Vigorous Herbs

Nutritional Supplements In Sport – What Is Recommended? – Vigorous Herbs

Dietary supplements and other supplements are now very important to many people. This is evident not least in the increasing pharmacy sales of such products. Preparations aimed at special groups of people are increasingly being offered. One of the classic target groups with a high willingness to consume is people who are active in sports. You use supplements mainly in the expectation that they will increase performance, improve regeneration and strengthen immune function. However, if you look at the data soberly, it becomes clear that there is often a discrepancy between this wish and reality so that a differentiated view is urgently needed. Competent advice can and should also be provided by the pharmacist.



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The range of nutritional supplements and dietetic foods is now broad and ranges from individual vitamins or minerals to various combinations of such substances to plant extracts and substances such as algae, green-lipped mussel powder, or L-carnitine. Various studies show that those who are particularly health-conscious and hope to have additional effects on health, well-being, and performance by taking them take advantage of dietary supplements. A large proportion of athletes of different performance levels and disciplines also take supplements in order to improve athletic performance and maintain health despite high physical performance. In the case of competitive athletes, more than half of the respondents use the supplements; the proportion is once again significantly higher than in the general population with approx. 36 to 43%. At 53%, the main point of purchase is primarily the pharmacy.

The industry is now responding to the desire to optimize bodily functions in a variety of ways. In addition to sensible food supplements and “dietetic foods for particular muscle exertion”, there are equally useless products with far exaggerated or scientifically completely untenable promises of action. Athletes are now also faced with a multitude of very different recommendations, ranging from a complete rejection of all “artificial” products to a sect-like cult around certain preparations. In practice, serious information is made more difficult by a veritable flood of nutritional and product recommendations, which not only include many fitness studios, trainers, and health publications, but also numerous self-proclaimed ”

Importance of supplements in sport

In recent years the picture of the functions of food ingredients has changed fundamentally. They are no longer only viewed in terms of their established “classic” effects (energy supply, building materials, known biochemical functions, e.g. as coenzymes). Rather, functions are gaining in importance than previously either were not known at all or could not be assessed in terms of their physiological significance. These include, for example, the health-promoting effects of secondary plant substances, a heterogeneous group of plant ingredients whose best-known representatives include carotenoids and polyphenols. In addition, substances that are said to have a positive influence on athletic performance are of particular interest to athletes.

Nutritional needs and supply

It is undisputed that even a slight undersupply of one or more nutrients can lead to impairment of health and performance. This is especially true for people who train intensively on a regular basis and are therefore even more dependent than non-athletes on the optimal functioning of all metabolic pathways. In addition to the long-term negative effects of an undersupply on health, athletes, therefore, experience a decline in performance earlier than other people, which can be expressed in a lack of training progress or increased susceptibility to infection. In this context, it is questionable which nutrients are required to what extent in different forms of stress and when this additional requirement can no longer be covered by food.

A low level of physical activity, as practiced in popular or health sports, is only associated with an insignificantly increased need for micronutrients. This additional requirement can be met with an appropriate choice of food and a higher food intake adapted to the increased energy consumption [38]. On the other hand, competitive sport can lead to an increased need for nutrients, which cannot always be compensated through the usual diet [16, 38]. In this context, one should also consider the fact that some population groups are not always optimally supplied with nutrients such as iodine, vitamin E or thiamine. This is sometimes made worse by intense physical activity. A low intake of micronutrients is particularly often observed in athletes,

Exercise and vitamin requirements

Because of their increased energy expenditure, some competitive athletes have an increased need for certain vitamins. This applies primarily to thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin; a high protein intake also increases the need for pyridoxine. Their functions in the metabolism of macronutrients are shown in Figure 1. Nevertheless, the importance of additional vitamin supplements is generally overestimated, since the vitamins, due to their catalytic functions, are only required in small quantities and only a small proportion is “consumed”. An inadequate supply of vitamins is associated with reduced performance, but their supplementary intake, even in mega-doses, does not have any performance-enhancing effects in athletes with a good supply status

However, the question arises as to how the vitamin supply is to be assessed in detail. The vitamins of the B group are particularly interesting for athletes. These often have enzymatic and regulatory functions in energy and nutrient metabolism as well as in the formation of new cells and tissue. For some vitamins in this group, the recommended intake is therefore based on the energy requirement (see box); these are required in larger quantities with increased energy consumption. It should now be assumed that athletes with higher energy requirements will also be able to consume more foods with these vitamins and thus meet their needs. However, this basic assumption does not always apply, as studies on various groups of athletes show.

On the one hand, endurance athletes in particular often consume less energy than would be computationally necessary [48], on the other hand, with increasing energy intake due to the volume of food, it becomes more and more difficult to realize a wholesome food selection. Therefore, the intake of micronutrients does not automatically increase with the supply of energy. In addition, there is a low storage capacity of the body for these water-soluble substances, so that the first symptoms of deficiency can appear after a short time of lack of intake. Studies on athletes, for example, often show an intake below the recommendations and a suboptimal supply of B vitamins based on blood parameters, especially for thiamine and pyridoxine (see box).

The additional use of vitamin C is particularly popular – not only among athletes – . In one study, vitamin C supplementation increased the performance of people who had a poor supply condition, but most studies on normally nourished test persons showed no such effect. Since vitamin C promotes the absorption of inorganically bound iron, a higher intake can have a beneficial effect on the iron status. An adequate supply of vitamin E is also of particular importance. Deficits that resulted in a deteriorated oxygen supply and reduced physical performance have so far only been found in animal experiments. Individual human studies indicate improved protection against muscle damage caused by exercise after vitamin E supplementation. However, the available data on this, as with many other supplements for athletes, are contradictory, as other studies have shown no effect on athletic performance or muscle damage. Therefore, the possible effects of an increased intake of vitamin E in athletes are still unclear.

Exercise and mineral requirements

Physical activity leads to a sweat production of up to 2.5 l / h, depending on the ambient temperature, the level of training, and the type and intensity of physical activity [38]. Significant amounts of minerals are always lost with sweat (Tab. 1). In addition, the excretion of some minerals in the urine is increased after intense exercise, especially iron, zinc, and chromium [24, 52]. These factors lead to a sometimes significantly increased mineral requirement of athletes.

The use of magnesium supplements is widespread among athletes. Assumed losses through sweat, a tendency to cramps, or the functions in the energy metabolism are often reasons for ingestion. In fact, most of the sodium and chloride is excreted in sweat, both of which are supplied in large quantities with food. In contrast, the magnesium sweat losses are low, as the values ​​in Table 1 show. Compensating them is basically possible without supplements, at least in a popular sport, since food consumption also increases with increasing energy consumption. Nevertheless, some studies show reduced status parameters for magnesium supply in 20 – 50% of the athletes studied, so meeting requirements does not always seem to be problem-free. This can also be seen in the observation that many athletes who are prone to muscle cramps benefit from an additional intake. Any additional effects are doubtful, however. Studies on the effect of magnesium on performance show contradicting results depending on the type of sport examined. In some studies, magnesium administration increased performance in endurance athletes and in strength training, while other studies showed no effect.

The situation is different for various trace elements. Even popular sporting activities with sweat losses of around one liter per hour are associated with considerable losses of iron, zinc, and copper (Tab. 1). As a component of hemoglobin, myoglobin, and enzymes in the respiratory chain, iron is essential for cellular energy production. A suboptimal supply can therefore limit performance, especially in endurance sports. An increased frequency of suboptimal iron supply was often found in athletes, especially in female endurance athletes. The low hemoglobin values ​​found in many athletes (athlete anemia) do not always result from an iron deficiency, but are also partly due to an increase in plasma volume due to training and thus a ”

In addition, it plays an important role in the immune system. In endurance athletes, sweat losses are significant, especially in connection with a high-carbohydrate diet, which often results in a low zinc intake [24]. Copper is required for oxidative phosphorylation as well as in erythropoiesis and in catecholamine metabolism. In view of the generally inadequate supply situation, iodine losses through sweat (30 – 40 µg / l) must also be assessed critically [26]; These can no longer be compensated for with food during competitive sports activities, even with the use of iodized table salt.

Supplements for all athletes?

The increased need for some nutrients is not covered by food for all athletes. As shown, especially athletes with reduced energy intake often do not even achieve the recommendations for non-athletes. A prophylactic administration of B vitamins in the amount of the recommended intake can therefore be useful to secure the supply. The use of vitamins C and E to meet a possibly increased need can also be beneficial. Since additional supplies in this area are harmless from a toxicological point of view, this measure represents a simple and effective way to avoid deficiency symptoms and loss of performance. The prophylactic use of mineral supplements, on the other hand, is controversial despite the higher losses among athletes. Often the question arises whether, due to similar chemical properties, the high uptake of one mineral through absorption inhibition can lead to a deficiency in another. This has been shown, for example, for the simultaneous isolated intake of high doses of iron and zinc.

In the case of iron, in particular, prophylactic use is generally not recommended, since it has since been postulated that a high iron intake could possibly increase the risk of heart attacks. However, this result has been refuted by more recent data, which is why it can be assumed that the results at that time are based on a less health-conscious lifestyle with higher meat consumption. Due to poor tolerance, possible interactions with the absorption of zinc and copper, and possible promotion of oxidative processes, iron should nevertheless not be administered in high doses without necessity. On the other hand, a low dose of iron should be considered in female endurance athletes or on a vegetarian diet because of the reduced iron status of these people.

Overall, magnesium and zinc supplements are seen as less critical; Many athletes with an increased tendency to cramps benefit from magnesium administration despite normal intake of food. Since endurance athletes in particular often consume little zinc with their food and the losses through sweat can be considerable, low-dose intake can also be advantageous with regard to the role of the element in the immune system.

An overall increase in performance through the intake of nutrients can only be expected if there is already a deficiency that is eliminated by the additional intake. Megadoses of vitamins or minerals, some of which are found in over-the-counter medicines and preparations from abroad, on the other hand, do not have any performance-enhancing effects and can, under certain circumstances, lead to damage to health. It is therefore not advisable to take it.

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