Research on nutritional supplements for women is thinner than parchment paper, while studies of men’s nutritional needs rival the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
In a quest to close that gap, Dr. Jake Erickson of Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare and Andrew Jagim of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, studied 15 recreationally active female UW-L students in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled test of MusclePharm’s MissFit supplements.
The pair presented the research at a meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and it will be published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
Their working definition of recreationally active was healthy young women who participated in at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, said Erickson, an osteopathic physician who is based at Mayo-Franciscan’s Onalaska Clinic and specializes in sports medicine, family medicine and orthopedics.
Like men, women want to use supplements to increase endurance, performance and recovery, he said.
The lapse in research on women lies in the facts that men’s physiology is simpler than women’s because of the latter’s more complex hormonal functions, Jagim said.
“As a researcher, it is easier to use males. Also, it is easier to recruit males,” said Jagim, an assistant professor of exercise and sports science who specializes in sports nutrition, ergogenic aids, personal training and body composition.
Nutritional supplements for women also present a cultural change with the increasing popularity of exercise options such as boot camps and CrossFit, Erickson said, adding, “Women want to be fit and be strong, and they are finding that’s OK and attractive.”
Actually, people don’t need supplements if they eat properly to meet balanced nutritional and protein needs with vegetables and fruits, Erickson and Jagim said. But supplements may be necessary when they don’t adhere to a dietary regimen to sustain health and exercise — especially at higher levels of exertion.
MissFit is touted as being able to increase and retain energy, improve focus, maintain calorie burning and smooth recovery after exercise. It generally fulfilled those promises, according to Erickson and Jagim’s research, funded by the International Society of Sports Nutrition and MusclePharm.
They also cautioned about its use among women with blood pressure abnormalities.
In many cases, caffeine alone can provide similar benefits, “so you don’t need to go out and buy a supplement,” Erickson said. “As a general rule, anyone 14 years old and younger should stay away from supplements.”
In any case, he said, users should consult with their health care providers before using any kind of supplements.
Some are tainted with substances that might be illegal and/or banned and create a positive drug test, Erickson said.
“It always should be on a case-by-case basis, with a nutritionist or trainer,” he said.
Similarly, Jagim cautioned against confusing supplements with performance-enhancing drugs.
“There is a huge difference between supplements and steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs,” Jagim said. “Steroids manipulate hormones … dietary supplements help fill a void. If somebody is struggling to hit their protein levels or doesn’t eat fruit, they may need a multi-vitamin to help meet their potential.”
Jagim also cautioned about supplements’ advertising that features people with Adonis-like bodies, because those hunks may have benefited from more than mere supplements.
“People — especially kids — fail to recognize that they may have used steroids,” he said.
Amid promises of being “bigger, stronger, faster, there is no regulation over supplements. They are not FDA-tested,” Jagim said.
Erickson distinguished between misuse and abuse of supplements, noting that some have ingredients that might be dangerous to people who, for instance, have a heart conditions that they don’t know about. All the more reason to consult a physician in advance and to follow directions, he said.
Erickson and Jagim also studied the use of MyFitnessPal as a reliable tool to check dietary intakes.
Their abstract noted, “Commercially available websites and smartphone applications have been developed as a convenient and low-cost option for assessing dietary intake … however, little is known about their accuracy.”
The four-day observational study, which included 44 recreationally active, college-aged men and women, found that MyFitnessPal is a reliable alternative to more cumbersome manual logging.
The tool “can be implemented into athletic settings as an immediate way to assess the nutrient habits and provide them with immediate feedback,” they wrote.
Erickson’s and Jagim’s research also has help cement a research partnership between Mayo-Franciscan and UW-L athletics, they said.
“It is a nice collaboration,” Jagim said.