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  • Writer's pictureAnnie Bothma

SPORT NUTRITION SUPPLEMENT SERIES: Supplements that improve your performance

- Annie Bothma, IOPN Sports Performance Nutritionist (EQF Level 7. Masters), Running Coach and Elite Marathon Runner

In this first installment, of the sports nutrition supplement series, I will delve into the supplements that can make a real difference in enhancing your performance, helping you achieve your fitness goals, and pushing your limits further than ever before. So, let's step into the realm of sports nutrition and discover how these supplements can potentially help transform your athletic endeavors to the next level.



  • For prolonged endurance events, carbohydrate gels, drinks, and bars can provide a quick source of energy to maintain stable blood glucose levels and avoid the development hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

  • Fuelling early and often with carbohydrates will allow you to be less likely to deplete your glycogen stores and hit the dreaded wall towards the latter stages of the race.

  • Frequent and consistent consumption of carbohydrate during exercise is an effective strategy against GI disturbance, due to the presence in chyme that helps protect the gut-lining.

  • Carbohydrate drinks can help avoid dehydration during training. Remember to consume enough fluids with solid carbohydrates sources, like gels and bars, to allow your body to digest and absorb them effectively.


  • Harder training that leads to better training adaptations.

  • Improved recovery time after training sessions.

  • Reduced likelihood of developing an injury.

  • Support your immune system and decrease the likelihood of getting sick prior to race day.

  • Avoid Low-Energy Availability (LEA) and the development of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDS).


  • Exercise lasting greater than 2-2.5 hours: 60 - 90 g of carbs/hour

  • Exercise lasting 1-2 hours: 30 - 60 g of carbs/hour


  • There are too many brands our there for me to mention here, and it is really up to your personal preference and what your GI system can tolerate.

  • The research indicated there isn't a difference in performance if it is coming from a solid or a liquid form of carbohydrate.

  • Options to choose from include: gels, bars, blocks, chews, carbohydrate drink solutions.


  • Alternatives to engineered sports products like gels, drinks or chews are dried fruits like dates or raisins, bananas, oranges, jelly sweets, apple-food pouches or baby potatoes with salt.

  • You will have to experiment and with trial and error you will figure out what works best for you and what your stomach can tolerate.

  • However, it is certainly worth noting that you will have to consume A LOT more real-foods to get to the recommended carbohydrate intakes per hour than if you would use more concentrated engineered carbohydrate products. remember these are designed for a specific reason to make it more convenient for you on race day to consume carbohydrates so you can perform at your best and achieve your goals.


  • Often you see elite athletes consume beyond the 90 g of CHO/h, but it is important to gradually increase your carbohydrate intake during training to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort. Start where you are right now and increase incrementally over the course of weeks leading up to your race.



  • Whey or plant-based protein supplements can aid in muscle repair and recovery after exercise, especially if your dietary protein intake is insufficient.


  • Immune System Support: Proteins are essential for the production of antibodies and other immune system components. They help your body defend against infections and illnesses.

  • Enzyme Function: Many enzymes, which are essential for various metabolic processes in the body, are proteins. These enzymes help facilitate chemical reactions and are vital for digestion, energy production, and more.

  • Hormone Production: Some hormones, such as insulin and growth hormone, are proteins. Hormones play a key role in regulating numerous bodily functions, including metabolism and growth.

  • Cell Structure: Proteins are integral components of cell membranes and the cytoskeleton. They provide structural support and help cells maintain their shape.

  • Transport of Nutrients: Certain proteins, like hemoglobin, transport essential nutrients such as oxygen and iron in the bloodstream.

  • Hair, Skin, and Nail Health: Keratin, a structural protein, is a major component of hair, skin, and nails. Sufficient protein intake can contribute to healthier hair, skin, and nails.

  • Brain Function: Protein is necessary for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that enable nerve cells to communicate. These neurotransmitters play a critical role in brain function and mood regulation.

  • Satiety and Weight Management: Protein-rich foods can help you feel full and satisfied, reducing overall food intake. This can be beneficial for weight management and appetite control.

  • Wound Healing: Proteins are essential for tissue repair and wound healing. They aid in the formation of new tissue and the healing process.

  • Maintaining Lean Body Mass: Protein helps preserve lean body mass, which is essential for overall strength, metabolic health, and long-term well-being, not just in the context of muscle recovery.

  • Maintaining Healthy Bones: Certain proteins, like collagen, are essential for bone health and can contribute to bone strength and flexibility.

  • Blood Sugar Regulation: Protein can help stabilize blood sugar levels when consumed as part of a balanced meal, reducing the post-meal rise in blood glucose.


  • Daily recommended dose for endurance athletes: 1.4-7 of body-weight

  • Straight after exercise: 0.3g/kg of protein or around 25-40 g of protein from a complete protein source containing all the essential amino acids.


  • Plant foods commonly contain a lower concentration of essential amino acids and leucine content, as well as a reduced digestibility compared to animal proteins and are therefore inferior for increasing rates of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) compared to animal protein sources.

  • Animal-based protein sources have a digestibility score >90%; compared to plant-based protein sources such as soy, wheat, rice, and potatoes show digestibility scores ranging from 45-80%.

  • Combine plant-based protein sources whenever possible to ensure the full spectrum of amino acids are present in your meals. Consuming 20-40 gram protein doses at meals and snacks throughout the day and include a pre-bedtime protein-rich snack. Consider supplementing with a plant-based protein if you are struggling to meet your total daily protein requirements as a plant-based athlete.


  • Animal-based: Milk, yoghurt, meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese

  • Plant-based: combination of rice and beans, tofu, edamame beans.


  • If your goal is performance, as endurance athletes carbohydrates should still make up the majority of your diet. Protein is very satiating, therefore, if your protein intake is too high it could be at the expense of carbohydrates and make it hard for your to reach your daily carbohydrate targets.

  • Make sure carbohydrates fill the majority of your plate, especially before training, since protein has a slower gastric-emptying rate it could also make you feel full and uncomfortable if you consume too much of too close to exercise.



  • Caffeine blocks the release of adenosine, a chemical compound that promotes sleep by inhibiting activity in the brain. It also increases the release of chemicals such as dopamine to decrease the levels of melatonin, the hormone that sends you to sleep. Caffeine can enhance endurance performance by stimulates the central nervous system, reducing your perceived exertion, as well as by delaying physical and mental fatigue.


  • Caffeine has a potential glycogen sparing effect. Caffeine can stimulate the use of fat as an energy source, potentially sparing muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stored in muscles) during endurance exercise. This can help delay the onset of muscle fatigue and improve endurance, especially during prolonged activities.


  • 3–6 mg/kg of body mass (BM), in the form of adohydrous caffeine (ie, pill or powder form), consumed ~60 min prior to exercise


  • Liquid is believed to be best since it reaches your bloodstream quicker than the contents of a pill, but if you are getting your caffeine dose from coffee it may be hard to dose accurately, since the caffeine content between different coffee beans, type of roasting method and brewing methods will greatly impact the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. Therefore, if you want a more specific dose it is best to use pill or powder form or choose gels or drinks that contain caffeine.


  • Coffee, tea, dark chocolate.


  • Larger caffeine doses (≥9 mg/kg BM) do not appear to increase the performance benefit, and are more likely to increase the risk of negative side effects, including nausea, anxiety, insomnia and restlessness.

  • You may have to avoid beta-alanine and caffeine supplements if you are pregnant, experience insomnia or have heart issues, they could increase your heart rate and blood pressure.

  • Caffeine is a diuretic promoting increased urine flow, but this effect is very small at the doses that have been shown to enhance performance.



  • In the body, creatine is converted into phosphocreatine and stored in the muscles. During high-intensity exercise, phosphocreatine donates a phosphate group to adenosine diphosphate (ADP), converting it back into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary energy source for muscle contractions.

  • Supplementing with creatine can increase the concentration of phosphocreatine in the muscles, allowing for more rapid ATP production and enhancing performance during short-duration, high-intensity activities. It may also help increase muscle strength, power, and lean body mass. Creatine is commonly used as an ergogenic aid by athletes to improve their athletic performance and promote muscle growth. While creatine is often associated with benefits for strength and power athletes, it can also offer several potential benefits for endurance athletes.


Here are some of the benefits of creatine for specifically for endurance athletes:

  • Muscular energy production: Improves muscular energy production by increasing ATP availability.

  • Aerobic capacity: Increases anaerobic capacity by enhancing phosphocreatine stores.

  • Combat fatigue: Delays fatigue by buffering hydrogen ion accumulation.

  • Muscle Growth: Enhances training tolerance by replenishing ATP and promoting muscle growth.

  • Recovery: Creatine has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties, which may aid in muscle recovery and reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.

  • Glycogen storage: Enhances muscle glycogen storage for better recovery.

  • Hydration and thermoregulation: Boosts water content in muscle cells and may help with thermoregulation.

  • Cognitive benefits: Can improve brain health and mood regulation.

  • Injury prevention: May contribute to injury prevention by improving muscle strength and reducing inflammation.

  • Bone Density: Can improve bone density, especially in combination with resistance training.

Basically, creatine has so many potential benefits that I could do a whole blog-post just on it. It is also the the most researched supplement in the world!


  • You can take it any time of day, just be consistent. I always choose to take it after a training session because that’s when muscles are most ready to take in protein and carbs for recovery.

  • Another interesting thing to consider is supplementing creatine monohydrate alongside carbohydrates. Studies have shown that ingesting creatine with protein and/or carbs may shorten the loading phase by increasing creatine absorption.

  • The recommended maintenance dose is 3-5 g of creatine daily.


  • The most common type of creatine and the one most studied is creatine monohydrate. That’s the type you want to look for in any supplement you choose. It is also the most affordable. Pill or powder form both works fine.


  • Creatine is formed from three amino acids; arginine, glycine and methionine. In your kidneys and liver, it's put together in a two-step process and it forms creatine. That's one way that we can actually get creatine is by our bodies actually producing creatine. We can also get creatine from our diet as well. Things like meat, for example, fish, poultry, they all contain creatine. We can also get it through food sources, but we can also get it through dietary supplements. Those are the three ways that we can get creatine.

  • However, it's typically present in much lower concentrations in foods compared to the levels used in creatine supplementation. To get an adequate amount of creatine from food alone, you would need to consume substantial quantities of these sources, which can be impractical and may not be suitable for everyone's dietary preferences or restrictions.

  • Like mentioned, creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in small amounts in animal-based foods, particularly in red meat, fish, and poultry. Vegetarians and vegans may have a harder time obtaining creatine from their diets, as plant-based foods contain minimal to no creatine. So, for individuals who choose not to consume animal products, it can be especially challenging to get enough creatine solely from food. However, it has also been shown that plant-based athletes may gain a bigger advantage from creatine supplementation than those who eat meat or on a regular basis.


  • Initially, if you do a loading phase creatine supplementation may cause weight gain due to increased water retention in the muscles. This is why I suggest athletes go straight into a maintenance phase of 3-5 g of creatine per day. Although it may take longer (up to 20-30 days) to fully saturate your creatine stores, it is easier for most people to adhere to this protocol. It also won’t cause excess water retention or bloating that is typically associated with doing a loading-phase of 4 x 5 g creatine for 5 days.



  • Beta-aline is a non-essential amino acid that combines with another amino acid, L-histidine, to produce muscle carnosine, which helps buffer the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles and reduce fatigue during high-intensity, short-duration activities. The upside? Your muscle don't feel so knackered, so you can potentially train longer.


  • It could potentially help feelings of anxiety, since carnosine increases the anti-anxiety molecule brain derived neurotropic (BDNF), which helps to keep your brain balance and your bad moods at bay.


  • 4-6 g per day.


  • Evidence points to powder. Once dissolved, it will reach your blood stream and be absorbed more quickly than other forms.


  • Turkey, chicken, beef, pork, eggs, cheese.

  • As you can see, Beta-alanine is found most abundantly in meat and fish, so a dietary supplement may be essential for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

  • Men have naturally higher levels than women, so even meat-eating female athletes might consider topping up.


  • Paraesthesia, which is better known as pins and needles. The reasons may still be unclear, but one theory is that beta-alanine activates sensory neurons in your skin, which causes tingling. It is harmless, but the feeing can be unpleasant and if it bothers you try splitting the dose over the course of the day, instead of taking it all at once.

  • You may have to avoid beta-alanine and caffeine supplements if you are pregnant, experience insomnia or have heart issues, they could increase your heart rate and blood pressure.



  • Sodium bicarbonate augments extracellular buffering capacity, having potential beneficial effects on sustained high-intensity exercise performance.

  • Mechanism Acts as an extracellular (blood) buffer, aiding intracellular pH regulation by raising the extracellular pH, and HCO3− concentrations.

  • The resultant pH gradient between the intracellular and extracellular environments leads to an efflux of H+ and La− from the exercising muscle.


  • Form: Sodium bicarbonate supplements are available in various forms, including capsules, powders, and tablets. The form you choose may depend on personal preferences and the availability of products in your area.

  • Hydration: Sodium bicarbonate can have a dehydrating effect, so it's important to consume plenty of water along with the supplement to prevent dehydration.


  • Single acute NaHCO3 dose of 0.2–0.4 g/kg BM, consumed 60–150 min prior to exercise.

  • Alternative strategies include the following:

    • Split doses (ie, several smaller doses giving the same total intake) taken over a time period of 30–180 min

    • Serial loading with 3–4 smaller doses per day for 2–4 consecutive days prior to an event.


  • Sodium bicarbonate supplementation may be more relevant for certain sports and activities, particularly those with a significant anaerobic component. It may not be as effective for endurance activities.

  • Enhanced performance (~2%) has been primarily observed in short-term, high-intensity sprints lasting ~60 s in duration, with a reduced efficacy as the effort duration exceeds 10 min.


  • Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is not typically found as a natural component in specific foods. Instead, it's a chemical compound that is synthetically produced. However, it can be used as an ingredient in recipes to help with leavening, which is the process of causing dough or batter to rise. When you use baking soda in cooking or baking, it can react with acidic ingredients to release carbon dioxide gas, which creates bubbles and causes the mixture to expand or rise.


  • Well-established GI distress (such as bloating and diarrhea) may be associated with this supplement. Strategies to minimize GI upset include the following:

    • Co-ingestion with a small, carbohydrate-rich meal (~1.5 g/kg BM carbohydrates).

    • Use of sodium citrate as an alternative.

    • Split dose or stacking strategies.

    • Given the high potential for GI distress, thorough investigation into the best individualized strategy is recommended prior to use in a competition setting.



  • Enhances nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability via the NO3-nitrite-NO pathway, playing an important role in the modulation of skeletal muscle function.

  • Nitrate augments exercise performance via an enhanced function of type II muscle fibres; a reduced ATP cost of muscle force production; an increased efficiency of mitochondrial respiration; an increased blood flow to the muscle; and a decrease in blood flow to VO2 heterogeneities.


  • Performance impact supplementation has been associated with improvements of 4%–25% in exercise time to exhaustion and of 1%–3% in sport-specific TT performances lasting greater than 40 min in duration.

  • Supplementation is proposed to enhance type II muscle fibre function, resulting in the improvement (3%–5%) of high-intensity, intermittent, team-sport exercise of 12–40 min in duration.


  • Acute performance benefits are generally seen within 2–3 hours following an NO3 − bolus of 5–9 mmol (310–560 mg).

  • Prolonged periods of NO3 − intake (>3 days) also appear beneficial to performance and may be a positive strategy for highly trained athletes, where performance gains from NO3-supplementation appear harder to obtain.

  • There appears to be an upper limit to the benefits of consumption (no greater benefit from 16.8 mmol (1041 mg) vs 8.4 mmol (521 mg)).


  • Beetroot Juice: Beetroot juice is one of the most popular and well-studied sources of dietary nitrates for performance enhancement. It's readily available in stores or can be made at home. Consuming beetroot juice in the hours leading up to exercise may help improve endurance and oxygen utilization.

  • Nitrate Supplements: Nitrate supplements are available in various forms, such as nitrate capsules or powdered nitrate supplements. These products are designed to provide a standardized dose of nitrates. If you choose this option, be sure to follow the recommended dosage guidelines.


  • Dietary Sources: Some foods are naturally high in nitrates. These include leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, arugula, and beet greens), root vegetables (particularly beets), and celery. Consuming these foods in your diet can provide a source of nitrates.


  • The available evidence suggests there appear to be few side effects or limitations to nitrate supplementation.

  • There may exist the potential for GI upset in susceptible athletes, and should therefore be thoroughly trialled in training.



  • Pre-hydration before competing in very hot or humid environments.

  • Replacement of large sodium losses during ultra-endurance activities.

  • Rapid post-exercise rehydration following moderate to large fluid and sodium deficits.


  • Benefits of fluids with added sodium and other electrolytes:

  • Increase palatability.

  • Maintain thirst (and therefore promote drinking)

  • Prevent hyponatremia (diluted blood sodium)

  • Increase the rate of water uptake.

  • Increase the retention of fluid.


  • The key player when it comes to electrolytes that you lose through your sweat is sodium. Most sport nutrition products cont between 250-1000mg of sodium per serving. How much you need will depend on your sweat sodium composition (how salty of a sweater you are).

  • The other electrolytes that you lose in your sweat in smaller quantities include: chloride, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.


  • Powder sachets or dissolvable tablets. Most gels also contain small amounts of sodium and/or other electrolytes.


  • Foods high in sodium include: Table salt, processed and canned foods (e.g., soups, processed meats), pickles and olives, soy sauce and other condiments

  • Foods rich in potassium include: bananas, oranges and orange juice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach and other leafy greens, tomatoes and tomato products, beans (e.g., kidney beans, black beans), avocados.

  • Foods high in calcium include: dairy products (e.g., milk, yogurt, cheese), leafy greens (e.g., kale, collard greens), fortified plant-based milk (e.g., almond, soy), tofu, canned fish with bones (e.g., sardines, salmon)

  • Foods rich in magnesium include: nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews), seeds (e.g., pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds), spinach and other leafy greens, whole grains (e.g., brown rice, oats), legumes (e.g., black beans, chickpeas)

  • Chloride is often consumed in the form of salt (sodium chloride), and it is essential for maintaining fluid balance and proper digestion.


  • While electrolytes are essential for normal bodily function, consuming excessive amounts of electrolytes, whether through food, supplements, or other sources, can lead to imbalances in the body and potentially result in various health issues. The specific side effects of excessive electrolyte intake can vary depending on the type of electrolyte and the extent of the imbalance.

  • However, it is very unlikely to have any side effects if you are consuming electrolytes through sport products, since you will most likely sweat a lot of it out during exercise, especially if you are training in hot or humid conditions or exercising for longer durations or at higher intensities.


  • Carbohydrate Supplements: For prolonged endurance events, carbohydrate gels, drinks, and bars can provide a quick source of energy to maintain glycogen stores

  • Protein Powder: Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. Whey protein is a fast-digesting source of high-quality protein that can be beneficial for post-workout recovery.

  • Caffeine: Caffeine can enhance endurance performance and reduce perceived exertion. It stimulates the central nervous system and can help delay fatigue.

  • Creatine: Creatine is one of the most researched and effective supplements for improving strength and power. It helps regenerate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in muscles, which is crucial for short bursts of intense activity.

  • Beta-Alanine: Beta-alanine is known to increase muscle carnosine levels, which helps buffer acid in muscles and reduce fatigue during high-intensity, short-duration activities.

  • Sodium Bicarbonate: Helps buffer the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles and reduce fatigue during high-intensity, short-duration activities.

  • Nitric Oxide (NO) Boosters: These supplements, such as beetroot juice, can help improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles, potentially enhancing endurance.

  • Electrolytes: For endurance athletes, maintaining proper electrolyte balance is crucial. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium supplements can be beneficial during prolonged physical activity.


It's important to note that a well-balanced diet should always be the foundation of an athlete's nutrition plan. Supplements should complement, not replace, a healthy diet. Also, individual responses to supplements can vary, and some may have contraindications or side effects. It is best to consult with a healthcare professional or sports nutritionist before adding supplements to your regimen.

Additionally, it's essential to research the quality and safety of the supplements you choose, as the market can be filled with products of varying quality. Check out my previous blog post for tips and considerations when buying supplements: SPORT NUTRITION SUPPLEMENT SERIES: INTRODUCTION

Stay tuned for the the next two post in the sports nutrition supplement series:

  • Supplements that can improve your health

  • Supplements that can help speed up the recovery after an injury.

If you would like to work with me one on one to nail down your nutrition as an endurance athlete or you need a running coach to help you prepare for your upcoming race, please click on the link below to learn more about the services I offer.

Contact me at to set up a consultation today.



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  • Jose Antonio, Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2021

  • Peter Peeling, Sports Foods and Dietary Supplements for Optimal Function and Performance Enhancement in Track-and-Field Athletes, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2019

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