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 4:51 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)

hemp protein powder

Is vitamin D an ergogenic aid?

One of the lesser known ergogenic aids is indeed vitamin D. Research carried out exploring the potential effect of this vitamin on athletic performance has produced promising results. Furthermore, multiple studies show a positive correlation between VO2 max and vitamin D concentration in non-athletes.

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during exercise. It’s a combination of how much oxygen-rich blood your heart can pump and the heart’s efficiency in extracting and utilizing oxygen. Let’s look a little further at VO2 max and vitamin D.

Vitamin D receptors are present in cardiac muscle and vascular tissue. This could indicate that the vitamin may influence VO2 max via transportation and utilization of oxygen within the blood to various tissues. On one hand, we may potentially see reduced recovery time from high intensity training. On the other hand, there may be an improvement in force and power production. However, it’s important to mention that positive correlations were on males only. Confounding variables were also not addressed, such as multivitamin and supplement intake.(5)

To summarize, the research exploring what vitamin D does in the context of sport nutrition is growing. Therefore, if you happen to be an athlete, or want to improve your sporting performance, increasing your intake may be something to consider.

organic hemp seed oil

What are the best sources of vitamin D?

Even though the human body produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, it does come with its limitations. To reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, apply sun cream, and avoid being outside during peak sun hours. In addition, depending on where you live in the world, it may not be feasible to access sunlight exposure all year round. 

Taking a supplement can be helpful for some people. However, at Erbology, we always advise you to obtain nutrients from hearty whole foods rather than supplements. You’re likely to benefit from gaining a range of other healthy nutrients at the same time if you source your vitamin D from food. You also receive greater clarity over what you are consuming.

For example, our Organic Hemp Seed Powder is naturally rich in vitamin D, plus provides a dose of healthy plant-based protein, fiber and minerals, such as iron and magnesium. It’s ideal for adding into a post-workout smoothie or mixing into breads and cakes.

Alternatively, our Organic Hemp Seed Oil is also a fantastic source. Yet, it also contains vitamin E and omegas 3 and 6, all of which help to support health. Add a spoonful to your daily routine to increase your intake. Its versatility means you could take it neat, use it in salad dressings, or even drizzle it over your favorite dishes.

Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are famously good sources as well. However, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you should look out for mushrooms (grown in light) and fortified products like plant milks or breakfast cereals.

Related readings

"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)"

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What are other popular ergogenic aids?

Ergogenic aids don’t just stop at caffeine and vitamin D. As discussed earlier, there are a whole host of others which are widely used. Let’s take a look at some others:

  • Electrolytes, such as sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium, are consumed by athletes for a number of reasons, before, during, and after exercise. In general electrolytes are taken to sustain total body water, as deficits will increase cardiovascular strain and negatively impact aerobic performance.(6)
  • Creatine helps to produce ATP, which cells use as energy. As a result energy production increases during high intensity exercise and leads to impr