It’s the fifth week into a new year, most likely meaning several good-intentioned resolutionists have abandoned their gym-conquering optimism only to fall back into routines derailing their well-intended fitness goals. If you’re among those lifting more tacos than weights of late, you’re not alone. According to various studies, it’s safe to say only 8 percent of people actually keep their New Year fitness resolutions and, according to U.S. News 80 percent of them fail by February. In a world expecting overnight results and temptations lurking at every corner, it’s no wonder many often look towards supplements for a quick fix to get them back on track. However, just how effective are supplements, do they really work and are they safe?
It’s not by coincidence we see a boost in supplement commercials, infomercials or ads blasted on social media this time of year. Each with the same message of almost promising the shredding of fat and rapidly sliming waistlines. These marketing schemes pray on false hopes fully knowing the 92 percent of people who think they’ve failed at becoming fit and healthy are looking for a fast solution. The problem with that is that there is no “fast” solution to effectively lose weight and inches toward maintaining a lasting, healthy lifestyle.
The problem is, we as a society, are so fixated on perceiving what we need to weigh that we lose sight of a much bigger picture (pun intended). Weight can be a touchy and even puzzling subject because most people associate weight gain exclusively with fat gain. While gaining fat does increase weight, one can also gain weight by gaining muscle. But, is gaining weight a bad thing? The answer is yes, or no, depending on what exactly is being gained. Confused yet? Don’t be.
The bigger focus is not on weight gain alone, but how we make our bodies healthier and more equipped to stay lean. One way we do this is by gaining more muscle. Pound per pound, at rest, muscle burns more calories than fat. Simply put, with additional muscle tone/mass, one burns more calories sitting on the couch than someone who may weigh the same… or even less than but not have that additional muscle. But what about our waistline? With any weight gain, does that mean our bellies grow too? Not in the case for muscle since its cells are more dense than fat cells. Picture, if you will, a pound of packing peanuts. You know the kind used to fill boxes to protect items during shipment from being damaged. Now, think about a pound of marbles. Each weigh one pound, but what’s the difference? If we equate the packing peanuts as “fat” and the marbles as “muscle” you visually begin to see the difference in terms of surface area. More fat equals larger waistlines, whereas more muscle equates to a leaner, slimmer waist.
Now, let’s go back to all those fat shredding, waist slimming supplement advertisements complete with the male and female models with toned arms and 6-pack abs. How do they do it? I would bet my life savings it’s not by exclusively taking supplements. It’s because they’ve worked their butt off, incorporating both strength and cardio into a dedicated training regimen, eating a nutrient dense diet, free from processed foods and sugars, getting plenty of sleep and staying hydrated… with water as examples of a few of the things necessary to. You might be thinking, but I or somebody I know have taken supplements and have lost weight. That may be the case, but let’s understand why that likely happened and how it’s not an effective, long-term solution which could also be harmful as well.
With complex names like beta-methylphenethylamine, dimethylamylamine and phenpromethamine, or more familiar names like caffeine and ephedrine; stimulants are found in the bulk of weight-loss supplements and can include one primary form or a combination thereof. These stimulants also try to fly under the radar on ingredient labels with benign or less complicated listings such as kola nut, geranium flower or yerba mate. Regardless of their name, stimulants act similarly on the body producing side effects that lead to weight loss… just not the right kind of weight loss.
Because muscle is not as sufficient in storing calories as fat is, they rely on proper nutrition and activity to keep them going. That being said, supplements, and their stimulant heavy ingredients curb appetite and also have diuretic qualities causing a loss of water stores through frequent urination. Likely because many people expect the supplement to do all the work, they find themselves not eating enough nutrient dense foods and not engaging in strength exercises. These two factors alone can lead to muscle tissue decline before the body even begins to dive into the fat stores for energy consumption. While the short term effects yield some weight loss, it’s short lived because they are not addressing the need to boost the true fat-burning potential in gaining muscle.
Are we chasing unicorns when we expect supplements to be the fix all for our health and fitness needs? Yes. Bottom line, ditch the scale and the supplements. Make a commitment to put the work in through proper diet and exercise, including strength training. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor should you expect a truly healthy body to be either.