Supplements: I want a Ferrari…but do I really need one?

Michael Black from Optimal Fitness is back. His latest post is about supplements (legal!) and the benefits of using them for performance. Enjoy.

By Michael Black



Now for me who is a massive car fan and a self-proclaimed Ferrari die-hard, I would answer this question with a big fat YES! But if I pull my head out from the exhaust pipe I would be answering NO! As much as having a Ferrari may give me a greater sense of happiness and get a few extra stares driving around, what in real terms has my ownership of a Ferrari really given me? Probably very little.

This is the type of analogy I use when trying to explain to athletes about supplementation and looking for ways to increase performance through supplementation. For the purpose of this short article I will assume we are talking about legal supplementation and not illegal banned substances which we have all saw in recent years, can definitely aid performance.

The first question I ask athletes is: what are you looking to improve through taking a supplement product? Is it purely to speed recovery time, muscle gain, weight loss, or improved endurance to sustain a higher level of intensity during sport?

You have to have a clear understanding and end goal before you consider how these products can help you. For example, no matter what type of product you consider taking you must ensure that your training and your attitude to training is 100% correct. You cannot substitute supplements for a bad training plan. If your basic nutritional plan doesn’t fit around eating high quality meats, fresh fruit and veg, ensuring you refuel and recover after training and you eliminate processed and high sugary foods then no amount of supplements will counteract this negative lifestyle choice. Once you have mastered this then you can consider how a workout nutrition plan including supplementation, can help you perform better.

Below is a few smart choices you can implement into your current training and nutritional plan.

  1. Visit your doctor and get him/her to run a full blood count, explaining the level of training you are doing and the type of discipline you do. If possible attend a doctor who has some interest in sport or a sportsperson themselves. I find they will add some additional tests that will help you to look at your bloods in more detail. These results will give you a clear picture of how your body is performing and more importantly if you are deficient in anything. If anything comes back that needs attention then you can do and seek advice on how you can rectify it based on scientific and factual evidence. In short don’t just guess what you need, find out what you need.
  2. GO GREEN.. Drink green tea. Green tea has many benefits including reducing inflammation, provides essential antioxidants, helps burn fat and give you an increased caffeine hit to get you going during them “should I or should I not go for a run” moments. For the sprinters out there caffeine is commonly used as a pre workout/race supplement which may increase your energy levels, improve focus and physical performance and enhance your reaction time.
  3. Surprisingly a large amount of runners do not eat enough fish. Even though we are surrounded by water. Eating 2-3 portions of fatty fish a week will provide you with enough Omega 3. But if you fall short of this then taking a Fish Oil supplement can benefit you. Consuming enough Omega 3 in your diet has proven to reduce muscle soreness and increase lean muscle mass.
  4. WHEY!!- A fantastic post run recovery supplement. Whey is basically a rich form of protein from cow’s milk and has all the essential amino acids needed for muscle repair. It can also be quickly absorbed and has proven to help in increasing strength and lean muscle mass.
  5. IRON- One of the tests from the doctor you should look at is your Iron content. Woman typically suffer more than men from a low iron count. Iron is responsible for the production of hemoglobin, a transporter for oxygen. Consuming too much Iron can be harmful so ensure you consult your doctor about effective supplements to deal with this.

I found this study on Runners World from the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism on how taking Beta-Alanine lowers 800-meter times. I’ll let you read it and judge for yourself. Here is the link: “”

To finish I just want to emphasise that no amount of supplements will replace a whole food approach to your nutrition plan. If you get the basics correct you won’t be far away from reaching your training and racing potential goals. Be smart with your choices instead of wasting countless amounts of euros on non-effective supplements.

Assess the need, gain evidence and then react. Instead of reacting in the form of taking something because you “think” it might help you. Going then and looking to see if you have improved without even knowing where you started from and then after realising it hasn’t worked, asking yourself “what do I need to do to fix this”?

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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

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