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Supplements: Is there a golden pill for fitness?

Whether you are a seasoned athlete or somebody who just started their gym membership, chances are that you have heard of or have been sold supplements. Many supplements promise fantastic results from using them ranging from elevated fat burners, mass gainers, energy boosters, protein supplements and the list could go on for miles. Now the question is: are supplements effective and should you be taking them. Of course, the answer is nuanced and I will do my best to shed some light on some commonly used supplements and help you through the process of deciding if supplements are right for you or not. One thing I would like to state before we get started is that supplements are designed for deficiencies or convenience and are not meant to be complete replacements of a particular nutritional category.

One of the most common supplements is protein, usually in the form of a powder that you mix into a shake. It almost seems so common that every new gym goer has a shiny new shaker bottle and some protein supplement of some sort. The main purpose of a protein supplement is to provide the body with protein to be synthesized and repair damaged muscle fibers post exercise. Protein supplements are helpful when you are in a pinch and need a quick accessible source of protein to fuel your muscle growth. The average American diet is usually quite high in protein so for some individuals a protein supplement may not even be needed. Maintaining a consistent training plan and slowly altering diet to fit training needs would be my first step before picking up a protein supplement.

The next category of supplement I’m going to touch on are energy supplements. These supplements are marketed to boost energy levels and help you get the most out of each exercise. Usually, energy supplements will have caffeine as their main active ingredient to give you that extra zip. Many studies have supported the use of caffeine as it improved performance and force production during exercise for some of the individuals.(1) Caffeine supplements are a relatively low risk and straight forward supplement that can slightly boost your performance. In some individuals you may notice some jitters and a few more bathroom trips during your workout. If you are looking for a small boost in energy at the gym this can be a helpful aid for you.

Another energy supplement that you have possibly heard of is Creatine. This supplement is popping right now mostly in high school and collegiate athletes. Let’s go over how it works. Your body uses ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) as its main source of energy production in short burst explosive exercise. When you load the muscles with creatine and Phosphocreatine (PCr) your body can pull these phosphates from the phosphocreatine to pump out more ATP. With this greater production of ATP an individual can ideally produce more explosive movements before transitioning to another energy system.(2) Creatine has been heavily supported as effective and low risk when used properly in a training program. My only critique with this supplement is with the populations that are using it the most. Creatine is very popular amongst high school athletes and in my opinion high school athletes are not at a point where they should be prioritizing supplement use. High schoolers are likely new to weight training and should be prioritizing technique and understanding basic principles of success in a weight training program.

This final supplement that I will be touching on are fat burners. Fat burners tend to be a big instigator of a grandiose claim for very minimum results. Fat Burning supplements can have a thermogenic effect that can lead to increased rates of fat burning in theory but the end result is very minimal and not necessarily worth the trouble. The truth is that fat burner supplements will not be the all-important must-have element to help you lose weight in your exercise routine. These supplements are often very alluring because they promise quick and effective results but the truth is that is just not how the body responds to change. Weight loss and the altering of body composition is a game of patience and persistence. Lock yourself in a training program and a healthy eating pattern and your results will come with time!

In conclusion certain supplements can assist individuals in certain aspects of fitness but the need for them changes from individual to individual. Many supplements are advertised to be game changing and absolute necessities when it comes to weight loss and muscle building. In reality, I would have much more faith in a long-term program that emphasizes a caloric deficit, routine resistance and cardiovascular exercise. Supplements can be very attractive to fitness enthusiasts because they promise fast and effective results but the truth is that when it comes to fat loss and muscle growth they are not the key to fitness success. Supplements only assist you, you are the driving force in your health so buckle up and put the work in to reap the rewards.

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