The effects of dietary supplementation


Story by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka
7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
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Nutritional supplementation is big business. In 2011, more than $800,000 was collectively spent on supplement advertisements and marketing, and revenues exceeded $30 billion in the same year. Supplements can be part of a healthy diet, but are not a prerequisite for one. If you are eating a relatively balanced diet, one that provides enough energy for your needs, then you likely don’t need dietary supplementation. You don’t even need to be a “perfect eater” to get enough nutrients from your food intake. Simply minimize the amount of processed foods that you eat, which not only provide little nutrition, but can rob your body of micronutrients. Choosing more wholesome foods will afford you more of the necessary vitamins and minerals that you require.

Nutritional supplements may be categorized briefly as such:

– vitamins & minerals
– protein (amino acids)
– herbs and botanicals
– enzymes
– performance enhancers

A high level of fitness is the result of several lifestyle habits, only one of which is physical training. Also, healthier food choices is vital to supporting improved performance. Many people turn to nutritional supplements in an attempt to meet their nutritional needs and perform better. However, there are many things to understand about nutritional supplements before including them in your diet.

Some supplements contain ingredients that will cause you to fail a urine analysis. Supplements are not governed or policed by an outside and neutral organization, allowing manufacturers to, essentially, include anything they wish in their products which can potentially be hazardous to your health. Worse yet, they do not need to include these ingredients on the product label. So you do not actually know what you are getting when you purchase a nutritional supplement. If anything, there is a placebo effect when using supplements which causes the user to focus in and train harder, as well as eat better. Likely, any performance gains which are accumulated during supplement use can be traced back to the simultaneous improvements in training and diet. This is well established in the research literature.

Finally, many Airmen who seek increased lean mass – more muscle! While possibly aesthetically pleasing, increased lean mass above one’s natural potential is actually a detriment to performance. Performance is the result of how much work you can do in how little time, and this is a metric called “power”. Increased loads, of which your body’s weight is included, drags your power output down to a lower level. When you weigh more than you should, you need to carry that extra mass around the track, along with your body armor, or, along with your wounded buddy who you are carrying. Your muscle mass is literally slowing you down! Increased strength is a neural adaptation, not a “muscle size” adaptation and increased strength will increase your power output. So, muscle mass is not a prerequisite of increased strength.

Using supplements to increase muscle mass is a very popular idea, but also a very dangerous one. The supplements that are targeted to “muscle heads” nearly always contain ingredients that are harmful to your health, for example, caffeine and other stimulants in a high dosage. Couple this with the careless use of the very popular energy drinks and you have a recipe for disastrous effects on your health. Moreover, there is absolutely not one shred of controlled research that shows any positive effects of such supplements. Again, the placebo effect, causing a focus on harder training and better eating is usually the actual cause of any positive results.

In case your money actually does grow on a tree and you are considering using supplements, please refer to Operation Supplement Safety, a DOD-approved website that provides helpful information about the ingredients in popular supplements: You are also invited to come to the HAWC, in the fitness center, where the base dietician can assist you in making more informed choices.

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