who have completed sports nutrition and weight management training can work with athletes to develop a strong diet plan in place of using vitamin supplements, as experts agree that there is no better source for vitamin intake than a healthy, balanced diet.

What other supplements are used to enhance the performance of athletes?