When it comes to fitness and athletics, people will go to the ends of the earth looking for a legal ( and sometimes illegal) advantage. Sport and fitness nutrition supplement companies know this and capitalize on it by flooding the market with products that claim to provide you with a plethora of performance-enhancing benefits.
I am here to today to tell you that the majority of these products do not do what they claim to do. In fact, there are only five sports performance supplements that are supported by a strong body of scientific evidence to actually do what they say they will.
For the sake of today’s article, we will call them the fantastic five and whether you a track athlete, bodybuilder or anything in between, there is something in this list that will be of interest to you.
What are the Fantastic Five?
#1 Creatine: Creatine is one of the most widely available and widely sold sports nutrition supplements on the market, and for good reason. It is considered the most well studied, well understood and proven performance aid and is known to boost both training and competition performance in activities that require repeated bursts of high intensity with minimal rest in between. Sprinting, weight lifting and stop-start sports such as basketball or martial arts are some of the examples of activities which would benefit from creatine supplementation.
#2 Caffeine: Coffee lovers everywhere will rejoice at the news that caffeine is a well-supported performance enhancer. Caffeine intake prior to exercise has been shown to reduce an athlete’s perception of fatigue and increase their ability to sustain performance levels for greater periods of time. Regardless of the sport you take part in, you may benefit from drinking coffee or using a caffeine enriched sport supplement.
#3 Sodium bicarbonate: Sodium bicarbonate has been shown to improve anaerobic (weight lifting, wrestling, sprinting, jumping, anything of high intensity and short duration) performance in a variety of circumstances. It is proven to be useful in sporting events lasting between 1-7 minutes, in sports involving repeated high intensity sprints and in longer duration events or sports that have multiple sprint components.
#4 B-Alanine: Beta-Alanine works in a similar fashion to sodium bicarbonate but is recommended in a smaller range of scenarios, primarily for athletes who engage in bouts of exercise that occur in 60-240 second intervals. Long-term beta-alanine supplementation may also boost an athlete’s overall training capacity.
#5 Nitrate*: Nitrate is the last of the fantastic five and has been shown to increase an individual’s tolerance and endurance in prolonged bouts of exercise, especially for the average person. Unlike creatine, sodium bicarbonate and Beta-alanine, nitrate supplementation is more geared towards endurance athletes such as long distance runners and especially those who are only at an average level of training.
*Those interested in nitrate can learn more about it here
Take Home Message
The fantastic five offer different benefits to different types of athletes. You should know that you do not necessarily need to supplement to succeed, but if it makes sense from a practical and financial perspective, you may consider trying it. Remember that, if you use products other than these five, you are taking a leap of faith that is not supported by good science or evidence. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Andy De Santis RD MPH
Credit for the evidence review and science referenced in this article goes to the 2016 position report on sports nutrition jointly released by the Dietitians of Canada, American College of Sports Medicine and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and all of the great work of the contributing sports scientists.
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