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Sports Supplements – Which Vitamins, Proteins and Minerals Do Athletes Actually Need?

Do you lead an active lifestyle, enjoy sports on a regular basis and like to eat healthily? Then it’s all the more important to give your body exactly what it needs. Deficiency states can affect anyone, but especially athletes with increased needs for nutrients and energy. Statements about which vitamins, minerals and proteins are useful and harmless are often contradictory. As such, we would like to explain which sports supplements for cyclists, powders and preparations are available, what they offer and how they may benefit you. Read more

What Are Sports Supplements?

As the name suggests, sports supplements promise to supplement your diet with certain nutrients. It is essential to keep your body well stocked with all the necessary nutrients not just during exercise but also on an everyday basis to ensure reparatory work and other bodily functions. In addition to sports drinks, energy bars, energy gels and other foods, which you can use before, during and after exercise, certain nutritional supplements are also advisable. The range of possible vitamins, minerals and proteins, which aid certain bodily functions or remedy the deficiencies, is vast. Sports supplements are offered in the form of powders, effervescent tablets, capsules, concentrates or drinking ampoules. These mostly contain concentrated and high-dose plant-based extracts such as ginger, green tea or field horsetail, animal substances such as fish oil or synthetically produced vitamins, minerals or amino acids – ingredients which are found in existing natural foods.

Sports Nutrition Supplements – Use and Risks

At least half of all recreational athletes take sports supplements on a regular basis. In many disciplines or age groups and particularly in competitive sports, the figures are considerably higher. Nutritional requirements can generally be met through diet. Moreover, some dangers lurk in careless use. In addition to allergic reactions, high doses of vitamin products may cause illnesses or undesired interactions with medicines.

Prior to making any purchases, you should observe the following:

  • If you are turning to sports supplements due to fatigue or weakness, then please firstly consult your doctor.
  • Observe the obligatory information on the recommended maximum daily dose, which should not be exceeded without medical consultation.
  • Critically question the promised advertising claims on the packaging.
  • Individual ingredients may be contained in an excessive dose and cause side effects.
  • Carefully consider whether you are able to balance out potential deficiencies with a change in your diet.

If you feel well informed and would like to use sports supplements for specific purposes such as to support you during exercise, we would like to provide you with an overview of the individual vitamins, minerals and amino acids as well as their possible effects on your performance and health.

Vitamins – High Demands in Everyday Life and Sport

Vitamins are highly complex molecules and are not easy to group chemically. They are synthesised from plants, bacteria and even animals. Humans have to absorb the majority of vitamins (11 out of 13) through foods. Only Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) can be independently produced by the skin when exposed to sufficient sunlight – by means of a process similar to plant photosynthesis. Moreover, the niacin (B3) vitamin  can be produced by us from the essential amino acid tryptophan and is therefore directly dependent on the amount of protein absorbed.

Athletes who either have high energy demands or do sports where a low body weight is beneficial run the risk of being unable to absorb a sufficient amount of vitamins. In endurance sports, such as cycling, running or triathlon, it is sometimes difficult or even impossible to consume sufficient nutritious food in one’s leisure time. This makes it tricky to avoid supplements.

In addition to niacin, an increased demand is likely for vitamin B2 (riboflavin), B (thiamine) and B6 (pyridoxine). The use of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is very common, which also improves absorption of iron, and Vitamin E (tocopherol). Overdoses are dangerous, but supplementation at low levels can have a performance-enhancing effect.

In particular, the rise in vegan athletes has drawn our attention to the need for vitamin B12 (cobalamin). The vitamin is normally produced by bacteria in the soil and then absorbed, for example, from eating earthy root vegetables. Depleted soils and ‘clean vegetables’ make the supplement an absolute must for herbivores and carnivores.

Vitamins Overview – Effect and Daily Requirement

The following overview of commonly used vitamins in supplements for cycling and sports does not claim to be complete. It is not to be equated with medical advice and is intended merely as a guide.

 

Vitamin Confirmed and/or claimed effect Daily recommended adult intake Max. daily requirement for competitive athletes
A (?-carotene) Affects cell growth 0.8 – 1.0 mg 1 – 4 mg
D3 (cholecalciferol) Promotes phosphate & calcium absorption, bone metabolism, formation of proteins 20 µg  20 µg 
E (tocopherol) Cell regeneration, inhibits inflammatory processes, strengthens the immune system, antioxidant, improved protection against muscular damage 12 – 15 mg 50 mg
B1 (thiamine) Amino acids and carbohydrate metabolism, Preserves nerve & muscle tissue 1.0 – 1.3 mg 4 – 8 mg
B2 (riboflavin) Metabolisation of fatty & amino acids, cell function, respiratory chain 1.0 – 1.4 mg 8.0 mg
B3 (niacin) Converts fats, protein and carbohydrates 12 – 15 mg 30 – 40 mg
B5 (pantothenic acid) Improved wound healing & immune response, carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism 6.0 mg 20.0 mg
B6 (pyridoxine) Protein metabolism, formation of haemoglobin (red blood cells), strengthens immune system 1.3 – 1.5 mg 6 – 8 mg
B9 (folic acid) Haematosis, cellular division 0.3 mg 0.4 – 0.6 mg
B12 (cobalamin) Haematosis, breakdown of fatty acids 3 – 4 µg 6.0 µg
C (ascorbic acid) Protects against infections, antioxidative, strengthens bone & connective tissue 95 – 110 mg 300 – 500 mg

Minerals – To Prevent Cramps and Fatigue, to Enhance Your Health

Muscle cramps continue to be a common issue and pain for athletes during and after exercise. Indeed, many athletes opt for magnesium tablets or powder. Current studies indicate that cramps, in addition to insufficiently trained muscles and a certain disposition, are primarily the result of a high loss of other minerals. When undertaking intensive endurance sports, up to 3 l of sweat is perspired per hour. In this case, it is mostly sodium and chloride, rather than magnesium, that are lost. Significant losses of iron, zinc, copper and chromium are also to be expected, which are also lost through urine. 

In particular, the importance of iron for performance and health is well known throughout society and is important for endurance athletes. Deficiencies in magnesium and zinc are also not to be underestimated. Relatively prevalent in the population, this can lead to symptoms of fatigue, for example. Nevertheless, the link to a nutritional deficiency is often discovered at too late a stage. If you take magnesium and zinc in combination as a nutritional supplement, you simultaneously increase the bioavailability, i.e. the absorption capacity. Again, it is always best to seek medical advice first if you suspect you have any deficiencies or want to improve performance. 

Minerals Overview – Effect and Daily Requirement

The following overview of commonly used minerals in sports supplements does not claim to be complete. It is not to be equated with medical advice and is intended merely as a guide.

 

Minerals Confirmed and/or claimed effect Daily recommended adult intake Max. daily requirement for competitive athletes
Sodium Muscle contraction 1.5 g 15 – 20 g
Magnesium Energy supply, muscular work, enzyme function 300 – 400 mg 500 – 600 mg
Zinc Breaks down carbohydrates, fat and protein, enzyme function, immune system 7 – 16 mg 20 – 30 mg
Iron Muscular work, oxygen transport, energy generation 10 – 15 mg 30 – 40 mg
Potassium Muscle contraction 4.0 g 4 – 5 g
Phosphorus Bone metabolism 700 mg 2500 mg
Calcium Muscle contraction, carbohydrate metabolism 1.0 g 1.5 – 2.0 g
Chromium Muscle development 30 – 100 µg 200 µg
Copper Muscle development, muscle repair, iron metabolism 1.0 – 1.5 mg 2 – 4 mg

Amino Acids – Strength, Muscle Development & Performance

All nutrients are formed with the aid of sunlight and soil ingredients. This includes all essential amino acids. They are exclusively made from plants and microbes and transported. As such, you gain all your essential amino acids from plants.

Proteins consist of amino acids. To keep your body supplied with all it needs, you need to either eat plants or animals that have previously eaten plenty of plants. On average, adults need 0.8 or 0.9 grammes of protein per kg of body weight per day. The daily protein requirement is slightly higher on a plant-based (vegan) diet.

Proteins are essential to the function, formation and repair of cells and therefore affect all muscles, organs and structures in the human body. Protein deficiency is virtually unheard of in the population. However, the human body may have a deficiency of one or more essential amino acids. This means that protein synthesis can no longer take place. In this case, the body's own protein can be broken down to solve the missing amino acids, but this system only works for the formation of certain proteins and also only for a limited period of time.

What Are Essential Amino Acids?

Essential amino acids cannot be synthesised in the body, while there are some non-essential amino acids that can be built by our cells. The following nine amino acids are essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. The combination of different amino acids is important here. This is the only way to optimally provide your body with all it needs before and after sport. What’s more, certain amino acids are more effectively absorbed in combination with others. Or, like lysine, they work with other nutrients and are responsible for generating other essential substances such as L-carnitine.

L-Carnitine – For More Stamina

In strength events and endurance sports, L-carnitine is one of the most commonly taken sports and cycling supplement. It comprises the amino acids lysine and methionine. The claimed active process, in which the energy supply from fat reserves is increased and carbohydrate reserves are thus spared, avoids a performance slump later. Although we can in principle produce L-carnitine ourselves, this process is only guaranteed if enough L-carnitine is also available during exercise. To be on the safe side, many athletes use capsules, chewable tablets, drink ampoules, drinks powders or bars. As the described process indicates, the substance has been popular among dieters.

Creatine – Full Power from the Offset

The amino acid creatine is said to have a similarly performance-enhancing effect. Particularly during speed strength, maximum strength and other intensive training units, creatine is potentially able to enhance your performance. Although this non-essential amino acid is also synthesised by us independently, it is said to provide better values in its function as an energy store in muscle tissue when taken in increased amounts. This has been demonstrated in a number of studies on short workouts. Caution must however be exercised, since weight gain due to water retention has been noted as a side effect.

Glutamine – Strong Muscles, Strong Digestion

L-glutamine is by far the most common amino acid in our muscular system. As a semi-essential amino acid, it can be absorbed and synthesised. A glutamine deficiency can become particularly severe during high athletic stress such as marathons or ultra-competitions. It not only contributes towards maintaining the immune system and muscle repair, it also keeps the intestinal wall healthy. Athletes who suffer from frequent gastrointestinal problems can therefore potentially benefit from increased glutamine intake.

BCAAs – Essential for Regeneration and Muscle Development

The acronym BCAA can now be found here, there and everywhere, but particularly in endurance and power sports. It stands for ‘Branched-Chain Amino Acids’. This involves the essential amino acids valine, leucine and isoleucine. As a dietary supplement, BCAAs are taken with the intention of improving muscle growth and recovery.

Amino Acids Overview – Effect and Daily Requirement

The following overview of commonly added amino acids in sports supplements does not claim to be complete. It is not to be equated with medical advice and is intended merely as a guide.

 

Amino acids Confirmed and/or claimed effect Daily recommended adult intake
Valine Supports immune system, regulates blood sugar 26 mg/kg
Leucine Muscle development 39 mg/kg
Isoleucine Muscle development, supplies the nervous system 20 mg/kg
Lysine Strengthens connective and muscle tissue 30 mg/kg
Methionine and cysteine Muscle development, protein production 15 mg/kg (10 / 5)
Phenylalanine and tyrosine Formation of red and white blood cells and thyroid hormones, renal function 25 mg/kg
Tryptophan Liver function, production of serotonin & melatonin (happiness and sleep hormones) 4 mg/kg
Threonine Liver function, production of serotonin & melatonin (happiness and sleep hormones) 15 mg/kg
Histidine Improved zinc absorption 10 mg/kg
Creatine Energy storage in muscle tissue 0.23 mg/kg (3 – 5 g)
Carnitine Fat metabolism 3 g
Glutamine Muscle repair, strengthens small intensive cells 5 – 20 g
Arginine Muscle development, growth 2 – 8 g
Beta alanine Delay muscle fatigue 4 g

Caffeine, Nitrate & Omega 3 – Coffee, Beetroot and More for an Extra Kick

Coffee not only gives tired athletes a boost, it also enhances their performance. Caffeine, as well as maté, guarana and green tea – whether in the form of a capsule, shot or powder – all have demonstrably positive effects on your long-term performance. 3-6 mg/kg of caffeine approx. 20 minutes prior to an intensive training session or competition can give you a real kick. 

No longer a secret among runners, triathletes and professional cyclists: beetroot. The nitrate contained in beetroot improves production of nitric oxide in the body, has a vasodilatory effect and as such increases the maximum oxygen absorption capacity. 

Similarly to amino acids, there are also fatty acids which are essential to our bodies but cannot be produced by us. The most important and most well-known is probably omega 3. It is obtained from fish oil and taken in capsules. 2-3 g on a daily basis should contribute towards lowering blood pressure and keeping your cholesterol level low, preventing inflammation and accelerating regeneration.