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Dietary Supplements For Exercise And Athletic Performance

Published on Mar 15, 2021


By Dr. Surya Bhagwati
Chief In- House Doctor
BAMS, DHA, DHHCM, DHBTC | 30+ Years of Experience

Dietary Supplements For Exercise And Athletic Performance

To reach peak performance, you need to be well-nourished and adequately hydrated. Dietary deficiencies and poor hydration can severely impair performance. For athletes who engage in high intensity or endurance activities, it can be hard to get adequate nutrition from dietary sources alone, which is why dietary supplements are so popular. As per the USFDA classification of dietary supplements, these can include ingredients like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, herbs or other botanicals, and other metabolites that may be synthetically produced or plant-based.

10 Popular Dietary Supplements for Enhanced Athletic Performance:

1. Protein Supplements

Protein Supplements for muscle growth

Protein is the most vital nutrient for muscle growth and maintenance, making it essential for athletes and bodybuilders. Getting a good amount of protein gives you all of the essential amino acids or EAAs needed for muscle growth while limiting protein breakdown in muscles. Athletes have higher protein requirements of about 0.5 to 0.9 grams for each pound of body weight per day. When engaging in high-intensity training these requirements can be even higher. Getting adequate protein from dietary sources alone can therefore be tough, making protein supplements so helpful. Whey protein is generally regarded as the best protein supplement, providing all the EAAs.

2. Creatine Supplements

Creatine Supplements for athletes and bodybuilders

Creatine has long been popular with athletes and bodybuilders who are looking to boost performance in high-intensity activities like sprinting or weight lifting. Creatine is stored in the muscles, providing them with a supply of energy, improving strength and power. While evidence shows creatine to be extremely helpful at boosting performance in such short bursts of intense activity it does not help with endurance activities like running a marathon or swimming.

3. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha for muscle growth

A few decades ago, Ashwagandha was barely known outside of the Ayurvedic community, but it has rapidly emerged as one of the most popular dietary supplements for athletes worldwide. This is because Ashwagandha works through a variety of mechanisms, improving resistance to both physical and mental stress, lowering cortisol levels, and boosting testosterone. These actions are believed to boost muscle growth, but more importantly, research shows that regular supplementation can also improve cardiorespiratory endurance, boosting performance in both high intensity and endurance activities.

4. Caffeine Supplements

Caffeine Supplements for boost performance

Caffeine supplements have been popular among endurance athletes for decades, commonly used to increase alertness and boost performance. Evidence does suggest that caffeine supplementation can help with endurance activities, but is not of much help for short, high-intensity activities. The performance boost from caffeine is also mild and can vary among individuals. Moreover, a high dosage of caffeine is known to cause side effects that can be counterproductive to performance, causing disturbed sleep, irritability, and anger. Extremely high doses of 10,000 mg or more can even be fatal.

5. Branched-Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs

Protein supplements - Branched-Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs

These dietary supplements for performance have become quite popular with athletes and they come with amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. This means that they are only helpful if you aren’t getting enough dietary protein or high-quality protein supplements. Based on the evidence it also appears that these supplements can help with muscle growth and strength when used with weight training. The benefits would therefore mainly help with performance in high-intensity activities, rather than with endurance.

6. B Vitamins

B Vitamins supplements for mass gain

When thinking of dietary supplements for performance, most of us overlook the importance of nutrients like B-complex vitamins. The B vitamins include nutrients like thiamin, folate, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12, all of which are important for performance in athletes. While dietary intake of nutrients is always preferable to supplementation, if your diet is lacking in B vitamins, it would be a good idea to take vitamin supplements like B complex.

7. Gokhru

Gokhru – Ayurvedic medicine for bodybuilding

Gokhru has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia, but it has also become popular in the west for potential bodybuilding and athletic performance benefits. Now better known to many athletes as Tribulus terrestris, the herb can be helpful as it boosts testosterone and androsterone levels, also promoting improvements in anaerobic muscle power. This makes it particularly helpful as a performance-enhancing supplement for sprinters, bodybuilders, and other athletes engaging in high-intensity activities.

8. Iron Supplements

Iron Supplements for building muscles

Like B vitamins, iron supplementation is rarely given much thought when it comes to athletic performance. However, adequate iron intake is essential because of its role in oxygen delivery throughout the body, including the muscles. Iron deficiency anaemia is known to increase fatigue and impairs athletic performance, whether engaging in high intensity or endurance activities. Of course, iron supplementation will only offer benefits if your diet is lacking in iron. Instead of iron supplements, you can also treat iron deficiency anaemia with Shilajit, which is known to offer other health benefits as well, raising energy levels and boosting performance.

9. Beetroot Supplements

Beetroot Supplements for muscle building

Beetroot is a widely consumed tuber in India and it’s also highly recommended in Ayurved to relieve fatigue and conditions that cause weakness. Beet powders and supplements are now also gaining popularity with athletes as they are one of the best sources of nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide. This causes blood vessel expansion, improving blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles, reducing muscle fatigue and boosting performance in endurance and aerobic activities like distance running and swimming.

10. Quercetin

Quercetin supplements for bodybuilding

Quercetin supplements are not as well-known as most of the others on this list, but they are increasingly being used among some athletes to improve performance. This compound, which is found in several foods and herbs like amla increases energy production in the muscles and also enhances circulation through the body. The benefits of quercetin supplementation are thought to be marginal and it would be best to consume food and herbs to get this nutrient.

While these are some of the most commonly used dietary supplements for performance, there are other dietary supplements that you can also consider using. These can include glutamine, arginine, and herbs like Shatavari or Safed Musli. Most importantly, ensure that your diet is balanced with a variety of foods to give you adequate calories, carbs, and fluid to regulate blood sugar and glycogen levels, as well as protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.

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  2. Balsom, P D et al. “Skeletal muscle metabolism during short duration high-intensity exercise: influence of creatine supplementation.” Acta physiologica Scandinavica vol. 154,3 (1995): 303-10. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1995.tb09914.x
  3. Sandhu, Jaspal Singh et al. “Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults.” International journal of Ayurved research vol. 1,3 (2010): 144-9. doi:10.4103/0974-7788.72485
  4. Grgic, Jozo et al. “Wake up and smell the coffee: caffeine supplementation and exercise performance-an umbrella review of 21 published meta-analyses.” British journal of sports medicine vol. 54,11 (2020): 681-688. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-100278
  5. Kimball, Scot R, and Leonard S Jefferson. “Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 136,1 Suppl (2006): 227S-31S. doi:10.1093/jn/136.1.227S
  6. Woolf, Kathleen, and Melinda M Manore. “B-vitamins and exercise: does exercise alter requirements?.” International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism vol. 16,5 (2006): 453-84. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.16.5.453
  7. Milasius, K et al. “The influence of the Tribulus terrestris extract on the parameters of the functional preparedness and athletes' organism homeostasis.” Fiziolohichnyi zhurnal (Kiev, Ukraine : 1994) vol. 55,5 (2009): 89-96. PMID: 20095389
  8. Murphy, Margaret et al. “Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics vol. 112,4 (2012): 548-52. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2011.12.002
  9. Daneshvar, Pooya et al. “Effect of eight weeks of quercetin supplementation on exercise performance, muscle damage and body muscle in male badminton players.” International journal of preventive medicine vol. 4,Suppl 1 (2013): S53-7. PMID: 23717771

Dr. Surya Bhagwati
BAMS (Ayurveda), DHA (Hospital Admin), DHHCM (Health Management), DHBTC (Herbal Beauty and Cosmetology)

Dr. Surya Bhagwati is an established, well-known Ayurvedic expert with over 30 years of experience in treating and consulting in the field of Ayurveda. She is known for the timely, efficient, and patient-centred delivery of quality health care. The patients under her care receive a unique holistic treatment comprising not only medicinal treatment but also spiritual empowerment.

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