People use ergogenic aids to improve their performance during high-intensity physical exercise. An ergogenic aid is anything that gives you a mental or physical edge while exercising or competing. Examples include caffeine or sports drinks filled with carbohydrates and electrolytes to replace salt expelled during sweating. They also include a wide range of performance enhancers, some of which are banned or illegal, and many more that aren’t.
Ergogenic Dietary Supplements
Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other botanicals that are taken by mouth and don’t also contain controlled substances can be labeled a “supplement.”
Many of these supplements are marketed to boost athletic performance, but scientific proof of their effectiveness is sometimes lacking or contradictory.
Other ergogenic aids that are generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include various naturally occurring compounds, such as:
- hydroxymethyl butyrate (HMB): an amino acid found naturally in the body. HMB is said to enhance and strengthen muscle as well as help slow down the breakdown of muscle during exercise.
- conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): may help reduce fat deposits. It’s popular with bodybuilders.
- carnitine: transports long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria. This allows them to be burned for energy, which can boost exercise performance.
- chromium: said to increase lean muscle mass, which is beneficial to athletes.
- creatine: increases muscle energy, short-term endurance, and lean muscle mass. And there’s evidence to back up these claims. Many people looking to boost muscle mass supplement their workouts with creatine.
While all these products are marketed to increase athletic performance or help build muscle, individual results may vary. Also, with limited scientific evidence to support some of the supplements’ claims, consult your doctor or athletic trainer to discuss the safety and effectiveness of individual supplements.
Harmful or Illegal Ergogenic Aids
The NCAA and the Olympics commission have banned other substances. This is because they offer an unfair advantage or can cause harm to the athlete. Some of those include:
- anabolic and other steroids: illegal in both sporting events and according to the law. While some high-profile athletes have used them to increase strength and lean muscle, the side effects are numerous and potentially fatal.
- blood doping: the process of boosting red blood cells to help carry more oxygen to the muscles and lungs. It can be done with blood transfusion, a process that cost Lance Armstrong his Tour de France titles.
- dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): possibly the most abundant steroid in humans. Using synthetic versions to increase steroid production is potentially dangerous and banned by the Olympics commission.
- ephedrine: a central nervous stimulant. Ephedrine produces similar effects to adrenaline, but it too can be dangerous. It can cause serious cardiovascular effects, including stroke, and a whole host of other problems. Both athletic organizations and the FDA ban it.
- human growth hormone (HGH): a drug developed to help children with growth disorders. It stimulates cell reproduction and regeneration. Athletes looking to gain an edge abuse this drug. It’s banned in all professional sports. Potential complications include enlarged organs and chronic disease.
Many infamous drugs and practices can give athletes an unfair advantage. But they can cause more damage than stripping an athlete of a title. For example, anabolic and other steroids that affect a person’s hormones can cause long-term damage, or even death.
Many supplements may claim to boost performance, but there aren’t better ergogenic aids than training, dedication, fluids, and proper diet.