Sports nutrition supplements include a variety of drinks, powders and pills designed to improve athletic performance and/or fill gaps in the diet of people who play sports or workout on a regular basis. The information in this article is limited to sports drinks, protein powders and other performance-enhancing supplements.

It is important to talk to your doctor before you take any type of supplement, vitamin or medication.

Some things to consider before you take a supplement include:

  • Taking supplements do not make up for eating an unhealthy diet. No diet is perfect 365 days a year, so there may be times a supplement is helpful, such as during special training, illness, or when you have a medical condition (pregnancy, anemia, etc.).
  • Many supplements have extensive research behind them to prove their benefit, but an even greater number do not have enough evidence to support their use. Your doctor or dietitian can help you understand which supplements are helpful for you.
  • Unlike medication, supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure diseases.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the ability to check the safety and effectiveness of supplements before they hit the market. To make sure you choose safe products, buy only products that are certified as safe by a third party company like National Safety Foundation or Informed Choice. These groups have strict certification guidelines to prevent tampering, verify label claims against the contents, and make sure they don’t contain banned substances.

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks (electrolyte replacement drinks) are meant to keep you hydrated by replacing the sodium and potassium you lose when you sweat. They also keep blood glucose (sugar) levels stable so you can make the most of your energy during endurance or high-intensity exercise. Because they taste good, you are more likely to drink them and prevent dehydration. Sports drinks also prevent cramping. If you have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), you need to have sports drinks when you exercise.

Sports drinks are not for everyone, though. If you are more of a casual/recreational athlete, the drinks can give you extra calories and sodium that you don’t need. Because of this, they are also not good for people with diabetes or heart failure. There are lower-calorie and zero-calorie versions, but both contain sodium.

Protein Supplements

Powdered protein is a convenient, portable source of protein. Many types are easy to digest and are quickly absorbed by your body.

However, these supplements can be expensive. And, like other supplements, they are not FDA- tested for safety and effectiveness.

Creatine

Creatine can increase muscle strength and speed.

This supplement can be expensive. It can also cause bloating, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and make you sweat more. Like other supplements, creatine supplements are not FDA- tested for safety and effectiveness.

Performance-Enhancing Supplements

Performance-enhancing supplements like pre-workout powders and drinks, energy boosters and metabolism boosters often contain banned substances. They can lead to gastrointestinal problems, anxiety and nervousness. They also do not offer any proven benefits.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/16/2018.

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