Are you taking supplements to get bigger muscles and have more energy for workouts? If you have a trainer they have probably already suggested you take creatine and a variety of other products to help you bulk up, and may even have suggested testosterone.
There are so many products available, and a lot of gyms seem to have a sideline in trying to sell the stuff to every guy who walks through their door. Some of the claims are a bit hard to believe, and the ads are full of celebrity endorsements, fake testimonials and phoney interviews and reviews.
So if you’re going to take a supplement you need to ask yourself three basic questions: Is it safe? Does it actually work? Why do I want to take it?
You can’t rely on the internet for balanced information because the companies who sell these products have saturated search results so much that the top hits will all be full of glowing reports. If you check the fine print, you’ll see that most of the sites are sponsored by the very same companies who sell the stuff.
So let’s look at some of the more popular products.
Creatine: This organic acid is naturally produced in the body from amino acids, and helps supply energy to cells, especially muscle. It can help you to workout harder and longer and recover faster, and in resistance training it helps build muscle mass. It’s probably the most popular bodybuilding and athletic supplement. If your goal is to build muscle it will help. Safety depends on your underlying health and how much of it you take. It is considered to be safe as long as you don’t take too much. You should never exceed 20g daily, and creatine has been shown to cause kidney damage so should definitely be avoided if you’ve ever had kidney problems. There is also concern about it’s use in people who are taking the drug tenofovir (found in PrEP and some older HIV drugs), as this drug also has the potential to cause kidney problems, so the combination is not advised.
Tribulus: This is derived from a plant and is supposed to boost testosterone levels. It doesn’t. Don’t waste your cash.
Arginine: This amino acid can increase strength only if taken at very high doses, but these same high doses can also cause heart attacks. Not recommended.
DHEA: A hormone that occurs naturally as a precursor to testosterone, and declines with age. It should not be taken except under medical supervision, probably doesn’t do you much good, and can cause man-boobs.
And finally, anabolic steroids, which are bought online or through gym trainers. They’re a really dumb idea. There’s a reason why they’re strictly only available at pharmacies on prescription. Yes, you’ll get really big guns, there’s no doubt about that, but the cost to your physical health can be enormous.
If you pulse high doses of testosterone you end up destroying your body’s ability to make its own testosterone, and you will end up dependent on steroids for the rest of your life.
Excess testosterone is converted in the body to oestrogen, causing unpleasant symptoms like tiredness and fluid retention. The side effects of high dose muscle-building T are very undesirable – baldness, man-boobs, shrinking balls, high blood pressure and losing your hard-on. The worst outcome is serious liver damage and even liver failure.
You have to make your own decisions about taking supplements, but remember that taking them is definitely not about improving your health; they really only have one purpose, which is to bulk you up. It might be worth thinking about why this is so important to you that you would risk your health to achieve it. Is there a problem that might be helped by counselling? Do you need to reassess your priorities? Don’t fall victim to the idea that bigger is always better!
Dr Fiona Bisshop specialises in LGBT health and writes courtesy of Holdsworth House Medical Brisbane. To make an appointment, call (07) 3894 0794 or visit Holdsworth House’s website.