The siren call of supplements—why you shouldn’t try GNC’s free samples

After senior William Wright purchased creatine pills a month ago, the GNC sales clerk handed him a sample of OxyElite Pro dietary supplements.

Wright, an avid rower being recruited by UC San Diego, eagerly took the sample.

The clerk told Wright it would “amp him up” when he worked out, adding that he shouldn’t worry if it made his face tingle.

Another customer in the store suggested that Wright should start with a half dose to see if he could “handle it.”

The clerk didn’t tell Wright that the supplement was only for those over 18, nor did she say that physician clearance is “mandatory before use.”

Then the clerk handed Wright 10 samples of Ripped Freak weight loss supplements to “share with friends.”

When University of Minnesota researchers surveyed 2,800 middle and high schoolers about sports supplements,  one third of boys and one fifth of girls reported using them, according to The Boston Globe (“Teens embrace muscle-building supplements, survey shows,” Nov. 19).

At Country Day, 32 high-school students say they’ve used protein powder supplements, and 11 have used pre-workout supplements, such as OxyElite Pro.

Protein supplements usually contain protein derived from whey, casein, egg or soy and are designed to provide the body with proteins and amino acids necessary for muscle growth.

Pre-workout supplements improve the user’s mental focus and motivation to work. Caffeine is commonly used in these supplements.

Screen shot 2013-03-18 at 10.14.20 AM

Pre-workout supplements may contain creatine, a compound found in red meat, to promote muscle growth.

Creatine supplements are also commonly sold as single-ingredient supplements, such as the pills Wright originally purchased.

Wright didn’t pay attention to the warning labels on either sample.

And he would have used them, had they not been brought to Michelle Myers, PE department head.

Upon analyzing both samples, Myers said, “Why in the hell would you hand that to a teenager?

“(The supplements are) full of stimulants that will add stress to your organs.”

Kellie Whited, science department head, who has a Ph.D. in nutrition, agrees.

The high caffeine levels in OxyElite Pro and Ripped Freak startled Whited.

A daily dose of OxyElite Pro contains the equivalent of four cups of coffee. Whited said that if the user had additional sources of caffeine in their diet (such as coffee, tea or energy drinks), then their caffeine intake would be dangerously high.

And, according to Whited, the “proprietary blends” in each product are a concern because, while they list their ingredients, they do not list the amount of each ingredient.

Senior Brandon Pefferle has been taking creatine supplements for six months. Unfazed by safety concerns  and possible side effects (such as asthma, liver damage and rapid weight gain), he said “(the safety concerns) are a bunch of bologna.”

Senior Donald Hutchinson now sticks with protein powder but has used creatine in the past. He stopped using it because he questioned its effectiveness.

“It was just filling my muscles with water to make them look bigger,” he said. “It wasn’t actually making me stronger.”

Hutchinson believes certain pre-workout supplements, such as OxyElite Pro, “are awful for your body.”

Hutchinson, Myers and Whited are not the only ones concerned about the safety of pre-workout supplements.

One of the most popular pre-workout supplements, Jack3d,  contains a compound, 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), that is under scrutiny after two deaths at a U.S. army training camp.

In April 2012, FDA sent out warning letters to 10 supplement manufacturers who use DMAA in their pre-workout products. All warnings were ignored and the supplements remained available for sale (although supplements containing DMAA are now banned on U.S. army bases).

DMAA is used as a thermogenic (a compound that increases the user’s metabolic rate) and general stimulant. DMAA is becoming popular as a replacement for benzylpiperazine (BZP), a euphoriant, in “party pills.”

Because certain countries, such as Australia, have placed a ban on DMAA, USPLabs has created new versions of both Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, replacing DMAA with higenamine.

Screen shot 2013-03-18 at 10.15.54 AM

This new version of OxyElite Pro is what Wright got from the GNC clerk.

Higenamine, according to, has been tested on lab mice but has not yet been studied in people and may cause cardiac arrhythmia.

“I am outrageously surprised to hear about this,” Wright said. “If I knew about this when the (clerk) gave me the sample, then I wouldn’t have (accepted) it.”

Myers and Whited questioned why Wright was given supplements reserved for use by those over 18.

Wright said that the GNC clerk did not ask any questions regarding his age or any possible disorders or abnormalities.

“As an employee of GNC, they should never be handing out any sample to (teen athletes) without a parent present,” Myers said.

A GNC employee said that, according to her training, she is required to check the customer’s ID to verify that they are 18 years of age or older.

She also said that GNC employees give out samples similar to the items purchased.

And that can mean providing customers with questionable DMAA-containing products.

Skylar Waidhofer, a senior at Vista del Lago High School, said he’s used athletic supplements since his freshman year. Waidhofer rows with Wright on the Capital Crew team.

He began using products such as Jack3d (the  DMAA version) in his sophomore year.

But Waidhofer wasn’t happy with the effects.

“I quickly stopped taking Jack3d because it had a lot of caffeine in it (and when I didn’t take it) it made it to where I just needed more caffeine,” he said.

Waidhofer said he had friends who took more than the recommended dose of Jack3d, which caused their heart rates to increase excessively, requiring hospitalization.

While Waidhofer said that he, too, felt his heart rate increase when he used Jack3d, he never worried that it was at  a dangerous level.

Repeated calls and emails to USPLabs LLC. and PharmaFreak Sciences Inc. regarding the safety of their products were not returned.

Senior Anthony Valdez favors recovery supplements, which are high in glutamine, to reduce soreness and recovery times.

Valdez goes on 30-75 mile bike rides six times a week. He says the supplements make it easier to bike without rest days in between.

Sophomore Claire Pinson, a swimmer, shies away from chemical supplements in favor of a more natural supplement: desiccated (dehydrated) beef liver tablets.

Pinson’s coach recommended the liver, which is supposed to increase the user’s VO2 maximum (the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen).

Pinson said she feels comfortable taking it because her parents did extensive research before giving it to her.

After two weeks on the beef liver, she noticed that it was easier to hold her breath for longer swimming pieces.

Myers supports natural supplements such as desiccated beef liver and believes that GNC makes many high-quality protein products that are safe for use by teens.

But Whited is more conservative.

“I think if you have a healthy balanced diet and you get exercise, then there’s no reason you should try to cheat the system,” she said.

Screen shot 2013-03-18 at 10.18.06 AM


Print Friendly, PDF & Email