I know this is a HUGE topic with Esports athletes, and I will be doing many more articles on supplements in the future. I used to work in research in the supplement and pharmaceutical industry, so this is a topic I am truly passionate about. This article will also cover the prerequisite information I need you to know before we dive into more specifics.
With that out of the way, let’s start by asking the question: ‘Do you need supplements?’
And the answer is a definitive ‘NO’.
You can get everything you need from whole food. Not only that, supplements carry an inherent risk (aside from simply costing more than food).
Here’s some quick stats for you:
- 80% of supplements don’t match their label.
- 10-15% of supplements contain prohibited substances.
Let me repeat that. There is a 10-15% chance that what you buy will make you flag on a drug test. That sucks! It only gets worse when you add in the potential negative health consequences.
But let’s say you know you can get a safe supplement, and you have no financial concerns, what would I recommend then?
Well, I’d still say let’s first look at your nutrition fundamentals, sleep, training, stress, and social situation. It is impossible to use a supplement to compensate for a deficit in any of those areas. Focus on the right stuff first for a far better return on your time and efforts. Supplements are only going to give you that last 1%.
OK, but let’s say you’ve mastered everything and then some. You’re a nutrition pro. What then?
You got me. I’d say…it depends.
Your unique situation is going to dictate if a supplement can actually be beneficial or not.
But before we talk about specific supplements, we need to cover two rules…
Rule #1: Only Buy Verified
You don’t want to risk getting pumped full of stuff that would have you test positive on a drug test. If you buy a supplement, make sure it is 3rd party verified (NSF for Sport, Informed-Choice/Sport, BSCG). These companies test to make sure what’s on the label matches what’s inside, AND they drug test it to make sure it doesn’t contain any prohibited substances for athletes.
To find what specific products and brands have been verified, simply go to their websites and type in whatever you are interested in (e.g., protein powder). It will pull up a list of all products they have verified. From there, you can go to Amazon and choose based on price and preference.
I’ll note that NSF for Sport is the most well-recognized of the companies. However, if I’m being candid with you, the standards for each company are nearly identical. There won’t be any practical difference between the supplements verified from the different companies. Check with your sport organization to see if they recommend using a particular company.
Personal Note: There are quite a few quality products that are not 3rd party verified. It costs companies a buttload of money to get the stamp of approval, which is a barrier for smaller businesses. Unfortunately, if you’re serious, and unless you know the manufacturer, you can’t do anything about it and will need to buy the verified products (which tend to cost more).
Rule #2: Talk to a Performance RD
Verified does not mean safe and effective. It only means that what’s on the label matches what’s inside and that it won’t make you flag on a drug test.
There are many supplements with minimal long-term safety data. Also, many products are built by combining ingredients. The ingredients may be safe individually, but the product can hit the shelves before we know what happens when the ingredients are mixed together (this is a serious issue, think back to your chemistry classes and remember how mixing two chemicals can cause all sorts of reactions).
The most prevalent issue is poor dosing. Supplements are expensive to produce, so the companies will play off your ignorance to cut corners. For example, they know that consumers have heard omega-3 fatty acids are good for them. They also know that 99% of consumers have no idea what dose is needed to be clinically effective. They can get away with a dose that is not effective at all and cut their costs considerably. I laugh when I see fish oil capsules where a single serving provides 250mg of omega-3. You need 10x this dose in a day!
The last point I want to share is that based on your individual circumstances, the supplement could be either beneficial or completely useless. Big range, right? It’s impossible to know without first considering your unique situation. Genetics is one example – people are inherently responders or non-responders to certain supplements based off their DNA.
Bottom line: What works for someone else most likely won’t work for you! Consult a performance dietitian to make sure the supplement makes sense for you as an individual. They’ll also be able to help you out with an exact dosing protocol.
Supplement List for Esports Athletes
If you skipped down here, please read the above. It’s far more important.
OK, I strung you along enough.
If I was playing the numbers game, the following might be beneficial. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. There are many other supplements, but the below are the only ones I feel comfortable mentioning in a blanket document such as this (you can check out some of my other articles where I do reviews of specific supplements in gory detail).
Protein powder: Sometimes it’s tough to get all the protein you need in a day. Sometimes you don’t want to eat a big meal right after you work out (you are exercising, right?). Protein supplements can provide a convenient delivery form to help meet your total needs and at those key times.
Sports drinks: The original sport supplement. Sports drinks have become so engrained in our food supply that most people don’t even consider them to be supplements. However, sports drinks are carefully crafted formulas. They contain specific concentrations of easily digestible carbohydrates and electrolytes to support rehydration and refueling. Data show that sports drinks can help maintain endurance performance in hot/humid environments. But sports drinks must be earned! Don’t drink as a normal part of your diet. They are no better than soda in a sedentary person.
Multivitamin and mineral: If taking one corrects a deficiency, the improvements seen can be quite significant.
Pro Tip: Prioritize whatever is deficient, e.g. an iron supplement, rather than a full MVI.
Fish oil: Can be useful, but you should just be eating fish.
Vitamin D: Can be useful if your levels are low, but you need to verify your vitamin D levels with labs first. Make sure you are getting adequate sunlight.
Creatine: Of all the supplements claiming to enhance performance, creatine is one of two with a large body of evidence supporting its use. Creatine is a molecule naturally found in the body. In humans, a normal diet results in creatine stores being at about 60-80% capacity. Creatine supplementation tops off your stores and minimizes the effects of sleep deprivation, improves short-term memory, improves intelligence and reasoning, lessens brain fog, and improves accuracy (hand eye coordination/marksmanship)…among MANY other things.
Some notes – 5 g/day is where you should start, creatine monohydrate is the most effective formulation, and cycling is unnecessary. Also, creatine may be more beneficial in vegan/vegetarian individuals due to their low dietary intake.
See my creatine article for more details about creatine and brain performance.
Caffeine: Caffeine is the other supplement with a large body of evidence supporting its ergogenic properties. Caffeine is most useful in its ability to rescue performance in sleep deprived individuals. However, it also has been shown to improve reaction time, reduce fatigue, improve spatial memory, and improve perceptual memory. For optimal results, take 200-300 mg 30-60 minutes before important cognitive tasks.
Side Bar: Pre-workout formulas and energy drinks get 90+% of their benefit from caffeine, with the rest of the ingredients just being junk.
See my caffeine article for more details about caffeine and brain performance.
- Get your nutrition fundamentals, sleep, training, stress, and social situation dialed in first before looking to supplements.
- If you are looking to buy a supplement, make sure you get a 3rd party verified supplement.
- If you are looking to buy a supplement, make sure you first consult a performance RD.
- The following supplements have the most data behind them for safety and efficacy: protein powder, sports drinks, multivitamin/mineral, omega-3s, vitamin D, creatine, and caffeine.
Everyone always asks me about supplements and it’s such a tricky topic. Follow the above to get started, but let me know what specific supplements you are interested in and I’ll do a comprehensive overview of it in a future article!
P.S. Head over to supplement page if you’re curious about what I personally recommend.
Ready to take your game to a whole new level?
Check out my advanced programs on Patreon for individualized guidance (and to support what I do).
While you’re at it, come join my Private Discord Server where you can find duo buddies who have the same fire you do to improve themselves (only invite me to duo if you are looking for a back workout). You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with, why not pick people who will push you to be better?