Protein powders, pre-workouts, and testosterone supplements have something in common – they may be affecting more than your workouts. A surprising amount of research is drawing a link between these kinds of sports supplements and male fertility – and it’s raising some eyebrows. For men hoping to become fathers, here’s what to understand about the impact of sports supplements on male fertility.
- Sports supplements, including pre-workout mixes, whey, and other protein supplements, can increase protein intake and enhance workouts, but research is drawing mixed conclusions about their effect on male fertility.
- Sports supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, which means the consumer needs to proceed with care.
- Some sports supplements have been found to contain harmful ingredients, including anabolic steroids, which are detrimental to sperm quality.
- Until more research offers conclusive evidence, a conservative approach is likely best – and that means getting protein from safe sources and skipping pre-workout mixes.
Men and women alike may rely on a daily protein shake, especially after a workout, to support muscle growth and recovery. But while the research is clear on the role of whey protein in particular for these benefits, findings are a mixed bag when the focus is whey protein and male fertility. We know that nutrition plays a significant role in fertility – that’s where Beli Vitality for Men comes in – and studies do confirm that high-protein foods can support testosterone levels, which may support and promote fertility. There are also studies (this one with mice and this study with the small sample size) that find whey protein doesn’t significantly impair sperm quality and may even improve sperm motility. We also know that adding protein in general to your morning meal is beneficial for stabilizing blood sugar, which can help improve fertility.
But it’s not just whey and protein powders. Pre-workout supplements, which are designed to jumpstart the body in preparation for training, may also pose a risk for male fertility. That’s because they’re generally loaded with sugar, caffeine, and other energy-boosters, coming in at excess amounts that can trigger side effects like tremors, anxiety, even insomnia and high blood pressure. That’s not ideal for men hoping to become fathers, and it gets worse.
Caffeine can negatively affect both sperm count and testicular function, with one study finding it comparable to the effects of stress. While a few cups of coffee aren’t going to be an issue, adding pre-workouts to an otherwise caffeinated diet, in the form of coffee, chocolate, or soda, can be detrimental.
Excess sugar, meanwhile, can be downright toxic to sperm. One study found that just one sugar-sweetened drink a day can decrease sperm count by up to 20%, because of how sugar interferes with chemical signaling in the sperm and a man’s reproductive organs. Another study points to sugar-sweetened beverages and a decline in sperm motility.
Unregulated – and Risky
But here’s where things get tricky. Like prenatal vitamins, sports supplements aren’t all the same. Scan the label on that big ol’ container of protein powder, for example, and you’ll probably be mystified about what’s actually in there. That means you’re taking a big risk every time you slam that protein shake. As a dietary supplement, protein and pre-workout powders aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. If something goes terribly wrong after one of these supplements comes to market, that’s when the FDA will step in. But in the meantime, it’s up to the consumer to choose wisely. Look for supplements with third-party testing – that’s the best way to be sure that you’re getting what the manufacturer says you’re getting.
And it’s a necessary step, considering that in 2015, a study found that 23 out of 24 protein and dietary supplements sold in fitness shops contained anabolic steroids. Shocking, right? Who knew?! No one should be inadvertently ingesting steroids, which have a laundry list of side effects, but for men planning on becoming fathers, this scenario is particularly problematic. These natural or synthetic forms of testosterone can mess with male fertility for years by negatively affecting sperm production and overall sperm quality. In one study of men who knowingly used steroids, just 18% of participants had “normal” sperm.
So… Skip the Sports Supplements?
Experts have really great advice for couples who are hoping to become parents. Women and men alike are advised to clean up their lifestyle by improving nutrition, getting regular exercise, prioritizing sleep, and managing stress. Both partners are also advised to begin taking a daily prenatal vitamin at least six months before they hope to conceive. And to play it safe, knocking off the protein supplements in favor of safer protein choices and skipping the pre-workout mix is probably a good idea.
It all comes down to the ingredients in those supplements. There’s the protein source itself (yes, usually whey), but there are also all kinds of added sugars, energy-boosters, and sweeteners designed to make these powders palatable, with a noticeable effect. Remember, nutrition has a huge influence on fertility, and both sugar and caffeine can be damaging to specific sperm parameters.
Here’s the good news – no one actually needs protein powder to lose weight or gain muscle, nor are pre-workout mixes going to make or break your workout. Both serve as convenient shortcuts, but they’re doing you no favors if you’re trying to get in shape to become a dad. Here’s what to work into your diet instead:
- Lean meats, like poultry and fish
- Dairy options, like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt
Round out your protein sources with lots of colorful veggies and some healthy fats, avoid the processed junk, and fill in the inevitable nutrition gaps with a high-quality men’s prenatal vitamin. That way, you’re avoiding any potentially suspicious – or downright damaging – undisclosed ingredients in that sports supplement and still getting the nutrients you need for the healthiest sperm.