What is a supplement? The dictionary definition of the word supplement is “A thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it”. Athletes who believe that they can up their performance through food supplements without taking care of the food that they need are sadly mistaken.
Having said that, food supplements are still important to meet certain nutrition targets. However, these supplements have to be taken in proper consultation with good sports nutritionist. They should only be used as an enhancer to a proper diet.
Common mistakes that athlete do while taking Food Supplements
(A) Choosing the wrong food supplements:
I always have been very cautious on supplement products that are not part of the human body. My belief is that athlete should only take supplements, molecules of which are present in the body. I recommend Protein (whey, casein, soy and green pea proteins in an isolated form), multivitamins, vitamins in a singular form, minerals in singular or paired forms, amino acids, fatty acids and carbohydrates in simple forms such as glucose, dextrose and ribose.
(B) Copy paste won’t work:
We are in an era of bio-individuality. Each athlete is responsible to discover what food supplements work best with their body. Supplement working wonders for some athlete may prove out be a disaster for another athlete. I had a case where a tennis player started to take whey protein because one of the top athletes in her academy was doing so. Resultant, she encountered frequent headaches because the lactoferrin found in whey protein was causing more mucous secretion and in turn causing sinus clogging. Athletes need to understand that by taking supplements without proper understanding, they actually are HARMING themselves.
(C) Wrong timing of supplements:
Supplements are a nutritional convenience to the athlete’s nutritional indiscipline. However, their consumption has to be at the right time. The digestion and assimilation of the product into the body needs to be taken into consideration before planning the supplement strategy. Supplement taken at a wrong time can hinder an athlete’s recovery cycle.
(D) Changing supplements frequently
Change is only constant in life, true, but the same cannot be said for supplements. In order for supplements to be really effective and deliver performance benefits, it needs time to work and should remain familiar to the body and the gut for at least 6 months.
Supplement checklist for athletes
Before an athlete plans to do supplements, my humble request is to take into consideration the below checklist. As a nutrition coach to the sport stars, I needed to do my research and I came up with this checklist formula for the safety of athletes.
- Do I know what the athlete needs to eat as food?
- Does the athlete require a food supplement or nutritional booster?
- Have I done a blood test to determine nutritional deficiencies or excesses?
- How is the digestive system of the athlete? Is the dietary intake balanced and sufficient to meet the calorie and training goals?
- Can they keep up their calorie consumption via more meals? Am I monitoring the food intake, choices and can I enhance them?
- Are there any genetic markers that display additional nutritional supplementation?
- Will consumption of a supplement serve as an insurance policy against injury or fatigue?
- Is the supplement on the Informed Choice quality program or BSG (banned substances group)?
- Are any molecules in the supplement label on WADA’s banned list?
Type of supplements & what athletes can eat
Supplements can be used to serve various purposes from endurance building, Muscle growth, weight loss to performance enhancing. Following are a few supplements that are considered to be good for athletic performance.
Glutamine is an amino acid. One of the basic units of protein, Glutamine makes up 60% of an athlete’s muscles. So when you are training very hard, you are breaking down muscles. You need to repair & heal for the next hardcore training session.
Schedule: Glutamine early morning on an empty stomach works best
Beetroot is famous for its power-boosting properties. A compound called nitrates in beetroot helps vasodilation, which means your blood vessels are able to expand to a larger size carrying more blood and oxygen to the exercising muscles whilst removing more carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Beetroot takes about 6 weeks to sufficiently impact exercise capacity and the ability to sustain physical training.
Schedule: 3 hours before the event.
Whey and Casein proteins
There are various protein supplements that are available in the market and this leads to confusion among athletes to choose the right protein for them. Whey and Casein contain all nine essential amino acids and are the best options to go for. Taking a protein supplement helps in exercise recovery.
Schedule: They are most effective when taken within 30 mins post exercise.
3. Branch chain amino acids (BCAA)
The body uses BCAA for energy and muscle synthesis. BCAA bypasses the gut and liver and quickly gets absorbed into the bloodstream because of which BCAA is an excellent immediate source of energy for workouts. It delays protein breakdown and feeling of fatigue.
Schedule: Take it immediately before and after your workout.
Multivitamins consist of various vitamins and minerals which help the body to work efficiently. Vitamins B6, B12 helps in muscle recovery, Vitamin C helps strengthen the immune system, Vitamins C, K, D and magnesium & calcium are good for bone and joint health. Vitamin A & E help to prevent inflammation.
Schedule: Take multivitamins with your meal.
Creatine energy compounds stores and provides energy to the body. It is specifically very important in sports like weight lifting where there is a requirement of quick and powerful movements. Athletes use it to strengthen muscle, boost high-intensity exercise performance and to increase explosive power.
Schedule: For training days, take it 20-30 mins prior to exercise. Take it with a meal on non-training days.
Word of Caution
If you are self-prescribing the supplements, you are harming yourself. Wrong choice and dosage of supplement can lead to kidney and liver issues. Athletes should seek professional advice to plan their supplement strategy according to their blood test and genetics. A sports nutritionist would be able to co-plan the supplement strategy along with a proper nutrition plan which will limit the quantity of supplement usage.
Dietary Supplement Chart
I am sharing a portion of dietary supplement chart of my client Paralympian Swimmer Suyash Jadhav. In a tragic accident, he suffered serious injuries to his upper limbs and both arms had to be amputated. Suyash is the first Indian to win a Para Asian Games swimming GOLD.
My sincere request for all the readers would be to not replicate this supplement chart. The selection of supplements, timings & dosages has been tailor-made based on genetic and blood parameters. Self/unsolicited advice on supplements consumption can have severe consequences later.
For scientifically planned out supplement strategy, please contact my team at QUA Nutrition.