A Yes/No/Maybe Guide to 6 Sports Performance Supplements

I hate walking slogging through supplement research. Thank goodness for Michael Hull, our research intern and super-smart nutrition man! His guest post today will help remove the slogging so you can hit the weight room sooner. 

If you are able to walk into a GNC store and aren’t immediately confounded, I applauded you. Trying to pick out the best supplements to fuel performance can lead to a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). It can also lead to a serious case of low balance in your bank account. These sports performance supplements are usually not the most inexpensive so today’s article is committed to helping you pick supplements that actually work as advertised. Let’s break down 6 supplements that do work, that might work, and that don’t work.

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YES

Nitrates

You may be familiar with nitrates as that thing that may or may not be on your bacon. But this lesser known supplement may be able to increase both anaerobic capacity and aerobic endurance. When you ingest nitrates, it is eventually broken down into nitric oxide (NO). This NO helps your body to more readily produce ATP to fuel your muscles.

Nitrates can be found in a host of foods such as beetroots, green leafy vegetables, celery, and radishes. And no, your bacon is not a good source of dietary nitrates. If you are looking to supplement with nitrates, make sure you ingest them at least 1 hour before you begin exercising.

Did You Know – Ever wonder why those nitrates are on your bacon? It acts to help preserve the meat so that it won’t spoil so quickly. Nitrates also prevent nasty buggers like botulism from growing on your beautiful bacon.

Creatine

This one you have probably heard of. Creatine is a substance that is used by your body to help create ATP. (Note from Kelsey: What is ATP? It is the molecular currency your body spends to perform work/expend energy.) Specifically, creatine will help to fuel intense and very brief periods of exercise that last 5 to 10 seconds. Creatine is king when trying to boost your power output. As an added bonus this supplement is actually wicked cheap, coming in at about $10 per pound ($0.11 per 5 gram serving).

When browsing the aisles of your supplement store you are going to come across many different forms of creatine: creatine monohydrate, creatine ethyl ester, creatine serum, creatine citrate, and creatine kre-alkalyn. Don’t get overwhelmed by your options here. Go for a creatine monohydrate. This supplement is the most well-researched form of creatine and has been shown to be safe and effective.

MAYBE

Caffeine

This stimulant can definitely help your workout, but it might not be for everyone. While it can increase power output and may modestly increase adrenaline frequent consumption will decrease these effects. To prevent this from happening, cycle caffeine usage or save it for special occasions like heavy workout days or for competitions. If you are a habitual coffee drinker I’m sorry to tell you that the adrenaline/power output boosting features of caffeine supplementation will be lost on you. However, it may still assist in keeping you alert.

PRO TIP – If you are an NCAA or professional athlete, there are limits to how much caffeine you are allowed to take. Check with your organization to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.

Some people do not respond well to caffeine, as it may cause them to feel jittery. If this happens you can try one of two things:

1 – If you’re really intent on trying caffeine, try taking it on a few more occasions to see if the jitters persist. (Note from Kelsey: or just take less caffeine; play around with your dosage so you know how much your body can actually handle.)

2 – Stop taking it. Some people just don’t feel well when taking caffeine. There are other options out there you can try for improving performance.

Beta-Alanine

This amino acid will help to create compounds that can buffer some of the lactate produced by your muscles during exercise. This buffering capacity can help to delay the effects of muscle fatigue and modestly improve muscular endurance.

But (and there’s always a but) these improvements will only be useful for those who are exercising in an intense fashion that produces lots of lactate. Those working at a low to moderate intensities will not be producing significant amounts of lactate and will therefore not benefit from the extra lactate-buffing capacity of beta-alanine.

NO

Sodium Bicarbonate

Yup, people literally take baking soda as a supplement. It actually works too by helping to buffer acids in the body and therefore can potentially enhance anaerobic capacity (albeit, to a small degree). The downside is that taking this supplement all at once can confer some rather unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms. It is possible to avoid these symptoms by spreading out the dose over your day but if you are looking for a quality acid buffer then beta-alanine is most likely going to be the better option.

HMB

β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate (HMB) is a mouthful of a supplement. HMB is produced from the amino acid leucine and can help to prevent muscle protein breakdown. This muscle preserving property may be particularly beneficial during periods of weight loss and dieting. However, this supplement does not appear to do much for enhancing lean mass or increasing power output. The studies into this to date have been fairly equivocal. HBM is one of those supplements that may need a bit more research before we can definitively decide what its role in athletes it may play.

I hope that cleared up a few misconceptions or questions about supplements you may have had. To learn more about how to pick high-quality supplement brands, head on over to our post about ensuring you get what you pay for.