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Coach's Column: Sports Supplements - Good or Bad for Me

Posted by: Karen Potter |March 21, 2014 2:02 AM

Coach's Column with Namrita O'Dea: Sports Supplements Are They Good or Bad for Me

Question: What are your thoughts on taking sports supplements and are they helpful or potentially detrimental to one's health?"

Answer: The easy answer is a supplement, regardless of the scientific evidence behind it, should only be used as just that...a supplement. Depending on the supplement, that means it should be taken only at certain times of a training phase, for a specific purpose before/during/or after a workout, and not in excess (i.e. more is not better). Further, the main focus for any athlete serious about performance gains should be a diet from varied natural food sources and adequate sleep and recovery.

That being said, there are certain ergogenic aids that have fairly strong scientific evidence to support their use. For example, a dose of 3-6 mg/kg caffeine can help boost endurance performance and mental function. Contrary to previous beliefs, caffeine taken in these moderate doses is not dehydrating. You have also probably heard all the recent buzz over beets. The nitrate content in beetroot juice supplements decreases the oxygen cost of moderate intensity exercise and also appears to increase exercise capacity (time to exhaustion) and endurance exercise performance. The optimal dose seems to be around 500 mL of regular beetroot juice or the equivalent in a beetroot juice supplement (like the BeetElite Neoshot, Pure Clean Powder, or Beet It sport shot).

What about antioxidants? Vitamins A, C, and E may be beneficial in small doses or for very short periods of time. However, when taken in large doses of supplements or for extended periods of time, these antioxidants may interfere with training adaptations at the cellular level; but, whether these effects translate to actual performance changes is still unclear.  Your safest bet is to include a few different "superfood" smoothie recipes in your diet that can be used as pre- and post-workout real food supplements. A Vitamix is a great investment and allows you to quickly blend up superfoods like carrots, ginger, greens, spinach, beets, and frozen berries. 

Finally, all athletes should take responsibility for what they put in their body. No supplement can be certain to be free of banned substances and the ingredients label should not be relied upon to verify that a supplement is clean.

Namrita is a Registered Dietitian and endurance mountain bike athlete. At 55nine Performance, she specializes in nutrition for sports performance and wellness, and coaching. Namrita holds a Masters degree in Nutrition from Georgia State University and is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Physiology at Georgia Institute of Technology. She also conducts clinics and camps for women cyclists and speaks at several nutrition and racing clinics in the Southeast. Namrita currently races for Team Topeak-Ergon USA. For more information and updates, visit

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