Sports supplements are often synonymous with controversy. Do we take them? If yes, which ones? Are they effective? Are they dangerous? A thousand questions come to mind when we start researching a bit on the internet or when we enter a supplement store.
This article will help you differentiate among some of them. However, please note that supplements for athletes are not recommended for individuals under the age of 18, simply because studies testing their effectiveness and safety are typically conducted on adults. There are still some exceptions, such as carbohydrate supplements like sports drinks or protein supplements like protein bars. These products are somewhere between foods and supplements and can provide essential nutrients in our diet. There will always be ways to achieve this without using them, but they can be convenient in certain scenarios. In any case, make sure your supplement is certified to minimize associated risks (e.g., NSF certified, informed sport certified). Feel free to consult a sports nutritionist/dietitian who can guide you if you have any doubts.
Widely used as they help meet our protein needs, especially in situations where these needs would be challenging to fulfill. However, consuming chicken, tofu, or legumes is also an excellent option. Protein supplements come in various forms (powders, bars, ready-to-drink, fortified foods), making them convenient in certain scenarios, such as after a workout at the gym. The isolated protein source can come from different foods (whey, casein, egg, soy, rice, peas, etc.), from both animal and plant sources. So, yes or no? If you struggle to consume enough protein through regular foods, protein supplements could indeed help you address the situation. Remember, though, there’s a limit to how much protein your body can absorb at once, so loading up with 2-3 scoops of protein powder after your workout isn’t a good idea. Being a pricier protein source, wasting it wouldn’t be ideal. To determine the amount you need, check out our articles on nutrition around training.
Even more widespread supplements, especially among endurance athletes. This is the supplement that will give you the energy to ensure that your muscles, brain, and nervous system perform well during physical activity! They come in various forms: sports drinks, candies, bars, gels, etc. Once again, foods like fruits, dried fruits, or granola bars can provide you with the energy you need before or during your physical activities while also giving you access to other beneficial nutrients along the way. Carbohydrate supplements, although convenient, can sometimes be much more expensive than equivalent foods at the grocery store. To determine the amount you need, check out our articles on nutrition around training.
Creatine is a nutrient naturally present in our muscles and in our diet (including meat and fish). It provides energy to the body during short and maximal efforts, so taking a supplement when your workouts are long and continuous isn’t very useful. However, if you engage in maximal efforts like sprints, interval-based team sports, interval training, or certain types of weightlifting workouts, it can prove very beneficial for your performance. Additionally, since dietary sources are mostly animal-based, people who don’t usually consume much or any meat might see an even more significant advantage.
For optimal results, you should take 3 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day along with a source of carbohydrates. Note that the effects won’t last forever if you stop the supplement. In fact, 4 weeks after stopping the supplement, a return to baseline levels is observed. There might also be some advantages in case of injury and concussion, but further studies are needed to confirm these benefits.
BCAA are actually a group of 3 amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine). But what are amino acids? Simply put, they are the building blocks of proteins. In theory, BCAAs activate muscle protein synthesis and should therefore increase muscle mass, improve recovery, and reduce muscle fatigue. However, in practice, it’s a bit more complicated.
To help you visualize it, think of BCAAs as the supervisors on a construction site: they tell the workers what to do and which tasks to complete, including creating new muscles. Now, imagine these workers as other amino acids found in our diet. By taking a BCAA supplement, you end up with a lot of supervisors but not many workers to actually do the job of creating these new muscles. Turning to a complete protein powder (whey, isolate, etc.) will provide you with both the supervisors and the workers needed to get the job done properly.
You might have gathered by now, but BCAAs fall into category C of supplements, where scientific evidence does not support the benefits of the supplement and therefore they are not recommended.
Of course, there are plenty of other supplements. Feel free to visit the AIS website, which explains and provides up-to-date information on a wide range of supplements for athletes. Also, don’t hesitate to share the article, letting us know about other supplements you’d like us to cover in the future! Happy training!
Par : Joanie Séguin, Dt. P.
Nutristionniste, Clinique de médecine sportive AXiO