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RE: Nutritional Supplements for Active Individuals
Warmer weather is quickly approaching - the thought of beach trips, concerts, and outdoor adventures are here and everyone wants to get back into "summer shape." As the temperatures outside increase, the layers of clothing we wear come off and perhaps reveal winter weight we hadn’t intended on gaining. Unfortunately, not everyone getting back into the groove is using safe precautions or listening to sound advice. Several supplements are out on the market that that claim fast weight loss and others that boast fast muscle gains. Some may spend obscene amounts of money on protein supplements in hopes of achieving shredded abs and large biceps, but just how effective are these supplementations at delivering the promised lean muscle mass? After looking at nutrition-science-based research to uncover the benefits that have and have not been substantiated for creatine, branch chain amino acids (BCAA), particularly leucine, hydroxymethyl buturate (HMB), Arginine, and glutamine supplements - it just might make you rethink your nutrition supplement purchases.
Creatine: used for muscle energy, its claim is in increasing lean mass, strength, and performance, while promoting weight loss, decreasing levels of fat in the blood, preventing muscle breakdown in times of injury and recovery, and improving brain function. What creatine supplementation has been well established at is somewhat increasing the physical ability of individuals during short, high-intensity exercises such as weight lifting due to a greater availability of energy within the muscle (1). This does not apply to aerobic endurance exercises like running, soccer, or tennis (2). Supplementation may not be necessary as the body makes it on its own; in addition, too much (caused from taking supplements) may cause diarrhea, other gastrointestinal stress, and may poorly effect kidney and heart health (1,3). If you think your muscle performance may benefit with a creatine supplement make sure you buy high-quality creatine, speak to a physician regarding dosage, and drink lots of fluid!
BCAAs: can be used directly within the muscle whereas all other amino acids must be metabolized in the liver. Its claim is in promoting muscle gain & recovery more quickly after a workout. Specifically, Leucine supplementation claims to increase muscle protein in coordination with a strength training regimen as well as reducing soreness after any given workout. Overall, the results are not consistent enough and the experts cannot agree because of the lack of large clinical trials showing significant results. Instead, drink low fat milk, eat a couple of eggs, or an appropriate serving of any lean meat after a workout that will provide you with all the essential amino acids including the BCAAs (4,5,6,7).
HMB: occurs naturally in the body when the BCAA, leucine, is broken down. Exercise and physical activity lead to increased leucine break down, which results in more HMB. HMB supplementations claim to improve the results of weight training and to prevent muscle damage. However, the jury is still out on the efficacy of HMB supplementation at improving strength and muscle mass in coordination with a lifting and exercise program. No health risks have been found to be associated with consumption of a standard dosage of HMB supplements (8), but although the risk of taking HMB supplements is minimal, your wallet may be the factor that suffers.
Glutamine: is an amino acid that is important for blood and immune health (9,11). During prolonged exercise, glutamine has been found to be somewhat depleted and therefore glutamine supplementation claims to boost your immune system, increase the production of stored glucose (9) (needed for energy during endurance exercise), and maintain those stores to prolong power endurance (10). There is very little research to strongly support the immune and glycogen health claims, let alone that glutamine supplementation boosts endurance.
Arginine: is another amino acid that is important to our immune health and also plays a role in hormone response. Arginine supplementation proposes immune benefits and increased exercise performance through increasing insulin and other hormones(11,12). To date, sports nutrition research has yet to show any benefit of arginine supplementation in athletes or active individuals (13).
The overall research to back up the efficacy of these nutritional supplements is weak. Although they may help you improve your athletic performance or aesthetic appearance, but there is no guarantee of the efficiency or safety of these supplements for long-term use. Because a governing body does not regulate supplements, the way food is, you have to be especially careful and only purchase from reputable sources. Also be sure to discuss supplements with your physician and dietician before you decide on adding any supplement to your lifestyle regimen.
Alexandria Wolz, Cooperative Intern for: