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Evaluating Ergogenic Aids

Dietary supplementation is widespread, especially among professional and recreational athletes. Have you been thinking about supplementing to enhance your athletic performance? Are you aware of the scientific research and safety concerns regarding some popular performance-enhancing ergogenic aids?

Below, Ellie Huff, RD, CSCS, and Dale Huff, CSCS, co-owners of NutriFormance and Athletic Republic St. Louis with locations in Frontenac and Chesterfield, Missouri, provide a quick look at four supplements and explain the lack of government regulations and quality control that make it mandatory for you to educate yourself before buying or taking any products.

Nutritional Ergogenic Aids

Ergogenic aids are a type of dietary supplement that can increase the capacity for bodily or mental labor, especially by eliminating fatigue symptoms. Nutritional ergogenic aids refer to substances that enhance performance and are either nutrients, metabolic byproducts of nutrients, food (plant extracts) or substances commonly found in foods that are provided in amounts more concentrated than normally occur in the natural food supply (Benardot 2006).

The chart on this page gives introductory information about the four most popular types of supplements used to enhance physical performance: caffeine, creatine, carnitine and amino acids.

Concerns About Dietary Supplements

How do you know if certain supplements are safe and effective? In the past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated dietary supplements under the classification of foods to ensure that these aids were safe for human consumption and that package labeling was truthful and not misleading. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. In 1994, Congress enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which some experts say limits the FDA’s ability to regulate these products (Barrett 2007). Many nutrition experts believe that you are now more vulnerable, because under the DSHEA there is no requirement to prove claimed benefits of dietary supplements as there is with drugs; no requirement to show safety; few provisions for quality assurance; and liberal labeling requirements in relation to claims made.

Quality control is a great concern. You are at risk of ingesting a contaminated dietary supplement or not getting what you paid for in terms of product quantity and potency (Maughan 2001). To address this concern, the FDA issued a new rule requiring manufacturers of dietary supplements to follow “current good manufacturing practices” (FDA 2007). The rule is designed to ensure that dietary supplements are produced in a “quality manner, do not contain contaminants or impurities, and are adequately labeled” (FDA 2007). However, the new rule does not require manufacturers to prove the efficacy and safety of any dietary supplement. That’s why you still need to remain vigilant.

Supplements at a Glance

Here’s an FYI on the four types of supplements used to enhance physical performance:



Barrett, S. 2007. How the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 Weakened the FDA. www.quackwatch.org; retrieved June 21, 2007.

Benardot, D. 2006. Advanced Sports Nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2007. FDA issues dietary supplements final rule. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2007/NEW01657.html.

Maughan, R. 2001. Dietary supplements: Contamination may cause failed drug tests. Gatorade Sports Science Institute Hot Topic Article. www.gssiwebde.com/reflib/refs/32/may2001.

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