Dietary Supplements Role in Athletic Performance
The efficacy and safety of dietary supplements for athletes has been a hot topic of late, with the BALCO scandal drawing attention to the often murky line between performance enhancement and illegal boosting. Mark Verstegen, president, and Amanda Gwinnup Carlson, MS, RD, nutrition manager and research coordinator, with Athletes Performance shared with INSIDER their thoughts on the role of dietary supplements in professional athletics and what supplement companies can do to alleviate concerns about using the products.
The foundation of a solid nutrition and training program for any athlete starts with optimal nutritional habits and intake. Athletes need to understand what their bodies need and the best way they can get that from food. They then need to understand issues of timing. Athletes need to eat every two-and-a-half to three hours consistently every day. This is one area where supplements are key. Athletes are busy and may endure multiple training sessions or games in one day. Shakes, ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) and bars (complete supplements) are extremely valuable in ensuring athletes are able to consistently and easily feed their bodies. Supplements are also very important in terms of hydration and carbohydrate/protein supplementation during training sessions. Supplements are also critical components in the recovery process. Protein, amino acids and carbohydrate supplements are utilized at specific times before, during and after training sessions to ensure optimal recovery and regeneration. Finally, supplements are also used for joint health, everyday wellness support, cardiovascular wellness and inflammation, or to correct any dietary deficiencies.
As far as the specific types of products being used, athletes have an interest in energy drinks and any other type of food or beverage with an added health benefit. They are always looking for a product with more bang for the buck. There is a great deal of interest in receiving additional health benefits from foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, herbs, etc. Companies should label their products to specifically explain how products benefit an athletes health and/or performance. The labeling needs to be direct and not misleading. An athlete may choose one product over the other based on crafty marketing when, in reality, the products may be very similar.
This issue of claims and product validity is a major concern in the market. Its often difficult to know if a product does what it claims to do, or contains what the label says it contains. Athletes put their trust into these products and they deserve to know these supplements are actually supplementing the way they claim to. There are a multitude of products on the market, many with invalid and unsupported claims, and it can become overwhelming. Athletes should not be bombarded with false claims feeding high hopes for a product that may lack validity. They need to have realistic expectations, and their expectations are skewed by marketing tactics and claims.
A more serious concern is the issue of safety and contamination. Athletes have a lot riding on their performance and look to products to safely enhance performance. The products on the market need to be proven to safely enhance performance; moreover, the athletes need to know that the products they are taking will not run them the risk of testing positive on a drug test.
The last primary concern is that athletes rely on a supplement rather than on proper nutrition and hard work. There is a danger that they will lean on the potential easy way out, rather on a strong nutrition foundation. Athletes need to be taught that supplements are just that, a supplement to an outstanding workout and nutrition plan.
Dietary supplement companies can take several actions to alleviate these concerns among those in the athletic community. Companies need to complete additional clinical research to validate the efficacy of their products. They also need to go through some sort of third party testing to ensure product safety. Supplement companies also need to do a better job of educating clients on the potential benefits and side effects of the products. It all comes down to fulfilling the trust of these athletes. Theyre putting so much time, work and money on the line, and shouldnt have to risk their careers on something that might work, that might contain the materials it says it does, and that might cause them to test positive on a drug test.
Mark Verstegen currently serves as president of Athletes Performance and directs a 25-person team of performance specialists, therapists, and nutritionists to train many of the top athletes in the world. He is recognized as a leader in athletic performance training, developing and implementing unique and breakthrough concepts in athletic performance. Amanda Gwinnup Carlson, MS, RD, is the nutrition manager and research coordinator with Athletes Performance. Carlson works directly with all of Athletes Performances clients to create year-long programs for maximum success; she also coordinates the companys performance research, undertaking both case studies and peer-reviewed research.