Do I Need Supplements?

Do I Need Supplements?

Nutrition hasn’t changed and unfortunately neither has the industry. The cold hard truths from the last millennium are still true today. As an example of this, I recently came across a very good write-up from the Texan’s strength and conditioning team Roberta Anding R.D., Dan Riley, and Ray Wright. This was made in the late 1990’s but it’s just as relevant today as it was then. Even though this was written for NFL players I believe everyone can benefit from reading this.

Supplements/Health Foods

Today the health food industry is a multi-million dollar business. Why? Money, money, money. More fraud and half-truths exist in the area of nutrition than in any other segment of the fitness industry. We are a gullible public. For years we’ve been told to take a pill or potion for any ailment that we have. We want a quick fix. Enthusiasts have discarded the basic food groups for amino acids, vitamins, fat burners, and energy bars. Athletes are the most gullible. Often they have little or no knowledge of what they’re taking. Some will try anything if they think it might give them an edge. Unfortunately, many players taking supplements are less inclined to eat a balanced diet, and often choose pills and potions instead of eating meals.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t control food supplements. Laws don’t exist to protect the consumer. There’s no guarantee that what’s on the label is actually in the bottle. Dr. Bob Goldman, in his book, Death In The Locker Room, refers to a questionnaire he administered to a group of Olympic athletes. One of the questions asked was, “Would you be willing to take a pill that would eventually kill you if it guaranteed you would win a gold medal?” More than fifty percent of the athletes responded, “Yes.”

n real life we don’t know if any of those Olympians would have actually sacrificed their life for a gold medal. It is an indication, however, of how strong the will of an athlete is to succeed. The vulnerability of an NFL player is easily exposed. Some are willing to try anything to make the team, play well, and extend their career. Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., author and eminently qualified nutrition expert states, “People who take mega-doses of vitamins and minerals should consider that the practice is similar to pumping your body full of chemicals. It may create imbalances that interfere with optimal health.” Clark states, “A diet with 1500 calories a day from appropriate foods can satisfy the RDA in most categories.” She adds, “Athletes who take in 2,000 to 4,000 calories daily increase their chances greatly of getting the proper nutrient amounts. They are also getting things in food, like fiber and other health protective compounds, that supplements don’t provide.” Do not be duped into using any supplement or drug not prescribed by a Registered Dietitian. You have no way of knowing if the product:

1. Contains the ingredients listed on the label.

2. Contains prohibited substances.

3. Can actually do what the manufacturer claims the product can do.

4. Can be harmful to your health and/or performance, or have lingering long-term effects.


Beware of testimony from another athlete or an “expert.” Testimony is an opinion regarding the effect a product has on the individual. It is not based on facts, research, or scientific study. Research often demonstrates that the placebo effect is the cause of these opinions, not an actual change in the physical makeup or performance of the athlete. The strength of the placebo effect has been demonstrated many times. In one particular study, a group of people were given a sedative but were told it was a stimulant. When their bodily functions were measured they responded as if they had taken a stimulant.

Before taking a product, athletes often listen to and believe the testimony of another athlete or the sales pitch of a salesperson. Regardless of how ineffective a product is, the athlete already has a preconceived opinion. If a product sounds too good to be probably is. Many of these products have come and gone. Few stay on the market for any length of time. Consumers discover that the claims made by the product are false. Research on products often exploits the erroneous claims made.

There are many products available. One of the popular high-tech supplements is MET-Rx. It is a very visible and popular product. Many prominent athletes use and endorse the product. Claims are made about its positive effect on fat loss, strength gains, recovery, and performance enhancement. Some athletes use the product and sincerely believe it has a positive impact. How much of that impact is real, and how much is perceived (placebo)? How much of the information available regarding MET-Rx and other supplements is fact, and how much is testimony?

In the February 1995 issue of the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter, an article appeared entitled, “Is It Real or Is It MET-Rx?” The following is the first paragraph from this article: “Here’s a riddle. What comes with an owner’s manual, is expensive, and is endorsed by movie stars and famous athletes? A Mercedes Benz? A Rolls Royce? No, it’s MET-Rx, a product enjoying multi-million dollar sales whose inventor makes spectacular claims.”

Mr. William J. Evans, Ph.D., is the director of the Noll Physiological Research Center at Penn State. His comments regarding Met-Rx include the following: “I don’t see anything magic in the ingredients. The protein contained in Met-Rx is milk based, which is the highest quality you can get. But you can get the same thing in milk by itself. If an athlete insists on using a protein supplement, we recommend non-fat powdered milk, which contains calcium and is a rich source of protein.”

The scientific community will not accept claims and testimony. Double-blind studies must be conducted to support the effectiveness of a product. Dr. Evans states, “If this product (MET-Rx) were tested in a double-blind study, I doubt if it would demonstrate any significant effect.” He adds, “...everyone wants to think that there is something there that will provide an extra nutritional boost. I can tell you that, if something were there, it would be known. We have conducted as much research as anyone on protein metabolism and we don’t have any evidence that these kinds of products provide anything unusual.” The conclusion of the Met-Rx article states, “Until independent, objective, and meticulously controlled studies are conducted that show significant physiological changes, do not expect any more from MET-Rx than from other formulated products.” When taken as prescribed, MET-Rx and most other supplements are not harmful.

They’re also not necessary. Telling this to some athletes is like telling them there’s no Santa Claus. They’d rather believe the testimony of a buddy than research. In no other field do we ignore the facts from our scientific community like we do in the area of nutrition. Reliable experts inform us that your time, energy, and money can be better spent on normal foods, a balanced diet, and daily discipline.

The message you should be sending to your children and other young people eat a balanced diet. Spend your money on fruits and vegetables. Eat more carbohydrates.

Drink more water. Eat less fat and sugar. Rely upon the facts from Registered Dietitians, not supposition, testimony, and half-truths.


Supplements are not more effective than the food you eat. If they were, scientists would publish this information for all to see. Unfortunately few athletes review the scientific literature. Muscle magazines, literature handed out in the health food store, and opinions of other athletes are not reliable sources.

Today we’ve all become experts in the area of nutrition and supplements. We visit the health food stores and buy potions like there’s no tomorrow. Yet when we’re sick we don’t randomly take medicine to cure the illness. We visit the doctor and he or she prescribes the appropriate medication. If your vision becomes blurry you do not go to the department store and prescribe your own bifocals. You visit the optometrist and let a specialist test your eyes. You’re given a prescription to correct your vision deficiency.

Before taking any supplement you should visit a Registered Dietitian. R.D.s are members of the American Dietetic Association. Registered Dietitians are the most qualified nutrition specialists available. They have the education, expertise, and information necessary to prescribe a supplement if you need one.

Beware of some Nutritionists. Nutritionists are people with an interest in nutrition. In most states there aren’t any professional standards or credentials required to be a nutritionist. Nutritionists number in the thousands. Their advice might be reliable. However their advice could also be unsound.

You can eliminate the possibility of unsound nutrition information. How? Listen to the advice of a Registered Dietitian. They are certified and rely upon scientific facts. Let an expert administer the appropriate tests to determine if you have any deficiencies before taking a supplement. Few people have deficiencies and most can be corrected with normal foods, not pills and powders. Don’t expect supplements to replace the need for a daily balanced diet. Some athletes eat poorly, drink too much, don’t get enough rest, and assume taking a supplement will compensate for their poor habits. Most athletes lead a very disciplined life. They prepare themselves physically with a demanding regimen of exercise. They practice hard and study the game. Yet when it comes to one of man’s most basic instincts, eating, some lack the discipline to eat a balanced diet.

Why, because the food is so readily available. Open the refrigerator, look in the cupboard, visit the grocery store, stop at McDonalds on the way home; food is accessible everywhere you look. Keep in mind that there are worse things you can put into your body than a protein shake. There are also better things. A new supplement you should try if you haven’t already is called discipline. The formula to good nutrition is an easy one. Visit the grocery store and select food from all food groups. Go home and eat those foods.


You don’t have to visit a fancy store to find health food or take a bunch of supplements to be healthy. The best health food you can buy is in your neighborhood grocery store. The prices are cheaper and the quality of the food is superior to supplements. There’s nothing your body needs that can’t be purchased in a grocery store.

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