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To supplement, or not to supplement? – A review of the Guru Performance Institute Podcast (w/ Dr Laurent Bannock and Professor Craig Sale)

December 31, 2018

I listen to the podcasts and interviews and read the books and journal articles.. so that you don’t have to!

Below is my summary of the most recent Guru Performance Institute podcast: ‘To supplement, or not to supplement’. This podcast is hosted by Dr Laurent Bannock and in this episode, he chats with Professor Craig Sale (the Director for Sport, Health and Performance Enhancement Research Centre at Nottingham Trent University).

  • The supplement industry is enormous – a billion dollar industry
  • What is a supplement? Professor Sale describes it as ‘something you use to supplement what you would already be taking in, in your normal diet’
  • Why do people take supplements? Professor Sale outlines 4 main reasons people tend to use supplements: 1) to improve health/correct a deficiency, 2) improve sports performance, 3) build muscle mass, 4) decrease body fat
  • We must not forget the critical concept of starting with a ‘food first’ approach. What does a ‘food first’ approach mean? It means we need to first start by optimising our diet (and optimising our training or recovery – ¬†if we haven’t done so already), before we even THINK of using supplements
  • Why are we obsessed with supplements and not food? Professor Sale suggests it is because 1) supplements are seen as a much easier fix to make (diet changes are seen as much harder), 2) we see other people take them, we hear them say that they work and then we become worried that we are not maximising on our performance edge
  • Do we need to consider the placebo effect? Absolutely. It’s called a placebo effect for a reason: it has an effect! Therefore, one needs to consider the psychological impact of stopping a supplement or taking a supplement away from someone who believes it works – this may do more harm than good (so long as the supplement itself is safe and is doing no harm!)
  • Do supplements work? Professor Sale’s answer is broadly NO. Why not? He states that no supplement whatsoever can influence ALL the the things you’re possibly looking at influencing – CONTEXT is needed!!! Eg what events is the supplement likely to work in, what is the safety of the supplement, does it interact with other supplements…
  • Over-supplementation can be an issue. Too much of a good thing is not necessarily better and can in fact, be harmful.
  • Very few studies look at the long-term health effects of using supplements – we simply don’t know the chronic effect of supplement use on one’s body
  • To think that taking a multi-vitamin protects you from a poor diet is likely wrong – we simply don’t fully understand all of the components of food yet, how they interact with each other as well as their availability to various tissues of the body. Therefore it would be silly to assume that a supplement mimics the complex nature of food in our body
  • Is the risk of doping worth it? Is it worth risking your career? Are you ok with supplements from a moral stand-point? Is there a difference between using a banned substance that may improve performance vs using a substance that is not banned but may improve performance? (Professor Sale doesn’t attempt to answer this last question, only raises it)
  • If you are considering using supplements, you need independent third-party batch testing of each product you use – however, this doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of doping either. Supplements always carry risk.
  • Lastly, Professor Ron Maughans¬†famous quote on supplements was raised:
    ‘1. If it works, it’s probably banned.
    2. If it’s not banned, it probably doesn’t work.
    3. There may be some exceptions’.
    (In other words: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is).

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