Should I use supplements?
Supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, meal supplements, sports nutrition products and natural food supplements.
Some key considerations are:
- Is the supplement something I can get in normal food?
- Am I deficient in the nutrient, vitamin or mineral in my current diet?
If you answered yes to the first question and no to the second then don’t waste your money on supplements.
If you answered no to either of the questions then you need to ask the next question: “Does it work?
Do supplements work?
Well there are a lot of supplements out there but here’s a generic answer; as a rule of thumb if a supplement works it’s probably banned. Of course there are exceptions to this: caffeine, creatine, sodium bicarbonate to name a few. Each of these supplements have benefits in specific situations so it’s best you speak to a sports scientist or nutritionist to help assess your circumstances – they will be able to let you know what the scientific research says.
If you do decide to take a supplement with proven benefits then listen to the scientific recommendations for dosage. Take it as recommend. More is not better!
Also remember to ask the question as to whether the supplement is actually proven to help your specific sport or fitness goal.
Are supplements safe?
You may be aware that the supplement industry is not well regulated, supplements are not pharmaceutical drugs. Products that are sold in stores don’t have to undergo years of rigorous scientific testing that pharmaceutical drugs do. To an extent, anyone could set up supplement manufacturing in their garage. With this in mind there are no guarantees that what is on the label is actually in the product. In some cases this has led to athletes inadvertently failing drugs tests. There are also a number of similar cases with FIFO workers failing drugs tests and losing their jobs.
The website Informed Choice can be used to check whether a supplement has passed tests confirming it doesn’t contain substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list.
Are supplements allowed in my sport?
The World Anti-Doping Agency has a number of banned substances specific for each sport. This list is updated annually and can be found on the WADA website.
Bottom line though, ‘there are no shortcuts to excellence’ … if you are looking for a shortcut in achieving you goals by taking supplements, reassess your motives!
by Dr Laurence Houghton (Sports Science)