09 Jun 5 supplements that are actually proven to work
Every day there seems to be a new product on the market, many with incredible claims that are big on marketing and often without scientific backing. It can be hard to know if they really work, or for athletes even to have the time and resources to research these product claims.
We have put together a list of 5 supplements that are backed by science and live up to their claims as ergogenic aids; that is they provide athletes with a competitive edge by enhancing energy use, production and/or recovery (2). Did we mention we love science and using products that are proven to work? Read on for a simple breakdown of these supplement heroes.
How do you know if a supplement is worth taking?
The classification as a supplement actually means that the contents of the product and the claims on the label are not scientifically evaluated. It therefore comes as no surprise that the colourful advertisements and testimonials for sports supplements can get away with far-fetched claims about the performance enhancing effects of their products. The reality is that while many supplements are relatively safe, they often do not produce the effects as promised and some may actually be a cause for concern.
There are four factors that you should consider when evaluating supplements (2,3):
- Validity of the claims. What is the physiological basis for a product’s action, as in what is the effect they are actually having on the body?
- Quality of the evidence. Are there any scientific studies that support or refute the claims that the product makes?
- Health consequences. Are there any side effects, especially any potentially serious adverse effects?
- Legal consequences. Is the product legal?
The Australian Institute of Sport ABCD Classification System
The AIS has a simple classification system based on the following guidelines:
- The product performs as claimed
- The product does not perform as claimed
- The products should not be used (i.e., they are downright unsafe, banned or illegal).
The ABCD Classification system ranks sports foods and supplement ingredients into four groups based on scientific evidence and other practical considerations to determine whether a product is safe, legal and effective in improving sports performance (4). You can check out their classification on the AIS website: http://ow.ly/Jt3W30cl0Ho
- Group A ingredients have the strongest scientific backing. Performance supplements in this category are considered to perform as claimed although additional research may be required to fine-tune protocols for individualised and event-specific use.
- Group B ingredients are considered to be deserving of more research. Supplements in this category perform as claimed but there is currently insufficient evidence of their effectiveness.
- Group C ingredients have little meaningful evidence to support claims of beneficial effects.
- Group D ingredients are banned or at high risk of contamination with other substances that could lead to a positive drug test, and should not be used by athletes.
What are considered to be legal and safe ergogenic aids?
So here is the golden list – products that are legal, and safe, and they will perform as they claim to give you the performance edge.
Caffeine increases muscle contractility and aerobic endurance, by helping to mobilise fat thereby sparing muscle glycogen stores. It is a central nervous system stimulant, which helps to decrease perception of effort during exercise and aid activities requiring concentration (5). Support for caffeine as an ergogenic aid has waxed and waned. In 2004, WADA removed caffeine from its restricted list to its Monitoring Program (3).
Beta-alanine is a modified version of the amino acid alanine. It has been shown to enhance muscular endurance, improve moderate-high intensity cardiovascular performance in events like rowing or sprinting, and offer protection from exercise-induced lactic acid production (6).
Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is a popular household product. Scientific evidence shows that sodium bicarbonate can help you to exercise harder, faster and perhaps longer. It raises your blood pH which helps muscle cells to eliminate acid into the bloodstream, enabling them to continue contracting and producing energy (7).
Perhaps the most widely used ergogenic aid among athletes, creatine improves strength and lean muscle mass. It is most effective in repeated short bursts of high-intensity activity in sports like sprinting and weight lifting (and less so for endurance sports like distance running) (3).
5. Beetroot juice
It fantastic to have scientific confirmation that there really is something special in beetroot juice, given the recent craze in beetroot. It was previously included in Group B, but beetroot has now been elevated to Group A status due to some great research showing that beetroot juice allows you to exercise at a greater intensity with less effort (8,9).
Beetroot juice is one of the richest sources of nitrate, which has a number of effects on the human body, including vasodilation to increase blood flow, regulation of muscle contraction and glucose uptake, and regulation of cellular respiration. In short, beetroot juice allows you to exercise at a greater intensity with less effort (8,9).
We recommend mixing the Bindi Supergreens with beetroot juice for the ultimate nitrate and antioxidant boost!
Be smart and savvy when it comes to supplements
As an athlete it pays to be mindful of the potential side effects associated with excessive use of dietary supplements, including the possibility for interactions when supplements are taken in combination that can lead to adverse reactions.
In our next blog, we will delve into more detail on caffeine and beetroot juice, as these have a fair bit of momentum in athletic circles and both have cycled through phases from diet fad into more general widespread acceptance. Although safe and legal, we will consider complexities associated with their use as supplements.
While there is general consensus that a scientific rationale must be applied to selecting your supplements, it seems that some ergogenic aids continue to prevail without science behind them. We will take a look at some of these aids that continue to have a place today in the supplement program of many athletes (including bee pollen and fish oil) and check out what the science says on them too.
- Bullen J, 2017. A closer look at Australia’s most popular supplements. ABC Health & Wellbeing. Accessed June 2017 at: http://ow.ly/VZx430ckSpc
- Ahrendt DM, 2001. Ergogenic aids: Counseling the athlete. American Family Physician, 63(5): 913-922. Accessed June 2017 at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0301/p913.html
- Rodriguez et al. 2010. Nutrition and athletic performance. Medscape. Accessed June 2017 at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/717046_11
- Australian Institute of Sport. ABCD Classification system. Accessed June 2017 at: http://ow.ly/Jt3W30cl0Ho
- Keisler and Armsey 2006. Caffeine as an ergogenic aid. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 5(4): 215-219. Accessed June 2017 at: http://ow.ly/U4sy30clf6k
- Beta-alanine. Examine.com. Accessed June 2017 at: http://ow.ly/Oeyn30clfGq
- Mueller SM et al, 2013. Multiday acute sodium intake improves endurance capacity and reduces acidosis in men. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(16). Open access. Accessed June 2017 at: http://ow.ly/GacJ30clfvD
- Sports Dietitians Australia. Nitrate Fact Sheet. Accessed June 2017 at: http://ow.ly/HcX730clfOC
- Dominguez et al 2017. Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. A systematic review. Nutrients, 9(1): 43. Accessed June 2017 at: http://ow.ly/1SmX30clfSz