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Fueling the Elite: The Science Behind Dietary Supplements for Tactical Athletes

Dietary supplementation is a multi-billion-dollar industry which looks to “solve” issues relating to human physiology by providing solutions for weak muscles and joints, improving functions of the brain and heart, and even increasing energy. The problem with this business model is that supplementation is often not treated as, well, supplementation. It is marketed as a quick-fix solution for target groups when in reality, to get the most out of your chosen supplements, you should treat them as boosters.

Tactical athletes are one of the groups that look to supplements to provide them with this "boost", to enhance their performance and support their overall health.

We aim to explore the functions, benefits, and potential side effects of dietary supplements commonly used by tactical athletes.

By understanding the science behind these supplements, you can make informed decisions to optimize your performance. From protein supplements aiding in muscle recovery to creatine-enhancing strength and power, we uncover the key supplements that can support your training. However, it's crucial to approach supplementation with caution and consult a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet.

Proper nutrition and supplementation are crucial for optimal performance. They provide essential fuel for physical activity, support muscle recovery and growth, and enhance overall health. Strategic supplementation can address specific needs and enhance performance, help with recovery, stay alert, increase endurance and strength, and act as a sleep aid.

One big problem facing the industry today is that not all supplements are created equal; some can often do more harm than good.

Dietary supplement usage is common among sports athletes, tactical athletes and many members of the general population. Some supplements may offer benefits for tactical personnel, but consumers should be aware of regulations, oversight and effects of supplements to avoid consuming products that may have poor testing, inaccurate labelling, or contain banned ingredients.

Understanding Dietary Supplements

For tactical athletes, the name of the game is maintaining peak health and performance. It's a mission-critical, non-negotiable aspect of their lives. What is the key to readiness and overall well-being? It starts with proper fuelling and hydration.

First Responders together

Proper nutrition, which includes appropriate calories, macronutrients, and fluids can improve physical, cognitive, and occupational performance. It can also reduce the risk of injury, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, increase mental focus, and promote occupational readiness. A solid nutrition plan allows your body to be properly fueled, so it can utilize that energy throughout the day, keeping you engaged, focused, and healthy.

And the best part? Improving your eating habits doesn't have to break the bank. Simple strategies like wellness policies, better food options, supportive food environments, and community nutrition classes can be an important start for most.

But before we get carried away, remember this: the foundation lies in the basics. Prioritize proper nutrition, hydration, and quality sleep. Only then should you consider supplements that align with your specific goals.

More information on nutrition basics can be found here.

Now, here's where things get intriguing – supplements enter the scene. These have the potential to boost readiness, lower the risk of injuries, and minimize costly mistakes that could affect you or your team. These supplements promise better results and amazing benefits, but it's vital to recognize that each one comes with its own set of risk factors and quality.

Dietary supplements, distinct from regular foods, are designed to complement your diet. Their purpose? Enhancing or sustaining your health and ensuring you meet your daily nutrient needs. These products cater to a diverse range of people depending on needs and wants, from the average Joe to athletes and tactical pros, driving a multibillion-dollar global industry.

Commonly Used Supplements for Tactical Athletes

Protein Powder

Protein Powder

What is it? Protein powder is a powdered form of protein derived from milk or plants. It exists in various types, each impacting digestion, absorption, recovery, and muscle protein synthesis differently. The most common type is milk protein or whey, which includes three variants. Whey protein concentrate, with 60-70% total protein, is cost-effective. Whey protein isolate, with 90% total protein, is pricier but suitable for those with lactose sensitivity. Whey protein hydrolysate is pre-digested, promoting faster absorption and utilization. For those who may find whey difficult to digest, vegan options (such as soy) may be worth exploring.

How does it work? The protein is digested, and the stomach breaks it down into amino acids which are vital to carrying out many biological processes. Amino Acids help store important nutrients, shape cell structures, and aid in muscle repair and growth. Protein powder's magic lies in its ability to boost muscle protein synthesis, and strength, and reduce post-workout soreness. It may also enhance body composition and lean body mass. Typical serving sizes vary, but the average is around 25g of protein per serving.

Risk vs Benefit? Protein powder has a low-risk/high-benefit rating. It has been shown to have little to no risks but may cause gas and upset stomach in some people depending on the type of protein source used.

Best Sources? The best sources of protein are found in animal products like meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy, as they contain all nine essential amino acids, making them "complete" proteins. Various legumes and vegetables provide protein in smaller amounts. As with many nutrients, getting them from a naturally occurring source when feasible, rather than through supplementation will always be the most beneficial option

Amino Acids

Amino Acids

What is it? Amino acids in supplement form are categorized into three groups. Essential Amino Acids (EAA) are amino acids that the body cannot produce and must be obtained from the diet. Branched-chain amino Acids (BCAA) are present in food but are in high demand as they oxidize during exercise. The third category is Conditionally Essential Amino Acids (CEAA), produced by the body but may become limited during times of stress and illness.

How does it work? When you consume protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids, which play a vital role in muscle building and recovery. All nine EAA are essential for optimal protein synthesis, with the pre- and post-exercise periods being ideal for enhanced uptake. Amino acids are fundamental for protein synthesis, reducing protein degradation, accelerating muscle recovery, and potentially decreasing muscle soreness. They can also enhance mental performance and reduce central fatigue during prolonged activities. Effective daily doses range between 3-20g for EAA and 7-15g for BCAA.

Risk vs Benefit? The use of amino acids for muscle protein synthesis and reducing delayed onset muscle soreness carries a low risk with moderate benefits. Some caution is advised when considering amino acid supplementation as it may cost more financially than the benefits gained physically. EAA and BCAA supplementation can stimulate protein synthesis and improve recovery, and no side effects have been reported.

Best Sources? Amino acids are naturally found in foods like whey protein, milk, various meats, fish, and eggs. Certain plant foods like tofu contain all nine essential amino acids, making them complete protein sources. The goal is to source foods that provide all nine essential amino acids for a balanced protein intake.


What is it? Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid primarily produced in the liver. While its direct ergogenic benefits are limited, beta-alanine serves as a precursor to carnosine synthesis. Carnosine plays a vital role in buffering exercise acidosis and oxidative stress, thereby enhancing performance in both aerobic and anaerobic exercises by reducing muscle fatigue. This is particularly valuable for sustaining operations in the field and during periods of sleep deprivation.

How does it work? Beta-alanine supplementation increases intramuscular carnosine levels, regulating muscular pH by buffering hydrogen ions. This, in turn, improves performance by increasing training volume and quality. Beta-alanine may reduce muscle fatigue, lower oxidative stress, enhance neuromuscular performance, and increase peak power. For optimal results, a daily intake of 4-6g, divided throughout the day for four weeks, followed by a maintenance dose of 3.2g per day is recommended.

Risk vs Benefit? Supplementing with beta-alanine presents a low-risk, moderate benefit. Paraesthesia, a tingling sensation in the face and neck, is the most common side effect, often experienced with large doses. However, not all users may experience this side effect.

Best Sources? Produced in the liver, but can be found in meat sources like poultry, beef, pork, and fish.


Cup of coffee

What is it? Caffeine stands as one of the most widely used supplements globally. It serves as a central nervous system and metabolic stimulant, effectively combating fatigue and enhancing mental alertness. Athletes often turn to caffeine as an ergogenic aid to boost endurance and physical performance.

How does it work? Caffeine operates by elevating levels of fight-or-flight chemical messengers like epinephrine and norepinephrine. This boost in neurotransmitters can enhance mood, energy, focus, and accuracy. Caffeine's performance-enhancing effects may stem from psychological factors, including altering pain perception, reducing the perception of exertion, and thereby increasing training thresholds and volume.

  • 150mg of caffeine can increase maximal endurance and is recommended for operations during periods of sleep deprivation.

  • 200mg consumed 30-60 minutes before exercise is most beneficial for physical and mental performance (reaction time, focus and vigilance).

  • 800mg consumed in 200mg doses every 2-3 hours over a day, MAY help with the negative effects of sleep deprivation during long scene times or combat operations. However, this number is not for everyone and may put others at risk if tolerance isn’t high.

The initial dose of 3mg/kg body weight is used to assess sensitivity and tolerance, with an optimal range of 3-6mg/kg of body weight for effective performance benefits.

Risk vs Benefit? Caffeine carries a low-moderate risk but offers moderate-high benefits when used at appropriate doses. Excessive consumption can lead to adverse effects, including increased blood pressure, heart rate, restlessness, headaches, and reduced sleep and concentration

It's vital to note that individual tolerance varies, and not everyone responds positively to high caffeine doses.

Best Sources? Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, cacao, and guarana. Caffeine in powder form is noted to be more effective as an ergogenic aid compared to coffee.



What is it? Creatine is an organic compound synthesized in the body and obtained from the diet. It has demonstrated the ability to increase exercise capacity, enhance overall recovery, reduce muscle damage, lower the risk of injuries, improve focus, and promote muscle protein synthesis.

How does it work? Creatine functions by donating its phosphate group to ADP, facilitating the reformation of ATP. This replenishment of ATP stores allows individuals to train harder and longer. Creatine supplementation enhances ATP availability by increasing PCr storage, ultimately improving performance, and enhancing intense exercise performance, bone health, neuromuscular function, strength, and energy.

  • The quickest method of loading creatine involves taking 0.3 g/kg/day (approximately 20 g/day) for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 0.1 g/kg/day (about 3-5 g/day). Larger individuals may require 5-10 g/day to maintain elevated creatine stores.

  • The safest approach is to consume 3-5g daily.

Risk vs Benefit? Creatine offers a low-risk, high-benefit profile, supported by extensive research as both safe and effective. Some reported side effects include mild weight gain and bloating.

Best Sources? The most commonly researched form of creatine is creatine monohydrate, available in various supplements. Natural dietary sources of creatine include protein-rich foods like beef, poultry, fish, and pork.

Back to Whole Foods

Plate of nutrient dense food

Prioritize whole foods for your diet since they offer a wide range of beneficial nutrients, like antioxidants, carotenoids, and flavonoids, which supplements often lack. Whole foods provide a full spectrum of nutrients that work in harmony for optimal health and performance.

Remember, supplements should not replace whole foods and are only advantageous in specific situations. Excessive supplementation can lead to harm or even fatalities. Always consult your healthcare provider for personalized supplement advice that suits your needs and circumstances.

  • Supplements can interact with medications

  • The quality and safety of supplements vary widely

  • Can make some health issues worse, or pose health risks on their own

  • Help answer any questions you may have

  • Find the right supplement for you, and ensure they are safe to take in the provided quantities

When used appropriately, supplementation can address nutrient deficiencies, assist in restricted diets, or compensate for the unavailability of specific foods, effectively replenishing levels of essential vitamins and minerals.

Questions you must ask yourself before looking into supplements

  • Is it necessary?

  • Have I explored all other options regarding nutrition and hydration?

  • Will it help me achieve my goal?

Dietary supplements play a significant role in the routines of tactical athletes. However, their effectiveness varies from person to person. To make informed choices, it's essential to conduct a thorough risk/reward assessment and consult with healthcare professionals or dieticians before incorporating supplements. Given diverse goals, needs, and tolerances, crafting a personalized plan is crucial. Prioritize whole foods and nutritional strategies to build the foundation.

Give prominence to factors such as quality sleep, effective recovery, proper nutrition, and optimal hydration. Only after establishing a solid foundation in these areas should you consider turning to supplements as supportive aids.

As always, your performance and responsibilities are crucial. Act like each day is your last because one day it might be.


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