Supplements – The Good, The Bad, and How to Decide if Supplements Are For You – Part 3

Hundreds of thousands of people turn to supplements to aide in weight loss and to sculpt the body they desire.  Over the last couple of weeks I have looked at supplements and explored whether they were truly helpful for health and fitness.  Healthy eating is the clear option for healthy  and fit living.  Nothing can replace a healthy diet.  However there are diets, situations, and health conditions that could benefit from supplementation.  What most people are interested in, however, concerns the use of supplements to burn fat and build muscle.

There are numerous supplements that report effectiveness for burning fat and lowering weight.  Research may present a different side to the story.

  • Green tea is often associated with weight loss.  Research does support that consuming green tea is associated with decreased risk of heart disease and cancer.  Further research also cites that green tea may be helpful for weight loss due to increased energy and increased metabolism.  Particularly one study found that 2 servings of green day a day was related to reduced body fat (Wang, Wen, Du, Yan, Guo, Rycroft, …, Mela, 2009).  Green tea should not be used as the sole method for weight loss, but green tea, without adding preservatives and sweeteners, is a great water substitute and one that will also support weight loss efforts.
  • Caffeine is another supplement associated with weight loss.  Specifically caffeine aids in weight loss because it activates a system in the body that causes the body to increase body temperature and increase metabolism (Hursel & Westerterp-Plantenga, 2010).  Caffeine is also known for its appetite suppression ability.  However, caffeine is a stimulant and can be abused.  Consuming large amounts of caffeine can cause adverse health issues.  Consuming too much caffeine can result in irritability, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, headaches, and heart complications (Ogawa & Ueki, 2007).  Caffeine should be used in moderation; no more than 500 mg a day.  A cup of joe will also help give you energy to get to the gym.
  • Hoodia has been described as an appetite suppressant.  However there is currently no research to support that it is effective in weight loss or appetite control.  Furthermore, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine there are no studies that explore the safety of this supplement.  Hoodia is found naturally in a plant and although this may sound appealing the lack of research should discourage use.
  • CLA – conjugated linoleum acid is also used in weight loss.  There have been 30 clinical studies and all produced different results.  These inconsistencies makes it difficult to determine if this is truly a helpful tool.  CLA is often added to nutrition bars, soy milk, fruit juice, yogurt, and meal replacement shakes.  There are studies that suggested CLA was associated with weight loss.  However it does not appear to be helpful for overweight individuals.  Rather CLA can be added for individuals with a healthy diet and physical activity routine.  CLA research concludes that CLA may be harmful for individuals that are overweight or obese.  Specifically CLA was related to increased risk of diabetes.  It seems it is best to avoid use of this supplement until research can support its effectiveness.
  • L-Carnitine is a nonessential amino acid.  It is necessary for the heart and muscles to have strength and function properly.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center carnitine exists in the body to turn fat into energy.  It is used to treat many medical conditions and has recently been used to improve athletic performance and to aide weight loss.  Despite this nutrients positive effects in research to treat health conditions, research does not demonstrate its ability to help people lose weight.  There is some support that carnitine can increase muscle mass and increase energy, but it is not sure if the increased muscle mass and energy is responsible for weight loss or if carnitine is responsible.  Support for this supplement is inconclusive.
  • Probiotics can help boost immunity and may also be helpful to aide in weight loss.  Probiotic is a bacteria that lives in the gut and stomach.  Sounds gross, but these little guys help with digestion.  Most Americans have 7-10 pounds of impacted feces (poop) lodged in the small and large intestines.  Probiotics can help move it out and help ease digestion.  Increasing probiotics will be helpful for weight loss as well as health.

Supplements are not meant to replace healthy eating and physical activity.  I don’t think I can stress that enough.  Most people will get all the nutrition they need from healthy and clean eating.  Healthy and clean eating, combined with physical activity, will promote weight loss.  There are times when an individual may want more from their diet and from their physical activity routine.  This is when supplements may be helpful.

There are many in the fitness and sports industry that take supplements to give their workouts and their physical body an extra boost.  Here I weigh in on the most common supplements used to increase muscle mass and increase exercise potential.  Again, take caution, these benefits can be obtained from healthy eating and physical activity alone.

  • Creatine exists in the body naturally and is essential for maintaining energy while working out and for helping the body recover from physical activity.  Creatine is an amino acid.  Creatine is stored in the muscles and can help with muscle soreness after a workout and help support muscle growth.  Creatine is recommended for anyone looking to build muscle and improve workout performance.  Creatine does have some side effects that are worth noting.  It can cause weight gain, muscle cramps, pulls, and strains, stomach upset and dizziness.  There are rare cases where over consumption of creatine was responsible for kidney failure.  For the most part, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports this supplement is relatively safe.
  • Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB) is another amino acid.  Some claim this supplement should be added to muscle gaining and strength building routines.  However research does not support this claim.  Research on the effectiveness on HMB is lacking.  It is best to stick with supplements that have research to support their safety and effectiveness.
  • L-Arginine is a supplement produced in the body as an amino acid.  L-arginie increases blood flow in the body.  This can make you feel strong and have more energy.  However there is research to suggest that L-Arginine may decrease growth hormone levels in the body.  This is counterproductive to building muscle and therefore may not be useful if building muscle and developing a lean physique is the goal.
  • When we work out we strain the body and the muscles of the body. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) can help protect the body during workouts.  BCAAs support muscle gain.  BCAAs are also proteins.  These nutrients can be consumed by eating protein.  BCAA are not necessary for individuals on a high protein diet, but for individuals that do not eat high amounts of protein, or for vegetarians/vegans, that want to gain muscle, BCAAs will be beneficial.
  • Beta-Alanine/Carnosine is produced by the body as an essential protein.  This is helpful to give a person power throughout their workout.  It is believed this supplement can help people work out longer without feeling tired and fatigued.  This supplement appears to be safe but the research I reviewed was inconclusive.  There are reports that suggest it can improve athletic performance and others that do not support athletic performance.
  • Talk with a fitness professional or fitness enthusiast and they most likely drink protein shakes.  There are tons of protein supplements available, and they come in different forms and different flavors.  Which one a person chooses is up to personal choice, affordability, and preference.
  1. Whey is a common protein and it is made from milk.  I read a report that stated whey protein was most popular due to taste, quality, and affordability.  Whey is easily digested in the body.  If you are looking to add protein to your diet, this may be the first supplement to add.  However people with lactose intolerance, milk allergies, and people that are vegan and gluten free will want to avoid Whey protein.  Whey is good for after workout nutrition because the body will quickly absorb it.
  2. Casein is also popular and also derived from milk.  The body takes longer to digest casein protein and it is high is calcium.  Vegans, gluten-free, or people with milk allergies will want to avoid this protein. However casein can be a good meal replacement and will ward off hunger longer.
  3. Soy is another popular type of protein.  Soy is vegetable based and will be the choice for individuals that live a vegan diet.  Soy is not a complete protein, though, and people may not consume as much protein when consuming soy.
  4. It is recommended that individuals find a protein that have various types of protein available.  A good protein will have whey, casein, and soy.  This will give the body more of the nutrients it needs to build muscle and slim body weight.

It is important to note to always seek a physician’s advise before starting any supplements.  Supplements are only beneficial when used in addition to a healthy, well balanced diet and physical activity.  There are so many supplement companies out there and it can be hard to decide if supplement sare right for you.  If you are eating well and working out hard, supplements may not be necessary.  Adding a supplement does not guarantee you will be skinner, leaner, stronger, healthier, or faster.  However eating healthy and working does!

If you decide that a supplement is for you consider these tips.

  1. You get what you pay for.  Drug store and over the counter supplements may not be the safest and most effective.
  2. It is best to do your research and talk to people on different products to determine which one is best for you.
  3. Follow directions.
  4. Do not overuse.  Further research will explore the long-term effects of supplements.  We need to allow the industry and science time to complete studies.  Using supplements in moderation is what is safest.

I would love to hear your take on supplements.  Do you use supplements? If you do, which ones and why?  If not, why not?  Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions about supplements.  We can all learn from each other.

References

Hursel, R. & Westerterp-Plantenga, M.S. (2010).  Thermogenic ingredients and body weight regulation.  International Journal of Obesity, 34(4), 659-669.

Ogawa, N., & Ueki, N. (2007).  Clinical importance of caffeine dependence and abuse.  Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 61(3), 263-268.

Wang, H., Wen, Y., Du, Y., Yan, X., Guo, H., Rycroft, J., …, Mela, D. (2010).  Effects of catechin enriched green tea on body composition.  Obesity, 18(4), 773-779.

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