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Clean Sport Commitment

Super Foods or Super Supplements?

Plus Icon What is a supplement?

Supplements are manufactured products purposefully consumed in addition to a usual diet.

Some supplements are bought with the aim to provide essential vitamins and minerals that in some cases can be difficult to get from diet alone.

Other types of supplements include ergogenic aids and sports foods, intended to directly impact performance in a specific way, like improving your physical/mental functioning, or boosting your ability to recover.

Did you know that 1 in 5 supplements that have not been batch tested could contain a banned substance?

This is why all athletes are advised to only take supplements that are registered with Informed Sport, who are a testing company that check the ingredients of supplements to minimise the risk of inadvertent doping.

Athletes are constantly exposed to bold marketing claims by supplement companies and it can be difficult to sieve through the evidence base underpinning these claims.

To help you, we have put together a review on four popular supplements including, creatine, vitamin D, caffeine, and whey protein.

Within this review we provide a summary of each supplement and weigh up the pros and cons of the taking the supplement vs. a food alternative.

Remember, if you are considering taking a supplement speak to a qualified sports nutritionist first who can help you to Assess the Need, and Assess the Risk, and Assess the Consequence.

Plus Icon Creatine Monohydrate

What is it?

When exercising at a high intensity, the body fatigues quickly, as the ‘batteries’ inside the cell run out of ‘charge’ Creatine is a molecule that helps recharge the batteries inside your cells faster for the next bout of high intensity exercise.

It can be used either in training to help squeeze out an extra rep or hill sprint, improving your training adaptations.

Or it can be used for a competitive purpose, often in intermittent sports like invasion games, martial arts or racket sports, enhancing your ability to maintain a high intensity effort while your opponent grows tired.

The evidence for the benefits of creatine is not seen in endurance sports, because your body can cope with the energy demands during this exercise, which last longer without your batteries needing to recharge. Whereas high intensity, acute exercise depletes your batteries fast and this is where creatine can help.

Can I get enough creatine through the foods I eat?   

Creatine can be formed by the body and consumed through the diet.

Usually individuals consuming an omnivorous diet including meat, fish and animal products ingest around 1-2g of creatine per day. However, vegetarian and vegan individuals typically obtain less creatine from dietary sources and therefore often see a greater increase from baseline levels through supplementation.

Creatine supplements can provide a higher ingestion of creatine, possibly helping to improve performance.

The benefits often occur following a loading phase of 20g/day (four doses of 5g) for 5-7 days to top up your internal store, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5g/day to keep these levels elevated. Looking at food sources of creatine, a 14oz (400g) rump steak contains approximately 2g of creatine.

This means that during a creatine loading phase where 20g per day is required you would need to eat 4kg of rump steak in a day!

What’s the difference in cost?

Compared to other supplements, creatine monohydrate sits on the cheaper side, usually under £10 for 500g (40p per day during the loading phase). Comparing this to food, 4kg of rump steak would cost just over £53 per day to meet the daily amount of creatine in your loading phase - a substantial price difference!

Are there any side effects?
A few side effects can occur as a result of taking creatine monohydrate, but for most individuals these are very minor, including water retention and rare gastrointestinal distress with no long-term health effects being associated with creatine monohydrate supplementation.

What is the evidence-base?

The evidence for creatine monohydrate supplementation is very strong with a large consensus suggesting sport specific benefits.

These include a variety of sports from football, rugby and hockey to short duration track and field events or even combat sports.

However, athletes are reminded that a well-balanced diet containing adequate amounts of carbohydrate, protein and fat is fundamental to supporting heath and performance and should be considered before implementing advance supplement strategies such as creatine.

If you think creatine monohydrate supplementation would be useful for your training or performance, check out Informed Sport to choose a brand that is regularly batch tested.

Plus Icon Whey protein powder

Why is protein essential in the diet?

Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair; it also keeps you feeling fuller for longer. For athletes, protein requirements are higher than the general population due to the regular training that is undertaken.

Whey protein powder is made from a protein called whey, which is the watery portion of milk that is separated during the process of making cheese.

Due to busy schedules and convenience protein shakes are often used as a means to achieve higher protein intakes.

Also, athletes who may struggle meeting daily requirements such as vegetarians and vegans, may also look to protein supplementation.

Can I increase protein through the foods I eat?

The short answer is yes.

There are lots of great convenient and protein rich sources naturally occurring in our foods.

Such foods sources also include additional nutrients which are not present in whey protein powder.

For example, milk (or a milk based alternative) also provides a good source of calcium, carbohydrates and electrolytes, all of which are important for the diet and recovering from exercise.

What is the difference in cost?

Whey protein supplementation can be expensive in comparison to food sources.

On average a scoop of protein powder (typically 25g) provides about 18g of protein, costing about 67p for a batch tested product. In comparison 1 pint of semi-skimmed milk, provides 20g protein and typically costs 50p. Also, a small chicken breast (90g) will provide you with 29g protein, for about 75p.

This just shows you are able to consume the same amount for a similar price, if not less, than a whey protein supplement.

What is the evidence-base?

There is no denying whey protein powder is a convenient option to intake protein, however, the lack of other nutrients within whey protein compared to real foods, as well as the risk of consuming contaminated products, is hard to ignore.

So, where possible protein intake should derive from real food sources primarily.

In summary, before deciding to consume a supplement consider the need for it, speak to one of our Leeds Beckett sports nutritionists before consuming it and check Informed Sport to minimize the risk of consuming contaminated products.

Plus Icon Vitamin D

What is Vitamin D?

Essential for muscle performance as well as bone and immune health, vitamin D plays a key role in keeping active individuals performing at their best, while reducing risk of injury and illness.

The main source of vitamin D is UVB sunlight exposure, with dietary sources of vitamin D like meat, fish, eggs, mushrooms and fortified foods providing the remaining contribution.

Yet, optimal vitamin D concentrations in the body cannot be obtained solely through the diet as many food sources only contain very small amounts of vitamin D.

Do we get enough Vitamin D?

Research has assessed the vitamin D concentrations of UK elite athletes, students and student athletes, and has found that these groups often have suboptimal levels, particularly in the winter months (October – March) due to limited sunlight exposure.

Other instances where individuals receive suboptimal vitamin D intake is people participating in indoor sports, or regularly wearing large amounts of clothing covering the skin (wetsuit, protective equipment, religious dress).

Long term, insufficient vitamin D concentrations are related to an increase in upper respiratory tract infections, reduced muscle contraction power and in some cases, up to a 3.6 times higher risk of bone fracture. 

How can I ensure I am getting enough vitamin D?

Over the summer months, when the opportunity to receive sunlight exposure is high, there is an opportunity for individuals to obtain adequate vitamin D through safe sun exposure, between the times of 10am-3pm for 15 minutes per day.

This should be done up to 6 times a week where a t-shirt and shorts expose skin to sunlight.

A dietary intake of 10mcg/400IU daily is recommended by the government for healthy individuals, whilst 25mcg/1000IU vitamin D is recommended per day for active individuals in the winter months (October – March).

This is because of limited exposure to sunlight, and a lack of availability in dietary sources.

As you can see from the table below, it is difficult to achieve the recommended daily dose through diet alone. For example, to consume the minimum recommended daily dose of vitamin D (25mcg/1000IU), you would have to eat 2-3 large fillets of steamed salmon per day, or over 15 poached eggs.

Food Source (average portion)

Vitamin D provided (mcg)

An Egg


Oily fish like salmon (120g)


Mushrooms (70g)


Cereals (60g)


Cup of fortified orange juice


Is vitamin D supplementation more cost effective than foods?

When comparing the above food sources to a standard supplement providing your daily vitamin D in one dose (10-25mcg) at an average of 4-10p per tablet, supplements often provide a more manageable and cost-effective way to top up vitamin D intakes.

Can I get too much vitamin D?

Meeting and exceeding the standard recommended daily dose of vitamin D is shown regularly to improve internal vitamin D levels. This improves markers of muscle performance, bone health and reduces the risk of upper respiratory tract infection.

However, it should be noted that consuming excessive (250mcg/10,000IU) amounts of vitamin D can also be related to negative health outcomes, meaning that more does not mean better. Some supplements can provide up to 125mcg/5000IU in one dose so should be avoided.  

What is the evidence-base?

When looking at the cost vs benefit of vitamin D supplementation, it is well cited that there are measurable benefits to athletes, particularly during times of limited sun exposure (October – March). If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, you could request a blood test through your health professional.

As always if you are considering using a vitamin D supplement, visit the Informed Sport website to check for batch tested products.

Plus Icon Caffeine

What is it?

Caffeine is a stimulant and was once on the banned substance list of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Caffeine has well documented performance benefits including improved repeated sprint performance, reaction time, muscular strength and endurance performance. Caffeine comes in different forms, such as tea and coffee, or in tablets, gums, some sports drinks and gels.

The recommended dose to improve sports performance is 3-6mg/kg/day. This equates to 210-420mg/day for a 70kg individual.

Can I get this amount of caffeine from foods and drinks?

There are a lot of caffeine containing products which are available. See the table for caffeine sources, caffeine content and cost.

Caffeine Source

Caffeine Content (mg)

Cost (£)

Instant Coffee

~47 per 2 tsp

0.20 per cup


60-100 per 2 shots

2.50 (from high street retailer)


Diet Coca-Cola

32 per 335ml (can)

42 per 335ml


Red Bull

77 per 250ml (can)


Dark Chocolate (70%)

40 per 50g (suggested serving size)



27 per 1 cup


Caffeine Tablet

200 per tablet


Caffeine Gel

150 per 60ml gel


Caffeine Gum

Average 40mg (ranging 20-100mg)

1.00-5.00 per pack

It is important to note that the recommendation of when caffeine should be consumed depends on how it is taken.

This is because different forms of caffeine are absorbed at different rates.

For example, if ingesting a cup of coffee or using a sports drink/gel this should be consumed 60-90mins before participation in exercise, whereas gum can be taken up to 5 mins before the effect of caffeine is desired.

Are there any side effects?

There are some side effects which can come with the use of caffeine before exercise, particularly in high doses.

A high dose of caffeine is more than or equal to 9mg/kg/day, or 630mg/day for a 70kg individual. This is far above the daily safe upper limit of 600mg/day.

Athletes should be mindful that they could easily exceed these limits when considering habitual intakes of tea, coffee, chocolate, alongside intakes for sports performance.

Such high dose of caffeine does not provide greater performance effects, instead it can cause tummy upset, tremors, anxiety, restlessness, nausea and insomnia – all detrimental to health and/or performance. If you are a regular caffeine consumer, your side effects or impact on performance may differ from others as there is an individual tolerance level.

What is the evidence-base?

There is a wealth of evidence documenting the performance effects of caffeine. However, please consider the potential side effects, of which are very individualised.

Because of this, athletes are encouraged to trial how you react to the ingestion of caffeine in training first.

While considering your habitual intake consider how different amounts and modes of supplementation make you feel, especially if taken in conjunction with another supplement. Don’t leave it till competition day to discover any negative side effects!

If choosing to take caffeine in a supplement form make sure it is batch tested, meaning the risk of contamination has been minimised. But remember, there is no 100% guarantee that any supplement is free from a banned substance.

Plus Icon Reference list

Andres, S., Ziegenhagen, R., Trefflich, I., Pevny, S., Schultrich, K., Braun, H., Schänzer, W., Hirsch‐Ernst, K.I., Schäfer, B. and Lampen, A., (2017). Creatine and creatine forms intended for sports nutrition. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 61(6), p.1600772.

Close, G.L., Russell, J., Cobley, J.N., Owens, D.J., Wilson, G., Gregson, W., Fraser, W.D. and Morton, J.P., (2013). Assessment of vitamin D concentration in non-supplemented professional athletes and healthy adults during the winter months in the UK: implications for skeletal muscle function. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31(4), pp.344-353.

de la Puente Yagüe, M., Collado Yurrita, L. and Cuadrado Cenzual, M.A., (2020). Role of vitamin d in athletes and their performance: Current concepts and new trends. Nutrients, 12(2), p.579.

Farrokhyar, F., Tabasinejad, R., Dao, D., Peterson, D., Ayeni, O.R., Hadioonzadeh, R. and Bhandari, M., (2015). Prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy in athletes: a systematic-review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 45(3), pp.365-378.

Grgic, J., Grgic, I., Pickering, C., Schoenfeld, B.J., Bishop, D.J. and Pedisic, Z., (2020). Wake up and smell the coffee: Caffeine supplementation and exercise performance—An umbrella review of 21 published meta-analyses. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(11), pp.681-688.

He, C.S., Yong, X.H.A., Walsh, N.P. and Gleeson, M., (2016). Is there an optimal vitamin D status for immunity in athletes and military personnel? Exercise Immunology Review, 22.

Kaviani, M., Shaw, K. and Chilibeck, P.D., (2020). Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for Vegetarians Compared to Omnivorous Athletes: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(9), p.3041.

Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T.N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D.G., Kleiner, S.M., Almada, A.L. and Lopez, H.L., (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14(1), p.18.

Maughan, R.J., Burke, L.M., Dvorak, J., Larson-Meyer, D.E., Peeling, P., Phillips, S.M., Rawson, E.S., Walsh, N.P., Garthe, I., Geyer, H. and Meeusen, R., (2018). IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28 (2), pp.104-125.

Peeling, P., Binnie, M.J., Goods, P.S., Sim, M. and Burke, L.M., (2018). Evidence-based supplements for the enhancement of athletic performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28(2), pp.178-187.

Phillips, S.M., (2014). A brief review of higher dietary protein diets in weight loss: a focus on athletes. Sports Medicine, 44 (2), pp.149-153.

Pickering, C. and Grgic, J., (2020). Is Coffee a Useful Source of Caffeine Preexercise? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 30(1), pp.69-82.

Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2016). Vitamin D and Health [Online]. Available from: <> [Accessed 3 June 2020].

West, D.W., Abou Sawan, S., Mazzulla, M., Williamson, E. and Moore, D.R., (2017). Whey protein supplementation enhances whole body protein metabolism and performance recovery after resistance exercise: A double-blind crossover study. Nutrients, 9(7), p.735.

Wilson‐Barnes, S.L., Hunt, J.E.A., Lanham‐New, S.A. and Manders, R.J.F., (2020). Effects of vitamin D on health outcomes and sporting performance: Implications for elite and recreational athletes. Nutrition Bulletin, 45(1), pp.11-24

Clean Sport commitment

Plus Icon Clean Sport statement

All sporting participants have the right to compete in drug-free sport (Clean Sport). 

Leeds Beckett University adopts the UK Anti-Doping and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) position that cheating, including doping, is fundamentally contrary to the spirit of sport, undermining the otherwise positive impact it can have on society.

To this end Leeds Beckett University commits to support Clean Sport in the UK in the following ways:

  • Leeds Beckett University supports the mission of UK Anti-Doping and WADA in achieving Clean Sport.
  • All athletes are expected to play, train and compete in line with the spirit of sport, including the anti-doping rules.
  • All coaches and athlete support personnel are expected to perform their role in line with the spirit of sport, including the anti-doping rules.
  • Leeds Beckett University is committed to supporting the prevention of doping behaviour in the UK in collaboration with other sporting bodies
  • Employed and associated ‘staff’ will not condone, assist or in any way support the use of prohibited substances and methods (unless permitted by a Therapeutic Use Exemption) in any aspects of their work.

Breaches of this, or any rules/policies referred to in Leeds Beckett University own code of practice/conduct will be acted upon accordingly.

All employed and associated staff will be expected to contact UK Anti-Doping should they become aware of an athlete or NGB member using or considering the usage of a prohibited substance or prohibited method. This contact should be done in confidence on the dedicated confidential Report Doping in Sport line.

Leeds Beckett University will uphold any sanctions placed upon an athlete by UK Anti-Doping or other associated body in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

Clean Sport Week 2020

For Clean Sport Week this year, Carnegie School of Sport experts Meghan Bentley, Debbie Smith, Emma Squires & Ben Gutteridge look at the pro's and con's of 'super foods' and 'super supplements', providing their insight, knowledge, research and studies to weigh up the argument.

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