Dietitians Dish: There is benefit to some supplementation

By Elizabeth Sommerfeld
April 30, 2013 at midnight
Updated April 29, 2013 at 11:30 p.m.

Many people who exercise or consider themselves athletes turn to supplements to give themselves an edge over the competition, these are called ergogenic aids. But do those supplements really work or is it just a placebo effect?


Many people use caffeine as a stimulant. Athletes often use it to boost their performance or promote weight loss. Caffeine has been well-studied as an ergogenic aid, and research indicates that it is effective.

The most beneficial effect is for endurance athletes, such as cyclists and runners. The International Society of Sports Nutrition published a stance that caffeine is effective in improving performance in trained athletes when consumed in low to moderate doses.

However, too much caffeine can have negative effects such as dizziness, jitteriness and rapid heart rate. General rules of athletic competition recommend not trying anything new on a race day.

So, if you have never tried caffeine before a race, don't start without trying it during a practice event first.

Whey protein

Protein supplements are commonly used by athletes and those who are trying to build muscle and increase strength. Whey protein is a complete protein and has a high biological value, meaning it is similar to the protein provided by an egg.

When compared to other protein sources like casein or soy protein, whey protein supplementation led to a higher increase in lean body mass (muscle), larger decrease in body fat and improvement in strength.

Too much protein can lead to dehydration, low carbohydrate intake and increased loss of calcium through urine. Therefore, it is recommended to not exceed 2.5 gm/kilogram body weight.

Also, anyone with a history of liver or kidney disease should discuss any form of protein supplementation with a physician before starting as this may aggravate symptoms.

Amino acids

Carnitine and creatine are amino acids that are used in the body to create energy. There have been multiple research projects done on carnitine with little proof that there is benefit for its touted use as a fat burner or performance enhancer.

Although there has been no negative effects shown for the recommended amount of 2 to 4 grams per day, it is not proven to be an effective ergogenic aid. Creatine, on the other hand, has been shown to increase muscle mass during training.

Studies have shown that use of 3 to 5 grams per day has helped athletes gain 2 to 5 pounds more than those not supplementing in a 12-week training program.

Any larger dose may cause gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhea and cramping.

So, there is benefit to some supplementation, but make sure to do your research before starting anything new and be mindful of how your body reacts to the supplement. It is important to know that just because a little of something is good, more does not always mean better.

Know the recommended dosages and do not exceed those in order to get the best benefit from the supplement and keep yourself from developing other problems.

Sources: International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance; Erica R Goldstein, Tim Ziegenfuss, Doug Kalman, Richard Kreider, Bill Campbell, Colin Wilborn, Lem Taylor, Darryn Willoughby, Jeff Stout, B Sue Graves, Robert Wildman, John L Ivy, Marie Spano, Abbie E Smith and Jose Antonio. Accessed 4/26/13 at

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is the clinical nutrition manager/bariatric coordinator at DeTar Healthcare System. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a master's of science degree. Send questions or comments to



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