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How to Choose a Sports Nutrition Supplement

If you're eating a healthy diet inclusive of all food groups and fueling your training well, you most likely don't need a sports nutrition supplement. Nutrition supplements range from your average protein bar to taking muscle building creatine, or even drinking an electrolyte beverage. If you choose to use one, you first need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is it safe?

  • Is the research evidence-based?

  • Is it affordable?

  • Has it been third-party tested?

The answers to these questions can help guide you to making a more informed decision and to ensure you are taking a safe, evidence-based supplement to help enhance your sports performance. False claims versus the truth Sports nutrition supplements are a multi-million dollar industry. Sellers of these supplements might claim that their products improve strength or endurance, help you achieve a performance goal more quickly, or increase your tolerance for more intense training. They might also claim that their supplements can help prepare your body for exercise, reduce the chance of injury during training, or assist with recovery after exercise. All of these claims sound enticing and are often too good to be true. Instead, do your research. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is a great resource to identify if supplements are safe and effective based on true evidence-based research.

Evidence-Based Supplement Categories

Supplements are categorized into either group A which are supported for use based on research evidence, such as whey protein or sports gels. Group B supplements require further research, such as B-alanine. Group C supplements don’t offer any benefits, such as Co-enzyme Q10, and finally Group D are banned and high risk. You can also view the at risk supplements on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) site.

Third-Party Testing

In addition to information from AIS and WADA, there are third-party companies such as Informed Choice or NSF International Certified Sport, that test sports nutrition supplements and certify that the ingredients do not contain unsafe levels of contaminants, prohibited substances, or masking agents. For example, an uncertified protein powder product might claim to contain 20 grams of whey protein, when it really only contains 5 grams. Choosing only certified products with the Informed Choice or NSF Sport symbol is key to making sure you are taking a safe product.

Are supplements necessary?

As a board-certified sports dietitian, I will always recommend to use food first to nourish and fuel your body. However, if you feel that adding supplements occasionally to your diet helps you meet your nutrition goals, then you need to do your research and choose supplements that are safe, evidence-based, and that can fit into your budget.

Just remember, before starting any new supplement, please contact your physician or sports dietitian to make sure what you are taking is necessary and safe, especially when combined with other medications you may be already taking.

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