Should Athletes Take Supplements?

Dietary supplements can be a useful addition to an athlete’s diet. There are numerous supplements on the market making bold claims to improve the performance and health of athletes. However, much of the evidence is anecdotal at best and many supplements  contain ‘fillers’ and other ingredients, which could be detrimental to the athlete’s health and performance.

By far the best way to achieve sufficient levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients is from a well-balanced diet that meets your energy requirements. Getting the balance right is individual to each athlete and takes time. Seeking the advice of a trained nutritionist is the best way to ensure your diet is giving your body everything it needs.

Supplements may have a place in the athlete’s diet, however, some of them are nutritionally very poor and should never be solely relied upon to meet the increased nutritional needs of an athlete.

When choosing a supplement, choose products backed by clinical trial evidence and, because supplement use is tightly regulated in the UK, always make sure you check the UK Athletics website before proceeding to take a supplement.


Summary of Sports Foods

FOOD

REASON FOR USE

Carbohydrate drinks, powders, gels and bars Convenient and portable energy supply that can be used during exercise or post exercise. Provide quick release energy.
Carbohydrate/electrolyte ‘sports’ drinks and powders Quick release energy and electrolyte supply (often contain sodium and potassium), may also contain caffeine.
Carbohydrate plus protein ‘recovery’ drinks, powders and bars Consumed within an hour of exercise they can help to replenish glycogen and aid muscle repair.
Protein powders, drinks and bars Post-exercise recovery and protein supply to replenish glycogen and aid muscle repair.
Liquid meal supplements Provision of vital nutrients and energy, but low in fat. Useful during periods of heavy training and to avoid feeling ‘heavy and full’ after a meal.

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