More than 100 million Americans reach for some type of nutritional supplement each day – everything from vitamin-fortified mineral water to powders, pills and bars boasting dozens of amino acids and other nutrients. We spend more than $14 billion annually on these products. But do we need them?
“I think people have to exercise caution,” said Dr. Bob Goldman of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. “I think these are things that can be very beneficial to them, but they must experiment to see what works best for them.”
Professional bodybuilder Flex Wheeler likens the use of supplements to using a higher octane gasoline to improve a car’s performance. “You’re going to demand more from your body,” he explained, “so you’re going to have to put more into your body.”
And some science backs him up. Researchers at the University of South Carolina found high carbohydrate beverages can delay fatigue during weight training and improve the performance of high intensity aerobic activities.
Functional Nutritional Supplements
Manufacturers are targeting their products to exercise-specific needs. For instance, the “Football Bar” has more protein, the “Tennis Bar” more carbohydrates, and the “Fitness Bar” is dense with calories. They are now functional foods!
Doctors say serious side effects from consuming too many nutritional supplements are rare, but milder symptoms include digestive problems in the very young or the elderly. Nevertheless, said John Cordaro of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, “that doesn’t suggest you should be very liberal and eat whatever. What you should do is read the labels.”
Some consumers may be surprised to find that some nutrition bars can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and calories. Health experts say the key to reaching optimal health is maintaining a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
“A calorie is a calorie is a calorie,” said personal trainer Tony Little. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s protein, it doesn’t matter whether it’s carbohydrate, it doesn’t matter whether it’s fat. If you take in more than you burn off, you get fat.”