‘Supplements’ can refer to several different types of performance aids in the world of endurance sports. It’s often attributed to those specialist products – energy gels, chewy bars, fluid-replacement drinks and recovery shakes – consumed before, during and after a run or ride.
These types of supplements provide carbohydrates or protein in easily digestible formulations at optimum ratios. They’re commonplace in training and at events. They’re the kinds of products you may well tuck into when your endur8 alert reminds you to take on fuel.
Fluid-replacement energy drinks are among the most powerful supplements at our disposal, usually providing a triple hit of benefits during a race or training session; rehydrating, replenishing carbs that convert to energy and maintaining a balance of blood cell salts (electrolytes) that are lost through sweat and essential to the balance of water volume in our blood.
The key ingredients in these sports food supplements are also obtainable from everyday foods. Indeed many riders and runners prefer their supply of carbs or proteins or both to come in a more ‘natural’ way, taking everything from rice cakes and fruits to chocolate and even dried meats on rides or runs. But when it comes to taking on fluids during exercise lasting 60 minutes or more, the experts insist that carb-based drinks and isotonic solutions are much more beneficial than drinking water alone. (1)
Other types of supplements, consumed by athletes to aid all-round performance and recovery, are dietary boosting vitamins and minerals (2). These also occur in regular meats, fruits, vegetables, legumes etc – but not necessarily at levels which are easily consumed.
Omega-3 fatty acids for example have been shown to increase blood flow to the muscles during exercise and relieve post-workout aches and pains among other benefits (3). Good, natural, sources of omega-3s include oily fish such as sardines and salmon – but often in quantities that could dominate an athlete’s diet, especially those not keen on fish.
So popping a concentrated version in the form of a fish oil supplement is another practical option.
In her book on fuelling the body for optimal performance, Endurance Sports Nutrition (Human Kinetics) (4) sports dietician and former elite runner Suzanne Girard Eberle details the multimineral and multivitamin supplements that have been shown to boost the performance and recovery of cyclists, runners and triathletes. These include calcium with vitamin D (4.1), caffeine (4.2) and glucosamine (4.3). Other supplements regularly used by pro and amateur endurance sportsmen and women include:
Whilst many athletes and coaches endorse the use of supplements to support performance and recovery that are designed to complement a healthy balanced diet, athletes are also advised by the UK Doping Agency (UKAD.org.uk to consult their GP or sports nutritionist to evaluate their need for them and any possible risks attached.