Intake of supplements without consultation may harm the system

Staying healthy and fit is important for all. While a large segment of our population is undernourished, there is on the other end of the spectrum a growing number of people who suffer lifestyle diseases. Ironically, it is around them that the nutrition and dietary supplement industry is thriving. The market is flooded with various kinds of supplements that can be accessed without any expert advice.

It is not just the health conscious who are sold on these supplements but also sportspersons.

Banned substances

Fat burners, whey proteins, creatine, amino acids (glutamine and branched-chain amino acids — BCCA), vitamins, minerals, enzymes such as ephedrine and xenadrine, some of which are banned in several countries, are some of the popular supplements sportspersons take. But are they safe without proper consultation with a nutritionist?

No, says sports nutritionist Ryan Fernando. “Sports nutrition can help athletes the legal way. Food supplements, especially steroid-based fat burners, if taken without proper supervision, can harm the system and affect the kidneys and liver in the long run,” he says.

Mr. Fernando, who runs Qua Nutrition, drawing an analogy while pushing for customised nutrition plans, asks: “Would you try to repair your Mercedes Benz by yourself?” he asks.

Pointing out that most food supplements for sportspersons are sold via dealers inside sports organisations, he observes that there is lack of awareness among them about right nutrition.

Dietary deficit

K.C. Raghu, Managing Director of Pristine Organics, says a good nutrition supplement is one that provides the conditionally required nutrients to fill the dietary deficit.

“It's important to ensure caution and safety while considering certain micronutrients where the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) itself is the upper limit. Care must be taken to provide less than the RDA. For example: In the case of Vitamin K, the RDA itself gives the upper limit and if the supplement provides the full requirement, then it is likely that it can turn toxic. The cultural dietary context is also pertinent; for each culture and cuisine provides a varied nutrient profile. There cannot be a single nutrient supplement across all cultures and regions,” he adds.

Quite the opposite

Diet and nutrition consultant Sheela Krishnaswamy says if wrong supplements are used, they can affect the performance of sportspersons. “Fat burners and muscle mass enhancers can be contaminated and harm the body. However, the side effects are huge — anabolic steroids can alter fertility, reduce the good cholesterol (HDL), increase aggressiveness, speed up the heartbeat, and sometimes lead to kidney and liver damage,” she says.


But not all athletes can afford to consult a nutritionist, says Karnataka State Athletes Association secretary Satyanarayana. “With most sportspersons, especially athletes, coming from the lower middle class, they don't have access to nutritionists. They are contented with whatever food is available to them,” he says.