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Supplements Warning

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Workout supplements on a retail shelf in Baton Rouge. (Source: Thomas Morrison) Workout supplements on a retail shelf in Baton Rouge. (Source: Thomas Morrison)

By Thomas Morrison | LSU Student

Pre-workout supplements meant to increase the benefits of fitness workouts may do more harm than good, according to scientists at Louisiana State University.

"Most people take these supplements and don't know what's in them or what they're taking," said George Stanley, a professor of chemistry at LSU.

Popular pre-workout supplements on the market today include products such as Jack3d, C4 Extreme and N.O-Xplode.

Jack3d's website claims its product has the "edge you've been looking for" and is "designed to give the most focused, intense and pumped workouts" available. C4 Extreme and N.O-Xplode ads make similar claims.

However, all contain the non-FDA approved dietary supplement methylhexanamine (listed as 1,3-dimethylamylamine on product labels).

The supplement recently was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2010 prohibited list. The product is also banned in Canada and New Zealand. Webmd.com reports possible side effects can include strokes, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and glaucoma.

"I wouldn't go within a mile of these (pre-workout supplements)," Stanley said. "There are many exotic ingredients that I just wouldn't trust. If I needed a boost, I would use coffee or take a caffeine tablet."

According to John Finley, head of LSU's department of Food Science, these products give more "focused, intense and pumped workouts" because of large amounts of caffeine.

"The caffeine in pre-work out drinks gets you pumped up and makes you want to work out. It gets the juices flowing."

Their website estimates there is 100mg of caffeine in "1 scoop" of their product, as does C4 Extreme and N.O-Xplode. It can take anywhere from one to three scoops to complete one pre-workout drink and Nutrition.about.com said it is "generally agreed that consuming up to 300 mg of caffeine per day is safe."

"The caffeine in these products is not harmful if used at a reasonable level," Finley said. "It's when you start having too much caffeine (in your diet) that you could get yourself in trouble."

Side effects of using too much caffeine can include a lack of sleep and high blood pressure. It can also be bad for your kidneys, says Finley. He recommends if one consumes these products daily to avoid other products containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea and sodas.

Finley notes caffeine also is a diuretic that can cause our bodies to become dehydrated. "It can cause a severe electrolyte imbalance in the body during cardio and strenuous workouts."

Finley recommends drinking a lot of fluids after taking a pre-workout supplement. A better alternative, says Finley, would be to consume after workout drinks, or "recovery" drinks with protein and no caffeine.

"They help with muscle repair and creating new muscles. The ones with branched chain amino acids are great for you, but it does taste bad."

Finley spent the summer advising a number of companies on ways to make post-workout protein drinks taste better.

"A lot of consumers feel if it tastes bad it must be good for you. My job was to find how we can make the drinks taste better."

Finley is an avid mountain climber and said his greatest accomplishment was climbing Mount Everest in his early 50's. The climb took three months and caused him to lose 40 pounds and a great deal of muscle. His lack of protein almost prevented him from reaching the top.

"I was inspired by that to help with these protein drinks because I believe they can help you reach your goals."

George Waldrop, a biochemist at LSU, said even too much protein in a diet can be harmful.

He recommends a balanced diet, otherwise excess protein will be stored in the body as fat. He also said an excess in protein might increase testosterone and the production of DHT, a major contributor in male hair loss.

"A good general rule is to take everything in moderation," Finley said.

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