Understanding sports supplements

Did you know that the retail market for sports supplements is worth over $5bn? They’re increasingly popular, and if you work out and train hard, you won’t find it hard to understand why.

When you’re putting in a lot of physical effort every day, you want to know that you’re getting as much as you can out of it. The chances are that you’re already eating well and being careful about hydration, so what else can you try? The right supplement could give you the boost you long for, but with so many on the market, how can you make a good choice?

Purpose

Choosing a supplement begins with having a clear understanding of what you want it to do. Do you want to increase your muscle mass, increase your endurance, or enhance your overall performance? Do you want to improve your overall health or minimize the disadvantages posed by an extreme environment?

Most products can only do one or two of these things well and improving your body in one way may mean disadvantaging yourself in another – for instance, building muscle will increase your weight, you will have more bulk to carry, and it may make you less streamlined.

The best way to understand what a particular product can do for you, beyond trusting its advertising, is to look at the ingredients it contains. There are too many of these to list individually here, but you can find useful tables of some of the most popular ones online.

Bear in mind that some supplements are designed to be taken daily for as long as you are working on your fitness, while others are short course boosters for use in specific situations.

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If you’re training for an endurance event, for instance, you’re likely to need fluids containing a balance of rehydration salts, something that won’t make much difference to your health at other times or even on your days off.

Effectiveness

sports supplements
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Every advertisement for a supplement is full of bold claims about how much difference it can make, but how much of it can you believe? When it comes right down to it, you’ll always have a surer bet with supplements that have been on the market for a long time because more is known about them.

You should also ask yourself whether you could get the same or better value from a simple dietary change. Pure protein powder, for instance, isn’t necessary if you’re getting plenty of protein in your food but might still be a better bet if the alternative comes in a form that is bad for your health in other ways.

You won’t need to take Vitamin-C if you’re already eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables because the evidence strongly suggests that boosting it beyond this level brings no additional benefits. The same is true of several other single-ingredient supplements.

To get the maximum benefits from the supplements you choose, you’ll need to pay attention to instructions on when and how to take them. You may also need to be careful what you eat or drink when you do so, as some other substances can affect the way they’re absorbed.

Safety

All dietary supplements sold in the US are regulated by the FDA. That means they have to meet strict DSHEA and FDA requirements. If you buy a product outside the US, however, you can’t guarantee that you will have the same level of protection.

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What’s safe and appropriate for you will also depend on personal characteristics like your age and sex. For instance, women are advised to consume less protein than men because it’s associated with osteoporosis, and they are at higher risk.

If a woman menstruates heavily, then she could benefit from an iron supplement; however, that is a bad idea for most other people as it’s dangerous to build up too much iron in the body. Whatever you want to take, it’s best to discuss it with your doctor first, especially if you have an underlying health condition or you’re taking other medication.

Legality

Because the FDA is continually evaluating new supplements and re-evaluating them where concerns arise, what’s legal and illegal is subject to change. In some cases, state laws can also be a factor. You will need to research the status of whichever substance you are interested in, but this list of legal and illegal supplements in 2020 is an excellent place to start.

You can also make sure that you stay on the right side of the law by buying from an outlet with a good reputation and resisting the temptation to purchase products offered at discount prices from unknown sellers on online auction sites.

Ethics

If you’re looking for vegan supplements, if you prefer to use products made from natural ingredients or if you want to avoid those that have been tested on animals, don’t worry, there are still a great many from which to choose.

Traditional herbal supplements are usually a safe bet, and some modern manufacturers develop products specifically designed for these markets.

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There are many different types of supplements out there, but by understanding sports supplements on these areas, you’ll be able to identify the right ones for you.

Featured image credit – Lecic/Shutterstock

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