Nutrition And Performance Enhancing Supplements For Sports Persons

Optimal health being an essential requirement for an athlete, a sports person or a fitness-conscious that prefers to enhance his/her lifestyle, eating a healthy nutritional and well-balanced diet is more important to attain success. This write-up highlights the various nutritional priorities required by a sports person for enhancing sports performance and the use of different performance enhancing supplements to improve sports performance and their side effects.


For a sports person or an athlete, primary factor for success in a sport activity has been inborn cistron combined with metabolic, physiologic, and more even psychological attributes and added to this have been optimal nutrition and training to be physically fit and mentally strong for the sports. Aside from this, to reach competitive edge, use of pharmacological substances known as ergogenic aids or performance enhancing drugs containing steroids and amphetamines as a kind of energy inducer has been practiced in the sports both at the national and international level. However, such practices have been dissuaded of late, with effective anti-doping regulations of various screening protocols. Hence, it has become necessary to be compliant with this legislation for sportsmen or athletes and they tend to adapt different dietary strategies consisting of nutritional supplements such as vitamins and minerals presumably effective to influence sports performance and at the same time physically and legally safe. The theoretical study about this nutrition for sports persons has been referred as sports nutrition and sports nutrition is a part of sports medicine.

Nutritional priorities for sports persons

Considering the fact that sports persons have been requiring more energy to enhance the sporting performance than normal individuals and it has been vital to have careful nutritional diet plan for optimal health and endurance sports. There have been several factors to be focused in regard to the nutritional diet of sports persons like appropriate food choice, timing of diet to be taken, taking suitable nutrition supplement or additional supplementation if required depending upon the energy requirements, body composition, and nutrient and fluid needs of the athletes during the training and before, during, and after competition. In case of sports persons/athletes, they have been encouraged to follow the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for the entire macro and micronutrients.

  • At the time of sports activity or exercise, energy and macronutrient requirements such as carbohydrate and protein must be sufficient to maintain the required weight of the sports person, to refill the glucose lost during the activity, and to supplement protein for tissue building and restoration. Since carbohydrates have been essential for the maintenance of blood glucose levels while sports performance and required carbohydrate content may be based on the sports person's overall daily energy expenditure, type of sport, gender, and environmental situations in which the sports activity is taking place. As far as protein intake is concerned it has been recommended for endurance sports and athletes with strength-based and in general, protein-rich diet alone is adequate to synthesize protein not taking any kind of protein or amino acid supplements.
  • Since essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins do provide energy to maintain weight, enough of fat intake is vital. However, body weight and composition have not been considered for performing sports though exercising may be impacted with body weight and composition and athletes do not require diets that contain rich fat.
  • Mostly there is no need for multivitamins and mineral supplementation since sufficient energy can be gained from variety of food containing vitamin and minerals naturally to sustain body weight of a sports person. On certain occasions, when a sports person needs to follow a dieting regimen and ward off any selected food or is ailing from any specific micronutrient insufficiency there may be a requisite for vitamin or mineral supplementation. There also needs a sole nutrient supplementation in case of any particular health or nutritional ailment. For instance, if a sports woman suffers from iron deficiency anemia then iron supplement has become necessary.
  • To have well-maintained hydration, adequate amounts of fluid have to be consumed by the sports persons before, during, and after exercise to enhance performance in order to balance fluid that has been lost during the activity and while in an utmost environmental condition such as cold, heat, or high altitude. Sports beverages that consist of electrolytes and carbohydrates are advisable to maintain blood glucose concentration, fueling the muscles, and averting hazardous low levels of sodium (hyponatremia) in the blood associated with dehydration.
  • If sports persons are being vegetarian not consuming any meat, fish or egg they may have insufficient energy, fat, protein, and vital micronutrients including zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and so on. To preclude these nutritional deficiencies, expert sports nutrition consultation may be recommended.
  • Usage of ergogenic resources or aids. Sports persons, mainly athletes should be guided by the coaches or trainers in terms of suitable intake of ergogenic supplements. Counseling from the certified sports nutrition specialist may be obtained and these ergogenic products need to be taken after careful assessment ensuring legality, safety, and efficacy since sports persons can be lawfully debarred from participating competitive events further.

Energy requirements and energy expenditures

With the optimum sports performance being influenced by sufficient energy consumption, the energy ingestion claims to be the priority in sports nutrition. Maintaining weight and body composition for a sports person or an athlete can be reached through adequate energy intake alone and energy level should be balanced with intake, i.e., amount of energy gained from foods, fluids, and supplements equals to energy expended and this has been known as BMR (basal metabolic rate) that has been calculated with thermic effect of food gets equaled to thermic effect of activity. Insufficient energy consumption will cause loss of strength and endurance and affect the endocrine, immune, and musculoskeletal systems functioning as well. Added to this, it will result in micronutrient deficiency and metabolic dysfunction which in turn associated with lesser resting metabolic rate in the long run.

Energy expenditure for various kinds of sports activity has been reliant on the age, gender, heredity, duration, intensity, and frequency of the activity, previous nutritional condition, and fat-free body mass. Greater the energy applied in the activity, higher will be the calories required to balance energy intake and energy expenditure. To make an estimation of energy expended for deciding individual energy requirements for sports persons, different methods can be used and in accordance with the information provided by the American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) method has been followed to figure out energy requirements for adults. There have been two methods of equation considered to calculate basal metabolic rate or resting metabolic rate, namely the Cunningham equation and the Harris-Benedict equation. In general, sports nutritionists consider the Harris-Benedict equation than the Cunningham equation since this method needs known lean body mass to estimate the energy requirements. Total energy expenditure can be estimated with the multiplication of the BMR or RMR by the appropriate activity factor (1.8-2.3) corresponding to moderate and very heavy physical activity, respectively. However, this can furnish approximate evaluation only but not accurate. Exercise energy intake and expenditure estimation may also be calculated considering metabolic equivalents recorded in 24 hours. Any of these above-mentioned methods help the sports dietitian to guide the sports persons to meet out their energy requisites.

Macronutrient requirements to induce performance

The complete energy we require for our daily activities irrespective of individuals has been accomplished from the food and fluids that we take and the main nutrients providing energy namely carbohydrate, protein and fat have been commonly known as macronutrients.

Carbohydrates to fuel sports

Being the most essential source of energy for sports disregarding the type of sports activity; carbs fuel the building up and maintaining of muscle tissues that split into glucose, fructose and galactose, get assimilated in the form of glycogen in the muscles and the liver and expended as energy during exercise. Energy has been vital server for any kind of short/intense bouts of exercise from athletic racing to weightlifting since it can be instantly accessible. This depends on the duration and intensity of exercise activity ranging between 30-90 minutes or higher. It should be ideal to begin with complete repletion of glycogen stores and refilling during exercise to prevent pooping out of energy throughout the performance. This has usually been referred as carbohydrate loading and carb depletion, i.e., the amount of carbohydrate energy stored in the muscles and expended during sports activity. In general, around 2,000 calories of carbohydrates can be stored as glycogen stores (four calories of energy being supplied by one gram of carbohydrate). With the maximum carbohydrate storage approximately being 15 grams/kg of body weight (15 grams per 2.2 pounds), a 175-pound athlete could stock up to 1200 grams of carbohydrate (approximately 4,800 calories) to fuel high-intensity performance for some longer duration.

Protein nutrients in sports

Generally acting as body building blocks, proteins comprise of essential amino acids that have been responsible for formation of muscles, bone, tendons, skin, hair, and other tissues and help in nutrient transfer to various systems and in the production of enzymes. Sufficient intake of protein is necessary since it cannot be stored as such in the body and main sources of proteins with complete essential amino acids are mostly sourced through meat, fish, and eggs and incomplete proteins that are deficient of one or more essential amino acids are obtained from fruits, vegetables, and nuts, thus sports persons who are vegetarian may not be adequately supplemented with protein nutrients. Proteins mainly support repairing and rebuilding of the muscle tissues that have been collapsed while exercise and serve as a substitute for carbohydrate in case of carbohydrate deficiency. From a practical view point, recommendation of protein or amino acid supplements can be made only after taking complete nutrition assessment in particular to the goals of the sports person since studies so far about its supplementation do not indicate any positive influence in enhancing the performance.

Acceptable daily protein intake

  • An average individual requirement of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight per day.
  • For strength-based athletes, around 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight per day.
  • For endurance athletes, about 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight per day.

Fat, the biggest energy reserve

With the highest calorie density of fat that a pound of stored fat would furnish around 3,600 calories of energy, longer and lesser intensity exercise and endurance performance like cycling and marathons would be benefited by fat storage. Because fat, not easily digestible, will take up at least six hours for conversion into energy and its conversion consumes plenty of oxygen, athletes stand in need of careful fat intake as of how much and what type of fat. Hence, fat nutrient does not have immediate impact on performance enhancement.

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in sports performance

Performing essential life-sustaining functions in the human body, these micronutrients consisting of vitamins and minerals help in bone health maintenance, production of energy, and lean body mass tissue development, repair and maintenance. The vitamins and minerals govern the metabolic activities and physiological processes necessary for daily routine and sports activities. To exemplify, B-complex vitamins or B vitamins provide support in the conversion of carbohydrates and fats into energy, hemoglobin formation in red blood cells, and act as a primary factor for oxygen delivery to the muscles at the time of aerobic exercise. Moreover, the antioxidants such as vitamin C and E serve as a shield against oxidative damage to cellular and subcellular systems.

The B vitamins, vitamin D and antioxidants are the most significant vitamins and calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium are the essential components of minerals that can be supplemented not only in the diets of sports persons, but also general people. No need for vitamin and mineral supplementation if the diet of an individual or an athlete is well-balanced and nutritionally adequate and no enhancement can be achieved with excessive vitamins and minerals.

B Vitamins (B complex vitamins)

Gone are the days that the B vitamins were known to be a single vitamin, but after plenty of research these are distinct vitamins in their chemical composition that can be soluble in water. By and large, vitamin supplements consisting of eight vitamins namely thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin (vitamin B7), folic acid (vitamin B9), and cobalamins (vitamin B12) have been named as vitamin B complex. In terms of exercise or sports influence, there have been two major functions by B complex vitamin in such a manner that thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, and biotin help in energy conversion of carbs, protein and fat while the folate and cobalamins get involved in hemoglobin synthesis and tissue repair and maintenance including the central nervous system.

Based on the studies conducted for the influence of these B vitamins in sports performance, higher the inadequacy of cobalamins and folate lesser will be the endurance performance. However, short-term borderline insufficiency of B vitamins does not impact performance level. Generally, female athletes who need to be vegetarian and lacking regular adequate micronutrients are found to be deficient of B vitamins such as riboflavin, pyridoxine, folate, and cobalamins. Thus, sports persons should take sufficient B vitamins from their diets for optimal performance.

Vitamin D

Sufficient calcium assimilation, balanced serum calcium and phosphorous levels for enhancement of bone structures will be met through vitamin D alone in addition to the support for growth and homeostasis of the nervous and musculoskeletal system. Athletes like gymnasts and figure skaters who have been mostly indoors all around the time may be insufficient of vitamin D and they may require vitamin D supplementation (required DRI level being 200 IU for individuals between 19-49 years of age). It has been analyzed overall that the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D remains inadequate.


The vitamin C and E, ß-carotene, and selenium are the antioxidant nutrients that involve in the protection of cell structures from oxidative damage owing to lipid peroxidation of muscle and cell membranes during exercises. No or little manifestation that the addition of antioxidant influence exercise performance except for athletes following a low-fat diet or restricted food intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Ergogenic effect of vitamin E in regard to physical performance is not distinctly indicated. Endurance performance may need higher amount of vitamin E though its supplementation will decrease lipid peroxidation during endurance exercise and little impact on strength exercise. Since additional dosage can cause pro-oxidative impairment with probable negative impact, it is advisable not to surpass the antioxidant upper intake levels for athletes. Addition of vitamin C appears to have no ergogenic effect if this antioxidant is sufficiently met through diets. Supplementation of vitamin C may be required for strenuous, prolonged exercise, but no need for physical activity. About 100-1000 mg of vitamin C daily is enough for sustained strenuous exercise.


Calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium have been prime minerals that are necessary for well-balanced diet and largely women athletes or sports women seem to have mineral deficiency.


Since growth of bones, repairing and maintenance of bone tissues, sustenance of blood calcium levels, nervous and muscular system functioning highly depends on the adequacy of calcium and vitamin D level and insufficient calcium and vitamin D will reduce bone mineral density that lead to multiple stress fractures and cause early osteoporosis in females and low efficiency of performance. Additional calcium and vitamin D intake has to be decided after careful nutritional assessment. Recommended intake of calcium with vitamin D for athletes at present based on expert studies is 1500 mg of calcium and 400-800 IU of vitamin D daily.


Iron is the most vital mineral needed for the production of oxygen-carrying proteins, hemoglobin and myoglobin of muscle cells, and enzymes required in energy production and this feature of oxygen-carrying capability is necessary for endurance exercise and normal nervous, behavioral and immune system functioning as well. Iron deficiency, one of the most predominant nutrient deficiencies found amidst the sports persons mainly woman athletes, will attenuate muscle function and restrict the performance in endurance athletes. Therefore, iron intake needs to be raised than their respective RDA, i.e., greater than 18 mg and 8 mg for men and women respectively.

There may be a phenomenon namely 'dilutional anemia' or 'sports anemia' that can be attributed due to hemodilution with increasing plasma volume at the beginning of the athletic training causing short-term low serum ferritin level. This may not respond to nutrient supplement treatment, however, aerobic training seems to be salubrious and no indication for negative influence performance-wise. Recent research on this iron studies confirms improved performance with additional intake of 100-mg ferrous sulfate for 4-6 weeks and the advantages of improved iron status have been endurance enhancement, oxygen uptake rise, decreased lactate concentration, and lessened muscle fatigue.


Because zinc has been necessary for formation and repair of muscle tissue, energy production, and immune balance zinc deficiency may pose problem in association with vegetarian, high-fiber, and low-protein diets, especially from animal products and has impact on thyroid hormone levels, BMR, and protein usage. As established by the surveys, due to the fact that plasma zinc concentration has not been able to contemplate whole-bodily changes in the zinc status, the assessment of influence of zinc levels on the performance has become difficult. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for zinc has been at 40 mg. Unwanted zinc supplementation may cause low HDL cholesterol level and nutritional instability blocking the assimilation of other micronutrients like iron and copper.


The deficiency of magnesium that has a significant support in cellular metabolism, controlling membrane stability and immune, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and hormonal functioning affect endurance performance since more oxygen has been needed to make out the activity of the sports persons mostly in wrestling, ballet, gymnastics, and tennis and many of these cases have been accounted because of magnesium insufficiency and in such cases, additional intake of magnesium will be beneficial.


Sodium, chloride and potassium belong to the electrolyte family. Sodium and potassium provides adequate hydration for athletes with high perspiration and fluid loss. Sports persons in endurance athletic events for greater than 2 hours are highly recommended to take sports drinks comprising of sodium, potassium and carbohydrate as well. Potassium, vital electrolyte nutrient helps in the electrolyte stability and nerve transmission. At the time of intense activity, plasma potassium level inclines to be reduced to some extent than sodium does. Fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, dairy products, lean meats, and whole grains are potassium-rich diets to maintain adequate potassium level.


To be hydrated appropriately is to be considered for optimal sports performance. Since depletion of body fluids may induce the risk for heat stroke and impair exercise performance, sports persons must endeavor to have normal fluid level of the body before, during and after exercise. Environmental issues such as hot and humid conditions, cold environment and places of high altitudes do bring about hydration imbalance.

Pre-exercise fluid/electrolyte recommendations

A sports person must have roughly 5-7 ml/kg/hr of water or a sport beverage not less than four hours prior to exercise and this provides sufficient time to get well-hydrated and to void excess fluid in the urine. Practice of hyperhydration is not advisable as it tends to have the risk of voiding during the activity impacting the performance.

During exercise/event

During the event, athletes sweat because of various factors such as heat irradiation, conduction, convection, and vaporization of water. In the context of hot and dry atmospheric conditions, evaporation will take place as a result of greater than 80% of metabolic heat loss. Furthermore, substantial amount of sodium, moderate amounts of potassium, and little amounts of magnesium and chloride will also be lost through sweat. Perspiration during any type of activity depends on various factors of temperature, humidity, weight, heredity, heat acclimation status, type of sports event, and metabolic efficacy. Hence in order to prevent fluid/water deficiency that goes more than 2% of body weight sports drink is recommended during exercise in accordance with the individual perspiration rate, duration of the event, and chances to have drinks. Intake of sports beverages consisting of electrolytes and carbohydrates improves fluid level, maintain electrolyte stability, and enhance exercise performance. Beverages containing sodium and potassium compromise electrolyte loss through sweats, sodium contents induce craving for drinking to have fluid retention and carbohydrates releasing energy. About 6-8% carbohydrate containing sports beverages have been recommended for exercise events lasting more than one hour.


In the event of getting dehydrated to some extent during the event, consumption of beverages and salty foods in the form of snacks/meals will refill the fluid loss. At least 450-675 ml of fluid for every 0.5 kg of body weight lost during the event is recommended to have quick and complete recuperation from extreme dehydration.

Are ergogenic aids enhancing or hindering sports performance?

Almost world-over, everyday, everybody of fitness conscious post host of queries to the fitness professionals on the topic of the latest dietary supplements that waive to enhance health and athletic performance even though it is beyond their area of expertise to endorse a specific ergogenic aid. No doubt, dietary supplement remains as an umbrella for numerous ranges of products consisting of weight loss supplements and products guaranteeing performance enhancement for athletes as well. It is indeed overwhelming and being a challenge for dietary experts to keep well informed of each and every supplement and validity of the claims and scientific manifestation. In spite of their prevalence the pandemonium still remains that these performance enhancing supplements could improve performance or cause concern.

What are ergogenic aids?

Ergogenic aids are referred as kind of supplements that can improve the ability for physical or mental workout eradicating the symptoms of fatigue. These can be classified as mechanical aids, nutritional aids, pharmacological aids, psychological aids, and physiological aids. In sports nutrition, nutritional ergogenic aids are defined as substances or products that can improve performance and these can be either in the form of nutrients, metabolic spin-offs of nutrients, plant extracts, or common food products such as caffeine and creatine.

In terms of practical standpoint, ergogenic aids can be categorized as follows: Ergogenic aids that enhance performance as claimed, those that may enhance performance as claimed but with inadequate efficacy evidence at this time, those that do not enhance performance as claimed, and those that are claimed to be life-threatening, prohibited, or illegal and so not to be marketed or utilized.

Ergogenic aids that enhance performance as claimed

Despite these supplements have been claimed as rich sources to enhance performance, it should be necessary to be knowledgeable about label reading, ingredient and product description, and usage of these aids before, during and after training/event and all these issues to be counseled by the certified nutritionist.

Creatine being extensively consumed as an ergogenic substance by the athletes nowadays to develop muscle buildup and enhance performance has been proven to be efficient in short-duration flare-ups with high-intensity performance deducting sources of energy mostly from the ATP-PCr (ATP-creatine phosphate) system like weightlifting and sprinting, but not endurance exercise of running for long distances. Cramping, nausea, diarrhea and weight gain are identified as the most common side effects from consumption of creatine supplementation. In general, creatine usage has been regarded safe for adults in spite of verbal, but not documented side effect records of dehydration, kidney impairment, and muscle tear or strain. However, any adverse side effects from creatine have not been reported while long-term usage side effects being unknown as per the current studies.

Another widely used ergogenic aid has been caffeine that plays a role of stimulant to the central nervous system having probable ergogenic impact, but with reduced efficacy of its functioning in mobilizing fatty acids and sparing of glycogen in the muscles. Ergolytic effects of caffeine have been sleep disorder, anxiety, nervousness, fast heartbeat, and gastrointestinal discomfort for the beginners. If energy drinks consisting of caffeine is taken excessively or combined with alcohol or any kind of herbal supplements it will be dangerous leading to ergolytic negative effects.

Sodium bicarbonate is also an effective ergogenic supplement, which acts as a buffer in blood, i.e., helps in acid-base equilibrium and fatigue prevention but with side effects of diarrhea. Protein and amino acid supplements do not have any notable efficacy as the energy to acquire lean body mass can be adequately refilled with food itself. These supplements are regarded to be a source of illicit substance like nandrolone that may not be named as an ingredient on the labeling of the product. Athletes also tend to take a variety of sports drinks, gels, and bars as dietary supplements that can be used as ergogenic aids.

Ergogenic aids that may induce performance as claimed, but have inadequate evidence

Glutamine, beta hydroxymethyl butyrate, colostrum and ribose have been claimed under this category that influence performance. The researches conducted preliminarily on these substances reveal indecisive manifestation in terms of enhancing performance.

Ergogenic aids that do not influence performance as claimed

Most of the products in the industry at present come under this classification. The exhaustive list is as follows: amino acids, bee pollen, branched chain amino acids, carnitine, chromium picolinate, Cordyceps sinensis, coenzyme Q10, conjugated linoleic acid, cytochrome C, dihydroxyacetone, gamma-oryzanol, ginseng, inosine, medium chain triglycerides, pyruvate, oxygenated water, and vanadium. As of today's date, these supplements in no way have been inducing performance in any kind of sports rather can cause concerns.

Ergogenic aids that have been claimed to be life-threatening or illegal

Androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone, 19-norandrostenedione, 19-norandrostenediol, and other anabolic/androgenic steroids, Tribulus terrestris, ephedra, strychnine, and human growth hormone have been listed under this category and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has banned these substances that have been considered as unsafe and unethical from sportsman perspective.

Conclusion from my perspective

The most effective supplement to enhance sports performance is indeed a combination of robust exercise plan with a well-balanced dietary regime under the supervision of a qualified trainer. Taking care of the physique and mind has been the key to success in sports.

  • Do exercise daily.
  • Say no to doping pills.
  • Grab the nutrients and antioxidant vitamins that your body requires from diet alone.
  • Eat a wide range of foods that contain fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • If multivitamin/mineral supplementation is required go ahead and take as per the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances) since little or no harm you may experience.
  • Keep well-hydrated with adequate water and fluids.
  • Go for regular checkup sessions with sports medicine.
  • Be positive and imagine yourself to the path of success.
  • Exhibit real sportsmanship since it is more important than succeeding.

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Author: Omkar16 Jul 2011 Member Level: Silver   Points : 1

A very informative and well written article. Hope it helps out many sports persons on our site. Though I wonder if there is a mistake in the allotment of points to this article.

Author: ISC WARRIOR03 Dec 2011 Member Level: Gold   Points : 2

Your article does not support the recent research papers and study conducted by the physicians, sports physiotherapist and other physiologist.
It is not true that vegetarian diet do not provide sufficient energy. You have not mentioned about various types of vegetarian diet, vegetarian's diets are of three types- lactovegetarians, ovovegetarians, lactoovovegetarians. Your article should have explained this in detail to justify the title.
Will you explain how a vegetarian lacks micronutrients and vitamins? Do you think that all these are not found in vegetarian's diet?
I have more questions for you, waiting for your reply.
I just want to correct your mistakes done by you in this article.

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