Supplements are often defined as “an orally consumed product intended to supplement one's diet.” This may include vitamins and minerals, herbs or botanicals, amino acids, or any dietary substance with the intention of increasing intake outside of our usual diet (US Food and Drug Administration, 2009). Nutritional supplements should be used to supplement the current diet, not substitute it.
Athletes and weekend warriors are increasing their intake of these substances. Nutritional supplements are used by 40%-100% of athletes in one form or another (Burke et al. 1993). The reason may be different, but in general they are used to increase energy, maintain health, prevent nutritional deficiencies, and to improve exercise recovery (Erdman et al., 2006).
This multibillion dollar industry targets a wide range of the population, especially athletes. Nutritional supplements receive little governmental oversight and retailers have an enormous freedom in making marketing claims. In 1994, the U.S. government created a piece of legislation entitled the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA), which classified supplements in their own category and not as food additives or drugs. Because of this, companies do not have to prove a supplement's safety, effectiveness, or potency before placing a product on the market. Companies are able to get around this stipulation with the following disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.” This disclaimer is usually in very small print on the back panel of the product (Rosenbloom, 2000). Drugs are extensively tested for safety before they can be sold, but nutritional supplements are not tested (Jeukendrup and Gleeson, 2010). According to the advertisements in many fitness magazines, Internet websites, and television infomercials, nutritional supplements can increase speed, enhance endurance, hasten recovery, improve muscle mass, and reduce body fat. Some advertisements even claim their wonder product does all of the above.
Unfortunately, athletes and the general population typically do not seek information from informed sources such as registered dietitians. They usually are told what to consume by coaches, family members, magazines, the Internet, or other athletes and friends. This leaves individuals susceptible to misinformation and inappropriate recommendations, which may lead to health and performance issues. In a study by Froiland et al. (2004) that examines the use of supplements among college athletes, they found that college athletes obtained supplement recommendations from:
Family members (32.4%)
Fellow athletes (31.9%)
Athletic trainer (30%)
Registered dietitian (28.5%)
Their strength coach (28%)
In the same study, the reasons why supplements were taken was examined. Over 40% reported that they used supplements for their health (43.5%), to improve strength and power (42.5%), to increase energy (42%), or for weight or muscle gain (41.5%).
Most of the population doesn't even know what they are taking in and how much their intake should be. They just want to believe that the supplement will improve their performance or body shape as promised on the label.
In this highly technological era, information is very easy to find, but most of the available information may be misleading when it comes to increasing ones' health or other, more severe issues such as doping. There is a wide range of supplements on the market, and every day new options appear. This can confuse consumers, and the overwhelming marketing convinces people to make poor choices without consulting a health professional.
Interview with Sacha Moreno:
Mindfully Augmented (MA): Do you think that by augmenting ourselves with supplements we are creating a disconnection with our bodies?
Sacha Moreno: It depends on the supplement used. I think that those found in food, for example, whey protein or creatine, don't really change our connection. Creatine can be found in meat, so if we eat a small steak, we are ingesting creatine and other nutrients. This is naturally normal, our body can absorb and metabolize these nutrients, with these kind of supplements, we are trying to improve performance and achieve our objectives. But, on the other hand, there are some supplements, which are filled with a lot of substances, chemicals, caffeine, and stimulants such as fat-burners. Their aim is to produce an artificial increase in our metabolism via increasing our excitability. In conjunction with exercise and a balanced diet, it can help to burn a little more fat. But, the downside is that they produce in our body a change of certain hormones like adrenaline/noradrenaline and cortisol, causing one or more of the following symptoms: tachycardia, anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, change of mood, high blood pressure, headaches, stomach pains, and the list goes on. A study conducted by Vanderbilt University showed that an excessive use of fat burner pills can cause side effects at the mental and emotional level. Regarding these kind of supplements, I believe that yes - it can produce a disconnection with our body, our emotional state, and behavior throughout the day.
MA: How do you foresee the inclusion of robots in the nutrition industry? Is this something that might help people regulate their supplement intake without the need of seeing a professional?
Sacha Moreno: Robots will be included, eventually, in every field - working along with humans or substituting them - it's already happening in the industry. The knowledge achieved by a dietitian can be “taught” to robots, but there will always be the human part that a robot can not have. Experience makes better dietitians, and with different scenarios, one has to solve problems and help people in their nutritional issues. Soon robots will be able to diagnose nutrient deficiency in a person and provide them with a treatment, if necessary. It will be much more comfortable for individuals to check their supplementation without leaving the house. If this new technology is accurate enough, it will help people regulate their supplementation and prevent them from making common mistakes. Nowadays, people over supplement themselves without having the knowledge or the need to.
Sacha has a degree in Nutrition from the University of Belgrano in Argentina and a postgraduate certificate in sport and exercise nutrition from Westminster University. Sacha is currently working at one of Uruguay's most popular soccer teams as their RD. One of Sacha's passions is bodybuilding, he's Uruguay's 2015 National Classic champion. Sacha is always reinventing himself and looking for better ways to help people improve their performances. Follow his Instagram journey here.