What are ergogenic aids?

What are ergogenic aids?

Team ErbologyErbology

Have you heard of ergogenic aids but not sure what they are? Athletes use them to improve performance, while you may be looking to simply improve your 5k time!

October 12, 2022 5:44 pm

Let’s first define what ergogenic aids are

In the context of sport, ergogenic aids are substances or techniques that provide athletes with a competitive edge. Ergogenic aids can be pharmacological, nutritional, physiological, or psychological. They span from the use of legal and safe techniques (e.g. carbohydrate loading) to illegal and unsafe methods (e.g. anabolic-androgenic steroid use).

There are various reasons for the use of ergogenic aids. Most notably they are taken to enhance athletic performance in a relatively short timeframe. In summary, ergogenic aids are commonly used to:

  • Enhance muscle building
  • Reduce recovery time
  • Increase performance during short and intense (anaerobic) activities
  • Improve stamina during endurance (aerobic) activities

ergogenic aids

There is a wide range of readily available ergogenic aids that are evidence-based, while being considered safe for athletes including:

  • Electrolytes
  • Creatine
  • Caffeine
  • Essential amino acids (EAAs)
  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
  • Carbohydrate powders
  • Whey protein powders
  • Vitamin D

Surveys have shown that 76% of college athletes, and 100% of bodybuilders take some form of supplements to improve performance, which highlights the popularity of ergogenic aids.(1) In the field of health and fitness, and particularly in competitive sports, it is understandable how an athlete might want to improve their performance. It could be to help their team be more successful or further their own personal health. In addition, because there is such a high level of competition and pressure within sport, many athletes try to gain any advantage they can. 

Widely used ergogenic aids cover a whole host of nutrients, including caffeine. Below we’ll discuss why certain ergogenic aids are so popular and how they may potentially benefit your athletic performance.

matcha latte

Caffeine: the world’s most commonly used stimulant

Caffeine is perhaps the first to come to mind when we think of stimulants. It can be found as a chemical compound in plants such as coffee beans and tea leaves. I think we all know at least one person who needs their daily coffee fix!

During exercise, caffeine may help to fight fatigue. Caffeine has the ability to increase the use of fat for fuel, which is beneficial, especially for endurance sports because the glucose stored in muscles lasts longer. Therefore, it increases the time it takes for muscles to reach exhaustion. Also, researchers looked at the effects of caffeine on athletic performance. Doses of 5mg per kg of body weight of caffeine improved endurance performance by up to 5% when consumed one hour prior to exercise.(2)

Another factor contributing to improved performance could be its ability to reduce perceived exertion during exercise by up to 6%, hence making workouts feel easier. This could be because caffeine blocks the receptors of a neurotransmitter called adenosine. This increases levels of other neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate energy levels, including dopamine.(3)

It’s worth noting that caffeine consumption later in the day or in the evening can affect sleep quality. So if you’re a poor sleeper at the best of times, this is something you might want to avoid. Furthermore, caffeine toxicity occurs at around 1.2g of consumption. However, to put that into perspective, a cup of filter coffee contains about 90mg of caffeine. Therefore, you would need to drink an insane 13 cups of coffee in one sitting to reach toxicity levels.

Bottom line: caffeine consumption is generally a safe ergogenic aid, although excess intake can cause side effects, such as poor sleep quality, migraines and anxiety.(4)