The fitness supplement industry is worth billions. A lot of that cash gets pumped right back into marketing designed to convince you that you’ve simply got to have their product to make any muscle building or fat loss progress.
But with so much choice, and so much aggressive marketing, most people are simply dazed and confused by the whole subject. Not only do they not know what they need and how to sort out the good from the useless, but they also have no clue about which ones could actually be dangerous for them.
Thank goodness you’ve come across this article! We’re about to call out the dangerous workout supplements you should avoid, and some you should approach with caution.
Before We Get Started
- 1 Before We Get Started
- 2 What Are Workout Supplements?
- 3 What Are Some Red Flags To Lookout For?
- 4 Supplements You Should Never Take
- 5 Supplements To Approach With Caution
- 6 Recap
Before we get started, you should be aware that either way, supplements are only there to “supplement” a healthy exercise and diet plan in order to improve your performance and physical results. In other words, supplements can’t replace your diet and exercise. You should hold off on buying supplements until you have those two things in check first.
Also, if you’re just starting to work out, you probably won’t need supplements to see results. You should start using supplements after you’ve been working out for a while, when you’ve discovered and understood how your body works during exercise a bit more and have a clear idea about what kind of a boost you’d need through supplementation.
Moreover, you really don’t need to use supplements at all unless you’re looking to maximize your potential. People who are working out just to get some exercise and stay relatively in shape shouldn’t really worry about supplements as a necessity.
Finally, you should be aware that the FDA doesn’t regulate the supplement industry. Not only does that mean that you’d find many supplements with risky ingredients on the market, it also means that the supplements may not have the ingredients they say they have. Therefore, it’s probably better that you stick to trusted brands with good objective reviews.
What Are Workout Supplements?
Bodybuilding supplements are dietary supplements that are typically used to help you throughout your workout journey and help you gain muscle (lean body mass). Because the fitness industry is so huge, there are also endless numbers of supplements on the market. Here’s a list of categories for the supplements available today:
Note: these aren’t official categories.
The areas where you’d usually run into trouble are energy boosters and weight loss products.
Every supplement usually contains at least one of the following:
- Amino acids
- Botanical products/herbs
- Glandular extracts
- Organ products
Other ingredients include what are called “filler ingredients,” which include preservatives as well as sweeteners, flavors and dyes (either natural or artificial)- all of which you should be careful with.
What Are Some Red Flags To Lookout For?
Sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands in order to determine if a supplement is dangerous. So what are some signs we can look out for to make sure we’re not picking a dangerous product?
1) Supplements With Vague Ingredients
Sometimes some products use vague descriptions to tell you what’s in them, such as “proprietary blends.” You should probably stay away from products or brands that use these terms instead of telling you the exact ingredients (and the exact amounts) that are in them. This might mean that they have risky ingredients in there that they don’t want you to freak out about.
2) Supplements With Lots Of Stimulants
Stimulants are generally good for “pre-workout” supplements, since they give you a nice jolt of energy for a good workout. However, you should probably watch out for supplements that have too many stimulants in them, as they put you at risk for high heart rate, blood pressure and panic attacks.
These are usually found in “fat burners” and “energy booster” supplements.
3) Supplements From Countries With Poor Regulation
The supplement industry is still pretty unregulated in countries like the US, but the FDA has still managed to ban substances that have caused illness and/or fatalities. Be sure to stay away from brands that have a manufacturing base in other countries where regulations are even poorer.
4) Supplements From An Unknown Brand
It’s probably best that you stick to brands with an already existing reputation and base of consumers. That way, you could ask people you trust for honest reviews, and you’d probably be able to find doctors or physicians with opinions on the product. However, many health experts are often paid to recommend certain supplements, so make sure you ask them if they are.
Supplements You Should Never Take
There are supplements or supplement ingredients that you should stay away from at all times. Most supplements with dangerous ingredients eventually end up getting figured out and banned, but you should stay safe either way and try and stay on the look out for dangerous products.
Diuretic Supplements For Weight Loss
Diuretics, also known as “water pills,” are supplements that drain your body of fluids by peeing it out. They’re usually prescribed to people with heart problems or high blood pressure, as it helps you flush out the excess sodium in your system and reduce the volume of your blood- both of which lower blood pressure.
Because this loss of water causes visible weight loss, it’s also become a dangerous trend to use diuretics in order to shed some pounds.
There are way too many dangerous side effects from diuretics:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Muscle cramps or weakness
- Lightheadedness, dizziness
- Headaches, blurred vision and confusion
- Arrhythmia (irregular heart beat)
- Excess sweating
- Sore throat
But besides its dangers, diuretics are pretty much pointless for weight loss, because once you drink or eat something, your body fluids start coming back and you regain all the weight back.
Supplements With DMAA
DMAA is a compound that’s derived from a geranium plant that gives you an energy boost and gets you ready for a workout. It’s found in many pre-workout supplements. Other names for it include methylhexanamine and geranamine.
It has a similar chemical structure to ephedrine and amphetamine and has a similar effect on your central nervous system. It generally increases your heart rate and blood pressure, but when combined with extreme physical stress, it can lead to severe outcomes like panic attacks, seizures, stress-induced heart attacks, strokes and It can even kill you.
Because of that, the ingredient has widely been banned, but you should still look out for them. Here’s a list of products with DMAA that have been removed from US military exchanges:
|USPlabs||Jack3d (tropical fruit & lemon)|
|NutrexResearch Inc||Lipo 6 Black|
Lipo 6 Black Ultra
Hemo Rage Black
|iSatori Technologies LLC||PWR Ultra Concentrated PreWorkout Revolution|
|Muscle Tech||Neurocore Powder|
|Fahrenheit Nutrition||Lean EFX|
|Sports Nutrition International||Nitric Blast|
|MuscleMeds Performance Technologies||Code Red|
|Muscle Asylum Project||Arson Fat Burner Capsule|
Some of these products have been removed by the manufacturers and replaced without DMAA, just make sure you read their labels to find out.
You should also be aware that some supplement manufacturers still have the ingredient in their products under the name “geranium oil” to avoid being removed from the market. Other synonyms include: DMP, Forthan/Forthane, fouramin, Gerenamine and more.
Here are other ingredients that have been banned (in the US) to look out for:
|What it is?||Their risks||Banned or Restricted?||Other names for substance|
|Ephedra||Chinese herbal stimulant||Increases risk of heart attack or stroke||2004- only allowed in small doses|
2005- completely banned
|Cao mahuang, belcho, desert herb|
|Fenfluramine||Stimulant and appetite suppressant (Amphetamine derivative)||Linked to cases of heart damage and lung disease||1990s- Prescription only||Fenfluramine hydrochloride|
|Sibutramine||Stimulant and appetite suppressant||-Causes high blood pressure, Increases risk of heart attack or stroke|
-Evidence of heart damage
|2010- Voluntarily recalled by Meridia|
Not officially banned,
Schedule IV drug
|Rimonabant||Pharmaceutical that blocks cannabinoid receptor||-Causes depressive and mood disorders, and even suicidal ideation|
-Adverse events of nausea and respiratory infections
|2008- suspended from sale in Europe and Brazil||SR141716, JD-5037 (variant), Acomplia|
|-Causes severe mood alterations, skin rash and kidney irritation|
-Genotoxic and a possible carcinogen
|1999- banned in the US||Hln, phph|
|-Linked to cases of cerebral hemorrhage||Was never approved||1-amino-2-phenylpropane and more|
Some products that have been recalled and/or banned include: Hydroxycut, Fen-Phen, Meridia, Accomplia, Craze.
Other than banned substances, you may also find supplements with untested ingredients, or ingredients that are in the process of being approved, but haven’t yet. There have already been cases where untested ingredients have been found in dietary supplements.
Supplements To Approach With Caution
There are some supplements that may actually be beneficial for you, but you should still be very careful with. This includes energy boosters you could grow a tolerance to and end up overusing and supplements that are risky with certain medical conditions (e.g. diabetes).
Caffeine is known to be a good supplement for your workouts. When taken before workouts, it can help you burn more fat, and when taken afterwards, research has shown it can boost your muscles’ glycogen content! However, you should definitely be careful about taking too much.
- Muscle breakdown
- High blood pressure
- Digestive issues
- Rapid heart rate
There’s also the added complication that our bodies learn to tolerate caffeine pretty easily. That means that the dose we’re taking eventually won’t feel like it’s doing much anymore. This can lead people to up their dose, which puts them at risk of adverse effects.
Withdrawal effects of caffeine are also pretty harsh:
- Lack of energy
- Possible weight gain
You might think that withdrawals would only happen when attempting to quit caffeine cold turkey, however you may experience some of these symptoms as fast as later in the day if you’re on high enough doses.
Taking that much caffeine has also been proven to be useless for working out. Studies have even shown that past around 400mg (for a bodyweight of 72g), its effects on the body do not significantly increase.
Unfortunately, despite all this, there are still supplements today that provide you with doses that are way too high. Caffeine anhydrous is a much more concentrated form of caffeine that’s available too that you should be aware of.
Testosterone boosters have definitive studies to back up their claims for athletic performance enhancement. They were shown to enhance muscle mass and strength, endurance, while reducing fat mass and improve recovery from exercise. However, the question is usually if the benefits outweigh the risks.
If you’re older than 50, chances are testosterone boosters would be a good idea for you, since you’re more likely to be deficient. However, you should still be sure to check with your physician.
Even though testosterone boosters aren’t the illegal anabolic steroids you hear about that cause undesirable effects such as reduced testicle size and man breasts, studies have shown that they might still have some similar undesirable side effects, such as:
- Breast swelling or tenderness
- Ankle swelling
- High red blood cell counts (could cause blood clots)
- Cardiovascular problems
You should generally stay away from testosterone boosters if you have:
- Prostate cancer (or a high risk of developing prostate cancer)
- Breast cancer (this can happen to men too)
- Diagnosed heart disease
- A history of heart attacks
- Problems with aggression and anger management
- Mood disorders
Hormones are constantly interacting with each other in your body. Therefore, if you generally take hormone supplements, you’re at a relatively higher risk of having other hormones (e.g. estrogen) kicking up to make up for the imbalance (unless you already had a deficiency).
Some testosterone boosters have also been shown to be completely ineffective in terms of enhanced performance, so you may be risking health hazards for nothing. Therefore with hormone therapies in general, it is crucial that you pick your brand wisely. It’s often best to choose a natural supplement.