Picture: 123RF/PEOGEO
Picture: 123RF/PEOGEO

Q: One only has to walk down the long supplement aisles to be overwhelmed. What should I take to reach my goals of being strong, lean and fit?

A: You need to take a step back and reassess your outlook on fitness.

We all know that Popeye risked losing the girl until he popped a can of the green stuff (in fairness, it was a superfood), after which a miraculous transformation happened and he defeated the oaf and kept the girl.

Captain America was put on some kind of concoction that turned him into the huge, ripped superhero that symbolises the country of stars and stripes. Heck, even Spiderman wasn’t immune. The poor fella was bitten by a spider that infused him with miraculous powers. A failed liquid potion turns a mere mortal into the Incredible Hulk.

Harrison Pope, of the book The Adonis Complex — The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession, would have a field day. However, this crisis is not reserved for men. We all suffer from this, it appears, and have been conditioned to believe that a magic pill or potion will solve all our woes in an instant.

We live in a pill-popping culture. Headache? Pop one. Sore knee? Pop one. Big presentation? Pop two. Want to lose weight? You guessed it.

Medication and supplementation are an important development in our advancement, and The Water Cooler would never suggest “going off the grid”, rejecting vaccinations or trying to treat acute bronchitis with a pear and two bay leaves.

However, the point is that we have become lazy. Have you noticed how many miracle weight-loss supplements appear on your Facebook timeline at this time of the year?

Walking down a supplement aisle will often hear the representative say: “Right, for muscle you must take these and to lose weight a pack of these.” It is a multimillion-dollar business that relies on sales, but what happened to eating a wholesome, healthy diet, cutting out the nonsense and exercising regularly?

As an avid reader of Business Day, you are a well-read and worldly person. You wouldn’t believe a politician who told you a special task team has uncovered the secret to solve Eskom’s woes in 30 days, so why would you believe a salesperson telling you the same about your body?

When elite athletes are bust for doping, it is because they have taken illegal performance-enhancing compounds or anabolic steroids. Why? Because they work.

Lions and Springbok star athlete Aphiwe Dyantyi, who is challenging the findings, claiming he is innocent, was not suspended from sport for popping brewer’s yeast and green tea extract. The substances were reported to have been methandienone (Dianabol), methyltestosterone and LGD-4033 (a selective androgen receptor modulator — a substance with similar anabolic effects to traditional anabolic steroids).

He may well be innocent, but the point is that he is accused of taking serious substances that provide an unfair advantage. It appears that many people confuse supplements with performance-enhancing compounds.

Only a few dietary supplements have enough scientific evidence showing that they can improve certain types of exercise and athletic performance
US department of health and human services

Let’s assume you know that a supplement is just that — that it supplements a healthy diet.

The National Institutes of Health website of the US department of health and human services posted a very helpful article and fact sheet about supplements, their ingredients, whether they actually work and if they are harmful.

“Sellers of these supplements might claim that their products improve strength or endurance, help you achieve a performance goal more quickly, or increase your tolerance for more intense training,” writes the author of the article “Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance”.

“Performance supplements cannot substitute for a healthy diet, but some of them may have value, depending on the type and intensity of your activity. Other supplements don’t seem to work, and a few might be harmful.

“Only a few dietary supplements have enough scientific evidence showing that they can improve certain types of exercise and athletic performance. Athletes might use these supplements, if interested, if they already eat a good diet, train properly, and obtain guidance from a health-care provider or sports medicine expert.”

There may well be some benefit to supplementing with certain substances. Do your research or ask a professional. However, many of the claims on the bottles are unfounded.

If you rely on a pill or powder to achieve your fitness goal, you will be sorely disappointed. The only thing that works, and has stood the test of time and science, is a good, nutritious diet, enough water and hard, intelligent training.