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All About Fitness Supplements

For many athletes and fitness enthusiasts, achieving that rate of muscle growth and tone often leads to a desire to include fitness supplements into their diet.  Globally, there is a $25 billion market in nutritional supplements, such as energy bars and energy drinks, and a $2.7 billion market in serious bodybuilding-related products such as Dymatize ISO 100, N.O.-Xplode and Muscle Milk.  These products seek to satisfy the desire for rapid muscle growth and performance that many of today's athletes demand.

First a cautionary note. According to most doctors and nutritionists, however, most people who eat a balanced and full diet don't generally need nutritional supplements. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a statement saying that children under 18 should avoid taking nutritional supplements especially male-oriented ones since a teenage diet contains enough protein for their nutritional needs even if the teenager is highly athletic.

Since men comprise the lion's share of the fitness supplement market, there is a bewildering variety of male-oriented fitness supplements.  These come with little or no uniformity, confusing labels and arcane ingredients.  Often the doses recommended on the label are higher than necessary.

Although there are online resources that provide ratings for most of the fitness supplements on the market, most rely on personal testimonials and private ratings rather than laboratory testing or medical reviews.  As such, they are vulnerable to paid commercial reviews that can make exaggerated or even false claims while appearing to be the opinion or experience of an unbiased individual.

It is important to also differentiate dietary supplements such as whey protein from performance-enhancing substances such as creatine and nitric acid and to understand the importance of recommended doses.  Consuming too much creatine for example can cause stomach upset and induce muscle cramps.  Many supplements contain large amounts of caffeine, which can cause sleep disorders, nervousness, among other problems.

So what fitness supplements really work to help build muscle and performance?  One of the problems in answering this question is that there is very little regulation of these products.  Another crucial fact is that supplements cannot compensate for a poor diet.  Starting with a healthy, balanced diet is the single most important step when considering supplements.  No pill, capsule or powder has been show to provide the richness and functional nutrients of real grains, vegetables and fruits.

There is also the risk that some supplements may actually be harmful rather than beneficial.  A study appearing in the February 2007 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association found a link between selenium supplements and diabetes, a study was later followed up by a JAMA article in August of the same year.  This is some concern since around 35 percent of the U.S. population take multivitamins containing selenium.

It is therefore a good idea to consult your doctor or personal trainer prior to adding supplements to your diet.  They can provide valuable information on what supplements to take and how to maximise your muscle growth without jeopardising your health.

According to Jose Antonio, editor of the Sports Nutrition Insider and leader of the International Society for Sports Nutrition, popular supplements can be divided into three main categories: amino acid-based products such as whey protein, creatine and arginine; caffeine-based stimulants such as nitric oxide; and healthy fats such as omega-3 acids. 

Amino acid supplements, such as Dymatize ISO 100 and Scivation Xtend, that provide whey protein and creatine, can boost muscle performance.  The amino acids help build muscle mass, especially that which is lost during exercise, which is why they are often taken just after or towards the end of an exercise program. Stimulants, such as BSN NO-Xplode, do not directly build any muscle but instead ramp up short term activity levels and motivation, making it easier to power through a tough exercise routine. 

Healthy fats, such as those found in fish oil tablets, help keep the body replenished with energy and fight against plaque build-up in the arteries and generally keep the body's energy burning system in balance. Fish oils contain Omega 3 fatty acids that boost the body's immune system, which coincidentally and paradoxically often gets depressed just after strenuous exercise.  Fish oil tablets can also help fight against cancer and skin disorders.

There is myriad of confusing and sometimes deceptive nutritional supplements out there.  Be sure to research any product you are thinking to including in your diet and if possible consult your doctor or personal trainer on what products are right for your exercise regimen.

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