Dietary supplements prove important talking point for Cougar athletes

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Athletes reminded of what they should and shouldn’t put in their bodies

Throughout the past two months numerous health, nutrition, sport and exercise experts have come to the University of Regina to give presentations in their field of expertise, as part of the department of Kinesiology Health and Studies annual Research Seminar Series. According to U of R kinesiology professor, Dr. Candow, this series began from a motivation “to highlight our diverse research portfolios [and encourage] greater development… knowledge translation, and community involvement.” Additionally, Dr. Candow pointed out that these seminars are a great benefit to kinesiology students’ education because “they increase awareness, interest, and understanding about the research programs of the Kinesiology and Health studies faculty and (other) researchers in related areas.” Although this series is aimed mainly toward students studying in these areas, students from all faculties who are interested in the presentation topics are greatly encouraged to attend any of the presentations. One of the most recent presenters was Dr. Eric Rawson, who presented two weeks ago, on the top five dietary supplements.

Currently a professor at Messiah College for health, nutrition, and exercise science, Dr. Rawsson is regarded as a world-renowned sport nutrition and exercise specialist, as well as one of the “leading (authorities) on dietary supplements, specifically creatine supplementation.” In addition to dietary supplements, Dr. Rawson’s interest and most of his research also focuses on nutrition, exercise, muscle aging, and resistance training. He has given over 100 presentations and has independently and cooperatively written various academic publications. Most recently, Dr. Rawson was a member of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) dietary supplement expert panel in Bern, Switzerland, where he helped formulate a consensus on the approved dietary supplement consumption of Olympic athletes.

Dr. Rawson’s presentation began with an informative and brief background to dietary supplements. As part of his introduction, Dr. Rawson emphasized how the consumption and usage of dietary supplements, not just by professional athletes, but also by ordinary individuals has become much more common in the past couple of decades. This is evident by the wide selection of dietary supplements, around 29,000, which are currently on the market. However, the unfortunate reality is that only a small handful are actually certified. For many of these dietary supplement companies, quality control is a major issue. This is especially true for instances where the product has been contaminated by substances like metal, or lead, which can have an extremely harmful effect on the individual who has consumed it. Another major problem for many dietary supplements is that the label of specific products don’t always accurately match its actual content. For example, in one study that Dr. Rawson described, products from 30 different dietary supplement companies were tested and 21 of these failed to fall within 10% of its label claims; demonstrating a wide content range from what was actually written on the product’s label.

Additionally, many people who do use some form of dietary supplements not only lack the proper education and knowledge regarding how it should properly be used, but also lie to their doctor about using and consuming dietary supplements. As a result, this can lead to various problems such as: ineffective usage; extreme misuse; unintentionally damaging an athlete’s career; serious harm to an individual’s health, especially if the wrong amount is consumed; or the supplement can contain harmful substances.

Despite the various problems which can arise from the usage and consumption of dietary supplements, Dr. Rawson doesn’t want to discourage people from using them, especially since there are some, including protein, nitrates, buffers, creatine and caffeine, which can be extremely effective, not only for improving athletic performance, but also aiding in injury recovery as well.

For example, protein, buffers, and nitrates were all brought up as items that can greatly improve athletic performance. However, it should be noted that this improvement is most noticeably beneficial for a high-intensity and short-term sporting events, or activities like sprinting and weightlifting. Using beta-alanine as a supplement has been shown to have a 2% increase in athletic performance within a 30 second to 10 minute span of activity. While this is not very noticeable for recreational athletes, it can make quite a significant difference for a professional.

Additionally, while protein is considered a good nutrient to consume because it helps build and strengthen muscles, it should be acknowledged that protein alone doesn’t strengthen muscles. Instead, if you are looking to strengthen your muscles, you should eat protein (the recommended amount being 1.6 to 2.2 g/kg of your body weight per day), in conjunction with regular weight training.

Dietary supplements can also be beneficial for an individual’s health, in terms of injury recovery. As Dr. Rawson mentioned, some research studies have shown that the consumption of creatine can significantly impact an individual’s cognitive skills and abilities. As a result, creatine may be helpful in an individual’s injury recovery, especially in regards to concussions. However, since this is a new area of thought, there is still major research and testing be done to determine the accuracy and possibility of using creatine for this purpose.

One of the most interesting parts of this presentation was the information Dr. Rawson spoke about in regard to caffeine. While I previously knew that caffeine is a major stimulant, especially for an individual’s nervous system, I honestly never knew that it has also been proven to improve an individual’s performance in both long term endurance and short term intense activities.

Even though Dr. Rawson would encourage the natural consumption of these components, he does acknowledge that this is not always convenient, or possible. Consuming food high in nitrates, like beets, or spinach can increase oxygen concentration, resulting in more efficient muscles and performance improvement. However, it’s not always possible to consume enough of a natural source. For example, 0.5 litres of beet juice contains an appropriate amount of nitrates, but consuming this much beet juice the night before a sporting event, or competition would not be good for your body. In these types of cases, taking a synthetic supplement may be a better alternative.

At the same time, Dr. Rawson suggested that if you are going to use some type of dietary supplement, be knowledgeable. Firstly, know what you were using, how to properly use it and what its benefits are. Secondly don’t experiment the night before an event. These supplements should be used as a part of a regular training routine. Some of these supplements have side effects, which would be good to know about ahead of time. Lastly, don’t lie to your doctor about what you are consuming. These dietary supplements can be beneficial for an individual’s athletic performance and success, but at the end of the day, nothing is more important than overall health and well-being.

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