Labels on pre-workout supplements can be misleading

METERMy husband is a general skeptic of vitamins and supplements, but a few times a week, he takes a pre-workout powder that I like to call the “pink stuff.” Mixing half a small scoop with a glass of water creates a drink that tastes like pink lemonade to him and encourages him to hit the gym and, supposedly, get the most out of his workout (whatever that means).

Recently, it occurred to me to ask her, “Do you really know what’s in the pink stuff?” Because like the supplement industry as a whole, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that it “does not have the authority to approve the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements, or to approve their labeling, before they are released.” supplements are sold to the public. Which means that what supplement manufacturers put in their bottles, and what the label says is on their bottles, is entirely up to the supplement manufacturers themselves. Unsurprisingly, this results in many supplements not actually containing what those labels claim.

A new study found that the most innovative products in the sports performance supplement category are no different, with potentially dire consequences. Of the 57 performance supplements tested, the content of only 11% was true to label, while the remaining 89% did not contain the listed ingredients or contained them in dosages ranging from 0.02% to 334% of the label. amount. Meanwhile, 12 percent of the products contained ingredients banned by the FDA.

“Consumers were more likely to get an FDA-banned drug from the stimulant rather than get an exact amount of the ingredient listed on the bottle,” says Pieter Cohen, MD, a Cambridge Health Alliance professor and study co-author.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed performance supplements advertised as “pre-workout,” “metabolism booster,” “fat burner,” “body building,” and other claims. The researchers zeroed in on these particular supplements because they contained five relatively new and exciting plant-based ingredients that serve as “alternative botanicals for sports enhancement” to the banned stimulant ephedra. Essentially, supplement manufacturers are starting to promote botanicals (R vomitoria, methylliberin, halostachin, octopamine, and turkesterone) that will get you in shape for your workout as a stimulant.

“Manufacturers are touting (these ingredients) as potentially the next emerging thing,” says Dr. Cohen. “What we’re trying to do with a study like this is get ahead of the problem before these ingredients are incorporated into thousands of different training supplements.”

And the problem is real: In a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cohen says that a disproportionate number of the 23,000 supplement-related emergency room visits were related to supplements for the performance.

With this new study, the researchers were not actually testing the safety or efficacy of the botanicals; the goal was to see if the supplements were accurately labeled. However, “even if they’re accurately labeled, that doesn’t mean they’re safe and it doesn’t mean they’re effective,” says Dr. Cohen. “Manufacturers can include myriads of these types of plant-derived ingredients. And it does not mean that the FDA has verified that these are safe to use or that they will help with any training.”

“Even if they’re accurately labeled, that doesn’t mean they’re safe and it doesn’t mean they’re effective.” –Pieter Cohen, M.D.

But if you were hoping to get your hands on a supplement with these ingredients, you’re probably out of luck, too: 40 percent of the supplements contained no significant traces of the listed ingredients. Meanwhile, another 49 percent did they contain the ingredients, but in wildly incorrect dosages, ranging from almost nothing to more than 300 percent of the listed amount. That dosage is important because the efficacy and safety of the supplement ingredients are tied to the amount. Too little, you won’t see much of an effect. Too much and, in the case of a stimulant, you could strain your body’s cardiovascular system, which can be fatal.

Dr. Cohen gives the example of caffeine: A cup of coffee is perfectly safe, while a teaspoon of powdered caffeine can actually kill you (which is why the FDA has told companies to stop selling powdered caffeine). ).

“Some companies just put some fancy names on the label and then they don’t sell anything, so it’s just a waste of money, but that shouldn’t cause any health risks,” says Dr. Cohen. “Other companies are like, well, let’s do everything we can to try to make the consumer feel like they’re getting a better workout, or feel like there’s something powerful about this product. So you could do it by giving a big dose of caffeine and then using stimulants that are not approved by the United States.”

Of the five FDA-banned substances found in the supplements that were tested, one is a drug available in Russia, three were stimulants previously available in Europe, and one has not been approved for use in any country. (One product even contained four different substances banned by the FDA.)

So what can you do if you’re looking to get a pre-workout boost through a supplement? The best recourse is to stick to protein, creatine, and/or amino acid shakes, as they tend to be less risky, says Dr. Cohen. If not, you’ll want to make sure your supplements are certified by independent testing bodies, such as USP or NSF certifications.

As for the pink stuff? Turns out it’s NSF certified. Phew.

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