I'll just let that sink in for a second. That's a whole lot of money even by Warren Buffet's standards.
With so much money on offer, it's no wonder that companies around the world want a piece of the pie. Every year companies are offering their latest cutting edge supplement offers. Typically these are endorsed by a famous bodybuilder or athlete with an incredible physique.
You'll often find a convincing couple of tests that the company has completed which suggest the product they offer is really effective. It's typical to find they also have a flashy name such as “Nitro Power Formula!” or “Zeus Alpha Performance Blend!”. Bonus points if the supplement has “extracts” of ingredients you've never even heard of.
For anyone who's hit a plateau in their training, or are simply looking for something more to boost their performance – sports supplements become very attractive.
But with so many supplement types on offer – with many of them containing unrecognized ingredients – how can you know which ones are worth your money?
Introducing AIS and ISSN
Both AIS and ISSN have created a classification for supplements to gauge whether they are actually effective, or simply a waste of your hard earned cash.
For AIS their classificiation framework is as follows:
- Group A: Approved Supplements (supported for use in specific situations in sport using evidence-based protocols)
- Group B: Supplements under consideration (requires further research)
- Group C: Supplements that have no clear proof of beneficial effects
- Group D: Banned supplements
If you're keen to learn more about these classifications, you can read about them on the AIS website here.
For ISSN, their classification framework is fairly similar:
- I: Apparently effective (research studies in relevant populations show it is effective and safe)
- II: Possible effective (requires further research)
- III: Too early to tell (supplement lacks sufficient research to support it's use)
- IV: Apparently Ineffective (lack of sound scientific rationale and/or research has clearly shown to be ineffective)
If you're keen to learn more about these classifications, you can read about them on the ISSN website here.
For the purposes of this article – we're going to focus exclusively on Group A / I ranked supplements...
…If we're looking for results, why on earth would we look at anything else...?
Performance Enhancing Supplement #1 - Caffeine
Best for - Increased Energy During Exercise
ISSN Rank = I
Many people in the world love a good cup of coffee, with over 90% of the US population consuming it regularly . It's one of the most thought of products in the world when we're talking about caffeine and for good reason. Your average cup of coffee can easily contain around 95mg of caffeine.
Though caffeine isn't only found in coffee of course. Caffeine is also found in a wide variety of food and drinks including chocolate, tea, cola and even some pharmaceutical products.
Drinking a cup of strong coffee can give a huge caffeine boost which is highly effective for a range of performance goals. A single dose of caffeine can significantly enhance endurance, energy for high intensity exercise, muscle power, mental focus and even fat loss .
The performance improvements caffeine gives makes it very effective for a range of goals and sports. Whether playing football, setting a new time for a crossfit workout or any other exercise, caffeine can help give you an extra edge.
Of course, if you're simply looking for performance gains, picking a strong black coffee will be much more effective than a triple caramel machiatto from Starbucks!
Other options for easy caffeine come in the form of caffeinated tablets where 2 tablets can contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.
Caffeine has a range of effects in addition to improving performance as listed below.
Well, one thing is for certain – increase your consumption slowly if you aren't use to using caffeine! For someone who hasn't really drank much coffee or energy drinks before, having a strong americano or red bull can make the world start spinning.
For children – you'll want to keep the dosage much less, no more than 100mg a day.
If you're keen for maximum performance – you may want to use 200-400mg of caffeine at 1 hour before a big event or race. Be sure to build up to this too if you don't usually use caffeine.
Some studies have also increased the dose to 400-600mg of caffeine to generate a performance benefit in individuals who were regular coffee drinkers. If you find you need more than a couple of coffees to feel a “buzz” - you might want to take a few days off caffeine to reduce your tolerance!
Take a look at the different sources of caffeine below. Be sure to pick sources of caffeine which are healthy. The benefit you'll experience from a strong black coffee will be much better than the rush and crash you may experience from a sugary energy drink!
Performance Enhancing Supplement #2 - Creatine
Best for - Strength and Power
ISSN Rank = I
For anyone who's very unfamiliar with sports supplements, creatine can sometimes be approached overly-cautiously. “So is that like a steriod or something?” I've heard people say.
Creatine is a supplement like any other, is safe in the right dosages and is even found naturally in normal food. Some sources of creatine include beef, salmon and tuna.
Creatine monohydrate is the most natural source of creatine. It is also the most tested and is considered the most effective type of creatine for improving performance.
But what does Creatine actually do to your body? Without trying to get too sciencey – it regenerates the fuel in your cells (boosting adenosine tri-phosphate or ATP).
ATP is the body's energy source. When your body burns carbs, protein or fat it does this to produce ATP. Creatine is a combination of three different amino acids, glycine, arginine and methionine. When it enters the body it binds with a phosphate molecule to form creatine phosphate.
When providing energy, ATP (adenosine TRI-phosphate) becomes ADP (adenosine DI-phosphate). ADP is completely useless unless it's turned back into ATP, this is where creatine comes in.
Creatine drops off a phosphate molecule to turn ADP into it's more useful brother ATP – recharging your ATP stores. You can then use your recharged ATP fuel even more activity!
As an analogy – you can view creatine as a portable battery pack for your mobile phone. If your phone is drained of energy because you've been playing games or watching videos – simply plug in the battery pack to recharge the battery and continue playing games and watching videos! Creatine works in the same way with your muscles, allowing you to recharge more easily and keep training!
In terms of some of the beneficial effects you'll experience from supplementing with creatine:
- Increased muscle strength and size
- Enhanced recovery
- Improved performance at high intensity (e.g. sprints)
- Enhanced brain function
- Improved bone healing & regeneration
- Improved muscle mass & performance in vegetarians 
So if you'd like to be stronger, increase your muscle mass, are part of the “aging population”, suffer from a neurodegenerative disease – you'll want to use the best value creatine as part of your training programme.
Creatine is most commonly found in animal products such as lean meats and fish. A pound of beef can give you up to 5 grams of creatine, with salmon providing up to 4.5 grams per pound.
If you're someone who avoids these foods for whatever reason, if you're vegetarian or vegan – you'll want to make sure you're supplementing your diet with quality creatine monohydrate.
According to Labdoor (and independent website which tests the effectiveness and accuracy of different supplements) – the best value creatine is the one below.
The most recognized way to supplement with creatine is through a “loading” period. This involves taking a bigger volume of creatine at the start to saturate your muscles with creatine. Once there's a sufficient supply in the body, you then enter a “maintenance” period This involves taking 4-5g of creatine a day to keep up the supply of creatine in the body.
Alternatively - taking an additional 3g of creatine per day for 28 days is stated to result in the same muscle content of creatine as that of a six day loading program .
Naturally – these recommendations are usually set for your “average person” and should be scaled up or down depending on your body composition as follows:
If loading creatine:
Less than or equal to 140lbs = 17-18 grams per day [5 days]
141lbs to 168lbs = 18-19.5 grams per day [5 days]
169lbs to 199lbs = 20 grams per day [5 days]
200lbs to 242lbs = 20-22 grams per day [5 days]
242lb+ = 22-24 grams per day [5 days]
Once creatine is loaded:
Less than or equal to 140lbs = 5-6 grams per day is maintenance
141lbs to 168lbs = 6-7.5 grams per day is maintenance
169lbs to 199lbs = 8 grams per day is maintenance
200lbs to 242lbs = 8-10 grams per day is maintenance
242lb+ = 10-12 grams per day
If you're not intending on loading – add roughly 5 grams of creatine a day so dosages would be as follows:
If not loading creatine:
Less than or equal to 140lbs = 10-11 grams per day
141lbs to 168lbs = 11-12.5 grams per day
169lbs to 199lbs = 13 grams per day
200lbs to 242lbs = 13-15 grams per day
242lb+ = 15-17 grams per day
After roughly 8 – 12 weeks, you may experience the effects of creatine becomes less. This is because your body has adjusted to increased levels of creatine and is making it less effective.
To solve this, you'll want to take a week or two off to reduce your tolerance to ensure creatine keeps gives you the results you want. After 8-12 weeks it's also great to take this opportunity to shake up your current workout routine!
What are your experiences with creatine? We'd love to hear from you so leave us a comment below.
Performance Enhancing Supplement #3
Best for - 1 hour sessions focused on weights / cardio / crossfit
ISSN Rank = I
Beta-alanine (or B-alanine for short) might be a supplement you've not heard of quite as much. B-alanine is ranked as a highly effective supplement by the two major classification bodies – but what actually is it...?
So trying to not to get too sciencey again, beta-alanine is simply an amino acid. When mixed with histidine (another amino acid), it created a compound called carnosine.
Simply put, carnosine counteracts the acidity levels produced during exercise by soaking up hydrogen ions. Hydrogen isons are fairly acidic and will slowly reduce performance.
Our muscles work best when in a specific pH range (not too acidic and not too alkaline). By using carnosine, our bodies can keep us in the best pH range for longer even when we're working out intensely.
By keeping us in the best pH range, supplementing with beta-alanine helps us improve performance!
Some of the benefits of using beta-alanine which are supported by scientific research include:
- Boosting explosive muscular strength and power output
- Increased muscle mass
- Boosting muscular anaerobic endurance
- Improved aerobic endurance
- Increased exercise capacity, allowing you to train longer and harder 
If you're looking to get fitter in less time – beta-alanine is one of the supplements for you.
Again, be sure to look around for a high quality beta-alanine supplement. One product with over 4,000 positive reviews is found below and in terms of value, can be bought for as low as $0.03 per gram.
On average, studies use a dosage of around 179g, which ca be divided over a 6-12 week course to optimize the concentration of carnosine in your muscles. Though a standard daily dose is recorded at 2-5g.
Bigger doses may result in a slightly unusual tingling sensation called paresthesia. This is nothing at all to worry about and can be avoided by taking smaller doses (0.8 – 1.0 g) several times a day. If you don't get a tingling sensation – it doesn't matter at all. Whether you feel tingly or not has no impact on carnosine concentrations in your body!
One study loaded participants with 3.2g of beta-alanine over 46 days. It concluded that a maintenance dose of 1.2g of beta-alanine was most effective at maintaining optimal levels of carnosine in the muscles .
So that concludes all the information you need to get started with beta-alanine – the third supplement guaranteed to improve your performance!
Performance Enhancing Supplement #4
- Beetroot Juice (Nitrates)
Best for - Endurance
ISSN Rank = *
Beetroot juice has gained lots of attention in recent years, and for good reason. These days you might see a range of different article titles such as “Why elite athletes drink beetroot juice before a race!” or “How beetroot juice can help you get your next personal best!”.
Beetroot juice is most popular for it's high concentration of nitrates. Nitrate is a precursor for Nitric Oxide (NO). Eating nitrate rich food and drinks will increase NO and will give you a range of benefits:
- Blood vessel dilation
- Increased oxygen delivery
- Increase in nutrient delivery to muscles
- Delayed fatigue
If you're looking to boost your endurance and speed, you'll be interested in the following studies.
One group of researchers from Exeter recruiteed eight healthy young men to complete a series of cycling tests. The guys were tested twice – after drinking beetroot juice once a day for six days and after drinking a placebo.
They found that after drinking beetroot juice, the men used less oxygen when cycling at an easy pace. This suggested that their muscles were able to do the same amount of work while spending less energy.
They also asked individuals to cycle as long as they could before stopping. Beetroot juice allowed them to pedal an extra minute-and-a-half before running out of energy.
This translated to a 16% increase in endurance. Not too shabby. This increase in endurance would mean that someone who usually runs out of energy after an hour would be able to carry on running for an extra ten minutes .
A further study by the European Journal of Applied Physiology analysed how beetroot juice can improve your time. They found that drinking beetroot juice can shave 1-2 percent off your 5k time . If you've got a PB of around 23 minutes – you might be able to have a new personal best of as low as 22 mins 32 seconds after a couple of glasses of the red stuff .
Fortunately – if you're not a fan of beets, there's a lot a range of other food groups which can give you a great supply of nitrates, including spinach and celery.
* for some reason beetroot juice isn't listed on the ISSN classification web page. They have however conducted research to show the positive effects of nitrates on a range of individuals which is hosted on their site.
One example put participants through a "Endurance Shuttle Walk Test" at 85% VO2 max. The groups receiving nitrate supplementation improved ESWT distance and time to fatigue by 11% and 6% respectively.
Performance Enhancing Supplement #5
- Sodium Bicarbonate
Best for - High Intensity interval exercise / Sports
ISSN Rank = I
Sodium bicarbonate has so many uses. It features as a cleaning agent, within pyrotechnics and even pest control. One of it's main properties is to neutralize acid / increase alkalinity.
This makes it a very effective supplement when wanting to improve athletic performance.
When we exercise - one of the factors which causes us to become tired is the build up of lactic acid. Lactic acid is a waste product when the body breaks down carbohydrates for energy.
As sodium bicarbonate is very alkaline, it acts as a buffer against lactic acid. This helps you train harder for longer.
The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition have also done some research. They studied the effects of sodium bicarbonate on high intensity intermittent exercise (HIIT).
Results showed performance was 14% higher for the group which took sodium bicarbonate. They also stated "high-intermittent exercise performance is improved by prior intake of sodium bicarbonate" .
Basically - if you take sodium bicarbonate - you'll perform significantly better at HIIT. This will give you better results.
But how much should we take to get the best results?
An a guide, you'll want to take a dosing of sodium bicarbonate about 1-2 hours before exercise.
For your dose - try 0.3g per kg of bodyweight. So if you're an 85kg man / woman, try up to 25.5 grams with plenty of water 1-2 hours before exercise.
Sodium bicarbonate can cause some gastro-intestinal distress for some people. If you've never tried it before, make sure you consume it 2 hour before exercise. You'll also want to use a lower dose (i.e. 0.2g per kg) with plenty of water.
Despite this, it's worth reinforcing that they are just supplements. Unless you're a competitive athlete, eating a balanced diet and training well will still give you great results.
If you've hit a plateau or you're looking for an edge to your training – try any of the 5 above. Tempted by something more exotic? Check the rankings online first. Spending money on attractive branding is a guaranteed way to reduce your bank balance rather than boost your results.
The 5 supplements will help you on the way to your fitness goals. Try whichever one is best for your training routine and see.
If you've got any further questions on different supplements, let us know. We personally like a balance of all the above depending on the training flavour of the month as follows:
- Building endurance? Drink more beet juice and try sodium bicarbonate
- Aiming to build strength and mass? Combine creatine and beta-alanine
- Taking part in a race or event? Take some caffeine beforehand too!
Which supplement is your favourite?
Have you experienced buying expensive supplements but without the results you wanted?
Leave us a comment below – we'd love to hear from you!
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 Food sources and intakes of caffeine in the diets of persons in the United States - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15635355
 Creatine: Why Use It? Scientific Support To Back Its Benefits -https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/drobson181.htm
 Creatine FAQ! - https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/dimaggio2.htm
 Beta-Alanine: Science Meets Real World Results! - https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/beta_alanine.htm
 β-Alanine dose for maintaining moderately elevated muscle carnosine - levelshttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24389513
 Eating beetroot may improve running speed: research - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/9226576/Eating-beetroot-may-improve-running-speed-research.html
 Beetroot juice and exercise: pharmacodynamic and dose-response relationships - http://www.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/japplphysiol.00372.2013
 A double blind randomized placebo control crossover trial on the effect of dietary nitrate supplementation on exercise tolerance in stable moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - https://bmcpulmmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12890-015-0057-4
 Sodium bicarbonate intake improves high-intensity intermittent exercise performance in trained young men - https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0087-6