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Pssst, hey man, want to get faster?

Coaches and trainers are often the primary source of nutrition and performance supplement information for athletes, yet nearly all performance supplements are unproven. Some research shows that coaches simply don't know enough about performance supplements to give appropriate advice.

Supplement use is popular amongst athletes, including young athletes and recreational athletes.

Coaches and trainers that provide advice to athletes on what supplements to take may be behaving unethically; unless of course the advice is not to use unproven, unsafe and banned supplements, and further to that, to emphasize that healthy living, proper nutrition, and science based training is what athletes need in order to perform.

So how is suggesting an athlete take a supplement for performance unethical? It's unethical in many ways; One, chances are the supplement does not actually do anything. Test yourself; what is it called when we tell someone something that isn't true?

Second, It's known that many athletes suffer the consequences of their own compulsive drive to perform resulting in injury from training too much, low self esteem, distorted body image, and disordered eating. Supplement dependency is not a good thing and ought not to be supported. The topic of supplement use is an opportunity to talk openly about how irrational thoughts can skew idea's about achieving performance, leading to falling for the promise of performance in a pill.

Since we know athletes at all levels commonly face this challenge, is it really ethical to side step this issue and in essence support a compulsivity for performance by recommending supplements?

It's important to educate athletes early about how useless sports supplements are to help prevent dependency on what amount to rip off scams.

We all know it's common place; many athletes of all abilities are forever chasing performance in a pill or powder. When presented with evidence these substances don't work, denial takes over and the athlete affirms the effectiveness of their chosen potion, even if there has been no increase in performance directly proven to be due to the supplement.

The placebo effect is strong, and perhaps contagious. I've observed athletes using the same supplement will re-enforce each others perception of increased performance by reporting to each other their experience of how well it "worked".

Trying to help people see this behavior in themselves is nearly impossible due to their sincere belief in their perceptions, denial, and sometimes compulsive nutrition and training behavior.

The fact is, major sports governing bodies have position statements advising against performance supplements because they don't work, studies support this. In fact many supplements are faked or contaminated with doping substances.

Placebo studies show that if athletes are told they are taking an active ingredient, but are actually given a placebo, performance will increase, in some cases to nearly the same degree as an active drug.

It's essential that anyone using or considering using performance supplements to become aware of their emotional state and how they reason the use of a supplement. Chances are most will discover they seriously wish, and therefore believe, that whatever they are using or will use will work, not because there is real evidence proving it, but because of the effect in falling for the promise of hope.

Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport statement on supplement use

Fact sheet for Canadian Forces Running Team advising against supplements as THEY DON'T WORK

International Olympic Committee statement on sports nutrition

Statement from UK Sport about supplements: They don't work, are sold with false claims, may contain banned substances; get your nutrition from food.

Take home message? If you're on some kind of supplement, chances are it does nothing for you, despite what the supplement store sales person, your coach, your trainer, the latest magazine article, or your training buddy tells you, or even your own thoughts and feelings tell you.

If you're not taking any performance pills or powders, don't start.

Think that caffeine is helping you? Research shows that when athletes are told they are given caffeine, performance increases, even though they were given a placebo. Athletes will even report feeling the effects of caffeine, due to believing they have been given caffeine.

If you are told something will make you faster, and you believe it, chances are you will go faster as a result of the placebo effect. You may also perceive you are performing better, but overall you are only experiencing the normal expected gains from training, but now you attribute gains to the supplement, not the training - because you believe this to be the case.

So what's the problem with this? Who cares how I get faster, whether through tricking myself or through training?- This is denial at work. This popular perception will do nothing other than bolster ones aloof, irrational, and compulsive drive to achieve unrealistic goals with get fit quick schemes.

If this is you, find a way to cognitively recognize when gullibility fed by the promise of improved performance clouds your objective judgment - retain personal integrity and don't fall for the hype.

So my carb replacement doesn't work and I shouldn't use whey protein? What about taking vitamin D?

Some clarification; carbohydrate in a water solution provides calories (energy) for use during exercise. Carbohydrate mixtures that don't add extra herbal or claimed ergogenic compounds are fine. These are simply sugar and water, nothing wrong with that, and studies show carbohydrate intake during endurance events (greater than 90 minutes) increases performance, not because of "special" carbs, but simply because you are consuming food in an easily deliverable and digestible form..

Whey protein can be questionable, as all companies claim purity, yet some containers sold do not contain what the label claims. A simple whey protein with no added ingredients is fair game, but it won't provide super muscle building results; it is simply a powdered source of protein.

Vitamin D is not sold as sports performance ergogenic aid and isn't really included in what I'm referring to here. Cancer Canada recommends 1000 iu per day of vitamin D, and many health authorities recommend vitamin D supplementation during the fall/ winter (October to March) in Canada as the angle of the sun is too low to allow for sun exposure vitamin D production. You can go to your physician for a test that determines if you have enough vitamin D in your system (recommended).

If your doctor has recommended a vitamin or mineral supplement for you, follow your doctors advice.

Want to try a performance supplement? Don't waste your money on what amount's to expensive urine. Research shows performance supplements don't work; however a long term commitment to good training, good nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle is proven to increase performance.

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Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA

 

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