Supplements are products used to improve and enhance an athlete's performance. They might include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs or plants – or any concentration, extract or combination of these. But do they help or hinder? David Smith, MD, youth sports medicine medical director with the Sports Medicine and Performance Center, offers his evaluation and advice.
The Supplemental Truth
Supplements, unfortunately, do not undergo the same scrutiny that medications do. So what's on the label may not be exactly what's in the bottle. That does not mean supplement companies are trying to do anything to people, but they don't have to fulfill the same standards as a medication does. So my general statement is you need to know what you put in your body. You're responsible for what you put in your body.
Many supplements now are putting stimulants in them. I mean how many energy drinks do you see? And they're advertised for athletes. And stimulants have adverse effects on the heart. I've seen people that will go into a rapid heart rhythm, tachycardia, that are getting way too much stimulant. I did have a professional athletic trainer once and say I don't understand why they're spending all this money on supplements when they could go to a local sandwich shop and get a good turkey sandwich and get protein, carbohydrate, and some of the other vitamins and nutrients that we need for five bucks. And I said you're right on.
I really struggle with people or student athletes who think that they can get a supplement to get the competitive edge. They may talk to their friend who ran faster and said, "I took this, so you need to take it, too." Or a coach who might say, "You know what, to put on that extra muscle mass you better be on this supplement. It worked for this athlete, it'll work for you." There are supplements out there that are probably very safe and legitimate, but you know you can get a lot of that through your diet.