Ergogenic Aids

G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN

Ergogenic is defined as producing work. Ergogenic aids are marketed
to help athletes in a variety of ways. Some of which include:

1. Increased energy.
2. Promote recovery.
3. Stimulate weight gain (especially muscle).
4. Improve speed.
5. Increase strength.
6. Prolong endurance.
7. Deliver more nutrients to muscles.
8. Increase fat metabolism (i.e. burning).
9. Improve aerobic capacity.
10. Decrease body fat.
11. Reduce lactic acid.
12. Raise testosterone.
13. Raise growth hormone.

There is and always has been a controversy concerning ergogenic aids. Historically, most doctors and dietitians opposed their use and felt they were worthless or even harmful. On the other hand, most alternative care practitioners embraced and promoted their use, as did many athletes. Often trainers were caught in the middle. Like many controversies, the truth lies in the center.

New miracle substances constantly enter the market place. Top sellers do stimulate research. However, it takes a few years for studies to appear from neutral scientists and independent institutions. It is still not uncommon to see that the vast majority of highly marketed products and substances generally fall short of their hype.

The following chart is a brief description of the more common ergogenic aids. Please note that the opinions stated are from this author only. As mentioned above, ergogenic aids are quite controversial and many so-called experts have a built-in positive or negative bias. THIS AUTHOR’S ONLY CONCERN IS THE TRUTH—THAT IS, DOES THE PRODUCT WORK OR NOT?


Androstenedione *and related compounds(including “nor” and “diol” families)
Increases testosterone
May help older men with lower testosterone levels. Prescription topical gels have lower rates of estrogen conversion and can elevate test. Good studies on young athletes show estrogen increases with oral supplementation. Most companies tout other forms as superior to "regular andro," based on small in-house studies. Can also cause positive drug tests for steroids.
Arginine and Ornithine
Elevates growth hormone
A few small positive studies.Larger studies have been negative.
Raises nitric oxide
Increases are seen in the lab. Most men with erectile dysfunction will be much happier with Rx medication.
Increases Energy
Published data unimpressive.
Bee Pollen
Increases energy
No valid studies on athletes.
Beta alanine
Improves endurance
Acid buffer
Enhances creatine
Increases carnosine production which improves buffering capacity. One study showed an 8 second increase in isometric contraction. Affect on improving creatine response is unimpressive.
Increases energy
Mixed with sports drinks. Results of small studies have been positive and negative.
Elevates testosterone
Does work in women over 70 years old. Studies on young men are negative. Helps calcium uptake in bones.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
Increases protein synthesis Reduces protein breakdown(i.e. improves recovery)
Adequate dietary protein intake prevents need for supplements. Studies on athletes mostly unremarkable.
Sodium Bicarbonate
Phosphate salts
Acid buffer improves anaerobic performance, reduces fatigue
Some valid studies on athletes. Very high rate of gastrointestinal side effects, especially diarrhea. Sodium bicarbonate appears to work best.
Weight loss/fat burner
Improves endurance
Improves reaction time
Improves alertness
In most people, will increase time to exhaustion in both endurance and higher intensity exercise. Can also improve concentration and speed reaction time. Regular use can build tolerance. Some people can get side effects, especially with high doses—insomnia, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, and headache. Safe when taken alone. Some report better results after 2-day abstention.
Improves energy by helping to transport fat inside the cell to be burned
Most positive studies are seen with people who have diseases. Most athletes don’t feel much of a difference. May lower triglycerides. Unexpected finding of a new study showed it increased carb, not fat utilization.
Blocks testosterone and
androstenedione conversion
to estrogens
Recent human studies refute initial positive lab data.
Increases endurance
In-house studies were positive.Neutral groups results negative.
Increases aerobic capacity. Increases endurance. Increases arginine and nitrous oxide production. Increases ATP production. Improves recovery. Improves creatine effect.
Most of the effects regarding endurance, aerobic endurance, aerobic capacity, ATP and recovery are based on one study that showed there was improvement in muscles that flexed the fingers. Citrulline alone may harm performance. Does not appear to enhance creatine.
Chromium Picolinate
Reduces body fat Increase lean mass
Good for blood sugar control. Initial studies that showed increased strength and decreased body fat have not been replicated by new research.
Coenzyme Q-10
Increases energy Antioxidant
Improves aerobic capacity
May help people with heart disease. Studies on athletes are unimpressive.
Elevates growth hormone
IGF-1 elevations are an indicator of increased GH.Studies conflict (only some show elevations).May strengthen immune system.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
Lowers body fat
Increases lean mass
4.5 grams a day for 1 year caused a 4-pound fat loss and 1.5 pound muscle gain.
Cordyceps sinensis
Increases exercise capacity. Improves endurance. Increases muscle oxygen levels.
Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus that is harvested growing from the caterpillar it killed. Research has been unimpressive.
Improves strength
Improves power
Improves speed
Gain weight
Works on most people (80%). Preliminary research shows it is safe. Reports of cramping are not seen in research, but are regularly reported by 10-20% of users. Not recommended for endurance athletes. Strength gains in swimmers may not be enough to offset the associated weight gain, which may result in slower times.
Deer Antler Velvet
Improves protein synthesis and strength, enhances endurance, stimulates immune system, anti-inflammatory
Positive findings in uncontrolled trials and rodent studies have not been duplicated in double-blind human format. New research continues to be negative.
Improves energy
Elevates mood
Raise testosterone
Lowers body fat
May help those who are deficient. Deficiencies are VERY RARE in young people. Do not use unless saliva tests or a blood test show low levels. Recent studies show it did not elevate testosterone, improve strength, or increase endurance. 100 mg for 4 weeks did raise post exercise blood glucose.
Promotes muscle growth
Retains nitrogen
Raises testosterone
So called "landmark human studies" cited by marketers of this insect steroid are not referenced.
Ephedrine *(Ma Huang) (Ephedra)OTC sales were banned in April 2004
Improves energy
Burns fat
Decreases conversion of carbs to fat
Reduces appetite
When taken as directed it can burn fat, improve speed, strength and suppress appetite. Commonly stacked with caffeine. Hot weather improves absorption. Should not be used by people under age 18. High rate of side effects—headache, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, hot flashes, nausea.Can cause heart attacks and strokes. THE ONLY ERGOGENIC AID THAT HAS RESULTED IN ACCIDENTAL DEATH.
Increases energyImprove recovery
All well-done recent trials on athletes have been negative. May have application for non-athletic uses.
Glandulars ingested stimulates the associated organ or gland
Whole or partial proteins may be digested intact but there is no good evidence these supplements work.
Combats over training
Improves recovery
Raises growth hormone
Positive studies on severely injured people (burn victims).Studies on athletes continue to be unimpressive. Body will make what it needs if dietary protein levels are adequate.
Prevents dehydration
May be worth a try if you have dehydration problems. A recent study showed 3 of 5 qualified studies yielded mild improvements in fluid retention and endurance performance.
Green Tea
Weight loss
Fat burner
Small studies show it may increase fat burning (independent of caffeine) by a powerful antioxidant it contains, EGCG. Protects against many types of cancer.
Improves endurance
Burns fat
Active ingredient is caffeine.450 mg of guarana contains 100 mg caffeine.
HMB(Beta-hydroxy BetaMethylbutyrate)
Improves recovery
Increases strength
Reduces body fat
Positive studies tend to be on the inexperienced. Real-life effects for regular exercisers are subtle at best. May be worth a try for beginners for the first 2 months if excessive soreness / slow recover is an issue.
Increases energy
Increases blood O2 capacity
Studies show inosine will HARM performance by increasing free radical formation.
Gain muscle, reduces body fat
Has worked well for livestock. Quite strange that human studies cited in ads are not referenced.
Medium Chain TriglyceridesMTC
Weight loss
Fat burner
Studies are mixed. Effects for most are subtle at best.
Improves endurance
No valid studies on athletes.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Increases growth hormone
Improves strength
Reduces inflammation
Reduces bad cholesterol
Great for a healthy heart. Natural anti-inflammatory. No ergogenic effects. Can lower insulin.
Lowers cortisol levels to improve recovery
May be good for memory. New research showed it did not lower cortisol or improve recovery. An increase in time to exhaustion was an unexpected finding.
Protein powders and meal replacement drinks
Improve strength
Stimulate growth
Help recovery
Mandatory for injury repair
No evidence that supplements is better than whole food. Protein powders are a good, easy, healthy way to get extra protein, which is critical for hard training athletes.
Lowers body fat
Improve energy
All well-done recent trials on athletes have been negative.
Improves energy
Increases work output
A few positive studies with high doses. Needs more research.
Rhodiola rosea
Increased strength
Increases mental function.
Increases endurance.
There is no difference between daily dosing versus dosing only before and event or exercise. One study showed a 25-second improvement in time to exhaustion. No evidence of improvemed mental function.
Increases testosterone
No valid studies.
Tribulus Terrestris
Increases testosterone byelevating Lutenizing hormone.
New data shows no increase in testosterone or LH. May blunt postexercise cortisol elevation.
Increases alertness
Precursor to dopamine
Found in many brain and energy drinks. Research with doses much larger than energy drinks showed no effect.
Velvet Bean (Mucuna Puriens)
Increases growth hormone by increasing dopamine
Waiting for quality human trials.
Increases testosterone
Wound healing
Immune function
Will not elevate testosterone unless deficient. But, deficiencies are not uncommon in heavy training athletes. Increased requirements during wound healing and immune system stress.

* Considered a banned substance in many sports.

The study of ergogenic aids is dynamic. New studies are regularly being published. Keep in mind that opinions on substances in this chart could change based on new data.

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Brea, CA. 92821
(714) 990-0824
Fax: (714) 990-1917

Copyright 2004, G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN, 916 E. Imperial Hwy, Brea, CA 92821, (714) 990-0824
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