The desire to perform at our best and finding any edge or secret weapon to do so can sometimes cloud our judgement. That desire can also make us vulnerable. From exotic and novel diets to pills to downright weird concoctions, humans have always sought something extra to boost performance. In times gone by, it was strychnine and amphetamines. We’re also to believe chia seeds are the magical nutrient of the Tarahumara runners. And so many more hocus pocus elixirs. However, if we apply a dose of skepticism and a greater understanding of exercise biochemistry and metabolism, the science behind supplements leaps forward dramatically.
If you do a Google search for "sports supplements" you'll get tens of millions of hits, many of which promote products that are claimed to enhance sport performance. And reading the advertising blurb, it's easy to think that you’ve found that magic bullet that will help you trounce the competition in your next race. Except this is almost certainly not the case – because the real science tells quite a different story.
If your diet is fundamentally correct, if for the most part you try to eat healthily and avoid eating a bunch of junk food, then there are only three legal supplements that to-date have unequivocally proven they can enhance sports performance: carbohydrates, caffeine and creatine. Even so, the benefits of creatine are almost exclusively reserved for power/sprint athletes. There are a few other supplements for which there's some evidence of benefits in certain circumstances, but there are many more for which the scientific evidence is simply too weak or non-existent to be able to recommend them. Or the studies which “prove” the efficacy of Supplement XYZ are done with a subset of the population that is in no way commensurate with well-trained endurance athletes. In other words, throw anything at these folks and they would show dramatic improvements. Or, the studies were not double-blind and were therefore inherently flawed.
Many supplements were once in vogue, but fell out of favor once they came under the scrutiny of rigorous scientific studies. And before long, many are forgotten completely. Regardless of your conviction that a particular supplement may work wonders for you, the science almost assuredly does not support your contentions. Certainly, the placebo effect can be strong, but ultimately goes away when the newness wears off.
The best advice I can give you about supplements? Use your current supply and then don’t buy any more of them. Save your money and spend it elsewhere. Eat well. Hydrate. Sleep more. Stretch every day. Get regular massages and other forms of body work. Better balance your training program.
Do all these things and you with both feel and perform better – day to day, week to week, race to race.