Biologically active additives in sport diets: benefits and prospects

PhD, Associate Professor N.D. Golberg1
Dr.Biol., Professor V.A. Rogozkin1
1St. Petersburg Scientific Research Institute of Physical Culture, St. Petersburg

Keywords: biologically active additives, endurance, power, myopachynsis.

Background. Sport diets have been ranked among the top priority research topics by the Sport Biochemistry Department of Saint Petersburg Scientific Research Institute for Physical Culture since the 1950ies, with the first studies of the effects of biologically active additives (BAA) on competitive performance launched under leadership of Professor N.N. Yakovlev. Practical experiments on laboratory animals and competitive performance profiling studies provided some primary insight into the mechanisms of influence of the macro- and micro-nutrients on the physical working capacity [5, 6].

First discoveries of the basic logics behind the intercellular metabolism in skeletal muscles made it possible to outline the ways to control some principle performance control mechanisms. It was for the first time that the sport nutrition research was designed to find the best ways to facilitate accumulation of energy in skeletal muscles to improve the functional performance and rehabilitation in the rest breaks [1-3]. A variety of solutions offered by Professor V.A. Rogozkin in 1965 helped develop the muscular metabolism control concept with its central control role played by the low-molecular agents known to act as natural metabolites [4].

The efforts to control muscular metabolism by nutrients and BAA are generally designed to:

– Expand the energy resource of the skeletal muscles and body on the whole;

– Apply intracellular metabolites to limit one or another aspect of metabolism;

– Activate the anabolic processes in muscles; and

– Activate the rehabilitation processes after the muscular work.

Objective of the study was to analyze benefits of the modern ergogenic (biologically active) additives for the sport diets.

Study findings and discussion. Additives to sport diets are commonly recognized an indispensable element of the modern elite sports. Their administration should be strictly controlled to avoid the risks of contaminations and/or involuntary violations of the valid anti-doping codes, with the additives allowed only when their administration is well-grounded and associated with the independent expert tests of the relevant food nutrients for doping [14].

One of the key requirements of the BAA application codes in modern sports, as provided by the IOC sport diet experts’ agreement, reads: ‘Additives intended to offset deficits of nutrients should be tested for their ability to prevent or correct the food status with the associating benefits for health, training process and working capacity’ [13]. G. Close et al. (2016) classified the most popular additives to sport diets – based on an extensive BAA application database – into the following three groups: endurance building; muscular strength/ growth boosting; and health building ones [9]. Given in Table 1 hereunder is the classification of additives by their benefits for athletes, followed by a detailed consideration of some of them later on.

Table 1. Additives to sport diets: effects and benefits


Proven evidence

New evidence

No evidence/ WADA prohibition



Hydrocarbon gels/ drinks

Beetroot juice

Sodium bicarbonate/ citrate

Beta alanine




Methyl-hexane amine

Citrullina malate


Herb additives


Muscle strength/ growth




Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA)


All anabolics



Herb additives

Colostrium (protogala)




Vitamin D

Vitamin C


Glucose amine



Fish oil



Herb additives

Caffeine is a well studied and popular muscular performance booster agent antagonistic to the adenosine receptor, plus modifier of the muscular contraction function, with an expressed effect on the muscular tension, fatigue and pains associated with physical workloads. Caffeine is also known to stimulate secretion of adrenalin, modify the substrate digestion and help release ions from cells. It is recommended for intake 60min prior to the workloads in doses of 3-9mg/kg of body mass [9]. The ergogenic effects of caffeine, however, appear to be rather individual – possibly due to the genetic specifics of metabolic processes and/ or its effects on the CNS as a result of the gene CYP1A2 polymorphs coding citochrome Р 450 1А2, plus adenosine receptor gene ADORA2A [15].

Beetroot juice is acknowledges as natural source of nitrates that boosts the biological accessibility of nitrogen oxide NO in the nitrate→ nitrite→ NO chain and plays the key role in the skeletal muscle strength modulation process to step up the physical trainings productivity due to the following: muscle fiber type II performance improvement; reduction of the ATP demand for muscular contraction process; improved mitochondrial respiration rates; better blood supply to the working muscles; and the economized consumption of oxygen [11].

Beta alanine it the speed-limiting precursor of the carnosine (intracellular buffer agent) synthesizing process, that prevents excessive accumulation of Н+ in a working muscle. Everyday consumption of beta alanine is known to boost carnosine contents in skeletal muscles. Beta alanine is recommended for intake in doses of ~ 65mg/kg of body mass split up into 0.8-1.6g portions administered every 3-4 hours, with the total administration limited by 10-12 weeks [10].

Sodium bicarbonate in its extracellular forms is known to largely control рН and electrochemical gradient inside and outside the cells. One-time administration of sodium bicarbonate may significantly boost the intercellular Н+ evacuation from the working muscles conditional on the temporary significant excess of sodium bicarbonate in the blood and increased pH. Typically sodium bicarbonate is administered in doses of 300mg/kg of body mass 1-2 hours prior to the physical workload [9].

New additives for the muscle growth purposes

Ferment mTOR known to play an important role in control of the protein synthesizing process is found in many bodily tissues. It regulates metabolic reactions in connection with the skeletal muscle growth/ atrophy. Leucine amino acid holds a special position among the other irreplaceable amino acids as its growth in muscles steps up the mTOR phospholiris and activates the muscular protein synthesizing reactions [7]. One of the interim products of leucine is β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate that appears to act much as leucine in terms of its anabolic effects on skeletal muscles. β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate administered in 3g per day helps build up the lean body mass in 6 weeks of intensive trainings. This adaptive response appears to be due to suppression of the work-specific proteolysis [16]. It should be mentioned that the mTOR activity is largely controlled by phosphatidic acid which contents tend to grow with the muscle stimulation. Phosphatidic acid administered in 750mg per day is known to boost the mTOR activity and thereby increase the protein synthesizing and, hence, muscle growth processes [12]. We should underline, however, that the fact-finding experiments on human samples have been still very limited, their findings are still contradictory and need to be verified by well-designed and verifiable studies to analyze the effects of phosphatidic acid on the skeletal muscle adaptation to intensive trainings on human samples [9].

New additives for the endurance building purposes

One of the most active agents of cocoa beans/ dark chocolate is (-) epicatechin that was proved (by experiments on rodents) to meaningfully improve skeletal muscle fatigue tolerance and boost the volumes of mitochondria and angiogenesis; with (-) epicatechin administration of 1mg/kg of body mass found to reduce the respiration ratio in humans that may be interpreted as indicative of the growing lipid oxidation with reduction of glucose level. There are good reasons to state, based on the available findings, that (-) epicatechin may facilitate the mitochondrial biogenesis and lipid oxidation processes. It is still unclear at this juncture whether or not (-) epicatechin may notably improve the mitochondrial biogenesis and the skeletal muscle adaptation to the endurance trainings [9]. Nicotinamide Riboside is the pyridine nucleoside form of niacin, a direct precursor of NAD+ synthesis in the skeletal muscles. The experiments on rodents appear to prove that Nicotinamide Riboside digested with food plays the role of NAD+ donor for skeletal muscles and controls the mitochondrial functions of skeletal muscles due to the signal cascade NAD+/SIRT1/PGC-1α. At this juncture, however, a study to analyze the Nicotinamide Riboside effects on the mitochondrial adaptation in humans is lacking [8].

Conclusion. The study data gives the grounds to conclude that, in spite of the growing research of the sport diets, many issues still need to be explored to further improve the competitive performance. One of such issues is whether or not findings of the BAA application experiments with rodents may be directly applied to humans on the whole and athletes in particular. In addition, it is not clear if findings of the experiments involving the basically-skilled athletes may be directly applied to the elite ones. We are looking forward to the best solutions for these issues being found soon to facilitate the ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ mission in the modern sports.


  1. Rogozkin V.A. Vliyanie fosfatov na povyshenie rabotosposobnosti organizma [Influence of phosphates on increase of physical working capacity]. Teoriya i praktika fiz. kultury, 1960,vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 73-75.
  2. Rogozkin V.A. K voprosu o povyshenii rabotosposobnosti organizma fosfatami [Phosphates to increase of physical working capacity]. Vopr. pitaniya, 1960, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 24-28.
  3. Rogozkin V.A., Morzhevikov N.V. Vliyanie sportivnogo napitka na vosstanovlenie rabotosposobnosti [Influence of sports drink on restoration of working capacity]. Teoriya i praktika fiz. kultury, 1961, vol.  24, no. 7, pp. 508-510.
  4. Rogozkin V.A. Ispolzovanie nizkomolekulyarnykh soedineniy dlya napravlennoy regulyatsii obmena veshchestv pri myshechnoy deyatelnosti [Use of low molecular weight compounds for directied regulation of metabolism under muscular activity]. Doct. diss. abstract (Biol.). Leningrad, 1965, 40 p.
  5. Yakovlev N.N. Vliyanie vitaminov V i S na sportivnye dostizheniya lyzhnikov [Influence of vitamins V and C on sports achievements of skiers]. Byul. eksp. biol. i med., 1941, vol. 12, P.160.
  6. Yakovlev N.N. Vliyanie vitamina V15 na biokhimicheskie protsessy pri myshechnoy deyatelnosti [Influence of vitamin B15 on biochemical processes in muscular activity]. Vopr. med. khimii, 1965, vol.11, P.  44.
  7. Atherton P.J., Smith K. Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. J. Physiol., 2012, V. 590, pp. 1049-1057.
  8. Canto C., Menzies K.J. NAD(+) metabolism and the control of energy homeostasis: a balancing act between mitochondria and the nucleus. J.Auwerxs Cell Metab. 2015. V. 22, pp.31–53.
  9. Close G.L., Hamilton D.L., Philp A., Burke L.M., Morton J.P. New strategies in sport nutrition to increase exercise performance. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 2016, V.98, pp.144–158.
  10. Hoffman J.R., Varanoske A., Stout J.R. Effects of Я-alanine supplementation on carnosine elevation and physiological performance. Adv Food Nutr Res., 2018,V.84, pp.183-206.
  11. Jones A.M. Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Medicine, 2014, V.44, pp.35–45.
  12. Joy J.M., Gurdermann D.M., Lowery R.P. et al Phosphatidic acid enhances mTOR signaling and resistance exercise induced hypertrophy. Nutr Metab (London), 2014. V.11, P.29.
  13. Maughan R.J., Burke L.M., Dvorak J. et al IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med 2018. V.52, pp.439–455.
  14. Outram S., Stewart B. Doping through supplement use: a review of the available empirical data. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab. 2015. V.25, pp.54–59.
  15. Pickering C., Kiely J. Are the current guidelines on caffeine use in sport optimal for everyone? Inter-individual variation in caffeine ergogenicity, and a move towards personalised sports nutrition. Sports Med. 2018. V. 48, pp. 7–16.
  16. Wilkinson D.J., Hossain T., Hill D.S. et al Effects of leucine and its metabolite β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate on human skeletal muscle protein metabolism. J Physiol. 2013. V.91, pp. 2911–23.

Corresponding author:


Biologically active additives (BAA) are presently considered an indispensable part of any sport diet and training system. However, choosing a right mix of healthy and efficient BAA and their administration is never easy due to the widest range of products on the market and still limited knowledge of the metabolic processes and effects and their control tools. The article was intended to overview a range of ergogenic additives from among the most studied and popular in the modern sports plus the most promising for the competitive performance and progress.

The study data gives the grounds to conclude that, in spite of the growing research of the sport diets, many issues still need to be explored to further improve the competitive performance. One of such issues is whether or not findings of the BAA application experiments with rodents may be directly applied to humans on the whole and athletes in particular. In addition, it is not clear if findings of the experiments involving the basically-skilled athletes may be directly applied to the elite ones.