Nutrition supplements are not needed, sports scientist says

 <span class="cutline_leadin">POTENT POWDERS:</span> Many of the supplements sold at gyms and elsewhere are unnecessary, medical experts say. Eating a balanced and healthy diet can achieve the same results.
POTENT POWDERS: Many of the supplements sold at gyms and elsewhere are unnecessary, medical experts say. Eating a balanced and healthy diet can achieve the same results.

Special To The Washington Post

I am always amazed by the wide range of sports nutrition products on sale in gyms. No matter the time of day, it seems gym-goers are always drinking nutrient shakes.

There are health benefit claims all over these products, including enhanced recovery, increased muscle mass, fat burning, better muscle definition and improved “well-being.”

As a sports scientist, I am often asked which ones people should consume when training. My general opinion is that supplements are unnecessary. You should be able to satisfy all your nutritional requirements with an appropriate diet.

But since this answer never seems to satisfy, here is a look at some of the most common supplements:


The main reason for consuming protein is to increase muscle mass, because it stimulates the body to produce muscle protein. This is well established, but what is often debated is how much protein is sufficient, what type to ingest and the best time to do so.

The best type appears to be whey protein. It is absorbed into the gut more than 70 percent faster than other options, such as casein and soy protein supplements. This means it gets to the muscles more quickly, which increases the rate at which the body builds muscle protein by more than 20 percent compared to the other options.

As for how much protein to consume, a recent study found that in young men between 176 and 187 pounds who weight-train regularly, it took 20 grams of whey protein to achieve the best possible result. Any more than 20 grams appears unnecessary.


Creatine has been a popular supplement for many years, though it also occurs naturally in red meat, eggs and fish. Quite a large body of scientific evidence supports its use to gain muscle mass and enhance recovery.

When creatine is taken up into the muscle, it helps to generate energy. This allows the muscle to contract and exercise to continue. This can help enhance gains in muscle mass and strength in response to weight training.

But creatine’s effects on sport performance are less convincing. It increases body water storage, which increases body mass. In sports where body weight is important, this counteracts the muscle benefits.


It is often assumed that vitamins are good for health. That is true, but when vitamins are taken in excess the opposite can be true for both health and exercise.

In particular vitamin C and E, which act as antioxidants, have actually been shown to hamper the body’s adaptation to exercise training. Two recent studies found that people who took large amounts of the two vitamins (1000mg/day of vitamin C and 267mg/day of vitamin E) showed no improvement in aerobic fitness or exercise performance.

The study produced another important finding. Two benefits of regular exercise are that human bodies become more sensitive to insulin, meaning the person is less likely to get diabetes, and they can produce more energy by creating more of the “work horse” units in cells known as mitochondria. Yet taken in large quantities, supplements may do more harm than good.

Energy drinks

In recent years the evidence supporting energy drinks’ ability to improve acute exercise performance has been called into question. While I am confident these drinks are useful during prolonged, intense exercise of about two hours, they are often consumed during shorter duration exercise when they are likely to have little benefit.

There has also been a lot of concern in recent years about young children consuming these drinks without exercising much and unwittingly increasing their sugar and calorie consumption. These drinks also often contain caffeine, which is not recommended for children.

In short, nutrition products can benefit people who work out, but there’s so much misinformation that you may well be wasting money or even undermining your body’s performance.

If the question is, “What supplements should I take to enhance my exercise training?” the simple answer is: Nothing. Exercise, have a balanced diet and enjoy it!

Stuart Gray is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. A version of this post first appeared on the Web site The Conversation.

Read more Health stories from the Miami Herald

  • Nutrition

    Seven ways to help kids eat healthy

    Well, isn’t that good timing? Right when my daughter and grandkids are here for a visit, I learn that August is Kids Eat Right Month ( And along with this proclamation, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has released a new position paper on feeding kiddos in the 2 to 11 year-old age range.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">SLEEP SPECIALIST:</span> Dr. Belen Esparis, medical director at Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Sleep Disorder Center and Laboratory.

    Sleep deprivation

    Lack of sleep leads to weight gain and vicious cycle

    A cascade of side effects from a lack of sleep can lead to runaway weight gain, which itself can trigger even more unhealthy physiological events.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">IN STUDY:</span> Bruce Daily of Kendall is a patient in a clinical trial of a stroke treatment using stem cells.

    Medical research

    Stem cells are being tested to determine if they help mobility after a stroke

    When Bruce Daily woke up after having lumbar surgery a year ago, he realized he couldn’t move the right side of his body.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category