For some, team sports were left behind before high school. For others, team sport is carried through to adulthood, serving as a platform for socialisation and fitness. For few, team sport is a career. Whether you’re a professional athlete, or wanting to be, it’s good to understand the effect performance enhancing (ergogenic) aids can have on your performance.
Before getting too deep, it is important to define what sort of exercise constitutes team sport. For example, the physiological demands on a soccer player are different to those on a volleyball player. Not only do we see marked differences between sports, but also within sports. For example, a rugby forward and back needing different skills sets and types of fitness. The extremely diverse nature of team sport is what makes it so compelling (and challenging) to study. It is important to begin studies with a comprehensive analysis of relevant physiological demands. In general terms, we can classify most team sports as high intensity short interval type exercise (soccer, rugby, netball and so on). This is how we will define team sport for the purposes of this article.
As far as ergogenic aids go, caffeine is as close to as good as it gets. With years of extensive research, little side effects and generally positive results, caffeine is a friend to many athletes. Caffeine has a central nervous affect that decreases our response to the neurotransmitter, adenosine, which otherwise, causes drowsiness. On the field, this translates to increased motivation which results in the athlete performing more work or feeling less tired. Caffeine has greatest application to sports where the work load is high. Since most team sports are high intensity, it is a suitable supplement for most team sports.
An effective dosage of caffeine for most people is 3mg/kg 60 minutes prior to exercise. It is best to consume this in tablet form in order to ensure correct dosage and avoid gastrointestinal distress.
Sodium bicarbonate is an extracellular buffering agent. It helps neutralise the acid that builds up in your blood during exercise, which causes fatigue. Hence, sodium bicarbonate delays fatigue. This is most relevant to team sport for its effect on repeated sprint ability (having obvious applications to the likes of soccer, netball and hockey). Unfortunately, sodium bicarbonate will not increase your sprint speed. Rather it allows you to run for longer at your maximum pace.
0.3g/kg is the recommendation for most people. This should be consumed in spread out doses, in order to avoid gastrointestinal distress. Some experience side effects worse than others. In fact, some experience it so bad that the discomfort takes a negative effect on performance. In this case, obviously the aid is not recommended. This is a perfect example of why supplements should always be trialled in training and not tried for the first time on important competition days.
Beta Alanine is commonly used amongst team athletes. However, the research is not overly convincing with very varied responses from individuals. That being said, in those that do respond well, there is some potential benefit in high intensity exercises, like team sports. Similar to sodium bicarbonate, it is a buffering agent. However, it is an intracellular buffering agent. This means that it neutralises the fatigue causing acids within the muscle cell (rather than in the blood surrounding).
A common misnomer is that taking the two buffering agents together, beta alanine and sodium bicarbonate will result in total body buffering and increased performance. Unfortunately, the research does not reflect this.
B-alanine supplements need to be consumed for months leading up to competition, with a long loading phase. This intensive process is not suited to all athletes, and given the questionable research, not worth it for every individual.
Much like beta alanine, creatine can increase your repeated sprint capacity, however, will not make you run faster. As such, creatine has applications to team sport performance. However, creatine is known to causes weight gain, due to swelling of the muscle. This could be a good or bad thing depending on the type of sport or position you play. In fact, weight gain is thought to be the main pathway through which creatine acts as an ergogenic aid.
Creatine has some application outside of team sports as well, read; creatine and fitness goals.
Nitrates are thought to reduce the oxygen demands of exercise, therefore having an ergogenic role. However, the effectiveness of this is yet to be proven, especially in team sports. The interesting thing about nitrate is, that is it actually a very effective placebo. Usually consumed as beetroot juice, it looks and tastes like medicine (the perfect placebo). The placebo effect is very powerful, and not to be underestimated. It is particularly potent in the team setting where collective placebo occurs.
All this being said, there really is no ergogenic aid like hard work, blood, sweat and tears. The important thing to remember is that these supplements can improve your performance by an absolute maximum of about 2%. This 2% could be the difference between winning and losing in high level sport (however, not so much in your friendly Friday night footy). Furthermore, the body’s response to supplements is highly individual. So, what works for your team mate, may not work for you. Give them ago, experiment under supervision and I hope these tips help your team to the grand final this season