Sports Supplements The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly! Part 1

In the old days, to succeed at sports and athletic endeavors all you needed to do was train hard and eat heartily. Athletes involved in sports such as football, basketball, and weightlifting are prime examples of this kind of thinking.

Well, as science started to focus on exercise physiology and sports nutrition, all these tried and true methods of increasing athletic performance have been replaced with all manners of nutritional supplementation. These sport enhancing substances or “ergogenic” aids are all the rage. Everyone from weekend warriors to professional athletes seems to be using some sort of nutritional supplement. However, do these supplements truly increase athletic performance or do they only increase the profits of the manufacturers that sell them?

Many manufacturers of food supplements do not tell you everything you need to know to make an informed decision as to the potential benefits (or lack thereof) of their products. So, it is left to you, the consumer, to research and determine the truth about the latest ergogenic aid or supplement. Unlike many other authors at other so-called fitness websites, I do not get paid to endorse any particular product or service. So my friends, I can tell you the truth, as I see it. So on with the show!

While there are many “flash-in-the-pan” sports supplements that you hear about in the news, only a few have seemed to stay in the limelight. So, to save time and not bore you too much, we are only going to deal with the major supplements on the market today. These supplements are Creatine Monohydrate, Chromium Picolinate, L-Carnitine, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB).

Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine Monohydrate is an amino acid that is synthesized from arginine and glycine in the liver, pancreas and kidneys. Creatine is also found in red meats and fish. Creatine was first introduced to the athletic community as an ergogenic aid in 1993 and remains a very popular substance. Most professional strength athletes and many weekend warriors or fitness enthusiasts use this supplement.

Current thinking supports the idea that creatine supplementation increases the availability of phosphocreatine in skeletal muscles. What does this mean? It means that during brief bouts of high-intensity activity such as weight lifting, your muscles are able to re-synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP) faster. ATP is the direct source of energy for your muscles. So, creatine helps increase the availability of fuel to your muscles and reduces muscle fatigue. In addition to increasing the energy for short-term high-intensity activities, creatine also appears to buffer lactate production, which helps reduce lactic acid build up in the muscles and prolongs anaerobic activity.

In a recent study (1), subjects were required to complete 3 very intense bouts of cycling on a stationary bike. One group was given 5 grams of creatine 5 times per day for 5 days. The other group was given a placebo. The creatine group’s exercise performance was significantly enhanced over the placebo group for the first 2 bouts of exercise. The study concluded that the creatine group’s ATP was re-synthesized more quickly than the control group’s. As such, the creatine group had increased performance for intense/short duration exercise. See, I told you so!

Ok, so the verdict is in and creatine is a winner! In my experience, this is one of the most effective sports supplements on the market today. However, creatine is not cheap.

While it has come down in price since its introduction, it still is quite expensive. But, for those wanting that extra edge, creatine is worth the extra dough.

Chromium Picolinate
Chromium is an essential trace mineral present in many foods, such as mushrooms, nuts, dried fruits, whole grain breads and cereals. Most people get approximately 50% to 60% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of chromium. This is partially due to poor dietary habits and also the fact that it is not very well absorbed through the gut.