Supplements for Sports Lovers: Useful or Not?

Food supplements

The market for dietary supplements has grown significantly in recent years – not only because of the health benefits, but also to improve athletic performance. These are the most important supplements in sports:

These substances have been shown to improve athletic performance*.(1)

*The following article provides an overview of the latest research on the most frequently used dietary supplements in sports. Keep in mind that studies rarely include high-performance athletes (these athletes have a different physiological condition than your average physically active person). It is also difficult to simulate race conditions in a laboratory. However, many benefits of supplements are well documented and indicate a performance-enhancing effect.  

2 cups of espresso


Whether in coffee, green tea, or caffeine pills – caffeine is not just for the sleep-deprived, it’s also popular among athletes. Studies have shown that caffeine before a workout (from a dose of 3 to 6 mg per kg of body weight) can have a positive effect on endurance. However, long-term effects or lasting physical changes resulting from caffeine consumption have not yet been documented.  

What are the benefits of caffeine?

Caffeine speeds up communication between the individual nerve cells. The result is increased muscle activity and reduced muscle pain.


Nitrate is an important nutrient for plants and helps them grow. Excess nitrate is stored mainly in the stems, leaf veins, and the outer leaves. It can be found in mache (also called lamb’s lettuce), arugula, Swiss chard, spinach, Daikon radish, garden radishes, and red beets – these foods help optimize performance in sports.

What is the effect of nitrate on the human body?

Nitrate supplements improve the rate at which your body produces carbon monoxide. This acts as a vasodilator and reduces blood pressure, which thereby improves your workout. Taking nitrate (whether as a dietary supplement or eaten regularly in foods) can lead to better performance.(2, 3, 4, 5)

Nitrate pills


Bicarbonate regulates the pH in your body. Temporary increases in the bicarbonate level in your blood creates a buffer to neutralize and eliminate the acid from your muscles. This way the muscles don’t tire as easily during a workout. The body can produce bicarbonate itself, and it is also present in mineral water.

How much bicarbonate do I need to see the benefits?

300 mg of bicarbonate per kg of body weight (as sodium bicarbonate) is recommended about 2 to 2.5 hours before you start working out or competing.(6, 7, 8)


Beta-alanine is present in high-protein foods like chicken, beef, or pork. It increases the amount of carnosine in muscles, which acts as a buffer for the acid that builds up during a workout. This boosts muscle performance and reduces fatigue.

How much beta-alanine can I take?

Beta-alanine can be found in many sports supplements. In order to increase the carnosine concentration by 30 to 60%, you should take 4 to 6 g of beta-alanine daily for at least 4 weeks (divided into a max. dose of 2 g).(9, 10)

Beta Alanine

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

BCAA stands for “branched chain amino acids”. BCAAs include the three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The body cannot produce these on its own, which is why we need to get them in our food. They are mainly present in fish, meat, nuts, and grains.

Why are BCAAs important?

Intensive training causes micro-tears in the muscles, so your body has to recover afterward. Important nutrients like BCAAs and protein are necessary for this. But your body also needs help from all essential and non-essential amino acids to synthesize protein, which allows the muscles to regenerate and grow. The frequent claim that BCAA stimulates muscle growth has not yet been proven.(11, 12, 13)


Longer runs or races like a marathon can sometimes lead to stomach issues. Glutamine (which is found in higher concentrations in soybeans or peanuts) can help with a sensitive digestion.

How much glutamine do I need?

Experts recommend 0.5 to 0.9 g of glutamine per kg of lean body weight. Recent studies show that a single dose of glutamine (about 2 hours before the workout) can have benefits. However, a 70 kg athlete with 15% body fat would have to consume about 54 g of glutamine. Whether smaller amounts also have benefits still has to be studied.(14, 15)

Do you want to know more about supplements? Read about which dietary supplements exist and what you need to consider when you take them.


Dr. Otmar Höglinger Otmar is a professor of Biochemistry and head of the degree program Food Technology and Nutrition at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria. View all posts by Dr. Otmar Höglinger