Other Proposed Natural Treatments
- Antioxidant Vitamins
- Branched-chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
- Coenzyme Q 10
- Cystoseira canariensis
- Deer Antler
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
- Dihydroxyacetone Pyruvate (DHAP)
- Gamma Oryzanol
- Human Growth Hormone Enhancers
- Lipoic Acid
- Low Glycemic Index Diet
- Ma Huang (Ephedra)
- Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)
- Ornithine Alpha-Ketoglutarate (OKG)
- Panax notoginseng
- Pantothenic Acid/Pantethine
- Rhodiola rosea
- Tribulus terrestris
- Whey Protein
In the competitive world of sports, the smallest advantage can make an enormous difference in the outcome of a contest. A substance that improves an athlete's strength, speed, or endurance is called an ergogenic aid.
The most effective ergogenic aids are both dangerous and illegal: stimulants, anabolic steroids, and human growth hormone. Numerous natural options are marketed as alternatives. In this article, we explore the many supplements used in the hopes of improving sports performance.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Creatine, one of the best-selling and best-documented supplements for enhancing athletic performance, is a naturally occurring substance that plays an important role in the production of energy in the body. The body converts creatine to phosphocreatine, a form of stored energy used by muscles. In theory, taking supplemental creatine will build up a reserve of phosphocreatine in the muscles to help them perform on demand. Supplemental creatine may also help the body make new phosphocreatine faster when it has been used up by intense activity.
However, the balance of current evidence suggests that that if creatine supplements have any benefit for sports performance, it is slight and limited to highly specific forms of exercise.
Several small double-blind studies have found that creatine can improve performance in exercises that involve repeated short bursts of high-intensity activity with intervening rest periods of adequate length.
Interestingly, none of the women enrolled in the study showed any improvement with the creatine supplement. The authors of this study noted that women normally have more creatine in their muscle tissue than men do, so perhaps creatine supplementation (at least at this level) is not of benefit to women, as it appears to be for men. Further research is needed to fully understand the difference between the genders in response to creatine.
The contradictory results seen in these small trials suggest that creatine offers at most a very modest sports performance benefit. For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Creatine article.
In another controlled study reported in the same article, 32 male volunteers took either 3 g of HMB or placebo daily, and then lifted weights for 2 or 3 hours daily, 6 days a week for 7 weeks. The HMB group saw a significantly greater increase in bench-press strength than the placebo group. However, there was no significant difference in body weight or fat mass by the end of the study.
All of these studies were small and therefore, their results are ultimately not terribly reliable. Larger studies will be necessary to truly establish whether HMB is helpful for power athletes working to enhance strength and muscle mass.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full HMB article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Numerous other supplements are marketed as ergogenic aids, said to improve speed, strength, or endurance. Unfortunately, the evidence that they work is marginal at best, and in many cases the best available evidence indicates that these substances are not effective.
There are three different herbs commonly called ginseng : Asian or Korean ginseng ( Panax ginseng ), American ginseng ( Panax quinquefolius ), and Siberian "ginseng" ( Eleutherococcus senticosus ). The latter is actually not ginseng at all, but the Russian scientists responsible for promoting it believe that it functions identically. According to some experts, a fourth herb, ciwujia, is actually Eleutherococcus , while others claim it is a related but different species.
Panax ginseng has shown some promise as a mild ergogenic aid, but published evidence remains at best incomplete and contradictory. Other forms of ginseng generally lack any meaningful supporting evidence.
Panax ginseng Panax ginseng
These mixed outcomes suggest that Panax ginseng is only slightly effective at best.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fats with an unusual chemical structure that allows the body to digest them easily. Most fats are broken down in the intestine and reassembled into a special form that can be transported in the blood. However, MCTs are absorbed intact and taken to the liver, where they are used directly for energy. In this sense, they are processed very similarly to carbohydrates. For that reason, MCTs have been proposed as an alternative to "carbo-loading" (consumption of a large quantity of carbohydrates prior to intense physical exercise) for providing a concentrated source of easily utilized energy.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full MCTs article.
The majority of athletes are probably not iron-deficient, and you should not take iron supplements if you already have enough iron in your body. However, if you are deficient in this essential mineral, iron supplements may enhance athletic training.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Iron article.
Colostrum is the fluid that new mothers' breasts produce during the first day or two after birth. Colostrum contains growth factors, such as IGF-1, that could enhance muscle development, and on this basis, it has been tried as a sports supplement.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Colostrum article.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Pyruvate article.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid and a major component of cell membranes. Good evidence suggests that PS can improve mental function, especially in the elderly. However, PS has also been marketed as a sports supplement, said to help bodybuilders and power athletes develop larger and stronger muscles.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Phosphatidylserine article.
Branched-chain Amino Acids: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine
Amino acids are molecules that form proteins when joined together. Three of them—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—are called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) , describing the shape of the molecules. Muscles have a particularly high BCAA content.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Branched-chain Amino Acids article.
Other Amino Acids
Besides BCAAs, athletes use a number of other amino acids, sometimes individually and sometimes in combination. Amino acids believed by some to have ergogenic effects include arginine , glutamine , and ornithine (ornithine and glutamine combined form ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate , or OKG), as well as the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, discussed above.
Coenzyme Q 10
Coenzyme Q 1010 10 10
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Coenzyme Q 10 article.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Inosine article.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Ribose article.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Gamma Oryzanol article.
Trimethylglycine (TMG) is a naturally occurring compound that may help to prevent atherosclerosis and is, therefore, sometimes taken as a supplement. In the course of its metabolism in the body, TMG is turned into another substance, dimethylglycine (DMG).
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Trimethylglycine article.
Tribulus terrestris is a tropical plant with a long history of medicinal use. It has been tried for low libido in both men and women, and for impotence and female infertility.
T. terrestris T. terrestris
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Tribulus terrestris article.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Phosphorus article.
Stimulants: Ma Huang and Caffeine
Note: The International Olympic Committee has set a tolerance limit for caffeine in the urine at 12 mcg/ml. If you are competing in a sport that follows similar regulations, you may want to have a cup of coffee or tea, but do not drink the whole pot.
Many websites advertise products that they claim act like human growth hormone, often called HGH enhancers. However, these products are entirely speculative because there are no natural treatments proven to raise human growth hormone levels.
Not Recommended Treatments
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -