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8 Best Supplements For Athletes in 2024

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Hey Athletes! I’m Jacek. I’ve worked and trained with a dozen champions, like national, european and world champions, and even olympic medalists, and in this article you will see what all of them have in common in terms of essential supplementation. 

So whether you’re a competitive athlete, a warrior, or just someone curious about what supplements athletes should take to optimize their performance, this is the article for you. We will look into the science-backed world of best supplements for athletes – no junk, stuff that work only in theory or BS claims, just the essentials to elevate your game.

If you ever thought about importance of Whey Protein, wondered if you should consider Casein, questioned the effectiveness of your Creatine, considered buying pre-workout supplements but have no clue what ingredients will make a difference, is there a room for beta-alanine or wondered about the role of Multivitamin and Mineral supplements?

Well, my friend, you’re in the right place.I will be writing about the most important supplements for athletes that are backed by science and have only strong evidence of effectiveness “regardless” of the sport that you are competing in (or not).

I know that the world of supplements can be overwhelming and I hope that information from this article will help you make a more informed and hopefully the best decision that not only should help you with performance, allow you to avoid common mistakes in supplementation but also save money by not buying unnecessary s… stuff. Let’s do this!

One thing I would like to mention is that I decided not to include any table comparing products to each other, as they are essentially different products from various categories and should not be compared. Each possesses unique strengths and qualities. In almost every case, products can complement each other rather than compete.

best supplements for athletes

8 Best Supplements For Athletes Reviewed

  1. Whey Protein Isolate by TL – Best Whey Protein
  2. Casein+ by Legion – Best Casein Protein
  3. Vegan Protein By HUGE – Best Vegan Protein
  4. Creatine Monohydrate by Promix – Best Creatine
  5. Purcaf® Caffeine by Kaged – Best Caffeine 
  6. Beta-alanine by BulkSupplements – Best Beta-Alanine
  7. Multivitamin by KAGED – Best Multivitamin for Men
  8. Sentry – Best Multivitamin for Women
Best Whey Protein

1. Whey Protein Isolate by TL

Whey Protein Isolate by TL
  • Type of Supplement: Protein Powder
  • Best For: Increasing Protein intake, Muscle Growth
  • Suitable for Vegans: No
  • Servings per Package: 55
  • Price per Serving: ~1.75$
  • Company Founded: 2015
  • Recommended by Athletes: Hafthor Bjornsson, Paul Sklar, Sean Harris

I want to open the list of best supplements for athletes, with whey protein not without a reason. There are compounds that we can take and they are ones that we need to take. Proteins fall into that second category. The reason it is the first one I will be describing is that there is no real reason for taking all other beneficial non-essential supplements, when you simply do not cover your fundamentals.

So if for some reason you can’t provide enough protein with whole foods or simply eat a healthy diet but want to ramp up some protein intake with something that tastes nice, Transparent Labs Whey Protein Isolate is the best choice you can make in my opinion. 

The reason why adequate protein intake is so important is because proteins are responsible for much more than “just” muscle growth. So yes, an abundance of amino acids is required for effective muscle protein synthesis and yes whey protein is a superior form of protein powders, but the proteins are crucial in your body for synthesis of vital hormones, neurotransmitters, enzymes, tendons and more… 

Transparent Labs Protein 100% grass-fed

I will describe only one flavor – French Vanilla which is awesome, but keep in mind that different flavors vary slightly in terms of the serving per package and some ingredients (nothing serious tho). With each of 57, 32g servings you will be getting 28g of protein sourced from 100% grass-fed American Cattle, and less than 1g of both carbohydrates and fats. 

28g of protein in 32g serving results in a very nice protein-by-weight ratio – 87,5%. In each scoop you will find 120 kcal and only natural ingredients without artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors. Label transparency and Third Party Testing are what makes Transparent Labs special – certified by Labdoor and scoring 99.5/100. 

Best choice for anyone who looks to improve the protein intake regardless if you’re trying to build muscles or lose some weight. 1,75$ for a serving is not the cheapest you can find on the WPI market but definitely justified taking into consideration the accuracy and effort Transparent Labs is putting into that product.

40 EXPERT SCORE

 If for some reason you can’t provide enough protein with whole foods or simply eat a healthy diet but want to ramp up some protein intake with something that tastes nice, Transparent Labs Whey Protein Isolate is the best choice you can make.


Scientific Rationale for Use:0
Nutrition Label Transparency:0
Third Party Testing:0
Value for Money:0

Positives:

  • High protein content
  • 3rd party testing
  • Only natural ingredients
  • Great option for weight loss and muscle growth

Could be better:

  • Most expensive protein on the list
Best Casein Protein

2. Casein+ by Legion

Casein+ by Legion
  • Type of Supplement: Protein Powder
  • Best For: Increasing Protein intake, Muscle Growth
  • Suitable for Vegans: No
  • Servings per Package: 30
  • Price per Serving: 1,6$
  • Company Founded: 2014
  • Recommended by Athletes: Gage Clark, Grant Tinsley, Machaela Brabham

Next on the list of essentials for athletes I decided to put another protein powder, but this time it will be Casein Protein Powder. That product will allow you to easily get high quality protein, rich in all essential amino acids.

Casein, often compared to whey, has its own unique qualities. When ingested, casein will form a kind of gel in the stomach that results in slowing down its digestion. This unique quality allows for a sustained release of amino acids which can be helpful in some situations when there is an expected amount of time without food. 

That slower digestion accompanied by low kcal contents can be a valuable tool during weight loss journey, helping athletes to feel more “full” during a day. 

So that unique strength of the casein in some cases could be a weakness, because compared to whey it won’t spike the AA in your blood in the same whey, resulting in a bit smaller anabolic response. Another thing is that Casein has lower Leucine content, which is seen as a major drive for muscle protein synthesis.

Legion Casein in hand

So that being said now I will tell you why I believe Casein should be on our list. While casein may not spike that anabolic response, mixing it with Whey forms a protein cocktail that contains not only high leucine levels but also gives you a continuous amino acid flow - an optimal protein shake that can be used right after workout, before bed or simply as a meal replacement when combined with some extra fats and carbs.

Now when you already know why Casein is a great option, the best one you can get would be Casein+ by Legion. It’s outstanding that it’s made with milk from hormone- and antibiotic-free cows. Label of that supplement is fully transparent showing no blends - so you can make a fully informed decision on what you will be taking. 

USA made, FDA-inspected and NSF certified, which means tested for Potency and Purity, it is why I really appreciate Legion supplements. With each 32g vanilla flavored serving you are getting 26g of protein with more than 600mg of calcium, 2g of carbs and 0g of sugars and fats. 100% natural micellar casein powder without artificial sweeteners, flavors or dyes. 

Mix one scoop of this and TL Whey Isolate and you will get a powerful protein shake that contains only natural ingredients and provides you more than 50g of protein, a high amount of Leucine that should peak your AA plasma levels after ingestion but also allow for steady and sustained release after that as well.

39.5 EXPERT SCORE

That product will allow you to easily get high quality protein, rich in all essential amino acids. When ingested, casein will form a kind of gel in the stomach that results in slowing down its digestion.


Scientific Rationale for Use:0
Nutrition Label Transparency:0
Third Party Testing:0
Value for Money:0

Positives:

  • High protein content
  • 3rd party testing
  • Only natural ingredients
  • Good option for weight loss
  • Excellent option to mix with WHEY for muscle growth

Could be better:

  • Not the best option for muscle growth when taken alone
Best Vegan Protein

3. Vegan Protein By HUGE

Vegan Protein By HUGE
  • Type of Supplement: Protein Powder
  • Best For: Increasing Protein intake, Muscle Growth
  • Suitable for Vegans: YES
  • Servings per Package: 25
  • Price per Serving: 1,6$
  • Company Founded: 2019
  • Recommended by Athletes: Matt Greggo, Tren Twins, Max Taylor

I will skip all explanations here in terms of benefits of protein ingestion because if you made it here that should be already clear for you 🙂 Why I decided to include Vegan Protein by Huge here is because there is a significant part of population that does not consume animal-based foods, so they can’t or they won’t buy protein powders from diary or any other animal sources. This is where Vegan Protein Powders shine. 

In situations where you want/need to supplement yourself with extra protein and you want or need a plant based product, Huge is the best product so far…

With each 30g serving of “marshmallow madness” flavor you will get 20g of protein and 4g of carbs (with 2g of sugars). Proteins are sourced from peas, brown rice, fava and mung beans, all of that to give you a full spectrum of all essential amino acids. This is what separates HUGE vegan protein from many other plant-based proteins, they are often missing or are low in some of the essential amino acids. 

Next thing is many people often complain about the taste of plant-based protein powders and that seems to not be the case with HUGE. They offer some nice flavors like the Marshmallow Madness I’m describing, but also Birthday Cake and Cinnamon Crunch and more. 

Nutrition Label Transparency is very clear and thanks to that you can see that there are some of artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors but let’s be honest - there is no chance for all natural plant-based marshmallow madness 🙂

3rd party testing, complete amino acid profile, label transparency, dairy-free, gluten-free, Non-GMO, great taste for 1.6$ per serving is why this product is on the list.

I may write a bit more later but keep in mind that compared to whey protein gram-for-gram you will need to consume slightly more plant-based protein to get the same result.

39 EXPERT SCORE

Proteins are sourced from peas, brown rice, fava and mung beans, all of that to give you a full spectrum of all essential amino acids. This is what separates HUGE vegan protein from many other plant-based proteins.


Scientific Rationale for Use:0
Nutrition Label Transparency:0
Third Party Testing:0
Value for Money:0

Positives:

  • Good protein content for plant-based protein
  • Suitable for vegans
  • 3rd party testing
  • Great flavor for a plant-based protein

Could be better:

  • Worse AA profile compared to whey
  • Gram-to-gram is quite expensive compared to whey
Best Creatine

4. Creatine Monohydrate by Promix

Creatine Monohydrate by Promix

Time for one of the top natural performance enhancing supplements - Creatine Monohydrate. Most of the benefits of creatine supplementation I will explain later in the article but here I will only mention that anytime you think about supplementing creatine - stick always to monohydrate. Not only is it the best studied Creatine form, safest but also the cheapest one you will find.

Other companies will try to grab your attention saying that they have better soluble form but keep in mind that it does not affect creatine absorption and monohydrate is still absorbed very well. They suggest that you can take less of their product because of that extra solubility but the end result will be that you won’t take enough and may leave some extra benefits on the table. 

Creatine Monohydrate by Promix instagram
Photo by @promix

For that reason we see on this list Promix Creatine Monohydrate. Not only the best form but also serving size is just perfect, allowing you to get 5g with each scoop. With 180 servings you are getting 5g for 0,32$ and supply for a minimum of 3 months. It is 100% non-GMO, micronized creatine, free of gluten, soy, sugar, artificial sweeteners and basically artificial anything. 

Everything you can ask for from an excellent Creatine supplement. Pure product with single ingredient label. Another thing is that it is tested for heavy metals and impurities so you can be sure that you are getting what you are paying for. To make sure you are happy Promix offers a 90 days guarantee - which you can check on their website. 

Don’t expect fireworks in terms of muscle building, but performance wise - yes this is where it belongs. High intensity exercise, recovery, injury prevention - those are some of the fields where you can expect significant changes.

If we will try to justify its use, it is one of the most studied supplements for athletes with strong evidence of effectiveness - so yes creatine monohydrate is definitely the thing!

40 EXPERT SCORE

Serving size is just perfect, allowing you to get 5g with each scoop. With 180 servings you are getting 5g for 0,32$ and supply for a minimum of 3 months.


Scientific Rationale for Use:0
Nutrition Label Transparency:0
Third Party Testing:0
Value for Money:0

Positives:

  • High dose in serving
  • 3rd party testing
  • Only natural ingredient
  • Great option for weight loss and muscle growth
  • Single ingredient formula

Could be better:

  • To work properly needs to be taken consistently
Best Caffeine

5. Purcaf® Caffeine by Kaged

Purcaf® Caffeine by Kaged
  • Type of Supplement: Caffeine
  • Best For: Performance, Focus, Energy
  • Suitable for Vegans: YES
  • Servings per Package: 100
  • Price per Serving: 0,15$
  • Company Founded: 2015
  • Recommended by Athletes: Deidra, Alyssa Marie Perez, Savi Win, Colt Nichols

Finally we came to the one and only - Caffeine itself 🙂 The only stimulant on our list but also the only one that you will feel after ingestion. Holy grail for coffee users (and abusers like myself 🙂). Most common ingredient in the majority of pre-workout supplements and thanks to its rapid absorption and mechanism of work it is basically the only one that will make a difference in terms of acute response. 

For that reason I decided to put pure caffeine on the list and not any other pre-workout supplement with different ingredients. Caffeine has the strongest evidence of work. Correct use of caffeine will help you reduce tiredness, improve focus and workout performance as a result.

Great news for competitive athletes (and non-competitive as well I suppose), it is 3rd-party certified and free from banned substances. 

With each capsule you will get 200mg of caffeine, which considering recommendations for a single dose - 1-3mg/kg of bodyweight, seems to be quite good for the majority of athletes.

kaged caffeine instagram
Photo by @kaged

If you are new to caffeine and don’t know what to expect and how sensitive you are, especially if you’re a woman, there is nothing wrong about splitting the capsule in half and checking how it will work. I also recommend going through the article to learn more about caffeine.

Purcaf® Caffeine sourced their caffeine from green coffee beans making sure that you are getting clean, organic caffeine without any synthetic ingredients. As many other supplements use gelatin for their supplements making them not suitable for vegans, Kaged did a great job using vegetable cellulose. 

So if you are following a plant-based diet/lifestyle and looking for some extra energy boost every now and then, this supplement may be for you as well. Double espresso in one pill before workout without coffee-breath.

Just keep in mind - you are “borrowing” that energy from your body, not providing extra fuel, and consuming caffeine in that form may require some extra fluid intake.

40 EXPERT SCORE

Purcaf® Caffeine sourced their caffeine from green coffee beans making sure that you are getting clean, organic caffeine without any synthetic ingredients.


Scientific Rationale for Use:0
Nutrition Label Transparency:0
Third Party Testing:0
Value for Money:0

Positives:

  • Moderate dose in serving
  • 3rd party testing
  • Organic source of Caffeine
  • Suitable for vegans
  • Single ingredient formula

Could be better:

  • 200mg in one dose can be too much for some folks
Best Beta-Alanine

6. Beta-alanine by BulkSupplements

Beta-alanine by BulkSupplements
  • Type of Supplement: Beta-alanine
  • Best For: Performance, High Intensity, Fatigue blocker
  • Suitable for Vegans: YES
  • Servings per Package: 83
  • Price per Serving: 0,17$
  • Company Founded: 2012
  • Recommended by Athletes: Jovan J Campbell, Nerysta Anastone

The reason why Beta-alanine is on our list is because the mechanism behind beta-alanine is quite well understood. Carnosine - dipeptide that is synthesized in a human body has the ability to reduce fatigue by binding to hydrogen ions produced during exercise. Carnosine synthesis in the body is mainly dependent on the availability of beta-alanine and this is where supplementation can be helpful. 

Consistent ingestion of beta-alanine allows us to raise the baseline levels of muscle carnosine and as a result help to delay fatigue. Ability to delay fatigue is of course very helpful for performance and specifically - endurance. 

It’s a common ingredient in many popular pre-workout supplements thanks to its ability to improve performance but it’s also a myth that you need to take it before workout. 

Beta-alanine must be taken consistently with dosage around 3-6g a day, but keep in mind that timing does not matter. You can split the dosage across a few doses in a day, especially if you are not a fan of face tingling side effects that might come with higher doses.

BulkSupplements instagram
Photo by @happypandalv

Bulk supplements is a company that offers clean product with 3-rd party testing and absolutely no other ingredients which makes it an excellent choice because you are not depending your beta-alanine intake on other ingredients and also you can simply mix it with plenty of other supplements that you may be taking during a day like creatine or/and protein shake. 

Price of the single serving which is 3g in that case is 0,17$ which is one of the lowest on the market. There are also other options with more servings in the package that offer an even lower price per serving, so if you would like to stick to beta-alanine supplementation there are plenty of options for you. 

Reason why Beta-alanine does not get 10 for the value for money is that the effects of beta-alanine supplementation, if you are not a competitive athlete, most likely won’t be a game changer for you.

37.5 EXPERT SCORE

Beta-alanine must be taken consistently with dosage around 3-6g a day, but keep in mind that timing does not matter. You can split the dosage across a few doses in a day, especially if you are not a fan of face tingling side effects that might come with higher doses.


Scientific Rationale for Use:0
Nutrition Label Transparency:0
Third Party Testing:0
Value for Money:0

Positives:

  • Good dose in serving
  • 3rd party testing
  • Suitable for vegans
  • Single ingredient formula

Could be better:

  • Must be taken consistently
  • Can cause tingling sensation
Best Multivitamin for Men

7. Multivitamin by KAGED

Multivitamin by KAGED
  • Type of Supplement: Multivitamin and mineral
  • Best For: Health, vitamin and mineral deficiencies 
  • Suitable for Vegans: YES
  • Servings per Package: 30
  • Price per Serving: 1,17$
  • Company Founded: 2015
  • Recommended by Athletes: Deidra, Alyssa Marie Perez, Savi Win, Colt Nichols

Time to address some possible deficiencies and take care about our health. Just like I mentioned in the beginning of the article about protein being essential and necessary for health and optimal performance, I think we can all agree that both vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in human well-being.

So it is not the type of supplement that we take because we can - it should be a supplement we take when there is a need for that. 

If you are familiar with any of my other articles you will know that I’m a context guy, which means most of my athletes supplement with vitamins and minerals when there is a specific need for that and I don’t like unnecessary high doses, as most of the time they are simply not justified enough and in some cases can carry some unnecessary risks - more is not always better.

That being said Multivitamin and Mineral (MVM) supplements are generally well-tolerated and to my knowledge do not seem to elevate the risks of mortality, cerebrovascular disease, or heart failure. The potential advantages of MVM supplements are likely more significant than any associated risks, especially among the older population. 

kaged multivitamins on the table

So let’s see our premium pick for vitamin supplements for athletes. However, be prepared to pay a little bit more for that supplement compared to other MVM supplements on the market. But hear me out and you will understand soon why I chose this one.

Kaged doesn't play games with misleading megadoses - each vitamin and mineral is dosed at precisely 100% of the Daily Value. This precision contributes to what can be considered the most well-balanced multivitamin for men.

Nutrition label transparency is amazing and you can see there a 3rd-party testing - Informed Sport testing, making it an excellent choice for competitive athletes who need to be sure their supplements are free from banned substances. 

So the price is high but you get MVM supplement that is sourced from organic whole foods (fruits and veggies), non synthetic, without mega doses, vegan friendly, free from banned substances, with a small amount of extra prebiotic (which is better than most of incorrectly dosed probiotics on the market)... So if you ask me, if you need it - yes it is worth it. 

The only downside is the small size - only 30 servings. Be sure that your needs are evaluated by a healthcare professional and keep in mind to consult with him taking any supplements, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or scheduled surgery.

39 EXPERT SCORE

Each vitamin and mineral is dosed at precisely 100% of the Daily Value. This precision contributes to what can be considered the most well-balanced multivitamin for men.


Scientific Rationale for Use:0
Nutrition Label Transparency:0
Third Party Testing:0
Value for Money:0

Positives:

  • Precise dose in serving
  • 3rd party testing
  • Whole food multivitamin and mineral
  • Suitable for vegans

Could be better:

  • Only 30 servings
  • Expensive
Best Multivitamin for Women

8. Sentry

Sentry
  • Type of Supplement: Vitamins and Minerals
  • Best For: Health, vitamin and mineral deficiencies 
  • Suitable for Vegans: NO
  • Servings per Package: 120
  • Price per Serving: 0,06$
  • Company Founded: 1991
  • Recommended by Athletes: Kristen Carli, Paige Koser, With Love Dajana

Now let's see the 21st Century’s Sentry vitamin for women. The reason I decided to put that one in our list, with other best vitamins for athletes, is because of its price - if you can’t or don’t want to pay for MVM like KAGED, this one is an absolutely best budget friendly option. 

In terms of dosages, Sentry is “close” to the KAGED product, offering moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals. Most vitamins are around 100% of the Daily Value with some being lower and some higher. Most of the minerals fall around 100%. 

Personally I don’t like to talk about why some specific vitamins and minerals are in different doses than in MVM for men.

There are of course some trends like for example in the case of iron, but I believe the dosage should be tailored to the needs and health status, based on deficiencies, that can be totally different for every woman simply because for example of the food they consume. So be sure you are picking supplements that address your specific needs. 

As to the 3rd-party testing, the company states that it has been dedicated to manufacturing only the highest quality supplements, and mentioned “guaranteed quality” but to be honest I could not find anything about 3rd-party testing. 

Unfortunately it is also not suitable for vegans and for some reason contains some artificial colors. That being said you get 120 servings with 0.06$ for a serving/tablet so in terms of value for money it is still a great choice. 

So because it’s a supplement that you can buy on the internet, and it’s not regulated by the FDA, I strongly recommend consulting taking it (and any other supplement as well) with your healthcare provider, especially if there are any underlying health conditions or scheduled surgery. Getting your blood work done regularly should be a habit anyway!

39 EXPERT SCORE

Each vitamin and mineral is dosed at precisely 100% of the Daily Value. This precision contributes to what can be considered the most well-balanced multivitamin for men.


Scientific Rationale for Use:0
Nutrition Label Transparency:0
Third Party Testing:0
Value for Money:0

Positives:

  • Without mega-doses in serving
  • Price
  • Good amount of servings

Could be better:

  • Not suitable for vegans

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Do Athletes Really Need Supplements?

This is THE Question 🙂 and as you will hear this from me many times - IT DEPENDS 🙂. Regular gym-goers, general population - do they need them? Not really… Would they benefit from some - quite often yes. Now when we talk about competitive athletes or folks who like to train like ones - the answer would be - most of the time YES. 

Now I will write more about that later in the article, but now one thing I would like to highlight is that, aside from essentials that you are missing and should supplement, just because something is non-essential it does not mean it won’t be beneficial, and with competitive folks many times it matters.

In What Situations Might Supplements Be Useful or Even Necessary?

Let’s talk now, when supplementation is necessary because that is what should be addressed in the first place. There are few situations when supplementation might be necessary and most of them are when you simply can’t provide vital macro- or micronutrients in adequate amounts, with your food. Here is a list of few possible situations:

  • When you’re cutting weight and might be restricting your food intake that can result in deficiencies
  • When you’re following any diet or lifestyle like for example vegan, carnivore, keto etc that “forces” you to eliminate certain groups of foods.
  • When you are trying to put on some weight or have extraordinary needs for energy intake, and struggle a lot to get what you need with whole foods,
  • When have food allergies or medical conditions that result in avoiding certain groups of foods or have specific problems with absorption of some vitamins/minerals.

and more…

preparing protein drink

Then we have situations I already mentioned before - when supplementation is not really necessary per se, but those supplements for sports can be beneficial for an athlete, especially one that gets paid for what he is doing:

  • When it’s more convenient for an athlete to supplement something instead of getting it with food.
  • When there is a room for optimization of certain compound levels 
  • When it’s seen as non-necessary but has strong evidence of potential health benefits
  • When there is a chance for significant performance enhancement that can be beneficial for an athlete 

and more…

Let’s explore it a bit more…

1. When a Supplement Is Needed for Convenience

There are situations when an athlete chooses to supplement something simply because it is easier to do it, than get it with regular food. For example taking simple whey protein isolate to increase your protein intake in a day. 

Drinking a protein shake with extra 50g of protein is way easier for most of us who have higher protein needs than eating for example extra 250g of meat, especially if there is no more room for that 🙂. 

Or when you are one of those folks who like to get some protein right after your training, but for some reason it is simply impossible for you to have food, then drinking that shake still in the gym is a good option and quite a common practice. There are many more situations when we use supplements when it’s just easier to do it… even when it is not really justified. We are only humans… 

There are few situations when convenience can play an important role. Like for example when athletes have few workouts in a day and are struggling with eating whole foods for some time after the workout. Without drinking some macronutrients it would be extremely difficult for them to meet their daily kcal/protein intake and this is where supplementation is very convenient. 

capsules in the bottle

I personally know that getting optimal 0.7-1.0g of protein per lbs of bodyweight (1.6-2.2g/kg) can be a very challenging task. Many of my athletes as well find it quite difficult to achieve without having a protein shake.

Drinking some carbs and electrolytes during endurance meets like for example ironman or marathon run is much easier with common supplements for athletes - although that situation could easily fit into another category - when we need to improve performance. 

2. When an Athlete Needs/Wants to Improve Performance (so… Always 🙂)

This is probably the category why most of you are reading this article 🙂 What to take to get an extra edge. Fortunately for us there are compounds that are not really essential but can be taken simply to improve mental and physical performance, recovery and even reduce the risk of injuries.

• Caffeine

Caffeine is a very potent stimulant that thanks to its ability to bind to adenosine receptors, allow athletes to boost their energy levels by lowering the fatigue perception, improve focus and alertness and more.

But just like in the movie HEAT, Robert DeNiro said to Al Pacino, in a bar scene - “the there is a flipside to that coin” - if you are not caffeine adapted or very sensitive to caffeine, and will take to much it will not only have detrimental effects on your acute performance but also can highly affect your sleep and as a result ability to recover optimally. 

Dosage recommendations - 1-3mg per kg of your bodyweight in a single dose seems to be very effective for the majority of the people but if you’re new to caffeine I definitely recommend to stick to lower dose (and dosage) to simply give your caffeine sensitivity a test ride.

kaged caffeine powder

Another recommendation aside from a single dose is to not exceed daily dosage of 400mg and to definitely keep caffeine intake away from your bedtime - I do not take it (unless there is a specific/justified need) after 15:00 (at least 8h from my bedtime). 

The dosage of caffeine you can healthily consume before exercising should be determined by various factors, such as your caffeine adaptation, genetic makeup, body mass, sensitivity, as well as timing and previous caffeine ingestion on the same day.

Remember that sleep is your best supplement and anything that will disrupt it will have more harmful than beneficial effects on your health and performance.

• Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine Monohydrate is one of the best performance enhancing supplements, not only because it’s one of the most studied supplements and quite cheap one but mostly because in most cases it’s effective (aside from folks who seem to be creatine non responders) and can have significant effects on an athlete's strength and power production.

Creatine supplementation will/should lead to raised baseline levels of creatine in muscle cells. That as a result helps to increase the ATP production during high intensity exercise, when the body highly relies on Phosphocreatine (P-Cr) to restore ATP rapidly. Other benefits are related to improved recovery and ability to reduce the risk of injuries. 

Aside from all physiological pluses, there are potential cognitive benefits of creatine because it is shown that when supplemented it increases the creatine levels in the brain as well. We can expect improved cognition and memory, especially in older adults, as well as there is potential to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

athlete holding supplement capsules

The possible downsides to its supplementation are lack of response if you are one of mentioned creatine non responders, or some GI discomfort that can be addressed in many cases by changing the way it’s supplemented - splitting the dosage into few doses and avoiding loading phase. 

The common myths around Creatine are connected to bloating/water retention effects which one (bloating) most of the time is a result of incorrect supplementation and can be addressed like I said by splitting the dosage, and second one, which can’t be addressed because it’s a result of how creatine actually works (as an osmolyte) - water retention - happens actually intracellularly (inside the muscle cell) and can be potentially one of the possible mechanisms driving sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Unfortunately as many people believed and plenty still believe - creatine supplementation won’t have a significant effect on your ability to build muscle - only indirect one. But in the world of athletic performance supplements, Creatine will definitely place in the top 3. 

Supplementation recommendations are quite easy to remember - take 3-5g daily as long as you want to have elevated levels of creatine in your body. Without the loading phase it will take around 3-4 weeks to fully saturate your muscles. You can easily split that dosage into 2 or more doses. Keep in mind that creatine will work only when taken consistently. 

Beta-alanine

This is the next compound that athletes might take to improve their performance. One of the byproducts of exercise metabolism, especially with higher intensities, are lactates (don’t confuse it with lactic acid - we don’t produce lactic acid as a byproduct) which your body can use later as a substrate for energy production. FUN FACT your heart actually really “likes” and favors lactates.

Another important byproduct of that metabolism are hydrogen ions - protons - that will raise the acidity of the muscle environment. That raised acidity is suggested to be one of the major reasons for exercise/muscle fatigue. This is where Beta-alanine becomes handy. 

Supplemented consistently, can raise the baseline levels of a dipeptide called carnosine. That carnosine can buffer those hydrogen ions, which will prevent (to some degree of course) raising that acidity and as a result - delay fatigue. That is why Beta-alanine is mainly described as a fatigue blocker. Supplementation recommendations are also quite simple - 3-6g a day that can be easily splitted into few doses across the day. 

many capsules in the hand

Common myth is that beta-alanine will have an acute effect on your performance. Unfortunately it’s not true and just like creatine it needs to be taken consistently to raise the baseline levels. Probably the only acute effect that you will be able to notice is the common “side effect” - face tingling called paresthesia - but it is harmless, and some folks actually like it and for that reason take it just before workout.

However for some it can be uncomfortable enough to stop taking it. If that is the case with you, you can try splitting the dosage across the day into a few doses. Won’t have an effect on the effectiveness but may get rid of that tingling sensation.

3. When Supplement Is Needed to Address Deficiencies


Due to calorie restriction. Often when you are trying to lose weight, the calorie restriction (calorie deficiency) you are putting yourself in, will result in consuming less food than it’s needed for maintenance and optimal performance. Less food quite often - but not always, if the deficit is small and you’re really paying attention to what you eat - can lead to some small deficiencies in for example proteins or in vitamins and minerals.

In those situations supplementation can be not only helpful but in some cases necessary. Keep in mind that in some cases following a certain diet like ketogenic or vegan, Intermittent Fasting, can (un)intentionally put you on a caloric deficit as well. So make sure you are eating enough to support your goals and needs.

Because of lack of dietary variety or the diet/lifestyle or food intolerances. Quite often I’ve seen situations where lack of variety in the diet led to deficiencies in one or more essential nutrients. When we choose to follow a diet or a lifestyle that by definition “forces” us to eliminate certain groups of foods, supplementation can be very helpful.

Protein powder

Like for example our vegan friends quite often can develop deficiencies in vitamin b12, D, iron and struggle to consistently get enough protein. Some folks following Ketogenic or Carnivore diet (although many of them do not see this as a problem which is at least highly debatable) could use more fiber and many of them are not monitoring sodium intake.

Eating whole foods that are “clean” and eliminating all processed foods can result for example in sodium deficiencies. Not to mention that if you are a competitive athlete you most likely will perform better on a diet that does not eliminate carbohydrates from your menu. 

Or have established deficiency of a particular nutrient.  There are few reasons that can result in particular deficiency and aside from situations mentioned above they will be often related to certain medical conditions, living in a specific environment or even possessing a specific gene mutation. 

Like for example gene mutations (A1289C and C677T) can cause a reduced activity of MTHFR, enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of folate to its active form, will result in for example elevated homocysteine levels (because you do not have enough active form of folate).

As you can see those are very specific situations sometimes and for that reason supplementation is needed (like for example taking specific form of folate, not folic acid) but the protocol must be established by a professionalist who will run necessary tests to see the reason behind those deficiencies and address them properly and efficiently.

How to Choose the Best Supplements for Athletes? 

Here is a small guide for you on how to make the best choice to optimize your nutrition, like professionals do:

1. Stick to the Supplements You Really Need

Like I said before, more is not always better and in some cases more can be worse. Establish your needs and take what you are missing with fundamental supplements like protein and vitamin and mineral supplements. 

prepared protein in shaker

With performance enhancing supplements the best way is to consult with sports nutritionists that will help you make more personalized decisions, but as a general rule - stick to recommended dosages. 

The supplementation of vitamins and minerals, overall, may provide the most advantages, and possibly only to individuals who have a diet deficient in essential nutrients. - which might be the case while you're on a deficit. 

2. Choose Under the Guidance of a Sports Nutritionist

So, I know it is not always strictly necessary to obtain approval from a healthcare provider before including most of the supplements in your diet, especially when you can basically buy them everywhere… I always recommend it! 

I’m not saying this because I want to take the “safe” road, but to encourage you to make more informed decisions in terms of your health and nutrition. Remember, there is good and there is optimal. Working with a sports nutritionist, or even getting one consultation can be a game changer in terms of your health and performance.

Preparing supplement drink

I'm saying this almost in every article but If you have any underlying health conditions, are taking any medication or have scheduled surgery, be sure you consult adding any (I really mean ANY!) supplement into your diet with a healthcare professional.

As I said before getting your bloodwork done also should be a regular habit especially if you’re an athlete. More data is always better for outcome based decision making. 

Remember - what you can measure, you can control.

3. Stick With the Most Science-Backed Performance Enhancing Supplements

Stick with supplements that have strong evidence of effectiveness and choose ones that will make a difference in reality, like creatine and caffeine, not ones that make a difference on a paper. Most of the time there is a big gap in the studied mechanism and actual result when we introduce that mechanism to the body orchestra of metabolic pathways. 

Just because something is happening in isolation, in animal studies and/or in vitro, does not automatically mean the result will be the same, or even similar in the human body. So be sure you are doing proper research when looking for a supplement for your specific needs, and if you find it difficult have a chat with nutritionist that work with athletes.

prepared supplement drink

Keep in mind that most supplements you will find that claim to deliver significant effects on muscle mass or strength - simply won’t, and some of them instead of benefits can have even adverse effects. For that reason it is always good to stick to the basics and fundamentals, have adequate amounts of sleep, and wait with some “promising” compounds till they will be tested enough. 

FAQ

Is Creatine Good for Athletes? 

Yes it is. In many fields. It can help with strength training, increase total power production, improve energy production in high intensity exercises, help with recovery or even reduce the risk of injuries. Supplementation can even increase levels of creatine in your brain. Be sure that you are sticking to Creatine Monohydrate and taking recommended dosage consistently. 

Do Elite Athletes Take Supplements? 

Yes, of course they are, probably not all of them, but most of them I personally know or trained with. I know many people expect that athletes are following a perfect diet and healthy lifestyle but reality is that they are also humans and struggle with regular things just like most of us. 

Yes some sports allow them to hire chefs and have food prepared and delivered when they need one, but those situations are extremely rare and many of them need to deal with nutrition just like you are. In some cases even the amount of training they have, lack of time and total daily energy expenditure forces them to use supplements, as getting all those kcal with regular food would be impossible. 

Which Supplement Is Best for Running? 

It depends. The one that you need. There are supplements that are meant to be supplemented when there is a need for that, and there are non-essential compounds that can be supplemented because of their beneficial effect on performance (mental or/and physical). 

However make sure you address the essential ones (protein, carbs, fats , vitamins and minerals) first and then look for an extra edge with performance enhancing compounds like creatine, caffeine etc.

Can Vitamins Improve Athletic Performance?

When there are deficiencies - absolutely, probably more than you can imagine. But when you’re good and do not have any deficiencies - probably at all. It’s about the balance.

Conclusion

So let’s summarize and finish this article 🙂 while I believe performance enhancing supplements aren't/shouldn’t be necessary for the general population, they can benefit both regular gym-goers and competitive athletes. If you are looking for some, then I recommend sticking to caffeine, creatine, and maybe beta-alanine. 

Supplementation often becomes necessary for addressing deficiencies caused by factors like calorie restriction, specific diets or specific conditions - in these situations professional guidance becomes quite helpful and is often needed. 

Elite athletes commonly use supplements to help with recovery, and to meet their demanding nutritional needs, with performance enhancing supplements addressing specific needs of their sports. In my opinion the best anabolic, recovery and performance enhancing supplements is sleep. Aside from that, stick to supplements that are science backed and have strong evidence of work in practice. 

If you’re covering all needs and meeting your daily protein intake, like to have espresso every now and then, and still looking for extra edge my number one recommendation will be Creatine Monohydrate by Promix as it will most likely make a difference both in the general population and athletes regardless of their level.

Have something interesting to share? I would like to hear your opinion about that topic!

Thank you. 

Also read:

References:

  1. “Heads Up” for Creatine Supplementation and its Potential Applications for Brain Health and Function https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-023-01870-9
  2. Supplements with purported effects on muscle mass and strengt https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30604177/
  3. Folate Insufficiency Due to MTHFR Deficiency Is Bypassed by 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7564482/
  4. Homocysteine and MTHFR Mutations Stephan Moll and  Elizabeth A. Varga // https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.013311
  5. Creatine Supplementation Does Not Influence the Ratio Between Intracellular Water and Skeletal Muscle Mass in Resistance-Trained Men // https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32916658/
  6. Systematic review and meta-analysis of protein intake to support muscle mass and function in healthy adults // https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jcsm.12922

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Jacek Szymanowski

Author: Jacek Szymanowski

Certified Nutritionist,
M.Sc.Eng. Biotechnology
Performance Architect,
Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Experience: 20 years

With over 30 years of fighting experience, specialization in nutrition coaching for athletes, and expertise in metabolic health and dietary strategies, Jacek offers a comprehensive approach to optimizing your performance and well-being. Backed by a Master of Science degree in Biotechnology, Jacek remains at the forefront of scientific advancements, ensuring that his coaching is always evidence-based and up-to-date.

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