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Sports Performance Supplementation. What to Take and When to Take it?

Sports Performance Supplementation. What to Take and When to Take it?

Published: 23 April, 2024 | 9'

In the world of sports, proper nutrition is essential to make a difference and achieve our goals in a competition. In this article, we review the importance of supplementation before, during, and after a race, with the help of Ruth Gómez, a professional triathlete and coach who has completed eleven Ironman races, and Doctor José Luis Castilla, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Our experts help us understand how proper supplementation can become a key tool to enhance performance and achieve our goals.

What is sports supplementation?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) defines sports supplementation as: products that provide energy and nutrients in a more convenient form than regular food for general nutritional support (e.g., liquid meal replacements) or for specific use around exercise (e.g., sports drinks, gels, bars).

What are sports supplements for?

The use of sports supplements aims to take advantage of their effects or benefits to correct nutrient levels that can affect performance; provide convenient energy for exercise sessions; gain a specific advantage during competition; optimize body mass and composition; enable better recovery between sessions or competitions, and reduce the risk of injuries.

The IOC also recommends that in order for sports supplements to help athletes achieve their sports nutrition goals, they should train hard and stay healthy and injury-free, they must seek the assistance of a nutrition professional who conducts a thorough evaluation including a detailed medical and nutritional history, a diet assessment, an anthropometric and body composition analysis, and biochemical tests, to identify the appropriate type of supplement and intake regimen.

Sports supplementation based on race duration

We explore different race types based on their duration to understand the specific nutritional and supplementation requirements for each case.

It is important to remember that it is always advisable to consult a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation regimen to receive recommendations tailored to your needs and goals.

Supplementation in short duration races (less than 1 hour)

Some examples of short duration races are 5 km races, 10 km races, or short-distance track events (100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters).

In these types of races, performance is determined by reaction time, acceleration, and maximum speed, and it is crucial to maintain these factors even in the presence of extreme fatigue2.

Therefore, before and during these races, the runner's nutritional needs should focus on maintaining hydration and adequate nutrient intake. Carbohydrates (recommended at 5-7 g/kg body weight per day1) are important for providing quick energy, so consuming a small amount of simple carbohydrates before the race can be beneficial.

During the race, for distances this short, it is generally not necessary to consume supplements during the race itself, apart from water or isotonic drinks. Drinks containing caffeine may be useful to enhance performance during the competition, as caffeine has positive effects on agility and precision.

After the race, it is crucial to replace lost minerals (electrolytes) and have a balanced meal that includes carbohydrates and proteins to facilitate muscle recovery. Regarding proteins, experts recommend a consumption of 20-25 grams with each meal and immediately after the competition1.

Supplementation in medium duration races (1 to 4 hours)

Sports supplementation

Medium duration races include the half marathon (21 km), medium distance mountain bike (MTB) races, or short triathlons (which may include a 10 km run).

In these races, the energy and metabolic demands are in line with the biomechanical performance required, so the nutritional needs should focus on body composition with a good balance of intake of minerals with antioxidant effects (e.g., magnesium) and fluids2.

For these competitions, it is necessary to consume carbohydrates before, during, and after the race to sustain energy and prevent fatigue. Additionally, it is important to stay hydrated with sports drinks or water and replace lost electrolytes during the activity.

During the race, supplements such as energy gels, energy bars, or isotonic drinks can be useful to provide quick energy and improve performance. After the race, recovery is facilitated by consuming proteins and carbohydrates to repair muscle tissue and replenish glycogen stores.

We highlight some ingredients:

Beta-alanine

In the preparation for these races, beta-alanine is an amino acid to consider, as it helps combat fatigue and enhances performance in high-intensity exercises. The same applies to high-intensity events lasting 1 to 10 minutes12,13, and it is advisable to take it after a meal and before training along with a source of carbohydrates. 

Creatine

The main benefit of creatine is that it increases lean mass, strength, and muscular power during resistance exercise. It has been studied in the general population2,7, older adults7,10, and trained athletes6,11 to assess its effects.

BCAA+Glutamine

BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids) can help enhance muscle growth and alleviate fatigue5. Additionally, during this type of physical activity, there may be metabolic acidosis that can limit performance, so consuming glutamine can help restore the acid-base balance1,9.

Supplementation in long duration races (more than 4 hours)

Long duration races include marathons (42 km), ultra-marathons (50 km, 100 km, 100 miles), and Ironman competitions (3.8 km swimming, 180 km cycling, 42 km running). Key factors for these types of competitions involve combining aerobic power with a great number of movements2.

In these races, nutritional and supplementation needs are crucial to sustain energy and prevent fatigue. Adequate carbohydrate intake before and during the race is necessary to maintain blood glucose levels and muscle glycogen stores.

Athletes should also replenish electrolytes and fluids to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration. It is important to note that fluid intake or other supplements should not overload the athlete's gastrointestinal system to prevent gastrointestinal discomfort.

During the race, supplements such as energy gels, isotonic drinks, and energy bars are useful to provide quick energy and sustain performance.

Recovery after the race is crucial and can be achieved by consuming proteins and carbohydrates to repair muscle tissue and replenish nutrients lost during intense physical activity.

We also highlight some ingredients:

L-Carnitine

L-Carnitine plays an important role in fat metabolism and in extending endurance15. It also promotes post-exercise recovery14.

BCAA + Glutamine and Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is the direct precursor of carnosine, a muscle protein that is directly involved in acid-base regulation, calcium regulation, and serves as an energy source when glycogen levels are reduced. In long-duration competitions, it is essential to maintain muscle structure and minimize energy deficits. Therefore, using beta-alanine for at least 4 weeks before the competition will help achieve the goals of aerobic power1,4,13. In the case of BCAA + Glutamine, they help maintain muscle structure, which directly affects physical performance.

Which Supplements to Take and When to Take Them According to Race Duration

The following table summarizes what to take before, during, and after races based on their duration.

It is important to remember that these are only general examples and individual needs may vary. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a sports nutritionist for specific recommendations based on your needs and athletic goals.

Type of Race

Before the Race

During the Race

After the Race

Short-Distance Races (5 km, speed tests)

- Adequate hydration.

- Simple carbohydrates (small portion).

- Preload Energy

- Water or isotonic drinks.

- Metal Endurance

- Hydration / Replenishment.

- Balanced meal with carbohydrates and proteins.

Medium-Distance Races (Half Marathon, Medium-distance MTB)

- Adequate hydration. – Carbohydrates 1-4 g/kg body weight (pasta, rice, etc.).

- Beta-alanine and L-Carnitine

- Electrolytes.

- Preformance Nature

- Water or isotonic drinks.

- Creatine, glutamine + BCAA and carbohydrates

- Premium Creatine

- Electrolyte ReCOCOvery

- Hydration.

- Balanced meal with carbohydrates and proteins (1.5g/kg of body weight).

- Recovery supplements with protein content, amino acids, carbohydrates, and salts.

- Col Recovery

Long-Distance Races (Marathon, Ultramarathon, Ironman)

- Adequate hydration.

- Carbohydrates (pasta, rice, etc.), up to 12g/kg body weight.

 - Electrolytes.

 - Beta-alanine + L-Carnitine (optional).

- Preformance Nature

- Preload Energy

- Water or isotonic drinks.

 - Carbohydrates from 30-90 g/h

- Creatine (optional).

- Premium Creatine

- Electrolyte ReCOCOvery

- Preload Energy

- Hydration.

- Balanced meal with carbohydrates and proteins.

 - Recovery supplements (protein, amino acids, glutamine).

- WH3Y health

- Col Recovery

Recomendaciones de la triatleta Ruth Gómez sobre suplementación antes, durante y después de las carreras

Ruth Gómez, a renowned athlete in the triathlon world with no less than eleven Ironman finishes, understands the importance of supplementation during each stage of her training and races.

Preparation and competition in Ironman

Based on her personal experience, she states that "where nutrition and supplementation have been most important without a doubt has been in the preparation and competition of Ironman". In these competitions, she adds, "the fatigue and effort that the body endures after many hours of the race create competition for blood and oxygen transport in the body, and the stomach is unable to function as easily as it would at rest or in shorter races. This has required special attention to nutrition and supplementation in these races".

Recovery after demanding training sessions

Additionally, "helping the body recover after demanding training sessions and being prepared for the next ones" is another crucial moment when Ruth Gómez advises paying attention to nutrition and supplementation.

As a coach, she also takes into account "the individual response in terms of assimilation, energy consumption, and intake, which is characteristic of each person," she states.

"My main advice is not to neglect nutrition because it is essential for performance and health," she concludes.

A Prior Health Study and Nutritional Advice: Recommendations from Dr. José Luis Castilla for Races and Competitions

Dr. José Luis Castilla, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, emphasizes the importance of conducting a prior health study before starting to run to avoid injuries and setbacks during training.

Stress test and comprehensive analysis

"This study should start with a stress test and comprehensive analysis to rule out any cardiac and metabolic pathologies. It would also be necessary to perform a proper joint examination to rule out musculoskeletal pathologies, especially in the lower limbs, which could worsen with running," explains the specialist.

Follow-up by coach, doctor, and nutritionist

"Once processes that prevent running have been ruled out, we should rely on a coach who progressively introduces us to running and corrects our technique to prevent excessive muscle fatigue and reduce the risk of injuries," Castilla adds.

Finally, "always follow the nutritional advice provided by a doctor, coach, and nutritionist to ensure an energy supplement that aids in quick energy, muscle, and joint recovery, which makes the possibility of injuries less likely," he concludes.

If you want to learn more about sports nutrition...

  References


Content prepared by the Scientific Information Department of MARNYS in collaboration with specialists. This article is informative and does not substitute consultation with your healthcare professional.

Ruth GómezAbout the Specialist

Ruth Gómez

Ruth Gómez @ruthgomeza is a graduate in Physical Activity and Sports Sciences, a professional triathlete and pentathlete, and a National Triathlon and Pentathlon coach who runs her own Pentathlon and Triathlon Club in Mieres (Asturias).

Doctor José Luis CastillaAbout the Expert

Doctor José Luis Castilla

With over 20 years of experience in medicine, rehabilitation, and trauma specialties, Dr. José Luis Castilla currently practices as a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the Andalusian Health Service, and is also the Medical Director at the Dharma Medical Center.

Specialists in healthcare


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