sports nutrition

Sports nutrition is the study & practice of nutrition & diet with a view to improving athletic performance & promoting recovery.


Nutrition is an important part of many sports training regimens, being popular in strength sports & endurance sports such as cycling, running, swimming & rowing.

A healthy diet is one that helps maintain or improve general health.

It is important for lowering many chronic health risks, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. A healthy diet needs to have a balance of macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates), calories to support energy needs, and micronutrients to meet the needs for human nutrition without inducing toxicity or excessive weight gain from consuming excessive amounts and adequate water.

World Health Organisation Guidelines

The World Health Organisation (WHO) makes the following 5 recommendations with respect to both populations and individuals:

  1. Achieve an energy balance and a healthy weight
  2. Limit energy intake from total fats and shift fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and towards the elimination of trans-fatty acids
  3. Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts
  4. Limit the intake of simple sugar. A 2003 report recommends less than 10% simple sugars.
  5. Limit salt / sodium consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodised.

Other recommendations include:

  • Sufficient essential amino acids to provide cellular replenishment and transport proteins. All essential amino acids are present in animals. Many plants such as quinoa, soy, and hemp also provide all the essential acids (known as a complete protein). Fruits such as avocado and pumpkin seeds also have all the essential amino acids.
  • Include all essential micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
  • Avoiding directly poisonous (e.g. heavy metals) and carcinogenic (e.g. benzene) substances.


1. Monosaccharides and Disaccharides: The Simple Sugars

2. The Polysaccharides: Complex Carbohydrates, Fibre and Resistant Starch

Monosaccharides and Disaccharides - The Simple Sugars

Excess leads to increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Avoid sugar and sugary food and drinks including sports drinks. Read below for hydration ideas.

The Polysaccharides: Fibre and Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are better for your health as they are low GI and provide a slow release  of glucose into the blood stream. Therefore, people with blood sugar problems such as hypoglycemia, insulin resistance or diabetes, can benefit from eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods.

Fibre promotes healthy digestion and waste excretion. High fibre foods include vegetables, grains, and legumes. Processed foods have the fibre removed. Fruit skins are also high in fibre.

Fibre is commonly classified into two categories:

  1. Those that don't dissolve in water (insoluble fiber)
  2. Those that do (soluble fibre)

Insoluble fibre

This type of fibre promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts and many vegetables are good sources of insoluble fibre.

Soluble fibre

This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fibre is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.

Benifits of Fibre

  • Normalises bowel movement - Dietary fibre increases the weight and size of the stool and softens it.
  • Helps maintain bowel integrity and health - A high-fibre diet lowers the risk of developing hemorrhoids, and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease). Fibre undergoes healthy fermentation in the colon to promote healthy bowel flora.
  • Lowers blood cholesterol levels - Soluble fibre lowers total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol levels.
  • Helps control blood sugar levels - Soluble fibre, can slow the absorption of sugar, which for people with diabetes can help improve blood sugar levels. A diet that includes insoluble fiber has been associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Aids in weight loss - High-fibre foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body time to register when you're no longer hungry.

Recommended Food Sources of Fibre

Fruit Vegetables Grains nuts and seeds
Fruit with skins
Dried apricots
Dried figs
Potaoes with skin
Pumpkin with skin
Carrots with skins
Wholemeal bread ONLY
Brown rice
Wholewheat pasta
Kidney beans
Soup mix
Flax seed
Pumpkin seeds
Brazil nuts




Proteins make up the majority of the structural tissue in your body, such as bone and the connective tissues that provide the shape and form to which your cells attach. The body is constantly making new proteins to replenish those lost from tissue damage, to fight invaders and to provide for growth. For example, the antibodies of the immune system, some hormones of your endocrine system, the enzymes in the digestive system and blood coagulating factors of your circulatory system are all made of proteins.

A healthy adult is estimated to need around 40 to 65 grams of amino acids per day. If this is not supplied in the diet the body begins to break down its own muscle to support its need for amino acids. Inadequate intake of amino acids from protein can lead to stunting, poor muscle formation, thin and fragile hair, skin lesions, a poorly functioning immune system and many other symptoms.

Recommended Protein Sources

  • Lean red meat
  • Chicken/turkey Fish
  • Soy (tofu and tempeh)
  • Quinoa
  • Whey protein


Fats including saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, and cholesterol are associated with cardiovascular disease and obesity. Not all fats are bad however, some fats have been shown to be health-promoting and some fats are essential for health. Minimising the consumption of saturated fats is a good idea, but minimising the consumption of all fats is not, as the brain is approximately 70 percent fat.

Healthy Fats: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated Fats

Research scientists first noticed monounsaturated fats after discovering that people eating a traditional Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disese, certain types of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Traditional Mediterranean diets contain high amounts of olive oil, which is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid. Other monounsaturated fats include myristoleic and palmitoleic acids.

Food sources of Monounsaturated Fats

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil or Donegal rapeseed oil
  • Avocadoes
  • Almonds
  • Cashews

Polyunsaturated Fats

The polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are molecules that contain many unsaturated bonds. This chemical structure is the reason these fats are liquid even when cold. The Essential Fatty Acids are PUFAs. The omega-6 PUFAs, such as arachidonic acid, one of the major fats in your cell membranes, are made from linoleic acid. The omega-3 fats, such as docosahexaenoic acid, the main fat in your brain, are made from alpha-linolenic acid.

The Essential PUFA Fats

1. linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid)

2. alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid)

Omega 6 Fats

Few people are deficient in the omega-6 essential fat, linoleic acid as arachidonic acid, which is made from linoleic acid, is found at high levels in animal tissue, such as beef and poultry. Since the average Western diet contains a lot of meat, most people get high quantities of arachionic acid.

Food sources of Omega 6 fats/ Linoleic acid

Oils from grains, nuts and legumes inc;

  • Sunflower
  • Safflower
  • Sesame
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Peanut oil
  • Beef and poultry
  • Evening primrose oil and borage oil

Omega 3 Fats

The omega-3 fats, which are produced from alpha linolenic acid, are associated with a decreased incidence of chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and cardiovascular disease, and behavioral syndromes like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Alpha-linolenic acid is found in high quantities in fish and flax. Some of the most important omega-3 fats, which are synthesised from alpha-linolenic acid, are docosahaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and these can be obtained directly from the diet as well.

Food sources of Omega-3 fats acid /alpha-linolenic acid

  • fish and seaweed
  • flax oil
  • green leafy vegetables
  • walnuts
  • cold-water fish like salmon, makerel, herrings, sardines and tuna

The ratio of omega 3 and Omega 6 and inflammation

Although omega-6 fats, like arachidonic acid, play important roles in your body, consuming too many of these in comparison to the amount of omega-3 fats you consume can cause problems. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is important.

  • Omega-6 fats promote inflammation
  • Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory

Current research continues to support that diseases such as atherosclerosis, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disese, and asthma are benfited by consuming a diet low in omega 6 and high in omega 3. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is estimated to be around 1:2. This can be accomplished by reducing your comsumption of meats, dairy products, and refined foods, while increasing consumption of the omega-3 rich foods.

Nutritional therapy to enhance performance

Carb Loading

Carbohydrate loading is a strategy involving changes to training and nutrition that can maximise muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores prior to endurance competition.

Who can benefit from carbohydrate loading?

Anyone exercising continuously at a moderate to high intensity for 90 minutes or longer is likely to benefit from carbohydrate loading. Typically, sports such as cycling, marathon running, longer distance triathlon, cross-country skiing and endurance swimming benefit from carbohydrate loading.

Carbohydrate loading is generally not practical to achieve in team sports where games are played every 3-4 days. Although it might be argued that players in football and AFL have heavy demands on their muscle fuel stores, it may not be possible to achieve a full carbohydrate loading protocol within the weekly schedule of training and games.

Carbohydrate loading and performance enhancement

Carbohydrate loading enables muscle glycogen levels to be increased from 100-120 mmol/kg ww to around 150-200 mmol/kg ww. This extra supply of carbohydrate has been demonstrated to improve endurance exercise by allowing athletes to exercise at their optimal pace for a longer time. It is estimated that carbohydrate loading can improve performance over a set distance by 2-3%.

Original carbohydrate loading

Originally, carbohydrate loading involved a depletion phase. This required 3 or 4 hard training days plus a low carbohydrate diet. The depletion phase was thought to be necessary to stimulate the enzyme glycogen synthase. The depletion phase was followed by a loading phase, that involved 3-4 days of rest combined with a high carbohydrate diet.

Modern carbohydrate loading

Today's athletes use a modified carbohydrated loading method. Ongoing research has shown that the depletion phase is no longer necessary, and the disruption to preperation/training is both unecessary and damaging. Today, 1-4 days of exercise taper while following the carbohydrate diet is sufficient to elevate muscle glycogen levels.

Training Tactics

The biggest change in your schedule during the week before your event should be in your training, not in your food. Don't be tempted to do any last-minute long sessions. You need to taper your training so that your muscles have adequate time to become fully fueled (and healed). Allow at least two easy or rest days pre-event.

Fueling Tactics

Do not eat hundreds more calories coming up to a match. Simply need to exercise less. This way the calories you generally expend during training can be used to fuel your muscles.

Maintain your tried-and-tested high-carbohydrate training diet. Drastic changes can easily lead to upset stomachs, diarrhea, or constipation. Be sure that you carb-load, not fat-load.

Meal Timing

A bigger luch may be preferabel over a big dinner. An earlier meal allows plenty of time for the food to move through your system. You can also carbo-load two days before if you will be too nervous to eat much the day before the event. (The glycogen stays in your muscles until you exercise.) Then graze on crackers, homemade soup, and other easily tolerated foods the day before your competition.

You are better off eating a little bit too much than too little the day before the event.

Weight Gain

Athletes who have properly carbo-loaded should gain about one to three pounds (0.45-1.36kg). This weight gain reflects water weight and indicates the muscles are fuelled. Three ounces of water is stored for every ounce of carbohydrate in the body.


Be sure to drink extra water, juices, if desired. Abstain from alcohol as it is dehydrating. Drink enough fluid to produce a significant volume of urine every two to four hours. The urine should be pale yellow.

Protein and carb loading

Do not avoid protein before an event. Protein is required on a daily basis. Eat a small serving of low-fat proteins such as poached eggs, yoghurt, turkey, or chicken or plant proteins such as beans and lentils (as tolerated).

Carbohydrate Loading Diet example

The following diet is suitable for a 70kg athlete aiming to carbohydrate load:


3 cups of date porridge with almonds and natural yoghurt and honey

1 medium banana 250ml beetroot and carrot juice


Buckwheat pancake with honey and walnuts

250ml cloudy apple juice


2 sandwiches (4 slices of heavy bread) with tuna, sweetcorn and low fat mayonnaise

200g tub of low-fat fruit yoghurt

250ml grape juice


Banana smoothie made with oganic milk, banana and honey and pich nutmeg and wheatgerm

cereal bar/ flapjack/ nutbar


1 cup of pasta sauce with 2 cups of wholewheat pasta

2 slices garlic toast

2 glasses of cordial


chicken breast

1 cup broccoli

1 1/2 cups brown rice

Garlic toast 2 slices

2 glasses of cordial


1 cup chili sauce with 2 cups brown rice


2 slices garlic toast

2 glasses of cordial

Late Snack

Toasted bagel and cream cheese

250ml beetroot juice

Vitamins and minerals to improve performance and reduce recovery time

Sports drink

A sports drink beverage is designed to help athletes rehydrate when fluids are depleted after training or competition. Electrolyte replacement promotes proper rehydration, which is important in delaying the onset of fatigue during exercise. As the primary fuel utilised by exercising muscle, carbohydrates are important in maintaining exercise and sport performance.

Categories of sports drinks

Sports drinks can be split into three major types:

1. Isotonic sports drinks contain similar concentrations of salt and sugar as in the human body.

2. Hypertonic sports drinks contain a higher concentration of salt and sugar than the human body.

3. Hypotonic sports drinks contain a lower concentration of salt and sugar than the human body

Most sports drinks are moderately isotonic, having between 4 and 5 heaped teaspoons of sugar per five ounce (13 and 19 grams per 250ml) serving. They never have a pH comparable to carbonated soft drinks.

Why sports drinks are not a healthy choice

Sports drinks are up to 30 times more erosive to your teeth than water. The citric acid in the sports drinks soften tooth enamel.

The leading brands of sports drinks on the market typically contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of soft drinks and more sodium. They also often contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), artificial flavours and food colouring.

Sports drinks are high calorie. One study from the University of California at Berkeley's Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Centre for Weight and Health even found that students who drink one 20-ounce sports drink every day for a year could gain 13 pounds/6kg!

Although these drinks are often referred to as “energy” drinks, in the long run the sugar they contain does just the opposite, resulting in a quick burst of energy followed by a sudden and sever drop in both blood sugar energy.

Low calorie and sugar-free sports drinks contain artificial sweeteners which are worse for you than high-fructose corn syrup or sugar.

Most also contain loads of processed salt, which is there to replenish the electrolytes you lose while sweating. However, unless you’re sweating profusely and for a prolonged period, that extra salt is harmful.

Coconut water - The better option

Coconut water is the clear liquid inside young coconuts. It is also being marketed as a natural sports drink because of its high potassium and mineral content. Fresh coconut water is one of the highest sources of electrolytes known to man, and can be used to prevent dehydration from strenuous exercise or even diarrhea. There have been cases where coconut water has been used as an intravenous hydration fluid in some developing countries where medical saline was unavailable.

Electrolyte replacement

Electrolytes are minerals in the body and compounds that bind to them to create salts, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, bicarbonate, phosphate, and sulphate. Electrolyte molecules are positively or negatively charged, which allows them to carry electrical impulses that transmit nerve signals and contract muscles. A normal diet provides more than enough electrolytes to meet the body’s needs for most people. But there are times when electrolytes from food alone may not be enough.

Indications for use in sport

  • Hot climates
  • Diarrhoea

My recommendations

Oral Rehydration Solutions from the pharmacy are manufactured according to World Health Organisation guidelines for the treatment and prevention of dehydration during diarrhoea and gastro-enteritis. Oral Rehydration Solutions are available in a number of pharmaceutical brands, typically as individual sachets of powder to be mixed with 200-250 ml of water.

Following exercise (or "weigh in") the athlete with a moderate-large fluid deficit should follow a rehydration plan tailored to meet their estimated fluid loss. Typically, over the next hour(s) the athlete should consume a volume of fluid equal to 1.5 times their estimated fluid deficit.

Risks associated with supplement use

In some situations, excessive salt supplementation during exercise may lead to gastrointestinal problems or cause further impairment of fluid balance.

Increasing the sodium content of a drink generally reduces the drink palatability and may interfere with the voluntary consumption of fluid.

Hypertension risk DASH diet

Whey protein

Whey protein is a rich source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), containing the highest known levels of any natural food source. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are used to fuel working muscles and stimulate protein synthesis, which may speed recovery and adaptation to stress (exercise).

Preclinical studies have suggested that whey protein may possess anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer properties. Although whey proteins are responsible for some milk allergies, the major allergens in milk are the caseins.

Whey protein contains the amino acid cysteine, which can be used to make glutathione. However, this amino acid is not essential for the synthesis of glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant that defends the body against free radical damage and some toxins, and studies in animals have suggested that milk proteins might reduce the risk of cancer.

Risks associated with supplement use

Some bodybuilding protein shakes purchased online, and in the New York metro area, exceeded USP standards for exposure to heavy metals when three servings a day were consumed.

In addition, to avoid artificial sweeteners, flavours and bulking agents consider purchasing unsweetened and unflavoured supplements.

My recommendation

Solgar Whey To Go Protein Powder is formulated with a blend of three, uniquely processed whey protein concentrates. It also includes free-form L-Glutamine and free-form Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). L-Glutamine Plays a significant role in supporting muscle mass. BCAAs help assist in decreasing the breakdown of muscles under stressful conditions. Both L-Glutamine and BCAAs are used by muscle tissue as a source of energy. It is free of gluten and fat.


Calcium is important for nerve contraction and bone growth.

Indications for use in sport

  • Athletes with an inadequate energy intake, or inadequate intake of dairy and fortified soy products.
  • Inadequate calcium intake during adolescence and early adulthood may lead to sub-optimal bone status.
  • Calcium requirements elevated by growth in childhood and adolescence.


Reduced iron status is a potential problem in some athletes when dietary intake fails to meet iron requirements. There is now evidence that supplementation of female athletes, who are not anaemic but who have serum ferritin levels less than 16 or 20 ng/ml, may cause improvements in some performance related parameters. Best taken with 500 mg of vitamin C for 2-3 months or until review with sports doctor. Supplement should be taken with food

Indications for use in sport

  • Low serum ferritin Poorly balanced vegetarian diets, chronic low-energy diets, and other dietary patterns which see infrequent intake of red meat.
  • Increased iron requirements; female athletes (menses), adolescent athletes undergoing growth spurts, pregnant athletes, athletes adapting to altitude or heat training.
  • Increased iron losses due to gastrointestinal bleeding (e.g. ulcers, some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)), excessive haemolysis due to increased training stress (e.g. footstrike haemolysis in runners), and other blood losses (e.g. surgery, nosebleeds, contact sports).

Risks associated with supplement use

Excessive iron intake in some athletes may lead to haemochromatosis.

Some iron preparations cause gastrointestinal upsets, constipation.

My recommendations

Solgar Gentle Iron


Athletes who restrict their total energy intake or dietary variety are at risk of an inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals.

Indications for use in sport

  • Athletes undertaking a prolonged period of energy restriction (e.g. 8MJ/1900 kcal for females or 10 MJ/2300 kcal for males) for weight loss, or weight maintenance.
  • Athletes with a restricted dietary intake who are unable/unwilling to increase food range.
  • Athletes with a heavy competition schedule, involving disruption to normal eating patterns.

My recommendations

Solgar Male Multiple. Phytonutrient multiple vitamin, mineral and herbal formula for men.

Vitamin D

Unlike other nutrients, Vitamin D can be obtained by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, as well as through foods or supplements

Vitamin D;

  • Allows body cells to utilise calcium (which is essential for cell metabolism)
  • Allows muscle fibers to develop and grow normally
  • The immune system needs Vitamin D to function properly.
  • Every cell in the body has receptors for Vitamin D

Scientists have discovered that elite female gymnasts and many of a group of distance runners also had poor Vitamin D status.Forty percent of the runners, who trained outdoors in sunny Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had insufficient Vitamin D. Four Russian sprinters were doused with artificial, ultraviolet light. Another group wasn’t. Both trained identically for the 100-meter dash. The control group lowered their sprint times by 1.7 percent. The radiated runners, in comparison, improved by an impressive 7.4 percent.

More recently, when researchers tested the vertical jumping ability of a small group of adolescent athletes, Larson-Meyer says, “they found that those who had the lowest levels of Vitamin D tended not to jump as high,” intimating that too little of the nutrient may impair muscle power.

A number of recent studies also have shown that, among athletes who train outside year-round, maximal oxygen intake tends to be highest in late summer

Indications for use in sport

High latitude countries such as Ireland

My recommendations

Solgar Norwegian Cod Liver Oil. Cod liver oil has traditionally been one of the most popular natural sources of Vitamins A & D. Vitamins A and D help maintain bones, as well as a healthy immune system. Vitamin A assists in many other functions such as eyesight and skin maintenance.


Caffeine has numerous actions on different body tissues including

  • The mobilisation of fats from adipose tissue and the muscle cell
  • Changes to muscle contractility
  • Alterations to the central nervous system to change perceptions of effort or fatigue
  • Stimulation of the release and activity of adrenaline
  • Effects on cardiac muscle

Caffeine enhances endurance and provides a small but worthwhile enhancement of performance over a range of exercise protocols including;

  • Short-duration high-intensity events (1-5 min)
  • Prolonged high-intensity events (20-60 min)
  • Endurance events (90 min + continuous exercise)
  • Ultra-endurance events (4 hours +)
  • Prolonged intermittent high-intensity protocols (team and racquet sports).

My recommendations

Traditional protocols for the use of caffeine involve the intake of caffeine one hour prior to the event, in doses equivalent to ~ 6 mg/kg (e.g. 300-500 mg for a typical athlete). Equivalent to 1 cup of real strong coffee.

There is new evidence, at least from studies involving prolonged exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes, that a variety of protocols of caffeine use can enhance performance. In particular, benefits have been seen with small-moderate levels of caffeine (1-3 mg/kg BM or 70-200 mg caffeine) taken before and/or throughout exercise, or towards the end of exercise when the athlete is becoming fatigued). Furthermore, these studies show that performance benefits do not increase with increases in the caffeine dose.

Risks associated with supplement use

The use of larger doses of caffeine increases the risk of side-effects.

Creatine and Creatine Loading

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in large amounts in skeletal muscle. Phosphorylated creatine is a source of phosphate to regenerate ATP which is fuel for muscles. The creatine phosphate system is the most important fuel source for sprints or bouts of high-intensity exercise lasting up to 10 seconds.

Recent studies have shown that prior creatine loading enhances glycogen storage and carbohydrate loading in a trained muscle.

An acute weight gain of 600-1000 g is typically associated with acute loading and may represent water gain.This associated weight gain may be counterproductive to athletes competing in sports where power-to-weight is a key factor in successful performance or in sports involving weight divisions.

Indications for use in sport

  • A developed athlete undertaking resistance training to increase lean body mass.
  • Interval and sprint training sessions where the athlete is required to repeat short explosive maximal efforts with brief recovery intervals.
  • Sports with intermittent work patterns (e.g. soccer, basketball, football, racquet sports).
  • Concerns Associated with Supplement Use Creatine loading promotes weight gain due to fluid retention.

My recommendations

Creatine monohydrate is the most practical form for supplementation with creatine.

Rapid Loading Protocol

  • 20 g daily, divided into 4 doses, for 5 days.
  • These doses should be taken with a meal or snack supplying a substantial amount of carbohydrate (50-100 g)
  • Weight gain of ~0.6-1.0 kg should be expected when using this protocol
  • Maintenance dose 3 g/day.

Slow Loading Protocol

  • 3 g/day consumed with a substantial carbohydrate meal or snack.
  • Maintenance dose: 3 g/day.

Bicarbonate and Citrate Loading

Bicarbonate is the body's most important extracellular buffer. Among the types of acid produced, lactic acid generated during exercise is buffered by bicarbonate.

Bicarbonate loading increases the muscle's extracellular buffering capacity and ability to dispose of excess hydrogen ions produced through anaerobic glycolysis.

Studies show bicarbonate loading has a moderate effect-size in enhancing the performance of anaerobic exercise/events (Matson and Tran 1993) and that “chronic” supplementation protocol with repeated doses of bicarbonate over several days has been shown to increase buffering capacity, with effects lasting for at least 24 h following the last dose (McNaughton et al. 1999; McNaughton and Thompson 2001).

Citrate loading has also been used to increase extracellular buffering capacity although some research suggests bicarbonate may be more effective (Van Montfoort et al. 2004). This area warrants further investigation given that citrate seems to be less likely to cause gut disturbances.

Traditional protocols of bicarbonate and citrate supplementation have involved “acute” ingestion in the one to two hours before an exercise bout.

Situations for use in sport

  • There is strong evidence for use by athletes competing in high-intensity competition events lasting 1-7 minutes.
  • High-intensity events of up to an hour
  • Intermittent high intensity team sports

My recommendations

Acute loading

  • The acute bicarbonate loading protocol typically involves a 300 mg/kg (0.3 g per kg) dose, taken 1-2 hours prior to the session. (15.25 g bicarbonate for a man of 70 kg)

Chronic Loading

  • The chronic bicarbonate loading protocol typically involves five days of 500 mg/kg bicarbonate, split into four doses over the day.

Risks associated with supplement use

Gastrointestinal distress often occurs with bicarbonate loading. This may be reduced by ingesting the capsules or dissolvable powder with sufficient fluid to decrease the osmotic ‘loading’ on the gut.

Changes in the pH of urine are expected following bicarbonate supplementation. If an athlete is selected for a drug test, they may need to wait several hours before urinary pH returns to the levels that are acceptable to drug testing authorities. This may cause some disruption to the athlete’s daily routine or post-event activities.

Interaction with other supplements should be considered (e.g. caffeine, creatine).


Muscle carnosine is an intracellular buffer. Carnosine has an anti-oxidant role and accounts for about 10% of the muscle’s ability to buffer the acidity (H+ ions) produced by high intensity exercise.

Increasing muscle carnosine levels may offer an alternative to bicarbonate/citrate loading for high-intensity exercise or as an additional strategy.

Recent studies have shown that supplementation with 5-6 g/d β-alanine can increase muscle carnosine content by ~60% after 4 weeks and ~80% after 10 weeks of supplementation by about 80% (Harris et al. 2006).

Dietary sources of carnosine and β-alanine include meats, especially “white” (fast twitch) meat such as the breast meat of poultry and birds, and fish. Vegetarians have lower resting muscle carnosine concentrations than meat-eaters (Harris et al. 2007).

My recommendations

A daily β-alanine dose of~65 mg/kg appears to balance its effectiveness in raising muscle carnosine levels with the occurrence of side effects. This equates to 4.5-5.5 g/d for a 70-85 kg athlete.

Take β-alanine in split doses over the day and to consume it with carbohydrate-rich foods.

It is not yet know how long supplementation needs to continue to maximise muscle carnosine concentrations, or how long muscle carnosine remains elevated if supplementation is stopped. However, it appears that the rise and fall of muscle carnosine may take several months to occur.

Indications for use in sport

High-intensity exercise Competitive events lasting 1-7 minutes

Repeated bouts of high-intensity work (sprints, lifts) which cause an exercise-limiting increase in H+ ions over time.

Risks associated with supplement use

Studies on β-alanine are too new to be certain about the side-effects associated from supplement use.

To date, the major side-effect that has been described is paraesthesia - a prickling or “pins and needles” sensation - occurring for ~ 60 mins about 15-20 mins following a dose of β-alanine.

Beetroot juice

Beetroot juice has previously been shown to reduce blood pressure.

Now drinking beetroot juice has been shown to boost stamina and could help people exercise for up to 16% longer, a UK study suggests.

A University of Exeter team found nitrate contained in the vegetable leads to a reduction in oxygen uptake, making exercise less tiring. The small Journal of Applied Physiology study suggests the effect is greater than that which can be achieved by regular training. The researchers believe their findings could help people with cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic diseases and endurance athletes.

8 men aged 19-38, were given 500ml per day of organic beetroot juice for six consecutive days before completing a series of tests, involving cycling on an exercise bike. After drinking beetroot juice the group was able to cycle for an average of 11.25 minutes - 92 seconds longer than when they were given the placebo, translating into an approximate 2% reduction in the time taken to cover a set distance. The group that had consumed the beetroot juice also had lower resting blood pressure.


The nitrate in the beetroot juice turning into nitric oxide in the body, reducing how much oxygen is burned up by exercise, therefore boosting stamina.

Antioxidants Zinc A, C and E & Selenium

Sudden increases in training stress lead to temporary increases in production of free oxygen radicals.

Free radicals are unstable,molecules which form during normal metabolism and via exposure to external factors such as pollution. Free radicals have been linked to cell membrane damage, cancer and immune weakness.

Supplementation with antioxidant vitamins reduces oxidative damage.

There is no consistent evidence of performance enhancement following antioxidant supplementation.

Regular training promotes an increase in the body’s own antioxidant defence system against free-radical damage.

My recommendations

Solgar antioxidant

Antioxidants are mainly found in plant-based foods including dark coloured vegetables, citrus fruit, legumes, nuts, grains, seeds and oils. Tea (black and green) is a rich source of flavonoids.


Carnitine is a nitrogenous compound found mainly in meats and is synthesised in the kidney and liver from lysine and methionine. Carnitine enhances aerobic endurance by increasing the oxidation of glucose, decreasing the accumulation of lactic acid, and enhancing fatty acid metabolism by the cellular mitohondria.

My recommendations

Solgar Carnitine

Fish oils

A study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport published a study by researchers from the University of South Australia showing that fish oil supplementation reduced heart rate in elite rugby players undertaking a high-intensity workout.

Now the European Journal of Applied Physiology has published a study by researchers from the University of California-Davis showing that fish oil supplementation increased heart stroke volume and cardiac output during low- to moderate-intensity exercise.


Quercetin is a flavonoid, found naturally in the skins of many red fruit and veg including red onions, tomatoes, blueberries and apples with reputed health-boosting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Recent studies have suggested that quercetin can boost endurance, increase VO2 max (ie aerobic capacity), fight fatigue, support the immune system and attenuate exercise-induced damage in the body.

My recommendations

Solgar Quercetin Complex


Probiotics have beneficial effects on health and in particular intestinal microbial balance. The two main commercially used species are lactobacillus acidophilis and bifidobacterium bifidum.

There is evidence of the following beneficial effects of probiotics;

  • Improving intestinal tract health
  • Enhancing the immune system
  • Enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients
  • Reducing lactose intolerance
  • Decreasing the prevalence of allergy in susceptible individuals
  • Reducing the risk of certain types of cancers

The AIS conducted a study on lactobacillus fermentum in highly trained distance runners in 2003. A highly significant favourable reduction in the number of symptoms days was observed in the probiotic group compared with placebo treatment, although the underlying immunological control mechanisms were not clearly established. A collaborative study between the AIS and the university of Newcastle published in 2006 (British Journal of Sports Medicine 40(4):351-354) indicated that fatigued athletes with lowered immune responses may benefit from probiotic supplementation.

Herbal medicine and sport

Herbal medicine is used in Traditonal Chinese Medicine TCM to performance enhancement.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleutheroccocus senticosus) is a gentle herb appropriate for long-term use without side effects. Siberian Ginseng to be adaptogenic, that is, it helps the body find balance and adapt to stresses. It does this primarily by nourishing the adrenal glands. Effects of Siberian Ginseng include immune support, blood sugar regulation, and improvement in energy levels. It has been shown in studies to enhance athletic performance.

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is a fundamental herb for improving energy levels in general and for sports performance. It has been shown to have many positive effects for the athlete, including: shortens the latency period of and strengthens conditioned reflexes, speeds transmission of nerve impulses, promotes relaxation while restoring alertness, dilates coronary arteries and sustains proper cardiac rhythm, increases synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids, helps maintain adequate blood sugar levels, and supports adrenal, spleen, thyroid and thymus function.

Cordyceps (C. sinensis) is a very safe and gentle tonic herb. In TCM it tonifies kidney yang and strengthens the immune sytem and lungs. It is a very unusual herb, as it's a moth larva which has been infected with a fungus and then dried. Cordyceps has been shown to enhance the immune system, relax spasms of the heart, bronchi and intestines, improve sexual function, and invigorate energy levels while keeping one relaxed.

Tribulus / Bai Ji Li /白蒺藜 (Tribulus terrestris) is a well known aphrodisiac and male tonic. From a TCM perspective, Bai Ji Li is warming, pungent, and bitter, it calms floating Liver Yang, clears Wind-Heat (particularly from the eyes), moves Liver Qi, and relieves itching (specific for desquamation of palms and soles). Men with low testosterone levels may benefit from the use of Tribulus. Studies show that it can produce statistically significant increases in levels of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone. Bai Ji Li is a specific if low sperm counts are due to stress (Qi stagnation) and low testosterone levels.

Damiana (Turnera diffusa /T. aphrodisiaca) is antidepressant, aphrodisiac, euphoric, mild diuretic, mild laxative, mild purgative, nervine, stimulant, stomachic, testosteromimetic, thymoleptic and urinary antiseptic. It is indicated for depression, nervous dyspepsia, atonic constipation, coital inadequacy, debility and lethargy. Specifically indicated in anxiety neurosis with a predominant sexual factor. Damiana is a valuable strengthening remedy for the nervous system. In particular, it has a stimulating and enhancing action on those functions related to the male reproductive system, especially where there is sexual inadequacy with a strong psychological or emotional element. The alkaloids are thought to have a testosteronal effect. It is of benefit in any debilitated condition of the central nervous system from anxiety and depression to neuralgia; and is used to contain genital herpes. Although considered to be a 'male' herb, it is not contraindicated for women with debilitated conditions.

Carahealth Male Tonic


  • Fertility tonic and aphrodisiac
  • Enhancer performance
  • Sports nutrition
  • Protects the prostate
  • Prevents male pattern hair loss
  • Tonifies the adrenal gland

This mix contains a combination of aphrodisiac and tonic herbs that tonify the kidney energy in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which, according to TCM, is responsible for fertility and reproduction. The herbs tonify the adrenal glands and improve strength and resistance. The herbs also increase testosterone levels, improve sperm production, erectile function and increase libido. The mix is indicated to increase fertility and libido and is a general male tonic designed to increase stamina and promote resistance to stress. Although it is promoted as a fertility tonic, it can be used by any males, from business man driving 4 hours a day to get to and from work, to a world class athlete looking to increase muscle mass and stamina. It is specifically indicated for men who have sweaty or clammy palms, a condition known as palmer hyperhidrosis, which is a symptom of adrenal exhaustion.

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  • Tonifies adrenals to prevent adrenal exhaustion
  • Treats depression / SAD Chemotherapy support
  • Enhances memory
  • Enhances performance
  • Tonifies the nervous system to prevent and treat neurological disease; MS, Parkinson’s, epilepsy etc

Adaptogens produce an increase in power of resistance against stress whether it is physical, chemical, biological or emotional in origin. Adaptogens restore and normalise physiological functions in the event of stress. Adaptogens specifically help our bodies adapt to changes in what is known as our circadian rhythm or body clock due to seasonal changes, shift work and crossing time zones. They are used specifically to prevent the effects of SAD. When a stressful situation occurs, consuming adaptogens generates a degree of generalised adaptation that allows our physiology to handle the stressful situation in a more resourceful manner.


  • Lowers cortisol levels during times of stress
  • Boosts immunity Increase energy levels
  • Improve resistance to stress
  • Improve concentration
  • Improves the symptoms of SAD

Acupunture for Sports Performance Enhancement

At the 1993 Chinese National Games, nine Chinese women runners broke nine world records. In the 10,000 meter race, the previous record was broken by 42 seconds, an unbelievable time. The new 1500 meter record holder had been 73rd at the same distance the year before. Journalists and other athletes around the world took notice and accused the team of using steroids, even though the runners all passed steroid tests and there were no other indications of steroid use, such as acne or highly defined muscles.

A press conference was held where Ma Jun Ren, the team coach, enraged by these accusations, held up a box of Chinese herbs he credited with his team's performance. It was derived from cordyceps, a traditional Chinese herb used for generations as a lung Qi tonic.

Acupuncture for Athletes

Acupuncture treats musculoskeletal injuries and constitutional imbalances, relieves muscle pain and spasm and improves circulation to tense or injured tissues. Acupuncture is especially effective for tendon and ligament sprain/strains and chronic injuries which have been poorly responsive to other types of treatment.

Cupping for Athletes

Cupping employs the localised use of negative pressure (vacuum) to reverse the centripetal pull of gravity. Simply stated, it uses gentle, controlled suction to open up muscle tissue and vastly increase local circulation of blood and fluids. This negative pressure improves blood and fluid circulation, mobilizes muscle and sinew flexibility, irons out crumpled and contracted fascia, gives breathing room to adhesions, helps to vanish scars, dredges the lymphatic system, improves skin tone, breaks up cellulite and promotes relaxation. Carina is available to lecture for your group or institution on this subject.

For further details on this topic, to lecture for your group or institution on this subject. or to arrange an online appointment contact Carina This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Carina Harkin BHSc.Nat.BHSc.Hom.BHSc.Acu. Cert IV TAE.