As athletes and exercisers reach a certain level of training, they undoubtedly begin to understand some of the shortcomings of the human body. Despite proper nutrition, a well-designed workout schedule and plenty of rest, the body still fatigues, gets injured and varies almost daily in its physical capabilities. This may lead to a great deal of frustration when you fall short of a goal — especially when other competitors or workout peers seem to achieve their goals with relative ease. To fix the problem, you may begin to alter your workout program and diet or get more rest. You may also do what so many other fitness-minded individuals have done and turn to supplements.
The performance-enhancing claims of supplements have certainly led to an increase in the size of numerous companies’ bank accounts, but do they actually increase performance? To answer this question, the U.S. Department of Defense (always on the cutting edge of performance-enhancement research), in conjunction with the Institute of Medicine, launched an investigation into the benefits of the most popular supplements with military personnel. The 440-page document, published in 2008, elaborated on 16 of the most-widely consumed supplements within the military and the extent of their supposed effects. Here is a summary of their conclusions for those that pertain specifically to the common exerciser, in alphabetical order:
Caffeine: Easily the most widely-consumed supplement in the military. Generally effective for improving endurance and improving certain mental abilities such as concentration.
Chromium: Generally found to be ineffective.
Creatine: Effective for increasing muscle mass, power and strength. Predominantly beneficial for activities of short duration and high intensity.
DHEA: Generally found to be ineffective.
Ephedra: Beneficial for weight-loss and even more effective when used in conjunction with caffeine. However, highly dangerous to the cardiovascular system and currently banned by the FDA.
Garlic: Generally found to be ineffective.
Gingko Biloba: Generally found to be ineffective.
HMB: Potentially beneficial for improving muscle mass in untrained individuals. Less likely to benefit more highly-trained athletes and exercisers.
Quercetin: Generally found to be ineffective.
Sports Bars and Beverages
The National Strength and Conditioning Association, in their book “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning,” maintains that only two substances have consistently been shown to consistently enhance performance in nearly all individuals: carbohydrate and water. While the DoD/IOM takes a more liberal stance, they also ascertained that sports bars and beverages that include carbohydrate are effective for supplying calories and nutrients to the body, thereby increasing aerobic endurance and speeding up exercise recovery.
Steroids and Human Growth Hormone
The Dod/IOM did not review research on either anabolic steroids or human growth hormone because they are illegal, and the committee did not believe there was sufficient evidence of their use among military personnel. In the athletic world, however, the use of steroids and HGH is perhaps more prevalent than most would like to believe. It’s no secret that Major League Baseball and professional cycling tours have been riddled with scandals related to these substances in recent years. The NSCA provides a synopsis of the research supporting the effects steroids and HGH and concludes that, while likely to be beneficial, the potential health risks associated with their use outweigh any possible performance gains in all cases.