Tips from Nancy Clark
Sports Supplements: The winner's edge?
Is it safe for my 16 year old son to take creatine...?
What's the best protein supplement to build muscle...?
What about Ripped Fuel to lose fat and boost energy...?
Competitive athletes commonly take some type of sports supplement
to enhance health, performance or recovery from injury. Yet questions
arise: Is the supplement safe? Does it work? This article looks
at a few popular sports supplements and separates hype from truth
to help you make wise choices.
Supplements to Build Muscle
Protein Powders: If you are dazzled by the photos of ripped body
builders in muscle magazines, you undoubtedly believe the accompanying
ads that link protein bars, powders and shakes with magnificent
muscle mass. Wrong. The key to bulking up is lifting weights, not
eating excessive protein. Certainly, athletes who want to build
muscles need adequate protein. But the required amount is easily
available through customary foods: milk, eggs, meats, fish, beans,
The safe and adequate amount of protein recommended by the American
College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association and the
Dietitians of Canada is 0.5-0.6 gm protein/lb for endurance athletes
and 0.7-0.8 gms pro/lb for strength athletes. Hence, the 200 lb.
body builder who needs 140 to 160 grams protein/day can easily consume
that amount via 1 quart milk (40 gms pro), a 6-oz. can of tuna (40
gm pro) and an 8 oz. chicken breast (65 gm pro). Plus, he'll get
even more protein from the other food in his diet. Consuming additional
protein from supplements is not only needless, but also costly and
displaces the carbs that are needed to provide fuel for the hard,
Athletes who might benefit from protein supplements are vegetarians
who fail to consume adequate beans, tofu or other sources of plant
proteins. In this situation, consuming a protein supplement is better
than consuming no protein.
Creatine: Popular among strength athletes and those who do repeated
bursts of brief, explosive exercise (weight lifting, sprints, ice
hockey), creatine is reputed to enhance recovery from one bout to
the next. Creatine rapidly re-energizes the energy system that allows
the muscles to do repeated bouts of hard exercise. For example,
some body builders report better results from their workouts when
they use creatine. By being able to repeatedly lift heavy weights,
they are able to stimulate muscular growth. This translates into
more strength, power and body mass. But not all athletes respond
to creatine; some have little or no response.
Athletes who choose to take creatine should know that larger than
recommended doses are needless; more is not better. They should
also drink extra water to guard against cramps. If you are a parent
who questions if your high school athlete can safely take creatine,
you'll be relieved to know the research suggests creatine is safe.
To date, creatine taken in the recommended doses has not been linked
with medical problems. Yet, a wise motto with creatine (and any
supplement) is "take at your own risk" due to poor quality
control in the supplement industry.
The psychological effects of taking creatine should not be overlooked:
Will the young athlete miss out on knowing how well his "all
natural" body responds to old-fashioned hard training? This
knowledge certainly builds self-esteem; lack of this knowledge may
leave a feeling of self-doubt. Hence, I recommend young athletes
reach their performance goals by training hard (and wisely) and
optimizing their sports diet (i.e., eating a substantial breakfast
and lunch to fully fuel themselves for a hard afternoon workout).
I discourage the use of creatine in growing bodies.
Supplements for Endurance
Caffeine: Touted to enhance endurance and the ability to work harder
with less perceived effort, caffeine is popular among endurance
athletes and those who want a pre-exercise energy boost. Like most
ergogenic aids, caffeine's effect varies from person to person.
If you rarely drink coffee, you may simply end up with the jitters
and a bad case of "coffee stomach." As with any dietary
experiment, practice taking caffeine during training so you'll have
no surprises on competition day.
Caffeine has the reputation of being a diuretic and contributing
to needless dehydration. According to Dr. Larry Armstrong of the
University of Connecticut, caffeine's diuretic effect is insignificant--particularly
among regular coffee drinkers. Caffeine may speed the rate of urination;
you may urinate more in 2 hours--but not in 24 hours.
If you prefer to abstain from pre-exercise caffeine, a tried-and-true
route to enhance endurance and performance is to eat appropriately
before you workout. Research suggests athletes who ate 400 calories
for breakfast three hours prior to endurance exercise exercised
for 27 minutes longer than those who failed to consume breakfast
(136 vs 109 minutes). And if you will be exercising more than 90
minutes, you can further enhance endurance by consuming carbs (i.e.,
sports drink, gel) during exercise.
Ephedra/Ma Huang: Ephedra (also called ma huang) is a stimulant
banned by the NCAA. Ephedra commonly appears in nasal decongestants,
cold medications and diet pills. It is also found in Ripped Fuel,
a supplement that is popularly to lose fat and enhance energy.
Ephedra in combination with caffeine and also aspirin are bad combinations.
Just go to the Center for Diseaes Control's website: www.cdc.gov
and check out the number of medical problems and, yes, deaths associated
with ephedra. In general, athletes and non-athletes alike should
certainly be wary of products with ephedra and not take more than
24 mg. ephedrine per day.
Conclusion: A smart sports diet can safely provide the benefits
sought from supplements. If you are looking for the winning edge,
consult with your local sports nutritionist (www.eatright.org
provides a referral network) or search the web (www.sportsci.org,
For a compilation of in-depth research from professional journals,
go to www.oznet.ksu.edu/nutrition/supplements.htm.
You'll find a gold mine of information!
Nancy Clark, MS, RD is Director of Nutrition Services
at SportsMedicine Associates in Brookline MA. She is author of Nancy
Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Second Edition ($23) and her
new Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions ($20).
Both are available via www.nancyclarkrd.com
or by sending a check to Sports Nutrition Materials, 830 Boylston
St #205, Brookline MA 02467.
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