Buying the right sports nutrition and supplements can be a daunting task, filled with complex terms like BCAAs, glycogen, creatine, protein and more. But for the competitive sport enthusiast, it's become increasingly important to understand these terms and how sport nutrition can benefit you. 

Every year, athletes around the world smash more sporting records, pushing athletic achievement to new frontiers.

And while improvements in training techniques and technologies contribute hugely to this ongoing acceleration of human accomplishment, a major component of sporting success has come from advancements in nutrition.

New understanding, testing, and products have placed fuel for sport at the centre of the training regimes of top athletes everywhere.

Meanwhile, key lessons learned by the sport’s elite are increasingly trickling down to everyday sports enthusiasts and competitors, pushing sport’s grass roots to new levels of achievement, feeding back into advancement at the top.

It’s an exciting time for sport, and competitive athletes and amateurs in a variety of disciplines are finding a command of nutrition knowledge is now essential to their success.

With this in mind, Wiggle has created this complete guide to sports nutrition, providing advice and guidance while simplifying this complex world of carbohydrates, proteins, glycogens, and branched-chain amino acids.

Not only is this guide designed to be useful for beginners in any discipline, but those already using sports nutrition products should find helpful advice on best practice, and other supplements they may find useful.

 

Nutrition for your sport

Whether you’re a runner, swimmer, cyclist, triathlete, gym goer, or trail runner, there is a variety of nutritional products available to give you a performance and training edge.

The requirements of each sport vary; road cycling requires a focus on endurance products, while weightlifting needs power and repair. However, each discipline shares a common thread when it comes to nutrition, and that is the various requirements the body has for before, during, and after a period of exertion.

 

Before, during, and after

Every sport can be roughly divided into the periods of before, during, and after, with each requiring different types of nutrition to either boost endurance, aid explosive power, maximise efficiency, or speed up recovery.

There can be crossover in terms of the products best suited for each of the before, during, and after phases, but generally each product is designed to provide a specialist role in one of these areas, depending on the discipline.

Below you’ll find a description of the different types of sports nutrition products, sorted into each of these phases for clarity.

 

Before

There are a number of supplements athletes and sport enthusiasts take before they begin training or competing. This is an important period, during which you prepare your body for the activity ahead, providing it with the right fuel and stimulation it needs to perform at its peak. 

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are the most important form of fuel for exercise and sports activities. In the before phase, carbohydrate is taken to provide a fuel source for your body, allowing you to work out harder and for longer. It’s also important for stopping your body from using your muscle tissue as fuel when it starts to run out. In the before phase, carbohydrates in supplement form are generally consumed in relatively 'slow release' forms, such as bars or drinks. 

When digested, carbohydrates break down into glucose to provide energy for the body to use quickly and effectively. If consumed the day before, the body stores carbohydrates in the muscles and liver as glycogen. It will use these stores as a source of fuel for the brain and muscles during physical activity when it exhausts the carbohydrates you take on shortly before the race, or during intense exertion. These important glycogen stores are limited and take 22 hours to replenish, so it is important to be fully fuelled at the start of any exercise to keep these in reserve. 

Carbohydrate supplements are found in a variety of gels, drinks, bars, and powders which deliver a big boost for the energy in your bloodstream when required. It’s often combined with ‘electrolytes’ which helps muscles push harder and perform better.

Here are some examples from Wiggle...

Xendurance Fuel-5 Energy

Fuel-5 provides the body with multiple carbohydrate fuel sources and is designed to promote fast and immediate, as well as long, sustained energy. Mix a scoop with 250ml of water to keep you energised on a long run, swim, or cycle. 

Clif Bar Box Of (12 x 68g Bars)

Clif Bar Box Of (12 x 68g Bars)

Active individuals and athletes have high energy demands. With a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fibre, CLIF Bars supply working muscles with the energy they need for extended periods of activity. Thanks to their portability and great taste, CLIF Bars are a source of energy for athletes and active people who respect their bodies and the world around them.

Carbohydrate use in different sports

Carbohydrate supplements are used widely in endurance sports, such as cycling, endurance running, and triathlon, providing a steady stream of fuel for the muscles. 

Shop Carbohydrate supplements at Wiggle


Creatine

Creatine is a nitrogen rich organic acid that occurs naturally in the body. It can also be found in small quantities in meat and fish. It is involved in supplying muscles with the energy they need to contract, allowing you to train harder, and more often, producing faster results. There have been some anecdotal side-affects, but its effects are proven and can be significant. However, restraint and care should be taken, and it’s recommended for consumption by experienced adult athletes only.

Creatine is most commonly consumed in powder form, but is also available as a capsule. It’s mostly consumed in quantities of around 2-5 grams per day by those training at intense levels almost every day.

The best time of day to take a creatine supplement is around 30 minutes to 1 hour before your training session and immediately after alongside or as part of a protein shake.

Science in Sport Creatine (400g)

Science in Sport Creatine (400g)

Reflex Creapure Creatine Capsules (90 Capsules)

Reflex Creapure Creatine Capsules (90 Capsules)

Creatine use in different sports

Creatine is used most commonly used by gym goers, body builders, and power lifters. It can also be useful in sports with a focus on short bursts of high intensity, such as sprinting.  

We’re sure you’re familiar with caffeine, especially in its most common form – coffee. It’s a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant and its effects are becoming increasingly relied upon by cyclists and gym goers. It has been shown to stimulate the body into using fat cells for energy instead of other fuel sources – such as your muscle mass. It also raises your metabolism, which makes you burn more calories throughout the day, boosts pain tolerance, and helps you workout or exercise for longer periods.

In terms of workout supplements, caffeine can be found in capsules, gels, concentrated drinks and even bars. Of course, drinking a cup of coffee has much the same effect, but not everyone likes the taste of coffee, while nursing an espresso on the bike or at the gym is not entirely practical. It is also found as an ingredient in sports drinks, powders, and foods.

Caffeine is absorbed from the stomach within 15 to 45 minutes of consumption, while its peak stimulatory effects kick in between 30 and 75 minutes after your dose. So taking on caffeine around an hour before exercise is optimal.

Here are a few examples from the Wiggle site...

Science in Sport GO Energy Bars + Caffeine (15x40g)

Science in Sport GO Energy Bars + Caffeine (15x40g)

Science in Sport GO + Caffeine - Box Of 30

Science in Sport GO + Caffeine - Box Of 30

Caffeine use in different sports

Caffeine is most commonly consumed by cyclists, especially before and during a long ride. However, it has grown in popularity as a supplement among weightlifters and distance runners. 

Shop Caffeine supplements at Wiggle


Beet supplements

Beet juices and bars contain extracts from the red garden vegetable, beetroot - or 'beets' in the US. Multiple studies have connected consumption of nitrate oxide-rich beet extracts with improved muscle performance, and the supplement has become a staple among athletes and sports enthusiasts looking for improved power. 

Its effects tend to be most apparent within about an hour-and-a-half to two hours after ingestion. Consuming beet juice or other foods high in nitric oxide has also been linked with improved or enhanced circulation, especially among young adults. 

Here are some examples from Wiggle:

Beet It Sport Nitrate 3000 (6 x 250ml)

Beet It Sport Nitrate 3000 (6 x 250ml)

Beet It Sport Nitrate 3000 is a 250ml bottle of beetroot super concentrate. Developed specifically for the elite sporting world, it is currently being used by many elite teams across a range of sports.

Beet It Sport Beetroot Flapjack (25 x 40g)

Beet It Sport Beetroot Flapjack (25 x 40g)

Beet It Sport Pro Elite Flapjack contains 200mg of dietary nitrate, packed with oats for slow release energy. 

Beet supplements in different sports

Beet supplementation is most commonly found among those looking for short burst power improvements, such as sprinters or gym goers. However, some cyclists and swimmers are also fans of the supplement. 


L-glutamine

L-glutamine is found naturally in the body as one of the most abundantly found amino acids, making up the majority of the amino acid pool in our muscles. The substance plays a critical role for muscle growth following exercise and aids the immune system. It's taken in supplement form because high levels of exertion can heavily deplete natural glutamine levels in the body, which can have a negative impact on successful recovery and muscle growth, while hampering the immune system. 

It's generally consumed half an hour prior to exercise, immediately after, and before sleep. 

Reflex L-Glutamine (250g)

Reflex L-Glutamine (250g)

L-Glutamine has been created to support athletes who regularly exercise, continuing the steady functioning of the immune system.

Dymatize Glutamine Micronized (300g)

Dymatize Glutamine Micronized (300g)

Due to its unflavoured taste, Dymatize® Glutamine Micronized powder can conveniently be added to water or juice and has great solubility.

L-glutamine in different sports

While most often taken by weight lifters, L-glutamine offers significant benefits to long-distance runners, swimmers, cyclists, and triathletes who are pushing themselves to high levels of exertion. 

Shop L-glutamine supplements at Wiggle


Acetyl L-Carnitine 

In clinical studies, Acetyl-L-carnitine (often abbreviated to ALCAR) was shown to stimulate decreased glucose consumption in favour of fat oxidation. This means the body was more likely to use its fat stores for energy as opposed to food recently consumed. For those looking to shed weight, ALCAR can help the body dig into the fat reserves more quickly and begin the process of weight loss at an earlier stage. Its effects also have benefits for endurance athletes, preserving the bodies important glycogen stores by promoting the use of stored fat instead. 

L-carnitine is a natually occuring amino acid found in high levels in red meat. This makes ALCAR a particularly effective solution for those who eat plant based diets.

ZipVit Sport ZV Acetyl-L-Carnitine - (90 Capsules)

ZipVit Sport ZV Acetyl-L-Carnitine - (90 Capsules)

Research has shown that carnitine supplementation can increase the use of fats as fuel, enhance performance and improve recovery. Zipvit Sport’s high quality Acetyl-L-carnitine provides 1g of pure carnitine from just 3 tablets.

Reflex Acetyl L-Carnitine (90 Capsules)

Reflex Acetyl L-Carnitine (90 Capsules)

Acetyl L-Carnitine is stimulant free and provides 500mg for Acetyl L-Carnitine per capsule of which has been created in a pharmaceutical grade manufacturing environment in line with all regulations. The tablet is easy to take, dissolving within five minutes for a faster hit.

Which sports use Acetyl L-Carnitine?

Acetyl L-Carnitine has benefits for both power and endurance athletes, with the added benefit of aiding the immune system.

In the during phase, athletes and competitive sports enthusiasts require fuel to keep pushing farther and stimulation to stay alert, ready for any challenge. 

Carbohydrate

The human body can only store so much energy at a time, but advances in nutrition means endurance athletes can continue to refuel efficiently without needing to stop and prepare food. In the form of energy gels and drinks, carbohydrates are converted into simple forms for quick absorption into the bloodstream, providing an immediate energy hit without taxing the body with complex digestion processes.

ZipVit Sport ZV7 Energy Gel - 24 x 60ml

ZipVit Sport ZV7 Energy Gel - 24 x 60ml

Each gel provides 51g of easily digested carbohydrates for optimal energy delivery and release during intense training and competition.

High5 Energy Drink 2.2kg

High5 Energy Drink 2.2kg

High5 Energy Drink is a new generation sports drink for use during exercise. It contains key electrolytes and a carbohydrate formulation of maltodextrin and fructose in a ratio of 2:1.

Which sports use energy drinks and gels?

Energy drinks and gels are most often used by endurance athletes, to refuel while on the move. Favoured by cyclists and runners for their convenience, they play a big role in training and competition performance. 

Shop energy drinks at Wiggle


Beta Alanine

Beta-alanine is used for improving athletic performance and exercise capacity, building lean muscle mass, and improving physical functioning. It's effects are complex, but it is taken to boost explosive muscular strength and power output, increases muscle mass, and to aid muscular aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Essentially, it increases exercise capacity so you can train harder and longer.

Although it causes tingling in the skin, beta-alanine is considered to be a safe and effective supplement to boost exercise performance

PowerBar Beta Alanine (112 tablets)

PowerBar Beta Alanine (112 tablets)

PowerBar beta-alanine is designed to be taken during periods of high intensity training and competition.  Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in food and the human body. Four tablets deliver 3.2g of premium beta-alanine.

Science in Sport Beta Alanine (150 tablets)

Science in Sport Beta Alanine (150 tablets)
Beta Alanine is tested under the Informed Sport Certification program which involves testing each batch of a product that leaves the factory against WADA regulations.

Which sports use Beta Alanines?

Beta-alanine supplementation is used by athletes competing in high-intensity track and field cycling, rowing, swimming events and other competitions

Electrolytes are salts and minerals, such as sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate, such as those found in the blood. They conduct electrical impulses in the body and are vital for the normal functioning. Common sources of electrolytes include fruits and vegetables. However, as these natural sources are fibrous and difficult to quickly digest, many athletes use electrolyte-rich tablets or drinks to promote quick absorption. 

Electrolytes are often lost through sweat and need to be replaced to continue effective performance. 

Science in Sport GO Electrolyte (1.6kg)

Science in Sport GO Electrolyte (1.6kg)

Science in Sport GO Electrolyte is an ideal energy source during sports performance in the heat. Providing fast hydration and sustained energy before and during sport.

High5 ZERO - Wiggle Exclusive (20 tabs)

High5 ZERO - Wiggle Exclusive (20 tabs)

Exclusive to Wiggle, ZERO is the UK’s leading electrolyte sports drink tab. The Mojito flavour produces a clean-tasting and highly refreshing drink with zero calories. The tabs contain light natural flavours with no artificial colours or preservatives.

Which sports use electrolyte supplements?

Activities which cause a lot of sweating will often find electrolyte supplements to be extremely beneficial. While distance runners and cyclists are most commonly associated with electrolyte consumption, gym goers are increasingly finding the supplement of particular value during tough training sessions. 

Shop electrolyte supplements at Wiggle

After

The period after exercise is one of the most important. How your body recovers is essential not only for improvement but for injury prevention. Training is about getting better, and nutritional supplements in the post-exercise phase are a major part of making the most of your training and hard work. 

Protein

Protein is a macro-nutrient, essential for building muscle mass. It’s one of the three macro-nutrients, the others being fats and carbohydrates. It is composed of amino acids – a fundamental building block of human tissue – and is found in abundance in animal products, nuts, and legumes. For gym goers, it’s commonly found in the form of whey protein powder, which contains a wide range of amino acids that are absorbed quickly.  

By undergoing strain, micro-tears form in the muscle tissue - a natural process that stimulates repair, creating stronger, bigger, and denser muscles that allow you to lift or push more next time. However, in order to make these repairs, the body needs protein. The more tears you make, the more protein you need. But remember, the body can only handle so much!

Many gym goers and athletes consume additional quantities of protein in powder form, mixed with liquid, due to its convenience and ease of digestion. It can also be found in gym kit-friendly bars and drinks. Solid food takes longer to digest and break down protein in plants or animal products before sending it to the muscles.

There is a general consensus that taking protein within the ‘magic hour’ (or even half-hour), after your training session is vitally important to muscle growth and repair, although the length of this important period has been challenged somewhat.

Here are a few examples of protein supplements from Wiggle...

Puori PW1 Organic Whey Protein

Puori PW1 Organic Whey Protein

It's not easy to find a protein with a clean ingredient list, but for PW1 it was puori's passion project. It's made with organic whey and flavored with natural flavours. Be Stronger, cleaner and leaner.

High5 Recovery Drink (1.6kg)

High5 Protein Recovery (1.6kg)

High5 Recovery Drink is designed for post-exercise recovery. Its high quality protein contributes to muscle growth and maintenance. High5 Recovery Drink also contains carbohydrate, which helps replenish your body's glycogen. 

Which sports use electrolyte supplements?

While most commonly associated with gym-goers, protein plays an important part in the energy and muscle preservation needs of endurance athletes too. Protein is mainly known for its role in the repair, maintenance, and growth of body tissues, but it also has a role in energy supply.

Shop Protein supplements at Wiggle


Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Branched-Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAs, are amino-acids that make up around one third of muscle protein. They are especially important as the body is unable to create them from other amino acids, meaning they must be ingested through food or supplements. They can be found in varying levels within protein rich foods, such as eggs, meat, nuts or legumes.

While present in many protein-rich foods, BCAAs can benefit the body significantly if taken at specific times. They reduce catabolism - the action of muscles being broken down by the body for fuel – and stimulate muscle growth. Supplementary BCAAs are mostly consumed in powder or capsule form, and generally combined with other supplements in energy drinks.

BCAAs are commonly consumed before, after, and sometimes during workouts. Typically, 5-10 grams is added to a pre- and post-workout shake. For those aiming to build muscle, a dose of BCAAs are also taken upon waking in the morning to stop the muscle breakdown triggered during the night when the body hasn’t consumed food for the duration of your sleep.

A few examples from Wiggle's range...

Dymatize BCAA's (300g)

Unflavoured and powdered Dymatize® BCAAs can be added to water or your favourite drink in the morning, before or after training and deliver these essential amino acids in a 2:1:1 ratio.

Reflex BCAA Intra Fusion (400g)

Reflex BCAA Intra Fusion (400g)

BCAA Intra Fusion® is designed for men and women who frequently exercise and are looking for a workout product to aid their sporting goals through protein synthesis and natural muscle recovery, building muscle mass.

Which sports use BCAAs?

BCAA supplements are associated with weightlifting, but research has shown runners, especially endurance runners, can benefit from taking BCAA supplements, helping ward off the catabolism that can occur during prolonged exertion and impacting their muscle mass. 

Shop BCAAs supplements at Wiggle


Magnesium

Magnesium is a chemical element that is necessary for muscle contractions while training, along with a whole host of other important biological functions. It’s found in green leafy vegetables, fruits such as figs and avocados, nuts, seeds, legumes, and seafood. It’s taken as a supplement due to its omission from the modern grain-rich diet. Magnesium is also lost through sweat, which is why it’s often taken as a supplement by athletes despite their otherwise balanced diets.

It is crucial to nerve transmission, muscle contraction, blood coagulation, energy production, nutrient metabolism and bone and cell formation. For weightlifting and gym work, its an invaluable part of the muscle repair process. It also promotes sleep – a vital time for muscle growth and repair - and it helps improve recovery. It’s mostly found in capsule form, or as a liquid. It can also be combined with fish oil supplements and soluble drink tablets. Magnesium supplements are commonly taken before bed, but care should be taken on whether or not you are able to take it on an empty stomach.

Puori M3 - Magnesium (120 capsules)

Puori M3 - Magnesium (120 capsules)

Magnesium is important to your muscles, it helps them contract and function correctly - Puori M3 is formulated to ensure you get the recommended daily allowance of magnesium

PowerBar Magnesium Ampoules box of 20 tubes

PowerBar Magnesium Ampoules box of 20 tubes

PowerBar MAGNESIUM LIQUID is a food supplement in a convenient ampoule with magnesium and vitamin B6. 

Which sports use magnesium supplements?

Magnesium has a number of performance benefits, but where it's especially effective is in preventing cramps. This makes it valuable for endurance athletes, such as cyclists and runners. 

Shop Magnesium supplements at Wiggle


Other types of sports nutrition

Ketones 

Ketones have been shown to increase fat burning inside fat cells, with the effects especially pronounced for women. 

Co-Enzyme Q10

Co-Enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is found primarily in fish and meat, but the amounts in food are far less than what can be obtained from supplements. Its production declines with age and taking a co-enzyme Q10 supplement can support heart health and energy metabolism.

Glucosamine and chondroitin

Glucosamine is a building block of cartilage and joint tissue while Chondroitin is the tough connective tissue within joints that helps to maintain mobility of joints. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can improve joint repair and function. 

Cherry concentrate

Cherry concentrate has become a popular supplement to boost the intake of antioxidants. This encourages healthy cell repair and helps rid the body of free radicals which can cause cellular damage. 

Fish oil

Fish oil is rich in Omega-3, an essential fatty acid not produced in our bodies, needs to be obtained through food. It's predominantly found in oily fish, which some people struggle to consume. Omega-3 helps maintain normal heart function as well as normal brain function and vision

Shop fish oil supplements at Wiggle

Thermogens

Thermogens hasten metabolism, encouraging fat burning and helping to reduce weight.  

About the author

Damien Whinnery
Published on: 05 Jun 2018

Fascinated by fitness, serious about sport, and joyous about the gym