Working as Fit pros we are constantly approached by supplement companies, asking to promote their various wares. The other day I learnt that a close friend of mine and one who also presents various fitness programmes had taken on the pyramid of ‘body by someone or other’. The news surprised me, we operate in a body conscious world and I try to consistently stay true to my belief that supplements may or may not be good for the body and that it isn’t my place to promote them.
Needless to say, the industry is a big one; it has a turnover of billions of dollars and has been around since the Roman Empire began looking for secrets to go faster, harder and stronger. Having done some research into supplements the only thing that one can truthfully say is that, in general, nobody knows. There are countless promotions and marketing slogans to promote these things but the truths are that;
- Manufacturers don’t have to prove the effectiveness of their product
- Manufacturers don’t need to inform consumers of side effects
- There is very little knowledge of the effects of combinations of supplements
- Ingredient lists are often inaccurate (one multivitamin had 200 times the amount of selenium reported)
- Contaminants such as pesticides, prescription medications and heavy metals may be present
Some supplements promoted for doing a certain job actually have the opposite effect. Jakko Mursu, in his study, discovered that the risk of death actually increased when taking supplements (all bar calcium). Eric Klein discovered that far from reducing the risk of prostate cancer, Vitamin E and Selenium actually increased the risk of cancer.
Turning ones attention to workout supplements – the benefits can be positive, the bulk gains are difficult to replicate but the dangers are in missing meals and using these drinks/snacks as supplements. Protein supplements can be bad for kidneys and may provide too much iron for the body which can result in constipation, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. Protein can lead to weight gain and can unbalance your diet. Whole foods also provide more energy over time than the hit provided by supplements.
Ivor my partner once tried creatine to bulk up and personally, I felt ill throughout the process. Compared to simply eating a 3500 calorie diet (which was also pretty tough) the supplement made him feel ill, played havoc with his digestive system and was generally unpleasant. We both feel the same way about most protein powders.
A large proportion of these supplements is also made up of Soy, which everyone, including me, had always thought was healthy, even though we’ve never been told why. Mens Health magazine included an article about a man who started to develop female characteristics due to a large intake of soy. This is due to phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen. Causing testosterone imbalance, infertility and increased risk of cancers. In fact, a baby fed only on soy would be ingesting the equivalent hormones of 4 birth control pills a day. Soy contains phytic acid which prevents the body absorbing minerals. Soy can block enzymes that digest protein. Soy can affect thyroid and endocrine functions. It can be harmful to our intestines and increases are body’s need for vitamins D, B-12, calcium and magnesium. To top it all off, most soy beans are genetically modified.
Going back to ‘body by someone or other’, it’s very difficult to get anywhere in research. Google is full of adverts and campaigns, meanwhile, the only other hits are very negative. It contains soy, protein, vitamins and minerals in similar amounts to other products, but the marketing campaign set up the parent company (which has launched many other products before) which actually is a network marketing company, is difficult to see through. Having made it big in the US, where obesity is such an issue I’m sure that it will be very big here, now it has officially launched. One thing though, do make up your own mind and seek some advice – the marketing machine on these things is enormous and subconsciously very powerful.
Here’s a checklist to help you make up your mind;
- Only take those supplements you need
- Use ‘pure’ supplements rather than combination products for pinpointed delivery
- Take advice from your doctor
- Avoid supplements for illness as they may contain prescription medication contaminants
- Sexual or athletic supplements can be harmful
- Use retail outlets rather than buying over the internet
- Stop taking supplements if you experience side effects
In general, we live in the developed world. Eating a balanced diet really shouldn’t be that tough, if it is and you are really time poor then perhaps, with medical advice, supplements are for you. Personally, I’d sooner talk to a nutritionist about altering my diet in favour of my needs.
Bridget Hunt, author of Six Pack Chick (sixpackchick.com) is a nutritionist and personal trainer. She is presenting her nutrition program at our London Riverside Yoga and Spa day on Saturday 08 March 2014 tickets are available at: www.lindsayjay.co.uk/mandb