Understanding the ingredients in your exercise and athletic performance supplements

Dietary supplements are often recommended by nutritionists to improve your fitness or shed excess pounds. However, their ingredients might not deliver on their promises, either because they don’t work or they’re meant for a different level of performance. So a federal research center released summaries about the ingredients used by supplements.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released two fact sheets that summarized the effectiveness and safety of ingredients used in many dietary supplements. The two types of “ergogenic aids” covered were exercise supplements and weight loss supplements.

Exercise and athletic performance supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet, states Paul Coates, head of the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the NIH. He claims that some of these supplements have no effect or actually harm their users. Others could assist certain types of physical activities. (Related: Cut your risk of premature death by more than half by just doing short bursts of exercise.)

The ingredients in exercise and weight loss supplements might not work for you

The first information sheet covers more than two dozen ingredients featured in exercise supplements. These include antioxidants, caffeine, certain types of amino acids, creatine, and protein.

Supplement manufacturers often promise that these ingredients will increase your strength, extend your endurance, and help you reach the physical fitness you dream of. However, as per the NIH fact sheet, creatine could help sprinters and weight lifters who participate in short but intense periods of exercise. The same supplement will probably not help distance runners and swimmers because they need to sustain their activity over longer periods of time.

Antioxidants are another ingredient covered by the sheet. Examples like vitamins C and E are reportedly unable to increase athletic performance. But the NIH adds that small amounts of these vitamins are important for people who want to maintain general health.

The second fact sheet involves the understandably popular weight loss supplements. According to the NIH, many of these do not have sufficient evidence backing their claims. Furthermore, the agency warns that some could harm the health of humans.

The second sheet clears chromium as a possible supplement. The mineral has been confirmed to account for a small reduction of weight and body fat, and it’s also safe. However, the sheet doesn’t recommend raspberry ketones because there are not enough official studies that confirm its safe and effective use for humans.

Supplement manufacturers skimp on human studies

Anne Thurn, the communications program director for the ODS, says that manufacturers often skimp on human studies that determine if their products are effective and safe for use by people. The studies often cover small groups of subjects who will take the supplement for weeks or months at most.

Most participants in these studies also tend to be healthy young men. They rarely cover teenagers, women, middle-aged adults, or senior citizens, all of whom have unique needs.

Furthermore, these subjects might not be doing the same physical activities as you are. The results of a study on distance runners might not apply to sprinters and vice versa, again because of the different requirements of their particular athletics.

Finally, the NIH reminds users that supplements often use more than one ingredient. While individual ingredients would probably have been tested, their combinations might not have undergone the same scrutiny. An ingredient that is safe on its own could have side effects if it’s combined with another supplement.

For people who are thinking of taking dietary supplements or reconsidering continuing them, Coates suggests getting the advice of healthcare professionals.

You can find out more about supplements at SupplementsReport.com.

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