Take your game to the next level with 5 sports supplements that boost performance. Healthy everyday eating is number one when it comes to successful sports performance. Period. You can’t beat a poor diet with supplements and vitamin pills, though many athletes try this approach. Even so, some supplements may be useful for the athlete that has checked all of the usual nutrition boxes.
So you’re eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, optimizing your fueling opportunities around exercise and hydrating regularly? To get an extra edge here are five sports supplements you may consider that could enhance your performance.
Caffeine is a stimulant that offers an improved focus for skill-based activities as well as benefits for endurance. A range of athlete groups uses caffeine successfully, from the recreational marathon runner to the elite baller.
Chances are you have already tried this substance to add zest to your activity, but here we look at a targeted approach to get the most out of your caffeine kick.
Firstly, if you want to use caffeine as one of the supplements that boost performance, take note of how much caffeine you take in. Health Canada recommends limiting total daily caffeine to no more than 400 mg a day, or about three 237 ml cups of brewed coffee.
Large amounts of caffeine are not helpful for sports. Studies have found that there is no added benefit to caffeine in quantities over 9 mg/kg body mass (this means about 600 mg for a 150 lb person).
High levels of caffeine can result in unwanted side effects like nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness.
Also, some people are slow metabolizers of caffeine. For these people, caffeine does not improve their performance- it often hinders it. How do you know if you are a slow metabolizer? Your best bet is to trial caffeine in practice before competition day. For more on caffeine and sport check out our previous blog “What’s all the Buzz?”.
- 3-6 mg/kg of body weight ~60 mins before exercise and, or, 1.5 mg/kg in the latter part of your race or competition. For a 150 lb person, this amounts to about 1 1/2 cups of coffee before exercise (or 200-400 mg of caffeine), and 100 mg in the later stages of a race or a long duration exercise effort.
- Caffeine works even better when you consume it with a carbohydrate source. So opt to pair your morning joe with foods like bread, cereals, or fruit.
Creatine monohydrate supplementation can increase strength and help gain body mass. For this reason, creatine is a popular choice for strength athletes like bodybuilders, CrossFit enthusiasts, sprinters, or football players.
Interestingly, creatine is also essential for brain health and function. Along with its potential role in moderating the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s, creatine may be useful for concussion treatment.
Creatine is a substance that our bodies produce, and we can get from food sources like meat and chicken.
Creatine is changed to creatine phosphate in the body. Creatine phosphate helps generate adenosine triphosphate (or ATP), which is an energy source for our body.
Supplementation increases creatine stores found in muscles. It also enhances the ability to perform repeated sessions of high-intensity movements. With proper loading measures, no adverse effects are seen with long term use; although 600 g – 1000 g (or 1-2 lb.) in weight gain is possible due to water retention.
Rapid Loading Protocol
4 x 5 g doses/day for five days, followed by 3 g/day maintenance.
Slow Loading Protocol
3 g/day for 28 days.
Ensure your dosage is 3-5 g daily total. Take it after exercise, with carbohydrates.
Nitrates sound fancy, but they are a substance found in many vegetables and are easily added to our diets. They are next on our list of supplements that boost performance.
Nitrate enhances nitric oxide availability in our body. Nitric oxide improves how certain muscle fibre types perform and helps us breath more efficiently.
Dietary intake of nitrate is commonly used for high-intensity endurance exercise, both short and long in duration. Nitrates are a popular supplement choice for runners, rowers, triathletes and cyclists.
Side effects from nitrate supplementation may include GI upset. Natural sources of nitrates include root vegetables and leafy greens (e.g beets, arugula, spinach, and celery). You can also use a commercial beet supplement.
For more about the benefits of nitrates read our previous blog about “5 Smart Foods to Boost your Performance”.
- Use a 5-9 mmol (310-560 mg) dose.
- Benefits are seen 2-3 hours after consumption.
- Consume nitrates for > 3 days to further enhance performance.
- You can load with nitrates in advance of a competition. For example, drink 250-350 ml of beet juice twice a day for 4-5 days before a running or cycling race, with the last dose 2.5 hours before competition.
- Avoid mouthwash when using nitrates. Mouthwash affects your mouth bacterial flora. Nitrates are converted to nitrates by bacteria in your mouth, and then subsequently into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is what gives you your performance boost.
Surprisingly, sodium bicarbonate, or good old baking soda, is also a performance enhancer. Sodium bicarbonate acts as a blood buffering agent and is helpful for high-intensity exercise lasting less than 10 minutes.
Sodium bicarbonate is especially helpful during the latter part of a hard effort. Track athletes, track cyclists, and rowers are athlete groups that may use sodium bicarb.
A common side effect of sodium bicarbonate is GI upset, often diarrhea. To reduce discomfort, try using this supplement with a carb-based meal and split dosages up over time. You could also use sodium citrate which also acts as a buffering agent and can help you if you have an extreme GI sensitivity.
- Use 2-0.4 g/kg body weight 60-150 minutes before exercise.
- Split doses should be taken within 30-180 minutes.
Serial loading: 3-4 smaller doses/day for 2-4 days before an event
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid. Meat, poultry, and fish are all good sources of beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine, with histidine, helps produce carnosine. You find carnosine in brain and muscle tissues. When we exercise intensely our muscles produce lactic acid. Lactic acid build-up can limit our performance. One of the roles of carnosine is to reduce lactic acid in the muscles.
Taking a beta-alanine supplement increases the available carnosine in your muscles. As a result, beta-alanine increases your capacity for intense exercise and reduces your fatigue. It improves your endurance with high-intensity exercise.
Beta-alanine benefits continuous and intermittent exercise that lasts between 30 seconds – 10 minutes in length. Possible side effects may include skin rashes.
- ~65 mg/kg body weight total daily.
- Doses should be taken in a split-dose regimen (E.g. 0.8 – 1.6 g every 3 – 4 hours).
Supplements that Boost Performance: The Takeaway
These are five examples of supplements that boost performance and may be useful to use along with a healthy diet. Each of these supplements has been well studied. Even so, know before diving in, individual responses and side effects may vary. Try these supplements during regular training, well ahead of your competition to see how you respond. Also, note that youth athletes should avoid supplements. If you want more about how to weigh the benefits of supplements versus food read our previous blog. For more information, about how to incorporate sports supplements into your training seek the assistance of a local sports dietitian. Happy training!
- Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, Larson-Meyer DE, Peeling P, Phillips SM, Rawson ES, Walsh NP, Garthe I, Geyer H, Meeusen R, van Loon LJC, Shirreffs SM, Spriet LL, Stuart M, Vernec A, Currell K, Ali VM, Budgett RG, Ljungqvist A, Mountjoy M, Pitsiladis YP, Soligard T, Erdener U, Engebretsen L. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Apr;52(7):439-455. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099027. Epub 2018 Mar 14. PMID: 29540367; PMCID: PMC5867441.
Nutrition planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one-on-one or group nutrition counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. In addition, the Gazelle Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!