Do Muscle Supplements Work?

Shakes and body building supplements promise to pack on pounds of muscle — but do they work?

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Health foods and fitness stores stock many kinds of shakes and body building supplements that promise to pack on pounds of muscle.

But can these really help you get the body of your dreams?

First, consider the source of the product’s claims. Supplements aren’t regulated by the Food & Drug Administration like medication. Manufacturers’ claims are not approved by the FDA and do not have to present double-blind, peer-reviewed studies before they make claims. They must be safe and contain the ingredients they claim — that is all.

“A lot of them are fancy packaging,” said Chris Purcell, certified personal trainer and wellness coach based in Syracuse.

While he doesn’t discourage clients from trying a well-made protein powder that works for them, he said, “Many times, we can get these things from the environment around us.”

Purcell suggests eating whole foods such as eggs, poultry and meat. Vegan or vegetarians can choose nuts, seeds and legumes — including peanut butter and beans — along with vegan or vegetarian protein powder. Plant based protein for vegans has many benefits for non-vegans too.

David Cruz, certified personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Dewitt, recommends .8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight for most people who are strength training if they want to “go by the book,” he said.

“I like to coach my clients to not worry about the day’s protein, but the meal should have 28 to 35 grams [of protein per meal], regardless of how much you weigh,” he added. “As you gain more muscle mass, then that has to increase.”

He believes that supplements should not replace meals, but enable busy people to get the protein they need if they can’t eat a balanced meal occasionally.

He advises that the diet overall should be balanced with sufficient whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, along with protein sources and traces of plant-sourced fat.

“Supplements help if you have good diet, but they don’t replace a good diet,” said Shauna Burke, personal trainer at Pacific Health Club in Liverpool. “If you have a broken diet, fix that first.”

She said that a protein shake after a workout may be a good idea for a post-workout snack, but drinking them should not replace a healthful diet.

Chris Purcell advises clients to manage what he calls the “four pillars” of health: sleep, nutrition, exercise and stress/time management.

“If you manage these four pillars, you have a head start above many individuals,” he said.

Making time for workouts challenges many people. But Purcell said performing just 10 squats, 10 push-ups and 10 planks twice a day, three to five days a week “will get you a lot closer to your goal and you will be a lot happier. When you are able to add more time, your body won’t react with an immediate stress response.”

For a more intense workout, using kettle bells, tubing, free weights and weight machines represent a few ways to perform resistance training. Instead of just stressing one movement, such as raising the weight, men should lower the weight with just as much care to work both muscles-push and pull movements.

Use the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted in good form for about 10 to 15 repetitions. Perform another 10 to 15 repetitions and then move on to another muscle group. Exercise each muscle group twice weekly, but not two days in a row. On “off” days, engage in aerobic exercise.