Food Supplements

There are arguments both for and against many food supplements. The following outlines some of the most common food supplements on the market.

Creatine

For:
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in meat and fish.  It is stored in the body’s muscles; it is used to generate energy in intense bursts. Almost 150 clinical studies have proven that creatine can help boost performance in sports such as football that involve fast sprinting, and in weight training.

Against:
20 to 30 percent of people have no response to the substance. In addition, there is no data on the long-term side-effects of creatine use. But there is evidence to show that large doses of creatine can possibly damage the liver and kidneys. Even in small doses it may cause weight-gain, dehydration and cramps.
Verdict:
The positives aren’t so great for the general public.

Caffeine

For:
Helps athletes exercise for longer at a higher rate.

Against:
Headaches, tremors and insomnia are the common side-effects. Caffeine affects every part of the body and therefore we do not fully understand all of its effects.

Verdict:
Drinking copious amounts of coffee to improve performance is not recommended. In addition, coffee substitutes such as guarana should be avoided.

Bicarbonate

For:
Made by the body as a buffer to stop muscles becoming too fatigued or acidic.

Against:
As with creatine, some people don’t respond. It is better suited to sports lasting between one and seven minutes.  These could include some sprints or swimming events, kayaking or rowing. Side effects include gastro-intestinal distress.

Verdict:
Be aware of the side-effects and realise that it suits some athletes better than others. Don’t take too much.

Carnitine

For:
An amino acid made naturally in the liver, it helps transport fat to the muscle to be used for energy. The theory is that the more you take, the more fat you break down during exercise.  Some studies also suggest it can reduce muscle soreness after exercise.

Against:
More than 50 percent of studies have shown carnitine to have no benefit on improving fat transportation or on boosting fat loss.

Verdict:
It’s a fad which has been shown to be ineffectual.  More proof needed.

Chromium

For:
Chromium is a trace mineral found in nuts, cheese and wholegrains.  One of its roles is to help insulin transport blood sugar into muscles, where it is stored as an energy reserve and is used to burn fat. It claims to increase muscle mass and endurance and reduce body fat with possible benefits to diabetics through control of blood glucose levels.

Against:
Research suggests it offers no benefit unless you are deficient in the mineral.  Animal tests have also shown that very large doses can cause DNA damage and cancer.

Verdict:
Good if you have mild chromium deficiency. Not recommended for sporting performance as we don’t understand its long-term effects.