Magic pills


As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)


New Jockology out today: it’s the first of a two-part series on popular supplements thought to be ergogenic (performance enhancing). Actually, it could have been a 27-part series — there’s a ton of pills and powders out there that people believe in — but I tried to focus on substances with some legitimate research behind them. This week: antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and creatine (read the column here).

Last summer, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California made a splash by announcing an exercise pill that allowed mice to gain the benefits of vigorous exercise – all without setting a paw on their exercise wheels. That era hasn’t yet arrived for humans, but strolling down the aisle of any drugstore makes it clear that we’re very interested in pills whose claims include faster, higher and stronger.

So, which key ones did I miss? Which ones should I cover in part 2?

5 Replies to “Magic pills”

  1. First time I’ve seen the column – nice work.

    Agreed on the CoQ10 – claims to affect Kreb’s cycle.

    N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is interesting – as an anti-oxidant, though has been used in ERs across the world for acetaminophen overdose (clinical history…)

    HMB is worth a look if creatine was covered. Ditto L-Glutamine. (Lots of studies for both, though not as many as creatine of course)

    Others.. Maybe ‘test boosters?’ Tribullis (its in everything, i don’t think any confirming research other than ‘cold war athlete’ anecdotes), others like ZMA (possible double blind validated effects).

    Phosphatidylserine (PS) – there is double-blind (though small n) research showing promise in post-exercise cortisol control leading to greater testosterone levels… (usually sold as a memory aid – FDA did evaluate)

    Of course, BCAAs, Whey protein (or even an outline of differences between whey, milk, soy proteins) would be a little less esoteric.

    The above is not meant to be medical advice nor taken very seriously. i’m just a workout & pill popper guy. What ever motivates me is my motto.


  2. Hey, great list, Dawson — thanks! I can’t believe I didn’t think of ZMA, given the publicity it’s gotten over the past few years. I’m pretty skeptical of it myself, but people definitely use it.

    HMB and L-glutamine are a little more obscure among the general public, but I think the research is more solid. Definitely worthy of consideration.

    Good call on discussing the different kinds of protein. Actually, I think a whole column on protein needs would be useful for a lot of people, given how much outdated info is still floating around out there. I’ll put that on the agenda…

    So I’ve got to ask: have you tried all or most of these? Any favourites? 🙂

  3. I have tried them all.

    Again, my motto is motivation – so I find that if something catches my eye, I’ll usually give it a try – provided that its pretty benign. (For example, I’m not interested in products with caffeine, etc.) If the placebo gets me a few more reps, I’m fine with that.

    I usually take creatine and l-glutamine for 6 weeks, then off for two weeks. Then I start HMB at the outset of the 2 weeks off, and take it until I finish the bottle.

    I’ve been taking PS post workout (and post hockey) for the past few weeks after reading some convincing double blind trials from the US ( as one example).

    I’m interested in these ‘NO’ supplements, but haven’t read enough yet. Would be interested in hearing the experiences of others.


  4. The top 2 I recommend is Omega-3 and any kind of post workout protein drink.

    Advanced athletes may want to try creatine and BCAA for longer workouts. Glutamine spiked in drinks, as well as Vitamin C, is also good for athletes complaining about muscle soreness.

    Last, but not least, ZMA is a good night time supplement to help sleep (if the B6 doesn’t keep you awake).

    So that’s a total of 7.

Comments are closed.