The term Sports Supplements is new but the story remains the same. The desire to find a supplement that will produce bigger, leaner, muscles more quickly. Is there a supplement that will enhance muscle growth? Can you take a supplement that will provide more energy to train harder? What athlete doesn’t want to perform better? The Anabolic Steroid Control Act, passed in 1990, which outlawed steroids, had apparently sent many athletes looking for an alternative. These athletes received help in their search when Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994. DSHEA stated that dietary supplements were not drugs and not subject to FDA regulation. The supplement industry would regulate itself. The era of legal performance enhancing supplements had arrived. The supplement industry would provide athletes the safe steroid-like alternatives they were looking for and everyone would be able to reach their maximum goals.
This article is not intended to detail the pros and cons of each specific new supplement that has found its way into the fitness culture and claims to increase performance. It is intended to caution fitness professionals about the confusing world of supplement manufacturers.
A great deal of the interest in performance enhancing supplements can be traced back to creatine monohydrate. Promoted as a muscular performance enhancer, creatine became the model for this emerging industry. Next came the androgen steroid precursor supplements like DHEA and androstenedione, androstenediol and nor androstenedione. These supplements were promoted as ways to increase testosterone levels safely. Ephedra, caffeine, and guarana became the booster supplements to provide more energy or to facilitate weight loss. Many of these initial performance-enhancing supplements are now banned from use by athletic organizations because they were harmful to athletes. Many assume that the performance claims made by manufacturers are based on actual data, and that these agents must be safe because they are sold to the general public. Tragically, that simply is not the case.
David Schardt, associate nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, when asked about performance enhancing supplements, revealed these disturbing facts, “The labels are often misleading, incomplete, and not a guide to using the product.” Larry Bowers, professor and director of the athletic testing and toxicology laboratory at the Sports Medicine Identification Laboratory at Indiana University Medical Center went even further. His laboratory was frequently asked to test performance enhancing supplements and found that what is on the label is not what is in the bottle. “Since there is no regulatory oversight of the compounds and there’s no one checking to see what’s in it, it could be anything.” How many times have we heard a professional athlete say he did not know the supplement he was taking contained ephedra or a steroid?
A recent survey of athletes and fitness regulars who took a performance-enhancing supplement revealed that 97% knew they caused harmful side effects or worse. People take these supplements because they want results and are falsely led to believe that performance-enhancing supplements are the answer. The time has come for healthcare and fitness professionals to convince clients that the best route to building muscle is the old fashioned way: eat a healthy diet and employ a commitment training regimen.
The fitness equipment industry has done its job providing us with state-of-the-art training equipment. We have the most qualified fitness professionals ever to instruct clients on how to use the equipment safely and how to avoid injury. However, we must practice what we preach. The commitment to what we know is right must be stronger than the desire to please.
Healthcare professionals learned this lesson the hard way. We created antibiotic resistant organisms simply because we gave our patients what they wanted - when we knew an antibiotic was not needed. The fitness industry professionals must not make that same mistake. Do not fall prey to the outrageous claims heard every day about new supplements. The data to support their efficacy is simply non-existent and the sports supplement industry has not proven itself reliable or ethical.
John P Mamana M.D.
- Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, Georgetown University, CEO of American Health Sciences
- For more information about Dr. John Mamana and American Health Sciences, please visit www.scienceforhealth.com
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