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Old 04-06-2014, 07:38 AM
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Athletic supplements: fact vs. fiction

Athletic Supplements: Fact vs. Fiction
By R. Morgan Griffin


Do popular sporting events -- the Olympics, the World Series, the Superbowl -- inspire you to get fit and build your strength and stamina? Go for it! Just don't look for a quick fix in an athletic supplement bottle.

"Athletic supplements are not nearly as helpful as people imagine," says Dave Ellis, RD, a sports dietitian and past president of the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association. "It's more hype than substance."

For the average weekend warrior, let alone a couch potato, sports supplements can be a waste of money. Even worse, they can be a health risk if you take too much, says Ellen Coleman, RD, a sports dietitian and exercise physiologist. She has worked with Olympic athletes and teams including the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Truth About Athletic Supplements

Lots of people imagine that athletic supplements work like spinach did for Popeye or like a power-up in a video game -- that they give you a boost of super-strength or super-stamina. Not really.

Yes, some supplements do have an effect on athletic performance. However, that effect is usually slight. Most supplements tend to benefit only a specific athlete in a specific situation, Coleman says. "I see lots of athletes taking supplements for the wrong reasons," she says.

Most people can get all the protein and amino acids they need from a well-balanced diet. Even a 200-pound strength athlete needs just 150 grams of protein a day, experts say. An average person weighing 150 pounds needs about 88 grams of protein a day. What's more, food naturally provides the complex mix of amino acids our bodies need, while supplements often focus on one or two types of amino acids.

Ellis says sports supplements should be reserved for special situations, such as when a stressed-out college athlete is exhausted at the end of a season but has to keep going.

Popular Sports Supplements

Creatine seems to help the muscles make energy quickly for intense activity. Studies have shown it can help people like sprinters, says Coleman. However, she often sees it misused. "I see marathon runners who take it," she says. "But it's not going to help them. In fact, it could cause them to gain weight and slow down."

Beta-alanine is another amino acid. "It could help someone in stop-and-go sports like football or basketball," says Coleman. Studies seem to show that beta-alanine works best in highly trained athletes.

Whey protein can help build muscle mass, says Coleman. It seems to work better than other types of protein, such as soy or casein. Athletes may take it right after a workout to help with muscle repair. But whey protein isn't an instant muscle powder. It only works along with rigorous training.

Caffeine is a very common ingredient in sports supplements. Why? "Supplement manufacturers love caffeine because you feel it rev you up," Ellis says. "That makes you buy more of it."
Caffeine does have some potential benefits for some athletes. It may help endurance athletes last longer, says Coleman.

But because it's everywhere -- in supplements, sodas, energy drinks, and energy bars -- it's easy to get too much caffeine. "Your body does a good job of revving you up naturally before a competition," says Felicia Stoler, RD, an exercise physiologist and registered dietitian in New Jersey. Adding a lot of caffeine to that natural buzz can push you over the edge into anxiety.

Other stimulants. Coleman says that if you're going to use a stimulant, stick with caffeine. "We have the most research about caffeine," she says. Other stimulants, such as bitter orange, could be risky.

Risks of Athletic Supplements

Be wary. Athletic supplements may not be what they seem. The government doesn't regulate supplements, so you can't be sure the bottle really contains the all ingredients listed on the label -- and in the right doses. "The supplement industry really is like the wild, wild West," says Coleman.

For pro athletes, tainted supplements could end a career. They can be contaminated with a banned substance, such as anabolic steroids, that could show up on a drug test. That risk extends to anyone who gets drug-tested for work, including police and firefighters.

Lab tests have found that some "natural" supplements actually contain drugs, including decongestants or other stimulants. They could pose a risk of interactions with other drugs.

How to Use Sports Supplements Safely

"Supplements can improve performance for some athletes, and there are some good companies out there," says Coleman. But because the risks of supplements are real, you should always be careful.

Talk to an expert. There are too many supplements and too much bad information to sort it out on your own. Before you start taking a supplement, talk to a sports dietitian or your doctor.

Know why you're taking a supplement. Never take a supplement for vague reasons like "getting more energy." Know exactly what it does, how it works, and why it will help you.

Look for good quality. Good manufacturers pay to have their supplements tested by independent labs. Look for supplements certified by Consumer Lab, Informed Choice, or NSF International, Coleman says.

Don't take too much. Even with high quality supplements, taking too much can be a waste of money. It can also be dangerous. High doses of some supplements can interact with drugs and harm your body.

Don't use supplements to make up for an unhealthy lifestyle. If you have bad habits or aren't eating well, supplements won't atone for your sins.

Ellis stresses that while athletic supplements do have a role, only a small and targeted group of athletes are likely to benefit. "Most people are probably better off working on the fundamentals, like eating a healthy diet and getting enough rest," he says. "They're going to do a lot more for your athletic performance than a supplement."

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Old 04-08-2014, 09:15 AM
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beta alanine works. i am not a "highly trained athlete" as the article states but I definitely notice a difference in muscle stamina and even a quicker recovery between rounds. also use creatine which helps too
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