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Thursday, 7 February 2013

Use of Supplements and Ergogenic Aids in Professional Football

I wrote this article in the latest issue of the League Medical Association a magazine read by fitness professionals working in football:


The use of supplements and ergogenic aids to enhance performance in football is tremendously attractive because they are convenient, relatively easy to take, seem an easy way to get some ‘quick’ wins, and if work as claimed, supplements can increase performance without having to increase training volumes and intensities. Professional teams around the world spend several thousands of pounds every season and some clubs have supplement budgets of over  £60,000 per year, which is just one of the reasons why the supplement business is a multi-million pound industry worldwide.  However, the major problem with the supplement market is that very few actually work as claimed, and many are used incorrectly and inappropriately. These issues aren't just restricted to football, they are common across most professional and Olympic sports. The ramifications of using the wrong supplements or using supplements inappropriately and/or incorrectly could actually be detrimental for performance. The purpose of this article is to briefly discuss just one of the most commonly used supplements in football: antioxidants.

Strenuous repeated high-intensity intermittent exercise has been found to cause oxidative stress by increasing free radical and reactive oxygen species production, and both damage our cells. Vitamins A, C, E, selenium, and beta-carotene are just some dietary antioxidants that can help to protect the body against free radicals by neutralising them. For example, some studies have found that taking antioxidant supplements can attenuate muscle damage, reduce inflammation and enhance recovery after strenuous exercise.1,2,3,4,5 More recently, it seems that these beneficial effects on recovery are greater when the antioxidant source is derived from fruit concentrates such as Montmorency cherries and Pomegrante.3,4,5 These effects can help football players to accelerate recovery and reduce fatigue, factors that are advantageous for several reasons. Based on this research it seems sensible to give antioxidants to players after strenuous training sessions and matches in order to enhance recovery. However, by doing this on a regular basis throughout the course of a season, could you be blunting or even impairing some of the adaptations to training? The simple answer is yes! It has been suggested that although antioxidants may help in neutralising free radicals, reducing inflammation and muscle soreness caused by intense exercise, they could be counterproductive in other ways. The production of reactive oxygen species and free radicals is necessary and an important part of the adaptation process. More specifically, they play a key role in signalling and activating the training adaptations. For example, Gomez-Cabrera and colleagues6 carried out a study using vitamin C supplementation in doses of 1000 mg (1667% above the RDA) over an 8-week period of endurance training. They found that after the supplements were given at the end of the training period, vitamin C actually hampered endurance capacity. Similarly, there are other studies that have also found that antioxidant supplements during exercise may be counterproductive by impairing the adaptation response.7 Thus, it may be prudent to use antioxidants strategically rather than chronically throughout the season, particularly when recovery may be more important than the adaptation to training. On that note, it is also important to recognise that various other supplements used by footballers have antioxidants added to them.


  1. Bryer, S.C. and Goldfarb, A.H. (2006). Effect of high dose vitamin C supplementation on muscle soreness, damage, function, and oxidative stress to eccentric exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 16:270-280
  2. Kaminsky, M and Boar, R. (1992). An effect of ascorbic acid on delayed onset muscle soreness. Pain. 50:317-321
  3. Howatson et al. (2010). Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 20(6):843-52
  4. Botwell et al. (2011). Montmorency cherry juice reduces muscle damage caused by intensive strength exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 43(8):1544-51.
  5. Trombold et al. (2011). The effect of pomegranate juice supplementation on strength and soreness after eccentric exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 25(7):1782-8.
  6. Gomez-Cabrera et al. (2008). Oral administration of Vitamin C decreases muscle mitochondrial biogenesis and hampers training-induced adaptations in endurance performance. Am J of Clinic Nutr. 87:142-149.s
  7. Ristow et al. (2009). Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 106:8665-8670


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