When choosing a used supplement — whether it is a sports supplement or any other natural formula — there are a few questions to ask. The first one is — whether there are benefits of taking a sports supplement and do they help you achieve the goal. The second question — is this supplement safe? Let’s review potential sports supplements safety issues in this article.
Generally speaking, many sports supplements are safe for healthy people who do not have heart, kidney, or liver diseases.
These supplements should be taken in the recommended dose. Furthermore, make sure to buy a high-quality product that has been tested, passed safety standards, and does not contain banned or hidden substances; for optimal benefits, choose minimally processed supplements without artificial flavors, sweeteners, or unnecessary fillers.
What are the safest sports supplements?
- Whey protein is one of the most commonly used sports supplements and one of the safest, too. Muscles need proteins to grow and repair, and whey is an excellent way to add good quality protein to your daily intake. For optimal absorption, choose whey protein isolate without other ingredients. Pea protein and hemp proteins are good options for vegans.
- Single or combination amino acids like lysine, arginine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) also have a good safety profile. Creatine, which is made from two amino acids, is also well researched and safe when taken in recommended doses. Although there were some safety concerns in the past, a 2017 review of this supplement from the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that creatine has an excellent safety profile and had been tested in over 1000 studies in different age groups from infants to the elderly, and the safety was assessed both short term and long term.
- Vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids are common nutrients needed for optimal health, have a good safety profile, and can be a great addition to a healthy, nutritious diet.
- When it comes to herbal supplements, many of them are based on safe, common herbs and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. Research if you come across a herb you don’t know about. Even better, consult a healthcare professional with expertise in nutrition and supplements to learn more about its safety and efficacy. Keep in mind that herbs can interact with one another as well as with prescription drugs. Avoid taking doses higher than recommended.
Supplements you should be cautious of
If a company claims that “supplement X” works instantly, or 100% of the time, and you don’t need to follow a diet or exercise to see results, be very cautious. Supplements are an addition, not a replacement for a healthy diet and lifestyle. The results also vary from person to person, and no company can offer a 100% guarantee that it works.
Avoid companies that aren’t transparent about the composition of a supplement and list ”a proprietary blend“ rather than the list of all ingredients and their amount per dose. You need to know exactly what is in your supplement, both medicinal and non-active ingredients. Choose supplements from a reputable company that offers good customer support and use research to back up their claims. The company should adhere to Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) and have been certified by a third-party company.
Remember that some sports supplements contain high amounts of caffeine or other stimulants. As a result, they can cause irritability, dehydration, and increased blood pressure. Combining fat burners with energy products can lead to excess stimulants.
Sports supplement that contains 10 or more herbs. Although the labels may look attractive, many herbs combined mean each herb is found in small quantities, often not enough to provide a health benefit. In addition, herbs can interact with other herbs, so the safety of that herbal combination may be unknown.
The dangers of banned ingredients in sports supplements
According to the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, not all supplements may be safe to use, as almost one in five sports supplements tested were found to include banned substances like stimulants and anabolic drugs.
About 20% of nutritional supplements sold in Europe and the USA were also found to contain anabolic steroids, yet these ingredients are not listed on the label.
Anabolic drugs or androgenic steroids hiding in some sports supplements are synthetic drugs that disrupt the normal hormonal balance. In many cases, they have not been tested for purity, efficacy, or toxicity, so that they may cause additional safety problems. They are marketed as “prohormones,” “natural steroids,” or “testosterone boosters” on the website and promoted to increase muscle mass and strength. Many athletes use these supplements in cycles, on and off. At the end of a supplement cycle, the body’s natural testosterone levels may be very low, and the conversion of testosterone to estrogen is also disrupted. The use of androgenic steroids can lead to fatigue, low mood, irritability, male pattern baldness, liver injury, heart complications, reduced muscle mass and strength, low libido, increased fat mass, and enlarged breasts in men (gynecomastia).
Regarding stimulants, a 2021 study published in “Clinical Toxicology” found nine prohibited stimulants and several combinations of banned stimulants in 17 brands of over-the-counter supplements marketed for energy/sports and weight loss. Deterenol, a banned stimulant, can cause harmful effects affecting the heart, lungs, and eyes.
Back to the question: are sports supplements safe? It depends on the type of supplement, the brand, and the dose, among all factors. Even the safest supplements can cause problems when taken in excess. It is best to talk to a healthcare professional with expertise in sports nutrition to understand better how these supplements work, the best dosage, and how they may interact with other supplements or prescription drugs.
It is best to seek professional advice if you have a medical condition. For example, protein supplements should not be consumed in excess in case of kidney diseases. Certain herbs promoted for weight loss, like Garcinia cambogia, had been linked with severe liver damage. Some herbs have blood-thinner qualities and should be used cautiously if you take blood thinners. Many herbs lower blood sugar levels, and taken with anti-diabetes drugs may cause hypoglycemia.
- NIH. Adverse effects of sports supplements in men.
- ACSH. Prohibited Stimulants Found In Sports And Weight-Loss Supplements.
- NIH. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine.
- NIH. Acute liver injury following Garcinia cambogia weight-loss supplementation: case series and literature review.