On Friday I received an email asking me what supplements should be taken to help with weight loss. It’s a VERY common question. Young athletes want to know what supplements will make them stronger and faster. Adults want to know what supplements allow us to burn fat rapidly.
Ironically, the same day I received that question, the FDA banned 72 weight loss products it says contain harmful ingredients – a link to those products is below, along with my opinion. And by the way, the opinion below is shared by Dr. Chris Mohr, Ph.D., RD, as well as countless dietitians and ethical trainers. Be leery of any person or ad that tells you a supplement will make you stronger, faster or burn fat more quickly. 99.9% of the time it’s hype or a very dangerous compound to put into your body.
What Supplements Work?
Eating right in combination with a well structured exercise routine is the most effective path for long term enhancement in your health, fitness, and the achievement of your weight loss goals.
And to eat right simply means to eat smaller meals frequently, combining lean proteins (chicken breast, turkey, seafood), whole grain carbohydrates (including whole grain breads, pastas, cereals, rice, legumes) and fibrous carbohydrates (whole fruits and vegetables). Ideally you’ll eat about 500 fewer calories less than you expend in a day if you are seeking a leaner, more toned body.
If then, eating in this manner provides all of the nutrients and support our bodies need, do supplements provide any value? Well, the answer is yes and no.
There are some food supplements that contain calories and nutrition that will help us fill in the eating gaps during our day. A meal replacement shake, for example, is a great way to give your body a nutritious meal without having to stop and prepare the chicken breast, whole grain rice and green salad. Although real food is always best and the first priority, meal replacement shakes give us a nice second option when we’re busy or a complete meal is not easily accessible.
Whole fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidant our bodies need for a whole range of functions. But because many of us struggle to eat the appropriate daily requirements of these “live” foods, a good quality multivitamin will also act as an insurance policy providing our bodies with these necessary micro nutrients.
In terms of offering our bodies nutrition and benefit from supplements, we could end this discussion right here. What follows, however, is a brief review of supplements that do not provide calories and oftentimes, when consumed, lead to serious health consequences and sometimes even death.
I have witnessed more conversations where someone was offering “advice” on taking this “supplement” or that “supplement” to “burn more fat”, “add more muscle”, “get stronger”, “elevate metabolism” and “run faster”. I have heard countless stories from clients who got “professional advice” that they needed this or that supplement to reach their goals. Most of these products are either bogus and do very little, or they are simply drugs that have far reaching side effects.
Some of these drugs include ephedrine, steroids, amino acids, yohimbe, mega-doses of caffeine, androstenedione, and so on. Frequently these drugs are being marketed with, “based on research” or “proven by science” yet the consumer has almost no way of distinguishing the hype and false promises. Since 1994, the FDA does not monitor such supplementation offerings. In other words, you can go into Kroger, or hundreds of places online, and find a product that promises to help you burn fat and elevate your metabolism and it could be 100% useless (providing no value) or it could lead to cardiac arrest (as in the multitude of cases with ephedrine found in products such as Metabolife 356).
The only time the FDA steps in is after consumers are subjected to a product on the market and have likely been injured (from the product), or when the FDA find claims in a product that have been substantially overstated or misleading.
On Friday the latter happened when the FDA named 72 weight loss products found to contain undeclared pharmaceutical ingredients, include prescription drugs in doses that the agency said could lead to serious health consequences, including death. You can view the list of banned products here:http://www.fda.gov/cder/consumerinfo/weight_loss_products.htm.
This is not written to scare you, rather to empower and caution you against taking a supplement outside of a quality meal replacement shake and multi vitamin. In our quest for enhanced health and fitness, remember, the combination of eating the right foods in the right quantities, elevating your heart rate, and engaging in resistance training will take you far beyond the promises of the supplement offerings of today.
Train diligently, eat wholesome foods, and be safe!
Your friend in fitness,
Brian Calkins - Cincinnati's HealthStyle Fitness, Inc