Episode 18 – Evidence-Based Supplements for Athletes Part 1

Key Topics Covered

Evidence-based supplements that support athletic performance. We’ll explain who they help, how they work, and the dose recommended for:

  • Creatine
  • Protein powder
  • Caffeine
  • Citrulline Malate
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Collagen
  • Omega-3


Who: Creatine can improve the performance of a variety of different sports, especially those with short bursts of high-intensity exercise eg. Lifting, sprinting, and combat.

How: It works by increasing the bioavailability of creatine phosphate in your system. This allows for additional Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), otherwise known as energy to be produced within the muscle.

Recommend: For most effective results, it’s important to take creatine consistently. Between 3 – 5g / day will allow the creatine phosphate to build up within the muscle.

  • When starting to take creatine, both fast and slow loading are effective.
  • Fast loading is taking 20-25g, 4 times per day for 5-7 days. This can be difficult as you have to separate each dose throughout the day to avoid gastrointestinal upset.
  • Slow loading is taking 3-5g once per day for 4-5 weeks.

Protein Powder

Not magical. Purely a convenient way to consume a high quality source of protein.

  • It can be useful:
    • If you’re struggling to reach your protein requirements.
    • If you want to time your protein. eg. consuming protein pre or post-workout. It should be noted that this isn’t the most important factor but can assist in optimal muscle growth.
  • Which protein powder to consume:
    • Gold standard: Whey Protein
    • Plant-based proteins: Soy protein isolate or combination of proteins ie. rice & pea protein blend


Who: Beneficial for any athlete. However, if it disrupts your sleep then avoid/limit in the evening.

How: Caffeine affects the central nervous system by reducing the perception of pain and effort. If enough caffeine is consumed, it can improve power in sport by increasing muscle contractions.

Recommend 3-6mg/kg of body weight.

  • The lower end of the range will assist with mental acuity and reduced perception of pain and effort.
  • The higher end of the range will assist with the performance benefits of caffeine.

This is a lot of caffeine:

  • Eg. A 100kg powerlifter would require 600mg of caffeine to reap the performance benefits.
  • Many people presume that 1 coffee or energy drink will be enough, however
  • 1 x 500mL monster provides 160mg of caffeine.
  • 1 x espresso shot of coffee could provide between 20-200mg of caffeine. That uncertainty of measure can be very difficult to dose.
  • Therefore, when recommending high doses of caffeine supplements can be more beneficial. Examples of these include nodoz, energy drinks or pre-workout.

In saying this, caffeine preferences can be very individual. Whilst there is a range, you might get a good performance benefit at a slightly lower dose.

Citrulline Malate

Who: This supplement has not been proven to be as effective as the previous, but it can still help with endurance and high repetition for lifters.

How: Citrulline is a vasodilator; allowing blood to flow more easily. It does this when citrulline converts to arginine, which promotes nitric oxide production which translates to vasodilation.

Citrulline malate studies have shown benefit when rest periods are kept to 1 minute or less. It’s also beneficial for all exercises where you’d expect to see a ‘pump’, usually those of high repetition. However, it did not prove to be successful with German volume training (10 sets x 10 reps) with 1 min rest between. So, the research is mixed, but slightly in favour of Citrulline being positive.

Malate assists with ATP regeneration.

Overall, the research is unclear as to whether citrulline malate improves sports performance or muscle building. It currently only shows that it enhances a pump and the ability to do higher reps and sets.

The research does show that citrulline malate does help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Individuals seem to get less sore. That’s due to the clearance of ammonia and nitric oxide in assisting blood flow.

Recommend 6-8g of citrulline malate 30-120min before training.

Sodium Bicarbonate

Who: This can be useful for high-intensity/ endurance activities. Eg. CrossFit or anywhere where you feel the lactic acid build-up

How: It works by buffering pH. During exercise, individuals experience an increase in acidity in the body and muscles. Because bicarbonate is basic, it can essentially counteract this acidity. This can assist individuals by prolonging the feeling of burning and fatigue during high-intensity/ endurance exercise.

Recommend 200-400mg/kg of body weight in water. Ideally with a small, carbohydrate-rich meal 2-3 hours before exercise.

  • This is a lot of bicarbonate soda:
    • Eg. 100kg powerlifter would require 20-40g. This is similar to a protein scoop serve.
  • There is a high risk of gastrointestinal distress when consuming this all at once.
  • Splitting the serve up 24 hours prior to exercise can emit similar benefits. However, might be time-consuming when you require to take a supplement every hour on the hour.

It is unclear whether the positives out weigh the negatives for this supplement.


Who: Collagen can be useful for those recovering from a muscular or skeletal injury, eg. tendanopathy or torn ACL.

How: It works by breaking down into amino acids and collagen peptides.

Recommend: 15-25g, 40-60 minutes before a workout. Taking alongside vitamin C, as it’s involved in one of the enzymatic steps for collagen synthesis inside the body.

  • It’s important to note that the studies have not been conducted on large populations for long durations of time. Therefore, further research would be required to be 100% certain that taking collagen would dramatically speed up this process.


Who: Relevant to most athletes and exercises.

  • How:
  • It reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, which decreases DOMS.
  • Potential increase in muscle mass gains and strength.
  • Improved endurance capacity, by reducing the oxygen cost of exercise.
  • Potential preserve of muscle mass during a calorie deficit or during immobilisation

There was a study where athletes who had an ACL tear and increased quad size by taking fish oil tablets, creatine, and electronic stimulation of the muscle. Usually, people will lose 20% of their muscle mass during these periods of immobilisation.

Overall, we’d recommend if you have a low fish oil/ omega-3 intake this can help.

Recommend: 1-4g fish oil/day. If plant-based, taking a microalgae supplement can have a similar result. Chia seeds and flax seeds do not have similar results, you want a supplement that has around 200mg EPA and DHA combined (similar to fish oil).

Relevant Links/Resources

Studies mentioned

Ben Desbrow – An examination of consumer exposure to caffeine from retail coffee outlets

Rehabilitation and nutrition protocols for optimising return to play from traditional ACL reconstruction in elite rugby union players: a case study

Useful Resources

AIS supplement framework

Blog Posts

Supplements for Bodybuilding and Powerlifting

Collagen Supplementation & Injury Recovery