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Wim Derave and Kevin D. Tipton

Many athletes use dietary supplements, with use more prevalent among those competing at the highest level. Supplements are often self-prescribed, and their use is likely to be based on an inadequate understanding of the issues at stake. Supplementation with essential micronutrients may be useful when a diagnosed deficiency cannot be promptly and effectively corrected with food-based dietary solutions. When used in high doses, some supplements may do more harm than good: Iron supplementation, for example, is potentially harmful. There is good evidence from laboratory studies and some evidence from field studies to support health or performance benefits from appropriate use of a few supplements. The available evidence from studies of aquatic sports is small and is often contradictory. Evidence from elite performers is almost entirely absent, but some athletes may benefit from informed use of creatine, caffeine, and buffering agents. Poor quality assurance in some parts of the dietary supplements industry raises concerns about the safety of some products. Some do not contain the active ingredients listed on the label, and some contain toxic substances, including prescription drugs, that can cause health problems. Some supplements contain compounds that will cause an athlete to fail a doping test. Supplement quality assurance programs can reduce, but not entirely eliminate, this risk.

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Peter Peeling, Linda M. Castell, Wim Derave, Olivier de Hon, and Louise M. Burke

Athletes are exposed to numerous nutritional products, attractively marketed with claims of optimizing health, function, and performance. However, there is limited evidence to support many of these claims, and the efficacy and safety of many products is questionable. The variety of nutritional aids considered for use by track-and-field athletes includes sports foods, performance supplements, and therapeutic nutritional aids. Support for sports foods and five evidence-based performance supplements (caffeine, creatine, nitrate/beetroot juice, β-alanine, and bicarbonate) varies according to the event, the specific scenario of use, and the individual athlete’s goals and responsiveness. Specific challenges include developing protocols to manage repeated use of performance supplements in multievent or heat-final competitions or the interaction between several products which are used concurrently. Potential disadvantages of supplement use include expense, false expectancy, and the risk of ingesting banned substances sometimes present as contaminants. However, a pragmatic approach to the decision-making process for supplement use is recommended. The authors conclude that it is pertinent for sports foods and nutritional supplements to be considered only where a strong evidence base supports their use as safe, legal, and effective and that such supplements are trialed thoroughly by the individual before committing to use in a competition setting.