Can Workout Supplements Enhance Athletic Performance?
If you’re an athlete, you definitely want to perform to your best. This is the case whether you’re in sports for pleasure, as an amateur or even as a pro. If you’re a competitive person, you want to keep on improving – even if it is simply to surpass your previous milestones. This is precisely why you will often maintain a rigid training and nutritional program.
What happens if you want a little extra? If you’ve pushed your body to its limits, but still feel you can do more. Can workout supplements help? Specifically, can workout supplements enhance athletic performance?
Well, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the answer is partially YES. Some workout supplements can enhance athletic performance. We shall get to the specifics of how they do so in shortly. To ensure that we’re all on the same page, let’s begin with the basics.
What Are Workout Supplements?
In a nutshell, workout supplements are nutritional additives which you take to boost your physical training programs (workouts). They can be broadly divided into three categories i.e. pre-workout, workout and post-workout supplements. These are taken before, during, and after workouts respectively.
Workout supplements can accomplish many goals. The four most common ones are (1) building your energy levels before the workout, (2) increasing your endurance during workouts so that you can exercise for longer, (3) increasing strength during workouts so that you can push your body harder, and (4) fast-tracking recovery from workout injuries, aches, sprains and inflammations.
All those benefits combine to enable you to train harder, train for longer and train more often than possible without supplements. This ensures that you can maximize the power of training for boosting performance. As is often said, “practice makes perfect”. If you can train for longer and harder, your performance will definitely improve.
However, the true secret of workout supplements lies beyond merely improving your training regimes. Their true power lies in the ingredients which are put in the supplements. This is where their athletic performance-enhancing benefits can be properly appreciated.
What is in Workout Supplements?
Generally speaking, workout supplements contain nutritional additives. In other words, they contain the kind of nutrients which you can get through diet. As you probably already know, diet is an important component of any athletic training program. This is precisely why athletes often follow strict dietary regimens.
The main challenge is that the quantities of nutrients needed by an athlete’s body can be difficult to attain through eating alone. Let’s assume you want your muscles to recover faster from the soreness and strains that you get through your workouts. The ingredient which you need to facilitate recovery is citrulline.
Naturally, you can find citrulline in watermelons. A typical watermelon contains between 200 and 300 milligrams of citrulline. However, to boost recovery, you need a minimum of 6,000 mg. This basically means that you have to eat between 20 to 30 watermelons – which is impossible. Workout supplements which contain 6,000 to 8,000 mg of citrulline can enable you to get sufficient quantities without a hustle. This is precisely why pro athletes usually take these supplements.
There are almost two dozen nutrients which are found in workout supplements. You can find the full list on the NIH website, right here (https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-Consumer/). To examine whether supplements can enhance athletic performance, let’s examine the four most common ingredients i.e. caffeine, beta alanine, creatine, and citrulline.
Do Ingredients in Workout Supplements Enhance Athletic Performance?
Numerous studies have been carried out to test the impact of different nutrients on athletic performance. Most of these studies were commissioned by professional sports teams looking for ways to give their athletes a competitive edge. As such, the studies have mostly been carried out on pro athletes. However, the results are instructive even for amateur and enthusiast athletes.
We all know that caffeine can give you a surge of energy in the morning. It turns out that it can do the same for your workouts. Taking a caffeine supplement 30 minutes before a workout can increase your energy levels, and improve endurance.
Scientific studies have found caffeine to provide an edge in sports which require endurance. Specifically, the studies found that cyclists, tennis players, soccer players, rowers, and runners got extra endurance from caffeine. In some studies, caffeine boosted speed as well.
This basically means that a supplement rich in caffeine can improve endurance, and possibly boost speed. The only advice which medics give is that you shouldn’t take more than 400 mg every day. This is because it will lead to side-effects like irritability, stomach upset, headaches and sleeping problems.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid which is found in foods like meat, poultry, and fish. It can help with improving endurance and facilitating recovery from workout fatigue, muscle soreness, and injuries. Here is how it works.
Know that burning sensation in the muscles that you feel when you workout (aka the burn)? That is caused by a buildup of lactic acid in your muscles during exercise. It arises because the body experiences a shortage of oxygen for breaking down the glucose in the blood. Too much lactic acid leads to fatigue, weakness and sometimes nausea. It can also make your muscles susceptible to injuries.
Beta-alanine is what your body uses to prevent the buildup of lactic acid. Your body uses it to produce carnosine in your muscle. It is carnosine which prevents lactic acid from building up in your muscles. This is what gives you endurance: you take long to “feel the burn” and begin experiencing muscle fatigue.
Beta-alanine is especially great for workouts which require high-intensity bursts of activity over short time periods. The sports studies have demonstrated that beta alanine enhances performance for include swimming, hockey, football, and other team sports.
Creatine is a compound stored in your muscles. Its purpose is to supply your muscles with energy. You typically get creatine from animal-based foods like beef, as well as fish like salmon, tuna, sashimi, and sushi. However, you cannot get the required amounts to boost your workouts from food. You need supplements for sufficient amounts of creatine.
Studies have shown that creatine supplements can increase strength, power and the ability for your muscles to contract for maximum effort. It also enhances performance during short-bursts of intense activity (e.g. sprinting and weightlifting). Creatine can enable you to workout harder especially when lifting weights, or doing short-sprints.
Citrulline is an amino acid that you can get in watermelon. Your body also produces citrulline. The kidneys use citrulline to create arginine – an amino acid which is transformed into nitric oxide and used expand your blood vessels and increase blood flow.
When working out, citrulline facilitates blood flow to your muscles. This brings in oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, thereby reducing muscle fatigue and facilitating recovery. As mentioned earlier, the best way to get sufficient levels of citrulline in your body is through supplements (or eating 20 to 30 watermelons – if you’re up for it).
A Word of Caution
Can workout supplements enhance athletic performance? Absolutely. Can they work for anyone? Possibly. According to the NIH, most studies on performance-enhancing supplements have been carried out on pro athletes – mostly men. As such, if you’re an amateur, enthusiast athlete or female, you need to take a shot to see if the supplements work for you.
Should you use workout supplements as a short-cut? Absolutely not. There is no short-cut for enhancing athletic performance. You have to train hard, persevere, and observe a rigid dietary program. Basically, you can’t chill out for six months, hit the gym for a week and think your performance will increase dramatically. Consistency is the name of the game.
Finally, as is often said, “too much of anything is dangerous”. Even food nutrients have their daily limits. If put excessive amounts of supplements in your body, it can be dangerous. You need to pay attention to the amounts you consume. Also, if you have any medical condition or are on medication, kindly check with your doctor before you begin taking workout supplements.
 National Institutes of Health (2017, October 4) Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance. Available At https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-Consumer/