As a provider of Performance Nutrition support to a multitude of athletes competing on a variety of different stages, one of the most frequent questions I’m often faced with, is “what supplements should I be taking?”. My first port of call here is to always remind said athletes, of the definition of supplement, in that it is ‘in addition to’. Thus, if your dietary intake from food is sub-standard, then there’s not much use in worrying about the fine margins associated with supplement use.

There are different reasons that you may look at including certain supplements into your routine & although context might determine the inclusion of others, here are the ones I most frequently recommend to those I work for - and why.


Time to read: 7 minutes

Intermediate

Key Points:

  • Key supplements for athletes
  • The benefits and concerns of CBD as a supplement  
  • Considerations before adding supplements to your dietry intake

Any supplement should always be checked for its compliance with anti-doping regulations and should be assessed on the need and possible risks for any athlete.



Creatine 

Want to enhance strength? Power? Size? Even aid hydration? Then a good quality creatine monohydrate should be on your shopping list. A staple to any athlete with high recovery demands and elevated metabolic stressors through training, that can be factored with ease to the daily routine. 0.1g per kg of bodyweight daily, with a 20-30 day “saturation period”, or 0.3-0.4g per kg for 5-7 days for a “loading phase” if necessary. Bare in mind that there does tend to be variability as to how people react to creatine supplementation – with some seeing huge benefits, and others “non-responders”. This could be in part to the amount of dietary creatine you’re already consuming, with red meat and fish in particular, already being high in creatine content.

Whey Protein 

There is no sufficient storage pool of protein as there is for fat and carbohydrate, and therefore protein should (and has to) be strategically implemented within our diets. Whey protein provides a convenient, effective, and fast digesting supplement that can supplement a food-first approach to performance nutrition. It has one of the best amino acid profiles of any supplement on the market. For the veggies and vegans, there are alternatives that can offer a solution to logistic issues the same way whey does, but it may be worth noting that absorption rates may differ, so higher volumes may be required – although the research here is still young and inconclusive.

Omega 3

Offers broad health and performance benefits, but particularly with the health of the cardiovascular system, and in particular – endothelial health. Aside from this, Omega 3 plays it’s role in the limitation of several inflammatory pathways, making it a kitchen cupboard staple for those putting their body through high stress, irrespective of whether that comes from high mileage on the roads, short bouts in the ring, or every weekend on the grass.

Caffeine 

That’s right, good old caffeine. Increase mental focus, endurance performance, fatty acid oxidation, whilst simultaneously blunting your perception of fatigue – it can do far more for you than get you out of bed in the morning! It’s important that you assess tolerance with lower doses initially (~3-4mg/kg) to measure potential side effects. Adequately scheduled caffeine intake can be a performance enhancer.

Vitamin D 

Not just for athletes, in my opinion everyone should be dosing vitamin D (which ironically, isn’t actually a vitamin), especially through the winter months. It is possible to get enough purely through our diet, but it probably requires some pretty substantial remodelling of your dietary habits. A large percentage of people probably are actually in some form of vitamin deficiency, and it would take an analysis of your dietary habits to get a handle on what might be missing. It’s an often-neglected part of the equation, with people putting a lot of emphasis on their macronutrient intake, that in turn, can actually have a significant detrimental effect on your performance and recovery. With this in mind, you may want to consider the further addition of a good multi-vitamin (as it’s incredibly difficult to overdose on them, even if you are meeting your requirements from a food perspective).

CBD

There are other supplements that are still young in terms of their research-proven efficacy, such as the use of tart cherry juice to aid recovery, that may well be worth adding in to your routines, but ensuring the main cornerstones of your dietary practices are established, should be your first port of call.

It would be impossible of me to write an article post on supplements without addressing the elephant in the room. Is CBD worth taking? This is a question that is becoming increasingly prevalent in athlete populations, particularly for those looking for pain relief and improvements in sleep quality. In 2018, CBD was removed from the WADA (World Anti Doping Association) list of prohibited substances. Meaning that CBD alone would not run any risk of a failed drugs test.

HOWEVER, CBD is just one of 110 cannabinoids present within cannabis (the other most familiar is the psychoactive THC), and the rest, ARE still prohibited substances meaning that even trace amounts (apart from THC which has a minimum threshold) would return a positive drugs test and consequential bans, fines, or reprimands. There is thus a potential risk in trace amounts of other cannabinoids in CBD products, purely due to the extraction process.

All this whilst the evidence base is still very young and ever-growing. Much of the research at present that purports beneficial effects of CBD, is from using products that do not omit other cannabinoids. There is little and mixed evidence at current around the efficacy of CBD against its claims of improving sleep quality and reducing muscle soreness and although it is an area of research likely to boom in the next decade, current advice would be to steer clear, not run the risk, and seek other nutritional interventions for the alleviation of symptoms, and to aid sleep & sleep hygiene.

Certainly a fascinating area of research, and worth keeping an eye on the work of @closenutrition in particular as study into efficacy, dosage, and safety starts to grow.

 

 

My advice would be, don’t get drawn into some audacious claims on social media, or fad additions and gimmicks surrounding products with no proven benefits (such as BCAA’s)! Most importantly, as this article started, a food first approach is always advertised. No amount of protein powder and creatine tablets can overcome a poor diet.

Finally, if you’re a competitive athlete, any supplement should always be checked for its compliance with anti-doping regulations. You can check supplements on the Informed Sport website, and any medication on Global DRO. Consult your coach, an appropriately qualified nutritionist, or UKAD advisor for advice and always assess the need, and assess the risk. Ultimately, you are responsible for what you put in your body, and many over-the-counter supplements are not batch tested, and can’t guarantee they’re free from cross-contamination, potentially with banned substances.

January 31, 2022 — Paul Parker

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