DEVANJALI P MAZUMDAR brings to the table, 20 years off and on the field experience with athletes. She has aided in enhancing sport related skills and have a deep understanding of correct eating habits to promote a healthy and fit lifestyle. She is passionate about her work and her willingness to learn has enabled her to grow and face continuous challenges as she keeps herself grounded and abreast with the latest scientific updates. In this blog, she looks at the urgency with which we must address the nutrition imbalances among children in India.

As I sit here to pen my understanding of food supplements, namely the “hyped” Amino acids, I offer my heartfelt apologies to all the fitness and exercise enthusiasts that I risk offending as this article unfolds.

In my tenure of counselling athletes both from strength and endurance fields, and with sound scientific backup that we have now, I present to you a run down on the actual pros and cons of amino acid supplementation.

Firstly, we need to understand, what are amino acids (AAs) and where do they come from? Amino acids are the basic building blocks of all proteins. Many AAs combine together to form protein. There are in all 20 amino acids that the human body needs and out of which 9 are essential (we need them from our diets) while 5 are considered non-essential (the body can produce them from the food we eat). The remaining 6 are conditionally essential (needed under periods of illness or stress).

The second part answers the question that AAs come from the foods we eat. Both vegetarian and non vegetarian sources of protein provide them. They were extensively used in the medical field by doctors for patients with severe burns, post surgery and in chronic illness. Amino acids in these cases helped speedy recovery. This concept was enhanced further by food and drug companies to accentuate muscle tissue growth in professional bodybuilders.

The idea grew in popularity and gave birth to the start of the industry of Sport Nutrition Supplements. This today is one of the top multinational business giants of all times. Sports Nutrition supplements, at one time, were the prized privilege of a subculture of elite athletes and bodybuilders. Sadly, this picture has changed and almost everyone who participates in any form of exercise activity feels the need to supplement themselves due to the aggressive marketing of these commercial products.

Supplements lay claim that they aid in rapid healthy fat loss, improved immunity, better focus and concentration, fast recovery, bulky muscles like your favourite celebrity . . . and, the list is endless!

These deceptive claims are partnered by lack of scientific backing and correct and safe counselling on the consumption guidelines for the same. You will find every possible food (and, otherwise) supplement in the duffle bag of the brawliest dude in the gym, much to the amazement of his skinny admirers and / or neophytes to the gym trend. These amateurs are so keen to follow in the footsteps of their hero that sound, rational nutrition and exercise advice will just not appeal to them.

Everyone wants to leave the gym looking like the incredible hulk himself. Thus, I see the urgent need to address the issue especially about the hype around proteins and more so AAs and their role in muscle building.

A scholarly article from 2018, in the National Library of Medicine states that AAs supplementation may decrease muscle soreness after exercise but when consumed alongside a diet of adequate protein, the results are likely negligible.

The International Society for Sports Nutrition (Aug 2017), states that the consumption of dietary branch chain amino acids stimulating muscle protein synthesis on production of an anabolic response in human subjects is unwarranted.

In fact, an increased intake of Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) from supplementation has a potentially negative effect on glucose metabolism and diabetes . . .  so, there!

You can consume all the supplements in the world, but unless you train correctly, eat adequately and rest enough, you will NEVER achieve the fitness goals you desire. I may sound old school, but some of the best athletes and body builders from their prime in the 1970s still continue in good health and live to tell their stories!

For one, they ate actual foods, not “something” that was heavily priced, overly processed, flavoured, coloured or sweetened. They worked hard and rested when needed and didn’t fall for gimmicks or quick fixes. It took years but it was all well worth it – they live a healthy lifestyle!

It is important to note that the food and supplement companies pour in large amounts of money to have a bias leaning towards their products. It is rightly said that “Health with is wealth” and it definitely is not worth playing games and experimenting with your prized possession.

So, stick to the basics of the drawing board  and invest your hard earned money into real foods that nourish your body, mind and spirit!!