With new dietary supplements (DS) flooding the market daily, it is easy to become overwhelmed. In this blog post I provide five tips to help athletes decide if endurance supplement use is right for you.
First it is important to discuss potential use of endurance supplements with a medical professional. This could be a physician or physician assistant, registered dietitian, or a nurse practitioner. It is best if these professionals have a background in sports, such as a sports dietitian. Remember athletes should never attempt to self-diagnose a health condition or to substitute a DS for prescription medicine. A medical provider can evaluate your health history and prevent possible supplement-drug interactions. Also, someone who works with athletes regularly (like a sports dietitian) can evaluate the research on a supplement to establish its efficacy.
The purpose of taking a DS should be to “supplement” an inadequate diet such as with the use of a multi-vitamin. In other words, taking a DS ‘just to see what happens’ is a waste of time and money. DS are not designed to prevent or treat disease, although many supplement users try to do just that. The FDA places a disclaimer on every DS label that contains health claims. It reads, “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” This is also found on DS that are promoted to improve athletic performance. In my personal opinion, most endurance athletes have FAR MORE to gain from improving their training and developing a proper nutrition plan than popping a pill or taking a powder.
There are certainly situations where taking a DS is justified. For example, I add protein powder to my breakfast smoothies. This is out of convenience as I commute to work early in the morning. Another example is during exercise, you might plan on taking sports nutrition products or even caffeine to aid your workouts. These are a couple of reasons one might take a DS. Again, the key is that you must have a goal for DS use.
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous manufacturers that will stop at nothing to sell their products. Don’t go chasing the latest headline. As they say, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The effectiveness of a product is established by years of quality research not one study.
Many DS are expensive or may not provide the benefits you want. For example, excessive amounts of water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin C) are not used by the body and are excreted in the urine. The same thing occurs with excessive use of protein powders. In many cases all you end up with is expensive urine. In the long run wouldn’t it be cheaper to get these nutrients from real food?
Never try to save money by purchasing DS from a ‘lesser known’ company or sketchy online retailer. These companies usually have greater quality control issues such as product contamination or inaccurate labeling. It happens more often than you might think. Be safe and buy “brand name” products.
DS are everywhere and ultimately it’s up to you to decide if taking supplements are worth the risk. In this article I’ve presented ‘food for thought’ as you try to make an informed decision about endurance supplement use.
Now I’d like to hear from YOU! What DS are you currently taking? Also, I’d love to help answer questions you have about a particular supplement. Shoot me an email or post your questions in the comments section.
Stay tuned to the next few blogs as I dive into some common supplements taken by endurance athletes. First up…protein powders!
About the Author:
JJ Mayo is an endurance athlete, a registered dietitian, and a sports science professor at the University of Central Arkansas. His blog, Fuel For Endurance, helps endurance athletes achieve better race results through optimal nutrition. He also just released a sports nutrition CEU course at www.mysportsnutritioncourses.com