Performances Enhancers: Secret Sauce or Sham

There are a mass of so called performance enhancing (ergogenic) supplements or â??magic bulletsâ?? that claim to give you the competitive edge. Whether the product provides an indirect effect helping you to meet your nutrition goals, direct performance enhancement or psychological (placebo) boost, how do you wade through the hype?

Gain more muscle, recover faster, and improve performance! There are a mass of so called performance enhancing (ergogenic) supplements or â??magic bulletsâ?? that claim to give you the competitive edge. Whether the product provides an indirect effect helping you to meet your nutrition goals, direct performance enhancement or psychological (placebo) boost, how do you wade through the hype? Do you really need supplements? Which supplements are safe, effective, and fit within the regulations of your sport? As the Three Amigos know, training, recovery, and proper nutrition are essential for top performance as they work toward their Bayshore goals. Food is fuel and with a food first approach, a well-planned diet enhances training, performance and recovery.

The following is a very brief overview of a few food chemicals and compounds that are some of the more common supplements investigated in terms of their performance effects in endurance exercise:


Caffeine is a substance found in a variety of plants and is regularly consumed in coffee, cola drinks, energy drinks and specialized sports foods and supplements.

Caffeine may enhance the performance of a range of sports including endurance sports lasting more than 60 minutes, such as the half and full marathon that Lauren and Marc will be running. The major benefits of caffeine on exercise performance appear to be related to its effect on the central nervous system (especially your brain). These effects reduce the sense of fatigue, which means you are more likely to run at your optimal pace and maintain it for a longer period of time.

Individuals vary in their response to caffeine intake. Although caffeine may enhance sports performance in most people, some people will have no response and others may respond negatively. Caffeine doses as low as 2-3 mg/kg taken in the hour before exercise are effective (approximately 120-180 mg or 160-240 mg for someone weighing 132 or 176 pounds, respectively) with no further benefit at a dose of ~ 3 mg/kg or more.


Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in large amounts in skeletal muscle and the brain as a result of food intake and synthesis by the body from protein building blocks (amino acids).

Creatineâ??s most well-known role is as a source of phosphate to renew ATP (energy), especially in sports that involve repeated sprints or sessions of high intensity exercise, separated by short recovery periods. Studies have also shown that creatine loading enhances carb loading and (glycogen) storage in a trained muscle to increase exercise capacity (time), but the actual effect on specific performance outcomes have not been well studied and more research needs to be done to provide recommended doses.

Individuals with low levels of creatine (vegetarians) may show greater responses to supplementation than those who have a higher muscle amounts. Creatine uptake into the muscle may be enhanced in some people, when taken with a carb-rich meal or snack.

Creatine monohydrate is the most researched of the creatine supplements and from these studies several protocols and dosages have been developed for creatine loading. Important to note is the weight gain of 1 to 2 pounds that is typically associated with acute creatine loading, which may represent water retention. This extra weight may have a negative effect on pace for the runner.


Nitrate is a compound containing nitrogen and oxygen that is both found in our diets and produced by our bodies. Our main dietary sources of nitrate are vegetables, processed meats (added as a preservative) and the water supply. While nitrates and nitrites in processed meats have been associated with health issues such as colon cancer, there may be health benefits from nitrates found in vegetables, the best sources being green leafy plants and vegetables grown in low light conditions such as plant roots (beets).

Nitric oxide (NO) formed from nitrate is an important chemical in our bodies with a role in regulating blood pressure, getting oxygen to muscle tissue, and supporting the immune system. Of interest in athletics, recent research has shown that dietary nitrate supplementation in the form of beet(root) juice also reduces the amount of oxygen needed during moderate intensity exercise, improves power output for the same oxygen use, and increases the time to exhaustion. Beetroot juice doses of 0.5 L (2 cups) (providing ~300 mg nitrate) taken for 3-15 day periods or a single serve consumed 2 -2 ½ hours before exercise have shown improved athletic performance in events lasting 4 -30 minutes.

At present the evidence for improved performance is with specific beetroot juice products, such as Beet It. As with any supplement, sources of nitrates should be used with caution to avoid risks with certain medical conditions or prevent interactions with medications. Although the nitrate content of a specific vegetable source can vary greatly from plant to plant, eating a diet rich in vegetables, along with fruits, whole grains and lean proteins will safely supply energy and nutrients for optimal prevention, performance and recovery.

Although there may be benefits for some dietary supplements, they can also be very expensive and/or cause adverse health effects. As dietary supplements do not require pre-market FDA approval â?? there is no assurance of purity, safety proper dosage or effectiveness. Banned substances include a variety of steroids, stimulants and hormones. Poor manufacturing practices, cross contamination, or illegal drugs disguised as dietary supplements can result in positive tests for banned substances and serious consequences for athletes.

Organizations that provide dietary supplementation information specific to athletes are:

The National Center for Drug-Free Sport:

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency:

A balanced diet for optimal performance and your health is essential. Consider working with a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition to help you evaluate dietary supplements for safety, quality, effectiveness, dosage and application to you sport. Contact Miranda Monroe via for a consultation to put the science of sports nutrition on your plate with a personalized plan and practical meal planning strategies to help you achieve your performance goals.

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