There are tons of supplements on the market, but which are the most effective? In this article, we give you our top three recommendations.
The dietary supplement industry is worth billions. If you visit any supplement store, or visit their website, you’ll see hundreds for sale, all purporting their benefits. As consumers, it can be tough to know what works, or what doesn’t. Despite their popularity, most supplements have very little evidence to show that they work, and some don’t even contain what they say they do! However, there are some supplements that are well-known to improve performance, and that’s what we will focus on here.
Caffeine is a mind-altering (psychoactive) substance found mainly in tea and coffee. It works by stimulating our central nervous system and improving our ability to perform certain tasks (e.g., cognitive or physical activities) (1). In essence, caffeine makes exercise feel easier than it otherwise would be by reducing muscle pain and increasing our muscle’s capacity to create force (1). For a more in-depth understanding of how caffeine works, and the evidence it improves exercise performance, check out our previous article on this topic.
Thumbnail for our article on caffeine and performance.
To get the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine, you need to consume it in a dose of at least 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) (1). However, the optimal dose for performance is about 3–6 mg/kg taken about 45–60 minutes before starting exercise (1). This can be achieved by drinking ~2–3 cups of coffee.
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in our muscle cells that helps to supply energy for working muscles. Supplementing with creatine has been shown to improve exercise performance in short, high-intensity movements (e.g., weightlifting, jumping) lasting less than 2.5 minutes in length (2). Over time, taking creatine can help you to build more muscle, strength, and power, due to these performance improvements in the gym or on the pitch (2).
Thumbnail for our article on creatine and performance.
Muscle creatine stores can be fully stocked up by taking a large dose of about 20 grams per day (g/d) for about a week (split into four daily doses of 5 g). Thereafter, taking 3–5 g/d will maintain optimal levels of muscle creatine. Alternatively, you can just take 3–5 g/d from the get-go and your muscles will be fully stocked in about 3 weeks or thereabouts.
Nitrates are the performance-enhancing substance found in beetroot juice. Our body converts nitrates into nitrites and then nitric oxide—which is the substance that can alter muscle function, blood flow, and how much oxygen we can use. Consumption of nitrates has been shown to improve endurance performance and intermittent exercise performance, although the effect is less pronounced in elite athletes (3).
Thumbnail for our article on beetroot juice (nitrates) and performance.
The recommendation is to take between 5–9 millimoles (or 310–560 mg) of nitrates ~2–3 hours before exercise (2). The most reliable source of this dose comes from the Beet It Sport beetroot juice shots which, unlike many other brands, actually contain the recommended dose of nitrates (4). But eating nitrate-rich vegetables (e.g., lettuce, rocket, spinach) can also provide nitrates (they contain ~250 mg of nitrates per 100 g (fresh)) (5).
As an athlete, you should mainly focus your efforts on improving your overall diet before even contemplating taking supplements. But, if you have that down, certain supplements (like the three we have discussed here) may provide a slight edge. Just remember that because a lot of supplement brands don’t contain what they advertise they do, choose a brand that uses third-party testing to ensure their products contain the supplement of interest.
If you want supplemental football training to improve as a footballer, reach out to our team of expert coaches at [email protected] to get started.
That’s it for this week, have a nice weekend!
Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH
Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121
Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.
(1) Guest NS, VanDusseldorp TA, Nelson MT, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021;18(1):1. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29167102/
(2) Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, et al. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(7):439–55. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5867441/
(3) Jones AM, Thompson C, Wylie LJ, Vanhatalo A. Dietary Nitrate and Physical Performance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2018;38:303–28. Available at: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-nutr-082117-051622
(4) Gallardo EJ, Coggan AR. What's in Your Beet Juice? Nitrate and Nitrite Content of Beet Juice Products Marketed to Athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019;29(4):345–9. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8512783/
(5) Jones AM. Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Med. 2014;44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S35–45. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008816/
Central nervous system: This is the part of the nervous system that consists primarily of the brain and spinal cord.