Deer Antler Velvet: Fitness Hack or Hoax?
In 2013, legendary Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was under pressure to recover from a torn triceps. Traditional rehab protocol would’ve included rest, ice, and rubbing some dirt on it.
Instead, he sprayed deer antler velvet under his tongue. You read that right.
Deer antler velvet is an alternative supplement that some athletes believe will improve their performance and recover from injuries. However, the current research tells a different story.
In this article, we’ll give you all the details about deer antler spray, including the benefits, risks, and side effects.
What Is Deer Antler Velvet?
Deer antler velvet is a nutritional supplement made from the soft, hair-like material that protects newly-grown antlers on red deer or elk.
Deer antlers are one of the fastest-growing body parts of any animal. In fact, they regrow every year. That’s because deer antler velvet contains insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a naturally-occurring growth hormone that promotes bone and tissue growth.
Deer antler velvet also contains amino acids—the building blocks of muscle—and other nutrients. This is why some people in the bodybuilding community believe deer antler extract can help them build muscle, recover faster, and age slower.
How are Deer Antler Supplements Made?
To make deer antler velvet supplements, the antlers are surgically removed from the animal. Afterward, the velvet gets removed, dried, ground into a powder, and put into capsules. It can also be made into a spray or liquid that you put under your tongue for faster absorption.
Deer antler velvet has allegedly been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 2,000 years to treat everything from toothaches to infertility. However, it’s recently gained popularity among athletes to get an edge over their competitors.
Like most dietary supplements, deer antler spray is not regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Does Deer Antler Velvet Improve Athletic Performance?
Spoiler alert: there’s not much scientific evidence to suggest that deer antler supplements will boost your strength or endurance.
Most of the hype about deer antler supplements is based on a 2003 double-blind study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. The researchers took 38 active men and gave them either deer antler velvet extract or a placebo.
After 10 weeks, both groups improved their strength, but the deer antler users had stronger quadriceps muscles. There were no significant differences in their testosterone levels or cardio endurance.
To date, no other recent studies have replicated these results. The researchers even admitted that more studies are necessary to confirm their findings weren’t a fluke.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a realistic way to make gains, stick with protein powder and a weight lifting regimen.
Deer Antler Velvet vs. Steroids
Despite what you may have heard from your bros at the gym or on Reddit, deer antler velvet isn’t a “natural” steroid.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, the main sex hormone in men. That’s entirely different from deer antler velvet, which is just powdered animal parts.
Unlike anabolic steroids, deer antler velvet is legal to purchase over-the-counter and doesn’t require supervision from a healthcare professional.
Deer antler velvet does contain low concentrations of IGF-1, which is a banned performance-enhancing substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list. However, deer antler velvet itself was dropped from that same list in 2013.
The dude who supplied Ray Lewis with deer antler spray was a former steroid dealer, so it wasn’t exactly good PR for companies who manufactured the product—or the athletes who used it.
What are the Health Benefits of Deer Antler Velvet Extract?
Deer antler velvet contains proteins, amino acids, and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s reasonable to believe these compounds can have a positive impact on your health, but there simply isn’t enough evidence to make any guarantees.
That said, here are some (alleged) benefits of using deer antler velvet:
- Bone, cartilage, and tissue repair
- Increased strength and endurance
- Decreased fatigue
- Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis treatment
- Hair growth
- Improved sexual function
- Stronger immune system
That might all sound great, especially when you can get a bottle of deer antler velvet capsules for $30 at your local supplement store. But what are the risks?
What are the Side Effects of Deer Antler Velvet Supplements?
Some negative side effects associated with the use of deer antler velvet include low blood sugar, headache, swelling, and joint pain, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, there hasn’t been sufficient testing to ensure it’s 100% safe.
If you’re dead-set on using deer antler velvet, you should seek medical advice before you buy it, just to make sure there aren’t any red flags.
Like most “performance-enhancing” supplements, deer antler velvet isn’t a hack for six-pack abs, but it’s probably not a total scam either. If you’re trying to hit more dingers in your company softball league, this stuff probably won’t do much.
Then again, if it’s good enough for Ray Lewis, it could be good enough for you too.