Wednesday, June 16, 2010

To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

Last week Consumer Reports magazine issued a press release on a product review they did on protein powders and drinks that included sports nutrition products, like recovery drinks. Because this report received a lot of media attention I thought it might be a good topic of discussion for my first blog. The report indicated that several popular products, like Muscle Milk, had levels of heavy metal contaminants (arsenic, lead and cadmium) that could be potentially dangerous if products were used 2-3 times per day. Using these products once daily in their usual amounts is deemed safe, but the concern was that those using the products could suffer serious health affects if they used them more than once per day, which many individuals do. If you would like to read this report it is in the July issue of Consumer Reports magazine. The companies making the products in question have published remarks refuting these test results and, as usual, this leaves the consumer in a quandary of who and what to believe.

Dietary supplements are a huge industry today and sales top 23 billion dollars annually. Why is this important to you? First, dietary supplements are not regulated at all by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) nor are the claims the supplements make on the label or advertising regulated or monitored. This essentially means that anyone can say anything about a product—and they do. Manufacturers are not required to prove a supplement is safe, contains the ingredients it says it has in the amounts it states on the label, or that it even works before selling it. Only after a product has been shown to be unsafe and in many cases, dangerous to health, can the FDA remove it from the market.

There are several organizations that do random testing of supplements for safety, potency and effectiveness. These companies include Consumer Lab (CL) , the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), and United States Pharmacopeia (USP). Look for their seals of approval on the supplement before taking it to ensure you are getting what they say they deliver. There are many cases of supplements that have been tested and found to contain ingredients not on the label, ingredients in reduced amounts than they are said to have and also contaminants.
Many supplements promise athletes more energy, more muscle, enhanced performance, weight loss, etc. and these claims can be tempting for someone who is trying to achieve their best performance. Buyer beware! Don’t believe the hype these products advertise. How to spot a fraud? Look for these types of claims:

• Quick, easy and works for every athlete!
• Testimonials that it worked for Joe and it will work for you!
• States it has a secret about how to enhance performance
• Claims it uses ingredients that have been proven to work
• Belittles established concepts about nutrition or diet

As a consumer interested in sports performance, it’s critical to ask yourself these questions before considering taking any dietary supplement:

Am I eating a well balanced sports diet?
What improvements can I make in my daily nutrition?
Am I eating the right kinds of nutrient rich foods?
How can I change the timing of my food to enhance my performance and energy level?
Am I practicing consistent recovery to keep energy high and assist with muscle recovery (reduce soreness, and inflammation)
Are my recovery foods and fluids adequate to replace glycogen stores and rebuild muscle tissue damage?
Am I getting enough rest?

Real food works for the athlete in almost every situation and is satisfying and tastes great, too. Wholesome food is always safe, effective and a budget friendly source of nutrients, like protein. Compare low fat chocolate milk with any commercial recovery drink that contains protein and you will see what I mean. For most athletes, especially in the sport of baseball, supplements are not needed unless your diet is deficient.

The risks that come with using sports nutrition supplements on a regular basis are simply put, not worth the money. Grocery store-bought food and fluids can provide all the nutrition a baseball player needs for high performance and good health, if chosen wisely, using sports nutrition guidelines. Going to health food stores or nutrition supplement stores does not guarantee safety or effectiveness when you buy a sports nutrition product. In fact, sales people at these types of stores do not have any background, training or formal education in nutrition that requires them to learn the physiology behind how food and nutrients are used in the body. Remember: First and foremost their goal is to sell you their product!

For information on food and nutrition that you can trust, find a Sports Dietitian in your area by going to and follow the links to input your location. A Sports Dietitian, (CSSD) trained, educated and credentialed in sports nutrition, can help you evaluate your diet and any supplements you are considering taking. For more information on sports nutrition go to and look for that link (sports nutrition) under nutrition for consumers.

Stay tuned for more on protein needs of athletes, what types of protein are best for athletes, when you should eat protein, how protein affects performance, and other facts about this important nutrient for good health and performance.

By Kim Larson, RD, CD
Regular Contributor

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