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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.

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Weiliang Chung, Audrey Baguet, Tine Bex, David J. Bishop and Wim Derave

Muscle carnosine loading through chronic oral beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to be effective for short-duration, high-intensity exercise. This randomized, placebo-controlled study explored whether the ergogenic effect of beta-alanine supplementation is also present for longer duration exercise. Subjects (27 well-trained cyclists/triathletes) were supplemented with either beta-alanine or placebo (6.4 g/day) for 6 weeks. Time to completion and physiological variables for a 1-hr cycling time-trial were compared between preand postsupplementation. Muscle carnosine concentration was also assessed via proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy before and after supplementation. Following beta-alanine supplementation, muscle carnosine concentration was increased by 143 ± 151% (mean ± SD; p < .001) in the gastrocnemius and 161 ± 56% (p < .001) in the soleus. Postsupplementation time trial performance was significantly slower in the placebo group (60.6 ± 4.4–63.0 ± 5.4 min; p < .01) and trended toward a slower performance following beta-alanine supplementation (59.8 ± 2.8–61.7 ± 3.0 min; p = .069). We found an increase in lactate/proton concentration ratio following beta-alanine supplementation during the time-trial (209.0 ± 44.0 (beta-alanine) vs. 161.9 ± 54.4 (placebo); p < .05), indicating that a similar lactate concentration was accompanied by a lower degree of systemic acidosis, even though this acidosis was quite moderate (pH ranging from 7.30 to 7.40). In conclusion, chronic beta-alanine supplementation in well-trained cyclists had a very pronounced effect on muscle carnosine concentration and a moderate attenuating effect on the acidosis associated with lactate accumulation, yet without affecting 1-h time-trial performance under laboratory conditions.

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Erik A. Richter, Jørgen F.P. Wojtaszewski, Søren Kristiansen, Jens R. Daugaard, Jakob N. Nielsen, Wim Derave and Bente Kiens

In the present short review some factors affecting glucose utilization during exercise in skeletal muscle will be briefly described. Special focus will be put on the glucose transport step across the sarcolemma. Glucose transporters (GLUT4) are expressed at a surprisingly similar level in the different muscle fiber types in human skeletal muscle in contrast to findings in the rat. When working at the same absolute work load muscle glucose transport is decreased in trained compared with untrained muscle in part due to a decrease in GLUT4 translocation to the sarcolemma in trained muscle. However, when trained and untrained muscle are stressed severely by a workload taxing 100% of their peak oxygen uptake in a glycogen-depleted state, then glucose uptake is larger in trained than in untrained muscle and correlates with muscle GLUT4 content. Finally, the possible role of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) in regulating glucose uptake during exercise is discussed. It is indicated that at present no experiments definitively link activation of AMPK to activation of muscle glucose transport during exercise.