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Supplements: Friend or Foe of a Strength and Power athlete?

“If a supplement works, it is probably banned. If a supplement is not banned, it probably doesn’t work. There are some exceptions.” (Doug Kalman).

Most supplements don’t work! The laws governing what can be sold under what claims fall miles short. Of those that do ‘work’, no (legal!) supplements work miracles. You can’t add 20kg to your snatch with a pill. Or even 5kg. Appropriate training, basic diet, and recovery play a far bigger role. A supplement in the absence of these is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. It won’t do much. However, if you have stitches first (training, diet and recovery) then a sticking plaster (supplement) can help heal the wound faster!

So, what supplements are of most relevance to strength and power athletes like you?

Creatine: This tiny molecule is the energy source that powers rapid explosive movement. Like lifting! By supplementing we can increase the amount in our muscles, supporting more explosive powerful movement. Because of this, and more, creatine supplementation can support muscle mass and strength gains in most people. There is also research indicating creatine may help reduce injury risk and enhance recovery.

Creatine monohydrate (the cheapest) appears most effective, with a daily intake of 0.03-0.06mg/kg bodyweight. Take with lots of water, to avoid stomach cramps. Some people suffer nausea or diarrhoea when taking it – if this happens, try taking it in smaller doses spread through the day, alongside food. Expect 1-1.5kg weight gain in the first week, but do not panic as it is not fat! Water is drawn into the muscle along with the creatine and this adds weight. The more muscle you have, the greater potential creatine and water uptake and the more weight you might initially gain.

For more thoughts on creatine, check out:

Caffeine: A stimulant! Caffeine can improve high intensity short, intermittent and endurance performance by up to 2-3%. Typically results are seen with 3-6mg/kg bodyweight is taken 30–60 minutes before exercise. This allows time for the caffeine to reach the blood and exert its effects. Taking over 9mg/kg seems to have no further performance enhancement and increases the risk of nausea, vomiting, nervous jitters, insomnia … and may risk taking you into doping territory (more than 12ug/ml urine, under the International Olympic Committee standards)! There is so much variability in caffeine sensitivity between individuals, so test your limits. If you are jittery or can’t sleep, you are taking too much!!

To note! Caffeine appears to blunt the effect of creatine, if they are taken together. As such, avoid caffeine in the first 5-7 days taking creatine, and then to take the two as far apart as possible (for most people this will mean taking creatine before bed!).

For more thoughts on caffeine, check out:

And what about the supplements that really don’t deserve their success?? …

BCAAs: Branched chain amino acids are necessary but not sufficient for muscle protein synthesis. Taking these alone is not going to support muscle mass gain. Taking these on top of complete protein is not going to further support muscle gain. Just eat complete protein!!

For more thoughts on BCAAs, check out:

MCTs: Medium chain triglycerides. Thought to support endurance performance and weight loss because of their ability to produce energy rapidly and poor storage in the body. The evidence suggests no impact! At least at the amounts that don’t make you vomit … nice!!

For more thoughts on MCT, check out:

Pre-Workout: The active ingredient for acute performance is caffeine! Many pre-workouts also contain B-alanine, which is a substance with evidence behind it ... but it's benefits come from chronic intake, rather than 30 minute pre-workout swig. The other stuff in there is unproven, and many contained substances banned under many sporting federations. So don’t risk it!!

For more on b-alanine and other buffers, check out:

So there you have it, a very brief 101 on supplements!!

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