Posts tagged #articles

Sport Supplements that work!


Sports supplements are often used by elite athletes to maximise the benefits of exercise and performance. However, supplements are now also being used by the average gym-goer and not just elite athletes.  58% of adults surveyed in the US reported using supplements between 2011-2012.1  Many sports nutritionists and dietitians will agree that a food-first approach is best when managing nutrition for sport. However, some performance-enhancing supplements actually do have adequate levels of support to suggest that performance gains are possible. Before taking a supplement, it is important to assess the benefits and risks associated with that supplement. See below for an overview of the most common sports supplements used by sports enthusiasts. 

Whey protein

It is well documented that in order for muscle protein synthesis (muscle building) to occur adequate dietary protein must be consumed. Meeting protein requirements through food alone can be challenging for some people, especially body builders with higher protein requirements and calorie restrictions. Whey protein is a soluble protein which allows for fast absorption and utilisation. Whey can be added easily to smoothies, oatmeal, coffee and baked goods without compromising taste too much. Whey protein is a complete protein and contains an important amino acid called leucine. Leucine is the most anabolic (growth-promoting) amino acid. When compared to plant protein such as soy, hemp, pea or rice, whey generally increases lean mass more efficiently due to the higher amino acid concentration

Food sources: Milk and other dairy products.

Risks: Consuming too much whey may cause digestive issues. Many whey protein powders also contain sweeteners and sugar alcohols which are known to interfere with gut function. Also, 28% of the whey protein products in the United States did not pass Consumer Lab testing.  Finding quality products is essential if you choose to purchase whey protein. 

How to use:  For muscle building and maintenance, current research supports focusing on your total daily intake of protein as a whole, as opposed to just your post workout protein needs. When supplementing, consume 1scoop, which typically contains 20-25 grams of protein. This can be added to meals (eg oatmeal) or snacks (eg smoothie) to ensure you consume the 20 -25 grams of protein spaced evenly throughout the day. Total daily protein needs will vary from 0.8-2.0 grams/kg of body weight (.36-.91 grams/pound body weight). Speak with a dietitian to ensure you are reaching your specific needs. 


Beta-alanine can help reduce lactic acid accumulation. Lactic acid is a substance that builds up in the muscle tissues with high intensity exercise. This reduction of lactic acid may help reduce fatigue, increase endurance and boost performance in high intensity exercises. One study of 20 male cyclists increased their time to exhaustion by 14% after 4 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation.2 Similarly, another study found that power output was increased by 13% following a 4 week supplement routine.3  Top food sources of beta-alanine are meat and fish; therefore vegan athletes may want to consider discussing this supplement with their dietitian. 

Food sources:  Beef, pork, poultry and fish. 

Risks: Beta-alanine may cause tingling in the skin for the first 60 minutes after consumption.  Stomach upset is common when taking this supplement.

How to use: 2-5grams per day with food. Beta-alanine is often found in pre-workout powders and sports drinks. 


Creatine is one of the most tested supplements. Creatine is found naturally in the body. It helps the muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise. Taking it as a dietary supplement can increase muscle creatine content by up to 40% beyond its normal levels.  Supplementing creatine may help muscle gain and enhance strength. Creatine has been shown to improve training adaptations at a cellular level, primarily for high power, shorter duration workouts over endurance exercises.4  

In one review, adding creatine to a training program increased strength by 8%, weightlifting performance by 14% and bench press one-rep max by up to 43%, compared to training alone.5 The best form of creatine you can take is called creatine monohydrate, which has been used and studied for decades.

Food sources:  Beef, pork, poultry and fish.

Risks: Creatine causes muscles to draw water from the rest of your body causing bloating or “puffy like” feeling. People with kidney disease should avoid creatine.  Caffeine can negate the affects of creatine.

How to use: Start with a loading phase by adding 20g per day for 5-7 days. This  should be split into four 5 gram servings per day. Following loading phase, reduce to 3-5g per day to maintain high levels in the muscles. Take with fluid to avoid feeling bloated. It is recommended to consume with a carbohydrate source such as a sports drink to increase absorption.


Caffeine is a stimulant that benefits athletes who engage in both endurance based sports (running, swimming, cycling) and short-term sports (sprinting). When consumed, caffeine has been shown to improve endurance capacity. Although early research was conducted using high doses of caffeine (6+ mg caffeine / kg body weight), more recent research indicates that lower doses can provide similar performance benefits with less negative side effects. Although caffeine is a diuretic, when taken in smaller doses it does not effect urine flow and hence hydration status.  

Risks: Higher doses of caffeine can cause nausea, anxiety and sleep disturbances. 

How to use: 1-3mg/kg body weight in the 60 minutes prior to exercise has been shown to be sufficient and beneficial. 

Safety of sports supplements

There are risks to taking supplements. Generally if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The main risks associated with supplements are: 

  • the product may contain prohibited harmful substances, so if you are an athlete who undergoes regular testing for your sport you may test positive for illegal substances. 

  • contamination to the raw ingredients, including the fact that products could have little to none of the active ingredient listed on the label.  

  • cross contamination in the manufacturing process, as there is no oversight in supplement production.

  • containing ingredients not listed on the label, or labelled under a different name.

  • the risk of buying a counterfeit product, particularly when purchased online. 

It is very difficult to guarantee the safety of any nutrition supplement. For elite athletes, it's important that athletes work with a sports dietitian or nutritionist who understands the world anti-doping code. Despite efforts to regulate the market, a 2018 study highlighted that a large number of unapproved ingredients continue to be identified in many nutritional supplements in the US.6  Similarly, in the UK, research suggests that at least 10% of supplements contain traces of prohibited anabolic steroids and/or stimulants from leading European Sports Brands.7 

Due to the many thousands of supplement products available to the public, it is difficult to test every product. There are independent organisations that offer quality certification programs to ensure batches of dietary supplements are free from contaminants. Anyone can search databases such as NSF international or informed choice to check if their chosen supplement is safe. In Europe, informed sport works closely with food manufacturers to minimise supplement contamination. Consumer labsevaluates the efficacy of various dietary supplements in the US.

Supplements can definitely play a role in sports nutrition; however, they do not take the place of a well planned diet.  Do not underestimate the power of getting the basics right including adequate calorie intake, nutrient timing, hydration protocols and food preparation methods.  Also, remember that more is not always better.  Too much of certain supplements can actually be dangerous.  According to the latest position statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, supplements offer the greatest value when added to a “well-chosen eating plan”. Work with a qualified sports nutritionist or specialised sports dietitian to discuss your supplement routine. 


  1. Kantor et al, 2016 Trends in Dietary Supplement Use among US Adults From 1999–2012 The Journal of the American Medical Association, 316(14)1464-1474.

  2. Hobson et al, 2013 Effect of beta-alanine, with and without sodium bicarbonate, on 2000-m rowing performance. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, October 23(5)480-487

  3. Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J., & Jimenez, A. 2012. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 33. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-33

  4. Trexler et al, 2015 International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. Journal of International Society of Sport Nutrition, July, 12-30. 

  5. Rawson and Volek, 2003. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning. November: 17(4):822-831. 

  6. Tucker at el, 2018 Unapproved Pharmaceutical Ingredients Included in Dietary Supplements Associated With US Food and Drug Administration Warnings. Public Health 1(16).

  7. Russell C, Hall D, Brown P. European Supplement Contamination Survey 2013. HFL Sports Science


  1. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance.

  2. Sports Dietitian Australia factsheets

  3. Irish Sports Nutrition Factsheets

  4. Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition from Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 

Posted on May 15, 2019 and filed under Articles.

Healthy Bars- which to choose

As a population we are snacking more than ever before. There are so many choices available throughout Ireland including vegan, nut and even meat bars! It can be difficult to know if these are “healthy” or just chocolate bars in disguise. I have reviewed some of the most popular. See below!

kind bars

Kind Bars

Calories- 200

Protein- 6g

Added Sugar- 5g

Fiber- 7g

I love these! Real ingredients, high fiber and most importantly the protein content is from plants ie. nuts. We know nuts have a protective effect over heart health. I would definitely recommend these as a filling snack. Some of the flavours are higher in sugar due to chocolate bits and added honey. But overall a great very filling choice.

nakd bars

Nakd Bars

Calories- 140

Protein- 4-5g

Added Sugar- 0g

Fiber- 3g

Another favourite of mine. Yes there is natural sugar in these from the first ingredient-dates. However we know that dates have a low GI index of 42 so are not likely to increase blood sugars as much as table sugar. These taste really sweet and satisfying. Most varieties contain maximum of 5-6 ingredients.

belvita bars

Belvita Bars

Calories- 230

Protein- 4g

Added Sugar- 11g

Fiber- 3g

These bars are a little higher in carbohydrate. The third ingredient is added white sugar. They may be suitable for a more active person or someone training for an endurance event. I do not recommend these for the average office worker.

RX bars

RX Bars

Calories- 200

Protein- 12g

Added Sugar- 0g

Fiber- 5g

These are AMAZING! Very few ingredients, no added sugar and 12g protein. They come in fun flavours and sure to keep you satisfied. Protein can have a “filling effect” on hunger levels.

fulfil bars

Fulfil Bars

Calories- 200

Protein- 20g

Added Sugar- 3g?

Fiber- 6g

These bars are everywhere in Ireland. I can understand why-they taste great and are very high in protein. The ingredients are not ideal for anyone with a sensitive stomach or athlete following a low fodmap diet. Maltilol is a sugar alcohol which can cause bloating and GI distress if consumed in excess. Sugar alcohol are organic compounds derived from real sugar. Sugar alcohols do not increase blood sugar as much as regular white sugar. We know research is inconsistent when it comes to non nutritive sweetners such as sugar alcohols. Some sugar alcohols even have health benefits. I also noticed they use palm fat.

Conclusion: When it comes to snacking in general its always best to stick to a “plants and protein” approach. Vegetables and fruits have a very low calorie density. Protein helps keeps us full. In my opinion, no one food is ever bad. It may help to think about how and why you are using these bars. Are they preventing you from snacking on fruit or helping your avoid regular chocolate bars? When shopping for foods like these, remember that there is no one “magic food” or snack to help you meet your nutritional goals. Most of these snack bars are about 200kcals. For 200kcals you could have 1 apple+handful of almonds or 1 banana+ tablespoon nut butter. You may even save yourself some money too!


Posted on November 2, 2018 and filed under Articles.

The power of beets!


Beetroot have recently shot to fame in the vegetable department and for good reasoning. This versatile vegetable is delicious raw, cooked or pickled. The colourful leaves can also be cooked and used similar to spinach in dishes. There are so many varieties of beetroot with yellow and red being the most popular.

Aside from the taste, consuming beetroot has multiple benefits. Nitrate is found in all vegetables, however it is particularly abundant in dietary nitrate. Consuming dietary nitrate lowers blood pressure by causing our blood vessels to dilate and relax.1

Studies also show that consuming beetroot in the form of juice may enhance athletic performance2-4. Beetroot juice reduces oxygen use during physical exercise and increases blood flow to exercising muscles therefore increasing exercise tolerance.2-3 Many studies have shown that athletes who consume beetroot juice before athletic events can have faster finishing times than those who dont.3-5 Fortunately, the research also suggests its not just elite athletes who can benefit from the perceived benefits of beetroot, average gym-goers can too. One study compared performance between two average running groups. The first group consumed 200g of cooked beets 75minutes before a race and the second group consumed an alternative food. The group that consumed the beetroot portion ran faster and reported less exhaustion than the placebo group.2

Aside from their vibrant colours and dietary nitrate content, beets contain other beneficial plant compounds. Bentanin is the pigment responsible for that rich colour of beets. Bentanin is also a powerful antioxidant which slows the effects of ageing.6 Beetroot has a low glycemic load, high fiber content (3g/100g serving) and low calorie content (40kcals/100g serving). 

Beetroot and beetroot greens can easily be incorporated into anyones diet. Roasting beets in their skin brings out their sweet flavour. After roasting, simply wrap the cooled beet in a cloth and rub gently to remove the skins. Beet greens are delicious when sautéed in garlic and seasonings. Store-bought diced beets or beetroot juice can also be added to smoothies for a quick snack or colourful breakfast. See attached smoothie recipe for some beet-inspiration. 


  1. Hord, NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. (2009) Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ;90(1):1-10.

  2. Murphy, M., Eliot, K., Heuertz, RM. and Weiss, E., (2012) Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. Journal Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(4):548-52.

  3. Wylie et al, (2013). Dietary nitrate supplementation improves team sport-specific intense intermittent exercise performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology 113(7):1673-1684.

  4. Cermak, NM., Gibala, MJ. and Van Loon, LJ. (2012) Nitrate supplementation's improvement of 10-km time-trial performance in trained cyclists. International Jounral of Sports nutrition and exercise Metabolism 22(1):64-71.

  5. Jones, AM., (2014) Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Medicine, 44(35-45).

  6. Esatbeyoglu, T., Wagner, AE., Schini-Kerth, VB. and Rimbach, G., (2015) Betanin--a food colorant with biological activity. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 59(1):36-47

Posted on November 2, 2018 and filed under Articles.