The idea of supplementation is something that has had continual growth in the sports nutrition world over the last decade. Many supplements are promoted and marketed to consumers as performance aids, enhancers, and the ability to improve overall health. Things such as caffeine induced pre-workouts, or isolate protein powders are marketed to athletes to enhance performance, while supplements as simple as multi-vitamins are marketed to the public, when, the benefits promised by these products cannot effectively be proven.
Food products, which have a ‘Nutrition Facts’ label are regulated by the FDA, or the Food and Drug Administration, and one of the many reasons dietitians recommend consuming whole, real food products before turning to supplementation. The FDA’s main responsibilities:
Make sure that food sold in the United States is safe, wholesome, and always properly labeled. (2)
Almost all foods to be properly labeled with a Nutrition Facts label, and an ingredient list, which must be kept up to date with the FDA’s regulations. (2)
The FDA only becomes involved with supplements when a proven problem arises. What the FDA is not responsible for:
Dietary supplements are not required to be regulated for safety and effectiveness prior to being sold. (2)
Manufacturers and distributors of the product are responsible for making sure their products are safe before they are put on the shelves – this includes anything from pre-workout, to protein powder, to even daily vitamins. (2)
Daily vitamins are a common thing in many households in the United States. Vitamins nowadays come in all forms, from pill, to capsule, and even gummies for kids. According to an article in New York Times, more than half of Americans take vitamin supplements. (3) This stems from many people searching for “a magic bullet,” but putting the vitamins that we would normally get from food into capsule form is not chemically processed the same way as filling your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables. (3) Research has shown for a long period of time that those who eat fruits and vegetables live healthier lives. (3) In fact, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables have been shown to cure diseases related to vitamin deficiency – oranges and limes prevented scurvy (a vitamin C deficiency disease) in 18th century sailors. (3)
In the sports nutrition world, testing supplementation can get even more tricky. Because no athlete is the same, and almost every environment that an athlete competes in is different, it is nearly impossible to measure the benefits that could come from supplementation. (1) With athletes being one of the largest targeted demographic groups in the supplementation world, not knowing what is truthfully “safe” or “good” can be incredibly frustrating. Even when looking at a controlled clinical trial, the amount of sleep, proper nutrition, etc. that the athletes may have practiced prior to the trial can vary. (1) These factors, among many others, can greatly affect performance, and tamper with a trial studying performance enhancement. (1)
In the end, one of the best practices that anyone, is to focus on whole, nutritious foods first. Filling your plate with fruits and vegetables is the easiest way to obtain the maximum amount of micronutrients needed for your body and reduce oxidative stress that can cause damage.
Taylor LaRosee is a senior dietetics student at Iowa State University, who enjoys running, grocery shopping, and sipping on iced coffee. She’s passionate about whole food nutrition.
Nutrition Facts Label Picture:https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/the-basics-of-the-nutrition-facts-label
Supplement Label Picture: https://www.esha.com/products/supplements-analysis-labeling/us-supplement-label-formats/
Fruits and Vegetables Picture: https://healthyforgood.heart.org/add-color/articles/how-to-eat-more-fruits-and-vegetables
Burke, L. M. (2018). Methodologies for Investigating Performance Changes With Supplement Use. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28, 159-169. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/pdf/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0325?utm_source=My Sports Dietitian: Eat 2 Win&utm_campaign=8f2a8baff3-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c3aed6e419-8f2a8baff3-128811669. (1)
FDA (2005, April). Dietary Supplement Labeling Guide: Chapter IV. Nutrition Labeling.
Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/DietarySupplements/ucm070597.htm (2)
Szabo, L. (2018, April 3). Older Americans Are ‘Hooked’ on Vitamins. Retrieved May 12, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/03/well/older-americans-vitamins-dietary-supplements.html (3)