Supplements can be an effective component to reach success in any fitness regimen. They can also be extremely dangerous. I have no proof of this, but I could probably link over-supplementation to some of the health problems I have today. If you read any fitness magazine or even Google anything about fitness on one of your devices, there is a good chance you will be flooded with advertisements for the latest, greatest supplement that will either “get you ripped,” “create thermogenesis,” or “build muscle and burn fat simultaneously.” Fact: There is no such thing as a supplement that does the work for you.
Michael Matthews (2014), in his book “Bigger, Leaner, Stronger: Second Edition”, describes the supplement industry with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s famous words: “a wretched hive of scum and villainy.” He further explains that “supplements do not build great physiques (proper training and nutrition does),” and “MOST are a complete waste of money.” Matthews, being a subject-matter expert, has grave concerns over the direction of this multi-billion dollar industry and how it is soaking up money from ignorant consumers (Matthews, 2014). I, personally, find concern with the health impact false claims and questionable ingredients could have on today’s youth.
Natural supplementation of vitamins, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the safest ways to improve performance; however, even these supplements come with fair warning. For example, some vitamins (specifically Vitamins A, D, and E) are fat-soluble vitamins that produce a gamut of adverse reactions if over-supplemented. The toxicity levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin D can even become fatal, if untreated.
Water-soluble vitamins are a little less likely to create a problem (Vitamins B and C for example). These vitamins can also be over-supplemented and there is still a potential for adverse reactions; however, the majority of people will naturally excrete any excess out of their bodies through their urine without doing noticeable harm. That said, these vitamins should also be taken with caution.
Omega-3 fatty acids are of great importance in your body because most people eat an Omega-6 rich diet in the United States (see previous blogs). While this supplementation isn’t supposed to be toxic, it can create problems depending on the purity of the supplements you buy. Omega-3 fats, in and of themselves, will not harm you. However, most Omega-3 sources are the oils of small fish. These supplements are supposed to be tested for purity to ensure they do not contain detectable levels of Methylmercury, which can also be toxic.
Now that we have addressed vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids to a small degree, we can move on to the main culprit: performance-enhancement supplements. Without naming names, we have all seen the ads, the merchandise, and the claims. Two dietary supplements that have been widely tested for safety are creatine supplements and protein supplements. These two supplements have both had their fair share of controversy, but most studies have heralded their safety when used responsibly. Either way, I would highly recommend checking with your doctor before supplementing with either of these. Both are filtered through the kidneys and liver to some extent, and if you are unknowingly suffering from an asymptomatic health problem, either of these supplements could make it worse.
Thermogenics: When I first graduated high school and was attending college, I was the Assistant Manager at Vitamin World in Paducah, KY. It was a daily occurrence for customers to walk in and say, “Do you carry those pills that trick your body into thinking it is working out?” At the time, there was a thermogenic ECA stack in these supplements: ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin (this is now illegal). I sold these things like crazy, not knowing this combination of ingredients were creating health problems in people all over the country. Ephedrine and caffeine work together to increase your heart rate and make your body react like you are physically active when you’re not. The Aspirin was added into the stack to hopefully prevent the person from having a myocardial infarction or stroke.
You are probably wondering why I am warning you about supplements that are no longer on the market. Wonder no more. I am warning you because I took some of these supplements, I sold them, and I promoted them. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in natural supplementation, and I think there are some really good products on the market, but finding them requires you to do some serious research. When I was an 18 year-old kid working and going to college, I was naive enough to believe that if it was dangerous, someone would magically appear and make us stop selling it. These products are not all clinically tested. The majority of these products are not FDA approved (laws that govern supplements in the United States require much less regulation than pharmaceutical medications). So when you start to dabble in supplementation, you have to arm yourself with knowledge.
There are plenty of products out there that will help produce the results that you want, but the additional side effects may be more than you bargained for. Increased muscle mass with low body fat percentage is a goal anyone would want to set for themselves. That goal should also include achieving that through a method that makes your heart healthier; not increasing your risk of a heart attack. Again, there are good supplements out there, but they usually don’t have an unrealistic claim printed on their container. Be safe, be realistic, and be informed.
MATTHEWS, M. (2014). BIGGER LEANER STRONGER: SECOND EDITION. Oculus Publishers, Inc.