It can be difficult to tell what your supplements are doing. You might be throwing your money away or paying for a benefit too small to be concerned with. We all read the claims, but claims are all they may amount to. Some of us even read the studies, but unbiased studies on sports supplements are few and far between.
A recent study in Nutrition and Metabolism sort of qualifies. The study was funded by a grant from a company that also provided the supplements to be studied. Specifically, the supplements were pre- and post-workout drinks containing standard ingredients like whey protein, creatine, caffeine, and some aminos. The authors, on the other hand, were not employees of the supplement company, and that’s probably the most important part. This study seemed about as unbiased as possible considering the circumstances.
So the participants of the study exercised for six weeks. Some of them took the supplements and some took a placebo. The researchers seemed primarily interested in cardiovascular benefits or detriments from taking the supplements. Perhaps a little odd, since the participants were only resistance training, but the researchers noted that the health effects of the supplements were unknown so their focus might have been on ensuring the safety of such products.
Ultimately, researchers found no difference in cardiovascular markers between the supplement group and the control. There was no benefit or detriment noted. I suppose it’s good to know that taking these supplements won’t really cause some of the reported problems, like shortness of breath and dizziness. Also, many cardiovascular responses occur in a time frame less than the six weeks studied, but it is perhaps important to note that both groups exercised. This is important because it could simply be that the exercise itself is a more substantial stimulus for the cardiovascular system and actually masked some potential health effects.
That said, besides caffeine and high doses of L-arginine the ingredients are nutritive and fairly benign. If we could say that there’s a negative effect from these, it might be small or take much longer to appear.
On the flip side of the coin, the supplement did significantly improve lean body mass over the placebo. There was a 2% greater increase in lean body mass from taking the supplements, which is substantial. If that doesn’t sound like much, it amounts to about 1.5kgs (3.3lbs) more muscle. That’s in only six weeks. Big difference. If those results continued, which they wouldn’t but it’s fun to think about, the supplement group would have nearly thirty more pounds of lean muscle after a year.
A final thought on this. Extra water is retained with creatine. So the increased creatine use could account for much or even all of the difference in results.
When questioning the efficacy of some of the basic sports supplements that we take, we can say that at least they are more likely to be doing some good than some bad. Stick to the basic supplement, and work hard in the gym, and you’ll be happy with your results.
1. Michael J Ormsbee, et. al., “The effects of pre- and post-exercise consumption of multi-ingredient performance supplements on cardiovascular health and body fat in trained men after six weeks of resistance training: a stratified, randomized, double-blind study,” Nutrition & Metabolism 2013, 10:39
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