Review finds only tepid support for use of taurine for sports performance

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - jacoblund
©Getty Images - jacoblund

Related tags: taurine, Amino acids, Sports nutrition products, Sports nutrition sector, Sports nutrition

The amino acid taurine has been a mainstay of sports nutrition formulations for many years. But the authors of a recent review paper said the evidence for its physiological effects is mixed at best.

The recent review was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition​.  It is the work of a team from Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities.

The authors’ aim was to summarize the “current evidence regarding the efficacy of taurine in aerobic and anaerobic performance, metabolic stress, muscle soreness, and recovery.”

Taurine abundant in body

Taurine, a sulfur-containing amino acid, is abundant in muscle tissue and accounts for 50% to 60% of the free amino acid pool in the body.  Taurine helps to regulate fat metabolism and is associated with aerobic metabolism.  It also could play a role in regulating exercise-induced inflammation, lactate clearance and glucose metabolism.

To investigate the effects of taurine supplementation on these and other endpoints the authors conducted a literature search on Google Scholar and on the PubMed database. After excluding studies that did not meet the intake criteria and discarding duplicates, the authors had 19 papers in total to review.

Mixed studies come up with mixed, ‘small’ results

The authors said an inescapable complicating factor for their review was the heterogeneity of the research.  Seven of the studies looked at athletes and one at soldiers.  Some studies looked at aerobic parameters while others concentrated on recovery. Eight studies measured metabolic parameters while the others did not, and only two studies included women. Dosages ranged from 0.5 grams to more than 10 grams.

The authors noted that the strongest support for taurine’s exercise-related effects has come from animal models. They said this was the first review to summarize results in humans, and the results are mixed at best.

“Taurine has been proposed as an ergogenic supplement in exercise performance due to its abundance in human skeletal muscle and its role in a variety of physiological functions, including energy metabolism, and oxidative stress and inflammation regulation. A combination of factors likely explains taurine’s ‘small’ effects of aerobic and anaerobic performance, muscle soreness, and recovery possibly due to taurine’s bioavailability with timing and dosage,”​ they concluded.

Expert: Taurine often found in ‘flanker’ role

Dr Robert Wildman, PhD, principal in the firm Demeter Consultants, said the review papers authors did a good job in summarizing the research focused on taurine’s purported performance (as opposed to muscle building) effects.  He noted that they found was in concord with an ISSN position paper​, which rated the taurine performance benefit data as limited or mixed. 

That hasn’t prevented the ingredient from finding its way into many formulations, he said, which might be part of the difficulty in parsing out its effects on its own.

“One important concept is that, while taurine is marketed as a stand-alone ingredient in some dietary supplements, most of the exposure and application is as part of multi-ingredient dietary supplements. Furthermore, its a common formulation addition to energy drinks and shots and likely puts the Bull (Tauro) in Red Bull,”​ he said.

“Further still, taurine is most commonly found in products in a secondary or ‘flanker’ role supporting more recognized or stronger substantiated ingredients such as caffeine, beta alanine, Teacrine, Nitrosigine, etc. The main takeaway for product development and marketing is to match taurine level, directions for use and target consumer against what research has been performed to date and what a brand might need to do to make specific claims. This is the work of a solid regulatory and scientific affairs team member,” ​Wildman added.

Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
 18​, Article number: 39 (2021)
Taurine in sports and exercise
Authors: Kurtz JA, et al. 

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