Dietary supplements are big business. The global market for 2018 was estimated to an astonishing 115 billion USD worth of vitamins, botanicals, omega-3s, minerals and protein. The question is, which should you, the triathlete take?
My short answer is, as few as possible. The reason is simple, they basically don’t work. There are, however, a few supplements that might be beneficial. I will divide them into two categories, one the performance enchanters and two the supplements which may prevent you from “crash and burn” in regards to health.
In my list of supplements that might increase performance I have the following:
- Caffeine – The most used performance increasing supplement in the world mostly absorbed thru coffee. If you use it, something which is recommended to add another 1-2 % increase in performance, I will advice (as always) to use it with a plan. When are you taking it and how much? There are different things to consider when laying out the caffeine strategy. How does your energy level respond? When does your gut reach its limit? When do you need it the most? Personally, I need it most at the start of the swim, the last 1/3 of the bike and last half of the run. That’s when I will get my dose.
- Nitrate – Popularly found in beetroot juice. This might also give another 1 % increase in performance if used properly. This is something I just have been experimenting with myself, and first tried before Halv-Fet, I have no clue if it gave positive or zero effect. At least it did not hurt me. A good protocol for nitrate loading can be found in this link (scroll down to Quick Navigation and click on Nitrate loading prior to an event). Note that you should always test it out in training before doing it in a race.
- Chocolate – I wish.
That was it. There are very few (legal) supplements that will make you faster.
When it comes to supplements that keep you fit and healthy there is a few more
- Iron – This is the only supplement, except the two above, I regularly take. When I first got my Iron level measured it was below the minimum recommended level at 19 ng/mL (reference 25 – 300 ng/mL). I did try to up my intake of iron-rich food, but since I eat nearly no meat, that did not yield good results. After taking a very high dose of 100mg daily over four years my level is 50 ng/mL, comfortably above the minimum. Most likely I was not having a decrease in performance due to low iron levels, but it was just a matter of time before I would have hit the wall hard without it.
- Vitamin D – especially if you don’t get much sunlight (or always use sunblock or have dark skin). I don’t need it.
- Omega-3 – If you don’t eat enough fish. I do eat a lot and my Omega-3 vs Omega-6 levels are very good. For that reason, I don’t need it.
- Protein – If your planning skills are poor and you just are not able to have a snack with enough protein after a training session. Personally, I typically eat two slices of high-quality bread with peanut butter, honey and banana.
- Salt – While salts are vital for survival most people get enough, or more than enough thru regular diet. Personally, I eat small amounts of processed food, which is the typical place people get their salt from. I also sweat a lot and have a high salt content in my sweat. For that reason I do take salt tablets during the long and hard training sessions. Regular sport tablets usually have a combination of different salts like sodium, magnesium and potassium, but the sure to check out the concentration.
The main takeaway is that no legal supplement will give a major boost in performance and the list of supplements that can give a small performance increase is very limited.
There is, however, major performance and health to be lost in being deficient in vital vitamin and minerals. You can get all of them thru your regular diet, even if your a vegetarian, but some can be more difficult than others. Taking a blood sample regularly (I take it ones each year), is, in my opinion, the only reasonable way to determine if or what you should take. There is an optimal range, so taking for example multivitamins “just in case” is in the best case only a waste of money.
What are your thoughts? Are there any magical supplements out there that I have missed or is there just no magic bullet out there?