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JC talks supplements

The supplement market is booming but we don’t want you to be taken for a fool – JC explains how to protect yourself.

To date, we’ve focused on how to use performance nutrition principles, and a ‘food first’ approach to nutrition. That’s been deliberate, because using nutrition in a structured way is the foundation to looking, feeling and performing better each day. That’s why supplementation should be viewed as exactly that – something that supplements strong daily nutrition. 

The sports nutrition market is booming – projected to reach €38bn by 2020 – and supplements are contributing significantly to that figure. It’s likely that you will have taken or are currently taking a nutrition supplement. 


You probably think there are loads of  supplements proven to boost your health or performance. The reality is quite different; you’d be surprised how few support their claims with credible evidence. 

Over a decade ago, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) led the way with a grading system on how effective and safe supplements were. It gave clear guidance on what worked, what didn’t and what was to be avoided. 

In terms of effective products worth considering, it’s good to think about these as three sub categories, depending on your particular need:

  1. Sports foods (for training) – protein shakes, carb gels, drinks
  2. Clinical (to treat deficiency) – Iron, Vitamin D, Calcium
    and Omega 3 
  3. Performance (a direct effect on performance) – creatine monohydrate, caffeine,
    beta-alanine, dietary nitrate

With such small margins between success and failure in elite sport, supplementation use has become consistently high. Elite athletes are governed by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules on prohibited substances. Due to the lack of regulation in supplement production, contamination with prohibited substances is a risk. 


A recent UK study found that from 114 products tested, 10 per cent were contaminated with banned substances, not to mention the glass, animal faeces and insects that were discovered. 

Alongside consulting approved lists from quality assurance bodies such as Informed Sport, we also insist athletes protect themselves by using supplements that have been independently screened (batch tested). 


This is a conversation I repeatedly have with new clients who are non-athletes. As within the public domain, the potential issues  above aren’t common knowledge. 

This is an age where we are fascinated by food provenance – where it’s grown, reared, its production, journey, seasonality, and the chef producing the dish –but in the next breath, a client will say, ‘I’m taking Vitamin C, I’m not sure where it’s from.’ It’s time to engage a bit more in this area.

The scattergun approach could be causing damage to both wallet and body. The key is to do the basics, but do them really well. So if you’re going to supplement your diet, I suggest you take these four steps to nail the basics;

What is the specific need?

Energy provision, enhanced recovery and correcting a gap in the diet (nutrient deficiency) are the most common reasons, which can’t be solved with food. 

Ask yourself, is it effective? 

Is it an established, evidenced supplement in humans? (As opposed to very athletic rats!) 

Source it right

Go with a trusted UK Brand. Quality assurance programmes such as ‘Informed Sport’ are the best starting point for a full list.

Dose and timing

Some supplements are better to take before training (caffeine), some after (protein), some with food (Vitamin D), some without (Iron). Research when to do this, and plan it into your routine.


Check out more from JC including recipes and advice in our nutrition section.

Photo Alamy


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