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Supplements and Performance

The sports world is filled with special foods, potions, pills and powders, all promising the magic solution to give you the competitive edge. These potential performance enhancers are often known as “ergogenic aids”. They claim to make you faster, better, leaner and stronger. But many of these claims are often not backed by scientific evidence. A personal or anecdotal report is not valid evidence. “Ergogenic” means the potential to increase work output. Only proper training combined with the right diet and all-out effort can do that!

Sense and Nonsense

Supplements for success

Some supplements can be used to directly enhance exercise performance (e.g. sports drinks), while others contribute to overall nutrition (e.g. sports bars, liquid meals), and can indirectly improve performance. The right supplement needs to be used at the right time and in the right amounts. For example, an iron supplement will only provide a potential benefit if you are low in iron. Talk to a sports dietitian to find out how to make use of various supplements for your situation.

Performance enhancers: no substitute for training

If you decide to take an ergogenic aid to enhance your performance - be cautious! There is not a lot of scientific evidence to support many of the performance enhancers available. Do your research to check how reliable each product is in delivering the promised benefits. There are a few performance enhancers that are scientifically validated and can help performance in specific circumstances.

These include:

  • Sports drinks and gels
  • Creatine
  • Caffeine (currently permitted at a dose that produces a urinary caffeine level below 12 micrograms/mL)
  • Bicarbonate
  • Glycerol (some benefits for hydration)
  • Antioxidant supplements (benefits may be too small to measure in performance terms)
  • Glucosamine

Performing athletes should check with a sports doctor or sports dietitian regarding the proper use of these and other substances. It is vital that athletes also check with the Australian Sports Drug Agency at as to which substances have prohibited or limited use.

There are other supplements that are still undergoing scientific testing to test their benefits. These include:

  • Colostrum
  • HMB
  • Glutamine
  • Echinacea
  • Ribose
  • Probiotics
  • Melatonin