One of the more profitable sections of the fitness industry are those companies that create supplements. This is also where a majority of misinformation about sports nutrition is seen.
Walk into a store dedicated to selling supplements and most people are convinced of several things. The first is that their fitness related problem, whether it be an inability to lose weight or gain muscle, can be solved by one of the many products available for purchase. The second, is that all the claims of increased performance found on the supplement packaging can be trusted. They can't.
The majority of shady claims are structural / functional claims. An example would be, "Helps to increase energy." How it may help, and what their definition of energy is, is usually not stated. These kinds of claims are not regulated by the FDA. These claims are regulated by the FTC, though a product can be on the market for some time before it is reviewed. Though supplements are supposed to list all ingredients contained within them, they are actually allowed to be placed on the market before their product is tested. Obviously this is dangerous for athletes who have to deal with a state commission, or college athletes who may be tested for performance enhancing drugs. In the past, supposedly benign supplements have been found to contain performance enhancing drugs.
So, if not supplements, what should you put in your mouth to get a performance boost? A balanced diet, for one. Most supplements don't outright lie. They claim that they do one thing or another, based on some of the vitamin or mineral content contained within them. If an athlete is deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, using a supplement that provides that micronutrient can be beneficial. However, it's almost always safer and cheaper to eat a natural food that contains that micronutrient. Most studies done on the subject have shown that an overdose of vitamins or minerals has little to no benefit. Also supplements are one of the easiest ways to ingest too much micronutrients. In the case of a mineral like magnesium, this can lead to nausea, diarrhea and a bad day.
Many young men I talk to, between the ages of 14 and 21, think they need to use meal replacement supplements (protein shakes) so that their muscles will repair. For most people, this is not true. The majority of these recreational athletes could drink a small bottle of chocolate milk directly after their workout and then go eat a balanced meal and recover perfectly well. These meal replacement supplements are often times expensive and there is no need for the majority of the population to use them.
Where they can be useful is for serious athletes who engage in 3 to 4 hours of moderate to intense exercise a day. These athletes, depending on their size, may need to ingest up to 5,000 calories a day. Some athletes, such as those involved in ultra endurance sports, may need more than that. That is a lot of food and a calorie dense meal replacement supplement can help them get the calories they need to repair body tissues and replenish their energy stores. For your average gym rat, these supplements are a waste of money. I'll probably have a few more blog posts on this topic, because I've only scratched the surface of this topic.
In the mean time- eat some fruit, a tuna sandwich, drink some chocolate milk, and get swoll.