Potent Thoughts

Sports related supplementation and nutrition

David Lalla, 3rd year Pharmacy Student

Sports Related Supplementation and Nutrition

David Lalla, 3rd year Pharmacy Student

Athletes are constantly looking for ways to supplement their hard work and give them a competitive edge against their opponents. Historically, athletes have turned to products such as human growth hormones, testosterone boosters, amphetamines, and blood doping agents in order to augment their athletic performance. However, the use of these products has been banned by the NCAA, major professional sports, and the International Olympic Committee. The aforementioned products were banned for the unfair advantage they give athletes and the detrimental effects that they can cause to the human body. The Food and Drug Administration made it illegal for anyone to obtain these medications unless they are being used to treat a valid medical condition. However, that does not leave current athletes looking for supplementation short on options.

The options that are available for sports supplementation can be overwhelming. There are various dietary supplements that claim they can bolster athletic performance but, is there evidence behind these claims? If there is evidence to support the efficacy of these products, are these supplements safe to take? Manufacturers of dietary supplements are not required by law to prove the effectiveness of the product they are marketing. This means that it is completely legal for manufacturers to sell products that do absolutely nothing even though they can claim their product has exceptional benefits. The manufacturers also do not need to prove the purity of the product that they are selling. For example, a manufacturer may claim that each capsule in an aspartic acid bottle contains 100 milligrams of aspartic acid. However, there is no governing body that will ensure that each capsule does actually contain 100 milligrams. Due to the lack of regulations, the National Athletic Training Association (NATA) strongly recommends the use of proper diet and nutrition as the primary method to improving an athlete’s performance. The NATA recommends seeking the aid of a nutrition expert before beginning any dietary supplement.

While dietary supplements are not strictly regulated, there are still some supplements which have shown benefits. Protein powder supplementation has been shown to increase muscle production and decrease muscle wasting when taken after workouts. As far as studies have shown, protein does help build muscle and can aid in improving athletic performance. Protein is excreted by the kidneys and the concern often arises that too much protein can cause damage to the kidneys. High protein diets do increase mortality for patients with chronic kidney disease. However, there is no consensus on the potential negative effects high protein diets have on young and healthy adults. An article which was published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics gave recommendations for protein intake. The article stated that appropriate supplementation of protein intake fell in the range of 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This level of protein is considered safe in athletes that are doing light to moderate training. The article published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also gave guidance for carbohydrate intake for endurance sports. Based on level of activity, an athlete can need anywhere from 2.3 to 5.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight.

Another supplement which has shown some benefits is creatine. It is a supplement which has mixed evidence in clinical trials. There are many trials which suggest that it enhances physical performance and increases muscle mass as well. There are also a few trials which suggest that it has minimal effect on athletic performance. According to the Natural Medicines database the overall consensus is that creatine does improve athletic performance. Creatine has also been evaluated for its potential harmful effects on the human body. So far, there have not been reports of bodily harm linked directly to creatine supplementation. Creatine appears to be a safe and effective option for healthy adults looking to supplement their diet.

Although creatine is a supplement which has good efficacy data, it is important to remember that there are many products that do not. A few products which have insufficient efficacy data are: androstenediol, aspartic acid, beta-alanine, energy drinks, and pyruvate. For example, energy drinks are thought to rapidly metabolize sugar into energy because of their high vitamin B content. However, the benefit of having the sugar rapidly converted to energy is not really seen. The efficacy of energy drinks for athletic performance has not been established and the overuse of energy drinks has potential for serious adverse events. Overall, the use of energy drinks should not be recommended.

While there are thousands of products available for sports supplementation, there is not a lot of clarity available for potential customers. I encourage anyone that is interested in taking a sports related supplement to talk with a healthcare professional to discuss the risks and benefits of a specific product. If anyone is interested in learning more about sports supplementation or nutrition I suggest visiting the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at eatright.org