Our first 3 articles gave the reader an overview of protein, carbohydrates, fats, energy system loading and pre- and post-training feedings as these topics relate to performance nutrition.The final nutrition component overview is what we call dietary support, which is just another way of saying dietary supplementation.
First, let’s recognize that virtually all adult competitive athletes supplement their diets with the goal of improving performance, so it’s irresponsible to ignore the topic. In fact in the 2008 Olympics, 90% of the 11,000 athletes reported regularly using dietary supplements. As a side note, there was not a single supplement contamination case, giving a “thumbs up” to the general safety of the dietary supplement industry. But as we all know, it is about supplementing properly with the correct information so that you ONLY have the potential to experience a positive in both health and performance. And finally, don’t believe everything you read on a label.
Purpose of Dietary Supplements
The intention of dietary supplement preparations is to provide a safe way of delivering exactly what you need without adding unneeded calories that might otherwise offset performance gains by increasing undesired body weight or negatively impacting health. In other words, incorporating dietary supplements into daily meal plans would safely enhance health, sport and fitness goals as compared to using no supplements.
That’s the intention but not always the outcome for many reasons. Results are often determined (as with most anything consumed) by the physiological (the way their body functions or unique make up) and psychological (what’s going on in their head) condition of the athlete. Other factors affecting individual outcomes from the use of dietary supplements include the way the product is made or where the ingredients come from, amounts consumed, how well you follow direction on taking the product, etc.
Acceptable Use of Dietary Supplements
Any dietary supplement you consider using must be 100% defensible through scientific research, not used to treat medical conditions (unless by qualified health professional), and only used in support of the following goals:
Maintaining Health, As Mom Always Said: “Take Your Vitamins”
- Preserving health
- Objective: maintain health by improving the daily nutrient intake achieved through diet alone
- Safely enhance sport and fitness outcomes
- Objective: improve training-induced performance results compared to no supplements
And this time she was right. People of all ages should use a daily multivitamin and mineral formula (MVM) to complement their best efforts to eat the “perfect diet,” which may not be available or definable (i.e. no one knows what the perfect diet consist of and science keeps changing our recommendations).
The use of a MVM is even more important for hard training athletes. Exercise not only increases your needs for the energy contained in food, but also increases vitamin and mineral needs in order to utilize the energy. Hence, vitamins and minerals are necessary for energy production and maximizing growth and recovery. And you can no longer make the case that athletes eat more so they automatically get more vitamins and minerals because too many athletes are (or need to be) weight conscious, meaning they limit or regularly reduce calories thus receive less total nutrient intake.
Think of vitamins as spark plugs in your car. Without sparks in every cylinder, combustion doesn’t take place and your engine sputters. Supporting your diet with a vitamin/mineral formula designed to complement your menu helps ensure your “engine” has the potential to run at full capacity on all cylinders. At a minimum, daily multivitamin and mineral supplementation is the athlete’s insurance against common and unavoidable shortcomings driven by typical daily diets and local food supply or availability. Unfortunately, and especially in the case of younger athletes, nutrient intake is often inadequate based on food preferences, calorie restrictions and/or lack of food variety. So listen to your mom and take your daily MVM.
Position & Rationale for Adult Athletes Performance Supplementation
There is unequivocal evidence that a limited number of natural substances prepared and ingested properly can safely improve training-induced size or performance for many athletes. Historically, however, athletes have had a tendency to not follow directions. Many believe, “if a little works, more is better.” Unfortunately overconsumption of anything—such as specific foods, calories, so-called natural substances and drugs—can lead to problems. On the other hand, proper supplementation for performance has often been shown to generate truly remarkable benefits, and this in itself can save many athletes from turning to illegal anabolic steroid use, which has well-known, harmful side effects.
Present rationale to avoid training plateaus or improve performance and size by using dietary supplements is based on the fact that intense training continues to set the stage for muscles to improve. Therefore, when the benefits of training and diet on muscle mass and performance are no longer increasing, specific supplement regimens may play a role in plateau avoidance and progressive development for many adult athletes.
Youth Athletes and Performance Supplements
Most high school and ALL pre high-school athletes have no reason to use supplementation to improve performance. First of all, only serious competitive strength and performance athletes are potential candidates for performance supplements. This eliminates the vast majority of all athletes, including youth, as most would be considered “recreational athletes”. Second, pre-high school athletes are still rapidly developing children who, when training and eating properly for growth and maximum performance (including the use of pre- and post-exercise/activity nutrition bars or shakes as discussed in the last article), can maximize their athletic potential without the use of any purported performance enhancing supplements. And finally, up to and through puberty*, children are rapidly developing in all areas, with puberty being an especially unique and important phase. Facts on how any medications, excessive intake of any single nutrient or food, perceived as healthy or not, are all unknowns as it relates to pubescence. Therefore dietary supplementation of any kind other than a multiple vitamin and mineral formula, pre- and post-activity snacks as mentioned above, or a specific recommendation by a qualified health professional, should be discouraged until at least the completion of puberty.
*According the National Institute of Health (NIH), puberty generally happens for girls between ages 10-14 years and 12-16 for boys.
All competitive athletes and exercisers should eat the best they can by following the menu plans in their dotFIT Me Program and take a MVM supplement daily. Also, use a calcium supplement if calcium needs are not met by foods (~1000-1500mgs/day depending on age and gender). On all training days use the proper pre- and post-training formulas as described in our last article and shown in your menus.
Many adult competitive athletes may benefit from safe and proven formulas specially designed for improving the performance of specific activities when compared to a non-supplemented state.
Future articles will discuss specific dietary supplement practices/formulas that have demonstrated success in improving performance – so stay tuned. Our next article will show you how to put together all we have discussed up to this date.
Until then, “eat right and you WILL perform better - keep eating right and keep performing better!”