Monday, December 7, 2009

Supplement Curmudgeon: Does that DO anything for you?

I've recently come to the conclusion that i think i've become a training supplement curmudgeon. Anytime i see someone on an associated forum asking about where they can get a good brand of glutamine or even bcaa's but especially anything nitric oxidyish, i find my eyeballs rolling.

What do we know about longitudinal responses to stuff that shows these refined fractions do anything marvelous? As far as i know the assessment of glutamine from 2002 that unless you're training at altitude, or have GI distress from malto/dextro carbs, it's a good thing to use, has only been reaffirmed (see overview 2007). And yet it keeps showing up in formulas of stuff.

Likewise there are legions of studies to show that BCAA's are wonderful, but when compared with plain old Whey, whey rules. It also seems that if there were any remaining doubt about creatine monohydrate vs creatine ethyl esther, this year's research has raised sufficient questions about CEE to say CM is once again affirmed as the winner. Again.

And as for nitric oxide supplements, i'm willing to own that i may be wrong, but the resaerch has only shown that without it, protein synthesis does not occur - if NO is chemically surpressed. Having more of it present doesn't - again as far as i can tell from extant research - increase protein synthesis. There are other ways to get a pump - though it's not clear getting a pump aids protein synthesis either.

Supplements That Support What we Want to Do: Work.
As far as i can tell, the supplements that seem to have the best value are those that support energy production, and then support protein synthesis. So, we seem to know that after 20 years of research, creatine monohydrate is good for grinding out a few more quality intense reps. Nice.

We also seem to see promise in Beta Alanine for energy production and some recent studies have looked at *perceived* fatigue reduction in athletic contexts like football games. Rather surprising, but interesting. Worth looking at.

After this, the most research seems to be around getting some carbs and proteins into a person after a workout (carbs are needed for protein synthesis if muscle building of any kind is the aim). But even here, nutrient timing is not established unequivocably, but the nutrient requirements are. And here, it seems things closer to a food - like whey vs bcaa's - may have better effect.

These are the basics. Now, there's all sorts of stuff out there to give one's workouts a boost - to get charged up to go GRRR. But again, as far as i can tell, the two main ingredients in such combinations usually come down to caffeine and/or l-tyrosine (sometimes taurine). Tyrosine i do like once in awhile in lieu of caffeine. But what is the point of this? Why does one need/want to get caffenated to work hard? As work earlier this year showed, one actually gets substantial performance benefits from surprisingly small amounts of caffeine (not coffee. alas, there's a difference).

Reality Check
About two years ago, determined to explore the range of possible ways to get my teeth into my workouts, i ordered as many ingredients as i could see listed on most t-nation type products like power drive, surge, or products like Xtreme ICE etc. I chatted with folks at precision nutrition's forum about various CNS stacks like this one by john berardi for competition/heavy training schedules.

80mg caffeine
--CNS stimulation

300mg of green tea extract
--CNS stimulation

3g Tyrosine - (OR 1.5g N-acetyl-L-Tyrosine)
--Epi and Norepi precursor formation (but precursors must form neurotransmitters and these neurotransmitters must be released - the green tea and caffeine assist in NT release)

1g of Lecithin (or Choline) - (OR 100-200mg DMAE)
--AcH precursor formation (but, same as above, these precursors must be released)

15mg Policosanol
--Increases AcH release, decreases AcH breakdown in NM junction, and increases AcH binding affinity (all leading to decreased reaction time)

*10mg Vitamin B6*
--Potentiates the effects of the other ingredients

Yes i gave these a go. I honestly don't know if they did much for my workouts. I think the tyrosine is a great perker upper and focuser, sometimes surreally so -but - and this is the really deep part - how often do i work out when i actually need to be more in the zone of my workout? like i won't complete it without that? Or, should i not do so (hasn't happened in ages), it would make a difference in the not even grand but rather immediate scheme of things?

My workouts are generally pretty pre-planned: eg today is medium day of RTK; tomorrow will be VWC. A good sleep will enable each better than anything else, i'm finding, more than priming with coffee, taurine or anything else. What am i missing? Am i missing something?

Going Clear: personal realities
About a week ago i gave away a shed load of supplements from DMEA, chocomine, and related cns stack ingredients listed above, and even including a bag of maltodextrin. The latter was because i knew it was produced from corn in the US that is GMO'd sourced, and since seeing Food Inc, i do not want to go there. But more on that anon.

It was shortly after this, i saw word of a new product from t-nation called Anaconda.

"The only question is, are you that serious?" the ad asks. - Where one is already Huge and into working out three times a day. No. i guess i'm not that serious, if that's what serious means.

And that's sorta what my supplement curmudgeonliness has come down to:
what will work to best support what i ACTUALLY do, as opposed to imagining the scenario for which most of these supplements are designed - with a mix of science perhaps and a lot of speculation - to support? Because of course to state the obvious, taking supplements won't make it so, where IT is whatever the body comp goal is.

For me, the complexity is now at about is there really a benefit to taking the protien/carbs (and i happen to add creatine then so i don't forget it) right before and right after the workout or not? And if not, does it really matter? is that what's going to be the real difference between me adding another fraction of an inch of mass to my arms or not? Hard to see from this vantage point that it would.

Getting Real is Sometimes More Challenging than Getting Intrigued
When we get into health and fitness it seems we work so hard to get the details perfect. There's a certain satisfaction, isn't there, to things being just so. The gymboss timer is set for exactly 36/36 for those intervals or 8/12 or whatever. I have been just as particular. To the point of ripping the skin off my hands in doing snatches in a VWC set lest pausing to tape up so i can actually get through the workout break the stride. I must get through the workout without pause.

It's taken awhile for the Voice to come through the noise to say "Why? "

Indeed, what real difference will it make to my fitness goals if i stop to wrap? what real difference will it definitely make if i don't?

Metabolic Flexibility
Listening to Mike T Nelson talk this summer at the Sustenance course about Metabolic Flexibility has helped me start to get my head around the awesome adaptability of our embodied selves. If we ain't got it raw, our bodies will try to manufacture it. If we don't have it right NOW our bodies will find mechanisms to find what it needs. In fact the more non-predictive we become in our patterns potentially the more robust our systems will be - that's just a guess.

So i guess i've gotten either rather skeptical about supplementation or way more relaxed about thinking one supplement will help, for instance, unlock a "hard" workout.

I keep thinking about Clarence Bass: he likes creatine (and that only after quite a period of personal testing and validating with research) and he likes whey protein powder and he is the daddio of whole foods lean eating. He may be a sample size of one but lots of folks using his approach seem very happy with their body comp and health.

Me, i like creatine - and do notice a difference between creapure, the nice pure german stuff, and generics. I like a hydo whey for post workouts, along with a nice mix of non-gmo starchy carbs and electrolytes. I personally tend to do half before a workout and half right after for convenience, and i personally seem to feel better than delaying on that.

The jury is out for me on taurine, tyrosine, beta alanine and citruline malate - though again the science seems promising on those last two.

Sleep that knits up the unraveled sleeve of care
One of the biggest things for me of late has been the difference uninterrupted sleep makes, and investigating that - and how regular nutrition/daily diet is related to that, and the benefits from that, vs just about anything else. That sounds rather boring though in comparison to a CNS stack, doesn't it? I'm not sure it's a lack of seriousness; more a oh let's get real-ness perhaps.

Know what i mean? anyone?


Jolly said...

So far, if we look at studies about NO, about the only thing it seems to do is increase your 1 rep max.

(Check out the International Society of Sports Nutrition publishings)

Chris said...

Good stuff mc. This is where we are back to the the business. Most stuff doesn't work....but you wouldn't know that from reading the ads.

Regarding sleep, have you ever read Lights Out? A fascinating book -

Mike T Nelson said...

Thanks for the kinds words MC.

I would agree. The research on a few NO products shows a slight performance boost, but this was only in a couple studies and I don't personally think they were all that stellar from a design standpoint.

The amount of L-Arginine to do anything for NO is enough to cause stomach issues when taken orally.

Creatine monohydrate works well.

Hydro vs isolate proteins is still a mixed bag. I do find pure hydrolyzed protein to very non allergenic, but tastes bad.

Nutrition is important, but the stimulus you create in the gym is possibly even more important. A combo of both is kick butt!

Rock on!
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
Extreme Human Performance

Albert said...

I have a question about the whey protein vs BCAA study ( Does it make sense that 40g of whey plus 8g of casein has such a great effect, but that 40g of whey plus BCAA does no better than the placebo?

If it were true, I don't think it would imply that Whey > BCAA, but instead that Whey + Casein > Whey + BAAA.


WEFfiez said...

mc- as ususal, you stopped my work for hours so i could ponder all this!

I haven't been using creatine, but am considering it. Recently added whey protein in to get a little more boost post workout.

There's a sneaky little bit in here about carbs being needed post workout for proper protein sysnthesis- Given that i'm on a no sugar (added), no grains sort of diet, i'm highly interested in another nice blog post about this topic.....

Should I slam a carrot with my whey shake?
-Christof (koyote)

lesil said...

kre alkalyn Kre-Alkalyn is the top most creatine supplement on the market. It does work, sharing my experience..

mc said...

lesil thanks for the pointer.
as for kre etc, so far only the producer of that sup has tested it, so until it's independently verified, i'll just stick with CM which has now been tested for so long and so many ways, well, i feel safe with it.

and Wef, yes if you want to build muscle, carbs are an important part of the equation. Veggies and legumes are high in carbs. And not all grains are evil.

a post could be fun, but hitting the notion is hit upon here

hope that starts to help?

Mike T Nelson said...


My thoughts are that if you are really cutting calories and they are already pretty low during your other meals, you can get by with just a protein (whey) post training without carbs.

The theory is that insulin is needed for recovery, but whey will cause some insulin release also.

More calories are always great for recovery, but at the end you will need to cut calories some to drop body fat. Cut carbs post training before protein for sure.

MC may have different thoughts perhaps.

rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
Extreme Human Performance

WEFfiez said...

thanks, both of you.

My main carb "load" comes from a loaded salad or a whey shake after a heavier workout (GTG doesn't count.) like a 15:15 protocol, 1.5 mile run, or row/pullup/leg raise circuit



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