Fact vs. Fiction: Do Supplements Actually Work?

about2

bottle with protein powder in it

In the ultra-competitive world of athletics, athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performance and recovery. It may be with the tried and true methods of proper sleep, eating and hydration or with other methods such as massage therapy, whole-body vibration and compression garments.

But, how many of these claims are legitimate and which ones are just another trend being promoted for profit? We’ve rounded up info on some of these questionable commodities to answer that very question in our brand new blog series: Fact vs. Fiction

In the fourth part of this series, we're investigating supplements, specifically creatine and protein. 

Supplements

As with the other solutions previously mentioned, supplements make claims about improving athletic performance and recovery. There are a whole array of supplements out there, but today we’ll focus on two that are available over the counter and not screened for or banned by various sports committees (including WADA, IOC and NCAA): creatine and protein.

Simply put, creatine is a substance found in the cells of our muscles. It helps your muscles produce energy and is often taken as a supplement by athletes and bodybuilders. Creatine is naturally found in red and white meat, fish, and milk. Claims made about creatine include assisting with muscle gain, enhancing strength and improving exercise performance.

Protein is an essential component of building and fueling muscles. This in turn helps your metabolism, immune system and keeps you full. Basically, it’s a crucial nutrient for everyone, and especially athletes. Natural sources of protein include meat, poultry, seafood, legumes, nuts, and eggs. Oftentimes protein is consumed as a supplement in powder form (i.e. whey, soy, pea, hemp), with whey protein powder being the most common. Claims made about protein supplements include “bulking up” (increased/improved muscle performance) and speeding up recovery (decrease in muscle soreness). 

Performance 

Oftentimes an athlete’s nutrition includes supplements like creatine and protein because they need a boost before exerting themselves. In many cases, the reason they consume supplements instead of food is because of the convenience and ease of digestion

Creatine has been shown to increase strength, power and body mass in comparison to a placebo group. Other studies have shown similar results, when athletes perform short periods of exceedingly powerful activity or repetitive sprints. 

Whey protein has been shown to enhance muscle performance in male athletes who performed resistance training exercises. These athletes were placed in one of two groups where they consumed either whey protein or a placebo beverage (containing carbohydrates). 

The beverage was consumed right after exercising and again 10 hours later. Exercises performed included barbell bench press, pulldown superset, overhead press, seated row, less press and leg extension. Specifically, they found an improvement in maximal strength, anaerobic power and neuromuscular function in athletes who consumed whey protein. 

Recovery 

Since elite level athletes exert themselves so much, it’s important that they bounce back quickly. This is the main reason they turn to supplements. One study investigated the effects of creatine on recovery in male participants. These participants consumed creatine 5 days before and 14 days after resistance training. Participants were tested on their muscle strength and performance (specifically knee extension strength) and did indeed improve during recovery in contrast to the comparison group (who solely consumed carbohydrates). 

A systematic review of protein supplements on recovery found that muscle recovery is actually dependent on when protein supplements are consumed. Protein supplements had the most beneficial effects on reduced muscle soreness and markers of muscle damage when consumed post-exercise. 

While studies have shown promising results for supplements’ impact on performance and recovery, there are some concerns to take into account about supplements

  • They can be expensive 
  • Not all products work for everyone (one may be good for older women, but have no effect in younger men)
  • Some of these substances may produce unwanted health effects (if they are new and haven’t been tested). 

It’s always best to do thorough research and consult a sports medicine professional before introducing a new supplement to your routine.

While this blog series references multiple studies in order to support or debunk claims about various athletic products available on the market today, Presagia Sports does not claim that the results definitively represent the value and effectiveness of each product. We encourage you to conduct your own independent research. 

Want more Fact vs. Fiction? Check out our the other posts in the series and don't forget to subscribe to our blog to receive updates the moment they go live!

Fact vs. Fiction: Does Foam Rolling Actually Work? 

Fact vs. Fiction: Do Compression Garments Actually Work?

Fact vs. Fiction: Do Athletic Electronic Health Records Actually Work?