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Staying supplement safe

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Remaining fit to fight at all times is an integral part of being an Airman, but taking shortcuts may adversely affect one’s career


Supplemental medicine is sometimes used by service members to provide the body a boost of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and a number of other drugs to accelerate their progress when preparing for physical training tests. However, using these enhancers can have adverse effects on test results and overall health.


“Supplements can contain unknown ingredients and they are not regulated by any federal agency,” said Elizabeth Derks, 20th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Health Promotion registered dietitian. “These ingredients can interfere with other medications or cause a multitude of side effects that range from abnormal heartbeat, tremors, stomach pains, dizziness and numbness to severe heart attacks, strokes, heat injury, liver failure, kidney failure and death. Ultimately the use of supplements, especially dangerous ones, can compromise the readiness and health of our Airmen.”


The most commonly used supplements across the Department of Defense are performance enhancers, protein powders and energy drinks.


According to a Department of Defense Operation Supplement Safety publication, some of the enhancers common in pre-workout supplements can raise heart rates and blood pressure to dangerous levels and may include ingredients that are prohibited for use by service members.


Performance-enhancers vary widely in ingredients and sometimes contain hidden ingredients, such as prescription drugs or steroids that may affect drug tests and should not be used without first consulting a healthcare provider.


Some protein powders are acceptable when high-quality foods are unavailable. However, some contain protein from hemp and other ingredients banned for service members, which will cause drug tests to give positive results.  


Energy drinks usually contain caffeine and other stimulants which should not be used as a sports drink or mixed with alcohol. Additionally, these stimulants should be avoided at least six hours before bed to avoid restlessness.


Some prohibited ingredients include but are not limited to: cannabinoids, amphetamines and other mood-altering substances.


As someone who uses dietary additives to support a nutrition plan, Staff Sgt. Carlos Wooten, 20th Fighter Wing chaplain assistant and a supplement user, takes advantage of these enhancers only when natural nutrient sources are not available.


“Having a busy schedule, I may drink a protein shake,” said Wooten. “Some days I won’t have the time to sit and eat a protein-rich meal like chicken and steak.”


For additional information on safe supplements, visit or contact Health Promotion at 803-895-1216.