Review of all popular and unpopular supplements, some well known and some a little different! Which supplements work for sports performance.
•Alcohol is a depressant drug which will induce relaxation and reduce anxiety at low doses making it used in sports where even a slight twitch in action will impede performance such as Archery, or Snooker. In higher doses it will reduce co-ordination significantly as well as impede recovery from training. At seven calories a gram, alcohol will soon cause athletes to put on weight if consumed in excess although the body’s inability to store the alcohol itself means the extra weight gained will be a result of food consumed in conjunction with alcohol, not the alcohol itself. With deleterious effects on the liver as well at high doses, alcohol intake for athletes should be monitored carefully.
•Amphetamines are powerful central nervous stimulants which have been abused widely in the past to boost athletic performance. However, they can increase body temperature and cause dehydration and were linked to the deaths of athletes such as Tommy Simpson, a cyclist from Great Britain. They are a controlled drug and banned by all international sporting bodies.
•Anabolic steroids are used to increase muscle mass and strength.
•If over-used, it can cause heart, liver, and immune system problems. Blood cholesterol levels often increase because steroid use changes how sugars and fats are handled. This and increased blood pressure can lead to the early development of heart disease, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Tendons and ligaments may not strengthen at the same rate the muscle tissue develops. As a result, these tissues appear to be injured more often among steroid users.
•Oily skin and acne are also common among steroid users.
•Behaviour changes may include aggression, paranoia, mood swings, low sex drive, and depression.
•Men’s testicles shrink, the prostate gland enlarges, and sperm levels drop.
•Female athletes may take on more male like characteristics, such as broader backs, wider shoulders, thicker waists, flatter chests, more body and facial hair and deeper voices. Menstrual cycles may become irregular or stop.
•For adolescent athletes, steroid use may cause the growth plates in long bones to close faster than usual, which can result in reduced height.
•Androstenedione was the first prohormone marketed to the public, introduced in the late 90’s and which briefly rose to prominence on the back if its use by the baseball player Mark McGwire. Although, Androstenedione was a popular seller its capacity to increase estrogen as high as testosterone led to its falling out of favour rapidly, as more efficient compounds came onto the market. It was later scheduled by the US authorities and is no longer available.
•An antioxidant is any compound which has the capacity to combat oxidative damage in the body induced by free radical damage. Their promotion as substances to fight age-related damage is widespread in the popular and health related media, but although studies support their use in preventing some disease states, a number of large clinical trials cast doubt on the effectiveness of antioxidants, with some suggesting they may even do more harm than good. With so much conflicting data, the one thing that is generally agreed on is that the lower incidence of disease experienced by people eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables may have more to do with bioflavonoids in the food, rather than the role of one particular antioxidant such as Vitamin C or Vitamin E.
Arginine, ornithine, lysine
•These three compounds are free form amino acids which have been marketed for years as having growth hormone releasing properties. However, the evidence for their use is sketchy at best – with even exogenous growth hormone administration having relatively little immediate effect, the argument that these three will do much is tenuous at best.
•Increases free fatty acid use, sparing muscle glycogen
•Aspirin is a common painkiller used by athletes mainly to deal with training related pain. Its anti-inflammatory actions may make it have a useful purpose but athletes should be aware that by taking this after their training sessions they may lessen the adaptive response of the body to the inflammatory stress imposed by training. It is also an anti-coagulant, meaning it will make the blood thinner, hence its adoption as a strategy to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis when flying on long haul flights.
•Avena Sativa, better known as wild oat, has been around for a considerable length of time on the bodybuilding scene. It has been shown to increase free testosterone levels by enhancing LH levels. A 1986 study with volunteers who expressed interest in improving their sexual response showed men experienced a 22% increase in genital sensation and women a 15% increase after using Avena Sativa. A follow up study showed men experienced increased sex drive, enhanced erections and more pleasure during sex when taking Avena Sativa. Avena Sativa is often found in conjunction with Tribulus as they appear to work via similar mechanisms, and can be found in many bodybuilding formulas.
•Despite previous claims that bee pollen could have an ergogenic effect recent evidence suggests it has no benefit for athletes and this old school supplement has largely fallen out of favour in the modern day.
•Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that combines with histidine to produce carnosine. Carnosine is found in a high level in type 2 muscle fibres, acting as an intracellular buffer. By increasing carnosine levels explosive activities should be enhanced, and several university studies demonstrate Beta-Alanine helping to enhance athletic performance.
•Beta blockers decrease anxiety, have a positive effect on fine motor control but a negative effect on aerobic capacity.
•Beta 2 Agonists include drugs such as Clenbuterol, Salbutamol and Ephderine. Medically these drugs are used to reduce the symptoms caused by asthma, but their use in oral form has fallen markedly since the introduction of inhalers. Nowadays they are used predominantly by athletes seeking to enhance fat loss (via their thermogenic effects) and strength (via their stimulant effects). Although animal studies have reported lean muscle gains attributed to Clenbuterol, this has never been shown to be the case in humans, and the dosages used in animal studies would be enough to kill people so would be impractical. These drugs are all banned by major sporting bodies.
•The practice of blood doping involved athletes taking a certain amount of blood out of their systems, and then, later, when their bodies had made up for the blood taken out, injected back into their systems after the blood being kept in a refrigerated state in the meantime. This practice would increase red blood cell count allowing blood doping to improve performance in sports requiring high levels of aerobic activity. It was a dangerous practice though and risks of infection and heart trouble were relatively high, as well as very inconvenient having to keep the blood stored in a fridge. In the modern era blood doping has largely been replaced by the use of the drug Erythropoietin (EPO).
•Boron is a trace mineral which was frequently found in many supplements in the 80’s and 90’s, based on the belief it would increase testosterone levels. Post-Menopausal women supplemented with Boron showed increased blood levels of testosterone in one study. However, it is a large stretch to suppose that once adequate Boron status is reached, that supra-physiological amounts will lead to increased testosterone production. A more recent review of recent studies conducted into the effects on Boron with male weight trainers showed no effect whatsoever on testosterone levels after the use of Boron. Given the fact that most minerals are good for correcting deficiencies only, and the experience of millions of bodybuilders from the past, we can discount the idea of any anabolic properties attributable to Boron.
Branched chain amino acids – BCAA
•The three branched chain amino acids are Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. These three essential amino acids comprise a large part of muscle tissue and are frequently recommended to athletes to enhance recovery from training. One study on the use of branched chain amino acids showed they were able to enhance fat loss while keeping performance up in calorie restricted elite wrestlers.
•Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant, with mild diuretic properties, found naturally in coffee, tea, as well as many soda drinks and chocolate. It is often used by athletes as a pre-workout stimulant and appetite suppressant, and is found in many products designed to aid in fat loss. Overuse, or taking this too late in the day can affect sleep patterns and removing caffeine from a diet heavy in caffeine can frequently lead to caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. Caffeine enhances the contractility of skeletal and cardiac muscle, and helps metabolise fat, thereby sparing muscle glycogen stores. Side effects can include irritability, restlessness, diarrhoea, insomnia, and anxiety.
•Calcium is a mineral essential for the formation of bones as well as being involved in muscle contraction. Widely found in dairy products it is nevertheless supplemented widely due to the high calcium demands of the body. In particular, older females may well be deficient in this mineral, and it is widely supplemented to ameliorate symptoms of osteoporosis.
•Increase endurance, decrease fatigue
•Carnitine is used to decrease fat and increase muscle mass
•Casein is milk protein and shown to have a slower rate of amino acid release than whey protein making it a popular choice of protein to be drunk at night time. It is also frequently found in protein blended products where the theory is the whey protein will offer fast release and the casein sustained release in one product such as Syntrax Matrix.
•Popular in developing countries and widely marketed to the naive even now, glandular extracts are supposed to confer benefits based on what is ingested. So, by consuming bull testicles the promoters of such products promised increased testosterone and virility but they are widely accepted in the nutritional community as nothing more than a snake oil with no benefits whatsoever.
•Clenbuterol affects the central nervous system, growth, muscle, and body fat.
•The side effects include tremors, anxiety, faster heart rate, nausea, anorexia, insomnia, heart attack, or stroke.
•Marketed as a superfood, high in protein, nutrients and minerals, Chlorella is a type of green algae with a long history of use, since at least the early part of the 20th century and was previously viewed as a possible solution to world population growth due to the fact it provides a diversity of nutrients at a low cost, but it has fallen out of favour somewhat in recent years.
•Can increase muscle strength
•Chromium is used to decrease fat and increase muscle mass
•Inhibits aromatase, increases endogenous steroids
•Citrulline Malate is a combination of the non-essential amino acid Citrulline and Malate, an apple derivative. It has been promoted as the endurance athlete’s equivalent of creatine, enhancing aerobic performance, where creatine, enhances anaerobic performance. Studies have shown that citrulline malate supplementation enhanced aerobic performance in basketball players and its use has gradually grown amongst both endurance and non-endurance athletes such as bodybuilders, attracted to its ability to increase nitric oxide production.
Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone)
•Delays fatigue, acts as antioxidant
•Increases aerobic capacity, speeds muscle repair
Conjugated Linoleic Acid
•Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a naturally occurring fatty acid which has been shown in studies to have a a fat burning and antioxidant effect. As it is only found in small amounts in our diets, mainly in dairy products, only be consuming this in supplement form would users be able to take in enough to achieve the levels used in studies showing its effectiveness in burning fat. In studies up to 3.4g of CLA were used to cause a fat burning effect.
•Increases muscle energy, endurance, strength and lean muscle mass
Creatine Ethyl Ester
•This is a newer form of creatine, marketed as being superior to creatine monohydrate. Although this is not proven, anecdotally it seems to cause less bloating, and be more tolerable for some people.
•Divanil is a lignan found in stinging nettle root and is a relative newcomer to the testosterone boosting category and has a number of impressive user reports to merit further analysis. There is a relative lack of research into Divanil but we do have research supporting the theory that Divanil can bind to sex hormone binding globulin factor (SHGB) which in turn will lead to an increase in free testosterone. Anecdotal feedback from bodybuilders taking either Divanil or Divanil containing products such as Activate Xtreme, suggests it can raise libido, increase aggression and strength, as well as increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat. Dosages vary but most people tend to take this product as part of a formula such as the aforementioned Activate Xtreme.
DHEA – Dehydroepiandrosterone
•Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid hormone which can undergo conversion to both testosterone and estrogen – essentially it is a prohormone. Widely sold in the United States as a supplement, it is usually of benefit only to older people whose DHEA levels decline with age (around the age of 30 onwards), but even there, its estrogenic effects make many baulk at taking this compound. DHEA is a controlled substance in most countries outside the US and banned by the IOC and IAAF.
•This is a type of sugar, marketed to athletes for its ability to enhance exercise performance,e and quite popular in the early 2000’s but its usage has fallen since that time. No study to date has shown its effectiveness in improving sports performance in healthy populations.
•Diuretics are any compound which helps the user to shed water weight fast. Although they have a legitimate medical use for people suffering from Edema, they are abused by athletes looking to drop weight quickly, mainly by those who participate in sports with weight classes such as wrestling and weightlifting. Some supplements such as caffeine or vitamin C will have a natural diuretic effect, but prescription drugs such as Aldactone and Furosemide will work in a much more powerful way and pose a real danger to the athlete’s health. A number of athletes have died as a result of diuretic use.
•Ephedrine Hydrochloride is a beta agonist which means it will increase heart rate, increase blood pressure and suppress appetite as it is a strong stimulant. It is popularly used by athletes either as a pre-workout stimulant or to suppress appetite when dieting. It has also been shown to spare lean body mass when dieting. Ephedrine is classed as a drug now, and illegal to supply as a nutritional supplement.
•Erythropoietin – Better known as EPO, Erythropoietin is a drug used to treat anaemia by increasing red blood cell count. It has replaced the practice of blood doping used in sports during the 70’s and 80’s and its use has been attributed by many to the increasingly faster times set in long distance aerobic sports such as running, and cycling, where its use has become synonymous with the sport. EPO use has been shown to increase the risk of death due to coagulation of the blood causing heart attacks as the increased red blood cell count makes the blood much thicker than normal. A number of professional athletes’ deaths have been blamed on EPO.
•Fenugreek is grown across the globe and has been used for a long time as an ingredient in Indian cuisine. It has been shown to stimulate appetite, as anyone who has eaten curries will probably attest to, but there is no research, beyond some trials conducted by sports nutrition companies showing it can confer any significant benefits for athletes. With so many effective testosterone boosters out there Fenugreek use has fallen out of favour in recent years.
•Increases aerobic capacity
•Forskolin has been postulated to enhance testosterone in the body through its ability to enhance 3,5 cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels. By enhancing cAMP levels, higher luteinizing hormone (LH) levels can lead to higher testosterone levels in users of Forskolin. The theory is backed up by studies showing the use of Forskolin led to higher testosterone levels, increased lean body mass and lowered body fat in subjects using Forskolin. Forskolin is found in a number of bodybuilding supplements so those interested in taking this have no lack of option in trying it.
Gamma hydroxybutyric acid – GHB
•GHB is found in numerous dietary supplements for bodybuilding, weight loss, and sleep aids
•Side effects can be breathing problems, a coma, vomiting, seizures and sometimes death
•Commonly referred to as Geranamine, Geranium extract was first introduced as part of the product AMP, and is a notably powerful stimulant with the ability to increase energy, and suppress appetite leading to its widespread introduction into a lot of different fat loss products
•Stimulates growth hormone release and muscle growth
•Increases endurance, enhances muscle recovery
•Side effects include – diarrhoea, skin rashes, nervousness, hypertension and sleeplessness
•Serves as NSAID alternative, enhances recovery
•Boosts immunity and growth hormone levels
•Improves hydration and endurance
Green Tea Extract
•Green Tea is well known for its antioxidant effects. Less well known are its ability to increase thermogenesis and suppress appetite. This combination of effects makes green tea extract an increasingly popular ingredient in nutritional supplements owing to its diverse range of beneficial effects.
•This oil is a well balanced blend of omega-3 and omega-6 oils making it an excellent choice for individuals whose diet lacks these essential fatty acids. Despite the source, it has no drug like effects.
•This is an alkaloid of Phenylethylamine, and has been shown to increase the release of norepinephrine. It is commonly found is many sports supplements, usually acting in synergy with phenylethylamine.
Hydroxymethylbutyrate – HMB
•Hydroxymethylbutyrate is used to decrease fat and increase muscle mass
Human growth hormone – HGH
•Human growth hormone is used to decrease fat and increase muscle mass.
•The side effects are heart and nerve diseases, glucose intolerance, and higher levels of blood fats.
•Enhances energy production, improves aerobic capacity
•Increases aerobic capacity
•Decreases muscle breakdown and spare muscle glycogen stores
Ma huang (herbal ephedrine)
•This chinese herb is standardized to 8% ephedrine hydrochloride and was a popular weight loss aid, although its effects were less consistent compared to ephedrine hydrochloride. Its usage was banned as a weight loss aid in recent years.
•Maca, also known as Lepidium meyenii, is a plant widely used as a herbal tonic in South America, which was said to be fed to Inca warriors before battle to make them ferocious and made them very virile, to such an extent that women had to be protected from them! Doubtless that story is overblown, and given the fact that these tribes also frequently indulged in the use of cocoa leaf (used to make cocaine), perhaps other factors were more important in this story. Trials conducted in the modern day have shown that Maca can increase libido as well as improve seminal volume in men.Widely eaten to this day in modern day Peru, Maca has not been shown to increase testosterone levels in any research to date. Indeed, one small trial showed that while it increased libido in most men, it actually decreased testosterone levels in more men than it increased testosterone.
•Magnesium is required for more than 300 biological reactions in the body, including those involved in the synthesis of fat, protein, and nucleic acids, neurological activity, muscular contraction and relaxation, cardiac activity and bone metabolism. Even more important for athletes is magnesium’s pivotal role in both anaerobic and aerobic energy production, particularly in the metabolism of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the ‘energy currency’ of the body. The synthesis of ATP requires magnesium-dependent enzymes called ‘ATPases’. These enzymes have to work extremely hard; the average human can store no more than about 3oz of ATR yet during strenuous exercise the rate of turnover of ATP is phenomenal, with as much as 15kgs of ATP per hour being continually broken down and reformed.
Meal Replacement Products
•Meal Replacement Products such as Myoplex by EAS or MET-Rx were created in the 1990’s to essentially offer first class nutrition in the form of a nutritious milkshake (although they can be mixed with water as well). Although some of the advertising around these was a little over the top, they are now widely adopted by most athletes, especially those who struggle to find the time to prepare food in a healthy manner. They combine high protein levels, with moderate levels of carbohydrates for energy and are typically low in fat, as well as offering a full complement of vitamins, and minerals.
•Increases energy, endurance and aerobic capacity, enhances recovery
•Increases energy and endurance
•Nitrate supplementation has been shown to enhance exercise tolerance and performance, reduce resting blood pressure, improve cognative function, improve muscle recovery following eccentric exercise and reduce oxygen consumption of sub maximal exercise.
•Beetroot juice has been used in many studies.
•Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in beetroot that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory.
•Orithine Alpha-Ketoglutarate (OKG) was a popular supplement in the 1990’s based upon research showing it could increase growth hormone output. Although good in theory its expense meant few could afford to dose it at the levels suggested, and it rapidly fell out of favour as results proved negligible.
•Increases aerobic capacity, enhances recovery
•Phenylethylamine is a powerful central nervous stimulant used widely as an aid to suppress appetite and increase energy before workouts. Phenylethylamine is found in small amounts in chocolate but has amphetamine like effects in high doses. It is a popular ingredient in a number of bodybuilding supplements today designed to act as fat burners
•Increase ATP production, energy and muscle endurance
•Phosphatidylserine has been around for some time in the sports nutrition field and looked at for its effects in lowering cortisol levels. It has been demonstrated in a number of studies that Phosphatidylserine can have a performance enhancing effect, both by blunting cortisol response and enhancing exercise performance.Supplements such as Lean Xtreme have been formulated to further enhance exercise performance by combining the use of Phosphatidylserine with other nutrients designed to lower cortisol.
•Prohormones are substances with effects similar to anabolic steroids. They are essentially precursors to anabolic steroids but sold legally as food supplements. They have the capacity to increase muscle mass, strength, and athletic performance possibly. On the downside they can cause the user to be at risk of a range of androgenic and estrogenic effects including aggravating hair loss, gynecomastia, as well as impacting negatively on health functions such as increasing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and causing stress on the liver as these supplements are almost always in oral form
•Stimulates release of endogenous steroids and growth hormone
•Protein supplements are used to enhance muscle repair and growth. Inadequate protein intake does cause a negative nitrogen balance, which slows muscle growth and causes fatigue. In an athlete with normal renal function, there are no notable adverse effects to increased protein consumption.
•Boosts antioxidant levels, enhances recovery
•Increases lean body mass
•Increases cellular ATP and muscle power
•Enhances antioxidant functions
•Sesamin is a lignan found in sesame seed oil, introduced fairly recently to the bodybuilding word as a fat loss aid by the company Avant Labs, and now made by a number of companies. It is marketed as a non-thermogenic fat loss aid with additional antioxidant properties, as well as having a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. A typical dose would be 3 grams a day. One side effect users often experience with Sesamin is its propensity to seem to exacerbate allergy symptoms.
•Buffers lactic acid production, delays fatigue
•Testosterone boosters are any class of supplement with the ability to raise the body’s natural testosterone levels. They are distinct from anabolic steroids which introduce male hormones in an exogenous fashion. Instead, testosterone boosters will usually act by either increasing testosterone directly, or by improving the bio availability of testosterone – by binding SHBG for instance, which is how Divanil works. By increasing testosterone in a natural fashion, it is hoped by users that testosterone boosters offer the advantages of increased strength and muscle mass conferred by anabolic steroids, without the negative side effects. Plus, of course, testosterone boosters are perfectly legal as they are not drugs but supplements, usually based on herbs, such as Divanil or Tribulus Terrestris, and minerals such as Zinc.
•Increases endogenous steroid production
•Decreases pain perception, increases endurance
•Tyrosine is an amino acid which is of particular interest to those using other sports supplements designed to enhance energy, because of its ability to act in synergy with stimulants to produce an enhanced level of energy compared to taking either supplement by itself. The use of Tyrosine with stimulants such as caffeine, is a cheap and effective way to increase exercise performance in short duration, anaerobic activities such as weightlifting.
•This is a mineral found in trace quantities in our diet, which was marketed as an insulin mimicking compound which could promote better glycogen storage but has fallen out of favour today.
Waxy Maize Starch
•Waxy Maize Starch is a relatively new introduction to the sports nutrition field. It is a type of long chain carbohydrate that has been shown in studies to replenish muscle glycogen stores faster than simple sugars such as glucose or dextrose. This makes it valuable for athletes seeking to accelerate recovery from exercise, with it being particularly important for athletes training more than once a day or those whose training depletes glycogen heavily such as endurance athletes. Anaerobic athletes will often use waxy maize starch combined with creatine, and free form amino acids in supplements such as MHP Dark Matter to promote the simultaneous replenishment of glycogen, protein and creatine. This offers an added benefit over waxy maize alone by targeting muscular and phosphate recovery as well as just glycogen replenishment.
•Whey Protein has the highest biological value of all proteins making it highly prized by athletes. There are many different types of Whey protein with whey concentrate and whey isolate being found most often in popular protein powders available in bodybuilding supplement stores.
•Yohimbe, or its pharmaceutical form, Yohimbine Hcl, is one of the oldest and most well known aphrodisiacs. It owes its reputation in large part to its abilities as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels and thereby increasing blood flow to sexual organs. It has also been widely touted as a novel supplement to aid with the burning of stubborn, hard to remove, body fat, especially lower body fat. It is recommended to use with a low carbohydrate diet if used as a dieting aid. As a testosterone booster though there is nothing to suggest it acts as anything more than an impotency aid