Ergogenic aids in sport: when are they necessary?

Nutritional supplements are popular among all types of athletes. However, it is important to know its functions, its effects and when it is recommended to take it.

Last update: February 22, 2022

There are different ways to supplement the diet of athletes with supplements. They are known as ergogenic aids and they are increasingly common, both in people who exercise in an amateur way and in professional athletes.

The term also encompasses other types of strategies aimed at greater sports performance, from specialized clothing to altitude training. Dietary ergogenic aids include different nutrients that bring benefits to an eating plan.

They can include calcium, creatine, sodium, magnesium or vitamin C, among other components. The objectives of their consumption vary according to personal needs, so it is important to know when they are necessary, how effective they are and which professionals can prescribe them.

What are ergogenic aids and who should prescribe them?

Ergogenic aids are mechanical, pharmacological, nutritional or physiological methods that aim to improve the performance of an athlete. For example, some types of breathable clothing, light footwear or acclimatization training. In the nutritional aspect, they are presented as supplements of different types, which are incorporated into a diet.

They offer a wide variety of benefits, ranging from energetic to psychological improvements. However, for them to be effective, consultation with a specialist is essential. Otherwise, it is possible that they do not make any contribution and even generate health complications.

It all depends on the type of physical fitness that needs to be supplemented. It is important to know that not all supplements are for everyone.

Its intake must be prescribed and regulated by specialists. Professionals such as sports doctors, nutritionists or dieticians are trained for the task.

Ergogenic aids are very popular among high-performance athletes. This is due to the enormous energy expenditure that physical activity requires. A correct application of supplements can accelerate recovery processes and improve sports performance.

Types of nutritional ergogenic aids

All techniques and substances that improve energy production and increase physical capacities are ergogenic aids. Vitamins and minerals, for example, are available as tablets, pills, capsules, powders, or liquids.

But not all products have sufficient scientific support, so the recommendations of professionals should be followed. An erroneous purchase may incur unnecessary financial loss, as well as a possible doping control risk.

Not all supplements sold for physical activity are recommended for everyone.

What nutrients are considered ergogenic aids?

There are a variety of nutrients qualified as ergogenic aids:

  • Hydration: replenishing fluids lost through sweating is very important during and after workouts. Isotonic drinks provide essential minerals.
  • Carbohydrates: one of the energy bases of the organism. Essential for energy production.
  • Sodium: Helps maintain water balance. Used in high intensity interval exercises.
  • Calcium: Very important for bone health. Only prescribed by professionals when there is a deficit or insufficient intake.
  • Magnesium: contributes to muscle function, the immune system, the nervous system and bone strength.
  • Vitamin B: collaborates with the absorption of nutrients and with different energetic processes of the organism, such as the formation of red blood cells.
  • Vitamins C, D and E: they reinforce the immune system, since they are necessary for the generation of blood vessels and cartilage. They enhance performance related to physical exercise. Recommended in phases of acclimatization to heat or altitude.
  • Potassium: contributes to water balance and improves blood pressure.
  • Caffeine: It is used to increase resistance to fatigue. Stimulates fat burning.
  • Creatine: it is important in muscle recovery, which allows a greater intensity of exercises; especially those of strength or anaerobic.
  • L-Carnitine: vitamin compound that helps maintain cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • L-Glutamine: amino acid involved in multiple metabolic processes. As a supplement, it is often applied to improve immune function and maintain muscle protein levels.
  • HMB: the beta-hydroxy comes from leucine, another essential amino acid. It is applied to promote the gain of muscle mass and strength.

When to use ergogenic aids?

Nutritional supplements in the diet have different benefits. For example, they contribute to energy production and endurance in long-term physical activities. What’s more, function as weight controllers.

On the other hand, they have an effect on some psychological aspects, such as anxiety and stress, helping to reduce their levels. Certain amino acids are often used to target muscle mass and facilitate its development. They are also linked to the increase in qualities such as speed, strength and coordination.

Most of the vitamins and minerals provided by ergogenic aids found in everyday foods. However, some people may need to increase their intake through a supplement.

With regard to athletes, many use them to improve physical fitness in periods of competition or intense training. But professional athletes usually have constant medical monitoring.

The consumption of dietary supplements has become as publicized as home workouts in recent decades, under simple promises of physical improvement. Keep in mind that excessive or inadequate intake can cause different adverse effects:

  • Insomnia.
  • dehydration
  • Nausea and diarrhea.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Changes in body weight.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Difficulty in absorbing other nutrients.

Other ergogenic aids

In addition to what is related to nutrition, there are other aspects within ergogenic aids, more linked to external tools. The important thing is that they come based on the improvement in performance and sports strength.


This is specialized clothing and the tools that provide biomechanical improvements. For example, t-shirts made with light and breathable textile material. Also protective helmets and sports shoes that include running insoles.

Sports clothing designed to improve performance or increase well-being during activity is part of the mechanical aids.


The accompaniment of sports therapists is also within the ergogenic aids. They work to reduce stress and anxiety produced by high performance practice. They also focus on maintaining motivation and increasing confidence.


Trainings focused on particular aspects of performance are another category of ergogenic aids. These practices go from acclimatization to cold or heat to exercises at altitude.


Pharmacological ergogenic aids are chemical substances supplied to athletes in order to enhance their development and performance. For example, antioxidants, anabolics or growth hormones.

Consider healthy habits

Hydration and balanced consumption of proteins and carbohydrates are the most important ergogenic aids when it comes to nutrition. On the other hand, healthy habits should always be considered to achieve improvements in sports performance, such as a good rest and a well-planned routine.

Dietary supplements are usually more common in high-performance athletes and not so much in amateurs. A large number of substances are offered, classified by the International Society of Sports Nutrition according to their safety and efficacy. Prior medical consultation is always recommended, since a professional can determine when intake is necessary.

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