The Truth About Sports Supplements: How Safe Are They?

Mar 2016

4 mins read

Sports supplements are becoming increasingly popular today, especially among gym enthusiasts. They have caught the eye of anyone and everyone interested in improving their muscles or physique. These enthusiasts opt for supplements coupled with exercises, including weightlifting. On the other hand, people looking to reduce their weight also take sports supplements as a part of their diet.

Those opting for sports supplements should remember that eating well and drinking plenty of water along with talent; training; conditioning; motivation; dedication; adequate sleep and recovery are essential for optimal sports performance. Without these basic elements no amount of supplements will turn you into a champion or help you to meet your goals.

But did you know that some of these supplements sold are not only illegal but also very harmful? There are a huge variety of sports supplements available that are marketed to athletes like pills, powders, drinks and bars. But before you opt for it, you need to ask yourself: “Will they give you the competitive edge?”

What are sports supplements?

Sports supplements

Sports supplements are substances that enhance an individual’s energy use, production and recovery. This includes aids that might help an individual to prepare for exercise or improve the efficiency or enhance the recovery. The supplements may also allow an individual to tolerate heavy training to a greater degree; recover fast; stay injury free during training; or stay healthy during intense training.

The burgeoning industry:

The production, marketing and sale of these supplements is huge. It’s a multibillion dollar international business. Until recently it was largely unregulated. There was no body that was regulating the production and sale of these supplements.

In 2002, EU regulations brought the sports supplements under its control. However, there are a number of supplements and sports foods that go unregulated and they do feature unproved with exaggerated claims about their efficacy. This means that there is no guarantee whether a particular supplement is legal or safe to consume. A lot of these supplements are sold over the internet and they are extremely difficult to regulate. People buying the supplements put themselves at risk of purchasing a contaminated product.

There have also been reports of some harmful and illegal supplements, which includes claims of ‘slimming’ and ‘fat burning’, being linked to several deaths. Regardless of being illegal, there is enough testimony that the supplements are available online, especially from suppliers outside the UK. However, it should be noted that the supplements available online or from suppliers outside the UK may not clear the safety criteria as those in Europe.

Suggestive Reading: Sports Nutrition Myths You Need to Know

Guidelines for evaluating claims

Medical Guidelines

You need to evaluate the claims of these products because most supplements that are marketed to improve health and exercise performance today are based on theoretical observations. They come from basic clinical research studies. They are very primal studies without any in-depth analysis; so based on inconclusive research, the supplements are marketed to people proclaiming the benefits observed in these basic research study.

Further, in depth research often reveals flaws and claims do not match up. Personal research must be carried out to determine whether the claims are based on sound scientific evidence. Before buying the product, always read reviews and consult reliable references about nutrition supplements. Manufacturers of these supplements most often make claims that are overestimated, therefore you need to take the responsibility to be able to evaluate the claims.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is: Is it supported by strong scientific evidence? Look up the list of references cited in the marketing materials supporting the claim. Anything that goes up online will usually have a list of references. Check whether the abstracts or the articles are listed; whether they are general references or there’s a specific study; whether they have done an in-depth analysis of the supplement. Then read the study and determine if it was properly designed. The phrase that you need to look out in this study is: Randomised Double Blind Control Trial – this is the gold standard in research for determining a true causative effect. This means that neither the researcher nor the subjects were aware which group received the supplement or which group received the placebo during the study. The subjects were randomly assigned to either group, eliminating selection bias.

Results of any study should be presented very clearly in an unbiased manner with an appropriate statistical analysis. Realistically, you will have to take matters in your own hands if you are planning to take supplements to enhance your health or performance. Never believe in claims without valid scientific backing.

The important questions you need to ask yourself are: Is it safe and legal? Is it effective? Are there any side effects? How long has it been studied? Is it toxic? Once you get the answers for all the questions, you will know whether you need to go ahead with the product or not.

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