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The Tactical Athlete's Ultimate Guide to Dietary Supplements

Updated: Apr 14

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Experts estimate the global Dietary Supplement (DS) market will reach $210.3 billion by the year 2026. Last year, Americans alone spent $42.6 billion on DS. According to a 2013 study, more than half of adults in the United States use DS; their reasons for supplement use range from improving heart, joint, skin, and prostate health to “boosting immunity” and increasing energy. Within the military, where DS use is even more prevalent, service members are more likely to use supplements with purported ergogenic or performance enhancing effects. In fact, among some military sub-groups (looking at you grunts), more than three out of four members use DS.

The prevalence of DS use in the military is no surprise to anyone who frequents the barracks, where shelves, drawers, closets, and bureaus are stuffed full of powders and pills of dubious origin. And herein lies the problem, not all supplements and supplement purveyors are created equal. While some supplements merely fail to fulfill the promises on the label, others can be harmful and even illegal. With all the marketing claims, sensational news stories, and bulked-up supp-store salespeople, how do we cut through the noise? How can engaged leaders help their team make wise choices regarding DS efficacy and safety?

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Let’s start with the good news: According to research, people that use supplements are more likely to report very good or excellent health, use alcohol less, avoid cigarette smoking, and exercise more. Moreover, some supplements that are safe and relatively cheap really do live up to marketing claims.

For those glass-half-empty folks, here’s the bad news: DS are regulated by the FDA like food items, not drugs. According to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), products intended to “supplement” the diet are generally not inspected or approved by the FDA before the product is stocked on store shelves. In fact, the FDA does not usually investigate a product or manufacturer’s claims until after report of an adverse event.

Criminal alert notice for supplements sold legally, but containing illegal substances