The Short Scoop on Supplements – Part I

The Short Scoop on Supplements – Part I

Use of supplements is a huge topic to address, as you can probably guess from taking a glance at the aisles of your local vitamin shop, pharmacy or natural grocer store. Not to mention that the supplement business is over a $20 billion dollar industry in the U.S.!

Are you taking a supplement?  My guess is that most of you reading this use some form of supplementation.  Are you aware of the different kinds of supplements? If not, let us briefly review the three main categories:

  • dietary – These are designed to enhance general health and to prevent or treat nutrient deficiencies. Examples of these include:  fish oils, iron, calcium, multivitamins, and probiotics.
  • sport – Your sports nutrition products fall into this category and include gels, chews, bloks, beans, electrolytes, and sports drinks.
  • ergogenic – These supplements claim to provide a performance-enhancing benefit, a few of which may be supported by valid scientific studies while the majority of these supplements may be hype or tested quite minimally. Some of the more popular and well-researched ergogenic aids include caffeine, creatine, and beta-alanine.

Now that we have established the types of supplements and you are able to identify what types you take, an important question to ask yourself for each one is “Why do I take this?”.  Particularly for dietary supplements, I find most athletes cannot answer this question confidently or we find the supplement may not do what it is purported to do. Additionally, many supplements are not necessary with a high quality daily nutrition plan which is customized to the athlete’s unique needs.

Other important questions to ask regarding the supplements you choose and use are:

* Is it safe and does it contain what is on the product label?

Did you know supplements are not necessarily tested for quality and safety?  Unless a manufacturer voluntarily undergoes third-party testing (which costs thousands of dollars), you are potentially risking your health because supplements aren’t under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as are food products. Some ways to identify a quality-tested supplement are to look for the NSF or Informed Choice certifications, or one that has the GMP stamp (Good Manufacturing Practices).

* Does it do what it claims?

Remember the FDA does not regulate what is marketed on the supplement label nor what the product contains.  It is the supplement company’s choice to reveal the validity and science behind a product.  Then, it is up to you to know how to interpret this information and decide whether it is beneficial and necessary (or seek a health professional who knows how to help you through this process).

* Is the person recommending the supplement a celebrity or is it a multi-level marketing product?

If so, you should be somewhat skeptical particularly if you are not given supporting information as to what benefits you should expect to see.

Although you may feel protective of your current supplement regimen, I strongly recommend you have your supplement list reviewed at least annually by two or more different healthcare professionals (such as a physician who is sports-minded and a Registered Dietitian).  You could be wasting your money and putting your efforts elsewhere!

Thanks for reading,
Dina Griffin, MS, RD, CSSD, METS
Board-Certified Sport Dietitian

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