The field of sports nutrition has been gathering interest in recent times as today’s elite sports athletes follow a strict diet. Studies have shown that personalized nutrition can make the difference between performing poorly and tapping on their full potential. Technological advances have enabled scientists to build on existing research on sports nutrition, with various dietary intervention studies to improve athlete’s performance. Athletes need a nutritional plan that complements the physical demands of training to enhance performance, whilst supporting good health (Clark, 1999). This is achieved by personalized dietary interventions, specific to the type of sport athletes compete in. For example, an endurance runner would require carbohydrate (CHO) loading prior to competition as compared to a sprinter who would not. Athletes may also turn to ergogenic aids, often in the form of supplementation to boost performance (Vaz et al., 2011). These are incorporated as part of their daily diet and their efficacies are mostly supported by anecdotal evidence. With the rise in the number of sporting events across the globe and increased competiveness within athletes, many are going the extra mile to reach peak performances. Intake of CHO for energy delivery varies between athletes and this is illustrated in table 2 below.
A performance enhancer, or ergogenic aid, is anything that gives you a mental or physical edge while exercising or competing. This can range from caffeine and sports drinks to illegal substances. Some athletes turn to these in an attempted to boost performance. Caffeine as an effective central nervous system stimulant and for improving endurance, creatine for increasing lean body mass in weight-lifters and whey protein for stimulation skeletal muscle protein synthesis. Several other literature reviews has also voiced concerns over additional supplementation such as protein shakes for body builders as the bodily protein requirements are met with a balanced diet.
More often, protein in taken in excess contributes to kidney damage, loss of calcium from bones and dehydration. Supplements should complement the diet and not be used a substitute for meals. Some athletes also consume Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is a type of fat that athletes take to reduce muscle damage and increase lean body mass after exercise. The supplement is especially popular with bodybuilders, who use it to enhance recovery. CLA can cause side effects, including upset stomach, nausea, and fatigue. It can also impact how well the body uses insulin for energy.
Nutrition has become a popular subject in the sports and exercise arena especially in relation to the enhancement of performance. This has resulted in the development of a large industry selling ‘sports’ supplements and aids to performance, sometimes transgressing into unlicensed and illegal activities.
Harmful or illegal ergogenic aids
Anabolic and other steroids
Anabolic and other steroids are illegal in sporting events and according to the law. The side effects are numerous and potentially fatal.
Blood doping is the process of boosting red blood cells to help carry more oxygen to the muscles and lungs. It can be done through a blood transfusion or by taking drugs like erythropoietin.
Many infamous drugs, supplements, and practices can give athletes an unfair advantage. They can cause more damage than stripping an athlete of a title. For example, anabolic and other steroids that affect a person’s hormones can cause long-term health problems, or even death. In the end, training, dedication, hydrating fluids, and proper diet are better than any ergogenic aids for boosting performance.
Clark, K. (1999). Sports nutrition counseling: Documentation of performance. Topics in clinical nutrition, 14(2), pp.34–40.
Vaz, M., Pauline, M., Unni, U., Parikh, P., Thomas, T., Bharathi, A., Avadhany, S., Muthayya, S., Mehra, R. and Kurpad, A. (2011). Micronutrient supplementation improves physical performance measures in Asian Indian school-age children. The Journal of nutrition, 141(11), pp.2017–2023.
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Nancy, A., Association, A. and others, (2000). Joint Position Statement: nutrition and athletic performance. American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(12), p.2130.