Nutrition & Health OnLine Magazine: The Best Sports Supplements
 
The Best Sports Supplements
By Davey Dunn
Every athlete is looking for that extra edge to give them an advantage over their competition and sports supplements have become extremely popular as a result. The only question that most people are faced with is which one. There are many different products on the market all claiming to improve performance and it can be tough to know which supplement or supplements are the best. This article is an attempt to identify the best supplements that will help improve the overall performance of virtually any athlete in any sport.
The easiest way to understand supplements is to look at them in terms of what they can do for your body. You can separate most supplements into either Performance Boosters or Raw Material. Performance Boosters means a supplement that will directly increase your performance as in the case of a stimulant that will increase your energy during an event. Raw Material refers to a supplement that is used by the body to help you recover from the physical stress of competition or training as, for example, a protein powder that is used by the body to build muscle. The rest of this article will examine the best sports supplements categorizing them as either Performance Boosters or Raw Material.

PERFORMANCE BOOSTING SUPPLEMENTS

Go to Creatine CREATINE exploded onto the market in the mid 90's and quickly became one of the most popular sports supplements of all time. There is good reason for the popularity of Creatine since it has been extensively researched with very favorable results. Numerous studies have shown Creatine to be extremely effective at increasing power and strength which are the requirements of most sports.1,2 Creatine works by increasing the amount ATP that is stored in muscles which is an energy source used by the body for short intense efforts like lifting weights. For a more thorough understanding of ATP and how your body produces energy read the Nutrition & Health OnLine article Energy Systems.
From a practical standpoint, Creatine supplementation seems to aid most athletes with individuals engaged in the strength/power sports like football, track, weightlifting and bodybuilding being the most active users of this supplement. Improved performance from Creatine use has also been seen in many other sports like tennis, baseball, field hockey and any sports that have an element of strength/power which essentially means every sport. I have even had several long distance runners tell me that they utilize Creatine because they feel it helps them at the beginning of races and during recovery. The bottom line on Creatine is that just about any athlete may benefit from this supplement so it is probably worth a try to see if it will help you.
A key factor in attaining positive results with Creatine is the manner in which it is used. There has been a fair amount of debate over whether a loading phase, where as much as 25 grams are taken each day for up to 7 days, is needed to gain the maximum results from utilizing Creatine. Since the price of Creatine has fallen to where a serving costs as little as 5 cents I usually advise people to go ahead and try a loading phase to see if it helps them more than just taking a single dose each day. Experimentation is essential to finding the right dosage for your body. For example, I have found that one serving before my workout and one after my workout followed by a single serving on my off days is what works best for me.
Go to Cell-Tech
Go to Creatine Chews
Something else that is extremely important when using Creatine is the choice of beverage to use along with the Creatine. Research has shown that insulin is involved in transporting Creatine into the muscles therefore beverages containing high amounts of sugar are most advantageous for maximum Creatine absorption.3 There are many commercially available products on the market that contain plenty of sugar like Cell-Tech or Creatine Chews. The best advice I can give is to not overpay for such products since they do not work any better than regular powdered Creatine taken with plenty of sugar. Usually when I encounter someone who either says that Creatine did not work for them or that a product like Cell-Tech worked so much better than powdered Creatine it turns out that they were ingesting their powdered Creatine with water or with a caffeine beverage which will actually block the absorption. Creatine, like all supplements, needs to be used at the right time in the right manner so plan your usage according to what we have just talked about and you will increase your performance substantially.

Go to MaHuang/Guarana/White Willow MAHUANG/GUARANA/WHITE WILLOW Ask any strength coach worth his salt what are the two most important parameters to indicate outstanding athletic performance and they will probably respond with low bodyfat levels combined with high amounts of lean muscle. Proper utilization of the MaHuang/Guarana/White Willow stack can help any athlete to not only lose bodyfat but also increase muscle size. The ingredients in this stack have been very thoroughly researched and proven to be extremely effective for reducing bodyfat levels.4,5,6 While there has been a lot of negative publicity surrounding the synthetic form of the ingredient MaHuang, known as Ephedra, there has yet to be any scientific research showing that MaHuang or Ephedra cause anything more than minor side effects.7 We have previously covered this controversy in the article The Ephedra Debate: Do You Know the Truth?
What may be the biggest problem that most people have in using a product that contains MaHuang/Guarana/White Willow is that obtaining the best results requires more than just popping two pills twice a day. We have covered extensively how to use such a product in the Nutrition & Health OnLine article called How to Use Thermogenics at the Weight Loss Corner. We have also covered using such products in combination with Androstenedione to increase the intensity of workouts on the Questions & Answers page. Once you determine the right dosage for your body and the right way to use this type of product you can see some dramatic improvements in bodyfat lost as well as muscle gained which will definitely help you increase your performance.

Go to Andro ANDROSTENEDIONE or Andro, as it is commonly known, became popular among hard-core bodybuilders in the late 90's as a supplement for building muscle and increasing strength. The popularity of Andro and Andro products exploded when a bottle was found in the locker of homerun king Mark McGwire. Unlike Creatine there has not been as much scientific support to back up the marketing claims that Andro boosts testosterone. Real-world evidence seems to indicate that Andro is pretty effective at helping to increase workout intensity which may be what causes the increases in mass and strength. I have personally seen several individuals increase their lean muscle mass by 10 lbs in a little more than a month using Animal Stak as their predominant performance boosting product combined with plenty of protein and most of the other supplements covered in this article.
Go to Animal Stak
The theory behind using Andro is that since it is a precursor to testosterone by ingesting Andro your body will then convert it into testosterone thus increasing the amount of testosterone in your body. As I stated above, there is not a lot of research evidence to prove that this conversion in fact takes place.8,9,10 A word of caution here is appropriate about interpreting the results of research studies. I can still remember when Harvard released a research study in the early 80's about steroids that said they had no effect upon increasing muscle mass. This was the official stance of the medical establishment until just recently when they finally had to admit that, yes indeed; steroids do help to build muscle. The problem with this study was that they administered steroids in low dosages to individuals who did no resistance training, which is required for gaining muscle. I am not sure if there is methodology problem in some of the Andro studies similar to what happened with the Harvard steroid study that may explain the lack of results but there is at least one study that did show an increase in serum testosterone levels in healthy men when 300 mg each day was used.11
The biggest problem that the average person faces once they decide they will use Andro is choosing from the ridiculous number of Andro products on the market. There always seems to be some new type of Andro that is slightly different chemically and is supposed to be so much better than all the rest. A couple of years ago some smaller companies started bottling regular 4-Androstene 3, 17-dione with labels saying it was 19-Nor-4-Androstene-3, 17-dione claiming it was the greatest thing since bread so that they could sell it for two to three times as much as the regular 4-Androstene 3, 17-dione. The problem for these companies was that real 19-Nor-4-Androstene-3, 17-dione is not as anabolic as regular 4-Androstene 3, 17-dione so when their products started working as good or better than the regular 4-Androstene 3, 17-dione people educated in sports nutrition knew they were selling a rip-off product. Unfortunately the average person can not stay properly educated on all of the different versions of Andro as they come and go so the best advice I can give is to purchase a product from a reliable sports nutrition company like Universal which manufactures the Animal Stak product I spoke of earlier.
After you eliminate the rip-off Andro products you still have to decide between using straight Androstenedione or a product that "stacks" several ingredients together. The purported advantage of using a stack type product is that the combination of ingredients will synergistically work together to increase the over-all effect of the Andro product. There are also products like ViAndro by Nature's Rx that use a stack of several non-androgenic ingredients along with Andro in an effort to reduce the androgenic effects of Andro like acne and mood swings. As with finding the right dosage for Creatine you may need to experiment with several Andro products to find the one that works best for you.
Go to ViAndro
Go to Andro Stack

Go to Glycerol GLYCEROL was talked about extensively in last issue's article WATER! The Most Important Nutrient so I will just briefly discuss it here. As I explained in that article your performance rapidly decreases when your body loses water and becomes dehydrated. Glycerol shows great promise as a supplement that can help increase performance by allowing athletes to compete at higher intensity levels for a longer period of time. Since every sport is affected by loss of fluid and the resulting decreased performance to one extent or another, Glycerol is a sports supplement that can potentially improve performance in every athlete.

RAW MATERIAL SUPPLEMENTS

Go to MultiVitamin/MultiMineral Pack VITAMINS and MINERALS are essential for your body to function properly so they should be the first supplement on your list. You must at least take a good multi-vitamin/multi-mineral formula once a day with a meal or your performance will suffer. For athletes engaged in strenuous sports, the demand for vitamins and minerals is higher so you will probably need to take more than one serving each day as well as adding additional single nutrients like Vitamin C and Vitamin E which help boost recovery from workouts. You should also be aware that all vitamin formulas are not created equal. Most of what you see in mass-market stores are low potency formulas synthetically produced that will not provide all of the nutrients that your body needs. A good Multi-Vitamin will be similar to Vitlamine and contain high amounts of B vitamins as well as plenty of minerals and digestive enzymes. You can also find packs available like Animal Pak that provide some extra ingredients to enhance performance and aid recovery.
Go to Vitlamine

Go to Protein PROTEIN is another supplement that should be at the top of your list because if you do not ingest enough protein each day your body will not be able to re-build your muscles from the strain of training much less build any new muscle. Protein contains amino acids, which are simple the building blocks that your body uses to construct muscle tissue. The best type of protein to use is either Whey or Egg since they are animal based proteins and contain all of the essential amino acids that must be present to construct muscle. There has been a lot of hype about Soy protein but there is no advantage over Whey or Egg and there are several distinct disadvantages to Soy including the fact that it is a plant based protein that does not contain all of the essential amino acids as well as the potential for actually losing muscle while using Soy since it can over-stimulate thyroid output and cause muscle catabolism.12
The best advice I can give in regard to protein is to choose a Whey or Egg product from a reputable company and do not overpay. You will see products that cost as much as triple what the identical product costs from a different company. There are plenty of advertisements from many companies all claiming that their whey peptide formula is so much better than any other company's product but the truth is most of them are about the same. What is most important with protein is to make sure you get enough. The generally agreed upon amount each day is 1 gram to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. This amount is not set in stone and athletes engaged in heavy weight training sports may actually require even more. Another important point to understand about protein is that your body can only absorb a maximum of 20 - 30 grams at any one meal so products that have 50 or 60 grams per serving are causing you to waste a great deal of protein. With the right choice of protein combined with the right daily regimen of use you will get the most from your training and notice that you recover better and perform at a higher overall level.

Go to Glutamine GLUTAMINE has become a popular supplement because of the ability that Glutamine has to increase immune function and aid in recovery. (For more detailed information on Glutamine read the Nutrition & Health OnLine article Glutamine: Can it Help You Recover Better from Workouts?) Athletics and training place a great deal of stress upon the body's immune system to "recover" from the demands of competition and grow stronger. Glutamine has been shown in research to be an integral part of the recovery process and supplementing with Glutamine helps aid the body as it recovers.13 Most protein powders contain L-Glutamic Acid, which can be converted by the body to Glutamine, so if you are taking a Protein supplement, as you should be, you are already receiving as much as two grams per serving. Additional supplementation is probably necessary since your immune system requires so much and other supplements like the one we are going to talk about next can provide you with extra Glutamine.

Go to Recovery Formula RECOVERY FORMULAS  We just talked about how the demands of athletics and training place a great strain upon the body to recover while discussing Glutamine, and some of the best products to surface in the last decade have been products best described as Recovery Formulas. I have spoken before about how important the post workout meal is in the Nutrition & Health OnLine article The Post Workout Meal. Recovery Formulas are an attempt to create the perfect post workout meal and some of the products on the market are very good. Lava by Universal is perhaps the best since it provides plenty of Protein, Complex Carbohydrates, Glutamine, Creatine combined into a formula that is palatable to drink.

Go to Glucosamine GLUCOSAMINE SULFATE  Life in general and sports in particular cause a certain amount of wear and tear upon the joints of your body. When too much wear and tear occurs you can become sidelined with an injury that will keep you from being able to perform at a high level. Glucosamine is a supplement that has been shown in research to help re-build cartilage which is what acts as a shock absorber in the joints of your body.14 Most of the people that use Glucosamine as a supplement are usually those that already have a significant amount of joint pain. Since any joint pain can have a debilitating effect and destroy performance I advocate the regular use of Glucosamine in all athletes to help prevent joint problems before they develop.
As is common with most of the supplements in this article there are many different types of products on the market which contain Glucosamine that you can choose from. You will see many that also contain Chondroitin and usually cost much more than a product that contains only Glucosamine. There is no advantage to taking Chondroitin as it is much less absorbable and you will obtain a lot more bang for you buck by using a product that contains predominantly Glucosamine sulfate. I utilize the Glucosamine product by Nature's Rx called Healthy Joints since it is reasonable priced and contains plenty of Glucosamine as well as some Flax, which is another great supplement to be covered next.

Go to Flax FLAX SEED or even better Flax Seed Oil also made my Top Ten Nutritional Supplements List and for good reason. The number of potential benefits from using Flax is amazing especially when you consider how inexpensive using a Flax supplement can be (less than 30 cents a day). For athletes, the biggest benefits from using Flax are probable: increased lubrication of joints, better utilization of fats and improved mental function. The reason Flax Seed is so valuable as a supplement is because it contains Essential Fatty Acids, which are very important to the human body, and is a subject well covered in the Nutrition & Health OnLine article The Right Fats. You need to consume at least 2 to 3 thousand milligrams of Flax Seed each day and the best way is to use a supplement like Flax Oil 1000 that provides Flax Oil in a convenient gel capsule.

The requirements of each sport will dictate the exact supplements that are necessary to produce the highest level of performance but the supplements discussed in this article can undoubtedly help just about any athlete. It is important to remember that supplements are not "magic" and they must be employed in the proper manner at the proper time to achieve the best results. It is also important to understand that not all supplements are viable for every athlete. A few supplements in this article like Andro or the MaHuang/Guarana/White Willow stack may be off limits to some athletes due to the rules of the organization in which they compete. Ultimately only you will be able to determine what supplements will work the best for you but keep in mind that the right supplements can drastically improve your performance so choose wisely.

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1Kreider, R.B. "Creatine Supplementation: analysis of ergogenic value, medical safety and concerns" JEPonline, v 1, n 1, 1998.
2Volek JS, Kraemer WJ. et al. "Creatine supplementation enhances muscular performance during high-intensity resistance exercise". Journal Of The American Dietetics Association v 97, N 9 July 1997 p. 765-70
3Green AL, et al. "Carbohydrate Ingestion Augments Skeletal Muscle Creatine Accumulation During Cratine Supplementation in Man" Am. J. Physiol. 1997.
4Boozer CN, Nasser JA, Heymsfield SB, Wang V, Chen G, Solomon JL. "An herbal supplement containing Ma Huang-Guarana for weight loss: a randomized, double-blind trial." Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Mar;25(3):316-24
5Astrup A, et al. (1993) Thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular responses to ephedrine and caffeine in man. Int J Obes Relat Disord 17, S41-S43.
6Daly P., et al. Ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin: safety and efficacy for treatment of human obesity. Int J Obes 1993;17(1):S73-78.
7C.N. Boozer, et al., "Herbal Ephedra/Caffeine for Weight Loss: A Six Month Safety And Efficacy Trial." New York 2000
8Broeder CE, Quindry J, Brittingham K, Panton L, Thomson J, Appakondu S, Breuel K, Byrd R, Douglas J, Earnest C, Mitchell C, Olson M, Roy T, Yarlagadda C. The Andro Project: physiological and hormonal influences of androstenedione supplementation in men 35 to 65 years old participating in a high-intensity resistance training program. Arch Intern Med 2000 Nov 13;160(20):3093-104.
9King DS, Sharp RL, Vukovich MD, Brown GA, Reifenrath TA, Uhl NL, Parsons KA. Effect of oral androstenedione on serum testosterone and adaptations to resistance training in young men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 1999 Jun 2;281(21):2020-8.
10Rasmussen BB, Volpi E, Gore DC, Wolfe RR. Androstenedione does not stimulate muscle protein anabolism in young healthy men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2000 Jan;85(1):55-9.
11Leder BZ, Longcope C, Catlin DH, Ahrens B, Schoenfeld DA, Finkelstein JS. Oral androstenedione administration and serum testosterone concentrations in young men. JAMA 2000 Feb 9;283(6):779-82.
12Millward DJ, Bates PC, Brown JG, Cox M, Giugliano R, Jepson M, Pell J. Role of thyroid, insulin and corticosteroid hormones in the physiological regulation of proteolysis in muscle. Prog Clin Biol Res 1985;180:531-42.
13E Roth, et al. "Glutamine: An Anabolic Effector" J. Parent. Ent. Nutr. 14 (1990): 1305-1365.
14W Noack, et al. "Glucosamine Sulfate in Osteoarthritis of the Knee" Osteoarthritis Cartilage 2 (1994): 51-9.


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