This blog post is meant as an accompanying article to the Twitter threads on effective and ineffective supplements to help consumers navigate the world of sports supplements. As I am a L4 MRSPH Nutritionist specialising in Sports Nutrition, I am only analysing these items within the confines of my qualifications. Some of the below mentioned supplements can also be used effectively for medical reasons yet I shall make no mention of this due to such knowledge being outside of my jurisdiction.
This list is not complete and I will likely post further threads on Twitter on other supplements and ergogenic performance boosters. I encourage a healthy discussion so please do leave your comments below with any questions you might have.
Effective Sports Supplements
Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking soda) – Effective in improving high intensity exercise performance. Doses from 0.2-0.5g//kg provide added resistance against fatigue in swimming, cycling, combat sports. Some might experience GI stress, which would mean the supplement is ergolytic not ergogenic.
Personal experience: N/A
Caffeine – Improves performance in most events but not in short high intensity exercise. Improves concentration and alertness/focus during exercise. Doses 2-6mg/kg have an ergogenic effect.
Personal experience: Daily, for years. I use caffeine to fuel my training in the form of espresso or macchiato and pre-workouts with doses varying between 250mg and 550mg. I weigh 70kg.
Creatine – Improves performance in single and repeated sprint bursts. Improves recovery between intense exercise bursts. MAY improve muscle growth directly or through improved exercise capacity. 20g/day x7 days, then 3-5g/day OR 1g/day for 30 days.
Personal experience: I completed a full cycle with 20g/day for a week, then 3-5g/day for 3 weeks in April/May 2022. This experiment proved to me that my food and water intake was already optimal as I did not experience any noticeable boost to my training nor did I gain any extra weight through water retention. Therefore I did not continue its use as it is likely that I am getting a 5g daily supply of creatine from the meat in my diet. I will elaborate on creatine in a longer post on Twitter and Instagram in the future.
Protein supplements, whey – Effective. Doses as small as 30-40g post training assist muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein – fast acting, pea protein – medium release and casein – slow release protein. I will write up more elaborate posts in the future on proteins and their thermic effect.
Personal experience: 1-2x/day for years from 2012 until 2018, then got used to meal prep, which allowed me to have food at the ready after training, removing the need for a liquid meal. With that being said, liquid nutrition is the fastest way to get protein into the body to assist muscle protein synthesis post-workout and to increase caloric intake without increasing meal sizes. I have recently returned to supplementing my diet with protein shakes.
Beta alanine – Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is produced naturally in the body and is found in meat, poultry and seafood (average consumption equates to 1g/day). Beta-alanine is marketed as a way to enhance sports performance and endurance. Effective in improving short bursts of exercise (between 1 & 4 minutes) up to 25 minutes, however more studies are needed for its effects post 25 minute window. Main side effect of beta-alanine use is paresthesia, which is the tingling of the skin, however this is perfectly safe and usually passes within an hour. Itchiness occurs from doses higher than 40mg/kg.
Personal experience: I have used pre-workouts including beta-alanine on and off for years. I definitely notice the tingling in doses above 3g, so I always read the label of products before buying to avoid the unpleasant skin crawling feeling. For a while, I used a Nutrex fat burner as pre-workout since it did not include beta-alanine, resulting in great workouts without the tingles. This product was unfortunately discontinued many years ago and replaced with more concentrated products with new ingredients, all of which give me a rash, so I can no longer use these supplements.
Ephedrine – banned by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) but effective – In medicine, ephedrine is used to treat hypotension; ephedrine use is allowed in Chinese medicine as certain plants contain it naturally. Suppresses appetite, stimulates metabolism and enhances alertness, however may cause irregular heartbeat, dizziness and nausea in healthy adults. It is easily available, very effective at lowering bodyfat % and many athletes create pseudoephedrine from over the counter medicine.
Personal experience: I tried an ‘ECA stack’ (Ephedrine/Caffeine/Aspirin tablet) on one occasion in 2014. I remember being extremely hyper throughout my whole workout, sweating more than usual and feeling spaced out. I have never taken drugs and never will, but I guess this is the closest that I’ve come to trying something that is not natural.
Ineffective Sports Supplements
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) – Incomplete amino acid profile, no advantage as a single supplement. Benefits to recovery are no greater than those gained through adequate diet. Handful of peanuts contains the equivalent of 11 BCAA pills! Excessive intakes may reduce absorption of other amino acids.
Glutamine – Does NOT preserve muscle breakdown nor does it improve body composition or boost immune function. MAY affect muscle glycogen re-synthesis, which would in turn assist recovery, however more studies are required.
ZMA – Advertised as a testosterone booster that increases strength & muscle growth – it does not. MAY help correct deficiency in zinc and magnesium if dietary intakes are low. Caution: exceeding 50mg zinc/day will interfere with iron absorption and cause risk of anaemia.
Personal experience: I took glutamine, BCAAs & ZMA in 2012-2013 as recommended by a coach I trusted at the time. I didn’t see or feel any difference during this phase. In the summer of 2013 I stopped and experienced immediate reduction in bloating symptoms and also lost water weight, which I had been holding on to due to the aforementioned supplement use.
CLA – Advertised to aid improvements to body composition through weight loss yet evidence still suggests it is ineffective. Increased intakes have been linked to insulin resistance, increased inflammation, lowered HDL (good cholesterol) and intestinal upset.
Personal experience: I tried to start a course of CLA in 2012 on two separate occasions. Both instances I was floored for a whole day – I experienced extreme nausea and stomach cramping. I got rid of the supplement and never even completed a course.
L-carnitine – Advertised to improve endurance capacity by increasing fatty acid availability to the muscle cells and help with weight loss.Fact: It does NOT improve muscle uptake, therefore it also doesn’t help with weight loss goals.
Personal experience: I consumed an L-carnitine sports drink daily for a few months in 2010 as I fell for the great marketing. As losing weight and bodyfat was my goal at the time, this seemed the ideal product. There were no side effects but also no benefits.
Lesser known ineffective sports supplements
BORON – Thought to improve bone density, muscle mass and strength. Bone density improvements seen in postmenopausal women but no effect seen in men.
CHROMIUM PICOLINATE – Due to its role in insulin action it’s believed to enhance muscle growth adaptations to exercise and to assist in muscle maintenance and therefore assist with weight loss through exercise. It does not.
COENZYME Q-10 – Believed to enhance energy production of the electron transport chain and reduce exercise induced free radical damage. Some evidence shows the opposite – Q10 having a negative effect on high intensity performance by increasing oxidative damage and reducing training response.
MCT (Medium Chain Glycerides) – Believed to improve exercise capacity as it’s a fat source that would spare carbohydrate stores during exercise. It does not improve performance and in some cases has a negative effect.
DHEA & prohormones – ineffective and illegal – oral supplements of prohormones do not raise blood testosterone and do not increase muscle size or strength and may pose a significant health risk and will result in a positive drug test. Banned by WADA.
Personal experience: N/A
Your requested supplements
Turkesterone – This phytoecdysteroid does not yet have enough evidence to prove its efficacy in humans, however it has found to be not dangerous (although side effects can occur and involve nausea, fatigue, headaches). More evidence needed.
Thermogenic supplements – Marketed as fat loss aids since they speed up metabolism and reduce appetite yet their benefits are negligible and side effects include nausea, abdominal pain, constipation, headaches etc. More evidence needed.
|Ineffective:||More research needed:|
End note: Manufacturers tend to cram several thermogenic substances into one supplement in hopes of this improving the efficacy of the product. Often it is just a single ingredient – caffeine – that is the functioning element of the mixture. However, common practice sees companies adding several fancy sounding ingredients to the list, which also allows for ‘sexy’ marketing campaigns and for the product to have more appeal with specific groups and therefore increase the demand across the market. Some examples include women’s & men’s supplements, appetite suppressants, fat loss boosters etc.
As stated previously, this is not a complete list and I will create a Part 2 in the future with more information as you reach out and ask me to research certain supplements.