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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.

Nutrition on race day


Nutrition Marathon Day 

October 27th may just be any other day. For those of you who have spent months tracking miles, setting early morning alarms, pounding footpaths and slugging water bottles… its finally here…marathon day! All the hard work is coming to an end and its just a few short miles between you and the finish line. With race day fast approaching its important that people remember one of the key determinants of race day outcome-Nutrition.  

As a registered dietitian and a runner, I understand the importance of proper nutrition when it comes to performance.  

Here are my top tips for optimum race day nutrition 

 1.Monitor fiber intake 

Fibre is king when it comes to any healthy diet. It can help manage cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and bowel movements. However high fibre foods may lead to GI upset or cramping on race day. Its a good idea to avoid high fibre cereals, bread and grains the night before and the morning of the race.  

 2. Carb-load  

Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate that will fuel your long run. Its important to ensure glycogen stores in your muscles are stocked up before the race. You can “stock up” glycogen stores by ensuring the majority of your meals are based on carbohydrates, in the week leading up to the race. Foods like pasta, rice and potatoes are great sources of carbohydrates. For every extra gram of glycogen stored, the body stores 3grams of water. Therefore, you may find you gain a little extra weight the week before the race. Don't worry, its not all actual body weight.  

3. Morning Meal  

Breakfast is important everyday but especially marathon day. Aim to have a breakfast thats low in fibre, high in carbohydrate and contains a source of lean protein. Most seasoned runners try to eat 2-4hours before the start line. Porridge with milk, Yogurt with fruit, toast with fruit and nut butter are all suitable choices. If you feel like you need an additional snack 1 hour before the start line choose a 100-200kcals, carbohydrate based snack such as banana, granola bar or slice of toast. Eat what worked for you during your training runs.  

4. Stick with your tried and true 

Marathon training is all about practice. Race day is not a time to try new foods. There may be companies handing out samples of new products around the start line. Avoid these if possible and try to stick to what you are used to. Practicing your food routines during training routines is vital. Runners need to understand how their body reacts to foods at different times.  

5. Fluids 

Proper hydration is crucial when it comes to crossing that finish line. Fluid intake should match fluid losses. Runners can ensure they are taking in enough fluid during training runs by weighing themselves before and after runs. Choosing an isotonic drink is great way to replenish fluids, electrolytes and carbohydrates at the same time. Getting fluids right is a delicate balance. It is possible to drink too much fluid which can lead to hyponatremia (low sodium levels). Try to consume 100-150mls of fluid for every 15-20minutes of exercise.  For most marathons, there will be water stations every 2-3 miles and lucozade stations at miles 11, 18 and 23. Try to alternative between isotonic fluids and water to stay on top of hydration.

6. Fueling your run 

Training your body to accept food during exercise can be difficult. However if exercising longer than 60minutes, adequate fueling is critical. When exercising for longer than 60minutes, 30-60grams of carbohydrate (120kcals-240kcals) should be consumed per hour. Aim for fast acting forms of carbohydrates such as gels, jelly beans, sports drinks, sports bars. Experiment with different foods during your training season.

7. Post Race food 

Crossing the line has to be one of the best feelings. To prevent injury and painful days ahead, its important to remember to refuel. Nutrition goals should be to refuel with carbohydrates, repair with protein and rehydrate with fluids and electrolytes. Aim for foods that are easy to consume and digest. Chocolate milk with an energy bar, Fruit smoothies, Greek yogurt with added fruit, are all great snacks to have within 30minutes of crossing the line. After all those weeks of watching your diet, your first reaction may be to reach for a burger or pizza. Try to have a healthy balanced meal with 2-3 hours of finishing the race. Meals like a baked potato with tuna, Chicken wrap with salad, or spaghetti bolognese are all great choices. Continue to sip on water and electrolytes over the next 1-2 days to replenish your fluids. 


Taking some of the these tips on board may help you cross that line just a little bit quicker. However important nutrition is, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Preparation, training and attitude all play a role in successful race day outcome.   

Best of luck to all runners! 


Posted on November 2, 2018 and filed under Articles.