Meegan Hefford, a 25-year-old bodybuilder and mother of two, was found unconscious on June 19 n her Mandurah, Western Australia, apartment. She died a few days later, on June 22, she was pronounced dead. Her death is now all but being blamed on protein supplements.
Hefford was preparing for a bodybuilding competition in September. This means lots of not just intense but super-intense training and consuming a diet high in protein, required for muscle growth. And, as with most bodybuilders, she was taking various supplements including protein supplements. She is reported as telling her mother that she was feeling tired and “weird” before her unfortunate death.
Only after her death did her family learn that Hefford had urea cycle disorder, a rare genetic condition that prevented her body from breaking down protein. Note the emphasis on “rare”.
Anyone who has been in the gym for more than a day will tell you that protein supplements are a big part of muscle building. But some quarters are now hinting on the “dangers” of these supplements.
Coroners listed “intake of bodybuilding supplements” as one of the causes of Hefford’s death. What exactly does that mean? If, say, she was taking creatine, is that also a cause for her death? What about glutamine? These are not protein supplements, but they are supplements bodybuilders take.
You see, the assertion that Hefford’s death was caused by consuming bodybuilding supplements is a little generalist. It also appears to emanate from – pardon my saying – a standpoint of ignorance about what constitutes “bodybuilding supplements”.
Some bodybuilders do not use supplements, preferring to get all their protein from food sources. But this does not necessarily mean they get less protein. They just chow down more high-protein foods. And that is the essence of protein supplements, to help us get more protein without living in the kitchen.
Hefford – may she rest in peace – died because of her previously unknown genetic condition. The protein supplements simply contributed to her death. Had her condition been diagnosed earlier, she would still be alive. This would be like someone dying of an allergy they did not know they had.