Fitness supplements: the good, bad and unnecessary – Statesman Journal
Protein, creatine and branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) are popular nutritional supplements for exercisers. But do they actually offer any benefit?
Before we talk supplement effectiveness, however, we have to talk supplement purity.
I bet you didn’t know your powders and tablets might be made in some guys apartment bathtub.
That’s because there’s no standards for supplement production. Anybody can make a supplement — anywhere, out of anything — and sell it because the FDA does not regulate the nutritional supplement industry.
They don’t even double check the nutrition labels.
You know, the ones that tell you the amounts of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein) in the concoction.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Supplement makers can put anything they want on the label because the FDA doesn’t fact check them like they do actual foods.
So how do you know your favorite protein powder blend — or multivitamin or prenatal vitamin, for that matter — isn’t a mixture of flour, stevia, witch doctor grass, shaman blessings, voodoo doll hair and chocolate flavoring?
The state of Oregon actually filed a lawsuit against GMC in 2015 because some of the supplements on their shelves contained illegal and potentially unsafe ingredients.
If you don’t think that’s a big deal, think again: Researchers estimate that over 23,000 emergency room visits each year are caused by “adverse events caused by dietary supplements.”
In 2014, a fat-loss product called OxyElite Pro Advanced Formula was linked to 97 cases of hepatitis, 47 hospitalizations, three liver transplants and one death.
Thankfully, there are companies like Labdoor and Consumerlab that test nutritional supplements to verify their safety and nutritional value. If you’re curious about how your vitamins and protein powders stack up, check out their websites to see if they’ve tested them.
OK. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about the effectiveness of the popular supplements protein, creatine and BCAAs, working from the assumption that each are from quality sources.
BCAA refers to three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. If we think of protein like a house, then amino acids are the bricks used to build it.
BCAAs are important for building muscle and regulating other aspects of health, like blood sugar regulation.
Many food sources, like eggs and meat, naturally contain BCAAs. Research does not support the notion that BCAA supplementation is beneficial for the person who is already eating enough protein.
Ruling: If you eat enough protein as it is, BCAAs are likely a waste of money.
The main function of creatine is creating energy at a very fast rate. Think of it like the body’s version of jet fuel. When we do explosive activities that last less than 10 seconds, like sprinting, weight lifting or slamming a medicine ball, creatine is our main source of energy.
Creatine has been well studied and has consistently been shown to improve performance in explosive exercise like the ones mentioned above. It tends to give you a little extra juice to help you squeak out a few extra reps on the weights, which can lead to better muscle building and strength gains.
What’s more, creatine appears to improve the effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are anti-depressant drugs like Lexapro, Zoloft and Provac, resulting in decreased depression symptoms. Plus, there is some evidence it can help with cognitive functions like reaction time and memory formation and retention, too.
MORE: Find past Fit & Well columns by Kyle Davey.
Creatine is found naturally in meats, with wild game like elk, buffalo and duck (which Beavers fans may enjoy eating) containing the highest amounts, followed by domestic meats like the chicken and beef you buy at the grocery store. Accordingly, vegans and vegetarians will probably benefit from a creatine supplement more than omnivores.
Ruling: Creatine supplementation will likely help you perform better in the gym, might make you a little sharper in the smarts department and may even help SSRI-based anti-depressants do their job, resulting in less depression. Take it.
Protein has hundreds of functions that are important for general health.
Of course, the most well-known benefit of protein is its anabolic properties, or muscle building. Without sufficient protein intake, we either lose muscle or don’t build as much of it as possible. Consuming between 0.8 and 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is likely enough to ensure you’re getting the highest possible muscle-building benefit from protein.
Plus, higher protein diets have been consistently shown to support and maintain fat loss.
Eating enough food to intake the amount of protein suggested above can be challenging: It requires a lot of food. To that end, protein supplements can be helpful in reaching your daily protein goals. But if you are able to hit your target protein with quality food sources, I don’t see the need to supplement.
If you are going to use a protein powder, however, I recommend using a quality source of whey, as it is the best studied form of protein.
Ruling: Protein is critical. If you don’t eat enough of it, use a supplement to fill in the gaps.
It goes without saying that quality nutrition is paramount for health. Unfortunately, some people prey on our desire to be healthy by marketing questionable health products with false claims.
You do not need supplements to feel great, have high energy or get the results you want in the gym. You can achieve that and more by eating well. Where there are deficiencies, supplements can help, but we should not rely on them.
Take a close look at what you put in your body. Are you sure it’s safe? Are you sure it will help you reach your goals?
For most people, a quality multivitamin and protein source will work wonders. Beyond that, focus on eating and moving well, and you’ll be just fine.
Kyle Davey is the Head Trainer at Courthouse on South River Road and an adjunct professor of exercise science at Corban University. He has a degree in exercise science from Willamette University and loves helping those around him reach their potential. Call him at 503-589-7563 or email him at email@example.com.