Supplements That Research Suggest Work in Older Athletes


Most masters athletes I know are competitive. Some like to win medals, most love doing PB’s or beating their friends at events they’ve trained together for. Some like to achieve goals they didn’t think were possible before they discovered they can do great things if they are smart about their training and listen hard to their bodies.

Most of us will also look for an advantage if it’s legal and available. For example, we know caffeine can help improve our endurance performance, that creatine (monohydrate) can help us recover between efforts if we are involved with team sports, and that sports drinks help us during endurance events longer than an hour in length, especially in the heat.

A recent review published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition has examined what ergogenic (performance-enhancing) dietary aids such as the above substances may be useful in older people. They reviewed 327 articles to come up with their list of what works in older folk. Here is what they concluded works.

  1. Creatine is made up of amino acids from our body and produced naturally in the liver. It is also naturally available from meat and fish we eat. It is also one of the most widely available and used supplements that does enhance performance in athletes that do repeated efforts of high intensity such as team players or when doing weight training or repeat sprints in training. It has also been shown to enhance muscle size in weight trainers both young and old. A number of studies on older people have shown that taking creatine at the dose of 0.3 mg / kg body weight for 5-14 days with or without weight training can increase muscle mass and strength and power. Similar studies examined creatine effects in older endurance cyclists and found no improvement in cycling performance suggesting that it’s only speed, strength and power and not endurance that’s improved with creatine supplementation. Creatine iscommonly sold in gyms, health food shops and chemists but should be used with caution in masters athletes with kidney issues.
  2. Caffeine  is one of the most well-studied ergogenic (work-enhancing) aids. It increases attention and improves endurance when taken in dosages between 4-6 mg / kg body weight (One No Doz tablet contains 100 mg and a cup of coffee between 50-100 mg. Click here for exact amounts of caffeine per product. Only one study has examined the effect of caffeine on performance in people over 60 years. They were given capsules of caffeine at the dose of 6 mg/kg of body weight and performed exercise 1 hr later. The had better endurance, less perceived effort, and greater strength compared to a placebo (no caffeine) trial.
  3. Caffeine/Creatine combination appears to have promise to enhance sprinting power – at least in young athletes. One study showed improved sprinting power when taking creatine (0.3 gm / kg body weight for 5 days) then caffeine (6 mg /kg body weight) an hour before sprint running.
  4. HMB (beta-hydroxy-betamethylbutyrate) That’s why it’s know as HMB! is derived from a naturally occuring amino acid called leucine. It’s used by young athletes to increase muscle size and strength. research has shown that consuming HMB between 250 mg / day and 6 gm / day increased cycling performance but the effect is greater in previously untrained people. In one study with 70 yr olds doing weight training twice a week they improved strength in some exercises but not others. No known side effects have been observed in people consuming between 3 and 6 gm / day.
  5. Ubiquinone (Co-enzyme Q10) helps generate aerobic energy in the muscle cell’s power house, the mitochondria. Some research has shown benefits of supplementing (100 mg / day) with it at the end of weight training sessions. The one study that did use older people (60-74 years) and compared them with 22-38 year olds showed no age or cycling performance differences when supplementing at 120 mg day for 6 weeks.
  6. Carnitine is an amino acid that helps us burn fat in those mitochondria pwer houses in our muscle cells. In young swimmers, taking 2 gm of carnitine twice a day for a week has been shown to increase epeat 5 x 100m swim performance. While no studies have been done in older athletes, a couple of carnitine supplementation studies (2 gm / day for periods over 6 weeks or more) showed reduce feelings of fatigue and six-minute walk time in non-athletes over age 65 years.
  7. Resveratrol is found in red grapes (and red wine but in smaller amounts), mulberries and peanuts.  In older rats it’s been shown to enhance endurance performance. No exercise-related studies have been done in humans. However, health-wise it’s been suggested but not proven to have cardioprotective and anti-diabetes benefits in humans.

So What?

Limited research has been done in the area of ergogenic aids and masters athletes. However, it appears that, similar to younger athletes, caffeine and creatine, especially in combination, may have beneficial effects in sprinters while caffeine in the right dosage and timed correctly can benefit endurance performance. Finally, creatine appears to benefit strength and power-based athletes or team sport players who have to repeat speed during a game.

For more detailed reading on what legal ergogenic aids work in athletes young and old, including the dosages, timing and side-effects, read Chapter 18 of my book The Masters Athlete titled Performance-enhancing supplements and the masters athlete.

Source: Cherniak, E.P. (2012). Ergogenic dietary aids for the elderly. Nutrition, 28: 225-229.