Making Smart Supplement Purchases

Photo: Erix! via Flickr

Photo: Erix! via Flickr

It seems like some supplement or another is always garnering bad press in the sports nutrition world, and one of the recent culprits is dimethylamylamine, or DMAA for short. It’s a stimulant that’s marketed for weight loss, athletic performance, and muscle enhancement, but it’s illegal in the US and has been implicated in several deaths due to increased blood pressure and cardiac arrest. In April 2013, the FDA issued a warning to consumers about this drug, and most companies ceased production and distribution. However, according to this NY Times article, GNC is still selling DMAA-containing supplements such as Jack3d and OxyElitePro. Not only does this outrage me, but it also makes me wonder for the millionth time if anyone in the supplement business is trustworthy.

Personally, whenever I walk into a health and wellness store, my heart starts to race and my muscles reflexively tense up. In short, I’m ready to employ the fight of flight mechanism at any moment. I know it’s ridiculous, but I just can’t repress this instinctive reaction to the rows upon rows of white plastic bottles, the bright labels promising everything from weight loss to hair growth, the pushy salespeople, the weird “vitaminy” smell, and the overwhelming amount of… well, everything… being shoved in my face from the moment I walk in. Even though I’m a dietitian, I sometimes feel that I am drowning in a sea of information and don’t know what to believe or where to turn for help.

That’s why we dietitians have been trained to be critical—to never believe things about the “miracle” products we encounter in popular media until they’ve been researched, tested, and given a stamp of approval by the scientific community. Some athletes might scoff at that notion because it’s not forward-thinking and often means that we miss out on ‘the latest thing’ in the sports nutrition world, but in my book it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Despite my own hesitation when it comes to supplement use, I don’t have my head buried so far in the sand that I expect others to do the same. So how can non-nutrition-experts protect themselves when making vitamin, mineral, and supplement purchases? The best way, in addition to professional guidance of course, is to do a little research before heading to the store! The Food and Drug Administration ( is a great place to start said research project, and the World Anti-Doping Agency ( or NSF International ( might also be helpful. These websites can offer information about hazardous and/or banned products, and they are great places to see the latest news in the supplement business! However, if you don’t have the stamina and willpower to read through all of these “sciency” websites, then I would recommend at least doing a quick basic internet search for the product in case any news articles have surfaced related to case studies or FDA warnings. All it takes is a quick trip to Google (or Bing or Yahoo! Or whatever web search engine you prefer) and a browse through the available data. It’s quick and easy, and it can’t hurt!

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