Don’t Believe the Hype about Sports Products and Supplements

They make bold claims but do supplements and sports products really do what they say?

Credit: Flickr/Phil Roeder

Don’t depend on supplements and sports products to get you results

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently published some timely warnings about supplements and sports products

One article states that there is a “striking lack of evidence” for many sports products and supplements, while another was highly critical of the claims of sports drinks. The BBC, in partnership with the BMJ, produced a documentary summarizing the findings. With many people watching elite athletes compete worldwide in the London 2012 Olympic Games, I think it’s a great time to release such a message.

Many knowledgeable nutritionists, including Canada’s own Kelly Anne Erdman, believe that you don’t need to be taking excessive supplements for improved health and fitness. I agree and think too many people have bought into the marketing hype of supplement manufacturers and end up popping far too many pills thinking it’ll improve their waistline or race-day performance.

Not Just Supplements and Sports Drinks

But it’s not only sports supplements that have come under fire. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned Dr. Ho’s electrical muscle stimulator and has listed cautions about EMS devices promoting weight loss, spot reduction or change in body appearance.

Also in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) successfully charged Skechers with a $40 million settlement and Reebok with a $25 million settlement due to unfounded claims about their toning shoes.

Recently, a class-action lawsuit against Vibrams was initiated by a woman in Florida who complained the company made deceptive claims about the benefits of barefoot running. I should note this is a personal action and not one initiated by any government agency.

Take Home Message about Sports Product

While there have been counter-claims of bias against the BMJ article and documentary, I think there is plenty of truth in their claim that the benefits of supplements and sports products are exaggerated and inflated.

If you’re training for or competing in endurance sports, taking in carbohydrates during events longer than an hour can help delay fatigue and may improve performance. But adding a list of exotic anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins probably isn’t going to do much for you except make your wallet lighter. (In fact, anti-oxidant supplementation may actually be detrimental to your health and performance).

My advice is to be very skeptical of claims made by many products. Your exercise program and daily nutrition should be the top priorities for fitness and health. Be inspired by the Olympic athletes‘ dedication to their training and development of their full potential, not who they’re sponsored by.

My message may not be as sexy as the marketing of many supplements and sports products, but unlike their claims, there is a mountain of scientific evidence showing the benefits of exercise and healthy eating.

  • Get enough exercise to make you sweat a bit every day;
  • Include a variety of activities each week to improve your strength, cardio and mobility;
  • Drink water when you’re thirsty;
  • Eat a varied diet of mostly minimally processed food that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean meats (if you eat meat), fish and healthy fats. And don’t be afraid of including the occasional sweet treat or a daily cup or two of great coffee.