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Eric S. Rawson, Mary P. Miles and D. Enette Larson-Meyer

Some dietary supplements are recommended to athletes based on data that supports improved exercise performance. Other dietary supplements are not ergogenic per se, but may improve health, adaptation to exercise, or recovery from injury, and so could help athletes to train and/or compete more effectively. In this review, we describe several dietary supplements that may improve health, exercise adaptation, or recovery. Creatine monohydrate may improve recovery from and adaptation to intense training, recovery from periods of injury with extreme inactivity, cognitive processing, and reduce severity of or enhance recovery from mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Omega 3-fatty acid supplementation may also reduce severity of or enhance recovery from mTBI. Replenishment of vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency will likely improve some aspects of immune, bone, and muscle health. Probiotic supplementation can reduce the incidence, duration, and severity of upper respiratory tract infection, which may indirectly improve training or competitive performance. Preliminary data show that gelatin and/or collagen may improve connective tissue health. Some anti-inflammatory supplements, such as curcumin or tart cherry juice, may reduce inflammation and possibly delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) does not consistently increase strength and/or lean mass or reduce markers of muscle damage, but more research on recovery from injury that includes periods of extreme inactivity is needed. Several dietary supplements, including creatine monohydrate, omega 3-fatty acids, vitamin D, probiotics, gelatin, and curcumin/tart cherry juice could help athletes train and/or compete more effectively.

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.