There are many supplements available and more seem to be appearing all the time, but the enormity of research is still hardly realised even when the number of combinations in which they can be arranged is considered. If there were only 15 supplements and we chose to research the effects of combinations of any two, three or four of these, this would number nearly 2000 trials without considering all the various sports, conditions, individuals, doses, timings and so on. If there were only 25 supplements and the same numbers were observed, the number of trials would exceed 15,000. The research thus far is just a tip of the ice-burg, and this set of articles merely scratches the surface of that tip.

Having at least some idea of what to expect from your supplementation is paramount

Otherwise you will have no idea if they are working (they don’t work for everyone) or if they are working enough for you to continue buying them. For this reason, the gains in terms of percentages and/or kilogrammes have been provided whenever such data existed and was deemed reliable. Whilst it may be true that many supplements work better in combination, it is still worth knowing what to expect if you take them individually. Combined supplementation may be no better than single supplementation for individual athletes – and are normally more expensive – and if you have only taken them in combination, you have no way of knowing this. If you want to fine-tune your supplementation, then it is essential to know precisely which supplements work for you, in what measures, and how well. For these reasons, single supplements are first discussed without any regard to combinations, but some of the more researched combinations will be in later articles.

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For our purposes, a sport supplement is a comestible aid that is intended to enhance sports performance, stamina or recovery, but will further include weight-gain/loss products; it does not include medicinal or other uses. Sport supplements are usually one, or a combination, of proteins and amino acids, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, or herbs.

For each supplement, information on the following shall be provided: type (amino acid, herb, etc.), claimed benefits, research findings, dosage and timings, side-effects and natural food sources. Some articles will include information on only one supplement whilst others will include two or more; it all depends on how well they have been researched.

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A few words on vitamins and minerals

Regular and intense exercise does increase the body’s needs for a number of vitamins and minerals, but most research seems to agree that vitamin and mineral supplementation is usually unnecessary if the daily intake requirements are met by consuming a balanced and varied diet. However, some endurance sports, those in very cold conditions and those at high altitudes may warrant the use of certain supplements, but in such cases the athlete should already be under the guidance of a sports physician; even a general practitioner  or dietician may not be suitably qualified in these cases – do not be tempted to self-prescribe, no matter what you may read in books or on the Internet. Your need for a vitamin or mineral boost may also increase if you are travelling a lot, working long and irregular hours, sleeping and training at irregular times, or eating on the go all the time. All of these may adversely affect your necessary intake, so planning and eating a well balanced diet requires a great effort and in some cases prescribed supplements might be useful.

A number of studies have shown that many athletes, and in particular female athletes, are not achieving an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals.  Athletes who restrict energy intake, eliminate certain food groups or those that do not consume enough wholesome food may require supplements as they are at risk of becoming deficient in one or more nutrients.  However, in such cases, prescribed supplementation should be considered a short-term solution; it should not be used as an invitation to continue with an inadequate diet.

Some research suggests that exercise may increase the requirements for vitamins B2 and B6, perhaps owing to their essential role in the metabolism of the macronutrients, and there are plenty of papers that suggest that certain antioxidants may be useful in the prevention or repair of DNA damage caused by demanding exercise.  Many researchers suggest supplementation with moderate levels of antioxidants, though they seem reluctant to suggest details for their administration, yet others believe that such supplementation will hinder the body’s ability to produce more antioxidants as it attempts to adapt to the demands of intense exercise. unfortunately , the jury is still out. Next week’s article covers b-alanine and branched chain amino acids (BCAA).

You can find more information about sport nutrition here.

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