Breaking Through The Hype
It always amazes me when a personal training client wants to discuss supplements right off the bat. They sit there and ask me how good something is at “burning fat“, or “how big” a product will get them, or “how strong” something will make them, or (my personal favorite) “does this stuff work?” Many times, before there is any mention of food, people are inclined to review their supplement regimen. "This is what I take," they state with confidence. I then ask the obvious question, "What is it that you're trying to achieve?" More than any other answer, I inevitably get "Burn fat" or “Get ripped.”
When they open up the dialogue, it is apparent that they are frustrated. After all, one product was supposed to melt fat away while they slept. Another was going to cause their metabolism to boost all by itself and make them lean and toned. Yet another is marketed so a consumer believes they don‘t have to work out - just take the pills. The next step for me is a simple question, "If any of these "worked," would you be here talking to me?" It takes about a minute for the logic to set in. The enlightening that is ignited in such cases still astounds me.
Rules to Supplement By
Whether it be a personal trainer or a personal training client, they have encountered or have been the one that is asking if this supplement is the "one that works." Get this straight right now - - supplements cannot be a solution. But, it is not your fault if you think they would be. With the multitude of supplement solutions showing up everywhere (from retail stores to convenience marts) and the marketing and advertising for these products infiltrating TV, radio, and magazines it's no wonder confusion abounds.
Let's be honest. NO supplement burns fat!
Before you get your underwear in a bunch and strike back at me how much “supplement A” helped you shed some pounds, let’s look at that statement again. I didn't say there aren't supplements that can play a role in the fat burning process. I said NO supplement burns fat, and I'll stand behind that statement until fat melts off my clients bodies while they eat all the pizza and cookies they want and show up for their sessions with that ripped, lean look. That’s what the ads promise, isn’t it?
I couldn‘t possible answer all questions to all supplements in a single article. What we are going to do is give you a foundation of knowledge which can help you see through much of the supplement hype and deception and, in turn, make smart, logical purchases of supplements that will augment proper training and nutrition.
Rule #1 - A supplement, by definition, means "in addition to." In addition to what? As already stated, the addition to training and eating.
Rule #2 - Do not BUY into ads or marketing with blind faith.
Now I am not saying all ads are a complete hoax. Nor am I saying that all supplement companies are complete frauds. But I can say that supplements and their companies are a “dime a dozen” but quality products and companies are “one in a million.“ While some offer insight into legitimate science and sell their products based on true product value, most confuse consumers with scientific double talk and lead people to believe that some there is some new miracle product that has opened the door for unbelievable results.
Read the ads and do the best you can to filter the information so you can feel empowered to make wiser choices. With hype pushed aside, there are some incredible supplements that can aid you immensely. Let's take a look at some of the "hottest" products and examine their potential benefits:
Ecdysterone - This supplement gained popularity a couple of years back, but due to the “hype” and not any real world success, it has pretty much fizzled out. Ecdysterone is plant sterol. Plant sterols are natural evolutionary substances manufactured within plants that provide nutrients primarily to insects and some small animals. Sterols were promoted heavily in the 80s' but quickly fell by the wayside simply because they didn't work (I think people got excited because the word “sterol“ sounded very similar to “steroid.” They didn't work then and they still don’t. To date there is no valid research indicating that 20 Beta-Hydroxyecdysterone (Ecdysterone) provides any legitimate anabolic (muscle building) effect in humans. Absolutely no published research. What little research there is on this compound is devoted to insects and maturing or disease inflicted rats. Last time I checked, my clients (nor am I) either of those. Just about all of these studies were performed in Russia and were crudely designed and the methods used for data collection and control were poor at best. The rat studies also used dosages that are equivalent to about 500 milligram dose for an average human. That would have been the equivalent of 12 to 15 capsules daily of the products that were put on the market. (I am utilizing this as an example of one of the many hyped-up supplements that are brought to the bodybuilding/fitness market. I would rank Methoxyisoflavone in this category as well as Myostatin Blockers and many, many others. Promoting them as an anabolic supplement for human use void of any legitimate research is a disgrace that no legitimate company would promote).
Fat Blockers – Chitosan, much like the drug Xenical, boasts the promise of blocking the absorption of fat. When you put chitosan, a substance extracted from shellfish, in the digestive tract it attracts fat molecules and creates such a large “ball of fat”, they can't be absorbed. Whenever you block absorption of fat, there are some possible discomforts and risks. First, the essential vitamins, A, D, E and K are fat soluble vitamins. If you are limiting fat absorption, you can not help but restrict absorption of these essential micronutrients. These vitamins play a role in metabolism, immune function and overall health. Aside from blocking absorption of essential vitamins, the side effects of keeping fat in the digestive tract include oily spotting, anal leakage, intestinal cramping, gas with discharge, nausea, diarrhea, fecal urgency, loose and oily stools as well as fecal incontinence. Sounds good, right? The worst part of the fat blocker marketing is the promotion that one can eat all the fat they want if they just take the pill.
Thermogenics - Thermogenic means "initiating heat." Since a calorie is a unit of heat, any product or activity that can increase heat production, even moderately, can result in greater caloric expenditure over time. The thermogenic products most popular among bodybuilding and weight-loss markets are herbal combinations of the caffeine, ephedrine, and aspirin. Caffeine and ephedrine are both stimulants, as well as addictive and together they suppress appetite. Caffeine also has a slight diuretic effect. If I was to elevate your heart rate, suppressed your appetite so you ate less, and urged you to become addicted to stimulant products with water loss properties, do you think you would looses weight? Of course! Does that mean it's healthy to do so? No! Does that mean that there's a long-term benefit to metabolism? Nope! Does that mean "fat melts?" Not a chance! Can these thermogenics play a role in facilitating greater fat loss if used sparingly as "the addition to" a carefully designed exercise program? Yes. Much of the recent research done is on the thermogenic qualities of Green Tea Extract. Researchers are now able to evidence the weight loss benefits of green tea extract in clinical trials. The challenge here is moderate the consumer who tends to think if one dosage is good, double is better. One then runs the risk of addiction and side effects. The side effects of overuse or abuse by individuals with risk factors can range from headaches and tremors to, in extreme cases, stroke and death. I am not trying to discourage you from recognizing the potential value of these products, but rather help you understand they are not "fat-burning miracles" as the advertising may lead you to believe. As misinformation in this area abounds, you might consider the importance we need to place upon education. Remember, NO supplement burns fat!
Protein Powders - After years of debate, it appears clear that exercising individuals, especially those involved in resistance training, have greater protein demands than the recommended daily allowance of the sedentary individual. Being that protein in itself is a nutrient, not a supplement, many of you cannot comfortably get enough protein from meals. This is when a protein supplement becomes a must. Before you jump on the whey hydrolysate bandwagon, understand the ads sometimes hype products based on laboratory jargon that has little relevance to actual human results. An affordable protein supplement will in all likelihood provide you with equal or superior benefit to many of the “cutting-edge” formulas for far less money. MRPs (meal replacement powders) - This is the one supplement that I would say changed the supplement industry. When a supportive meal is not available, a meal replacement is vital. You have to become a bit of a label-reading detective to tell the differences between the formulas, and even with careful label inspection it's hard to tell what's inside. If you find quality proteins, maltodextrin as a carbohydrate source and a complete mix of vitamins and minerals, you're doing okay. Be on the lookout for ingredient lists that include barley malt, corn syrup, fructose, etc. These are all simple sugars. They should not sacrifice taste by eliminating sugar. They’ve developed great tasting powders using acesulfame K, stevia, sucralose and other sweeteners. Also watch ingredient labels for hydrogenated oils added. The best selling commercial brands are all quite similar. Using the few guidelines offered here, you should be able to make a wise choice in selecting a meal replacement formula that makes getting that supportive nutrition much more convenient any time or any place.
Nitric Oxide Supplements - Supplements that reportedly increase nitric oxide levels within the body are currently being marketed as powerful muscle builders. The marketers of these supplements claim they increase nitric oxide levels within muscle tissue and a dramatic increase in muscle size, strength is experienced. Other claims also include an increase in fast-twitch muscle fiber strength, endurance, power output, and load capacity from taking these supplements. Although nitric oxide acts as a cell-to-cell communicator for certain metabolic functions, muscle growth is not one of them. After a review of the available literature I cannot find any research that remotely indicates increasing nitric oxide levels plays a part in increasing protein synthesis, contractile strength or any other biochemical pathway that may lead to increases in muscle mass. There also appears to be no evidence whatsoever that shows increasing nitric oxide levels enhances endurance, power output, and load capacity.
Creatine - Next to meal replacements, creatine monohydrate may be the single greatest performance enhancing supplement ever. At the time of it’s infiltration into the supplement world, the industry was on a decline. It’s the only supplement I've ever wholeheartedly endorsed as an aid for muscle gain, strength and performance. Creatine monohydrate results in attracting more water into every muscle cell, as well as increasing phosphocreatine supply in muscle, and has endless research to prove so. Other forms of creatine are often sold more with hype than substantiated value. If you are seeking the benefits of creatine monohydrate, you’re safe sticking to creatine monohydrate powder. While research has further shown a potential added benefit of ingesting five milligrams of creatine with 35 to 75 grams of sugar, many product manufacturers have increased their profit margins by creating “creatine delivery” formulas, which allow them to charge you lots of money for inexpensive sugar.
Recovery - the post exercise state offers a unique opportunity to refill glycogen stores. There is substantial evidence to suggest a muscle building and recuperative advantage to consuming a post-workout mix of glucose and fructose within 30 minutes following exercise. The newest formulas are enhanced with predigested proteins for quick absorption, extra branched chain amino acids, and complete vitamin/mineral profiles. These formulas can definitely act as aids in furthering workout intensity and benefit. Multi-Vitamin/Multi-Minerals - There are some age-old vitamin and mineral supplements that have great benefits. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, essential in the picture of optimal health. Without essential micro nutrition, you limit your potential for results. Since exercise increases bodily demand for all nutrients, there are some supplements that can be protective and can act as insurance to make sure micro nutrition needs are met. I personally use 1000-3000 milligrams of supplemental Vitamin C, 400-800 iu of Vitamin E, and a multi-vitamin/multi-mineral formula. I’ve always shared the potential benefits of these nutrients with my personal training clients and allowed them to make their own decisions. Most of my clients take a C, E, multi-vitamin/multi-mineral with breakfast and dinner. I urge you to do the same, but don’t expect miracles. Understand that building a lean, toned, healthy body has far more to do with a foundation of exercise and proper nutrition (macro and micro). Essential Fatty Acids - A recent review of the data on essential fatty acids shows science has moved from speculation about their importance to solid evidence that, they are not only essential to optimal health, but they also provide direct protection against many diseases as well as cardiovascular health, support healthy vision, and brain and joint function. Docosahexaenoic (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid are the two "backbones" from which all other essential fatty acids can by made. They form vital components within the phospholipid membrane of every cell in the body. Their presence within the cell membrane are key factors in the modulation of cell function. All cells need oxygen and other nutrients. Essential fatty acids within the membrane structure allow for effective transport of oxygen and nutrients into cells as well as waste products out of cells. Fatty acid supplementation is shown to favorably affect arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, the most.
Let’s Wrap It Up
Maintain a consistent focus on what you know to be effective (Meal Replacement Powders, Protein Powders, Vitamin and Mineral Supplements, Essential Fatty Acids, Workout Recover Formulas, etc.) and maintain an ongoing commitment to learn, question and protect yourself from what may be unproven, over-hyped and in some cases, dangerous. Exercise and proper nutrition offer a sound foundation for any health and fitness program. While proven supplements can be combined with a complete program of exercise and nutrition with safety and value, there is not and probably never will be that “magic bullet” supplement that replaces the foundation that you have been taught (if you have followed any of my articles) to uphold and build your health and fitness program upon.