Did you know that you could take a pill that could make you lose 25 pounds of fat in a week without diet or exercise? Did you know that you could take a pill that could increase your bench press 50 pounds in a day? Did you know that as long as I classify my product as a supplement I can say pretty much whatever I want about it and as long as it doesn’t kill people the FDA can’t do anything about it? It’s true. Pretty much anyone with a a knowledge of Photoshop can make a good looking ad and a good looking package, fill a capsule with something and sell it as “Fat-Buster 3000”, the fat-burning furnace pill!
Below is a scene from the excellent movie Bigger, Stronger, Faster. In it the narrator literally picks up some guys from the street and starts making supplements.
Obviously, you need to watch out what you buy and take. I have a few rules I like to live by in regards to supplements:
1. If you take something and you notice a huge monumental, unbelievable, night-and-day difference right away, stop taking it! The body is not meant to work like that. Even the best supplements should only work in a slight, gradual fashion. The reason we have to fight and work so hard in the gym to change our health or physique is because the body is an incredibly efficient machine. Our body only works as hard as it has to. This allows it to hold onto fuel longer, which enables it to survive longer in the wilderness. This goes back to the very beginning of man’s existence. If you take something and it has a night-and-day kind of effect, it’s probably damaging you in some way that you don’t know about or it’s anabolic steroids. Just ask the people who took Fen-Phen about this.
2. A supplement is just what the name says it is: a supplement. That is, something in addition to your normal diet to help you a little bit. A supplement should not be the main focus of what you are doing. If it is, you are probably lacking in some area and you should figure out what it is.
All that being said there are a few supplements that I take that I think help me. They may or may not help you, but I have done my research and my own personal trial and error and this is what I think.
1. Protein Powder. As active inviduals, we should aim to take in about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This can be a little difficult if you are relying on whole foods to get all of it. For example, I weight about 182 lbs. I would need to take in almost two pounds of chicken a day to hit that. That’s certainly possible, but a little difficult. Protein powder allows you to ingest a quick 30 or 40 grams very easily, and carrying a little bottle of protein powder is easier than lugging around some chicken and a microwave. I still try to get most of my protein from whole foods, but the convenience of the powder is very helpful.
2. Fish Oil. Many nutrition experts don’t even consider this a supplement. They consider it an essential part of anyone’s diet. Fish oil helps with fat metabolism, brain function, heart health and joint health and probably a numebr of other things. When was the last time you saw a fish with bad knees?
3. Creatine. Creatine is probably the most researched and talked about supplement ever. There has been some controversy, but it’s mostly been a bunch of hooey. The bottom line is, it works. Our muscles use a chemical called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) to contract when we are working at high intensity. The body runs out of ATP very quickly, usually within about 10 seconds or so. Creatine is the chemical that helps form ATP. We get some of it in various foods, but taking it as a supplement has been shown to help when working in explosive high-intensity, low-rep situations. In other words, if you are an endurance runner this won’t help much. If you are a sprinter it could be a boost. Creatine can help also help pull water into muscles which can help appearance a bit. The flip side of that, is that when you start on it, it gets rid of water everywhere else which means you do have to hit the can a bit for a few days. In short, use it if you are doing low-rep (6-8 reps and below) work. Much more than that and it probably doesn’t have that much of an effect.
4. Glutamine. About four or five years ago Glutamine was the big thing. A few studies came out that showed that it helped recovery and helped stave off catabolism. Since then, it appears that it has faded in popularity and reputation a bit. Some more recent studies have shown that it doesn’t really have much of an effect on recovery. I have taken Glutamine for quite a few years. Several months ago, after reading about a few of these newer studies, I decided that I’d see how I did off of it. I absolutely noticed a difference in my recovery. I had a lot more soreness and for a longer period. I got back on it and felt fine. A few months after that I again decided to drop it to see if the first time was just a bit of a fluke. I felt the same difference in my recovery. I got back on it and don’t plan on dropping it any time soon. Studies can say what they want, but I know how I feel and it works for me.
Anyway, this is what works for me and what I have found. In the past I have also tried BCAA powder, HMB, Ultimate Orange, Hydroxycut, Ma Huang and probably a few other things I can’t remember. None of it really did anything for me. I have heard good things about BCAAs, but the recommended dosage is very high and very expensive. The amount I took didn’t really do anything.
In short, supplements are really just an aid. Sure, they help, but in a minor way. The real work has to come from your workouts and your diet. There’s no way around that. Heck, even steroids don’t do anything for you if you don’t work hard in the gym. The next time you see one of those ads on TV or in a magazine, just remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Mitchell Rothbardt www.mitchrothbardttraining.com (coming soon)