You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy the benefits of performance supplements. After all, sports nutrition is a multi-billion-dollar market that caters to all body types and fitness goals. It’s also a cluttered market that requires you to be on your toes. If you’re not carefully reading ingredient lists, you could be putting yourself at risk of some serious supplement side effects.
Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular nutrients found in sports nutrition supplements and how they could potentially cause foul play.
What is creatine?
Creatine is derived from amino acids L-glycine, L-arginine and L-methionine. It is highly concentrated in your muscle, where it converts to phosphocreatine to produce adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. The body naturally makes its own creatine, but you can also get it from foods like beef, chicken, fish and dairy.
Creatine supplementation wasn’t really introduced until the early 1990s, after it was known that Olympic athletes used it for performance. Since then, athletes of all levels have used creatine supplements – usually in the form of creatine monohydrate – to support energy production during short, intense bursts of exercise. Creatine may also increase lean body mass and muscular strength, when combined with weight training.*
The supplement side effects of creatine:
Research has proven that creatine supplements are generally safe. However, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition provides these words of caution: “the perception of safety cannot be guaranteed, especially when administered for long period of time to different populations (athletes, sedentary patient, active, young or elderly).”
Several studies have found long-term use of creatine results in water retention. If you experience nausea, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea, consider pulling back on your creatine consumption.
What is DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a prohormone that’s produced by your adrenal glands and converted to testosterone and other androgens. Your body’s production of DHEA declines starting around age 30. So to reclaim some of those youthful hormones, DHEA supplementation has become popular in older adults.
The supplement side effects of DHEA
By increasing certain hormone levels, DHEA supplementation can also “increase the risk of hormone-sensitive cancers, including prostate and ovarian cancers,” according to the Mayo Clinic. While older adults may benefit from supplementing with DHEA, long-term use of DHEA can cause hormonal imbalances at any age.
DHEA might also interact with prescription medications, including anticonvulsants, antidepressants and sedatives. Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking a DHEA supplement, so you can avoid any negative drug interactions.
What is tribulus?
Tribulus terrestris is a leafy plant that’s also known as a puncture vine. Its fruit and roots are often used to extract the chemical compounds called saponins, which are regarded for their health benefits. Sports supplements that contain standardized Tribulus terrestris, such as ARO Black Series TestosteRip® Extreme, may promote increased muscle mass and strength.*
The side effects of tribulus:
So far, few side effects have been reported from taking tribulus extract. However, those who have reported adverse effects, complained of cramps, diarrhea, nausea, difficulty sleeping and heavy menstrual bleeding, to name a few.
What are thermogenics?
Thermogenics are supplements that promote thermogenesis, or the production of heat in the body. They are most often formulated with one, or a combination, of the following ingredients:
- Caffeine – a natural stimulant
- Garcinia cambogia – an extract from the Garcinia cambogia fruit’s pulp and rind that contains the active compound hydroxycitric acid (HCA)
- Green tea extract – from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, green tea extract naturally contains caffeine
- Guarana – derived from the seeds of the Paullinia cupana plant, guarana naturally contains caffeine
While naturally derived from fruits and seeds, each of these substances has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system.
The side effects of thermogenics:
A 2016 study on the effects of thermogenic dietary supplements concluded that “caution should be taken for those with increased risk for hypertension or pre-hypertension.”
Caffeine, especially, can interrupt sleep, cause feelings of jitteriness and induce anxiety. If you are sensitive to caffeine or other stimulants, it’s best to avoid supplements that contain high concentrations of thermogenic compounds. Caffeine can also be toxic at high doses – about 15 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Even those not sensitive to stimulants can experience negative side effects when taken in supplement form. Remember, many sports nutrition supplements, especially fat burners, are formulated with a mix of thermogenic compounds. The NIH warns, “combining caffeine with other stimulants, such as bitter orange and ephedrine, can potentiate these adverse effects.”
5 Steps to Safely Use Sports Nutrition
Sports nutrition supplements, drinks, powders and bars are all good sources of nutrients that can help your body perform at its peak. However, how you use these nutrients can make a difference in your overall health. When choosing the right sports nutrition formula for your fitness and physique goals, follow these steps to ensure a safe and effective supplement regimen:
- Review and research each ingredient
- Recognize ingredients that might not agree with you
- Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional about adverse effects and drug interactions
- Use only as directed and as much as your body can tolerate
- Try to avoid long-term use
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.