Home Sports and Fitness Nutritional supplements for athletes (Dietary-Supplements)

Nutritional supplements for athletes (Dietary-Supplements)

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 139 views

There are many different types of dietary supplements in sports: there are energy and protein concentrates, sports drinks, performance enhancers and fat burners on the market. Read here whether and when it makes sense to take dietary supplements in sports and what you should consider.

These dietary supplements are for athletes

Dietary supplements (NEM) are by definition foods that are intended to supplement normal nutrition. They can contain various nutrients ( carbohydrates , fats, proteins) or other substances, such as vitamins , minerals , amino acids, dietary fiber , plant or herbal extracts.

There are a number of dietary supplements (NEM) that promise athletes more muscles, endurance or condition. In many cases, the effectiveness has not been scientifically proven or not sufficiently investigated.

NEM is available as tablets, capsules, dragees, powder or in liquid form. The preparations can be divided into different groups: energy, carbohydrate and protein concentrates as well as sports drinks, micronutrient preparations and performance enhancers.

Energy and carbohydrate concentrates

Energy concentrates (“weight gainers”) are usually offered as bars or powders to mix. They are extremely high in calories and therefore only make sense if the total energy requirement per day is very high and cannot be covered by normal nutrition. The concentrated energy can be useful, for example, for mountaineers, long-distance runners or even triathletes.

The composition of the products is important: the energy contained should not come primarily from fat, but primarily from carbohydrates, which are readily available to the body.

As the name suggests, carbohydrate concentrates contain almost exclusively carbohydrates. After intensive or long endurance exercise, they can replenish the body’s energy stores (glycogen stores).

Protein & protein concentrates

Protein concentrates are also available as powder (in various flavors) or bars. Bodybuilders in particular hope they will build muscle faster. In fact, strength athletes need more protein than people who just want to maintain their muscle mass. But endurance athletes also have an increased protein requirement . Because of the long exposure, they burn carbohydrates and fat as well as protein. You can get the protein you need from normal food. Exception: People who follow a strict vegan diet.

If you want to increase your protein requirements with powder & co., you should be careful: Too much protein is harmful. The excess protein is broken down into urea, which in large quantities puts a strain on the kidneys. Athletes who don’t want to do without protein concentrates must drink at least double the amount daily to increase flushing.

In addition, protein is also an energy supplier. The excessive energy intake can ultimately lead to love handles, which probably no athlete wants.

micronutrient supplements

Micronutrient preparations such as iron or calcium tablets help to remedy a proven deficiency. For example, iron deficiency often occurs in women who do not eat red (and therefore iron-rich) meat, are active in sports and have heavy menstrual bleeding. Long-distance runners often do not get enough calcium from their diet. Normally, a balanced, wholesome diet covers an athlete’s need for minerals .

Performance enhancer and fat burner

Many athletes take substances from which they hope to have a performance-enhancing effect. Preparations that are supposed to boost fat burning are also popular. For most of them, however, the advertised effect has not been scientifically proven or has not been sufficiently studied. For example, there is currently no dietary supplement on the market that has been proven to increase fat burning.

Even among the supposedly performance-enhancing preparations, only one has been proven to be effective: creatine, which delays muscle fatigue. Strength athletes can do more repetitions and build muscle faster. Endurance athletes, however, do not benefit from creatine. All other performance-enhancing preparations have so far failed to provide clear evidence that they work.

Which dietary supplements are useful for athletes?

The temptation is great for athletes: without protein concentrates, energy drinks or other dietary supplements, runners, strength athletes and the like would not be able to perform, the advertising suggests. However, the requirement can usually be met through a balanced diet. A varied, healthy mixed diet provides the body with all the important nutrients it needs to cover its energy and nutrient requirements – even for competitive and high-performance athletes.

But the fact is: If an athlete has a nutrient deficit, he is less efficient. However, a deficiency should always be clarified by a doctor, who then prescribes a suitable drug to compensate, advises the National Anti-Doping Agency Germany (NADA). This applies, for example, to long-distance runners with a calcium deficiency, vegetarians with an iron deficiency, or if an extreme athlete consumes so many calories per day (> 6000 kcal) that they can no longer cover their needs with normal nutrition.

How effective are dietary supplements?

The legislature does not require scientific studies (as with the approval of medicines) on the effectiveness of the dietary supplements. Overall, there are only a few studies on the effectiveness of nutritional supplements. Many of them are not scientifically meaningful and do not prove the effectiveness of the preparations. A performance-enhancing effect has only been proven for a few agents, for example for creatine in weight training.

A lack of evidence does not necessarily mean that the funds are ineffective. However, many preparation manufacturers refer to biological mechanisms that are not always scientifically tenable.

An example: L-carnitine is considered a fat burner. It is produced by the body itself or ingested with food. In fact, the substance is involved in burning fat: it transports fatty acids to the mitochondria, the powerhouses of every cell, which then metabolize them. However, an oversupply of L-carnitine does not accelerate the fat metabolism, but the substance is simply excreted again. Only if there is a lack of L-caritin could an appropriate preparation help.

It becomes problematic when a dietary supplement causes damage to the body. Vitamins , for example, which are also popular with non-athletes, are under this suspicion . A large meta-study provided evidence that taking vitamin A , C, and E pills does not increase life expectancy, but may even shorten it. (Cochrane Library, Vol. 2, 2008).

Even if there is proof of effectiveness – every athlete should check or ask an expert whether the preparation makes sense for him.

Dietary supplements in sport – safety

The provisions of the Food and Feed Code (LFGB) apply to food supplements. They must be registered with the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). Supplements have to be safe – the manufacturers should guarantee that.

In contrast to medicines, dietary supplements are not subject to an approval procedure: unlike medicines, there is no need to check whether they work as stated on the packaging and whether the products are safe. Authorities only check dietary supplements on a random basis.

According to the Food Supplement Ordinance, “substances with a nutritional or physiological effect” may be added to the NEM. However, it is not regulated which substances are involved. In addition, there is often insufficient information about the composition of the products.

dietary supplements from the Internet

Many athletes buy their fitness products online and have them conveniently delivered to their homes. In addition to the dubious effectiveness, such preparations harbor another risk: With many pills, capsules or powders for mixing “power drinks” from online shops, it is not certain whether the quality is really okay.

Prohibited anabolic steroids

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) repeatedly reports that individual preparations from the Internet are not marketable. Anabolic steroids (= anabolic steroids) are often detected in the products. These are hormones that promote the build-up of protein in the body and thereby allow the muscles to grow. The desired Popeye effect occurs quickly, especially for strength athletes.

Anabolic steroids are among the prohibited doping agents in Germany. In the long term, they can cause great damage in the body and lead to high blood pressure, liver and prostate cancer, for example. They also put a strain on the circulatory system and increase aggression. Women become “masculinized”, the testicles of men often become smaller and children stop growing. Substances that – such as anabolic steroids – have a pharmacological effect in the body may only be contained in medicines, but not in food supplements.

When buying on the Internet, no one knows whether the ordered products contain prohibited substances. Above all, “purely herbal preparations” from the Internet are often secretly mixed with prescription drugs.

Ephedra preparations

Herbal supplements can also be dangerous without any additives. A few years ago, federal agencies warned against products containing ephedra herb (ephedra). These were sold as food supplements and tea in the Netherlands and via the internet. According to the information, they should disappear excess fat and grow muscles.

However, ephedra is by no means harmless: taking it can cause nervousness, tremors, sweating, cardiac arrhythmias, high blood pressure and even seizures and psychological changes. In the USA, almost 1,400 people experienced such side effects, and 81 died as a result.

The quality of ephedra preparations was then examined in the Netherlands. The frightening result: Most of the tested products had a different composition than was stated on the packaging. For example, they contained more alkaloids than specified or undeclared caffeine, which can significantly enhance the effect of the ephedra herb.

Watch out for serious offers

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) advises online customers to exercise caution. Access to global markets via the Internet not only offers opportunities, but is also associated with risks. When buying products from foreign manufacturers or distributors online, one cannot automatically assume that they comply with German food law.

Overall, when buying the products, you should pay attention to the source. NADA recommends products from the Red List. Products from abroad in particular are sometimes manufactured under hygienic conditions that do not meet German standards.

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