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The Ergogenic Aids in the Coaches Arsenal

Brian Mackenzie identifies a selection of ergogenic aids that can be used to help you develop your athlete's level of fitness.

With better dope testing methods and hence the possibilities of detection and life ban from the sport, athletes and coaches are looking for legal ways to improve performance and/or hasten recovery. The various methods by which performance can be improved are known as ergogenic aids.

Ergogenic aids may:

  • directly influence the physiological capacity of a particular body system thereby improving performance
  • remove psychological constraints which impact performance
  • increase the speed of recovery from training and competition

Ergogenic aids fall into the following categories:

  • Mechanical Aids
    • Altitude Training
    • Heart Rate Monitors
    • Computers - analyse VO2 max, technique, test results ,etc.
    • Video recorders - analyse technique
    • Tire towing - develop strength
    • Weights - develop strength
    • Hypoxic Tents
    • Nasal Strips
    • Parachutes - develop strength
    • Elastic cord (pulling)- develop speed
    • Elastic cord (restraining) - develop strength
    • Downhill running (3° to 5° slope) - develop speed
    • Uphill running (5° to 10° slope) - develop strength
    • Treadmills
    • Weighted vests (5% to 8% of body weight) - develop strength
    • Sports clothing, footwear, and equipment
    • Timing equipment
  • Pharmacological Aids
    • Supplements
  • Physiological Aids
    • Creatine
    • Sports Massage
    • Physiotherapy
    • Herbal Medicines
    • Acupuncture
    • Sauna
    • Ultra-violet rays
  • Nutritional Aids
    • Carbohydrate Loading
    • Caffeine
    • Creatine
    • Sports Drinks
  • Psychological Aids
    • Cheering
    • Hypnosis
    • Psychology
    • Music
    • Relaxation
    • Imagery

The situation facing the Athlete/Coach is - can these products have any significant effect upon performance? The latest supplement on the market that athletes seem to consider the best thing since sliced bread is Creatine Monohydrate. Research has indicated that Creatine Monohydrate can help in the production of energy and the recovery process. The product appears to contain no banned substances, so should all athletes start taking it?

The vital fuel for muscular contraction is a substance found as Adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is an energy-rich substance found in the muscles. ATP is stored in the muscles, but after only a few seconds of intense exercise, it is depleted. The body must then manufacture more by the oxidation of carbohydrates, through glycolysis, or by converting the bi-product of the first ATP reaction; that is Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) back into ATP by giving it another phosphate. This it does by utilising a substance known as creatine phosphate (Phosphocreatine), which is also stored in the muscle. From this process, it can be assumed that creatine can help in the production of energy and the recovery process.

However, this introduces the debate of the best method by which the athlete can increase levels of creatine. The simple answer could be direct supplementation with Creatine Monohydrate, but the body can manufacture creatine from the amino acids arginine and glycine. Selective amino acid supplementation might be the answer. Also, creatine is found in abundance in red meat, and this can certainly meet the demands of the athlete (vegetarians, please note). Taking on board more creatine that the body requires can result in expensive urine.

Banned drugs

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has drawn up a list of banned substances and doping methods, which most sports governing bodies have accepted. The use of drugs to enhance performance is considered unfair, and it puts the health of the athlete at risk. Under no circumstances should a coach supply or recommend a banned ergogenic aid (e.g. supplement) to an athlete. In the United Kingdom (UK) information on prohibited classes of substances can be obtained from the British Athletics Anti-Doping Co-ordinator.

Cautionary Notes

The IOC list of banned substances is based on Doping Classes, and Doping Methods, not all substances belonging to the class are listed. Please do not assume that because a substance is not listed, it is not banned. Lists of banned substances are periodically revised. Always check with the medical officer of the sport or the Sports Council if you are in doubt. Athletes, this is your responsibility, not your coaches. Different sporting organizations may ban other drugs. It is advisable to check with the relevant governing body.

Banned substances are not only contained in medicines, which may be prescribed by doctors. They may be found in over-the-counter preparations. A family doctor or local pharmacist may not be fully aware of the restrictions on medications. Always check medications with the governing body medical officer or with the Sports Council. It is always recommended that when purchasing over-the-counter medicines to ask if they contain banned substances as some pharmacies have a list of the banned medicines (e.g. Night Nurse). Do not use medications from overseas unless they have been cleared by the governing body medical officer. Do not rely on brand names of medications available overseas. A permitted brand name in the United Kingdom may contain a banned substance in its overseas version.

Some so-called 'vitamin' preparations and nutritional supplements may contain banned substances. Beware of vitamin preparations, which can be purchased here or overseas. There is no legal requirement for manufacturers to list all the contents of food supplements. Therefore, it is difficult to determine whether they would contravene the doping regulations as all ingredients may not be indicated, and indeed may vary from batch to batch. If you are not sure, do not take it.

If your athletes are not proactive in determining the status of the medication they take, they may face a few years of suspension or a lifetime ban from the sport they love. And remember Coaches if you supply them to your athletes, you may well find yourself banned from coaching for life.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Bet you never knew there were so many ergogenic aids in the coaches' arsenal. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 1 / May ), p. 5-6

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) The ergogenic aids in the Coaches arsenal [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance, and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years of experience as an endurance athlete.