Achieving peak physical fitness is an essential goal for many of us. We typically set this goal for a whole host of reasons such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, improving our body’s appearance, among others. Given the emphasis on achieving this goal, a whole zoo of workout supplements is at our reach. They offer the chance to shorten the time to a faster run, achieve bigger muscles, and maybe even a more sculpted body. However lingering questions remain about the effect of these supplements on general health and especially their effect on fertility.
The first step in understanding these supplements is understanding the different types. There are pre-workout and post-workout supplements. Pre-workout supplements include caffeine and beta-alanine (among others) which have been touted to improve stamina via various biochemical mechanisms. Post-workout supplements are thought to improve muscle gain and improve recovery. Yet, the purported benefits are inconsistent. They do not seem to be better than consistent hydration and a balanced diet for most levels of exercise.
Workout supplements effect on fertility
As for fertility, the main concern lies in the lack of rigorous assessment by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This brings up the risk of these supplements containing agents which are not specified on the ingredient list. These unspecified ingredients could pose significant harm to both reproductive and general health. At least one review of numerous common workout supplements showed that up to 20% of them could be contaminated with testosterone or testosterone derivates (a.k.a. anabolic steroids). Testosterone intake, while beneficial for muscle growth, can suppress normal hormonal stimulation of the testicles and lead to a reduced sperm count. This reduced sperm count could take months recover since sperm replenish every 72 days or so.
Contamination from testosterone or testosterone-derivatives can also affect women taking these supplements. Common side-effects include acne and thicker facial-hair growth. These effects could potentially progress to disruption of menstrual cycle regularity by making it harder to ovulate consistently.
Are workout supplements worth the risk?
Overall, there seems to be very limited evidence, at best, of concrete benefits from workout supplements. The safest route to enhancing the benefits of exercise remains eating a balanced diet, consistent hydration with water, and adequate sleep. If a workout supplement is used, one should check to see if it has been flagged by the FDA for containing potentially harmful substances. These supplements may offer tantalizing promises, but never forget that “there is no free lunch”. While one may gain muscle mass, one could lose out in other aspects, such as fertility.