Sportspeople are large consumers of supplements and, therefore, have become one of the most important target public for the multi-million dollar industry that produces them. It is understandable that the statements on performance improvement are attractive to sportspeople, especially for elite athletes, where small details make the difference between winners and the other participants.
Although there is not a great deal of scientific evidence, many experts lead research into nutrition applied to sports to help develop new products and research the specific ways in which these can be used to optimise sporting performance. In spite of this, the majority of products have not been tested or have not met expectations in the preliminary studies carried out. In the majority of countries, legislation on supplements or foods for sportspeople is minimal or is not complied with, which allows unchecked attributes to be promoted and for products to be manufactured that do not meet the composition standards.
Before taking the decision to use a supplement, sportspeople and trainers should consider the benefits in comparison with the costs of a supplementation program, as well as the risk of negative results, such as adverse effects or positive doping controls. Therefore, advice should be sought from specialists in sports nutrition.
In the majority of countries, legislation on supplements is minimal or is not complied with
Products that help to improve sporting performance are called nutritional ergogenic aids. We can say that they improve performance when they allow the athlete to reach their nutritional goals. In the case of running, some are specifically designed to help the athlete cover their energy and nutritional requirements.
- Drinks for sportspeople, aimed at ensuring adequate hydration and the replenishment of glucose and minerals.
- Carbohydrate and/or protein preparations, for those situations in which the consumption of everyday food is not practical, intake being particularly important prior to, during and after exercise. They seek to replenish muscle glycogen spent during the physical activity in an optimal way. Protein requirements are greater in sportspeople than in the general population, and given the presence of fat in most sources of protein in our food, the concentrated proteins help to increase the intake of proteins without increasing that of fats.
- Vitamin and/or mineral supplements, which may help to treat or prevent deficiency of certain micronutrients, although supervision by a specialist is advised to avoid exceeding the established maximum safety limits. Vitamin C, when training intensity is high, improves the immune system and reduces the incidence of infections of the upper airways.
- Caffeine improves performance in strength activities and other qualities such as the state of alert, concentration, reaction time, motor learning and recent memory. It is recommended to choose the appropriate intake time and the precise quantity in order to achieve the desired effect, and not to interfere with falling asleep or cause nervousness.
- For sportspeople that suffer symptoms of osteoarthritis, such as pain and functional impotence, a SYSADOA (symptomatic slow acting drugs for osteoarthritis) supplement is recommended.
The initial recommendation to the sportsperson is to consume a diet that is adequate and balanced in quantity and quality to optimise adaptation to training sessions. The regularity of the intake of food is very important and that it fits in with training or competition schedules.
[Article written by doctor Alberto Aliaga, specialist in Endocrinology and Human Nutrition at the obesity and metabolic syndrome unit at the Hospital Quirónsalud Sagrado Corazón de Sevilla]