To maximize performance and prevent injury, athletes need to continually evaluate their individual nutrient requirements and create a program that is designed to address their specific needs.
In addition to calories, fluids, carbohydrates, and proteins, there are certain micronutrient supplements that claim to enhance performance when added to an already healthy diet.
Admittedly though, the nutritional supplement world can be confusing to navigate. Not only are there a variety of brands to choose from, but there is also a diverse range of vitamin delivery systems – powders, capsules, gels, liquids, and bars.
How do you know which ones (if any!) are right for you?
Although there are plenty of nutritional supplements marketed towards elite athletes, not all of them are necessarily backed by science.
This article will focus on some of the key nutrients that have been well studied, with published findings that may be of interest to athletes and bodybuilders alike.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The BCAAs – isoleucine, leucine, and valine – make up approximately 14-18% of amino acids in muscle protein. Current research suggests that BCAAs may acutely stimulate protein synthesis, and one study indicates that, when combined with a strength training routine, BCAA’s have the potential to increase lean body mass and strength.
Although there are only a limited number of short-term clinical trials investigating the link between BCAA supplementation and the proposed improvement of muscle mass and recovery, the research did not indicate any safety concerns when taking 20g/day or less, for up to 6 weeks.
However, because research is limited, the National Institutes of Health continues to recommend consuming complete proteins (whether in the form of animal foods or a combination of plant-based foods) as this will, by default, ensure you are consuming adequate amounts of BCAAs. Athletes who require additional protein can increase their consumption of complete protein food sources, and if needed, supplements.
There is plenty of research supporting the use of creatine supplements to help improve sports performance. In fact, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) states that creatine monohydrate is the most effective nutritional supplement on the market for enhancing the capacity for high-intensity exercise and lean body mass during exercise.
In addition to improved athletic performance, research shows that athletes who supplement with creatine may also have a lower rate of injury, compared to those not using this supplement.
Several studies have reported that micronutrient deficiencies are common among elite bodybuilders. However, since diet plans vary for each competitive athlete, further research is needed to determine if this is a real cause for concern.
Nevertheless, based on a sizeable body of evidence, a low dose multivitamin/mineral supplement, containing vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and magnesium may be beneficial to ensure there are no deficiencies.
With all of this being said, if you’re an athlete training for a bodybuilding competition, and considering nutritional supplements, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recommends reviewing the labels with your coach and/or athletics department staff.
Although most popular dietary supplements in and of themselves are not banned, the Association states that some sports supplements may contain banned substances not listed on the product labels, and therefore athletes need to exercise caution if choosing to use nutritional supplements at all.
- Bodybuilding. (2021, January). NCCIH. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/bodybuilding-and-performance-enhancement-supplements
- Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance (2021, March). NIH. Retrieved October 18, 2021 from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional
- Helms, ER., Argon, AA., Fitschen, PJ. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, May 12. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
- Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, Candow DG, Kleiner SM, Almada AL, Lopez HL. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 14:18.
- NCAA Banned Substances (2021, July). NCAA. Retrieved Oct 20, 2021 from https://www.ncaa.org/2018-19-ncaa-banned-drugs-list
- Rahimi, MH., Shab-Bidar, S., Mollahosseini, M., Djafarian, K. (2017). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation and exercise-induced muscle damage in exercise recovery: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Nutrition, 42: 30-36.doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2017.05.005.
Note: This is a guest post by Natasha Paroutis.