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Performance improving supplements "proven" through studies

In my observation, one major problem with many of these "studies" (I use that term very loosely when referring to "research" done on the efficacy of supplements) is that the supplement is rarely if ever compared to food (liquid or solid). Typically the comparison is between the supplement and a concoction (placebo) that does not have the same caloric value as the supplement.

If the ingestion of a supplement or energy replacement product is compared to NO ingestion of calories or electrolytes (or less total caloric and nutrient value) AND the results show improved endurance with the "supplement", THEN the research has not shown efficacy of the supplement, but rather the efficacy of the ingestion of foodstuffs to increase endurance. In this case, the supplement deserves no accolades whatsoever.

If a study was done on a supplement that had a mix of protein and carbs compared to a concoction that had only carbs, then in fact it would not be the "supplement" that was being studied, but in fact what effect if any the mix of carbs and protein had in comparison to the ingestion of carbs only on performance.

I seriously doubt that any of these supplements or sports drinks do anything at all regardless of the physical development of the individual. I don't think pro's or amateurs will get even a .5 to 1% increase in performance from any product above and beyond what is normally expected from a mix of sugar, protein, water, and electrolytes.

The only advantage to pre-made products that have a mix of sugar, protein, water, and electrolytes is convenience. Somebody else has made the mix for you. I have no problem with convenience.

It is never the product that is working; it is the sugar in the product. Too many athletes and coaches miss this salient point. This misunderstanding leads many to believe that a manufacturer has some proprietary patented concoction that is special, and that training and a good diet are beneath the power of the supplement. The athlete or coach is then constantly searching for a "special" supplement and does not comprehend the simplicity of the fact that these supplements are merely a mix of sugar, protein, water, and electrolytes.

A great comparison is pure grape juice cut with an equal volume of water. The amount of sodium, potassium, and sugar of the grape juice- water mix is almost identical to Gatorade or PowerAde.

If an athlete wanted to, they could go to the store and buy dextrose (dextrose is commonly used in hospitals when people are fed by IV. The solution is typically 5% dextrose in water), powdered egg whites, salt, and a potassium supplement and mix it up. Presto, you have a "supplement" or sports drink equal to anything on the market. Sure it may taste like crap, but the point is these supplements don't have secret mystical ingredients. It would not be rocket science to figure out how to make your own concoction that did taste good. But most would find this inconvenient, so most buy a pre-made concoction, and this makes sense.

It does not make sense to believe a supplement or energy replacement product is any different than basic sugar, protein, and electrolytes. It does not make sense to believe that any product will be able to deliver on its promise of "more endurance" or "more power" above and beyond what consistent training and good nutrition will provide.

When buying an energy replacement for training or competition, buy one that does not claim to have an effect on Vo2 Max, blood or muscle oxygen levels, and does not make promises of unrealistic performance gains. Buy one that has simple ingredients on the label, that tastes good to you, and that you can tolerate during training and competition.

Maltodextrin and dextrose are lab-made sugars that are absorbed more readily than strait sucrose (table sugar) or fructose (sugar in fruit). The lab-made sugars are in most commercially available energy replacement or "sports drinks".

Most independent research shows that carbohydrates are best absorbed when the solution is about 6% carbohydrate - water or about 15 grams of carbohydrate per 250ml (1 cup/ 8 ounce).

The easiest way to do the math is using metric measurements. 1ml of water has a mass of about 1g, so a 6% sugar/ water solution will have about 6g of sugar (carbohydrate) for each 100ml of water. One gram of carbohydrate contains about 4 calories - about 24 calories from carbs per 100ml of sugar water solution.

Consuming about 250ml of this sugar-water solution every 15 minutes of exercise is best. That works out to 240 calories per hour, right in the middle of the common recommendation of 200 to 300 calories per hour intake during training or competition.

Look for carb replacement products that are close to the 6% carbohydrate mix. Most soft drinks and fruit juices contain up to twice this concentration. More than a 10% carbohydrate concentration in fluid intake during training and competition does not increase performance and may cause cramping and abdominal distress.

Some "studies" done on supplements do not compare relevant items being ingested, but rather simple calorie intake verses less or no calorie intake resulting in the no-brainer conclusion that replacing spent energy extends endurance. Supplement companies may use this conclusion to create the myth that the proprietary mix of the supplement offers a "performance" improvement.

  • Many supplement and sports drink claims have a large dose of hype.
  • Many who turn to supplements for exercise/ sports performance are going for the quick fix and therefore forgo improving their diet and exercise routines. Many who use supplements are also on fad diets.
  • Use carb replacements for exercise that is over 60 minutes.
  • Use smart training, healthy living, and healthy eating in general, as well as appropriate healthy food intake before, during, and after exercise to increase your performance.
  • The majority of people in North America do not have a healthy diet, and are not likely to realize what a healthy diet is comprised of.
  • A healthy diet will supply all the necessary nutrients for healthy living including athletics.
2004 Rhino Fitness
Copyright 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca