The broken promises of Supplements
Just walk around any GNC, Vitamin Shoppe or supplement store you will see an array of pills, powders and drinks. It’s hard for a doctor with a PhD to figure out and make sense of all of the products on the wall, now imagine how a high school athlete feels!
From NO2 to Creatine, supplement companies have found their way to the common athlete. It’s been in my experience that less is more. As athletes try to get a competitive edge in the weight room, they also try with supplements. So what are some common supplements that are popular today?
Creatine– Put simply, creatine is a compound that supplies energy to your muscles. It is made by the human body, and also found in some foods – primarily fresh meat. Creatine is produced in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys, and is transported to the body’s muscles through the bloodstream. Once it reaches the muscles, it is converted into phosphocreatine (creatine phosphate). This high-powered metabolite is used to regenerate the muscles’ ultimate energy source, ATP. When you workout, your ATP levels drop rapidly. Creatine is responsible for restoring ATP levels. Over the last two decades, creatine has emerged as the king of all athletic performance supplements. And with good reason. Creatine intake heightens your body’s creatine phosphate energy system. This allows you to push yourself for longer periods of time, with more energy. Creatine also improves your ability to tap into explosive energy when you need it as critical times in your training. It should also be noted that in clinical studies, creatine has been shown to increase strength and lean muscle mass.
Fish Oils- Fish oil comes from the tissues of oily fish. Fish oil is consumed because of the omega-3 fatty acids it contains and the reduction of inflammation it provides throughout the body. The omega-3 fatty acids that actually come from fish are not produced by fish, but instead are accumulated over time from other prey fish they consume like herring and sardines or by consuming microalgae and fish that have consumed microalgae. And while fatty fish like mackerel, albacore tuna, salmon, and trout contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, they accumulate a lot of mercury, dixoin, PCBs, and other toxic substances that can be harmful to humans. Due to the risk factors of getting omega-3 fatty acids from fish, many individuals have started to derive their dietary allowance of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil supplements.
NO2 (Nitric Oxide)- Nitric oxide (AKA NO or NO2) is a free form gas that is produced in the human body. It’s a signaling molecule and is used by cells to communicate with other cells. This gas is produced by enzymes in the body by breaking down the amino acid Arginine. Nitric oxide increases blood flow throughout the body. For bodybuilders and resistance trainers, this means more blood to the muscles and better “pumps”. Many nitric oxide users have reported increased muscle growth when supplementing with nitric oxide.
Glucosamine/ Chondroitin- Glucosamine is a naturally occurring element in the body that plays a crucial role in building of cartilage. Cartilage is a tough connective tissue that acts as a padding and cushion of the joints and requires glucosamine because of glycosaminoglycans, produced by glucosamine and required by cartilage as a key building block. Glucosamine is also needed by cartilage because it plays a role into the incorporation of sulfur into cartilage, which is required to make and repair it.
Glucosamine may be efficient in treating and even delaying the progression of osteoarthritis. If you’re unaware, osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis commonly caused by wear and tear on the joints. It leads to inflammation, breakdown, as well as eventual total loss of cartilage. Some of the tissues that are more affected by osteoarthritis include those that are weight bearing joints, like the knees and the hips. The joints found in the hands are included in this, as well. Some studies have hinted that glucosamine may be somewhat as effective as some of the common medications used to treat joint condition, while having fewer gastrointestinal side effects. NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and piroxicam are included in this category and can cause upset stomachs, constipation, diarrhea, and cramps. More often than not glucosamine is taken in conjunction with chondroitin, another supplement that is believed to be effective in treating arthritis. Both of these are normally combined with manganense, a trace metal also required for building cartilage.
Whey Protein- Whey protein is the ultimate source of protein! It’s the highest quality of protein available. Whey protein is a rich source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), containing the highest known levels of any natural food source. Whey protein is one of 2 types of protein that comes from milk (the other being casein protein). It’s made during the process of cow’s milk being turned into cheese. When the milk is being turned into cheese, the whey protein is a by-product. No foods contain actual whey protein. (edit: whey protein can be found in protein powders, protein bars and some drinks) However, many foods do contain high levels of protein. Here are the most common types of high protein foods:
•Lean red meat (20% protein)
•Chicken/turkey (20% protein)
•Fish (20% protein)
•Eggs (6-8% protein)
•Cheese (10-30% protein, but high in fat)
As we look at these common supplements and their performance benefits, the most important question that I ask ALL of my athletes is “How is your diet?” This is a simple question that almost all athletes never ask themselves. Many athletes are looking for that “edge” through a pill or supplement but the most effective way to become a complete athlete is to eat right. This means to incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grain and reduce sugars in the diet. Many of my athlete’s meals consist of waking up, skipping breakfast or eating Cheerios Cereal Bars. Lunch is Pizza, cookies and a soda and nothing till dinner which might be fast food. This example has no examples of fruits and vegetables that are packed with antioxidants and tissue repairing enzymes that are critical for normal function.
Athletes also need to get natural sources of protein from lean meats such as chicken and fish. Although Whey proteins from shakes are a great source of quick protein, whole foods are always the best choice.
By eating right and taking advantage of whole natural foods instead of resorting to supplements, we are creating a solid foundation to prepare for athletic movements, proper recovery and healthy habits down the road. Although some of the supplements listed above my have benefits to athletes, stop looking for a quick fix with false hopes and instead look at the big picture of your diet and the way you treat your body. These supplements might give you an edge but if you are not eating right then most likely the supplements are just an expensive waste of time and money.
You only have one body in this life, make sure you are treating it the best you can. Read labels and ask questions. Good luck!