Monday, January 6, 2014

Great Supplements for Athletes

Be top dog at your sport.
There are a lot of supplements out there that make promises.  Few of them deliver.  There are, however, some that really do a body good.  I'll be posting a series on supplements for various benefits.  Just in case the title didn't give it away, today's post is about supplements that have been shown to give a boost to athletes.

Creatine.  Creatine is an acid that is produced in the liver and that helps supply the body with needed energy (particularly within the brain and skeletal muscle).  I have sung the praises of creatine supplementation before, and I will gladly do it again.  As far as I'm concerned, everyone should be taking creatine, including your grandmother.  But in the case of strength gains, creatine monohydrate supplementation is quite useful.  Several studies have shown that creatine supplementation increases strength significantly greater than placebo or resistance training alone.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)  Tthere is some evidence showing that taking creatine immediately post-workout may be superior to other times, although there needs to be more research before we can come to a true conclusion.  (1) (2)  It's important to note that there seem to be responders and non-responders to creatine supplementation.  (1) (2)

Beta Alanine.  Beta Alanine is a non-essential amino acid.  In the body, it helps to raise carnosine concentrations, which an antioxidant that plays a role in reducing muscle fatigue (meaning that you can theoretically train longer and harder with more of it in your system).  Beta Aanine is a very popular supplement for athletes, and with good reason:  it does seem to have a positive effect on muscular performance, particularly where muscle acidosis (i.e. that super-burny, gasping-for-air effect of intense exercise) is a factor.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)

Fenugreek.  Fenugreek is an herb often used in Indian cooking.  In addition to being a great cancer-fighter, initial studies show that it also may increase muscular strength and improve body composition.  (1) (2)* (3)*
*The starred studies were sponsored by Indus Biotech, which was making a fenugreek supplement.  Therefore, there is a conflict of interest in these two studies, and results should be evaluated as such.

Betaine.  Betaine is an amino acid that helps boost protein synthesis in the body.  It seems to improve body composition, muscle size, power, and work capacity.  (1) (2) (3) (4)  Betaine might raise total cholesterol levels, so it's important to check with your healthcare professional before trying this one out. 

L-Carnitine.   L-carnitine is an amino acid-like chemical that helps transport fat into cell mitochondria where it can be burned.  This means that it does play a role in fat loss.  In addition there is evidence that it increases nitric oxide in the body.  What that does is helps relax blood vessels so that more blood can flow through them, which means muscles can work longer and recover better.   (1) (2) (3) (4)

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA).   BCAA's are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, which are three of the body's essential amino acids (meaning the body cannot produce them on its own and needs to get them through diet or supplementation).  They help to carry nitrogen and increase protein synthesis in the body.  BCAA's have been found to be important in muscle recovery and immune function, and there is some evidence that it increases exercise capacity as well.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

Nitrates.  Nitrates are a precursor to nitric oxide in the body, which is a chemical produced to help communication between the nerves and the brain, reduces inflammation, regulates blood pressure, and yes, increases endurance and strength.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)  However, the effect does not seem to be as significant for elite athletes. (6) (7)  Beets are a rich source of dietary nitrates, which is why beet juice is a hot commodity amongst endurance athletes these days. 

Taurine.  Taurine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning our bodies can produce it (although some people lack the ability to produce taurine naturally).  It's found in large quantities in the brain, retina, heart, and platelets.  Scientific evidence suggests that it decreases muscle damage and oxidative stress due to exercise and improves exercise performance.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)


  1. Thanks for these post Melody! They are very informative and I, as I grow older am always looking for supplements to keep me feeling great! One question I do have is this. I've heard that some brands are just basic "crap" when other brands are good. Do you stick with a certain "company/brand" when it comes to purchasing your supplements? I realize that just because it comes a pretty looking bottle doesn't necessarily mean it's a good product!
    Thanks for your time!

    1. I usually get Now Foods, Hard Rhino, or Doctor's Best. They all usually have really high quality stuff. But I highly recommend getting a subscription; they are always testing supplements to see if they are really doing what they claim. Worth the cost for sure.

  2. This is life saving for a newbie like me (though, embarassingly I'm an expert in taurine from energy drinks). I love your blog, bookmarking it! Cheers!