“Get pumped!” “Gain massive muscle!” “Increase strength!” When you’re bombarded with messages like these as you walk into a vitamin store or shop at one online, it’s no wonder you become convinced you can turn yourself into an Abercrombie & Fitch model.
Store shelves are loaded with muscle enhancers, protein powders, weight loss products and testosterone boosters. Browse the next shelf to find protein bars, energy drinks and amino-acid packets. You can even find muscle-building oatmeal that contains over 30 grams of protein. But do these products really work? And perhaps more importantly, are they safe?
Overview of the Different Types of Fitness Supplements
There are many different types of fitness supplements on the market today, each promising to provide a variety of benefits. While they may have benefits, there can also be risks to taking fitness supplements, especially if consumed in excess. Here are some of the potential risks of some common fitness supplements.
You might take protein supplements if you’re looking to increase your endurance and strength. You may even take them in order to limit your carbohydrates intake. In many cases, you take them before or following your workouts because you believe they will enhance your muscle mass. However, there is evidence that suggests consuming protein supplements in excess of your recommended dietary protein intake can result in increased risks, including becoming dehydrated, developing osteoporosis and experiencing kidney problems.
Too Much Protein
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein for men and women is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, according to the Institutes of Medicine. About 10 percent to 35 percent of your daily calories should be derived from protein. You can calculate your approximate recommended daily intake of protein using the online calculator provided by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Medical experts explain that if you add too much protein into your diet, it can be a health hazard. When you consume excess amounts of protein, your body either converts it to fat for storage or you burn it for energy. While burning carbohydrates for energy is efficient, burning protein is not.
Plus, since consuming excess protein increases the nitrogen in your body, you put yourself at risk of dehydration. Your kidneys have to work harder to flush the nitrogen from your body, so you need more water. There can be negative consequences when you take protein supplements when your regular diet is already satisfying your recommended daily intake. You need to monitor how much protein you’re consuming to determine if you even need a supplement.
A Consumer Reports investigation found that when you frequently consume some types of protein shakes, it could expose you to potentially toxic levels of cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic. Also, illegal substances, like steroids, have been found in certain protein shakes, although you won’t see it listed on the bottle’s ingredient label.
Promotes Other Problems
Other evidence has shown that when you consume too much protein in the long-term, you increase your risk of worsening existing kidney problems and osteoporosis. The UK Department of Health warns that you shouldn’t consume over twice the daily intake of protein recommended (45g for women, 55.5g for men).
In addition, you should be getting your protein source from your daily diet as much as possible. Some protein-rich foods might include:
- Lamb, pork or red meat (beef)
- Duck, chicken, turkey
- Dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt)
There may be some benefits to consuming whey protein if you are a gym-goer as it can improve the nutrient content of your diet and have a positive effect on your immune system. But, you need to use it safely. Monitor the amount of protein you are getting each day to ensure you are not exceeding your recommended daily protein intake.
Weight Loss Supplements
Popular workout and weight-loss supplements are found in a variety of vitamin shops and health food stores nationwide. But, there are risks, and there are potential dangers from workout supplements as some contain a chemical that is quite similar to the powerful stimulant amphetamine. This chemical, BMPEA, can pose a serious health risk.
Weight Loss Supplements Containing BMPEA
Two years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documented that nine of these types of supplements contained BMPEA. However, the FDA didn’t originally publicize the product names that contained them or the companies that made them. The supplements were not recalled, and no health alert was sent out to consumers regarding these supplements. According to the FDA, these supplements containing the stimulant did not appear as a safety concern at that time. The supplements that contained BMPEA include:
- Gat JetFuel T-300
- Fastin – XR
- Black Widow
- Yellow Scorpion
- Lipodrene Hardcore
- Aro Burn
- Lipodrene Xtreme
- Dexaprime XR
- Gat Jetful Superburn
- Stimerex – ES
Even though doctors prescribe certain steroids for clinical reasons, other steroids taken to act as performance-enhancing drugs are often misused. They are appealing because they improve performance and endurance. They can also stimulate muscle growth since they are based on the male hormone testosterone.
One of the problems with steroids is that they can also induce “roid rage” — a term used to describe the enhanced aggression they produce. When abused, steroids can also contribute to other major health effects, such as heart damage, increased blood pressure, acne, liver damage and hormonal irregularities.
Amino Acid Supplements
Amino acids are estimated to be in the top five of sports-related supplements. They are essential building blocks of protein. However, if you eat a variety of meat and dairy products (i.e. animal-based foods), you’re likely getting an adequate amount of amino acids from the foods you eat.
If you’re healthy and you maintain a well-balanced diet, you likely don’t need any amino acid supplements. When you ingest large quantities of them, you’re putting yourself at high risk for health problems.
Amino Acid Supplement Dangers
Amino acid supplements can work against you because, in excess, they make it hard for you to absorb enough carbs to ensure you have a sufficient storage of glycogen in your muscles. They also increase your risk of dehydration since your body needs extra water to eliminate byproducts of protein.
Creatine helps to improve muscle strength and size. It aids your muscles in their ability to repair effectively and become stronger and bigger. It’s the main energy source your body uses during your heavy weight-lifting sessions to enable your muscles to become (positively) damaged in the first place and in need of repair. Athletes are known to consume creatine before and/or after a workout.
Your body naturally produces creatine, and it is replenished when you eat fish and meats. However, supplementing creatine prior to your workout can enable you to lift heavy weights for a longer period of time and encourage muscle usage at its optimum level.
Creatine Supplements Dangers
Typically, creatine supplements come in tablet form or a powder you can add to protein shakes. Although there are many benefits to creatine, there are some dangers to creatine supplements as well.
These are some things to consider before you take creatine supplements:
- Creatine has not been proven effective or safe in adolescents or children. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons advises against adolescents and children taking these supplements because of the unknown risks.
- Although creatine is most likely safe in reasonable amounts for adults, there has not been adequate long-term studies on it for all age groups.
- A risk assessment published in the Journal of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology in 2006 showed that no more than five grams of creatine should be consumed by adults. Kidney damage has been linked to higher amounts.
- You might not respond to creatine supplements in the same manner as other people. If you have higher stores of creatine in your muscles, you might not receive a noticeable effect from the supplement.
How Fitness Supplements Work
Some supplements are designed to allow you to achieve certain results when you combine them with a balanced lifestyle. Muscle supplements, for example, are designed to increase a muscle’s ability to form new fibers, repair, recover and rebuild. On the other hand, a fat loss supplement is intended to decrease your appetite and increase your metabolism.
Supplements, however, will not have your arms bulging muscles or your abdomen sporting a six pack in a week. Fitness supplements take commitment and time to see results, just like working out. They’re not meant to be a magical fix to help you to gain strength or lose weight.
They are meant to be combined with a balanced diet, regular workouts, a healthy lifestyle and getting plenty of sleep. According to Kamal Patel, people need to ensure they’re getting enough sleep. “Supplements may definitely have a chance of providing some incremental boost, but muscle is forged in the kitchen and built while you’re asleep.”
You also need to ensure you are buying the proper formula that your body needs for achieving results. Your exact fitness needs are not the same as another individual. You need to sift through the hype to find your own tailored fitness needs strategy. Beware of any marketing manipulation, hype or bogus testimonials. If you don’t do your research, take the wrong dose, or combine it with other products you shouldn’t, supplements can put your health at risk. Perhaps most importantly, you should not rely on supplements exclusively to manipulate or transform your body.
Potential Overall Dangers of Fitness Supplements
Supplements have been disputed for a long time. You might not know what you’re actually ingesting since many labels say they contain “natural” ingredients or they can offer you “guaranteed” benefits.
There are over 50,000 health issues reported each year by the FDA regarding the dangers of fitness supplements. Often, “bodybuilding” supplements are involved. For instance, in 2012 the best-selling, “natural” supplement, Craze, appeared on the market. It was sold on Amazon, in Walmart and other stores. It was later found to have contained undisclosed compounds that worked like amphetamine.
In another incident, supplement designer Matt Cahill came out with products that contained dangerous substances that caused liver damage and blindness.
In 2008, a 29-year old plumber from Janesville, Wisconsin, Marques Parke, took Hydroxycut, a weight-loss supplement. He said he was looking to lose five pounds. In only a few short weeks, he was stricken with jaundice and acute hepatitis. He is suing the manufacturer of the supplement as well as others. The defendant’s attorney states they intend to contest the claims.
It was said that in 2002, the FDA did indeed receive its first adverse-event report regarding this supplement which was long before Parke began to take it. By 2009, the agency began warning consumers to stop taking Hydroxycut and iovate Health Sciences, the manufacturer, recalled some of its products. By this point, however, Parke’s liver had already been damaged.
Legal vs Illegal Fitness Supplements
Certain performance-enhancing drugs are illegal to buy and are banned from sports for a reason. First, they give you an unfair competitive advantage, but the real issue is that they present serious health risks if you use them. One particular illegal performance-enhancing drug that many bodybuilders are using is anabolic steroids. A lot of users of this illegal drug are typical family members with regular jobs, but because they are looking to build their physique, they risk buying these drugs on the black market.
Straight testosterone is just one type of anabolic steroid, but more regularly, these steroids contain synthetic forms of testosterone. Although you can get testosterone legally with a prescription if you have certain medical conditions, it’s illegal for you to use it for muscle gain or other non-medical uses. Not to mention, steroids pose many risks, with some being:
- Prominent breasts in men
- Shrunken testicles in men
- Premature baldness
- Severe acne
- A deeper voice in women
- Increased body hair in women
- Liver cancers and liver abnormalities
- Increased bad cholesterol (LDL)
- Depression, violent outbursts and other psychiatric disorders
- Hypertension and other heart conditions
- Inhibited growth in teens
When to Use Fitness Supplements
Most people can get adequate amounts of protein, creatine and amino acids through diet alone. However, if you are not ingesting the recommended amount or when advised by a physician, supplements may be beneficial as long as they are used correctly.
When consumed in relation to exercise, for example, the proteins found in fitness supplements can enhance skeletal muscle maintenance. If you don’t have a post-exercise meal available, taking protein supplements can play a crucial role in muscle repair. With that said, obtaining protein from real foods to build muscle mass is preferred over protein supplements.
When Not to Use Fitness Supplements
If you’re already getting your required amount of protein and other important nutrients your body needs from the foods and beverages you drink, you most likely do not need a fitness supplement. This is especially true if you’re getting adequate protein in your diet.
In addition, if you examine the ingredient list label found on a pre-workout supplement, would you even know what half of listed items mean? If not, then it may not be a supplement you would want to put into your body in the first place, unless given the green light by your doctor.
Dangers of Lack of Fitness Supplements Regulation
Although the FDA regulates supplements as foods, they regulate them differently than they do ordinary foods and drugs. For instance, a product’s effectiveness or safety doesn’t have to be proven by a dietary supplement manufacturer before it is put out on the market.
The FDA is not required to “approve” dietary supplements for effectiveness or safety, unlike other drug products, before they are released out to the consumer. Once a dietary supplement enters the market, the FDA must prove it is unsafe in order for it to be removed from the market or have its use restricted.
Manufacturers that market dietary supplements are allowed to make function/structure claims in their marketing material about their supplements. These are broad claims about a product being able to support the function or structure of your body. These claims have to be put in front of the FDA within 30 days of their first use and have to be substantiated. Sadly, if you were to search the Internet, you will see there are many products being marketed that come with poorly regulated claims.
The US does not require dietary supplements to be standardized, and no regulatory or legal definition even exists in the US for standardizing these supplements. Manufacturers use standardization as a process of ensuring batch-to-batch product consistency and as a measure of quality control. In some situations, during the standardization process, specific chemicals (markers) are identified that may be used to manufacture a consistent product.
In many cases, you’ll find it hard to determine the quality of any specific supplement by reading its label. The degree of quality control, like any product, will depend on the supplier, manufacturer and other parties in the production process.
Get Help for an Addiction to Fitness Supplements
Workout supplements are among the most popular fitness or bodybuilding supplements around. The problem with them, however, is that they can be dangerous when ingested incorrectly, and there is a risk for you becoming dependent on them. This dependency is more of a mental or psychological addiction once you have added them into your supplement stack.
Although it is unlikely that you would develop a physical addiction to OTC weight-loss supplements or many other fitness supplements, you can gain a compulsive need for them and misuse them believing they will help you lose weight or gain muscle quicker.
This is particularly true if you already have a pre-existing eating disorder. According to an American Psychological Association’s psychological study, it is easy to become obsessed with shakes, protein powders and other fitness supplements ― and it can be a sign of an eating disorder. Up until just recently, eating disorders were mostly classified as bulimia, anorexia and binge-eating disorders. Now, excessive workout supplement use is emerging as a new eating disorder.
There is now an obsession in the US with staying fit and healthy eating, which can be psychologically harmful, too. In fact, rock solid six-pack abs and bulging biceps have become a growing obsession in men (and some women) to have a “built” appearance. Because of this, some individuals form a habit of misusing protein supplements in order to achieve their desired body type.
Although taking pre-workout supplements is not always a wise choice, and in many cases is not recommended, it’s ultimately up to you. If you feel you have a problem with a psychological addiction to them, though, you should try to wean yourself off of them or avoid them altogether. If you find this is hard to do, contact 12 Keys Rehab.
As science keeps trying to show and tell you, food — real and wholesome food that comes from Mother Nature — is your perfect supplement. Although your doctor might recommend certain supplements if you have particular health conditions, typically your diet alone is sufficient enough to provide you with all the nutrients you need. This might be a hard pill to swallow, but it is a proven truth.