Between 2011-2012, the CDC has reported that 52% of Americans over the age of 20 use at least one supplement, and this number has only been increasing for the past 30 years. There are numerous reasons people use to justify supplementation, in this blog, and this post in particular, I will focus primarily on the claimed benefits to athletic performance.
Whether you train for competition or recreation, many have future goals in mind for both the immediate and distant future. This often drives us to do our best, look our best, and achieve our physical potential. Just as you design (or should design) your training, recovery, and meal plans to optimize those ends, your supplements should do the same. When supplementation is done right it’s the proverbial “cherry” on top of your training regimen, providing that razor's edge to your in the moment performance while maximizing your recovery and gains. When supplementation is done poorly, it’s brightly colored placebo at best, and tainted pills with an artificial ingredients list at worst.
To separate the proverbial “Wheat” from the “Chaff” there are a few factors to focus on. First, ensure the ingredients in a given supplement have been studied with some scientific rigor, and demonstrated to have statistically significant benefits. There is an incredible amount of flashy marketing that provides equal weight to both supplements that have good evidence of benefit or at least show promise, as well as to supplements that have been proven to make no difference in the gym or to your gains. Second, ensure that what you are putting in your body has been tested by a third party. Often supplements either don’t have the ingredients they claim, have proprietary blends, or have beneficial ingredients but at clinically irrelevant doses. As FDA regulation of dietary supplements is much less stringent than that of even food, testing ensures that claimed dosing is truly representative of what you are putting in your body and allowing you to achieve your best.
Now, I am not entirely blind to the health situation we find ourselves in at this time. Over the past two weeks my office flow has been constantly evolving to reduce person to person contact as much as possible. As I begin to realize that my role in medicine may change again in the near future, I can't help but think of what people can best do to keep themselves healthy and prepare their bodies against whatever unfolds. Despite what social media "influencers" may want you to beleive; there is no supplement to directly "boost immunity." Supplementation alone is not the answer, but may be a key part for you; a muscular and fit body, used to recovering repeatedly from the physical abuse you willingly put it through (in the gym or at home), is more prepared to recover from any setback than one that has been sitting on the couch.
-Harrison Vogel, DO
Trends in Dietary Supplement Use amongst US Adults From 1999-2012. Elizabeth D. Kantor, Colin D. Rhem, Mengmeng Du, Emily White, Edward L Giovannuci. JAMA 2016 Oct 11; 316(14); 1464-1474.
Prohibited Contaminants in Dietary Supplements. Neilson M. Mathews. Sports Health. 2018 Jan-Feb; 10(1): 19-30.
Dietary Supplements: Regulatory Challenges and Research Resources. Johanna T. Dwyer, Paul M. Coates, Michael J. Smith. Nutrients. 2018 Jan; 10(1): 41.