Tiger Wellness Blog: The Pros and Cons of Sports Supplements
By Scott Sehnert, Auburn University Athletics Dietitian
The supplement aisle at the supermarket offers shelves upon shelves of different bottles claiming to "burn fat", "build lean muscle", with the promise to do it faster and better than any other brand.
I've often been asked how I feel about sports supplements. Supplements can be a great addition to a well-balanced nutrition plan and even add an element of convenience.
What I find most the time is that users won't do the proper investigation into whether the supplement is right for them. Here is a quick educational, cliff-notes version to understanding sports supplements.
What are they?
Sports supplements are products used to enhance athletic performance. These supplements may include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals or any combination that are often available without a prescription. Since sports supplements are considered dietary supplements they do not require FDA approval. Combined with the right nutrition plan, sports supplements can offer significant benefits for an athlete.
Does it matter what I eat if I'm taking supplements?
Supplements should come secondary to a well-balanced food and nutrition plan. We utilize supplements to accompany a proper nutrition plan for our athletes. This allows the athlete to prepare, perform and recover at the highest level.
Supplementing can be convenient too, athlete or not. A Greek yogurt and recovery powder allows you to eat on the go.
Are sports supplements safe?
It's important to know what you're putting in your body. If you're thinking of taking a sports supplements do your research. Look into the ingredients and labels of whatever you're taking. Different combinations of supplements and medicines could have a lethal effect if used incorrectly. Avoid this by utilizing medical professionals if you're thinking of taking a supplement.
Look for the "USP Verified" label that indicates a supplement manufacturer has voluntarily asked the US Pharmacopeia to verify the quality and potency of its ingredients. Again, a reminder, supplements do not required FDA approval.
Are sports supplements effective?
This answer depends on your objective. Most of these supplements will have ingredients listed that claim to help an athlete reach desired results. More often than not, there will be too little of an ingredient to be effective and the supplement has to be taken within a certain time and certain intervals to actually be effective. Just because an ingredient is listed, does not mean it is effective.
Are sports supplements legal?
We see it constantly in the news. An athlete takes an over-the-counter supplement only to find out later that the supplement contained a banned substance. Between 15-25 percent of over-the-counter dietary supplements have been found to have some sort of banned stimulants/steroids in them.
If the label is correct, it needs to be checked for banned substances. If you are an athlete in competition, each governing body has different banned substance lists and you'll often find banned substances on the label.
Look out for these red flags on labels:
The next time you stroll down the supplement aisle at the supermarket, you'll be well equipped with the knowledge to make a decision that's right for you. Consult a dietitian or nutritionist to see where supplements can benefit your nutrition.
About the Author
Scott Sehnert is Auburn University's Sports Dietitian. He oversees sports nutrition needs for Auburn's 21 varsity sports. Sehnert is a Registered Dietitian (RD) with the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and is a member of the Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) dietetic practice group. Scott also holds certifications with the ADA as a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD), and with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He serves on the Board of Directors for the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA).