A common question I often receive is what sport supplements an athlete should be taking to help him/her to run faster, hit harder, or jump higher. The truth is, while there are some supplements that may be of benefit, the starting point for most athletes is first improving the quality of the diet. There is not a supplement on the market that can compete against a well-planned sports nutrition diet.
Questions to consider prior to taking a supplement include:
- Are you eating three meals and at least two snacks daily?
- Do you eat a a variety of foods from all of the food groups?
- Do you include a source of lean protein with each meal?
- Do you include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet?
- Do you have a well-planned, post-workout recovery nutrition plan?
If the answer to all of the questions above is “yes” and you still feel there is a nutritional gap keeping you from meeting your performance goals, then it may be time to consider a supplement. Keeping in mind the intent is to supplement your diet, not replace good nutrition habits.
When considering what supplement to take, my first priority is safety. Since sports supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way that food is, it is best to look for a supplement that is third party test. Visit the NSF International Certified for Sport or Informed Sport websites for more information on third party testing.
The next step is to identify the specific nutritional gap you are trying to fill – for example: increasing protein intake, improving recovery, boosting immune health, or correcting a nutrient deficit. Once this is determined, it is time to look to the research – what supplements have been tested in athletes and shown to be beneficial in the area you are trying to improve?
Working with a Sports Dietitian throughout this process can help ensure you are on the right track and getting up-to-date guidance on what nutritional strategies and/or supplements may help you reach your performance goals.
Bottom Line: The question about whether or not an athlete should take a supplement is not a simple “yes” or “no” – most often the answer is, “it depends”…let’s look at your diet together and come up with a nutrition game plan that works for you!
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