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Diet supplements: Do they really work?
Diet supplements: Do they really work?

By Minauti Dave

If exercise came in pill form most of us would happily forgo sweaty workouts, salads, expensive nutrition bars and weight loss clinics. In this lifetime, since there's no miracle pill that melts away extra pounds, millions of young people are turning to supplements as the next best answer.

Vitamin stores carry more than a handful of popular supplements including some of the more popular -- creatine, Ripped Fuel and Diet Fuel. There is one for every kind of workout, and every kind of diet or fitness goal.


Creatine, which comes in a powder, liquid or health bar form, is made up of amino acids. It's fast becoming popular with athletes from all different sports, but it is most popular with those who want to build strength, endurance and power because it increases the force of muscle contraction.

"I've used creatine before three of my competitions and gone up in weight and strength every time."

bodybuilder and graduate student at Penn State University

For a bodybuilder this translates into lifting more weight and building more muscle. And for a runner, it means sprinting or jogging faster and farther. Chris Locke, assistant director of wellness at the University of Miami, says it literally pumps your muscles up while you're working out.

As far as side effects go, Phillip W. Harvey, director of science and quality assurance at National Nutritional Foods Association in California, says creatine has been known to cause some queasiness and kidney problems, but he notes that all these side effects may disappear after it's used consistently for several months.

Side effects or no side effects, Colin Carpenter, a graduate student at Penn State University, credits creatine with helping him win bodybuilding competitions. "I'm not worried about [side effects]," he says. "I've used creatine before three of my competitions and gone up in weight and strength every time."

Mike Harkins, a football coach at the University of Chicago says, "Everybody knows it works, but until we have long-range studies saying it's healthy, we can't recommend it."

In order to figure out if creatine is a good choice for you, Harvey suggests looking at the length of your workout. If it's a short workout, like a bodybuilder - or a football or hockey player, who only spends short amounts of time running or skating intensely, then it may be an option.

For those who do choose creatine as the supplement of choice, it means taking it before every workout. Going off of if for any amount of time can cause a loss of strength, so once you start you really need to continue taking it to get the same effects, according to its makers. Athletes can expect to pay about ten to $20 for a weekly supply of creatine, depending on the number of days they workout.


While creatine helps tone and build muscle, Endurox - a supplement in powder, pill and sports drink form, promises to enhance your workout by trimming off the excess fat and cutting out muscle recovery time.

Runners and cyclists seem to be drawn to Endurox for those very reasons. One of the main ingredients, the Chinese root Ciwujia has been shown to increase metabolism up to 43%, and lower an athlete's heart rate, thus making it easier to maintain a high intensity workout without getting tired. In other words, it claims you can work out longer and harder.

Endurox Excel - an enhanced form of the supplement is for athletes who train harder than the average person, or who want to push themselves to that plain. It contains maximum strength Endurox, plus vitamin E, which the makers -- Pacific Health Laboratories -- claims prevents the buildup of free radicals associated with muscle damage and soreness. They also say a daily dose will slow down the lactic acid buildup that causes muscle fatigue.

Some subjects who've taken the Endurox product say they've seen results within two weeks of taking it, and right now there are no known side effects of repeated use.

Both forms of the supplement have to be taken daily, whether you work out or not, in order to get the full benefits. The average cost is about $15 for a monthly supply in pill form.

Ripped Fuel & Diet Fuel

Despite the dangerous side effects of ephedrine or caffeine-based supplements, there are two that continue to be really popular with young adults -- Ripped Fuel and Diet Fuel. Both are metabolic enhancers, which promise to jump-start your metabolism. Harvey warns those who are considering taking either, that one pill is very similar to drinking a strong cup of coffee.

"It keeps you up when you're tired. It's not euphoric. If you pop a couple of those it's definitely an upper," says Mark Lakosky, a volunteer trainer at Los Campeones, a local gym near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

"It [Ripped Fuel] makes it a lot easier to run and workout because your body is pumped. I was working out two or three hours and wasn't tired at all."

a senior at University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Diet Fuel works a bit differently in that it curbs your hunger and cravings in addition to adding energy. "It makes it a lot easier to run and workout because your body is pumped. I was working out two or three hours and wasn't tired at all," says Elizabeth Derby, a senior at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She says she lost 15 pounds over a two and a half month period, but was dieting and taking another supplement called fenugreek on top of taking three pills of Diet Fuel a day.

These supplements are expected to enhance your workout and get you positive results, but there are serious side effects. Harvey warns that ephedrine-based supplements "are sometimes bad apples and potentially dangerous. Some states are trying to regulate the daily use of it."

In addition to dizziness, diarrhea and high blood pressure, Mary Ellen Camire, associate professor of food science and human nutrition at University of Maine, says other side effects of supplements like Diet Fuel and Ripped Fuel are heart palpitations and excessive sweating. She says some people who have taken the supplements told her it felt like they were having a heart attack.

Derby, for example, says Diet Fuel made her heart race, made her feel jittery and left her palms sweaty. She doesn't recommend anyone use the suggested daily dose on the bottle of nine pills a day.

Although there are studies out there, Harvey says there isn't enough information on specific supplements to reveal what the consequences are if they're taken for long periods of time. But, he warns, that college students should be turning to professionals -- not their friends -- for advice.

"Like anything, the consumer needs to be aware and not just rely on a friend especially if they have a history of problems they may have to check with a doctor," says Harvey. "To use them [supplements] for weight loss is really a quick fix."

Locke, with the University of Miami, agrees, "There's no magic pill to a lot of things. It takes a lot of effort, dedication and also a good diet to support your training. ...The exercise in a bottle doesn't exist."

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