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Using Supplements to Avoid Suboptimal Nutrition in Athletes

Article-Using Supplements to Avoid Suboptimal Nutrition in Athletes

Man scooping protein powder into mixer
Compared to sedentary or non-active individuals, all persons participating in regular exercise programmes increase their nutritional demands.

Diet involves the process of nutrition and associated feeding patterns. Nutrition is an involuntary physiological process by which the body acquires the necessary nutrients for life. There is only one way of doing nutrition—feedings represent a conscious, voluntary and educable behaviour that can be made in different ways depending on habits, individual’s needs or special circumstances. The term ‘diet’, therefore, defines the group of foods customary consumed1 including the regular feedings patters involving the size, number and frequency (timing) as well as the nutritional composition of each singular consumed meal and their impact on nutrition.

Compared to sedentary or non-active individuals, all persons participating in regular exercise programmes increase their nutritional demands. Furthermore, different athletic disciplines have specific nutritional needs. For example, endurance athletes involving in regular and hard exercise programmes require higher amounts of carbohydrates (>5 g/kg/d) than persons engaged in a typical 2 to 3 days per week resistance exercises routine, in which less than 5 g/kg/d would be enough 2. On the other hand, the recommended daily protein consumption ranges between 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg/d for people following a general fitness exercise programme or a hard weightlifting training aimed to gain muscle mass respectively.3 Consequently, appropriate and individualised diet strategies, considering different amount and proportion of nutrients, throughout the day or during and after workouts or competitions, have been proposed as an effective nutritional countermeasure to optimise training adaptation. A diet that does not satisfy the nutritional demands will lead to training-induced suboptimal nutrition—a condition associated with decreased performance, poor resistance to illness and increased susceptibility to injuries.

Supplementation refers to the ingestion of some nutrients over and above their habitual customary consumption.4 The use of supplements represents a valid procedure to achieving  optimal nutrition. Consequently, it could be considered unethical banning the use of some scientifically supported supplements based on personal beliefs. For example, knowing the robust evidence supporting the benefits of creatine to maximise training benefits, reduce musculoskeletal injuries, heat stress, and optimise rehabilitation periods after injuries,5 I wonder if it is still correct to preclude athletes from using creatine when its supplementation poses no adverse health risks and may provide a number of health and performance benefits.6 On those lines, the use of high-quality protein extracts or multi-ingredients providing specific nutrients proportions would also be considered as an alternative to design an optimal diet.

Protein extracts from both animal and plant-based sources are currently used to optimise exercise-induced benefits. Compared to the habitual protein-rich foods (eggs, cheeses, meat, milk etc.), protein extracts are more digestible, leading to a rapid rise in aminoacidemia. Recent recommendations emphasise the positive effects of ingesting high-quality protein extract during (~0.25 g/kg) and after (~0.4 g/kg) exercise to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis and optimise recovery process after training.7 Even though muscles remain sensitised to protein ingestion for at least 24 h following exercises,7 from a practical standpoint, some athletes may struggle, particularly those with high body masses, to consume enough protein to meet their required daily needs (>1.4 g/kg). Therefore, the pragmatic recommendation is for an athlete to feed as soon as possible after a workout. In this respect, not eating does not offer any benefit regarding exercise adaptation and may also interfere with the subsequent training sessions. 

Animal-based proteins confer an advantage over plant-derived proteins with regards to stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

EAA and Leucine content in animals and plant protein extracts (non-published data from the Centre for Science and Medicine in Sport and Exercise, University of Greenwich).

Research supports the use of post-workout supplements containing whey and/or beef protein extracts to optimise training outcomes in young8 and elderly individuals.9 Additionally, the potential benefits of ingesting post workout carbohydrate protein supplements on immunological markers have been also observed.10 Despite promising results of the effectiveness of some plant-based proteins for optimising training outcomes in a similar way as animal sources, further investigation is warranted.



1.            Matarese LE, Pories WJ. Adult weight loss diets: metabolic effects and outcomes. Nutr Clin Pract. 2014;29:759-67.

2.            American College of Sports Medicine and academic of Nutrition and dietitians of Canada jps. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48:543-68.

3.            Jager R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, Cribb PJ, Wells SD, Skwiat TM, Purpura M, Ziegenfuss TN, Ferrando AA, Arent SM, Smith-Ryan AE, Stout JR, Arciero PJ, Ormsbee MJ, Taylor LW, Wilborn CD, Kalman DS, Kreider RB, Willoughby DS, Hoffman JR, Krzykowski JL, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20.

4.            Phillips SM. The impact of protein quality on the promotion of resistance exercise-induced changes in muscle mass. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2016;13:64.

5.            Dorrell HF, Gee TI, Middleton G. An Update on Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Performance: A Review. Sports Nutr Ther. 2016;1:107. Doi:10.4172/2473-6449.1000107.

6.            Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, Candow DG, Kleiner SM, Almada AL, Lopez HL. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:18.

7.            Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, Stout JR, Campbell B, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Kalman D, Smith-Ryan AE, Kreider RB, Willoughby D, Arciero PJ, VanDusseldorp TA, Ormsbee MJ, Wildman R, Greenwood M, Ziegenfuss TN, Aragon AA, Antonio J. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33.

8.            Naclerio F, Seijo-Bujia M, Larumbe-Zabala E, Earnest CP. Carbohydrates Alone or Mixing With Beef or Whey Protein Promote Similar Training Outcomes in Resistance Training Males: A Double Blind, Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2017:1-28.

9.            Naclerio F, Seijo M, Larumbe-Zabala E, Ashrafi N, Christides T, Karsten B, Nielsen BV. Effects of Supplementation with Beef or Whey Protein Versus Carbohydrate in Master Triathletes. J Am Coll Nutr. 2017:1-9.

10.          Naclerio F, Larumbe-Zabala E, Ashrafi N, Seijo M, Nielsen B, Allgrove J, Earnest CP. Effects of protein-carbohydrate supplementation on immunity and resistance training outcomes: a double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017;117:267-77.


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