Hey Y’all! Today we’re talking supplements, a.k.a “supps”. I caught up with two leaders in the field. Whether I am working with clients in corporate wellness, or high school student-athletes, this info is applicable to any athlete wondering whether or not to spend their hard earned money on supps.

Suzy Weems, PhD, RD, LD, FAND, Professor of Family and Consumer Sciences and Graduate Program Director for Nutrition Sciences at Baylor University. Dr. Weems was one of my favorite professors in college and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to sports nutrition, as well as Kelly Rossi, MS, RD, CSSD, Associate Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Virginia and Membership and Secretary Board Member for CPSDA. Let’s talk supplements!

Definition: Supplement is defined as a product intended for ingestion that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to add further nutritional value (supplement) to the diet1. *Sports nutrition products such as sports drinks and recovery/protein drinks are not considered supplements.

The health and fitness world seems to be obsessed with supps (not a scientific abbreviation, just my own 👍). As a society we spend 30.2 billion dollars/year on them, but are they TRULY necessary?2 “Unless there is a glaring (dietary) deficiency, or an athletes excludes complete food(s)/food group(s), I totally go ‘food first’”, says Dr. Weems. ‘Food first’ is the philosophy that all macro and micronutrient needs can be met through a balanced and varied diet, without the need for supplements. Likewise, the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) ,of which Kelly Rossi is a board member is founded on the ‘food first’ principle that whole foods are the best fuel.  The key is to work individually with a registered dietitian to ensure your diet will help you reach your athletic goals.

Forget that fact that supps are a waste of money, what’s even scarier is they aren’t regulated by the FDA, meaning who even knows if they’re safe for human consumption. The following statement is written right on a common pre-workout supp:

Warnings: Check with a qualified healthcare professional before taking this product. Do not use if you are sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing a baby, under 18 years of age, have any known or suspected medical conditions, and/or if you are taking any prescription or OTC medications. Pre JYM is an incredibly strong pre-workout matrix that contains 300mg caffeine per serving, the equivalent of approximately 3 cups of coffee. Avoid using with any other caffeinated products. Too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and, occasionally, rapid heartbeat. Always begin use with 1/2 scoop or less and assess your tolerance. Once tolerance is assessed, take a maximum dose of 1 scoop. To avoid sleeplessness, do not consume within 6 hours of bedtime. Concerning California Residents: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or reproductive harm. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.

WOW! I’ll let you be the judge.

Here is the problem: supplements DO contain beneficial ingredients, but more often than not, they contain TOO much of a certain ingredient. Let’s explore the most common ergogenic aids and how to get the right amount from foods/drinks.

Ergogeinc aid: substance that gives you a physical or mental advantage while exercising or competing


Who doesn’t love coffee?! Ingestion of caffeine 30-60 minutes prior to match play can improve cognitive, physical and technical elements of performance. Ergogenic effects are achieved with 2-6 mg/kg of body weight in either capsule, fluid or gel format. Pre-training ingestion of caffeine can be readily achieved with coffee consumption at the breakfast meal. (3) (Be sure to practice the timing/amount because as a stimulant it can cause 💩).


Beets have held the spotlight recently for their ability to improve cardiac output, due to their nitrate content, which acts as a vasodilator, helping pump oxygenated blood more efficiently. How much do you need? Shoot for one 70mL Beet-It shot 2.5 hours before competition. (Why not drink regular beet juice? Because you’d have to drink five 8 oz cups to get the same effect…talk about a recipe for GI distress!) Studies show benefits for both explosive and endurance sports.(4)


A.k.a branched chain amino acids. Research has proven the many benefits of these protein building blocks. So which ones, and how much do you need? Leucine, isoleucine and valine have been shown to promote (MPS) muscle protein synthesis, when combined with proper training. The consumption of 20-30g protein post-workout is sufficient to promote optimal rates of MPS.5   Foods high in BCAAs include whey protein, eggs, yogurt, fish, beef and chicken. “High quality protein is a must post-workout”, says Dr. Weems. Rossi adds, “no data to support (the need for) supplementation of BCAAs”. She recommends the following article: BCAA supplements are just hype – here’s a better way to build muscle. Snack examples that meet the aforementioned macro goals include:

Food Amount Protein (g)
Low-fat Greek yogurt 1 cup 21
Turkey/cheese roll-ups 4 slices lean turkey, 2 slices low fat cheese 23
Orgain Chocolate protein shake One 14 oz shake 26
Salmon 4 oz, cooked 24


There always seems to be an exception to the rule…our guilty party: creatine, which is a compound found naturally in the body. It is involved in the supply of energy for muscular contraction. When utilized properly it can enhance repeated sprint performance, promote post-exercise muscle glycogen resynthesis and augment training-induced gains in lean mass, strength and power.(5) Translation: creatine can be useful to athletes who frequently utilize ‘explosive’ movements, i.e. football, wrestling or sprinters.The caveat: ALWAYS work with a RD when/if taking supplements. Rossi says, “every RD will approach the use of creatine differently…and everyone (who uses it) responds differently, some are ‘non-responders,’” meaning they don’t see any advantageous effects from using creatine. Reader be warned: there is little research on long term effects of creatine use, so you may have unwanted consequences down the road. Plus, a teen is still growing and creatine may interfere with proper development. “I would never recommend creatine to a high school athlete”, says Rossi. Personally, I wouldn’t either. But, I want Elevate Athletes to have the truth.

There it is y’all. Sure, there are more supps than those mentioned here, but I know your time is valuable and I wanted to cover the most frequently used. Below are links to useful websites, should you be interested.

International Society of Sports Nutrition

Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitian Association

Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition

Gatorade Sport Science Institute

National Collegiate Athletic Association


  1. Finley J.W., Ellwood. K and J. Hoadley J (2013). Launching a New Food Product or Dietary Supplement in the United States: Industrial, Regulatory, and Nutritional Considerations. Annu Rev Nutr. Jul 22.
  2. (2014). Americans Spend $30 Billion a Year Out-of-Pocket on Complementary Health Approaches. National Institutes of Health. June 22, 2016.
  3. Davis, J., Zhao, Z., Stock, H., Mehl, K.A., Buggy, J. and Hand, G.A. (2003). Central nervous system effects of caffeine and adenosine on fatigue. Am. J. Physiol. Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 284: R399-R404.
  4. Haider, G. and Folland, J.P. (2014). Nitrate supplementation enhances the contractile properties of human skeletal muscle. Med. Sci. Sports. Exer. In press.

      5. Moore, D.R., M.J.Robinson, J.L.Fry, J.E.Tang, E.I.Glover, S.B.Wilkinson, T.Prior,      M.A.Tarnapolsky and S.M.Phillips (2009). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am. J. Clin. Nutr 89: 161-168.

Supps photo cred: Jonathan fitpro