What are sports supplements?

Sports supplements, also referred to as ergogenic aids, are products used to enhance athletic performance and recovery from exercise. Supplements appear in various forms, from the more traditionally used sports supplements such as protein, amino acids, creatine etc, to those that are used on a general basis such as vitamins, minerals, herbs and botanicals (made from roots, leaves, bark, or berries of a plant).

What are the benefits of supplements?

There are numerous benefits that sports supplements provide over normal foods, two of the biggest are convenience and rate of nutrient absorption.

Convenience: Whole food should naturally form the foundation of your diet, but in today’s society everybody seems to be busier and busier with less time to cook meals. Therefore, supplements can make a great alternative to typically unhealthy convenience food choices. They can provide a quick and easy option, whether it’s for additional intake of calories, protein, or vitamins and minerals. Additionally drinking a shake post-exercise when supplements need to be consumed quickly is much easier than preparing and eating food.

Absorption: The structure of supplements allows the body to digest and absorb nutrients far quicker than it would normal food. The speed of digestion is crucial post-exercise in order to initiate the recovery process and maximise protein synthesis. Nutrients such as free form amino acids are absorbed the quickest as they do not require digestion and are absorbed into the bloodstream.

In addition to the above, supplements allow you to consume adequate quantities of various nutrients that would typically be difficult to consume through food.

When should you use supplements?

Supplement use will vary between individuals and is based on level physical activity levels, lifestyle, diet etc. An elite athlete who trains intensely multiple times a day will invariably use supplements more than an individual who trains once a day as it is necessary for the athlete to recovery quickly between sessions in order to maintain performance levels. However, an individual that trains once every evening may only require supplements prior to the single training session to increase energy and focus after a day at work and supplements post-exercise to initiate the recovery process.

Are supplements just for men?

For the longest time, companies marketed supplements towards the bodybuilding industry, with campaigns being fronted by large muscular men. In doing so, this created a misconception around who should use supplements, putting off many females from using them. Although there are differences between the male and female anatomy, our organs, muscles and energy systems work the same. It’s also a common misconception that using supplements, particularly after training, will guarantee a bodybuilder’s physique. This is simply not the case however.

The human body changes and adapts to the training/exercise you perform and the food you consume. Sports supplements can help increase the rate of such adaptations through enhanced performance and recovery, but alone they can do very little. So, the desired effect of sports supplements are what you make of them, regardless of gender. Whether you wish to lose weight, build muscle, become fitter and stronger, or improve as an all around athlete, supplements will help you provided your training and diet appropriately support your goals.