Lately, it seems like supplements are coming under attack from all sides. Just this morning, I listened to a video from an “expert” about ab training who made ridiculous comments about how dangerous thermogenics can be. Just after that I see the new consumer reports test on popular protein powders.
Now, let me say I understand that there are a lot of companies out there that do not make quality products. I do think there should be better quality control and testing to insure what is on the label is in the product. I do not, however, want to see complete FDA control because if that were to happen, your choices would be so severely limited it wouldn't be worth it. The FDA has tried many times over the years to shut down the industry. One big reason is that the industry pulls money away from the big drug companies and hence, doctors.
Politics. Just recently, McCain wanted to pass a bill that would have you only going to your doctor for only those supplements the FDA allowed. Here's another scary thing about the viewpoint of government regarding supplements: many members of Congress believe creatine is a steroid. Sadly, many, many members of the public think the same. Creatine is a steroid? Think about that for a moment – steroids are illegal, yet supposedly you can walk into any mall, find one of the chain stores and buy some! Even Walmart sells creatine! Now is that ignorant, or what?
What bothers me even more is when experts in the fitness/bodybuilding community bad mouth supplements, or when you read on some forum about how this or that member thinks they are”stupid”. Why does this bother me? It's one thing to make an educated choice to rely on whole food – and here's the thing, I do think most of your meals should be from whole food. But to deny the convenience and aid you can get from supplements doesn't make any sense because many times, people are not making an educated choice, they are reacting to the media horror stories or simply reacting to the way the products come across and seeing advertising hype instead of the potential benefits.
My attitude has always been – make your opinion known but is it educated? If you are going to use your fame to broadcast how terrible supplements are, or just simply badmouth them in general – what are you basing that on, have you done your research? I can tell, the “ab guy” did not. From consumer reports, I can gather that their test reinforces what I've always known – you want to buy from the best brands.
Optimum tested out pretty good, they have always been a top brand. You have to understand what you are buying – what can you find about the product? What about customer feedback? Some product categories, such as thermogenics, have sound science behind them – have you read the research that backs them up? I have and I have believed in them ever since. Are they safe? As long as they are taken as directed, yes. That's the thing, historically any problems have stemmed from user abuse, not the actual products.
The thing is, supplements provide a great service to anyone concerned about their health. Here's an example – I work in a fast paced retail environment, often alone. I don't get lunch. I can't sit down to a whole food meal, which does require time to make and eat. I can, however, get in a quick shake or two. In fact, they are lifesavers. Your body does not care where your protein comes from – food or powder, as long as it gets what it needs.
There are critical times of the day when a whole food meal just does not work – such as after the workout, or even during the workout. People miss the importance of the post-workout shake, and the potential of an intra-workout drink. Here, it's the speed of digestion that matters, and whole food just takes longer, that's the way it is. Now, don't get me wrong, when I can choose whole food sources, I will and as I said, your diet should be based on them. But convenience is convenience.
Additionally, many supplements serve a benefit you just can't get from food. Creatine is a prime example. It does occur naturally in meat and in our bodies but the benefit comes from “supplementing” extra to our diet. It's results can't be argued with. Here's another thing – many products are trying to keep athletes away from steroids ( the real ones). The choice is yours but this is a noble cause. If you can get results you are happy with you may not use steroids.
Yet, this point is missed by most people. For most of us, anything we can do to gain even a slight advantage in our quest to build muscle, we will do and for those that are natural, that slight edge may be enough to keep us that way. I, for one, am not going to dismiss an area that can, in many cases, give me a big advantage. As long as I do my research, I will use supplements. You see, I'm making an educated choice to do so and that's the only thing I'm relying on.
Given all of that, what products do I usually suggest? Protein is, first and foremost the single most important macro-nutrient you can take. Make sure your whole food choices are low in fat, such as lean meats, low fat dairy and so on. Choose only quality brands when picking out your protein. As I've said many times and is generally suggested by all modern bodybuilding authorities, take in 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of body-weight divided up over 6 meals.
Next, I would suggest a good, natural multivitamin/mineral. I like the packs because there is no compromise in potency as in the case of 1 or 2 tablet per day product. This is insurance. Unless you analyze everything you eat for every known nutrient level you cannot get all the vitamins/minerals you need from your food. Never mind the RDA's or newer Daily Values, they are not designed with athletes in mind, they are meant to keep you borderline healthy. The amounts advised are just barely enough to keep you from avoiding various deficiency-related diseases. As a hard training athlete, don't gamble with your health, take a good multi.
Next, I would go with creatine. It's time tested and time proven. You have a lot of choices nowadays, most newer products require less total creatine, no sugar for absorption and no loading. If you are among the few that suffered from bloating from using monohydrate, the newer versions solve that problem. Now, creatine does two main things: it's involved in the ATP process of cellular energy and it acts as a cell volumizer. This is tied into sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and is one of three ways we build muscle size. What is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy? This means you are increasing the volume of the sarcoplasm, the jelly-like substance that surrounds and baths the myofibrils in your muscle cells with nutrients such as water, amino acids, creatine and glycogen.
There are several current theories of muscle growth, this is one of the more popular theories and explains why cell volumization is a very big thing today. With this concept you are causing the muscles to pump and swell causing the fibers to stretch beyond normal. In theory, to make a long story short, this translates into new muscle growth but there is still some question as to whether or not you'll see any meaningful strength increases.
From here, I personally have always liked nitric oxide and always get great results from stacking this with creatine. This product, based on l-arginine (an amino acid) was actually brought to market by the same individual that brought creatine to market. It works in a similar manner, enhancing blood flow to the muscles and tied into, again, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Next, I would use a good joint product, it's never to soon to take care of those joints!
Many people use some type of healthy fat (Omega 3) product, I would do this only if you do not like fish, as most of these products are derived from fish or if your daily fat intake falls dramatically below the usually suggested 20% of total calories.
Pre-workout – this is great for pre-workout energy as long as you don't mind the caffeine. I do because I work out later. I, instead, will use Gatorade with creatine and nitric oxide. When I can, I'll add a BCAA powder to this. I drink this during, by the way, not before. After I'm done, I''ll make up a blender drink of protein and simple carbs. You can buy specific intra-workout products but I want specific things in mine which I don't always see in the pre made versions. To me, this intra-workout concept is huge. If I can keep the nutrients I need and would normally use up during the workout in my system, then I've taken a big step as far as staying in an anabolic state despite the fact that training is a catabolic event.
Thermogenics – as part of a fat loss program they can make a difference. The simply speed the metabolism allowing you to burn more calories. If you have a problem with caffeine, don't take them. But to disagree with Ab Guy, they won't “kill” anybody. You do, however, have to use good common sense and take them as directed. I always tell people to just start out with one once a day and see how you react, adjusting your dosage from there. This list is by no means all-inclusive and there are many product types I did not talk about but these are the basics that most people would start with.
So, despite the constant media barrage on our right to use supplements, we do have some great products and exciting new developments out there – don't be fooled into believing the media hype attacking this industry.