BLK BOX Fitness

The Effectiveness of Sports Supplements – Part 1

According to the Nutritional Business Journal1, it is estimated that by 2022, the global sports nutrition market will be worth over 32 billion pounds. Protein powders, amino acids, creatine, essential fatty acids, probiotics, caffeine, multivitamins, fat loss and weight loss pills; just a small list of common dietary supplements bought on a daily basis. Recent estimations suggest approximately one in four Brits consume a sports supplement as part of their daily diet2; however, many experts believe this to be underestimated.

Furthermore, 12% of university students have reported to consuming more than 4 dietary supplements per week. With claims such as ‘mind-blowing muscle growth’, ‘superhuman strength’, and ‘hardcore fat loss’, it’s easy to see why so many people invest in these products. Previous statistics show that 80% of ten years olds are afraid of being fat with the leading causes being social media, ‘weight-teasing’, and peer pressure3; however, with the explosion of social media fitness bloggers, it is likely that this figure is much worse than we first thought. The growing epidemic of negative self-image and constant endeavour to achieve the ‘perfect’ body is clearly reflected in the exponential growth of the supplement industry.

From the Olympic athlete, right through to the recreational gym goer just wanting to look better naked, supplement use has increased aggressively over the past decade. This raises major ethical concerns over safety, not to mention if these products are even effective. For part one in this series,  the focus will be on the safety of these products.


According to the UK Anti-Doping Agency, as much as 25% of sports supplements have been contaminated with illegal substances4. In practical terms, almost half of all positive drug tests are due to sports products being contaminated with banned substances4. In 2015, the New England Journal of Medicine, published a robust research study, concluding in the United Sates of America, 23,000 people ended up in the emergency room as a result of taking dietary supplements5. Additionally, the now illegal fat loss drug known as DNP has caused 15 deaths in England and Wales alone6, with medical experts reporting, “individuals are cooking themselves from the inside out”. As weight loss is the number one reason why most people go to the gym, its not surprising that of those 23,000 ER visits, 35% were due to fat loss and energy-boosting supplements. It could be concluded that the majority of these ER visits were due to individuals overdosing specific products. To elaborate, many popular pre-workout and diet supplements are heavily dosed with stimulants; specifically, caffeine. Caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed drugs and may boost mental and physical performance when used in the correct dosage. However, high doses of caffeine can lead to anxiety, digestive issues, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, palpitations and headaches. From the presented statistics it is clear to see as a society we have a lack of education surrounding supplement use.


Do Your Research!

Before taking a new product, it is important that you are aware of the potential side effects associated with that product. A supplement is most likely to cause side effects when they are taken instead of prescribed medicines, when they are taken in quantities greater than the recommended dose, or when supplements are used in combination. For example, consuming too much vitamin A can cause headaches, whereas too much iron can cause nausea and vomiting. These are some of the ‘milder’ side effects when compared to the aforementioned, DNP, or other illegal supplements such as DMAA. When taking any new dietary supplement, it is recommended you consult a registered professional or your General Practitioner/Physician beforehand. This will provide a better understanding of whether a specific supplement is necessary and if it will interact with any medication.

How Can I Keep Safe?

Fortunately for consumers of sports supplements, there are many third-party laboratories which verify individual products. These companies test what is stated on the ingredient list with what is in the actual product. This initial batch-testing is usually followed up by continual randomised testing to ensure good manufacturing practices. The three largest companies which provide this testing are NSF International, Informed Choice and Consumer Lab. It is important to note; the onus is on the individual consumer and they should form their own educated decision on specific product. From a professional prospective, consumers should be able to research the traceability of individual products as this will allow dissemination of the source and ensure the product has been manufactured to the highest standard.

Practical Considerations

Before considering any dietary supplement, individuals need to consider 3 criteria as outlined by the Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register7;

  • Is there a need for supplementation? A performance need or a general health need?
  • What are the risks and side effects associated with the supplement? Can it be accessed on Informed-Sport or other third party independent testing? Has it been batch tested? Store the batch tested certificate for a minimum of 10 years to keep in line with retrospective anti-doping testing protocols.
  • Is there consequences from consuming the supplement? For an athlete this could be a 2-4 year ban from their sport or loss of sponsors. For recreational individuals this could serious health complications and subsequent impact on family and friends.