12 Best Dietary Supplements for Athletes


If you want to improve your performance in sports, you should start by eating healthy every day. You cannot make up for a poor diet with supplements and vitamin pills, even though many athletes try this approach. However, some supplements may be helpful for an athlete who is already eating a nutritious diet.

If you’re dedicated to eating healthy and working out regularly, you might want to consider taking supplements to improve your performance. Here are 12 supplements that could help.

1. Vitamin D

Skip leg day? No way! While there’s no guarantee that following a leg workout routine will prevent injuries to your hamstrings or ACL, not taking vitamin D is pretty much equivalent to skipping leg day. The research linking contact and non-contact injuries to vitamin D levels is quite strong, and major studies conducted by the Giants, Steelers, and NFL Combine have shown that vitamin D can be a game changer.

I prefer to think about vitamin D as a muscle hormone rather than a bone support supplement. I find that athletes are far more excited about muscle performance than bone health. Athletes with darker pigment levels need to take more vitamin D on average, especially if they live in northern climates and spend most of their time indoors. Trying to get enough sun as an athlete is futile, since the world is now an indoor world and modern competition schedules force athletes to become athletic vampires.

2. Caffeine

Caffeine provides improved focus for skill-based activities, as well as benefits for endurance. Caffeine is used successfully by a range of athlete groups, from the recreational marathon runner to the elite baller.

If you are reading this, it is likely that you have already tried using caffeine to improve your performance. However, here we will look at how to use caffeine more effectively to get the most benefits from it.

If you want to take caffeine as a performance-enhancing supplement, be aware of how much you’re taking in. Health Canada recommends limiting daily caffeine intake to 400 mg, or about three 237 ml cups of brewed coffee.

Caffeine in large quantities is not beneficial for sports. Studies have found that there is no added benefit to caffeine beyond 9 mg/kg body mass (this means about 600 mg for a 150 lb person).

Too much caffeine can cause problems like feeling sick, being anxious, not being able to sleep, and feeling restless.

Some people’s bodies don’t process caffeine very well, and for them, it can actually make their performance worse instead of better. You can figure out if you’re one of these people by trying it out in practice before using it in a competition.

3. Creatine

If you’re looking to bulk up or increase your strength, creatine monohydrate supplementation can help. Creatine is a popular choice among strength athletes like bodybuilders, CrossFitters, sprinters, and football players.

Interestingly, creatine is also essential for maintaining brain health and function. Along with its potential role in moderating the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s, creatine may also be useful for treating concussions.

Our bodies produce creatine, which we can get from food sources like meat and chicken.

The human body changes creatine into creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate then helps to create adenosine triphosphate, which is a source of energy for our bodies.

According to the text, supplements have a few different effects on the body. Creatine is increased in the muscles, which allows for more strength and endurance. There is also the potential for weight gain from water retention. However, no adverse effects have been noted with long term use.

4. Nitrate

The next supplement on our list that boosts performance are nitrates. Nitrates are a substance found in many vegetables and can be easily added to our diets.

Nitrate increases the amount of nitric oxide in our body. Nitric oxide makes some types of muscle fibers work better and helps us breathe more efficiently.

The intake of dietary nitrate is a popular choice for runners, rowers, triathletes, and cyclists who are looking to improve their performance in endurance exercise. Nitrates are thought to improve performance by reducing the amount of oxygen needed by the muscles during exercise.

If you take nitrate supplements, you may experience stomach upset. Foods that contain natural nitrates include root vegetables and leafy greens like beets, arugula, spinach, and celery. You can also buy beet supplements.

5. Beta-alanine

Non-essential amino acids can be found in meats, poultry, and fish. Beta-alanine is one example of a non-essential amino acid.

Beta-alanine, working together with histidine, helps to produce carnosine. This substance is found in brain and muscle tissues, and its purpose is to reduce the lactic acid build-up in muscles which can otherwise limit performance during intense exercise.

Taking a beta-alanine supplement will increase the amount of carnosine in your muscles. This in turn will lead to increased capacity for intense exercise and reduced fatigue. Beta-alanine has been shown to improve endurance during high-intensity exercise.

The benefits of Beta-alanine include increased performance during continuous and intermittent exercises that last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. Some possible side effects of Beta-alanine include skin rashes.

6. Omega-3s

Most nutritionists agree that omega-3s are safe and useful, but the supplement only gained popularity after the NFL started to have some controversy.

Algae supplements are becoming more popular due to the fact that they do not have an aftertaste and do not need to be taken with fish oil. However, the fish oil industry is still growing, and there are more sustainable and earth-friendly options. The use of the Omega Index, a blood test to evaluate the consumption or compliance of omega-3s, is also growing with nutritionists wanting to ensure athletes are taking their supplement. There are other emerging benefits with omega-3 research, such as reaction time and vision, and in the future we will see how much impact there is in sport.

7. Protein Powder

Protein powders are a convenient way to get enough protein, especially for larger athletes. They’re also relatively inexpensive compared to other protein sources. Protein powders have other benefits besides muscle repair, such as helping to build bodies. They’re also portable, which makes them a good option for athletes with busy schedules.

A modern football player in college may train twice a day, and fueling those workouts can be a challenge. Other protein powders exist, but if you have a shake two to three times a week during peak periods, that should not create food allergies (as reported in the early 2000s). I have had a few athletes simply not respond well to whey or milk protein, but some have found lactose-free whey to be an alternative to the “chocolate milk for recovery” option that many nutritionists think is sufficient. In other words, a modern football player in college may have to train twice a day, and this can be a challenge to fuel with the right foods. Whey protein powder is an option that shouldn’t create food allergies, but some athletes don’t respond well to it. Lactose-free whey is an alternative that some have found to be helpful.

8. Magnesium

A blood test for magnesium is not a reliable way to determine if someone is getting enough of the nutrient, because the body can store magnesium in the bones and recycle it as needed. Even a test of the magnesium levels in red blood cells (RBCs) is not conclusive evidence that an athlete’s diet contains enough magnesium. There is a test that can be done on mucosal tissue, but it is not widely available and researchers do not yet know enough about the role magnesium plays in the body to say definitively that supplements are necessary.

9. Iron

It’s a good idea for every female endurance athlete to take an iron supplement as a way to be on the safe side. Even if you supplement, there are still variables that could have an impact such as gut health and inflammation. Male speed and power athletes, especially those who play field sports like soccer, should also think about taking an iron supplement because it’s easy to not get enough iron in your diet. Anemia is common in athletes and low iron levels can cause problems like fatigue and injuries. Iron supplements aren’t very interesting, but if your iron levels are low, it can cause impaired oxygen transport.

10. Sport Probiotics

SimpliFaster has two excellent blog articles on probiotics, both written by Katie Mark. While we don’t yet fully understand the microbiome, we do know that it’s worth supplementing athletes with probiotics because it’s not a gimmick. One of the most fascinating lessons I learned while using probiotics with athletes is that they can act as catalysts for other supplements like iron. Many athletes have poor gut health, which can impair absorption and compromise the entire system. One athlete of mine struggled for years to get enough iron in his body, but only after starting probiotic supplementation was he able to restore his ferritin levels.

Probiotics are more effective than vitamin C for athletes who travel frequently. Although a diet with fresh produce provides enough vitamin C for most people, athletes who travel frequently are under more stress and need more antioxidants. Probiotics, which are found in yogurt and pickled foods, can help supplement the antioxidants that these athletes need.

11. Ashwagandha

The only herb mentioned is an old one that is known to assist people in managing stress. The author does not seem to be very fond of herbs as they can make athletes less invested in their diets and more focused on things like potions and spells. Despite this, they still decided to try Ashwagandha as some of the athletes they were working with were not doing well mentally or physically despite taking a break. This herb helped them to sleep better and feel more upbeat.

We added a sports supplement that included small doses of ashwagandha to their diet and had to increase the dose three times to match what the scientific literature suggested. A few weeks later, they were all noticeably fresher, happier, and sleeping like teenagers. A few months later, they all set new records in their offseason training, even though some of them were approaching 30 years old.

herbs are not a popular sports product and most supplement companies that use them have trouble creating a formula that doesn’t have to be relabelled. In the next few years, I expect an NSF adaptogen product that is affordable and has efficacy that is supported by research.

12. Gelatin

The final, and perhaps most controversial, supplement is gelatin. Gelatin has been touted as a promising solution for joint repair, and many in the sports medicine and sports performance community have embraced it as a cure for tendon injuries. However, Keith Barr, an expert on molecular science, has raised some doubts about how effective it actually is. I am cautious myself, as tendons require more than just gelatin and vitamin C. The study that was performed was also specific to nutrient timing and genetics, so perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss those who advocate for simply “eating healthy.”

Gelatin is great because you can add juices to it and still have some of the nutrients left. Some athletes have found that tart cherries and other health juices make great-tasting desserts.

Last Parting Thoughts on Supplements

This list is likely to remain the same next year, unless something on one of the supplements above indicates that it is not worth taking. If you are an athlete or coach, make sure that any supplements you take are certified as safe. If you are unsure, it is better to accept the possible loss of a small advantage than to risk a lifetime of unfair shame because of contamination. This is not a major problem with this supplement list, as most of the items are nutrients. It is very unlikely that a banned substance will be found in vitamin D or magnesium.

The main problem with contamination is that athletes don’t know what is on the label, rather than what is not listed on the label. The supplement industry is improving, but it still has a long way to go. In the meantime, there are several companies that are committed to helping athletes and have been doing a great job with their products for years.


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