We are what we eat – so the saying goes. Yet how many of us eat a well-balanced diet (excluding Atkins, of course)? Nutritionists around the world are saying that most of us do not eat properly and this is reflected in the growth in the demand for food and sports supplements of all types. Many of today’s killer diseases like heart disease and cancer are closely linked with diet and lifestyle. We all know that we should eat sensibly and exercise – but do we? Unfortunately not! Looking at today’s statistics regarding the overweight US population is staggering. Complaining about our weight is not a solution to the problem.
Taking action will only be the first step. Following through and maintaining healthy habits will eventually eradicate this serious illness.
Where to start? Understanding your body and its nutritional requirements can help you cover the necessary vitamins and food supplements it needs. We are all aware that it is quite difficult to consume all the necessary vitamins, minerals and proteins in a day. We would have to practically eat 24 hours to feed our body with what it needs. However, who has the stomach or the patience to cook the whole day?
Food supplements can help you go through the day without the need for cooking and still give your body the necessary nutrients to keep up. However, today’s market offers a multitude of food and sports supplements that can become quite confusing for those who are not well informed. What to use? When to use it? How to use it and in what frequency? So many questions, but where are the answers? The next few pages will make you understand in more detail the science of food and sport supplements so you can take control of your life and help maintain good health by taking the supplements that are right for you.
Scientific theories are important in explaining the mechanism by which a supplement might enhance metabolism and performance. They can also be hyped into persuasive marketing tactics announcing an amazing ‘scientific breakthrough’. However, a theory is only an idea on paper, until it has been scrutinized through the process of scientific research and publication. Sports scientists are impressed only by the results of scientific studies conducted under a special code of rules, and published only after a review process by other scientists.
This process costs time and money. Unfortunately, most supplement companies don’t invest in this research – after all, they can successfully sell their products to a public who don’t demand real proof for their claims. It is easier for these companies to state on the packaging of the product if their supplements is FDA approved or not, and to mention that their supplement is not curing or preventing any diseases. Actually, this wording offers some legal protection for them. Furthermore, most of the research that has been undertaken has failed to support the claims of the majority of nutritional aids.
Although supplements and sports foods receive most of the glamour and attention in sports nutrition, they really should be thought of as “icing on the cake” rather than substantial fare. Talent, hard work and time are three extra ingredients in laying this solid foundation. Special sports foods, when used to meet specific goals of workouts and competition, can make an important impact – for example, refueling and hydrating with sports drink might achieve a 5-10% benefit for performance in a prolonged sporting event. However, until everything else has fallen into place, these benefits are unimportant and unnoticeable. Most young and developing athletes should not consider these products until they have made considerable achievements based on the foundation layers. As they begin to reach their peak potential, these special aids may provide a noticeable effect.
Buyers beware! You have to be careful about the type of supplements you consume. Many of them can be bogus. Many athletes use the “try anything” approach to supplements. Each body responds differently to the individual supplements. Do not compare any of your side effects with those of someone else. While one person can grow quickly on one of the sports supplements (creatine monohydrate), you might simply keep your weight stagnant. As mentioned in previous chapters, every body is built differently and responds differently to supplements as well.
Consumer Reports published a report, “Sports-Supplement Dangers”, which points out the health risks of using products that contain the potentially harmful ingredients ephedra, fen-Phen (which was taken off the market), androstendione, and creatine. These products are widely used to lose weight or gain energy. In response to some questions subsequently raised by the ephedra industry, Consumer Reports issued the following statement: “Products containing ephedra, often used to control weight, may be the most potentially hazardous supplements of all major sports supplements”.
Many of these supplements combine ephedra with caffeine. The FDA found the combination so dangerous that it banned it from over-the-counter drugs in 1983. While we acknowledge that obesity is a major public health concern, and that many people need to control their weight, we advise against taking ephedra to lose weight or for any other purpose. A study conducted by researchers at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons showed that a small number of people in a small trial lost weight while taking an ephedra-caffeine supplement. The people who received the active ingredients in this placebo-controlled trial had statistically significant increases in heart rate and blood pressure. Seven of the original 35 active treatment subjects dropped out of the trial because of heart palpitations, chest pain, and/or elevated blood pressure. None of the 32 placebo recipients experienced those side effects nor did any of the placebo dropouts leave because of treatment effects. The “stack” (combining ephedra, caffeine, and aspirin), as they call it, had a disastrous side-effect. “The effects of ephedrine and caffeine – constricting blood vessels, increasing blood pressure – would be most likely to cause injury in persons with underlying cardiovascular disease. Most important, these cases illustrate that people with unrecognized cardiovascular disease are using products that are potentially dangerous to them.”
For those suffering from thyroid disease, one simple piece of advice: Run away from these fat-burning supplements! From Hydroxycut to Metabolife, individuals suffering from thyroid disease should avoid these products. It is indicated in the label as well. Before consuming any sports supplement containing ephedra, read the labels. It can save your life. With all research done with ephedra content products, I stand firmly behind the recommendation against taking supplements containing ephedra.
In 1999, Americans spent an estimated $1.4 billion on sports supplements, hoping that the pills, drinks, and powders would help them bulk up, slim down, or compete more effectively. However, people who take these products are actually conducting what amounts to a vast, uncontrolled clinical experiment on themselves with untested, largely unregulated medications. Consider yourself as a “guinea pig” for these large corporations. You try their products, you pay for it and you put your life in danger. Pretty good deal for these companies, isn’t it?