Supplements and performance enhancers are common among individuals who exercise on a daily basis, yet people who takethese substances aren’t always knowledgeable or aware of what these substances contain. The following interview was conducted by Kevin Fitzpatrick, a Life of the Party Intern with the Alcohol and Drug Program. Kevin has a keen interest in fitness and wanted to take a deeper look at the supplements that people use on a frequent basis since this is a community of students who exercise and lead an active lifestyle. He was interested in common concerns and general misconceptions, as well as healthier alternatives for these products. Kevin spoke with Registered Dietician Betsy Reynolds-Malear who shared her insight from her knowledge and experiences asAssociate Director of Public Health Promotion here at UCSB Student Health Service.
Q: What are the most common supplements and performance enhancers you see in your work with UCSB students?
A: The most commonly used supplement that students take is protein, often in the form of protein shakes. Ironically, most people who use it typically don’t need it; these are the people who are already conscious of needing protein and are more than likely already eating plenty of protein. There is no scientific evidence that proves that it is harmful or helpful. By far, the biggest concern is the lack of regulation of the companies that make these products. There is no governing body to control what may be added to these protein supplements. Often products get pulled off the shelves if there are concerns, and just end up being marketed again under a different name.
Q: What concerns do you have about students’ use of these substances? Are there side effects or other potential health impacts that students should be worried about?
A: An often debated topic is whether or not consumption of excessive amounts of protein causes kidney problems. While there is no conclusive evidence that protein causes kidney failure, excessive protein will worsen the condition if it’s already present. The most common side effect of protein supplementation is weight gain. For those who are looking to gain weight, a more wholesome option may be a post-workout snack such as chocolate milk, orange juice, small sandwich or yogurt.
Q: Are there any over the counter supplements and/or performance enhancers that you deem safe for regular use? How can a student determine if something purchased at a drugstore or vitamin/health shop is safe?
A: There are no over the counter supplements or performance enhancers that can be deemed “safe for regular use” and just as with all substance use, the overuse and misuse of supplements can be very dangerous. Ironically, the most commonly purchased supplements are multivitamins, but if people follow a healthy and balanced diet there is not a need for a multivitamin- it provides no benefit for longevity and health.
Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in supplements or performance enhancers to meet goals such as losing weight, bulking up, or improving sleep?
A: If people are interested in losing weight, then over the counter or prescription meds are a horrible choice. If you follow a regular diet and give your body the appropriate nutrients it needs, you’re doing what is best for your body. If sleep is a problem, have a glass of warm milk or the occasional use of melatonin may work too. The body likes to get sleep at the same time every day so following a regular schedule is best for sleeping habits. If you aren’t giving your body the proper amount of sleep it needs, you also cause disruptions to your healthy eating behaviors (lack of sleep or disrupted sleep schedule can cause increased/decreased hunger).
There are no over the counter supplements or performance enhancers that can be deemed “safe for regular use” and just as with all substance use, the overuse and misuse of supplements can be very dangerous.
Q: If you could impart one or two messages to students about healthy eating and supplement use, what would those be?
A: If you want to take a supplement, be very careful. Don’t believe everything you hear in marketing campaigns. The employees who sell them may be extremely knowledgeable about theproducts they are selling, but, there certainly are others who are doing their job and are simply told what to say to make a sale.
As far as being a healthy eater…look at what it is you want to gain (what is your goal?) from being healthy. That way you can adjust accordingly and make sure that you are getting all the essential nutrients. For instance, if you eliminate certain groups of food, you might be at risk for becoming deficient. Many times, “healthy eating” is code for wanting to lose weight, bulk up, or getting a six-pack. Healthy eating is really about having a good relationship between food and your body rather than the food itself.
Kevin Fitzpatrick is a fifth year Communications major with a minor in Education, and the “Alec J. Torchon” Life of the Party Intern at the UCSB Alcohol and Drug Program.
Betsy Reynolds Malear, MS, RD, is a Registered Dietician and Associate Director of Public Health at UCSB’s Student Health.
Student Health Service website: studenthealth.sa.ucsb.edu
Alcohol and Drug Program website: alcohol.sa.ucsb.edu