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A Guide to Sports Nutrition Supplements

Posted in Sports and exercise nutrition

Good eating and drinking practices along with talent, training, conditioning, motivation, dedication, adequate sleep and recovery are essential for optimal sports performance.  Without these basic elements, no amount of sports supplements will turn you into a champion. However, more athletes are becoming distracted by the mind-boggling range of sports nutrition products out there in the hope of maximising their sports performance.  This is understandable when you consider how athletes are bombarded by marketing hype from the sports supplement industry, much of it not based on sound scientific research.

Do Sports Nutrition Supplements Work?

There is sound evidence in the scientific literature to show that some nutritional supplements can indeed assist athletes to achieve peak performance in certain circumstances and under the direction of a suitably qualified professional such as a Sports Dietitian (MINDI).  There are many, many more nutritional supplements for which there is no meaningful proof of benefit whatsoever. 

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), world leader in the field of sports nutrition, uses a Sports Supplement Group Classification Scheme which has four categories – A, B, C and D.  Group A supplements are supported for use in specific situations in sport and are provided to AIS athletes for evidence-based uses.  This group includes sports drinks, sports bars, sports gels, whey protein, liquid meals, Caffeine, Creatine and Bicarbonate among others.  Group B are those deserving of further research and are considered for provision to AIS athletes under a research protocol.  This group includes B-alanine, Beetroot juice, Carnitine, Anti-oxidants C and E to name a few.  Group C are thought to have no benefit and are not provided to AIS athletes.  Examples include Ribose, Lactaway, Glucosamine, Inosine, Co-enzyme Q10, Ginseng among a long list of others.  Finally, Group D are banned or at high risk of contamination. 

For further information on the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of specific nutritional supplements, check out the following links.  Both links provide detailed information in the form of fact sheets and technical documents and are a must read for anyone trying to make sense of this very confusing area.

Risks Associated with taking Sports Nutrition Supplements

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

Regulation of Sports Nutrition Supplements

containing prohormones but also from companies who didn’t sell these products.  94 of the supplements (15% of the sample) were found to contain hormones or prohormones that were not stated on the product label and a further 10% of the samples provided technical difficulties in analysis such that

the absence of hormones could not be guaranteed.  The brand names of the positive products were not provided in the study but they included amino acid supplements, protein powders and products containing creatine, carnitine, ribose, guarana, zinc, pyruvate, vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts among others.

Does Informed Sport/Trusted by Sport Labelling have a role to play?

Junior Athletes

The Irish Sports Council recommends that it is inappropriate for any junior athlete or player to be taking supplements that could have an impact on their physical development. 

In Summary:

For more information:

Created by Dara Morgan, MINDI, BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition, MMedSci (Human Nutrition), PG Dip Dietetics, PG Dip Sports Nutrition (IOC), August 2013. Updated members of the SNIG: April 2016. Review date: April 2019

© 2016 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided the source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with dietitian.  It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.

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