We love our workouts. We also love how fuelling them with nutrition lets us get the most out of them. Sports supplements claim to provide an additional boost. However, the amount and variety of products out there is nothing short of overwhelming. We’ve decided to take the headache out of this for you by reviewing the evidence for what is and isn’t effective in muscle building, performance enhancing and fat loss.
Burn, baby, burn: fat loss
Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound found in coffee, tea and chocolate. As well as providing a boost to metabolism and therefore potentially assisting in fat reduction (Westerterp-Plantenga et al. 2006), it has also been shown in multiple studies as effective in improving performance ( However, some fat loss supplements out there are not well-supported by the literature. Often referred to as ‘L-Carnitine’, carnitine is an amino acid with vitamin-like properties, which is present naturally within red meat and dairy products. As a supplement, it claims to help with weight loss by increasing fat oxidation (However, despite the theoretical benefits, most research has shown supplementing with carnitine to be ineffective (Karpinski and Rosenbloom 2017). Similarly, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a natural fatty acid that claims to decrease body fat and improve muscle mass (Karpinski and Rosenbloom 2017), yet evidence of its effectiveness is mixed in human studies (Petridou et al. 2003).
Great gains: muscle building
Creatine is perhaps the most well-recognised and popular sports supplement, behind whey and plant protein. It combines with phosphorous in muscle cells to produce creatine phosphate, an immediate energy source for muscles during short bursts of intense exercise. Thus, creatine can improve performance and recovery between intense bursts of exercise, as well as indirectly improve muscle growth and protein synthesis (Karpinski and Rosenbloom 2017).
BCAAs (AKA ‘Branched Chain Amino Acids’), a combination of the three amino acids Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine, are often sold to be added to your workout beverage. Sure, they have the potential to increase muscle protein synthesis and thereby aid in muscle building (Karpinski and Rosenbloom 2017). However, they can be gained through an adequate diet and need to be balanced with intakes of all other essential amino acids.
Upping the ante: performance enhancing
Iron supplements are used to increase performance in sports that rely heavily on oxygen. Iron is a component of haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body and delivers it to exercising muscles. It may be especially beneficial where an individual is iron deficient, but this needs to be under the recommendation of an appropriately qualified professional such as a sports nutritionist or dietician due to potential undesirable effects (Karpinski and Rosenbloom 2017).
Meanwhile, MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides, a type of shorter chain fatty acids) claim to aid performance through muscle glycogen sparing (Karpinski and Rosenbloom 2017) but there is little evidence of this in human studies (Clegg 2010).
Indeed, it’s important to dig deep into the research and consult a sports nutritionist or dietician before considering supplements. But from what we shared above, unless you’re pregnant, breast feeding or caffeine sensitive, there’s little risk from the little kick that you may get from a cup of coffee or one of our Boost Me Coffee smoothies. Go give it a try!
Clegg, M.E., 2010. Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 61(7), pp.653-679.
Karpinski, C. and Rosenbloom, C.A., 2017. Sports nutrition: a handbook for professionals. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Petridou, A., Mougios, V. and Sagredos, A., 2003. Supplementation with CLA: isomer incorporation into serum lipids and effect on body fat of women. Lipids, 38(8), pp.805-811.
Westerterp-Plantenga, M., Diepvens, K., Joosen, A.M., Bérubé-Parent, S. and Tremblay, A., 2006. Metabolic effects of spices, teas, and caffeine. Physiology & Behavior, 89(1), pp.85-91.