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Side Effects of Workout-Enhancing Supplements

By Toby Pendergrass

Athletes often consume supplements to enhance performance during workouts and on game day. The supplements typically contain a variety of ingredients -- including herbs -- and usually haven’t been tested for safety. While consuming a supplement several times weekly may increase your strength, you’ll also be at greater risk for side effects that include mood swings, acne and weight gain. Understand the risks of workout supplements and consult your doctor before taking any pill to enhance your performance.

Understanding Workout Supplements

Although supplements that promise to enhance your workouts are available without a prescription online, in your local drugstore or even at gas stations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require the products to be tested like foods and prescription medicine. Workout enhancers are classified as dietary aids, so companies sell the supplements without proof that they won’t threaten your health. The National Federation of State High School Associations discourages students from taking any supplement without a doctor’s permission.

Weight Gain

MayoClinic.com reports that creatine is likely the most popular workout supplement in the United States. The compound is produced in your kidneys and liver, although creatine is also found in fish, meat and other foods. There's no evidence to prove that creatine improves endurance, although people who consume the supplements typically suffer weight gain, abdominal pain, cramping and diarrhea. Creatine also may have a negative effect on kidney function.

Stroke and Death

Ephedra, also called ma huang or ephedrine, was a common ingredient contained in supplements labeled as "fat burners." The supplements claim to help burn fat and increase your energy. Although the government removed ephedra from the market due to side effects that include stroke, heart problems and even death, companies still sell fat-burning supplements that offer many of the same properties as ephedra -- and contain the same risks. Beware of ingredients like bitter orange or country mallow. Caffeine sources guarana and yerba mate are also found in most fat burners and often trigger anxiety, irregular heartbeat and restlessness.

Hormonal Effects

Supporters of androstenedione, or andro, claim the hormone-based supplement allows your body to train harder and recover faster from vigorous workouts. The human body produces the hormone andro in the testes, ovaries and glands. The supplement is available without a prescription, although use of andro to enhance athletic performance is illegal. Men who take andro often experience side effects that include decreased sperm count and breast enlargement, while women who consume the pills are at risk for baldness and a deepening of the voice. Andro also elevates your risk for stroke and heart attack.

Mood Swings and Depression

Anabolic steroids with the hormone testosterone are often consumed to enhance workouts. The drugs are medically beneficial for patients with cancer or unhealthy testosterone levels. Common side effects include erratic mood swings, irrational behavior, depression and increased sex drive. Other anabolic effects include baldness in women and breast enlargement in men.

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