What is an Ergogenic Aid? What is a supplement?
Ergogenic aid is a broad term used to describe any external influence that may enhance training, recovery, or performance including mechanical, nutritional, pharmaceutical, and psychological aids. A dietary supplement is defined as a ‘vitamin, mineral, herb, botanical, amino acid, metabolite, constituent, extract, or a combination of any of these ingredients.”
Because the legal definition for a dietary supplement is so broad, it may be helpful to further divide this vast category into three subcategories: (1) vitamins, minerals, and amino acids; (2) botanicals and (3) herbals. These categories are different in several ways. Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are all nutrients that are found in food. Most of these compounds have an established standard for how much is needed by humans, such as a Dietary Reference Intake. Some also have a Tolerable Upper Intake Level established, the highest level taken daily that is not likely to cause a health problem. Therefore, it is not difficult to determine if one’s diet is lacking in these nutrients and if the amount in a supplement exceeds the amount needed or is safe.
Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act.
It is important to know what the law does not cover. DSHEA does not ensure safety or effectiveness. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to require that a dietary supplement be approved for safety before it is marketed. In other words, any dietary supplement that appears on the market is presumed to be safe. The FDA must prove that a supplement is
unsafe or adulterated before it can be removed from the market. The law also does not require that a dietary supplement be proven to be effective.
In 2007, the FDA mandated quality standards for supplements. These standards were developed to ensure that dietary supplements contain the intended ingredients, are free from contamination, and are accurately labeled. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are intended to bring dietary supplement manufacturing standards more in line with pharmaceutical standards. Some dietary supplements have been reported as tainted and have caused athletes to test positive for banned substances. In some cases, these supplements contained tainted ingredients due to poor manufacturing practices, which the quality standards were developed to alleviate. However, there is also evidence that ingredients that could lead to inadvertent doping are intentionally added to some dietary supplements but not labeled and ingestion of these supplements may lead to inadvertent doping.
Supplementing All Three Types
Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are all nutrients that are found in food. Most of these compounds have an established standard for how much is needed by humans, such as a Dietary Reference Intake. Some also have a Tolerable Upper Intake Level established, the highest level taken daily that is not likely to cause a health problem. Therefore, it is not difficult to determine if one’s diet is lacking in these nutrients and if the amount in a supplement exceeds the amount needed or is safe.
Botanicals are typically compounds that have been extracted from foods and then concentrated into liquid or solid supplements. These supplements have a link to both food (the original source) and medications (a concentrated dose). Botanicals may or may not provide the same benefit as the food from which they were extracted even though the dose is more concentrated. Botanical supplements are difficult to study, and study results are often conflicting. Popular botanical supplements include garlic and soy supplements.
The majority of the most widely used herbal supplements in the United States (for example, ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, echinacea, saw palmetto) do not contain nutrients that are found in food. In fact, these herbal products are typically being used as alternative medications. Although the DSHEA prohibits manufacturers for making claims that herbal products can treat, prevent, diagnose, or cure a specific disease, such claims are made frequently, especially when these supplements are marketed via bulk mailings and the Internet.
A Supplement’s Legality, Safety, Purity, and Effectiveness are Crucial.
Legality of dietary supplements.
Many athletes are governed by the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Other sports governing bodies may adopt these rules or rules of their own, so each athlete is responsible for knowing the current rules as they pertain to dietary supplements. Banned substances may be intentionally or unintentionally added to some dietary supplements. It is considered unethical to circumvent the testing of banned substances with the use of masking agents or other methods that prohibit detection of banned substances.
Safety of dietary supplements
At recommended doses, many dietary supplements are safe for healthy adults including vitamins, minerals, protein powders, and amino acid supplements.
Creatine and caffeine at recommended doses have good safety profiles, although the athlete may experience some adverse effects with their use. Androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and ephedrine are banned substances in many sports, in part because of safety concerns. The FDA does not review or approve any dietary supplement before it is available for sale so it is imperative that the athlete be aware of any potential safety issues. There is concern about the safety of herbal supplements. These concerns include lack of standardization of the active ingredients, the risk for contamination, and potential interactions with medications. Prior to 1994, herbal preparations were considered neither a food nor a drug, but DSHEA reclassified them as dietary supplements. This is in contrast to most European countries, which regulate herbals and botanicals as medications.
Athletes need to be cautious of both the recommended dosage and the ingredients found in herbal weight-loss supplements. Some may contain ephedrine, a nervous system stimulant, which has a narrow safe dose range. Others may contain herbal sources of caffeine. Caffeine is also a nervous system stimulant and is typically safe at moderate doses. However, the use of caffeine-containing weight-loss supplements along with energy drinks containing a concentrated amount of caffeine could put an individual at risk for caffeine intoxication. Some herbal weight-loss supplements, such as Citrus aurantium (bitter orange), contain the drug synephrine, which may be a banned substance.
Purity of dietary supplements.
Purity is related to a lack of contamination and accurate labeling. Consumers assume that the ingredients and the amounts listed on the Supplement Facts label are accurate. They should be, but it is not true in all cases. Many studies have found evidence of dietary substances that are mislabeled or impure.
Ephedra supplements containing 0 to 150 percent of the amount stated on the label.
Supplements containing banned substances, including anabolic steroids.
Weight-loss supplements containing prescription drugs.
Effectiveness of dietary supplements.
Most dietary supplements sold are not effective for improving performance, increasing muscle mass, or decreasing body fat. Scientific research suggests that the following supplements are safe and effective at recommended doses:
Caffeine. Effective as a central nervous system stimulant and for improving endurance and high-intensity activities lasting up to 20 minutes.
Creatine. Effective in conjunction with vigorous training for increasing lean body mass in athletes performing repeated high-intensity, short-duration ( Vitamins and minerals. Effective as a way to increase nutrient intake and to reverse nutrient deficiencies.
Protein. Effective as a source of protein (neither superior nor inferior to food proteins). Whey protein may be more effective than casein for stimulating skeletal muscle protein synthesis.
Some supplements under scientific investigation have shown promise of safety and effectiveness including:
Beta-alanine for buffering muscle pH.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) for immune system support and reduction of post-exercise fatigue.
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