5 common myths about supplements

Side-effects have given exercise supplements a bad name. But everything you hear about them isn’t true

Men and woman at gym

Actors are our role models when it comes to physiques. So when Kareena Kapoor goes for a size zero, all girls want to be like her and when Shah Rukh gets a six pack and Aamir gets eight, all the boys want that too. We always want something that can help us achieve faster results, especially so in exercise. Also, there are times like in summer when we feel lethargic to train, or have less time to work out in the gym. For both the above-mentioned reasons a lot of people resort to what we call supplements. These are generally substances/extracts, which are meant to boost the physical performance of an individual. Traditionally, only athletes and other sports professionals had them. Now, their use is widespread.

Supplements can be anything—protein powders, branched-chain amino acids, creatine-monohydrate preparations, nitric-oxide preparations, and more recently, anti-ageing preparations. There is a general belief that since supplements are not ‘mother’s food’ or natural, they are not good for our body. There are more such beliefs surrounding supplements. Given below are five common myths that I have come across in my stint with the fitness industry.

  1. All supplements are harmful
    As we improve our fitness and as we reach our personal fitness goals, there always comes a time when we want that extra edge. That’s where supplements come into play. But we refrain from them because we hear the talk about side-effects. Anything will have a side-effect on you if it does not suit you. It’s that simple. So it would be more apt to say, that the effect / side-effect ratio depends on how your body utilises or processes a supplement that you put into it. This does not mean that you take supplements indiscriminately. You need to understand the product, its components and then have it, that too only on the recommendation of a qualified professional. Remember, you ought to know your own body before you put anything into it.
  2. All protein/meal replacements are inferior to dietary protein.
    Although they are called replacements, understand that these protein shakes, amino-acid tablets are supplements—they are taken in addition to our diet in this case dietary protein [for instance, egg white]. These supplements are just a convenient and easy way to increase our protein intake. Remember, protein is lean muscle, and unless you feed it’s not going to grow. Building lean muscle is a slow process called as hyperplasia and it is not equal to the temporary pump you get called as hypertrophy. You should opt to build lean muscle and not pump it up, which can be harmful. Remember, the more lean you are, the fitter you’ll be all your life.
  3. Creatine monohydrate gives a bloated appearance.
    Creatine monohydrate [CM] is basically a supplement meant to give you instant adenosine triphosphate or ATP [energy] release and hydration of muscle cells. Athletes who use it can significantly increase lean muscle mass in just two weeks. It also helps improve performance in high-intensity exercise, increasing energy levels, and speeding up recovery rates. Agreed that CM is meant to give you muscle size and strength, and some CM formulations have a property to make your muscles water logged, but with the latest esters and other CM formulations, there is minimum water retention. The old CM preparations are obsolete and you can rest assured that the newer versions won’t make you look bloated.
  4. Supplements are only for men.
    Just like lifting weights cannot make a lady bulky or as muscular as a man, having supplements cannot make women masculine. Supplements are for both sexes, to be consumed depending on individual goals and metabolism. It’s just that muscle size would be attributed to the presence of testosterone hormone, found only in men and not in females.
  5. Fat burners can make you thin instantly.
    It’s not true. Fat burner formulations [pills, syrups, sprays etc] are to be taken with extreme precautions and strictly under professional guidance as they might contain pharmaceuticals and combinations that are harmful to some extent. They can be harmful, so forget instant slimness, you’ll be good not knowing them at all.
    In a nutshell, supplements are not harmful as is the common assumption. At the same time, remember that intensity is the key. If you don’t put your optimum in your workouts, supplements won’t work for you. For true fitness, do everything in moderation [diets, rest, rejuvenation] except intensity in each set.

This was first published in the the June 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Dr Rishi Sherekar, MBBS, is a post graduate in ACE [American Council on Exercise] and has submitted a thesis on supplementation and use of anabolic steroids in sports to the Sports Authority of India [SAI]. He is also the director of EFTA [Esportas Fitness Training Academy]


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