A study by the University of Alcalá de Henares has analyzed the evidence about some of the most popular nutritional supplements to increase strength or muscle mass. Of the 20 supplements studied, only a small part showed enough evidence to support their use.
Having muscle mass is essential for health. For example, muscle is related to the metabolism of glucose and, therefore, to the development of pathologies such as diabetes. In addition, low levels of strength are associated with a lower functional capacity, especially in elderly or sick people.
Numerous nutritional supplements supposedly increase muscle hypertrophy and strength, although there is great controversy about their effectiveness. A recent article published in the European Journal of Nutrition has reviewed the evidence surrounding some of the most popular supplements.
In the review, the researchers analyzed more than 20 supplements such as proteins, creatine, different vitamins, herbal supplements such as tribulus terrestris or other compounds such as glutamine or resveratrol.
Interestingly, only a few (specifically nitrate and caffeine) showed enough evidence to support their strength benefits immediately after their intake. In a long-term consumption, creatine, proteins and omega 3 fatty acids showed sufficient evidence to support their benefits in muscle mass or strength, either to increase it in healthy people or to decrease its loss in the case of elderly or hospitalized people.
On the contrary, a great controversy was observed around many popular supplements such as branched-chain amino acids, vitamin supplements or arginine -among others-, and no evidence was found to support the consumption of other supplements such as glutamine or resveratrol.
In summary, despite the large number of nutritional supplements available, very few have enough evidence to support their use to promote muscle hypertrophy or strength. In fact, it was observed that some of the supplements analyzed directly lacked evidence of their effectiveness or safety, and others have been associated with adverse effects when consumed in large doses (such as tribulus terrestris, arginine or alpha-ketoglutarate).
This fact is especially worrying, especially considering that these supplements are consumed by both athletes and the general population, and we can find them at any supplementation store, gym or even in supermarkets or sports stores.
“People who seek to increase muscle mass or strength should try to get that contribution of macronutrients (especially proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) through proper nutrition, before going to nutritional supplements. It is also important to emphasize the role of physical exercise (especially strength, that is, weights) to increase muscle mass and strength in any population, including the elderly. Without this we cannot get much for many supplements we take,” says Pedro L. Valenzuela, co-author of the study.
The researcher adds that this type of studies should serve to make us critical when choosing what we consume: “Also highlight that other studies have observed that many supplements marketed contain unspecified substances (some even banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency). For this reason, it is important that a stricter regulation be generated so that only those products that pass adequate controls are commercialized.”