The Use Supplements to Avoid Suboptimal Nutrition in Athletes


Diet, nutrition and feeding

Diet involves the process of nutrition and the feeding patterns. Nutrition is an involuntary physiological process by which the body acquires the necessary nutrients for life. There is only one way of doing nutrition.

Feedings represent a conscious, voluntary and educable behaviour that can be made in different ways depending on habits, individual’s needs or special circumstances.

The term diet, therefore, defines the group of foods customary consumed1 including the regular feedings patters involving the size, number and frequency (timing) as well as the nutritional composition of each singular consumed meal and their impact on nutrition.


Diets and Training

Compared to sedentary or non-active individuals, all persons involving in regular exercise programmes increase their nutritional demands. Furthermore, different athletic disciplines have specific nutritional needs. For example, endurance athletes involving in regular and hard exercise programmes require higher amounts of carbohydrates (>5 g/kg/d) than persons engaged in a typical 2 to 3 days per week resistance exercises routine in which less than 5 g/kg/d would be enough 2. On the other hand, the recommended daily protein consumption ranges between 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg/d for people following a general fitness exercise programme or a hard weightlifting training aimed to gain muscle mass respectively.3 Consequently, appropriate and individualised diet strategies, considering different amount and proportion of nutrients, throughout the day or during and after workouts or competitions, have been proposed as an effective nutritional countermeasure to optimise training adaptation. A Diet that does not satisfy the nutritional demands will lead to Training-Induced Suboptimal Nutrition, which is a condition associated with decreased performance, poor resistance to illness and increased susceptibility to injuries.

Natural Supplements as nutrition optimisers

Supplementation refers to the ingestion of some nutrients over and above their habitual customary consumption.4 The use of supplements represents a valid procedure to achieve an optimal nutrition. Consequently, it could be considered unethical banning the use of some scientifically supported supplements based on personal beliefs. For example, knowing the robust evidences supporting the benefits of creatine to maximise training benefits, reduce musculoskeletal injuries, heat stress, and optimise rehabilitation periods after injuries,5 I wonder if it is still correct precludes athletes from using creatine when its supplementation poses no adverse health risks and may provide a number of health and performance benefits.6 On those lines, the used of high-quality protein extracts or multi-ingredients providing specific nutrients proportions would also be considered as an alternative to design an optimal diet.


The use of proteins extracts in athletes

Protein extracts from both animal and plant-based sources are currently used to optimise exercise-induced benefits. Compared to the habitual proteins rich foods (eggs, cheeses, meat, milk etc.), protein extracts possess a higher digestibility, leading to a rapid rise in the aminoacidemia. Recent recommendations emphasise the positive effects of ingesting high-quality protein extract during (~0.25 g/kg) and after (~0.4 g/kg) exercise to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis and optimise recovery process after training.7 Even though muscles remain sensitised to protein ingestion for at least 24 h following exercises,7 from a practical standpoint, some athletes may struggle, particularly those with high body masses, to consume enough protein to meet their required daily needs (>1.4 g/kg). Therefore, the pragmatic recommendation is for an athlete to feed as soon as possible after a workout. In this respect, not eating does not offer any benefit regarding exercise adaptation and may also interfere with the subsequent training sessions.

Animal-based proteins confer an advantage over plant-derived proteins with regards to stimulating muscle protein synthesis. In overall the EAA content of high quality animal proteins exceeds plant proteins (Figure 1).


Figure 1. EAA and Leucine content in animals and plant protein extracts (non-published data from the Centre for Science and Medicine in Sport and Exercise, University of Greenwich).

Research supports the use of post-workout supplements containing whey and/or beef protein extracts to optimise training outcomes in young.8 and elderly individuals.9 Additionally, potential benefits of ingesting post workout carbohydrate protein supplements on immunological markers have been also observed.10 Despite promising results of the effectiveness of some plant-based proteins for optimising training outcomes in a similar way as animal sources, further investigations are warranted.

Key points

  • An optimal diet should avoid the Training-Induced Suboptimal nutrition, which is a condition, associated with decreased performance, poor resistance to illness and increased susceptibility to injuries.
  • Supplementation is a valid procedure to achieve an optimal nutrition in athletes.
  • Animal-based protein extracts such as whey; casein; ovalbumin and high-quality beef confer an advantage over plant proteins to support exercise adaptations.

Author: Dr. Fernando Naclerio
Associate Professor in Strength Training and Sports Nutrition and Programme Leader of MSc Strength and Conditioning at the Department of Life and Sports Science, University of Greenwich (UK).


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  8. Naclerio F, Seijo-Bujia M, Larumbe-Zabala E, Earnest CP. Carbohydrates Alone or Mixing With Beef or Whey Protein Promote Similar Training Outcomes in Resistance Training Males: A Double Blind, Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2017:1-28.
  9. Naclerio F, Seijo M, Larumbe-Zabala E, Ashrafi N, Christides T, Karsten B, Nielsen BV. Effects of Supplementation with Beef or Whey Protein Versus Carbohydrate in Master Triathletes. J Am Coll Nutr. 2017:1-9.
  10. Naclerio F, Larumbe-Zabala E, Ashrafi N, Seijo M, Nielsen B, Allgrove J, Earnest CP. Effects of protein-carbohydrate supplementation on immunity and resistance training outcomes: a double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017;117:267-77.


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