Ergogenic aids and supplements for athletic performance are enhancers that are intended to give both physical and mental improvements when engaging in exercise. These can range from a simple Gatorade to anabolic steroids. As many of us are aware of, not everything advertised is truthful and upholds their promises. Many of the popular athletic "boosters" fall into the category of falsely claimed products. Not only are they expensive, but they also directly impact your health, which is why it is important to fully understand their claims and support behind them before deciding to make a purchase. 


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Katie Kasperson

Caffeine is the component we all know and love that is found in coffees, chocolates, and teas. Many of us have experienced its effects in our lives and might rely on it to help us prepare for exams, or to simply wake up in the morning. Many athletes also consume caffeine and/or take caffeine supplements for athletic performance during their workouts. Why is this? Caffeine acts a stimulant that is claimed to burn fat, protect storage of carbohydrates, and increase energy levels. It does so by opposing the action of adenosine, which affects the central nervous system by speeding up brain activity. Caffeine also is responsible for promoting calcium release from the muscles. This stimulatory effect leads to higher intensity workouts that can be sustained for longer periods of time. Side effects of caffeine intake include tremors, anxiety, and toxicity when consumed in large doses. Some supplements that contain caffeine also do not disclose the exact dosing or other stimulants used, which can prove harmful. This ergogenic aid has been found useful in increasing alertness, however fat burning and carbohydrate effects have not been strongly supported by scientific evidence. 

Branch-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

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Jocelyn Hsu

 Your BCAAs are the amino acids leucine, valine, and isoleucine, which are claimed to produce an anabolic, or building, response upon the body, which increases muscle synthesis. They have also been suggested to aid in fat loss, decrease fatigue during exercise, as well as boost the immune system. These can naturally be found in food sources that are rich in protein, such as chicken, eggs, beef, and tofu, as well as be taken via supplements for athletic performance. Human studies that have been conducted upon BCAA oral intake suggest no measurable relationship between muscle synthesis and BCAA supplementation. However, two studies that examined intravenous BCAA supplementation actually found the opposite supposed claim to be true, where muscle breakdown and synthesis both decreased and breakdown eventually exceeded synthesis. Essential amino acids from protein breakdown are used to drive the creation of new muscle proteins, and therefore high promises of substantially increasing synthesis compared to breakdown through BCAA supplementation alone is unlikely and needs further justification. 


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Christin Urso

Creatine is a substance that is naturally produced by the body's muscles for energy, as well as can be found in food sources such as meat and fish. Creatine supplements for athletic performance are used to achieve optimal output during high intensity exercises and to have shorter recovery periods. This supplement works by increasing creatinine and phosphocreatine concentrations in the body, enhancing glycogen storage, and producing a direct protein synthesis effect. It delays recovery time by buffering the amount of lactic acid build up during physical activity. However, adverse effects of taking this aid include weight gain, GI discomfort, and there is known to be incorrect dosing and forms of creatine within supplements. Creatine has shown positive results in many cases, however further research is still necessary as the effects of creatine heavily depend on the type of study, subjects, and exercise activity. 

Protein Powders

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Malia Budd

Protein is the macronutrient that is known to assist in the building, maintaining, and repairing of muscle. Protein powders, as supplements for athletic performance, work by supplying the body with the essential amino acids necessary for proper muscle functioning and regulation. Athletes have higher protein requirements than more inactive individuals, and it is therefore necessary for them to attain a range of 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight. While although needs are higher, protein supplementation is found to be useful only when immediate intake is necessary post workout, and a meal can not be prepared. This is because most athletes can obtain the proper amount of protein from diet alone. Two popular protein powders include whey and casein protein. The difference between these two types is that they differ in their rates of absorption and bioavailability. While some sources may say one source is better than another, credible research suggests that there is not a significant difference in performance enhancement effects between these two types when consumed both pre and post exercise. A combination of different protein types is suggested for desired performance. 


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Jocelyn Hsu

The key role of omega-3 fatty acids, as supplements for athletic performance, is their inflammatory effects. During exercise, due to increased oxygen needs, substances called free radicals form, which can damage bodily cells. Omega-3s fight off this inflammation to reduce joint pain and keep artery linings intact, which will, in turn, allow oxygen to reach the exercising muscles. This supplement works by affecting muscle cell membrane fluidity, receptor function, and cytokine production. While although this fatty acid can be obtained through the diet via sources such as cold water fish, flaxseeds, and nuts, many individuals do not meet the amount of omega-3s that they should. Supplementation has demonstrated positive results for older adults and those who engage in strength training, however it's use is less clear for endurance athletes. 

If you want my personal standpoint, I believe a well-balanced diet that incorporates whole, nutrient dense foods is the best method to optimize athletic performance and meet nutritional requirements. Supplements are often costly, are regulated as forms of drugs and not food, and many of their claims are not well supported by evidence-based research trials. If you are going to use a supplement, I suggest conducting analysis upon the type of athlete you are, your own dietary lifestyle, and what exactly you want the ergogenic aid to do for you to see if any of these aids could potentially provide benefits, as they have been shown to have different influences upon varying types of individuals. The use of supplements for athletic performance is an area that needs further research and knowledge upon to truly understand the mechanisms and outcomes of their use.