You’re on the wrong drugs, pal

Kevin Walsh

kevin walsh
Kevin Walsh

Going to the gym is tough. There’s only so much that can be done in a day’s workout. People have realized this, and some genius scientist has isolated the chemicals that will make your body look like Arnold Schwarzenegger at his peak. These workout supplements can be bought from a multitude of stores.

If all of this sounds too good to be true, then you just might be onto something. Supplements aren’t just simple additions to your diet. They’re complicated compounds that you should research before consuming. However, the research out there is conflicting.

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For example, research on branched-chain amino acid supplements, one of the most popular supplements available and often found in pills or mixed with other compounds, is convoluted. This supplement is a mixture of three amino acids taken to aid muscle in rebuilding itself after a workout and prevent muscle from being broken down to fuel the workout. These amino acids are naturally introduced to the body from eating any food containing protein. A daily intake of BCAAs has been shown to increase gains in strength in weightlifters when compared to weightlifters without the supplement, according to a study by Leeds University.

Another research study showed that daily BCAA supplement intake promotes fat loss and muscle gains more than an equivalent supplement of just protein or carbohydrates. While the results show that BCAAs are beneficial, the study is biased because it was funded by a supplement company that sells BCAAs.

Additionally, the study was flawed in its approach. Weightlifters didn’t record or control their diets. That alone is huge because a weightlifter’s diet is the primary influence of his or her performance, recovery and muscle growth. Without recording such data, the study cannot be trusted.

Another issue with this study is that the BCAAs weren’t taken alone for the weightlifter groups taking the BCAA supplement. Also included in this mixture were the chemicals glutamine and citrulline malate, two additional amino acid supplements. This happens to be the formula for one of the products made by the company funding this study, so it appears that this research’s purpose was to show the effectiveness of this company’s product. Without taking a close look at this research, by just reading the study’s title and abstract, it’s very easy to mistake that the paper implies pure BCAA supplements have all of these effects.

Beyond the effectiveness of the BCAAs, research conflicts regarding dosage. Popular fitness websites give varying advice, even between articles on the same website. One article suggests three grams of BCAA supplementation per day to be sufficient for beneficial effects, but then suggests nine grams of BCAAs per 100 pounds of lean body weight, citing a BCAA study’s “dramatic effects” at that dosage level. Another suggests 10 grams before and 10 grams after a workout. And yet another article suggests that BCAA supplementation isn’t necessary as long as a weightlifter is eating enough protein each day.

The fitness industry in America is huge. Billions of dollars each year are spent on the pursuit of an Adonis body. It makes sense that the fitness websites that sell and profit off of these supplements would write articles encouraging people to use these products. Anyone convinced that supplements will give them an edge in their workouts is a source of revenue for that website.

All I can do is encourage you to do research on the chemical supplements that you’re putting into your body and decide if they’re beneficial or even necessary for you. Researching how these supplements act on the body is an act of teaching yourself biochemistry and physiology. What’s cool is you’re actually going to put that knowledge to use.

Try impressing your friends by telling them you were up late last night doing research on how certain compounds affect the body. They’ll probably think you were doing drugs. They’re not wrong if you’re taking supplements.

Collegian Reporter Kevin Walsh can be reached at letters@collegian.com.