The Boom in Sports Supplements: Why They May Be More Harm than Good

Posted onJune 22, 2021 in Medical news

THE POPULARITY OF SPORTS FOOD IS GROWING NOT ONLY AMONG professional athletes, including bodybuilders, but also among amateurs. This is confirmed by the numbers: in 2010, sales of vitamins and nutritional supplements in the United States reached $ 28 billion, and seven years later this amount has grown to 36 billion . To scale: theoretically on the amount that could be purchased for about forty companies Avon size.

The choice of sports nutrition is huge: complexes, mixtures, boosters stand in rows on the shelves of fitness clubs and specialized stores, and the assortment on the Internet is even wider. Vials of nutritional supplements, from tiny to gigantic, are full of colorful messages and bright promises – from rapid muscle growth and recovery to improved blood circulation in them and burning of subcutaneous fat. The dosage forms range from powder to be diluted with milk, water or juice, to capsules and gels.

It is worth whether to believe the coach, it was reported that when taking certain supplements the desired effect can be obtained more quickly? Is it possible to do only with proper nutrition during active sports? Understanding what fitness supplement manufacturers are advertising and how it relates to scientific research.


Perhaps the most popular form of sports nutrition is protein, or protein. It is not a hormone and not a cure, but simply building blocks for muscle. In 2010, The Daily Mail published an article with a headline stating that protein powder could increase life expectancy by ten years. After closer examination of the data, it turned out that this was a study in middle-aged mice, which were supplemented with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). The mice of the experimental group lived on average ninety-five days longer than the animals fed the usual diet. These results were extrapolated to humans, concluding that amino acids and, by extension , protein are beneficial – and that extending the lifespan of mice by three months is equivalent to extending human life by ten years. The authors clarified and reported that they were only able to trace the course of biological processes, and also pointed out the obvious biological and physical differences between mice and humans – in general, a good example of the fact that you can not transfer data from experiments directly into the headings.

Under normal, non-extreme conditions, the protein that they get from regular food is enough for most people. In the UK, the recommended daily intake for adults (nineteen to fifty years old) is 55.5 grams per day for men and 45 for women (excluding pregnant and breastfeeding women). In the US, the rates are very similar – 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, that is, 0.79 per kilogram of body weight, or at least 10 % of the daily calorie requirement. Most of us eat more : the actual daily protein intake is 88 grams for men and 64 for women. For example, a 65- gram chicken sandwich contains approximately 20 grams of protein; if you add a glass of milk to it, you will add another 5 grams of protein. As a result, you get 25 grams of protein in one snack, that is, more than half the daily value for women. In professional athletes other rules. According to experts from the British Nutrition Fund, athletes in strength sports need 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, while athletes developing speed qualities need 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram. Even these goals can be achieved with a balanced diet, although protein powder can be a convenient snack option.

Let’s go back to the fitness club. Coaches argue that high-protein diet is good for weight loss, but in fact the situation is to have not yet been cleared up : some studies support this view, others deny. It has also not been proven that a high protein diet helps prevent muscle loss in middle age. Even less compelling is the evidence that excess protein helps maintain cardiovascular health. The positive effect of a high-protein diet on muscle strength and elasticity has also not been confirmed. True, there are a number of indications of the benefits of a high-protein diet for healthy adults, not the elderly or pregnant.

Increasing the amount of regular protein in the diet to 20-25% will not harm your health . If translated into grams, then it would be reasonable for men to eat no more than 111 grams of protein per day, and for women – no more than 90 grams. In addition to the benefits, there are possible risks, such as the occurrence of diarrhea. It has also been shown that excessive amounts of protein in the diet can reduce bone density and increase the risk of osteoporosis. In people with proven kidney disease, high levels of protein will definitely lead to the progression of kidney failure .

Be that as it may, to maintain a normal level of protein in the diet or (if desired and necessary) to increase it, if you cannot get so much protein from food, you can turn to sports supplements. And here one problem arises: a study of 134 powdered proteins revealed heavy metals in them, including arsenic, cadmium and mercury – cadmium was of particular concern to researchers, since it can accumulate in the kidneys, damaging them. True, the authors were immediately accused of the lack of transparency in the methodology and funding sources, and it should be said that heavy metals are present in the environment and food contamination is inevitable – but it is still possible that consuming a large amount of protein (more than three servings a day) can be dangerous.

Amino acids

A variety of protein supplements is considered BCCA – the essential amino acids valine, leucine, isoleucine with branched side chains. It is believed that these amino acids (or “amines” in fitness jargon), with serious physical activity, help to reduce the percentage of fat, enhance the effect of other supplements and strengthen the immune system. K Unfortunately, the evidence is that in no studies received. On the contrary, there is evidence that SCAD may increase the risk of developing ALS – amyotrophic lateral atherosclerosis. This is a rare disease, which in 2014 was dedicated to a flash mob pouring ice water from a bucket.

To summarize, the protein and its constituents (amino acids) are safe in an amount not exceeding two daily norms. If you have kidney disease or a clear connection between diarrhea and protein intake, then you should not lean on protein. It is also important not to buy unknown or suspiciously cheap proteins, even if offered by a fitness trainer.


These are carbohydrate-protein mixtures, in addition to protein, they contain simple or complex carbohydrates, vitamins, creatine. A gainer is a source of extra calories that should be taken immediately after training to build muscle and replenish energy. Allergy to milk protein can be a possible problem , but this is usually known from childhood. Thus, a gainer, like protein, can rather be considered a type of food that, if used correctly , will not cause harm and will serve as a source of energy and nutrients. As usual, the question of quality remains open; it is better to choose products from trusted manufacturers.


Creatine is an organic acid that supplies energy to muscle and nerve cells. There are small studies that show the benefits of creatine in gaining muscle mass. True, this applies only to young athletes-sprinters, that is, those who are involved in sports with short-term but intense muscle work. For this reason, creatine is banned by some sports organizations – it can be regarded as doping . On the other hand, this substance is well studied and is not toxic at a dose of 2-3 grams per day .

Anthony Komarov, editor-in-chief of the health letters section of Harvard Medical School, cautiously warns that in adulthood, creatine is unlikely to help build or maintain muscle mass, and that there is no reliable data on the absolute safety of creatine. To completely protect yourself from possible negative consequences, you should not exceed the recommended dosages of creatine and use it at an older age.


It is a direct relative of the B vitamins, which are synthesized by the body itself. L-carnitine is involved in the energy metabolism of skeletal muscles and the transport of fatty acids into cells. It would be logical to assume that L-carnitine improves muscle function, but the research results are disappointing : in twenty years of study, no improvement in muscle performance has been found. In general, there is no evidence yet for the benefits of L-carnitine.

The substance has been shown to be safe, provided that the manufacturer does not cheat. The FDA warns that unscrupulous manufacturers can add sibutramine to carnitine, a potentially dangerous substance that can significantly increase blood pressure and heart rate. This, in turn, increases the risk of cardiovascular complications in arrhythmias or coronary artery disease.

Nitric oxide donors

By relaxing the vessel wall, nitric oxide increases blood flow to the muscles and helps them recover faster after exercise; As sports supplements, it is not nitric oxide itself that is offered, but substances (nitrates, arginine, citrulline) that are converted into it in the body. Usually the supplement contains a mixture of various substances; however, nitrates and L-citrulline have been shown to be effective in improving endurance , but have been studied in professional cyclists, runners, swimmers and kayakers rather than amateurs. L-arginine, on the other hand, has not shown any effects either in combination with caffeine or creatine, or on its own.

A fly in the ointment was a study in which data were obtained on the violation of the synthesis of steroid hormones in men when using nitric oxide donors. In addition, L-arginine can cause diarrhea and indigestion when taken in doses greater than 10 grams. Against this background, the staining of urine in a reddish color due to the components of beets is a harmless fact. The research may conclude that the benefits of nitric oxide donors in women outweigh the potential harm, and men should wait for more detailed safety studies.

Fat burners

Under this name, several groups of drugs that affect metabolism are combined : first of all, these are thermogenics, which increase body temperature and increase the amount of calories spent, and lipotropics, which accelerate the breakdown of fats. There are drugs that are even less close to the processes of burning fat – in order to promote weight loss, they affect other mechanisms, for example, disrupt the absorption of fat or suppress appetite.

Next is the gray area of ​​dietary supplements, which formally refer to fat burners, but in fact contain sibutramine or diuretic components. The same sibutramine is officially sold under many commercial names and is used to treat obesity after medical advice, it enhances the feeling of fullness and has heat-generating properties. The main contraindications are known: heart disease, arterial hypertension, decreased or increased thyroid function, kidney or liver pathology. Therefore, to assess potential risks, prior consultation with a doctor is required.

The problem is that unscrupulous manufacturers unauthorizedly add sibutramine or other potentially harmful substances to seemingly harmless drugs, and due to this, there is a wow effect in terms of weight loss. For example, in 2017, a study of fifty-two caffeine supplements found that every tenth sample contained undeclared substances – for example, sibutramine and phenolphthalein, as well as psychotropic substances like amfepramone and phenproporex. Finding an excess of caffeine in half of the supplements does not seem so dangerous against this background – but if you use the drugs in accordance with the instructions, the safe daily caffeine limit of 400 mg will be exceeded.

This data echoes a study in thirteen countries that involved purchasing over 600 different non-hormonal supplements from 215 suppliers. It turned out that 15% of samples contained undeclared anabolic steroids, and another 10% had controversial results. Most of the cases of undeclared additives occurred in five countries: the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.

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