Understanding the facts and side effects of sports supplements

Nearly every modern athlete incorporates some kind of sports supplement into their diet to aid and maintain their performance. The market nowadays is flooded with many brands and products to choose from.

A recent study was carried out on the use of sports supplement which resulted in some negative results. In most of the topics I have written about over the last few weeks I have always stated that its always down to the individual and their chosen sport or exercise regime that determines things like dietary intake, hydration etc, and the use of sports supplement is no different.

Being attached to the gym environment for many years I have seen a lot of people consuming sports supplements but not understanding the key facts and side effects of the supplement they are using and sometimes abusing.

Many would argue that if the person’s diet was balanced and geared towards their bodies needs and replenishments then the use of sports supplements would not be needed. However I would argue that for many exercise users this would not be the case.

So what are sports supplements? Supplements are products used to enhance athletic performance, in a controlled and legal environment, these may include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, protein, energy bars, creatine etc.

Because sports supplements are a dietary supplement they can be purchased without a prescription and should not be confused with sports enhancing drugs (steroids) which can carry high health risks and are banned from nearly all competitive sports.

These are not classed as sports supplements. Unfortunately some athletes are looking for quick positive results so rely heavily on these no matter the consequences. Just look at the downfall of the famous cyclist and a previous hero of mine who has been ousted in the last few months, has his use of these illegal sports enhancing drugs been worth it?

Personally I feel the use of sports supplements is needed for the well-trained athlete and as long as these are taken safely and correctly and when consumption dictates. I have listed a few examples of sports supplements and their uses below,

Protein – Aids recovery in the muscles, also builds muscle.

Creatine – increases performance and strength-naturally produced by the body.

Energy gels – provides energy for exercise.

Salt capsules – (electrolytes) stops muscle cramping and fatigue.

Powerade – rehydrates the body.

All of the above are the positive effects related to the specific sports supplements mentioned but you need to understand the negatives linked to overuse of supplements, which can be of equal importance.

Protein – our bodies cannot store protein so over intake when not needed will result in the body dispensing as waste (urine). Can lead to kidney and liver problems.

Creatine – dehydration, shouldn’t be mixed with high caffeine intake, kidney and liver problems. Salt capsules – high sodium content, can lead to high blood pressure if over used, increases calcium in urine, and also causes water retention.

The thing to remember here is that the full potential of any sports supplement can only have a positive benefit when the user is exercising up to five times a week and incorporating high intensity and endurance sessions.

Even for the bodybuilder dietary supplements will need to be partnered with a heavy weight-training programme to gain positive results. So to finish for the ‘regular average Joe exerciser’ the use of sports supplements would not be recommended but for the more serious exerciser and athlete the use of these supplements incorporated into their every day diet can be of great benefit.

A well balanced diet with or without the inclusion of sports supplements plays a very important role in an exerciser’s life, may it be a beginner or a competitive sports person. You need to remember though that the sports nutritional approach needs to be appropriate to your situation. Understand totally the facts of the chosen supplement and regularly ask ‘do you need it and are you using it correctly?’


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