PUBLISHED: 3:40 PM on Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Researcher says it's OK to get pumped about some supplements
So you want to get pumped up? But weights alone aren't doing the job.

Forget Rocky Balboa's trick of slurping down raw eggs in the morning.

In the 21st century, dozens of radical-sounding potions and powders are on the market, each claiming to be the elixir of eternal strength.

Full-page advertisements showing vein-popping monsters gulping the latest scientifically engineered megashakes dominate the pages of muscle magazines.

It seems the ads have caught on.

A study released last year by the American College of Sports Medicine showed that 31 percent of high school football players in the United States used dietary supplements with the intention of growing muscle.

But do they work?

And if so, are some better than others? And what about side effects?

John Ivy, an exercise physiology and sports nutrition expert at the University of Texas at Austin, has researched the effectiveness of performance-enhancing products and says there's no doubt that they work.

"You can see a vast difference in performance with certain supplements," says Ivy, who chairs the department of kinesiology and health education at UT Austin.

And if taken with a proper diet and exercise routine, results can come quickly from some products.

"Benefits can be seen in the first few weeks," Ivy said, referring to creatine, a popular supplement that raises the high-energy phosphate levels in muscle. "It allows individuals to recover faster from high intensity workouts and stimulates energy growth."

There are a few other base supplements besides creatine that are most popular among athletes, with the most popular probably being high-protein shakes.

Ivy says supplements such as whey protein shakes stimulate protein synthesis and increase muscle mass. For maximum effectiveness, Ivy recommends drinking the shakes immediately after a workout.

Brett Merritt, assistant manager of Natural Health Market, says new supplements come and go like passing fads. Only some pass the test of time and stick around, he says.

Creatine, says Merritt, has earned serious credibility among athletes in the past decade and will likely maintain its top-shelf status for years to come.

Whey protein supplements are also a constant hot item, Merritt says. Glutamine, an amino acid that can prevent damage to joints, is also a big seller at Natural Health Market.

But consumers need to be aware when they pay for supplements. Many companies have jumped on the supplement band wagon in recent years, and not all offer quality stuff, according to experts.

"A lot of these things work ... but there are a lot of things on the market that don't work," Ivy said.

Merritt suggests reading the labels carefully when choosing a supplement and avoiding products with too many artificial flavors and sweeteners, such as fructose or sugar.

When selecting a whey protein supplement, those with added enzymes can be even more beneficial, Merritt said. There's also whey protein isolate, which tends to mix easier than traditional whey protein, according to Merrit.

And before you begin supplementing with anything, Ivy advises seeing your physician - especially for someone with pre-existing medical conditions.

It's also important to follow the manufacturer's directions on the product, according to Ivy.

"More is not always better," Ivy said. "A lot of people can take too much."

So what about side effects? Occasionally, Internet Web sites and some muscle magazines mention negative side effects caused by creatine.

Ivy says that he has found no evidence of harmful side effects caused by the use of recommended dosage of creatine in athletes.

The American Medical Association has conducted studies on college athletes supplementing with creatine and concluded there are no apparent damaging side effects.

Further studies are required to determine if creatine is 100 percent safe for everybody, including younger athletes such as high school football players, according to the American Medical Association.