Can nutrition and/or dietary supplements enhance your performance?
You put time and effort into your training. Don’t sell yourself short on the gains you could be making or the goals you could be achieving by not paying attention to what goes into your body. There is a multi-billion dollar industry peddling products that claim to improve athletic performance. Most products are poorly researched or have shown inconclusive results in existing research. There may even be safety concerns with some products. Here are five ways to let your nutrition contribute to your performance:
1. Eat whole foods. Eat real food, made with ingredients you recognize, prepared at home. This is probably the highest yield change for most. You’ll see benefits in taste, control of fat and sodium content as well as cost.
2. Consume adequate amounts of protein. This means 1.2-1.4 grams protein/ kilogram body weight/ day for endurance athletes and 1.6-1.7 grams protein/ kilogram body weight/ day for strength athletes. This is more of a challenge for those who are vegetarian and vegan but by all means do-able on any diet. Supplementation is not necessary to achieve this but if you aren’t getting it from your diet then go ahead and take a supplement.
3. Consider creatine supplementation. Creatine helps supply muscles with energy for short term, anaerobic activity, increasing power for max-effort muscle contractions. There is relatively little in the way of safety concern, though water retention, bloating, cramping, muscle stiffness, heat intolerance and gastrointestinal side effects have been reported. Creatine can help if you are sprinting or strength training but has no role in endurance running.
4. Caffeinate. Caffeine has been shown to enhance performance for both endurance and short-duration competitions, when consumed prior to the activity. It is safe at normal doses (400-500 mg/day for adults) with most of the dangerous adverse effects resulting from ingesting large amounts of pure caffeine. No need to get crazy with supplements here, just grab a cup of joe before your run!
5. Get your vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for bone metabolism and regulating calcium levels, but did you know it is also performance enhancing and may protect against injury? Some studies have shown increased muscle strength with vitamin D supplementation, particularly in previously deficient individuals. Higher vitamin D levels are associated with improved performance and decreased injury rates. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight. It is relatively hard to get it from diet, though sardines, eggs and mushrooms are sources. As a result, supplementation makes sense for a lot of folks. Rare adverse effects have been reported, mostly from incorrectly manufactured supplements. Vitamin D deficiency can be diagnosed by a blood test.
That’s it. Don’t waste your money on most of the stuff out there! When in doubt, strive for a balanced consumption of whole foods. Don’t diet – eat better!
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or dietitian. This content is for your information only, and should not be considered personalized, individual dietary advice. Consult your primary care physician before considering a supplement or initiating an exercise program. Check a trusted source for information about individual products.
~Michael S. Day, MD, MPhil
Dr. Day is the author of numerous research publications in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine and is a member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the Arthroscopy Association of North America, and the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine. Dr. Day is currently a member of Summit Orthopedic Group, in Chambersburg, PA, part of Summit Health/Wellspan Health, and also is a team physician for the Chambersburg Area Senior High School Trojans.