The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

With the sports supplement business now worth over £650 million a year, it’s hardly surprising that with their well-placed marketing and advertising campaigns, we’ve been brainwashed into believing even a quick trip to the gym must be accompanied by a sachet of this, a bottle of that and a bar of something else.

So it’s refreshing to know that you can replace many of these ‘essential aids to performance’ with items you may already have in your kitchen cupboards.

We asked Dr Carrie Ruxton, a registered dietitian, for her top five simple alternatives that will save you money and still do the nutritional job…

sports supplements

1. Sports Drinks
Electrolyte and energy drinks are often packed with sugar and caffeine but are rarely worth having unless you’re exercising hard for more than an hour. The acids in these drinks also contribute to tooth erosion.

Carrie’s simple solution
A glass of skimmed milk has been shown to hydrate people more than a sports drink. According to researchers writing in the British Journal of Nutrition, this is likely to be down to its naturally well-balanced combination of sodium and potassium.

2. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)
These essential protein building blocks are used to target performance and stop muscle breakdown after exercising. At between £10 and £20 per bottle of pills, they can be a pricey addition to your sporting diet. The European Food Safety Authority looked at the claims made for BCAAs but didn’t find enough evidence to support them

Carrie’s simple solution
There are several good studies on beetroot that show enhanced exercise efficiency, probably due to the high nitrate content, which boosts circulation, muscular contraction and energy uptake by cells. Beetroot also helps to reduce muscle soreness after exercise. It can be bought ready to eat, making it a convenient and tasty way to charge up a salad and boost nitrate and antioxidant levels to help muscles recover faster after a workout. New research has also shown beetroot’s ability to boost sports performance and improve recovery is heightened in less fit individuals than elite athletes.

3. Protein shakes
Most protein shakes are based on whey, a by-product of cheese-making. Manufacturers are slow to point out that while the average person needs 45–55g protein a day, most of us already get up to 65–85g from foods in our diet. Even someone exercising a few times a week only needs around 70g protein a day, so we’re getting enough in our diets already. Protein shakes containing 20–40g protein per serving could push your daily intakes too high and put unnecessary strain on your weekly food budget.

Carrie’s simple solution
Eat protein from meat, poultry, fish, beans, pulses, milk, soya milk, eggs or tofu 3–4 times a day to spread out and sustain your intake. These natural sources support muscle repair more than downing a protein shake.

4. Protein bars
Delve inside the packaging with it’s hard-sell claims and you’ll often find a less healthy alter ego. The long shelf-life of protein bars means a whole load of additives are thrown into the mix. Typically they contain 15–20g protein per bar, but a third of their weight often comes from sugar, putting most of them in the red traffic light zone.

Carrie’s simple solution
The average protein bar gives you 150–200 calories per serving, which is pretty high for anyone wanting to shape up. A couple of hard-boiled eggs are less expensive, contain no added sugar and a naturally high-protein snack ideal for munching post work.

5. Creatine
A popular supplement in the gym, creatine is a type of protein that provides the energy for muscle contractions but which, in reality, works only in older adults who are doing regular resistance exercises, according to the European Food Safety Authority. This means regular gym-goers are probably wasting their money. Plus, excessive creatine has been linked with weight gain, anxiety, kidney problems and nausea.

Carrie’s simple solution
The body naturally makes creatine in response to the specific amino acids found in seafood, nuts, spinach and soya. This means a meal such as stir-fry made with prawns, edamame beans, peanuts and green leafy veg will boost creatine just as effectively. Or you could try a peanut butter sandwich with baby leaf spinach and a glass of soya milk on the side.