Supplement Series # 1

Supplements—To Take or Not to Take

Like I’ve stated before, much of your nutritional or dietary goals should reflect your overall goals. As young athletes go, it is my belief that the most important supplement they can take is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy eating habits, training properly, getting quality sleep and living in a structured and consistent environment will help ensure they reach their potential. supps To put it simply, much of an athlete’s athletic success is due to the cycle of a healthy lifestyle.

In order to become faster and stronger we need to push ourselves physically and train properly; in order to push ourselves we need to rest and recover properly; in order to rest and recover properly we need to eat healthy and sleep consistently; in order to sleep consistently and eat healthy we need to have an optimal hormonal balance; and on and on.

Now, sports supplements are part of their own cycle too. They are meant to be used in conjunction with sound nutrition, intelligent training, and proper rest. Simply put, if you eat like crud and expect to cover things up via taking a supplement or a whole slew of supplements, you are wasting your time and money. The word supplement means to “complete something or make up for a deficiency.” The problem with nutritional supplements is that today, most people have come to think of supplements as a primary source for vitamins and nutrients, not a supplemental source for these things. They are meant to supplement your own nutrition and training, not replace it. Your main focus needs to be on what you eat, not what you supplement with. Without the proper foundation, supplements are useless.

Sports supplements are considered a dietary supplement. Dietary supplements do not require U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before they come on the market. However, supplement manufacturers do have to follow the FDA’s current good manufacturing practices to ensure quality and safety of their product. And, the FDA is responsible for taking action if a product is found to be unsafe after it has gone on the market.

Reasons to be wary of supplements:

The first flag in understanding the supplement industry is that estimates for industry revenues are mostly unknown. They have been valued between $2.8 billion to $28 billion and beyond. One investment firm claimed the revenues for the entire nutrition industry at over $108 billion. I think it’s safe to say it is a multi-billion dollar industry. The reason the value is unknown is in relation to why we need to be wary of the supplement industry itself; there is no real definition of a “supplement.”

supp adThe supplement industry is backed by huge high dollar lobbyists, and the FDA has been subjected to a distant monitoring and lax regulation of the industry. A supplement manufacturer need only provide the FDA with a “reasonable expectation of safety, and no proof whatsoever of efficacy.” The FDA is prohibited from removing a product from the market unless it can prove that the product will cause a medical problem.

Without going into much detail in regards to the supplement industry, understand that they are out to make money—a lot of it, and they will make unrealistic claims and utilize untruthful advertising and marketing. The manufacturers have become very adept at skirting the FDA regulations regarding the fine line between “dietary supplements” and drugs. They will use misleading labels to include words like “non-proprietary blends” which lists ingredients without the amounts. They will show “proven ingredients” but they are in ridiculous low amounts of the effective dose.  The truth in many cases is we don’t know what’s in the bottles of many supplements being sold, and unless we send every single batch of every single supplement to an independent lab for testing, we never will.

In the documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger, models endorsing supplements admitted to using anabolic steroids and not the supplement they were advertising. Also, photographers discuss in detail how they use shadow imaging, and air brushing to highlight (or low light) before and after photos of a supplement advertisement. This same documentary showed how easy it was for anyone to produce and sell a legal supplement, manufactured from a home kitchen with store bought products. supps 2

Stay away from all supplements?

Although it sounds like I would warn everyone to stay away from supplements, that is not the case. I just want you to be aware of the industry and some of the misleading practices that are going on. I want people to understand the misleading and false claims that are often made, as well as the lack of quality and quantity listed in a predominantly unregulated industry. And do not automatically trust that health & fitness magazine that is pushing such and such product. Most of these magazines, if not all, are owned and produced by supplement companies. These magazines are mostly advertising of supplements, and articles written telling you to use more supplements. When was the last time you read an article in a muscle magazine that told you that you do not need supplements, just to eat a variety of healthy foods?

What is a Supplement?

A supplement is something added to the diet, typically to make up for a nutritional deficiency. Ideally, it should be used as a substitute for eating well. Supplements include the following:

  • Vitamins
  • Amino Acids
  • Minerals
  • Herbs
  • Other Botanicals

What Supplements Are Not

Products classified as dietary supplements are not required to meet any Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. There are no regulations that guarantee the safety or purity of something sold as a supplement. Therefore, supplements are not:

  • Required to meet the same safety requirements as over-the-counter or prescription drugs or food ingredients
  • Held to specific manufacturing standards
  • Guaranteed to meet product potency or purity ratings
  • Required to prove the effectiveness of any health claim they make
  • Required to meet safety or efficacy testing prior to going to the market

In the following article I’m going to dissect past the fancy and slick packaging, and explain what supplements are the best for athletic performance.


Supplement Series

1  To Take or Not to Take
2  Best Supplements for Athletic Performance
3  My Supplement Recommendations
4  Supplement Products That I Use and Recommend

Nutrient Timing for Optimal Performance
Post-Workout Supplementation