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What are ergogenic aids?

Ergogenic aids are substances taken to improve physical or mental performance. Ergogenic aids are commonly used to naturally enhance athletic performance. There are several types of aids ranging from the legal such as creatine and caffeine to the illegal such as steroids and blood doping. Collegiate and professional sports organizations set strict rules on permissible ergogenic aids. 

What are examples of ergogenic aids? 

The types of ergogenic aids used depends on the athletic performance goals. For instance, common ergogenic aids used among strength and power athletes include beta-alanine and beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl butyrate (HMB). Whereas common ergogenic aids used among endurance athletes include caffeine, beet root powder, and sodium-bicarbonate. Examples of banned ergogenic aids include anabolic androgenic steroids, human growth hormone, and ephedrine. 

How do ergogenic aids enhance performance? 

Nutritional ergogenic aids are anything that can enhance an individual’s athletic performance. The way in which an ergogenic aid enhances performance depends on the physiological effect it has on the body. For instance, caffeine can enhance strength performance by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and enhancing muscle excitability. Caffeine can also enhance endurance performance by increasing the amount of free fatty acid levels in the blood for energy use, sparing muscle glycogen stores. To get the most performance enhancement out of ergogenic aids, it is important to understand how much to take and when to take them. 

What are anti-catabolic ergogenic aids? 

Anti-catabolic means decreasing or stopping the breakdown of muscle tissue so it can start rebuilding or synthesizing muscle tissue. Examples of anti-catabolic ergogenic aids include whey protein powder and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). These ergogenic aids may be consumed at different times to maximize effect. An individual may consume BCAAs before or during a workout to increase the availability of valine, leucine, and isoleucine thereby sparing muscle tissue breakdown. Whereas an individual may consume whey protein after a workout to provide a source of essential amino acids, particularly leucine, to decrease muscle degradation and stimulate muscle synthesis. 

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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