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Sports Nutrition Series - Sports Nutrition Supplements

Sports nutrition supplements include a variety of foods like protein bars, drinks, powders and pills designed to improve athletic performance and/or fill gaps in the diet of people who play sports or work out on a regular basis.

Certainly not every athlete needs to take supplements for their best performance but there are sometimes reasons why it may be practical to use specialised sports foods.

Being the best as an athlete is a hard job. Many different layers need to be in place and put together. Eating a well-balanced diet day to day is the first step. It is much more important than relying just on supplements.

It ensures the athlete is getting all the nutrients needed to stay healthy and recover well, as well as supporting his/her training sessions.

Supplements should ideally be taken only if first, an athlete has enough practice in eating right. Sports supplements may add a little performance edge only if nutrition through whole foods is first taken care of. Otherwise, it can be just a waste of money.

The timing of supplements is more crucial than the dosage. Pre-workout supplements are designed to provide energy and aid endurance throughout a workout. They are typically taken 15-30 minutes before a workout, but can also be consumed during exercise. Post-workout supplements are taken to increase muscle mass through enhanced muscle repair, recovery, and growth.

Uses of Sports Supplements

  • For Energy: They may be used to boost energy levels of the athlete. The most common energy supplement is caffeine. It has been around since the 1900s and became popularly used in the 1970s when its power of masking fatigue became highly recognized. Caffeine that is found in energy drinks shows an increased reaction performance and feelings of energy and focus. There are many other sports supplements used for energy.

  • For Recovery: Protein and Amino acid supplements are common supplements to help athletes recover from exercise and workouts. Appropriate amounts of dietary protein intake for well-trained athletes should occur before, during and after physical activity as it is advantageous in gaining muscle mass and strength. It is extremely essential for any kind of recovery as well.

  • For Enhancing Performance: Supplements like creatine, are commonly used by well-trained athletes to increase exercise performance and strength in relation with their dietary regimen.

In the extreme case of performance-enhancing, athletes, particularly bodybuilders may choose to use certain supplements that are composed of illegal substances such as anabolic steroids. These compounds are related to the hormone testosterone. They are taken to quickly build mass and strength. However, they have many adverse effects such as high blood pressure and negative gender-specific effects. They should be avoided completely.

Kinds of Supplements

  • Dietary supplements: They include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs extracts, or concentrates from plants or foods. They are typically sold as capsules, tablets, liquids, powders or bars and are required to be clearly labeled as a dietary supplement. In sports, most supplements from herbs or plants are used to enhance muscle growth and fat burning. However, some herbal supplements are risky products on the market shelf because the amount of information about what is in the product is not mentioned on its labels.

  • Ergogenic supplements: They include substances, drugs or techniques used to enhance athletic performance. They can range from acceptable practices of carbohydrate loading to illegal and even unsafe approaches including the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids. Blood doping, another illegal ergogenic, also known as blood transfusions, increases oxygen delivery to exercising tissues and has been demonstrated to improve performance in endurance sports, such as long-distance cycling.

Any athlete using protein powders or amino acid supplements needs to be aware of the risk of unlisted ingredients and contamination. Often it is found that young athletes are modeling themselves on the behaviours of professional athletes who are advertising and endorsing growing numbers of supplements. It is important to bear in mind that sports supplements should be used to augment not replace any food in the diet.

The supplement industry is poorly regulated in comparison to some others. Sports supplements are big business for many corporations and can cost the consumer a lot of money with little benefit. Supplements need to be safe, legal and effective. It should be taken under the guidance of a well-qualified sports nutrition expert. Any supplement that an athlete or active individual takes, needs to be right for that particular individual's body and the event/ sport/ competition he/she is engaged in. Medical screening of the athlete is also ideal before taking any supplement.

Note: It is important to consult with a doctor and a registered sports dietitian before you take any type of supplement, vitamin or medication.

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