What to Consider Before Trying New Supplements

Learn everything you need to consider before trying new supplements.

Dietary supplements represent the hopes of many to enhance physical potential, recovery from intense training, and the realization of specific health goals. However, with promising preliminary research, the potential of new supplements often seduces both the most elite athletes and everyday health enthusiasts. The question becomes: should you jump at the chance to try these innovations, or is caution the wiser path? The decision to include a new supplement as part of your regular routine is not as simple as it may seem. Potential gains versus potential risks need to be objectively weighed, as this is a decision-making process that cannot be taken lightly.

The supplement industry is characterized by constant innovation and the introduction of new products with claims about their revolutionary benefits. However, most of those promises very often are not met. Some of them are really healthy, but the majority are nothing but rubbish. The article under consideration emphasizes the critical aspects that should be taken into account while introducing a new supplement into a regimen, touching upon the scientific backing and more general implications of this decision.

The foundation for this article is largely based on a piece published at Stronger by Science written by Eric Helms. Dr Eric Helms is a respected figure in fitness and bodybuilding, holding a PhD and certification as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). As a pro natural bodybuilder within the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF), he combines practical experience with academic expertise. His work focuses on evidence-based nutrition and training strategies, enhancing performance and physique in athletes and enthusiasts alike. Dr Helms also contributes extensively to fitness literature and research, particularly on topics like protein intake and strength training, and is part of Team3DMJ, a group of online coaches who share videos on all phases of natural bodybuilding, powerlifting and more weightlifting-related content.

By understanding both the potential upsides and the risks, consumers can make informed choices that align with their health goals and personal circumstances. This article is meant to empower readers to be the navigator of the complex, most of the time deceptive, the world of dietary supplements. This review will explore the level of evidence-based benefits and potential health risks and the state of play in the regulatory environment for the supplement industry in an attempt to demystify and bring light to informed choices about supplements.

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What to Consider Before Trying New Supplements

Weighing the Probable Benefit

The journey of a new supplement from exciting discovery to a mainstay in health routines is often fraught with overstated claims and underwhelming performance. Initially, many supplements are heralded based on preliminary studies. However, the robustness of these findings can vary significantly, and what works in a controlled laboratory environment doesn’t always translate to noticeable benefits in daily life.

For example, the supplement industry once saw HMB as the next creatine, based on early studies suggesting significant gains in lean mass. However, as more comprehensive data emerged, the effectiveness of HMB, particularly for those already consuming a protein-sufficient diet, proved to be minimal at best.

The tale of creatine, however, highlights the other side of the coin. Creatine has stood the test of time and rigorous scrutiny, maintaining its position as a Tier 1 supplement for muscle strength and growth. Its sustained credibility comes from numerous high-quality studies confirming its benefits, which serve as a benchmark for evaluating new supplements. Thus, when considering a new supplement, it’s crucial to look for a similar depth and breadth of scientific evidence. This includes randomized controlled trials, reviews, and meta-analyses that confirm efficacy and safety.

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Weighing the Probable Harm

The risks associated with new supplements extend beyond simple financial waste. For athletes, particularly those in competitive sports, the stakes are higher due to the stringent regulations around doping. The prevalence of supplement contamination with banned substances can lead to unintentional doping violations, tarnishing reputations and careers. Moreover, the regulation of dietary supplements is notoriously lax in many regions, including the United States, where products can be sold without rigorous pre-market testing. This lack of oversight has led to numerous instances of products containing harmful ingredients or levels of substances that far exceed what is considered safe.

The issue of supplement contamination is not just a theoretical risk but a documented reality. For example, a study conducted in the early 2000s found that approximately 15% of non-hormonal supplements tested positive for anabolic steroids. This demonstrates the potential for significant legal and health consequences stemming from unvetted supplement use. As such, potential users must consider not just the direct effects of the supplements, but also the broader implications of their use within the context of regulatory and health standards.

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Supplements Guide

What You Should Do

When faced with the decision to try a new supplement, it is crucial to navigate this choice with caution and thorough understanding. Here are actionable steps to help guide you through the process of evaluating and potentially integrating a new supplement into your regimen safely and effectively:

1. Comprehensive Research

Before introducing any supplement to your routine, invest time in researching its ingredients, potential benefits, and the science supporting its claims. Look for peer-reviewed studies published in reputable journals that substantiate any effectiveness claims. It’s important to differentiate between studies funded by the supplement industry and independent research, as the former can sometimes lead to biased conclusions.

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2. Consult Healthcare Professionals

Always consult with a healthcare provider, preferably one knowledgeable in both your personal health history and dietary supplements. This can be a dietitian, a pharmacist, or your primary care doctor. They can provide tailored advice based on your health status and goals, and help you understand any potential interactions with current medications or conditions.

Source: Lucas Guimarães Bueno on Pexels

3. Quality and Purity Verification

Opt for supplements that have been certified by third-party organizations for quality and purity. Organizations like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab offer certification programs that verify whether the supplement actually contains what the label says, without harmful levels of contaminants. These certifications can help mitigate the risk of consuming banned or dangerous substances unknowingly.

Related: How Likely Are Your Supplements Contaminated?

4. Gradual Integration

If you decide to proceed with a supplement, introduce it into your regimen gradually. Start with a lower dose than recommended to monitor your body’s response. This cautious approach allows you to assess tolerance and effectiveness, reducing the potential for adverse effects.

5. Monitor and Evaluate

Source: Helena Lopes on Pexels

Keep a detailed log of any new supplements you start, noting doses, times of ingestion, and any changes in your health, mood, or physical performance. This documentation can be invaluable in identifying both positive responses and potential side effects, providing a basis for continuing or adjusting your regimen.

6. Stay Informed About Regulatory Changes

The supplement industry is dynamic, with regulatory policies and health advisories evolving regularly. Stay informed about any changes in the legal status of supplements you are taking or considering. Regulatory authorities in various countries, such as the FDA in the U.S., regularly publish updates and warnings about supplements found to be unsafe or improperly marketed.

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7. Be Realistic About Expectations

Finally, maintain realistic expectations about what supplements can achieve. No supplement can replace a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. They should only be used to supplement your diet and not as a replacement for real food or prescribed medication.

Deciding whether to incorporate a new supplement into one’s regimen involves a multifaceted analysis of both its potential benefits and inherent risks. It is not merely about the possibility of enhanced physical performance or quick health fixes but involves a broader understanding of the regulatory landscape and the scientific rigour behind a product. The wise approach is one of caution and informed scrutiny, where the allure of potential gains does not overshadow the need for safety and evidence-based benefits.

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Ultimately, supplements should not be seen as magic pills that can replace well-rounded dietary habits, regular exercise, and good sleep—elements that form the cornerstone of health and fitness. Instead, they should be viewed as potential tools to enhance an already solid health foundation, used judiciously and with a clear understanding of their limitations and benefits. By adopting this cautious and informed approach, individuals can safeguard their health while judiciously using supplements to potentially enhance their well-being and athletic performance.

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