WRITTEN BY DR CRIONNA TOBIN
Regardless of what team you are working with, one of the first questions most players will ask is about what supplements they should use. It is important to note that you should always try to promote a food-first approach to nutrition. There is no doubt that once a player has their nutrition on point, supplements can have a beneficial impact on performance. However, focusing on supplementation before getting the foundations of a good nutrition programme right is missing the bigger picture and will inevitably lead to reduced performance!
In an industry that is full of pseudoscience, it is important that you only recommend supplements that are backed by science. The following supplement recommendations are based on solid scientific evidence and have been shown to consistently aid performance in team sports.
- Creatine – Creatine is the most researched and proven ergogenic aids out there for players1. One of the main contributors to a reduced performance in high intensity sports is a reduction in the available Phosphocreatine (PCr), which is stored Creatine. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the energy currency within the body which constantly needs to be resynthesized to provide the muscle with energy to work. During high intensity exercise, PCr provides the muscle with a rapid energy source to reproduce ATP. Creatine supplementation can increase these stores within the muscle and allow for an improved performance at high intensities3. Supplementation of 20g per day for 7 days followed by a maintenance dose of 3-5g per day can be used if a player is looking for the benefits within a period less than 28 days. Alternatively, 3g per day will have the same cell saturation over a period longer than 28 days. It’s also worth noting that some individuals may experience gastrointestinal issues with high levels of creatine when supplementing with 20g per day, so it may be worth testing tolerance starting with a lower dose. For more on who benefits from Creatine, read here.
- Caffeine – caffeine has been shown to be an effective ergogenic aid when taken in adequate doses. However, most players do not realise the required dose for performance benefits. Research has found that a range of 3-6mg/kg/bw-1, which translates to between 240-480mg of caffeine for an 80kg player appears to be most beneficial for enhancing performance4. Similar to creatine, tolerance to caffeine is highly individualised so it’s worth testing with smaller doses and gradually building up. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors which increases alertness5, muscular excitability6, strength and force7 and reduces Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)8. In team sports specifically caffeine has been found to increase distance covered at high intensity9, increase in jump test muscle power10, an increase in running pace and an increase in passing accuracy after11 consuming 3mg/kg/bw-1 The table below sets on the estimated caffeine content of popular drinks.
*Caffeine content of brewed coffee can range higher or lower than 95 mg depending on type of coffee, coffee roast, size of coffee grounds, and brewing method.
Caffeine chewing gums are a relatively new format of caffeine supplementation for players than can be used intra-workout/game and will have the same effects as aforementioned.
- Beta Alanine – most players will have experienced that “burning” sensation at some stage of their career and this is where Beta Alanine (BA) comes into play. This burning sensation is due to a decrease in pH levels within the muscle which creates the burning sensation and adversely effects performance. Consistent BA supplementation increases the buffer carnosine, which improves the buffering capacity within the muscle, which allows for the clearing of hydrogen ions, helping increase or maintain muscle pH levels and reduce this burning sensation. This allows athletes to perform at high intensities for longer periods and has been shown to improve performance12. The optimal dose for BA supplementation for performance benefits appears to be 80mg/kg/bw-1 for between 4-10 weeks followed by a maintenance dose of 40mg/kg/bw-1. This means that an athlete weighing 80kg needs a daily dose of 6.4g for 4-10 weeks followed by a daily dose of 3.2g thereafter.
- Whey protein – Whey protein supports recovery and helps repair & grow muscle after exercise. Players have a significantly higher protein requirement of between 1.6-2.2g per kg bodyweight due to their increased physical activity and requirements to grow muscle. At times or with certain groups, such as females it may be difficult to achieve such high intakes from food alone. In these instances whey protein provides a quick and convenient solution to increase a player’s protein intake. Whey protein is also delivered to the muscles fast and is high in leucine making it a great option to support muscle protein synthesis after a training session. To maximise recovery and the growth of lean muscle mass players should aim to consume 20-40g of protein every 3 hours14 throughout the day and whey protein provides a convenient way of increasing the protein content of meals and snacks to help the athlete evenly distributed protein across the day. For more on Whey protein read here.
- Casein protein – unlike whey protein, casein is a slow digesting protein. During sleep, players go through a prolonged period without food which reduces MPS and increases Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB), which may result in muscle loss. As casein has slow digesting properties, it can help maintain or increase MPS during the night as it provides a steady source of amino acids to the muscles. Casein has been shown to reduce whole body protein turnover by more than 30%13 which may play a part in reducing muscle protein breakdown. 30-40g of casein before bed appears adequate to increase MPS14. For more on Casein read here
As previously mentioned, it’s important to note that as a practitioner your focus should be on a food-first approach and ensure all of your players have mastered the foundation of nutrition with a varied diet coming largely from whole and unprocessed foods. Once this box is ticked, you can introduce supplements. It’s imperative that you assess both the athlete and their sport before recommending a supplement.
Each supplement plays a specific role within the body and this should be matched with the needs of the player or sport and supplements should not be recommended on a “one size fits all” basis! Are you a PT, coach or fitness professional and haven't already signed up to our online nutrition course yet? Sign up to the course today! The course consists of ten online modules and on completion of these you will receive an accredited certificate in Nutrition by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and earn CPD points from your professional body.
- Buford, T.W et al., 2007. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), p.6
- Newsholme, E. and Leech, A., 1984. Biochemistry for the medical sciences. Wiley
- Balsom, P.D et al., 199 Creatine supplementation and dynamic high‐intensity intermittent exercise. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 3(3), pp.143-149
- Desbrow, B et al., 2012. The effects of different doses of caffeine on endurance cycling time trial performance. Journal of sports sciences, 30(2), pp.115-120.
- Kamimori, G.H., McLellan, T.M., Tate, C.M., Voss, D.M., Niro, P. and Lieberman, H.R., 201 Caffeine improves reaction time, vigilance and logical reasoning during extended periods with restricted opportunities for sleep. Psychopharmacology, 232(12), pp.2031-2042
- Olorunshola, K.V. and Achie, L.N., 2011. Caffeine alters skeletal muscle contraction by opening of calcium ion channels. Curr. Res. J. Biol. Sci, 3, pp.521-525
- Grgic, J., Trexler, E.T., Lazinica, B. and Pedisic, Z., 2018. Effects of caffeine intake on muscle strength and power: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), p.11
- Backhouse, S.H., Biddle, S.J., Bishop, N.C. and Williams, C., 2011. Caffeine ingestion, affect and perceived exertion during prolonged cycling. Appetite, 57(1), pp.247-252
- Abian, P et al., 2015. The ingestion of a caffeinated energy drink improves jump performance and activity patterns in elite badminton players. Journal of sports sciences, 33(10), pp.1042-1050
- Del Coso, J et al., 2013. Caffeine-containing energy drink improves sprint performance during an international rugby sevens competition. Amino acids, 44(6), pp.1511-1519
- Roberts, S.P et al., 2010. Effects of carbohydrate and caffeine ingestion on performance during a rugby union simulation protocol. Journal of sports sciences, 28(8), pp.833-842.
- Derave, W., Ozdemir, M.S., Harris, R.C., Pottier, A., Reyngoudt, H., Koppo, K., Wise, J.A. and Achten, E., 2007. β-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. Journal of applied physiology, 103(5), pp.1736-1743
- Boirie, Y et al., 1997. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 94(26), pp.14930-14935
- Jäger, R et al., 2017. International society of sports nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), p.20