Supplementary Thoughts - Samantha Stear PhD RPHNutr FACSM
Dr Samantha Stear is the deputy editor of the Nutrition Society’s new textbook Sport and Exercise Nutrition, and co-author of the textbook chapter on Supplements and Ergogenic Aids.
Samantha is presenting at the Society’s textbook launch conference at the Surrey Sports Park, Guildford on Wednesday 2 November 2011. This conference forms part of a two-day event, also to launch the Society’s Training and Education Programme. As part of this event, YOURnutrition will host a free public engagement event at the Surrey Sports Park, also on the subject of sports nutrition, on Tuesday 1 November, from 18.00. For more information please click (http://www.nutritionsociety.org/yournutrition/events/food-sport-science-practice).
Samantha has kindly written this article especially for the readers of YOURnutrition.
Dietary supplements come in many forms and guises and their use in sport is widespread. It’s important to note that the term ‘dietary supplements’, implies their purpose is to supplement the diet, not replace the need for any elements of it. But they can support the diet, and the role of diet in supporting exercise and sports activities becomes even more important when training levels are high. Making informed dietary choices can ensure energy and nutrient needs are met which will help to promote:
- Adaptations to training, such as increased ability to use oxygen when exercising
- Recovery after exercise, so that training can be continued and intensified
- Good health to help prevent illness and injury
A varied, well-balanced diet that meets the energy demands of training should provide adequate amounts of all the essential nutrients. However, sometimes this isn’t possible, and in some situations, obtaining sufficient amounts from the diet is often not so straightforward. Consequently, many athletes take supplements in the hope that it will compensate for poor food choices and make up for vital nutrients that they feel may be lacking in their diet.
The list of supplements used within the exercise and sporting environment is exhaustive, and surveys suggest that as many as 59 - 88% of athletes use them, with their popularity varying widely between different sports and between athletes of differing ages, performance levels, and cultural backgrounds. Generic sports drinks and multivitamin tablets are commonly used by athletes, but these types of supplement may also include ‘added’ ergogenic aids such as creatine or L-carnitine (both of which claim to aid increased muscle mass). Sports foods, including sports drinks, energy bars and some protein supplements can play a in supplementing the training diet and aiding recovery. This is a massive market, and research into new blends of ingredients that can positively impact on sports performance, for example through achieving rapid hydration or provision of available energy, continues In some instances, where there is an established deficiency of an essential nutrient, supplementing the diet with food or dietary supplements to correct the deficiency can help. However, all too often the recommended doses are exceeded. Athletes should be aware that more does not necessarily mean better, and in the case of some supplements – such as the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and iron - more can be toxic, and so would actually be doing more harm than good. Ergogenic aids are substances that aim to enhance performance through effects on energy, alertness, or body composition which is one of the most common reasons for supplement use in the sports and exercise arena, alongside general health reasons.
It’s important to note that the decision to use supplements is not always a rational one. Athletes, in particular, should always consider before starting to take any supplement: does it work/will it benefit me? Is it safe? And is it legal? Unfortunately, all too often, these answers aren’t easy to find. Furthermore, due to poor manufacturing practice, some supplements don’t contain as much of the active ingredient as listed on the label, and in rare cases could contain impurities like glass, lead or animal faeces. Furthermore, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) regularly reports on products found to contain effective amounts of prescription drugs, which could lead to detrimental side effects.
Another potential health risk is from contamination which can cause a positive doping test for those athletes competing under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. Therefore, these athletes in particular need to be extremely cautious about using supplements and always work with a qualified sports nutrition professional to help minimise any risk and maximise any benefit from supplement use.
Copyright © Samantha Stear 2011. All rights reserved.