Muscle fibers tear in the arms of 21 year old Matthew Kalisz. With each set of weights he lifts, more fibers tear. This is how muscles grow. After a workout, the human body repairs damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process to create a new muscle with thicker fibers. This is what people do to achieve their desired body goals. Sometimes the natural process isn’t enough. Many people who work out opt to add supplements to help make the process faster, to make their muscles even bigger. Matthew Kalisz is no stranger to this.
“I started when I was 13 years old,” says Kalisz. “I took a basic protein powder at first.”
Protein powder is the most commonly used supplement for gym goers. According to WebMD.com, protein shakes hold all nine essential amino acids needed for dietary needs. Amino acids help muscles grow and repair muscles faster. Yet, to many gym-goers, the basic supplements are not enough. So some choose to take many different supplements to help make their muscles bigger.
One of the main reasons people take supplements is body image. Surprisingly, these body issues mainly affect men. According to yearofthemale.com, a study of 394 British men showed men are more uncomfortable with their body image than women. The results showed that 80 per cent of men talk negatively about their body compared to 75 per cent of women. At least 60 per cent of the men thought their arms and chest were too small.
To reach the ideal image, many men who go to the gym take quite a lot of supplements.
“For the first two years I was taking whey protein, creatine, glutamine, amino acids, multi vitamins, all that stuff,” says Kalisz. “But I’ve cut down.”
There are various supplements out there that work on specific body image goals. People choose to take what they believe is needed to reach their personal goals. Sometimes, people will take more than the recommended dose to help the process go faster. As they see a difference in their body, they begin to find more supplements to help reach their goals since results have been shown on their body. However, the more supplements, the more possibility of side effects.
In his first two years of working out, Kalisz took a variety of supplements to help achieve his body image goals though he began to realize there wasn’t any point to many of the supplements he was taking. Kalisz found alternate ways to get the nutrients his body needed through a changed diet.
The overuse of supplements can actually be a danger to the human body. According to livescience.com, a study of 193 men showed that 29 per cent were concerned for their health because of the amount of supplements they were taking and 3 per cent where hospitalized because the supplements damaged their kidneys and liver.
Liver and kidney damage is common to those who abuse supplements, the content of these supplements are sometimes too hard on the organs. Nicole Foster, a nurse in the Durham Region, says liver and kidney damage can be very serious.
“I’m sure there could be either acute or chronic effects,” says Foster. “I’m sure that the worse the addiction gets, the more severe the effects would be. “
Both kidney and liver damage have very serious effects on the human body.
“Acute injury on the liver would cause bloodwork abnormalities,” Foster says, citing vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding in the gastrointestinal track as examples. “If it gets worse, all of it could turn into turn into chronic effects, which would be bad.” In the list of chronic effects, Foster includes jaundice, the accumulation of gastrointestinal fluid, as well as the shutting down of the liver. According to Foster, this means needing a new liver. “Or you probably wouldn’t survive,” she says.
The effects for kidneys are just as unpleasant. According to Foster, chronic damage to the kidneys is irreversible. “The individual would need to be dialysis for the rest of their life,” she says.
To increase their size and reach their goals, some gym-goers use steroids. Kalisz says he has never taken steroids but knows what they do.
“It helps you gain muscle in a short period of time,” he says. “But it’s nothing compared to supplements, there are a lot more side effects.”
According to mayoclinic.org, some of the side effects of steroids include: aggressive behavior, severe acne, psychiatric disorders such as depression, drug dependence, high blood pressure, liver abnormalities, and tumours.
Not many people want to talk about taking steroids. Steroids are not discussed in friendly conversation at the gym. However, steroids are there. While they might not be visible, syringe dispensers are. Many gyms such as Goodlife have syringe dispensers in the change rooms of their gyms. It is a way to clean up the change rooms so they are not littered, and to help get rid of the evidence of steroid abuse.
Ryan Shivpaul is personal trainer at FLEX; the Durham College and UOIT gym, where there are no dispensaries. Shivpaul helps people achieve their goals in the gym every day he is there, and he has seen it before.
“It’s definitely more of an underground thing,” he says of steroids. “Seems to be a popular with people just trying to get a quick fix for getting big as fast as possible. A lot of the people don’t consider the draw backs about it when do it, yeah, your muscles are growing.” According to Shivpaul, the human tendons and ligaments don’t grow as fast as muscles do on steroids. Because of this people who are on the drug are likely to get injured quite often.
According to MayoClinic.org, anabolic steroids have two main effects. Steriods increase muscle mass and strength, as well as giving the body a higher dose of testosterone. This can add male traits, such as a deeper voice and hair growth. Steroids can also increase estrogen levels, giving men female features such as breasts. Many athletes who take steroids for performance enhancing purposes take much more than the recommended dosage. This can have major negative effects on the body, as well as their carrier.
Ken Babcock, the athletic director for Durham College, helps student athletes who are trying to achieve their physical goals without using steroids.
Babcock knows steroids are illegal. He says all student athletes fall under Sport Canada’s anti-drug and drug doping policy.
“So the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport has a program that applies to our student athletes as well. All our student athletes have to comply: go through education, go through online education, go through screening and all are subject to testing with their collegiate careers here with penalties, much like penalties to Olympic athletes, they will be penalized, should they break the rules,” Babcock says.
The coaching staff are aware of these rules. If student athletes want to compete in sports, they have to abide by these rules, or risk not being able to play the sport they are passionate about.
Kalisz is also passionate about a sport he does called Muay Thai. He is training to face others in the ring. Kalisz wants to win but he refuses to risk his chances of a victory by taking steroids. Kalisz believes nowadays there is no need to take so many supplements, and certainly not steroids. He says there is more to achieving body image goals as well as keeping in fit shape for sports.
“It’s a supplement, it’s meant to help you,” he says. “However, you shouldn’t have to rely on them. You also need a good diet, you need a steady workout program, a workout program that makes sense.”