The Best Supplement Practices For Cycling Nutrition
The sports nutrition and supplements industry is a multi-billion dollar business. To cut through the pseudoscience and marketing flim-flam masquerading as science, the International Olympic Committee just published an excellent scientific consensus on “Dietary Supplements and the High Performance Athlete., to help guide the best supplement practises for cycling nutrition.
Peter Sagan loves those Gummy Bears after a race
One of my very first Toolbox articles, all the way back to 2002, was on the pitfalls and dangers for individuals considering dietary supplements for cycling nutrition. In it, I wrote about the minimal evidence for health or ergogenic benefits of most supplements. I also wrote about the complete lack of regulation of the supplements and nutrition industry, especially compared to the strict regulations over pharmaceuticals. Finally, I also wrote about the risks for contamination.
Sixteen years on very little has changed and, if anything, the situation has become more dire. In the US, what minimal oversight existed back then has only weakened rather than strengthened. The growth of the internet has made it even easier for individuals to set up companies offering the latest and greatest. And the emergence of social media has only amped up the overt and covert peer pressure to look our best.
My opinions on supplements have remained the same as back in 2002. While there may be a time and place for supplements for athletes, the focus should remain on smart and solid nutritional practices first and foremost rather than reaching for a wonder pill. For those exploring the field, though, the best defence is to develop a strong understanding of how to find and interpret the evidence, how to decide whether a particular supplement is appropriate for you, and develop an appropriate supplement strategy.
IJSNEM Special Open Issue
The brand new March 2018 issue of the journal International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism is to be celebrated.
The entire issue is devoted to the recent IOC-organized meeting of an international working group on dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. The group is a who’s who when it comes to this field. The chair was Ron Maughan, who was my post-doctoral supervisor at the University of Aberdeen. Amongst many others, the authors included Louise Burke of the Australian Institute of Sport, my neighbour Stuart Phillips at McMaster University 60 km away from me at Brock, and Romain Meeusen of Vrije Universiteit Brussels, with whom I spent part of my last sabbatical. Safe to say, the authors are all top-notch experts in the field of nutrition and high-performance sports.
The entire issue is available as “Open Access,” meaning that anyone can download every article in this issue for free.
IOC Consensus Statement
The centrepiece of the issue is the actual “IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements & the High Performance Athlete.” (Maughan et al. 2018a).
One of the most important discussions in this Consensus Statement (CS) is on how to assess the evidence base for use of a supplement. This discussion is “supplemented” by an excellent schematic from an accompanying article by Louise Burke and Peter Peeling.
From Burke & Peeling 2018
Unfortunately, many rely on marketing material or anecdotes from friends/acquaintances for their decision-making, though it forms only the lowest tier of evidence quality.
The CS distinguishes and discusses when supplements may be relevant and required to prevent or treat a nutritional deficiency. These may be especially relevant for particular populations, such as vitamin B-12 for vegans or near-vegans, and folate for women planning on pregnancy. However, above all, such decisions should be made for specific reasons and as part of an overall health and nutritional assessments.
The CS also has excellent summary tables of best knowledge and practices concerning many supplements known to improve performance, including caffeine, creatine, buffering agents like sodium bicarbonate, and nitrates.
Another table summarizes knowledge and evidence about supplements for immune protection, including vitamins C&D, probiotics, and Omega 3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids.
From Maughan et al. 2018a
Another incredibly valuable part of the CS that all athletes should pay attention to is the flow diagram detailing the decision path towards whether to take a particular supplement.
The Entire Issue is Gold
Honestly, the entire issue, primarily devoted to reviews on different aspects of dietary supplements, is excellent. As a teaser, here’s the table of contents:
• Athletes and Supplements: Prevalence and Perspectives (Garthe and Maughan 2018)
• Assessment of Nutrient Status in Athletes and the Need for Supplementation (Larson-Meyer et al. 2018)
• Methodologies for Investigating Performance Changes With Supplement Use (Burke and Peeling 2018)
• Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance (Hector and Phillips 2018)
• Evidence-Based Supplements for the Enhancement of Athletic Performance (Peeling et al. 2018)
• Dietary Supplements for Health, Adaptation, and Recovery in Athletes (Rawson et al. 2018)
• Nutritional Supplements and the Brain (Meeusen and Decroix 2018)
• Making Decisions About Supplement Use (Maughan et al. 2018b)
The nutrition and supplement industry is an unregulated wild west. Therefore, the best defence we have is a clear understanding of science and how to use it to make wise decisions about our nutrition and health.
Happy reading. Ride strong & have fun!
Happy with his Haribo
Burke LM, Peeling P (2018) Methodologies for Investigating Performance Changes With Supplement Use. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:159–169. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0325
Garthe I, Maughan RJ (2018) Athletes and Supplements: Prevalence and Perspectives. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:126–138. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0429
Hector AJ, Phillips SM (2018) Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:170–177. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0273
Larson-Meyer DE, Woolf K, Burke L (2018) Assessment of Nutrient Status in Athletes and the Need for Supplementation. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:139–158. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0338
Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, et al (2018a) IOC Consensus Statement: Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:104–125. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0020
Maughan RJ, Shirreffs SM, Vernec A (2018b) Making Decisions About Supplement Use. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:212–219. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0009
Meeusen R, Decroix L (2018) Nutritional Supplements and the Brain. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:200–211. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0314
Peeling P, Binnie MJ, Goods PSR, et al (2018) Evidence-Based Supplements for the Enhancement of Athletic Performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:178–187. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0343
Rawson ES, Miles MP, Larson-Meyer DE (2018) Dietary Supplements for Health, Adaptation, and Recovery in Athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:188–199. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0340
Stephen Cheung is a Professor at Brock University, and has published over 100 scientific articles and book chapters dealing with the effects of thermal and hypoxic stress on human physiology and performance. Stephen’s new book “Cycling Science” with Dr. Mikel Zabala from the Movistar Pro Cycling Team has just hit the bookshelves this summer, following up Cutting-Edge Cycling written with Hunter Allen.
Stephen can be reached for comments at [email protected] .