Choosing a supplement can be daunting, so we asked our experts for their advice on what to look for when buying. Here are six tips:
1. Opt for products with gimmick-free marketing.
Don’t fall for a pumped-up product name or pitch. There’s little oversight of the outlandish claims made by many supplement producers, so instead of buying hype, do your research on the product itself.
2. Read labels — but don’t necessarily believe them.
“Don’t take a label at face value. Many athletes have learned that lesson the hard way and been sanctioned even though they’ve used products that seemed totally innocuous, like an electrolyte replacement that was contaminated with a performance-enhancing drug,” warns Amy Eichner, PhD, of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Remember, the FDA doesn’t pretest supplements, and even the FDA’s own “good manufacturing practice” (GMP) and a Certificate of Analysis (COA) label are awarded on the honor system. Look instead for the “USP Verified” label, proving a supplement has been inspected under the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or the NSF International Certified for Sport seal.
3. Seek natural supplements.
Life Time’s Tom Nikkola recommends avoiding products that contain artificial sweeteners, synthesized folic acid instead of natural folate, or other synthetic ingredients or fillers. As you shop for products, focus on those with minimal ingredients — ideally ones that you recognize.
4. Be wary of supplement cocktail mixes.
Some athletic aids are potpourris of ingredients, often including caffeine or sugar; make sure you know what you’re getting — and if you need it.
“Rather than finding a supplement with 40 ingredients and thinking This must be awesome!, look for the product that has just one or a few ingredients and an efficacious dose,” advises Nikkola. “That way there’s less possibility of contamination, and you’ll know it’s probably going to do what the research says it’s supposed to do.”
5. Do your homework.
- The FDA maintains a list of problematic products and ingredients at www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements/dietary-supplement-products-ingredients.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) keeps detailed factsheets on supplements at www.ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional.
- The USADA has its Supplement 411 guide at www.usada.org/athletes/substances/supplement-411 and a database of high-risk supplements at www.usada.org/athletes/substances/prohibited-list/athlete-guide-to-the-2020-prohibited-list.
6. Buy from a trusted source.
Look for a credible, knowledgeable supplier with ingredient information and research to back up its product. Seek out recommendations from your healthcare provider or accredited personal trainer, sports dietitian, or nutritionist.
This originally appeared as “Fitness Supplements 101” in the July-August 2020 print issue of Experience Life.