Food with Benefits: Gain the Competitive Edge With a “Food-First” Approach

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences

Publication Date



Are supplements necessary to boost performance? In the world of athletics and fitness, many athletes believe a supplement will give them the competitive edge. In 2017, the supplement industry was estimated to be worth 30 billion dollars in the United States, with 40% to 70% of athletes using some type of supplement in an effort to gain a competitive advantage. On the contrary, many athletes have adopted a “food-first” approach in lieu of risking a positive drug test due to supplement contamination. This article discusses how a food-first approach can provide the “best bang for your buck,” and help meet your nutrition needs both during training and off the field. Furthermore, we explore various whole-food options to replace sports nutrition products and supplements because whole foods generally taste better and are more familiar to the digestive tract.

Only a handful supplements have consistently been shown to potentially increase performance, particularly when used to correct an underlying nutrient deficiency including caffeine, antioxidants, nitrates, sodium bicarbonate, beta alanine, and creatine. Supplements promising to boost energy are among the most commonly purchased; however, sleep, nutrition, and stress management are more effective and sustainable methods to boost energy levels. If “the athletes’ training, sleep, and nutrition are 100%,” then a supplement may provide a small benefit. Because whole foods can offer a superior nutrient profile at a fraction of the cost, it makes sense to work on the diet first before spending money on a questionable product.


This article was originally published in ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal


© 2018 American College of Sports Medicine.