AT A GLANCE

College athletes often use supplements believing it will give him or her an edge in sport – a boost in performance. It is common for this to start in high school, as the level of competition increases. However, college athletes need to consider a few variables, prior to supplementation, to ensure it is safe, legal, … Continue reading Best Supplements for College Athletes


College athletes often use supplements believing it will give him or her an edge in sport – a boost in performance. It is common for this to start in high school, as the level of competition increases. However, college athletes need to consider a few variables, prior to supplementation, to ensure it is safe, legal, and effective.

First, college athletes should only consume supplements that are supported by research, which would display strong evidence of a supplement’s positive impact on performance and/or health. There are a lot of supplements on the market, and the industry is not regulated by the FDA, which means there are a lot of companies promoting ineffective products. Look for products with research backing up their claims.

Second, college athletes should only consume supplements from companies (i.e. BuiltByStrength) that are NSF Certified for Sport. NSF is an independent third-party certification company that rigorously tests products to verify the supplement’s ingredients, quality, accuracy, and label claims. When a product is NSF Certified for Sport, it has a stamp of approval from an independent third party lab that states it is free of any and all banned substances and impurities.

Third, college athletes should have their supplements screened and approved by their sport medicine staff on campus, preferably the institution’s sport registered dietitian or equivalent professional. These professionals will be able to guide you in the right direction in terms fo the product’s effectiveness, quality, dosage, and safety.

Last, college athletes need to prioritize their training, nutrition, and recovery (including sleep) regimens, prior to considering supplementation. Supplements are just that – a supplement. Not a magic pill. Without the right training, nutrition, sleep, and recovery, a supplement will be like stepping over a $100 dollar bill to pick up a penny.

Top 4 Best Supplements for College Athletes

There are many evidence-based supplements that are beneficial for college athletes, but some are not cost-effective or practical for a young full-time student. The four supplements below are strongly supported by research to enhance athletic performance variables, are cost-effective, and practical for all college athletes to consider.

  1. Creatine Monohydrate (Kreider et al., 2017; Machek et al., 2018; Mielgo-Ayuso et al., 2019).
    • Improves body composition (e.g. gain in lead body mass).
    • Enhances muscular strength and power, and cognitive performance.
    • Faster recovery and return to play rates.
    • Reduces the risk of injury.
    • Minimal to no side effect: slight weight gain.

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  1. Whey Protein (Jäger et al., 2017).
    • Enhances muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and muscular mass and strength.
    • Building and maintenance of lean body tissue (including muscle mass).
    • Promotes loss of fat mass (when enough is consumed).
    • Higher bioavailability and acute MPS stimulation (advantage over soy and casein protein sources).
    • Minimal to no side effect. Literature supports that moderate to high protein consumption is healthy and safe for most individuals and athletes, with no underlying kidney issues.

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  1. Caffeine (Goldstein et al., 2010; Grgic et al., 2018).
    • Improves exercise performance, including maximal endurance and high intensity exercise.
    • Enhances muscular strength and power, and cognitive performance.
    • May enhance glycogen resynthesis.
    • Minimal to no side effect with low to moderate doses (3 – 6 mg/kg) are consumed, which vary individual to individual. High doses (≥ 9 mg/ kg) can have negative side effects, including (but not limited to) nausea, restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety.

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  1. Beta-Alanine (Trexler et al., 2015).
    • Improves exercise performance.
    • Prevents fatigue/acidity – Intracellular pH buffer (via increasing muscle carnosine levels).
    • Reduces neuromuscular fatigue.
    • Minimal to no side effect: paraesthesia (tingling sensation).

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There are also health-related supplements that college athletes may consider, but can also be effectively obtained through a proper nutritional regimen. Specifically, vitamin D, probiotics, and electrolytes are strongly supported by the literature and provide health benefits to college athletes. However, as mentioned, these can be naturally found in a variety of foods, and therefore, can be effectively and efficiently consumed in his or her nutritional plan.

Remember, you could consider the following (when discussion supplementation):

  1. Evidence/Research of the particular Supplement
  2. NSF Certified for Sport
  3. Screened and Approved by Sports RD or Medicine Staff.

Lastly, supplementation only will be effective and needed with proper training, nutrition, and recovery plans.

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