Rethinking Healthcare

Which performance-enhancing fitness products stand up to science?

Which performance-enhancing fitness products stand up to science?

Posting in Food

You may be surprised what University of Oxford researchers found after examining the claims of 54 different sports products.

According to athletic product advertisements, you can buy your way to a faster, cooler, lighter, better-hydrated, less injury-prone, more muscular body. But what kind of evidence backs up these claims?

Zilch, says a new study by University of Oxford researchers.

The authors looked at 431 performance-enhancing claims for 104 different products. Here's what they found:

  • 141 references existed for those claims, but only 74 (52 percent) were actual original studies of a product using human beings
  • None of the references included systematic reviews of randomized control trials of the product, the kind of examination necessary for evidence-based medical claims
  • Only three of the referenced studies were judged "high quality and at low risk of bias," and all three of these studies found the products in question unsuccessful

Fitness products, and the performance-enhancing claims they rely on, make up a multi-billion dollar industry. But our lives don't (at least typically) rest on the validity of their claims, so the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration does not have to vouch for them they way they do with pharmaceuticals.

Is this cause for alarm? I'd like to argue no.

Yes, it's pretty lame that many of us may be throwing away hundreds, even thousands of dollars towards useless gear and supplements. But, investing in our own exercise makes us more likely to get out and at least try to get fit.

Take the lightweight running shoes I fell for last week, seduced by promises of improved speed and reduced injuries.

Two runs in, I've felt nothing but sorer calves from reduced heel support.

But you know what? Trying out the new shoes adds novelty to my workout. They make running a little more exciting. Maybe I'm a sucker, but the lightweight trainers will keep me running in hopes that I'll eventually notice their speed-enhancing effects. And perhaps that's the best thing athletic performance products give us -- incentive keep exercising, hoping they'll one day deliver.

[via The New York Times]

Photo: Team Traveller/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure