Supplements – do they work?

September 23rd 2020

By Matt Hill
Categories: Athlete Resources

Supplements – do they work?

In his most recent podcast, Prof. Ross Tucker talks about the science behind supplements. His summary is very similar to the podcast about hydration: the value of supplements in general is murky, with very little evidence, biased outcomes and even some risks associated with their use, but the marketing is VERY effective!

The discussion defines supplements as being something taken that is not part of normal nutrition or is a prescribed medicine.

Supplements are often “sold” to us as a quick fix, a shortcut or a key ingredient that a normal nutrition and training strategy would not provide.

The marketing behind supplements plays on our innate desire to succeed AND search for shorter routes to success. Marketing often promising to enhance or fix any nature of deficiency or problem, working on the human desire for something better – psychology.

As individuals, we all respond to things in different ways and so it is with supplements; there are responders and non-responders. Marketing is primarily based on testimonials from the (few) very good responders whilst for the non-responder there is zero effect, and for both there can be health risks.

(But… what is not known about these responders, is what else they are doing. Maybe they changed training routines, eating habits, recovery strategies, etc at the same time?)

The five that (might) work

Of the many supplements available there are only five proven to be effective (again, only for the responders):


Creatine (primarily for strength athletes)

Sodium bicarbonate (primarily for short sprint events)

Carbohydrate – as a source of energy

Protein powers – as a source of extra energy (for refuelling or weight gain) and recovery

Risk verses reward

There is little control over supplement manufacture, not only is there limited research into the benefits/risks of the supplement, but there is no control of the manufacturing process. Cross-contamination is a common issue, as factories making one product also make others (some “legal” and some “illegal”). The risk could be to your heath (worst case), or to your athletic career – getting banned for taking a supplement that has banned substances in it!


UNLESS prescribed a supplement for medical reasons, a healthy nutritional strategy and correct training is all you need!