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Ina Garthe and Ronald J. Maughan

In elite sport, where opponents are evenly matched, small factors can determine the outcome of sporting contests. Not all athletes know the value of making wise nutrition choices, but anything that might give a competitive edge, including dietary supplements, can seem attractive. Between 40% and 100% of athletes typically use supplements, depending on the type of sport, level of competition, and the definition of supplements. However, unless the athlete has a nutrient deficiency, supplementation may not improve performance and may have a detrimental effect on both performance and health. Dietary supplements are classified as a subcategory of food, so manufacturers are not required to provide evidence of product safety and efficacy, nor obtain approval from regulatory bodies before marketing supplements. This creates the potential for health risks, and serious adverse effects have been reported from the use of some dietary supplements. Athletes who compete in sports under an anti-doping code must also realize that supplement use exposes them to a risk of ingesting banned substances or precursors of prohibited substances. Government systems of regulations do not include specific laboratory testing for banned substances according to the WADA list, so a separate regulatory framework to evaluate supplements for their risk of provoking a failed doping test is needed. In the high-performance culture typical of elite sport, athletes may use supplements regardless of possible risks. A discussion around medical, physiological, cultural, and ethical questions may be warranted to ensure that the athlete has the information needed to make an informed choice.

Open access

Ronald J. Maughan, Susan M. Shirreffs and Alan Vernec

The use of dietary supplements is widespread among athletes in all sports and at all levels of competition, as it is in the general population. For the athlete training at the limits of what is sustainable, or for those seeking a shortcut to achieving their aims, supplements offer the prospect of bridging the gap between success and failure. Surveys show, however, that this is often not an informed choice and that the knowledge level among consumers is often low and that they are often influenced in their decisions by individuals with an equally inadequate understanding of the issues at stake. Supplement use may do more harm than good, unless it is based on a sound analysis of the evidence. Where a deficiency of an essential nutrient has been established by appropriate investigations, supplementation can provide a rapid and effective correction of the problem. Supplements can also provide a convenient and time-efficient solution to achieving the necessary intake of key nutrients such as protein and carbohydrate. Athletes contemplating the use of supplements should consider the potential for both positive and negative outcomes. Some ergogenic supplements may be of benefit to some athletes in some specific contexts, but many are less effective than is claimed. Some may be harmful to health of performance and some may contain agents prohibited by anti-doping regulations. Athletes should make informed choices that maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks.

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Louise M. Burke, John A. Hawley, Asker Jeukendrup, James P. Morton, Trent Stellingwerff and Ronald J. Maughan

From the breakthrough studies of dietary carbohydrate and exercise capacity in the 1960s through to the more recent studies of cellular signaling and the adaptive response to exercise in muscle, it has become apparent that manipulations of dietary fat and carbohydrate within training phases, or in the immediate preparation for competition, can profoundly alter the availability and utilization of these major fuels and, subsequently, the performance of endurance sport (events >30 min up to ∼24 hr). A variety of terms have emerged to describe new or nuanced versions of such exercise–diet strategies (e.g., train low, train high, low-carbohydrate high-fat diet, periodized carbohydrate diet). However, the nonuniform meanings of these terms have caused confusion and miscommunication, both in the popular press and among the scientific community. Sports scientists will continue to hold different views on optimal protocols of fuel support for training and competition in different endurance events. However, to promote collaboration and shared discussions, a commonly accepted and consistent terminology will help to strengthen hypotheses and experimental/experiential data around various strategies. We propose a series of definitions and explanations as a starting point for a more unified dialogue around acute and chronic manipulations of fat and carbohydrate in the athlete’s diet, noting philosophies of approaches rather than a single/definitive macronutrient prescription. We also summarize some of the key questions that need to be tackled to help produce greater insight into this exciting area of sports nutrition research and practice.

Open access

Ronald J. Maughan, Louise M. Burke, Jiri Dvorak, D. Enette Larson-Meyer, Peter Peeling, Stuart M. Phillips, Eric S. Rawson, Neil P. Walsh, Ina Garthe, Hans Geyer, Romain Meeusen, Luc van Loon, Susan M. Shirreffs, Lawrence L. Spriet, Mark Stuart, Alan Vernec, Kevin Currell, Vidya M. Ali, Richard G.M. Budgett, Arne Ljungqvist, Margo Mountjoy, Yannis Pitsiladis, Torbjørn Soligard, Uğur Erdener and Lars Engebretsen

Nutrition usually makes a small but potentially valuable contribution to successful performance in elite athletes, and dietary supplements can make a minor contribution to this nutrition program. Nonetheless, supplement use is widespread at all levels of sport. Products described as supplements target different issues, including the management of micronutrient deficiencies, supply of convenient forms of energy and macronutrients, and provision of direct benefits to performance or indirect benefits such as supporting intense training regimens. The appropriate use of some supplements can offer benefits to the athlete, but others may be harmful to the athlete’s health, performance, and/or livelihood and reputation if an anti-doping rule violation results. A complete nutritional assessment should be undertaken before decisions regarding supplement use are made. Supplements claiming to directly or indirectly enhance performance are typically the largest group of products marketed to athletes, but only a few (including caffeine, creatine, specific buffering agents and nitrate) have good evidence of benefits. However, responses are affected by the scenario of use and may vary widely between individuals because of factors that include genetics, the microbiome, and habitual diet. Supplements intended to enhance performance should be thoroughly trialed in training or simulated competition before implementation in competition. Inadvertent ingestion of substances prohibited under the anti-doping codes that govern elite sport is a known risk of taking some supplements. Protection of the athlete’s health and awareness of the potential for harm must be paramount, and expert professional opinion and assistance is strongly advised before embarking on supplement use.