10% off €25 OR 15% off €35
Navigating the world of sports supplements can seem daunting, but if you’ve got clear priorities then it becomes easier to make decisions about what to take, and why.
Here are 16 popular supplements that can help you hit the most common sports goals and improve sports performance.
The market is saturated with sports nutrition supplements, so it can be difficult to decipher what actually works.
We encourage you to try and pinpoint which areas you would like to improve in, e.g. recovery, energy, muscle growth, etc. as this should make it easier to discover which sport supplements could help you specifically meet your goals.
In this article we will list some of the most popular and effective sports supplements and help you discover which could help you.
Sometimes we may not be getting all we need to perform at our best in our chosen sport or activity from our diet alone.
Other times we may just want a little extra boost for our workout.
Whatever your reason is, there’s a sports supplementation product out there that can help you feel raring to go-go-go, support healthy muscle growth, or help you recover after.
|Supplement||Sports topic||What it does|
|Whey protein||Muscle mass||
|Vegan protein||Muscle mass||
|Mass gainers||Weight gain||
Trying to get the max out of that last heavy lift? Or want to add another couple of 400m sprints to your session? Consider giving yourself a boost in the form of creatine monohydrate.
Often thought of as being just for bodybuilders and sprinters, creatine is actually a well-researched supplement. It is commonly used by sportsmen and women in all disciplines, both professional and recreational.
Essentially, creatine is a form of fuel, the type used in short, sharp powerful movements. It’s found in foods such as meat and fish, but also produced by your body.18
However, the body only stores a small amount of creatine in the muscles. Taking part in any exercise characterised by repeated short bouts of intense effort, such as resistance training, sprinting, and powerlifting, means creatine stores can become depleted over the course of a workout, leading to a reduction of performance.19
Research shows that supplementing with at least 3g of creatine in pill or powder form every day has positive effects on resistance training and high-intensity intermittent training.
It may also benefit aerobic endurance exercise of over 150 minutes, and even supports normal brain functioning.20
We’d need to eat at least 750g of (raw!) meat and fish to take on board just 2g creatine so a supplement could be the answer, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
Our joints take a real knock when we run, jump, play impact sports or simply walk for long periods. They also get stuck when we sit for hours and, if we’re carrying any extra weight, the issue becomes worse whether seated or on the move.
When they’re unhappy, joints (we have more than 300 of them) get stiff, painful and inflamed. If you want to maintain flexibility, staying active and moving your limbs through entire ranges of motion with activities including yoga and swimming is important.
Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish including sardines, herring, mackerel and salmon, have a role in protecting against many conditions, including heart disease.
They also have a positive impact on our joint health by helping reduce inflammation caused by heavy training or other kinds of stress on the body.21,22
Purified omega-3 in the form of pills or liquids (best kept in the fridge) enable us to take more on board, especially if you don’t eat oily fish as part of your diet.
Want the benefit of fish oils detailed above but without the fish? Great news! You can cut out the middle (man) fish and take an algal oil supplement instead.
Fish get their omega-3s from the algae they eat, and algal oil supplements are made from the same marine algae.
Unlike other vegan omega 3 sources, like some nuts, seeds and vegetables, algal oil contains a good balance of DHA and EPA that matches up to traditional fish oils.
One study on 92 healthy adults found that microalgal oil (2.4g / day DHA + EPA) lowered triacylglycerol levels to a degree that was not different from that of a standard fish oil product.23
Another benefit: you definitely won’t be getting any fishy aftertaste!
When people talk about wanting that ‘ripped’ or ‘tight’ look, they are really talking about getting lean.
The common misconception is that this simply involves losing fat, but it’s as much - if not more - about building lean muscle tissue.
Lean muscle also burns more calories at rest than fat, which can improve your metabolism.
Targeted, regular training in the form of bodyweight and barbell-style exercises is the best way to build muscle.
For speedy, noticeable change, we need to eat enough protein as that’s what the body uses to rebuild tiny tears in the muscle fibres caused by exercise.24,25
Up-to-date research suggests that the general guidelines around consuming 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight every day is not sufficient for those with sports goals, and that we should aim for a minimum of 1.4g to 2g.26
Supplementing meals with whey protein is a convenient, affordable way to top up your protein levels.
Whey is not the only way to enrich your diet with some extra protein.
There are lots of vegan protein powders out there that can do the same job, some of the most popular being pea, hemp and soy protein. All three of these proteins are complete – meaning that they contain all 9 amino acids that our bodies need to repair existing muscle fibres and grow new tissue.
One study comparing the effects of whey protein vs pea protein on physical adaptions following 8-weeks of high-intensity functional training (HIFT) found that there were no significant differences between the two.
Both groups experienced increased strength for 1 rep-max back squats, as well as similar outcomes in body composition, muscle thickness, force production and strength.27
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids. There are three of them:
Together, they make up 1/3 of all essential amino acids, and are particularly important for building muscle protein. However, there are thought to be some additional benefits to these three amino acid musketeers!
Unlike other essential amino acids, BCAAs are usually sent directly to the muscles for processing, bypassing the liver. This, along with their other properties, means that taking BCAAs could help:28,29
These are some of the reasons why you will see a lot of protein shakes and pre-workouts contain them. But you can take them by themselves if you want to feel the pure benefit of them or think they could make a nice addition to the supplements you are already accustomed to.
If your goal is to increase your body and muscle size, you need to make sure you’re consuming more calories than your body needs.
This calorie surplus can be difficult to achieve through diet alone, especially if you have a small appetite – which is why mass gainers were invented.
Mass gainers are usually packed with calories, coming mainly from carbohydrates, protein and a little fat for good measure.
Think of them as a healthier alternative to wolfing down tubs or ice cream or sprinkling cheese over every meal.
Just a few gulps will provide you with hundreds of calories, without all the meal prepping you would need to do if relying on diet alone to help you bulk up.
However, not all mass gainers are created equal. Some are filled with cheap ‘filler’ carbohydrates like sugar, artificial sweeteners and low-quality protein – so always check the label.
Do you normally have a coffee or energy drink before you workout? Fancy stepping it up a notch? Specially formulated pre-workout drinks could be the solution.
Pre-workouts usually come in powder form and contain energy-supporting ingredients like caffeine, BCAAs and creatine, as well as fast-acting carbohydrates to provide your body with quick and easy energy to tap in to.
Eating carbohydrates, like a piece of toast or bagel, for example, is a great way to fuel your body, but you have to consider the time it takes for your body to digest them.
Pre-workout powders, on the other hand, provide energy that doesn’t have to be digested in the same way – meaning that you can work out almost straight away after drinking them without that uncomfortable feeling of fullness from food.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutrients found that consuming carbohydrates before an exercise session increased glycogen stores, which are essential for fueling muscles, by approximately 40%.30
If you’re an endurance cycling fan, long distance runner or avid hiker, you may need to top up your energy stores during your exercise, as well as before you start off.
For example, when you have been cycling for around an hour, your body will have used up most of its energy stores (glycogen), which can cause you to feel physically and mentally fatigued – and that’s no fun for anyone.
If you’re a long-distance runner, cyclist or swimmer, or you’d just like to be able to exercise for longer, then rhodiola rosea could give you the edge.
It’s what’s known as an ‘adaptogen’, which means it helps your body adapt to stress, rather than fight it, by redressing hormonal imbalances. In particular, it helps modulate the build-up of the stress hormone, cortisol.31
One 2010 study suggested that rhodiola rosea can also act as an antioxidant, reducing toxin build-up and muscle tissue damage after an aerobic training session.32
What’s more, this incredible herb has also been linked to brain health and helping to ease the symptoms of mild to moderate depression with great success.33
Magnesium is used for more than 300 reactions in the body, including the production of energy, the uptake of oxygen, and the balance of electrolytes.
One of its main functions is to help the muscles and nervous system, which gets hyped up by exercise, to switch off.
The more intensely you exercise or do sport, the harder it can be to relax, and very tired muscles can also hurt and twitch at night, disrupting sleep.
We need high-quality deep sleep for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and to help us bounce back from training.
Evidence shows that supplementing magnesium in pill form is helpful in reducing insomnia.34
Magnesium is found in leafy green vegetables and dark chocolate but unfortunately, most of us don’t have as much of this all-important mineral as we need, so supplementation is a good idea.
Last updated: 9th February 2023
Joined Holland & Barrett: Jan 2018
Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.
Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.