Workout supplements have become increasingly popular and the market for them has expanded from bodybuilders and athletes to the mainstream.
Andy Galpin, an associate professor of kinesiology, said protein powders, creatine and stimulants are among the regularly used supplements. Under the umbrella of protein powders, whey protein is one of the most common.
“Whey protein is effective because it is generally fast absorbing and it has all of the amino acids you need,” Galpin said.
He also made the distinction that the amino acids can be split into two categories: the nonessentials, which the human body makes by itself, and essentials, which must be taken in through food and is available in its entirety with whey protein.
A common misconception is that branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), essential and nonessential amino acids are all the same. In reality, BCAAs are just a megadose of one or two specific amino acids like leucine.
Galpin said BCAAs are not harmful but are mainly only useful for the older population, people with cancer, muscle atrophy diseases or a calorie-restricted diet.
Another important category within protein is the source, which can either be animal-based or plant-based. Animal-based protein is more efficient because it contains more usable protein than plant-based, Galpin said, meaning it may take 30 grams of plant-based protein to achieve the same net protein used in 20 grams of animal-based protein.
“Bioavailability, how much of what you consume is available to the body of protein in animals is very high. But it is a lot lower in plants,” Galpin said.
In addition to protein, stimulants are another commonly used supplement. Galpin said that pre-workout is just the name given to the entire category of stimulants.
Steven Carlson, a mechanical engineering major, said he notices the active effect pre-workout gives that whey protein doesn’t.
“Pre-workout, at least, feels like a boost in energy, like I can get one more rep in,” Carlson said.
Along with whey protein, Donny Ritcharoen, a business entrepreneurship major, also uses multivitamins and magnesium as part of his post-workout supplements.
“We can’t really get the amount of nutrients we need from a regular diet, so we have to supplement,” Ritcharoen said.
However, for all of the benefits these workout supplements provide, they still have negative side effects.
“That can be a real problem. It can be acutely dangerous and bad for you long term,” Galpin said.
It isn’t just stimulants, either. Galpin said supplements should not be something one survives on. If a person needs more stimulants, that’s the body’s way of saying it needs more sleep and recovery. If there is a need for protein, that’s a sign the body needs more protein-based foods.
“If you continually circumvent that message by just drowning it out with more stimulants, you are going to pay a health consequence for that,” Galpin said.
For the best supplements, Galpin recommends looking for ones with the fewest number of ingredients. For example, in protein supplements, there should be one ingredient that matters.
“You just want the protein. You want as close to real food as possible,” Galpin said.
Using workout supplements can be useful in aiding recovery and maximizing results from workouts. It is a multibillion-dollar industry fueled by that belief. However, for all the perceived good supplements provide, the negatives should not be ignored. Being mindful of those negatives will help avoid the long-term health consequences of constant supplement use.
Using workout supplements can be useful in aiding recovery and maximizing results from workouts. It is a multibillion-dollar industry fueled by that belief. However, for all the perceived good supplements provides, the negatives should not be ignored. Being mindful of those negatives will ensure that the long-term health consequences of constant supplement use can be avoided.