The supplement industry has grown significantly over the past 25 years. It is estimated to be a 25-30 billion dollar per year industry. While there are copious amounts of supplements on the market claiming to improve health and body composition, few actually do what they claim. I have sifted through numerous research and review articles on a few of the most popular supplements to give a brief overview of their efficacy and safety!
Whey protein is derived from milk during the processing of cheese. Milk protein consists of whey protein and casein protein in about a 20:80 ratio. Whey protein is more rapidly absorbed than casein so it is preferred around workouts. Casein protein is a bit slower digesting and could be beneficial to take during periods in which you may not be able to eat for a long duration. There are two primary types of whey protein; isolate and concentrate. Isolate protein has the majority of lactose (milk sugar) and fat removed; whereas concentrate contains varying amounts of fat and lactose. For this reason, isolate is preferred around a workout. Less lactose and fat = even faster absorption! The faster protein can reach the muscle during and after exercise the faster muscle breakdown is halted and muscle growth occurs! See Devin’s blog on protein intake for more information on dosing and use.
IT WILL KILL YOU! Well not really, but that is what some in the media like to make us believe. While taking it in high school my mom sent me to get some tests run to make sure it wasn’t destroying my kidneys, heart, brain, and liver. Of course this was all caused by a sensationalized story on the news about football players being hospitalized from creatine use (my doctor laughed when I told him why I was sitting in his office). Creatine is actually one of the most extensively studied supplements and has been proven repeatedly to be safe and effective. It is a naturally occurring compound made from 3 amino acids (building blocks of protein). It is primarily stored in our muscles (95%) and brain/testes (5%). We consume creatine naturally from fish, pork, and beef (but you could never consume enough meat to get an ergogenic amount of creatine). Creatine is VERY beneficial for anyone involved in intermittent high intensity activities (sports, weight lifting, etc). This is because creatine regenerates a substance (ATP) that is an ESSENTIAL fuel for the first 5-10seconds of muscle contraction. Use by the general population is not necessary unless there is a primary goal of increased strength, power, or hypertrophy. Creatine is also being researched for potential therapeutic benefits in diseased populations!
Beta Alanine is an exciting supplement gaining popularity in recent years. Beta Alanine acts as a buffer in the muscle to minimize the effects of lactic acid build-up (that burning sensation in your muscles.) This lactic acid build-up occurs during muscular contraction and results in fatigue. Reduced fatigue due to lactic acid = greater ability to maintain intensity for extended durations = greater amount of work performed in a session! One drawback of beta alanine use is a tingling sensation that some individuals experience. The tingling is not harmful, but can certainly be a little uncomfortable. It also can be reduced or negated with smaller doses spread out over a greater period of time.
BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAAs)
BCAAs are 3 of the 20 amino acids that compose protein (Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine). BCAAs play a critical role in fueling working muscles and assisting in the synthesis of new tissue. Have you ever heard that your muscle may be using protein for fuel? These are the amino acids being used!
Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs are not degraded by the liver upon ingestion. They are actually transported directly to the muscle! This property could make BCAAs the BEST choice around a workout! However, when daily protein requirements are not being met we still prefer whey protein to be consumed around workouts.
BCAAs are consumed in your diet on a daily basis and are essential amino acids (our bodies do not produce them so they must be ingested) so there is no health concern for healthy individuals.
GLUCOSAMINE AND CHONDROITIN
Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring substances found in and around cells of cartilage. Glucosamine is a substance that stimulates production of substances that make up the structural matrix of joints. Chondroitin is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water. While there are no health risks associated with supplementing glucosamine and chondroitin there is also mixed results on its efficacy. Most research points to a moderate benefit for severely arthritic patients and very little, if any, benefit for moderately arthritic individuals. However, since glucosamine and chondroitin are very safe it is worth a try for even moderately arthritic patients.
None of the supplements above are intended to replace food, hence the label of “supplement”. If you are interested in adding one of the above supplements into your diet, or have questions on any other dietary supplement, talk with your practitioner.