Saturday, March 27, 2010

Things to consider before purchasing a sports supplement by Jerry Brainum

In recent years, most sports supplements, which are mainly targeted to bodybuilders, have taken on a more "scientific" persona. The trend started in the mid-1990s, when the EAS company, headed by Bill Phillips, started using scientific references in many of their ads.This proved to be an enormous success, and the practice of interspersing science and supplements continues to this day. It makes sense that any potential consumer of any particular food supplement would want to be assured that the product in question does have some scientific validity. Many current supplements, such as creatine, do have an extensive scientific data base proving beyond doubt that the product works for the majority, in this case, 80% of users of creatine. The picture becomes considerably more murky, however, when you try to find the science behind some of the newer "super" creatine supplements. These products cost significantly more than the original form of creatine (creatine monohydrate) and are sold with some extravagant claims, such as that they are "400% better than creatine monohydrate." But attempting to find the source of such claims inevitably results in both frustration and consternation, as such proof simply doesn't exist. Other ads for various products often do list various scientific references, but when you actually check the listed references for a product's efficacy, you often find that the references listed have little or nothing to do with the advertised product. Clearly, purveyors of these products don't expect potential buyers to actually check such references.
    Other products often list esoteric ingredients on the labels, such as various herbs. Once again, when you check for proof of efficacy of these compounds related to building muscle or losing body fat, you find either nothing, or scant evidence. Other evidence consists of in vitro, or test tube based studies, or animal studies. While such studies can show trends, they are hardly definitive for proof of efficacy for human usage. The question that arises here is if many of these products are as good as they are advertised to be, why don't the companies selling them sponsor legitimate research to prove their often hyperbolic ad claims? The answer is that some companies do sponsor such studies. For this, they deserve credit, since these specific product studies can often be expensive. But such sponsored studies never compare the product with similar products. In addition, a careful look at the results shown by such studies show deficits in their proof of efficacy. For example, studies showing that some testosterone-boosting supplements did increase testosterone levels considerably nonetheless showed little or no changes in body composition. In short, the study subjects in these studies, although showing elevated testosterone levels, also showed no significant gains in lean mass, including muscle. Many studies that have compared current "fat burning" supplements to placebos have shown little difference between the two. This is particularly true since the removal of ephedrine from the market, which actually did promote body fat losses. This is probably why it was removed: it worked. The pro hormone supplements that were removed from the market in 2005 replicated many of the side effects associated with anabolic steroid usage, but none of the muscle gains. When you consider that many of these substances were actually discarded old anabolic steroid drugs, their effects make sense.
       Perhaps the most insidious current practice of many supplement companies is their deceptive labeling of various products. While the Food and Drug Administration decrees that product contents must be listed in order of content, with the highest content listed first, many products do not list specific amounts of the substances contained in the products. Instead, they are merely named with no listing of precise amounts, known as "proprietary information." The problem here is that you can be paying a lot of money for a product that cost pennies to make. The amounts of active ingredients in such products may be minuscule, but you'll never know it since the amounts aren't listed. The ostensible reason for such incomplete labeling is that the food supplement business does tend to be a copycat business, where competitors will quickly attempt to duplicate the contents of a successful  product. But from a consumer viewpoint, you still come up short, since there is no assurance that the product contains any significant amounts of the listed contents.
       Still another thing to consider when examining some esoteric ingredients contained in various products is that little or nothing is known about long-term side effects. Some of these ingredients have no human research whatsoever to prove their long-term safety. They may indeed prove safe and innocuous, but right now you could be gambling on your health by using them.
      Don't get me wrong: I use many food supplements myself. But I prefer to stick with those supplements that at least have a modicum of scientific evidence to support efficacy. So before buying any high priced super supplement, contact the company selling the supplement and ask for proof of efficacy and safety. If you receive no reply, you've got your answer.

©,2012 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited

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The Applied Ergogenics blog is a collection of articles written and published by Jerry Brainum over the past 20 years. These articles have appeared in Muscle and Fitness, Ironman, and other magazines. Many of the posts on the blog are original articles, having appeared here for the first time. For Jerry’s most recent articles, which are far more in depth than anything that appears on this blog site, please subscribe to his Applied Metabolics Newsletter, at This newsletter, which is more correctly referred to as a monthly e-book, since its average length is 35 to 40 pages, contains the latest findings about nutrition, exercise science, fat-loss, anti-aging, ergogenic aids, food supplements, and other topics. For 33 cents a day you get the benefit of Jerry’s 53 years of writing and intense study of all matters pertaining to fitness,health, bodybuilding, and disease prevention.


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