The two key factors important to athletic success is genetic endowment and state of training. Elite athletes are always searching for that competitive edge, because at certain levels of competition the opponents usually have similar genetic athletic abilities and similar levels of training. Two leading factors to better athletic performance is improved diet and ergogenic aids. Ergogenic aids are considered performance enhancing substances. Different ergogenic aids include mechanical, psychological physiological, pharmacological and nutritional. We will be discussing nutritional aids, which are designed to increase physical power, mental strength or mechanical edge. Most nutritional aids are legal with the exception of androstenedione and ephedra. Do nutritional aids actually work to enhance our athletic performance? If so, which ones?? You may be shocked with the answer to this-
1) Medium Chain Triglyceride:
The Theory: The theory with Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) is that since the fat can be rapidly absorbed into the blood, and it can enter the mitochondria without the use of carnitine, then it can be used for energy faster. Other theories suggest it can be oxidized as fast as glucose (from the diet) to energy.
The Research: Numerous studies show that MCT supplementation does not enhance endurance performance or alter exercise metabolism in trained athletes. Overall it is ineffective for improving exercise performance. However, further research should focus on the health benefits of rather than ergogenic benefits.
The Theory: Carnatine supplementation will help increase an enzyme that transports long chain fatty acids into the mitochondria of the cell, therefor increasing the use of fat for energy. It is also said that since it increases the use of fat for energy that it will spare glycogen from being used. It also is suggested to increase blood flow, and to reduce lactic acid production during exercise since glycogen is being spared.
The Facts: Supplementation will increase blood levels, but most will be excreted by the kidneys. If muscle carnation levels are elevated, then there may be some beneficial effects to exercise performance. The problem is finding a practical means by wich the typical athlete may increase muscle carnation content. It has no effect on enhancing performance, increasing VO2 Max or aerobic performance in healthy people. Additional research is needed, because the negative effects have not been studied.
The Theory: Claims it can increase energy, increase fat loss and increase endurance. Caffeine acts as a stimulant so it can decrease the perception of fatigue, increase the force of muscle contraction and spare muscle glycogen.
The Research: Ingestion of 3-13 mg of caffeine/kg can improve endurance performance by 20-50% in elite and recreationally trained athletes who run or cycle at 80-90% of VO2Max. Caffeine dosages of 3-6 mg/kg an hour before exercise may produce an ergogenic effect. Higher doses of 9-13 of caffeine mg/kg may also improve performance.
4) Protein Powder:
The Theory: In theory, protein increases nitrogen retention, thus promoting a positive nitrogen balance. Supplementation with protein powder claims to increase muscular gains.
The Research: Muscular gains will not happen if there is no resistance training. Also, more protein doesn’t mean more muscle. If too much protein is taken in through the diet it can be converted to fat. If you are an endurance athlete, or involved with heavy weight training 1.2-1.7 grams per kg of bodyweight is sufficient. Protein supplementation should not be added on top of high protein diet, it should be incorporated together with the diet. In short, the athlete should consume sufficient calories and protein and engage in a resistance training program to gain muscle mass. I use Sunwarrior protein powder in line with my diet to get the right amount of protein for the day….sometimes there is just too much food to eat and a supplement is helpful.
5) Arginine and Citrulline
The Theory: Arginine is an amino acid which is the precursor for nitric oxide (NO), a vasodilator. Citrulline is also an amino acid which can generate large amounts of arginine. It is thought that the arginine will enhance blood flow and oxygen to muscles.
The Research: Research does not support an ergogenic effect with healthy individuals, and arginine may be ergolytic. This means that in some studies it shows that athletes were actually slower than the placebo groups.
6) Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
The Theory: Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are three major amino acids in muscle tissue. it is suggested that supplementation can decrease the rate of muscle tissue degradation. Also suggests that supplementation can prevent adverse changes in brain neurotransmitter function, no serotonin is made, which will prevent fatigue.
The Research: BCAA supplementation not necessary if carbohydrate is available. Carbohydrate is the best fuel for endurance athletes which will prevent muscle breakdown. BCAA supplementation may be an effective protocol for athletes in weight-control sports who are on a diet, since these athletes may be low in carbohydrates and overall calories.
The Theory: Glutamine is an amino acid that is found in the muscle in high concentrations. May promote muscle growth. May stimulate glycogen synthesis. It is the major fuel for key cells in the immune system, so in theory it could prevent illness and infections associated with overtraining.
The Research: Recent studies and reviews indicate that glutamine supplementation will increase plasma glutamine levels but will not increase muscle mass or strength, provide any advantage over adequate carbohydrate on muscle glycogen levels, prevent the effects of overtraining, or decrease the frequency of respiratory infections.
The Theory: Glycine is an amino acid that is used to make creatine in the body.
The Research: Contemporary research reveals no ergogenic effect of glycine supplementation. However, although glycine supplementation has not been shown to be ergogenic, direct supplementation with creatine has been shown to induce favorable effects.
9) Glucosamine and Chondroitin
The Theory: Glucosamine is an amino sugar made in the body and can be derived from shellfish; chondroitin can be made from cattle cartilage. Glucosamine helps form the structural basis of cartilage (proteoglycans), and chondroitin helps provide resiliency. It may help prevent joint pain associated with exercise training.
The Research: Limited research with highly trained individuals; most are with older, arthritic individuals. A substantial number of studies and reviews indicate supplementation reduced joint pain and improved mobility.
The Theory: Creatine is a non-essential organic acid that is made by the liver and kidney. It is made from the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine and is stored in the muscle. Theory suggests that supplementation may increase muscle levels of PCr, increase performance in very high intensity exercise, enhance performance in prolonged endurance events which incorporate short sprints and may enhance interval training.
The Research: In general, research findings also indicate that creatine supplementation may enhance performance in very high-intensity exercise tasks, such as the 100-meter sprint in track and sprint cycling, weight lifting, soccer…mostly tasks where ATP-PCr energy system dominates. The recommended protocol for intake is as follows:
Fast protocol: 20-30 grams/day for 5-7 days
Slow protocol: 3 grams/day for 30 days
Consuming powdered creatine with a sugar solution, such as a sports drink or fruit juice, has been shown to increase the rate at which muscles absorb the creatine.
Are you SHOCKED at how many supplements DO NOT work?? Moral of the story is, DO YOUR RESEARCH!! Don’t take something because your friend is taking it, or because you heard it could help your performance. You could be hurting your body by taking a supplement, or you might even just be wasting your money! A Registered Dietitian educated in sports nutrition will be your best resource when it comes to sports supplements. What we find that does work right now is: caffeine, protein powder when combined with diet (not going over protein needs) and combined with resistance training, and creatine supplementation can enhance certain performances. It is quite possible as more research is done on certain supplements that they might be proved to be effective, but right now it is shown that most are not. Remember though, that a healthy diet full of water, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds will be your best nutritional ergogenic aid!!
-Colleen Poling, RD, LD