Supplement Series Part 1: Definition, Regulation & Safety

Supplements are hot sellers in today’s society where everyone is in search of a quick fix to their nutrition woes. Whether the goal is weight-loss, increased muscle mass or enhanced workout performance, supplements are an ever-growing industry that more and more people are buying into (literally).

Unfortunately, there is a lack of testing and monitoring and products oftentimes sport untrue claims. In fact, many supplements are actually ineffective and can even be hazardous to your health. As a result, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you all with the accurate facts in regards to supplementation. In this three-part series I will be addressing the following:

Part 1: A general overview of supplements including their definition and regulation

Part 2: A focus on three popular nutrition supplements (protein powder, creatine and pre-workout)

Part 3: Tips on choosing the safest supplement and general recommendations addressing whether or not you actually need to be taking them


Today, I’ll start out by giving you a little overview of supplements before diving into the knitty-gritty details.

1.) Definition

First off, what exactly is a supplement? According to the Dietary Supplement and Education Act (DSHEA), a dietary supplement is any “vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, other dietary supplements, and any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or a combination of any of these ingredients”. So for example, I take an additional probiotic and Vitamin D, thus I take supplements. If you take a daily multi-vitamin, you take supplements.

2.) Background and Regulation

More than $32 billion a year is spent on more than 85,000 different types of supplements in U.S. alone. Unlike almost everything else (including food, beverages & makeup) they are not required to be tested for safety or efficacy by Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, a supplement must be proven to be dangerous before it can be recalled and subsequently taken off the market.

3.) Safety

There is no guarantee of product purity or potency. Since the FDA is not required to test supplements before placing them on the shelves of GNC, basically anyone can create and market a product even if they don’t work. This also means supplements are prone to deceptive labeling. Products may be laced with banned or harmful substances (i.e. steroids, amphetamines, active ingredients in prescription drugs, etc.), obviously posing health risks. This could also result in what’s called “accidental doping”. For instance, an athlete may be using a protein powder that contains steroids, but he/she may not know it because it is not listed on the label because the law does not require it. Thus, they may fail their drug test and be kicked off their sports team as a result. Of course, not all supplements contain illegal or harmful drugs (I’ll get into this in part 3), but this indicates the need for precaution when choosing a brand.


Now you have a better understanding of what supplements actually are and how they are regulated (or more accurately, how they are not regulated). Part 2 will focus on three specific supplements I see a lot in the nutrition and fitness world: protein powder, creatine and pre-workout.


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