Should I be taking a sports supplement?
Sports nutritionists often get asked, "Should I be taking supplements?", "Will they improve my performance?" or "Will they make me feel better?" This is just a short overview of a checklist I go through to decide whether to take something.
Supplements seem to be an ever-growing market, with huge stores dedicated to just selling the stuff, but how do you decide if you should be taking something and if so, what should you be taking?
Let me start by saying this is an overview of how to decide to take a supplement. I am not saying you 100% should be taking anything and we also have to remember that everyone is completely different - we all take part in different sports and eat different diets.
What are supplements?
The purpose of supplements is exactly as the name suggests, they are there to 'supplement' the normal diet, in order to improve general health and well-being. There is a huge range on the market which all claim to do/improve various different things such as:
- build muscle
- increase endurance
- weight gain/loss
- improve suppleness
- aid recovery
- overcome a mineral deficiency
How do you know whether you need to take supplements?
Here's a simple checklist to help you make that decision:
1. Can you obtain this through your diet?
If we use the example of a magnesium supplement, is there a food that will provide you will the same amount of magnesium? What could you add to your diet to increase the level of magnesium before resorting to buying supplements? If you can, I'd go with increasing it through food. If not, continue through the checklist.
2. How valid is the claim made by the manufacturer?
What is the packaging/label claiming to do? Improve muscle by 5000%? Make you lose weight in two weeks? I'd be careful with something that sounds too good to be true... It usually is and isn't backed up by any scientific evidence.
3. How good is the supporting evidence?
This one really is key! Has this supplement been tried and tested in scientific studies which have been properly designed and have control groups, and has a significant improvement in performance been found (or whatever the claim is)? In addition, has it been tested on humans? And is it specific to your sport? It's all good and well the product being successful in swimming, but if you're a footballer is there still concrete evidence?
4. Is the supplement illegal or banned in your sport?
You have to be extremely careful with supplements, some are banned across all sports, some in a few and others are completely fine to use. If the product is banned, I wouldn't even consider trying it!
5. What are the side effects?
Sure, there might be great supporting evidence that a product works, however, does the benefit outweigh the side effects? Bloating, discomfort, coloured urine, sickness, etc. Some supplements will have no side effects whatsoever, but some might be unpleasant and, therefore, should be really considered if there is a desired use.
6. Is the product batch tested?
If you've gone through this list and you're still saying yes to the product, check that the product has been batch tested and is on the Informed Sport list. Otherwise, there could be additives/the product might contain something different to the label and it might get you into trouble when testers come along! So check it's on the list and you're good to go!
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