Are Trendy Supplements Worth It?
Spend your money on them? Or skip entirely?
Every athlete knows that nutrition is a crucial part of performance. We all try to eat healthy, but there are still those splurges on beer and pizza on cheat days (or due to the stress from sheltering-in-place). But even the most dedicated among us are told that they’d benefit from supplementing their diet with extra nutrients. After all, if a little from fruits and veggies is good, then a lot from a capsule is even better, right? But are they really worth the hype (and price)? We consulted a few experts to find out.
Creatine: Worth It
Creatine exists naturally in our bodies and helps fuel our muscles, which is why some people take it as a supplement to boost their performance in the gym. A 2017 study analysis for the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that creatine supplements enhance an athletes' performance along with post-exercise recovery. Researchers found that it's safe to take regularly and the consistently reported side effect of weight gain is solely from muscle, not fat, helping increase lean body mass.
Richard Kreider, Ph.D., head of Texas A&M University’s Health & Kinesiology department and one of the study’s authors, says that while the boost in performance is nice, what’s really important is that it helps ensure your system has the energy to carry out biochemical processes more efficiently → like building muscle and clearing away injured tissue.
Collagen: Worth a Shot
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body. Often dubbed “the body’s scaffolding,” it’s the main structural protein that forms the connective tissue throughout our body, from skin and bones to muscles and ligaments. But as we age, our bodies naturally produce less collagen (and most diets today contain minimal amounts). So popping collagen in capsule form or mixing it into smoothies is seen as a simple way to retain (or regain) our youth.
Collagen peptides (sometimes referred to as “hydrolyzed collagen”), found in supplements, are slightly different from our own collagen. They’re made of the same amino acids but are more easily absorbed by our bodies. According to a 2019 review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, taking collagen supplements for several months can improve signs of aging while increasing density in bones and relieving stiff joints and knee pain. A few studies have even shown that collagen supplements help with sports-related joint pain. But experts agree that the evidence, while promising, is preliminary.
Probiotics: Worth It
According to the University of Washington's Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, your microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes and microorganisms - bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses - that live on and inside the human body. Probiotics are the good bacteria that help combat harmful bacteria - it's a good idea to incorporate them into your diet. Plus, as Vincent Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health, explains, many aspects of the modern lifestyle—from the emergence of antibiotics and the use of pesticides in our food to the near-constant presence of stress - affect the microbiome and chip away at our gut's barrier of good bacteria.
And because they're such potent anti-inflammatories, probiotics have been shown to help clear up skin, reduce allergic reactions, and improve cholesterol levels and glucose metabolism. You can work probiotics into your diet by eating yogurt, fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and miso along with beverages like kombucha. But if those aren’t part of your regular diet, you should consider taking a supplement - ideally before going to bed.
Green Tea: Skip it
Green tea has long been considered a health-promoting beverage. But now some men are popping green tea supplements to boost their metabolism and burn fat. David Nieman, director of the human performance laboratory at Appalachian State University, has studied green tea extensively and says it’s true that green tea can raise your metabolic rate. The supplement can help to burn more calories due to a combination of its caffeine and EGCGs - antioxidants that are plentiful in green tea.
But he warns that the effect isn’t likely to lead to a serious change in body fat. Even at large doses, the effect of green tea for weight loss is minimal. What’s more, experts warn against taking large amounts of green tea, as studies have found you could develop serious liver damage. You’re better off just drinking it and eating a diet rich in fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.