Sports nutrition supplements, more formally known as nutritional erogogenic aids are part of a supplement industry that is currently booming, with sales in Australia skyrocketing to $1billion dollars per year. It is not hard to miss manufacturers bold advertising campaigns, their lists of powders, pills and liquids for pre workout right through to post workout and recovery, all there to help you “train harder” and achieve “mass gains”. If you do miss the advertising, you cannot miss the plethora of blogs and websites dedicated to sharing what the “best” performance supplements to take are.
But do these advertised supplements actually work? The simple answer is well summed up by Professor Ron Maughan who said “if it works, it is probably banned (by WADA). If it is not banned, it probably doesn’t work.” However, there are some exceptions that we will get to. For elite athletes subjected to drug testing, ergogenic supplements can be a challenging area. Studies show high rates of contamination among supplements with one study ranging from 12-58%, predominantly for prohormones and stimulants. There are also everyday health considerations for non athletes, do you want to be ingesting a supplement containing a banned substances?
Thankfully there are some tools out there to help athletes and individuals to navigate through the challenging world of ergogenic supplements. There are fantastic sites like informed-choice who independently test batches of supplements to determine if they contain banned substances. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) also have a sports supplement framework which is based around the best available evidence to determine the safety, efficacy and legality of different supplements.
Using the AIS framework it becomes clear which supplements have strong evidence to support their use and which don’t. Grade A supplements backed by strong evidence which aren’t banned include:
- Beetroot juice (nitrates)
Grade B supplements, those containing emerging evidence or deserve further research include:
- Fish oil
- Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
- Vitamin C and E
Grade D supplements, those that are on the banned WADA list include:
- DMAA (stimulant)
- DMBA (stimulant)
- DHEA (prohormone/hormone booster)
- Maca root powder (prohormone/hormone booster)
Don’t be drawn in by the bold advertising nor the websites and forums. Have a thorough understanding of the risks and benefits of any supplements being considered. Consult an appropriately trained health professional to see if you actually need to be taking any supplements at all, it maybe a change in diet and training is all that is required. There are ergogenic supplements out there that have good evidence to support there ability to enhance performance in endurance, sprint and power sports. However, there are also a great deal of supplements out there that have no evidence to support there use and may well even include banned substances, so make sure you know what you are putting into your body.