How many times have you been to the gym and seen people shaking those plastic blender bottles with some sort of colored concoction inside? Many people, and certainly many companies that make them, like to think that having a pre-workout, post-workout, or protein supplement shake will help you become healthier or simply more athletic.
However, Nicole Kerneen, a certified sports science dietitian for Froedert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Medicine Center, suggests you put that shaker bottle down.
While supplementation has been around since the 1960s, Kerneen says most of these powders are not regulated nor evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. "[Sports nutritionists] break it down... does this supplement actually contain what the company is stating on the label it contains? And nine times out of ten, they do no
According to Kerneen, ninety percent of all supplements entering the market come from China and the majority of amino acid supplements are from Japan. "They're not clean, their practices are not clean. And that's why we have so much lead and so much arsenic in a lot of these things that are coming through," she says.
Kerneen does give some United States companies credit for paying for extensive product testing; however, the general public usually does not have access to these results. Sometimes, she adds, supplement companies can't even verify with her what's in their products -- they simply do not know.
So what’s driving the supplement craze? Kerneen narrows it down to profiting on human nature and misleading information. "Everyone wants this quick fix or some sort of edge, advancement, or some type help in achieving any goal - it's human nature. It's just so interesting, though, of how the mentality went from maybe eating differently around a workout and thereafter to 'I need to take something to help me.'"
Our physiology has not changed over time and neither have our nutritional needs and, Kerneen says, our bodies weren't necessarily meant to process supplements oversaturated with ingredients.
"Can there be a purpose to it? Sometimes, if someone has to put on a ton of weight for some body building competition," she admits. "But other than that, there really isn't any use for them - that's why food is so important."
The key, Kerneen says, is eating food that will fuel us throughout the day: Beneficial carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and sweet potatoes, for example. Healthful fats and omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, flax meal, chia seeds, walnuts, olive oil, avocados, and pure nut butters. And, eating lean proteins such as chicken contain all the protein the human body needs.
"You have way more control of what you're putting in your body from real food than you do from something that's coming from a plastic bottle," she says.
Many supplement companies, Kerneen says, often include a multitude of ingredients that are the latest buzzwords -- carbs, caffeine, vitamin B12, branched chain amino acid. She adds, BCAA can all be found in food and typically do not need to have extra supplementation.
"The food industry actually doesn't care about you...So we have to make sure we understand what is out there. We can't see a label and say, 'That's pretty,' or 'I like that celebrity.' We really need to take care of ourselves and look a little deeper."
If you are someone who works out consistently,Kerneen says, be mindful of nutrient timing to help your body, not supplements. "What's important is that you consume carbohydrates (40-60 grams for the average person) and a little bit of protein going into your workout. And, you consume more carbs, and just a little protein (10-15 grams) coming out of your workout." She adds, "Studies have shown us time and time again the max amount of protein we need post-workout is 20 grams. Period... There's no more benefit having more than that."
Kerneen understands that it is very easy for the average consumer to get wrapped up in misinformation. "There's a reason why it's a multi-billion dollar industry. We buy because we hope, we buy because we like magic things."
However, she says, people don't realize that there is potential danger in those "magic" formulas.
"We gotta hone in on how we're caring for ourselves on a daily basis, what we're choosing to fuel and feed ourselves on. We cannot depend on a powder to make magic happen within our body, we have to do it ourselves. And that just takes a little planning and a little time, but once you get it - you got it."
For more information on supplements, check out these resources: