- Whey and casein protein--adequate protein is absolutely needed by your body to maintain muscle mass
- Fish oil--anti-inflammatory properties
- Multivitamin and/or multimineral--complementary to your diet and as insurance for good nutrition
- Workout drink (e.g., protein plus carbs, BCAAs)--supports muscle strength and size as well as fat loss and performance
- r-alpha lipoic acid--increases insulin sensitivity
- Tyrosine--may reduce central nervous system (CNS) fatigue
- Caffeine--increases CNS output
- Sodium bicarbonate--increases blood pH by buffering hydrogen ion buildup to lessen lactic acid burn
- Beta alanine--enhances workout recovery
- Creatine--increases ATP amount for quick energy and strength
- Green tea extract containing EGCG--increases metabolic rate during weight loss
- CLA--increases metabolic rate during weight loss
- Valerian root--may increase sleep quality
- PS--may increase sleep quality
What are some of the most recommended supplements you should take to support a particular fitness goal or when you're deficient in certain micronutrients?
The following is a listing beginning with the more essential supplements:
Electrolytes are minerals (e.g., sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphate, etc.) that break down into small, electrically-charged ions when dissolved in water. The electrolytes within your body are located in your blood and cells and are necessary to regulate fluid passage through the cell membranes. For example, sodium and chloride help to maintain your blood pressure level by regulating fluid balance within your blood. Sodium and chloride also support muscle and nerve function. Other electrolytes include calcium and magnesium which aid in muscle contraction and nerve impulses. Potassium and phosphate help to regulate energy, muscle contraction and pH balance. Here are some of the benefits of electrolytes:
Many factors determine your electrolyte level including gender, body size, exercise intensity, environment, exercise duration, etc. Males tend to sweat more than females and therefore experience sodium losses at a much greater degree. Large-frame people need more sodium than smaller people due to an increased sweat rate. High-intensity exercise certainly speeds the depletion of electrolytes more than low-intensity exercise. A hot, humid environment will definitely impact mineral losses more than a cool, dry environment. The longer your exercise duration, the more likely you'll become depleted in essential minerals. The recommendation is to drink a sports drink during and after a workout that lasts more than 90 minutes.
There is a huge market for sports drinks but many contain way too much sugar which adds unnecessary calories. A relatively high rehydration solution concentration may slow gastric emptying, causing stomach upset. Instead, opt for drinks that have six to eight percent carbs per eight ounces and about 120 to 170 mg of sodium. Gatorade fits the bill, supplying the essential electrolytes with minimal sugar.
This particular blog does NOT pertain to middle-aged men or older who may require testosterone supplementation due to low blood levels of the hormone. It is well known that natural testosterone levels decrease with age. Rather, I want to focus on the worrisome trend of young men in their twenties and thirties opting for testosterone supplementation. Why should this be of concern? Because in most cases these young men do NOT need testosterone supplementation.
The real issue is the supplement industry marketing test supplement products as anabolic boosters (remnants of "energy" supps come to mind for those who feel they need an energy boost) as the means to build muscle mass. My question is why take any supplemental testosterone when there's no clinical evidence that you're deficient in this hormone. Have you taken a blood test to verify that your testosterone level is low? If not, then why would you consider taking a supplement that has unwanted side effects? It makes no sense to me.
More concerning is the possibility that your natural test levels will be compromised from taking the supps and as a result, testicular shrinkage may occur (your testicles produce most of the testosterone in your body). You might as well inject yourself with steroids while you're at it. Do you see my point? Taking artificial hormones is not something to be trifled with as the side effects can be very undesirable. In other words, the risks will undoubtedly outweigh the benefits. Let me count the ways: infertility due to low sperm count, liver problems, male breast growth, increased male pattern baldness, possible harm to prostate health, increased risk of blood clots, congestive heart failure, and worsening of urinary symptoms (JAMA Internal Medicine, 2013).
There are legitimate reasons for low T. Lifestyle is primarily the reason why many men are low in test. Regular exercise is known to boost test along with having enough saturated fat (i.e., lean red meat, egg yolks, etc.) and certain micronutrients (e.g., zinc, magnesium, etc.) within the diet. Endurance training (e.g., marathon running) can compromise test levels as well as overtraining (i.e., high intensity level, lack of recovery time, etc.). Lack of sleep, daily stress, medication usage, as well as overindulgence in alcohol may also lower testosterone levels.
BOTTOM LINE: Testosterone supplements are being oversold to consumers who, for the most part, should NOT be taking them. Simply exercising will boost your natural testosterone level. So instead of relying on potentially dangerous supplements, you should get adequate exercise, eat healthier foods, reduce medication usage if possible, and lose bodyweight (there is a correlation between obesity and lower testosterone levels in men).
The following are considered the most recommended supplements to help you lower your cholesterol levels:
The following are considered not as effective as the above supplements but may help to lower cholesterol levels:
Your lifestyle is the predominant factor affecting your hormone levels. In other words, if you live a mostly sedentary existence, your testosterone level will most likely be lower than someone who exercises regularly. Thus, exercise is a natural way to boost your testosterone level.
Here are some lifestyle-related factors that affect your testosterone level:
Solution: Get 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Solution: Maintain a healthy bodyweight. See elsewhere within this blog for tips.
Solution: Become more active by walking briskly at least 20 minutes daily and performing some strength training exercises 2 to 3 days per week.
Solution: Reduce your work hours to less than 10 hours daily and spend at least 2 hours daily doing something you like (e.g., reading, listening to music, playing games, etc.).
A study done with older, obese adults has found that whey protein containing essential amino acids may reduce body fat. The whey protein with essential amino acids may enhance muscle synthesis which, in turn, can enhance fat loss. The reason for this is that muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue. What's interesting about this study is that muscle biopsies were taken in order to clinically determine that lean body mass (i.e., muscle ) had increased. When lean body mass increases, body fat tends to decrease. As a result, body composition becomes more favorable with less percentage body fat. The authors of this study proposed that the results obtained with older, obese adults may also be obtained with younger adults.
It seems almost every day new research is attesting to another physiological benefit of taking fish oil (i.e., protects against heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, reduces joint inflammation, reduces cholesterol levels, increases metabolic rate, reduces fat mass, increases lean body mass, improves mood, etc.). It's the omega-3 fatty acids within fish oil that makes it so remarkable.
Recent research published in the journal Neurology has just noted that eating fatty fish, nuts, and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids regularly may slow down the aging process of the brain and possibly protect against Alzheimer's disease. Research has discovered that a regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids in one's diet may cause a corresponding decrease in the amount of a protein called beta-amyloid commonly found in the brains of people who've died from Alzheimer's disease. It may be the increased amounts of this protein that's attributed to the memory loss exhibited by those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids can be found in walnuts, salmon, sardines, tuna, and other fatty fish.
Bottom line: a diet containing healthy fats including fish oil may have an effect in decreasing the loss of memory, reducing heart disease, reducing cholesterol levels as well as lessening joint inflammation.
Just as an example, I will provide the current meal plan that I've been eating for awhile that has supported the maintenance of my hard-earned muscle mass. It comprises about 55% carbs, 20% protein and 25% fat and is about 4200 kcals--ideal for my bodyweight and metabolism.
--Whey protein powder (1 scp)
--Glutamine (1/2 tsp)
--Creatine Monohydrate (5g)
--2 frozen banana chunks
--Frozen blueberries (2 oz)
--Scudders smooth peanut butter (1 tbsp)
--Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT's) (1 scp)
--Raisins (2 oz)
--Creatine Monohydrate (5g)
--MCT's (1/2 scp)
--Maltodextrin (1 scp)
--Creatine Monohydrate (5g)
--Maltodextrin (1 scp)
--Whey protein (1 scp)
--Casein protein (1 scp)
--2 Banana chunks
--Whole milk (1 oz)
--Swiss cheese (2 oz)
--Black beans (4 oz)
--Casein protein powder (1 scp)
--MCT's (1 scp)
--2 frozen banana chunks
"Energy" drinks lend their jolt from the same ingredient as coffee: namely caffeine (note: the quotes are inserted here because the feeling of energy when imbibing these drinks is largely attributed to the abundant amounts of caffeine within, not just carbs). It certainly is a phenomenon why these ubiquitous beverages are so popular, especially among the youngsters. The answer may not be so complicated. College-age people seem to prefer these drinks because they're convenient, relatively inexpensive, and provide the "lift" needed in order to function while burning the midnight oil.
"Energy" drinks by their very nature are not necessarily bad for one's health when consumed in moderation just like coffee. Health problems may occur though when one gulps these beverages as if they were drinking soda. Monster Energy, for example, is available in a 16-ounce can which contains about two servings of caffeine (160mg) compared to a cup of coffee (80 to 100mg). Most who drink beverages like Monster Energy drink the whole volume within a can. Many who drink "energy" drinks claim they "need" the extra caffeine because coffee just doesn't provide the needed kick anymore. This is worrisome because like any drug, caffeine can become addictive in that the human body builds a tolerance to the effects and "thinks" it needs more in order to function properly.
The reality is the effects on the human body due to long-term consumption of "energy" drinks is not well known. The claims found on the labels such as
high-vitamin doses increase concentration are unproven. It is not well-understood and the data is mixed on how the other stimulants apart from caffeine affect the human body.
The real concern is that people who drink "energy" drinks regularly tend to do so without moderation. Unlike coffee, which does not have inherent calories unless you add milk or sugar, "energy" drinks contain a lot of sugar and therefore a lot of calories. Just like soda, the calories within these drinks can really add up when consuming a Monster drink every day. The result: inevitable bodyweight/bodyfat gain if no exercise is involved.
Some people should stay away from "energy" drinks. Those who are hypertensive or have heart disease should be wary of consuming products containing high amounts of caffeine. These "energy" drinks can induce an increase in blood pressure and pulse rate in healthy people who drink two "energy" drinks daily.
Bottom line: If you like "energy" drinks and can drink in moderation (e.g., no more than two cans daily), then enjoy. Otherwise, coffee and/or tea is better if you like the stimulant effects of caffeine in the morning or before a workout. Coffee is also a good source of water (99.5%). Current research has dispelled the myth that coffee has significant diuretic effects on the body. Rather, coffee has very little diuretic effect when consumed in ordinary amounts and hydrates just as well as plain water.
Vitamins are organic (contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) food substances found in plants and animals. The human body does not manufacture most of the vitamins it requires and must therefore obtain them from foods. Those people who exercise regularly need more vitamins than sedentary people and therefore supplementation is usually recommended (e.g., daily multi-vitamin). Vitamins are essential to enhance physical performance. Some vitamins help to maintain healthy skin, hair, vision, energy metabolism, and cellular repair.
Minerals are inorganic (do not contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) compounds found in plants and animals and are needed in relatively small amounts for the regulation, growth and maintenance of body tissues and functions. A deficiency in any mineral can compromise peak performance. Fatigue, weakness and general malaise are some symptoms due to mineral deficiency. Muscular contraction, nerve impulse transmission, protein synthesis, and hemoglobin formation are just some of the functions of minerals.
Antioxidants are certain nutrients, substances and vitamins and minerals that protect against free-radicals (unstable molecules lacking an electron) released during intense exercise. The vitamins A, C, E, and the minerals selenium and zinc are some of the well-known antioxidants. These compounds serve to lessen the amount of oxygen molecule destruction in our bodies, thus preventing free-radical formation. Antioxidants can make a difference in a person's ability to recover from an intense exercise session sooner. In addition, antioxidants protect one from the damaging effects of radiation, ozone exposure, carcinogens, and other environmental toxins (e.g., pesticides, herbicides).
I can think of at least a dozen reasons for taking supplements. As you read through the list, ask yourself if any of the reasons are applicable in your case. If the answer is yes, you may consider trying out certain supplements. Bear in mind that the purpose of a supplement is to provide the vitamins, minerals, and/or amino acids that may be missing from your diet. You should only consider taking supplements after you have a healthy diet plan. Whole foods contain a complex variety of nutrients and phytochemicals that enhance micronutrient absorption to promote greater health benefits than supplements. Also, please understand that supplements are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Association) and therefore the claims made on the label may not be accurate or true. It is illegal for a supplement to make a "structure" or "function" claim (e.g., prevents heart disease, reduces blood pressure, etc.) on its label. The FDA does not approve of such claims without independent clinical substantiation. Only drugs can legally make claims that a product can "diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."
Here are some of the reasons for taking supplements:
Of course there are risks and benefits of taking supplements:
If you are interested in trying a supplement, here are some strategies you should consider before choosing:
Myths abound and are prevalent in our society because people like to believe in easy, quick fixes for losing weight and gaining muscle mass. As a result, there is a plethora of products preying on naive consumers in order to make money. The media is mostly to blame since this is how most people obtain information or misinformation in this case.
Many magazine and website editors continually encourage the publication of articles which lack much in the way of factual information and peddle it as new or novel approaches to training or supplementation. The reality is the information provided is simply a retread of what has already been said countless numbers of times, only written in a different way to make the article seem interesting.
But let's not direct all our blame onto the media. Ignorant consumers who "believe" the newest training routine (e.g., the Insanity Workout, P90X, etc.) is the way to achieve the perfect physique are only deluding themselves and actually encourage unscrupulous salespersons to take advantage of the opportunity to rip us off. There is nothing magical about these new trends in exercise routines. If you see it in a late night infomercial, be very wary and view it with a healthy sense of skepticism. Once again, the name of the game is to separate you from your pocketbook.
There is no magic bullet for losing weight or gaining muscle since each individual's body responds uniquely to training stimuli. The key is to utilize the technique of trial and error in discovering which exercises, sets, reps, rest periods, workout splits, etc. work best for you and you alone. Just because the big guy in the gym has built a physique worthy of admiration does not mean he knows exactly what works for you to get big. He may have spent most of his life building his body to what it is today through many years of dedicated and persistent training. Again, everyone responds differently to exercises, nutrition and supplements. Supplement and equipment salespersons' main objective is to sale their product no matter if there is a lack of scientific or biomechanical evidence to back up the product.
Here are some of the common myths regarding exercise, nutrition and supplementation:
Wrong! Cellulite is caused by fatty deposits and fibrous tissue within the subcutaneous layer of the skin. Remember the concept of spot reduction being a worthless way to tone certain muscle groups? The same concept applies here as well. You cannot tone any muscle and expect cellulite to magically go away. The body just does not work that way. Although there is some evidence within the scientific literature indicating that the dimpling caused by cellulite can be temporarily reduced or smoothed out by daily deep tissue massage.
Low-intensity cardio can be effective in burning bodyfat if performed for long durations (e.g, more than 30 minutes), but interval training can be just as effective in burning an equivalent or more bodyfat in less time. The key is the amount of total amount of calories burned during the exercise--that is all that matters as far as the body is concerned. Nutrition is also a big factor in that the body can more efficiently burn bodyfat when there are carbs available. In other words, fat burning occurs more readily when in the presence of carbs. So performing cardio while on a low-carb diet is not the best way to burn bodyfat.
The optimal exercise prescription is one that recommends the combination of cardio and weight training for losing bodyweight. The increase in metabolism caused by muscle stimulation and increased lean body mass causes more calories to be expended, which in turn increases weight loss.
Don't mistake losing bodyweight with losing bodyfat! They are two completely different animals. But more to the point, the bodyweight lost is merely water weight and fluctuates throughout the day. This is why checking your bodyweight before and immediately after working out is only useful for determining how much water you lost and therefore how much you should drink to rehydrate your body. Actually believing you lost poundage from fat after working out is wishful thinking to put it mildly. Incidently, any weight lost by wearing a rubber suit or a sweat shirt while exercising will be mostly water weight, not bodyfat. As soon as you replenish your body with fluids (or food for that matter), those pounds you lost in the gym will return almost as fast as they left. Of course sweating is indicative of a strenuous workout session and can ultimately lead to weight loss.
I think by now you know this idea is preposterous. The phenomenon of "spot reduction" has absolutely no supportive evidence.
Let's get this straight: Muscle tissue is not the same as fat tissue--they are completely distinct body tissues and therefore it is an impossibility for muscle to turn into fat. But having said this, it is true that muscles will lose size and shape from lack of regular exercise--a process called atrophy wherein muscle tissue is wasted away. In laymen's terms, "use it or lose it!"
Actually, losing weight is relatively easy for most people without metabolic problems (e.g., disfunctional thyroid gland). It's keeping the weight off that's the hard part and what causes weight cycling (and hence yo-yo dieting) in many people. The diet industry will continue to stay in business because most people cannot maintain their bodyweight. The solution is simple: Combine a sensible exercise and complementary nutrition plan to encourage permanent weight loss.
Unfortunately this is not the case. If you continue to perform the same workout without progression (e.g., increased loads or sets), you will inevitably continue to get the same results--a condition known as stagnation. This is where a reputable personal trainer can provide valuable knowledge and expertise in getting you on the right path to achieving your fitness goals.
The above statement is a myth because it is too simplistic. In order to gain appreciable muscle mass, relatively heavy weights (e.g., 65 to 75% 1-RM), moderate reps (e.g., 8 to 12 reps), short rest periods (e.g., less than 1 min), and compound exercises incorporating large muscle groups (e.g, squat, deadlift) is what is needed to cause the growth hormone and testosterone release necessary to stimulate appreciable muscle mass. In order to define the body, relatively light weights (e.g., 50 to 65% 1-RM), high reps (e.g., 15 to 25 reps), and isolation exercises (e.g., leg extension, leg curl) may "tone up" your muscles but at the expense of some muscle being burned in the process. In order to maintain muscle mass, it's better to continue lifting relatively heavy weights. Heavy weight training tends to burn fat due to the retention of muscle mass. A keen nutrition program in conjunction with cardio and heavy weight training is more likely to get you ripped than light weights with high reps.
Testosterone levels largely determine one's gain in muscle mass from training. Studies have shown that women produce only about 10 percent of the testosterone that men produce, which significantly reduces their potential to gain considerable muscle size. On the other hand, women should perform strength training to at least maintain a lean physique. Strength training improves body composition by reducing fat mass while increasing lean body mass (i.e., muscle). Bottom line: women should train no differently than men when it comes to strength training. Thus, squats, bench presses, deadlifts, pull-ups, pushups, etc. are exercises all women should perform to look sexy and strong!
Feeling sore, an indication of what's known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is not required in order to gain muscle mass, tone up, etc. What's important is that your workout is productive and intense enough to stimulate more strength in your muscle tissue, nerves and bones.
If this were true, shouldn't there be more people sporting flat stomachs in the world? If seems everywhere you look in the gym, you'll see somebody doing abdominal crunches--it's a ubiquitous exercise for sure. Unfortunately, the reality is crunches do not flatten the stomach. Instead, the exercise will help to strengthen your core muscles (e.g., rectus abdominus) under that layer of fat tissue called subcutaneous fat. In other words, crunches will get your abs stronger but will not burn your belly fat (see the spot reduction myth above). A healthy, clean nutrition plan will help to reduce the fat around your midsection and allow your hard-earned six-pack to appear.
This myth most likely got started when physique competitors began eating less food (i.e., low carbs) while doing cardio in an effort to lean out. It's not the cardio that is the culprit but rather caloric intake that's really at issue here. Of course cardio may become a factor when it is performed for over an hour every day of the week. But in most cases, the decrease in muscle mass is more likely to be attributed to not eating enough food to accommodate the hard training. Adequate protein (i.e., whey protein shakes post-workout) is especially crucial to maintain muscle mass when caloric intake decreases.
This myth got started from a study which indicated eating soy may increase estrogen within the body. But all of the hoopla needs to be taken down many notches because the amount of soy needed for this to happen was not emphasized. In other words, one would have to eat large amounts of soy protein every day for estrogen levels to increase. Most people don't eat nearly enough soy for this to occur.
This provides an easy excuse for why you're not losing bodyfat. It takes hard work, dedication, discipline, and most of all, consistency when it comes to leaning out. Your nutrition, cardio and weight training needs to be well-planned and adhered to in order for progress to be made. We all have the capacity to accomplish our fitness goals but the key is hard work and some sacrifice to get there.
This myth will not die! Weight loss should never be confused with fat loss. The weight scale only displays body weight, not fat weight. I'm always entertained by many gym goers who weigh themselves before and after weight training. They believe by what the scale shows that they're losing fat weight when in reality they're losing water weight. There's no way you can burn an appreciable amount of bodyfat from just one training session but you can become dehydrated and therefore lose water weight. I bet the same people who believe you can burn bodyfat from each training session also believe you can accelerate the fat burning process by wearing a sweatshirt while working out. Please! Again, the weight lost is water weight, not fat weight. The best way to ascertain whether or not you're burning bodyfat is to perform a skinfold assessment or simply look in the mirror. The mirror does not lie. How you look tells the story.
Ah, if only it was this easy--everyone would have ripped abs for the summer if this was true! The reality is that eating foods labeled as "low-fat" or "fat-free" may actually make you fatter. Why? Because these foods tend to have more sugar, salt, preservatives, and chemicals than regular foods in order to make them as palatable and to increase shelf life. Remember fat makes food tasty and rich. The manufacturers are compelled to add sugar and sodium to "low-fat" and "fat-free" foods to sell their products. Unfortunately, high carbs (from added sugar) and excess sodium (from added salt) wreak havoc on a lean diet. Highly processed foods may actually reduce one's metabolism when consumed regularly and make the process of leaning out even harder. Instead, eat a cheat meal at least once per week to satisfy your craving for sweet or fattening foods. This way, you'll less likely want to overindulge in decadent foods.
The answer is most likely due to a lack of recovery or inadequate rest after an intense exercise session. This is why you should "listen" to your body as it always "tells" you what you need to know. In this case, your body is telling you, "cease and desist with the hard training and please let me rest!" What many people fail to do is actually listen to the body and abide to what it says. You may have reached the stage referred to as "over-reaching" (short-term fatigue) and are in danger of getting to the stage called "over-training" (long-term fatigue) if you're not careful. If you've just experienced a feeling of sluggishness recently, all that's needed is to allow your body and mind to rest at least one but maybe two days. Failure to take time off from training will cause your body to regress into a state of longer-term fatigue which could require at least a week of rest! In addition, your immune system may be compromised, causing you be become sick more easily. As your exercise intensity and/or volume increases, the risk of compromising your immune system function increases. This means that your risk of contracting an infection increases. To maintain your immune system function while engaging in intense weight training, be sure to get adequate micronutrients. Vitamins A, B6, B12, thiamin, C, D, and E and the minerals iron, zinc, selenium, copper, and magnesium are associated with immune function.
Active recovery is an option if you cannot resist hitting the gym most days of the week. This simply refers to exercising at a low-intensity level (i.e., 50% loading with high repetitions) on days when you do not feel your best. In this way, you can enhance your recovery. Another option is to "periodize" your workout days--for instance, rotating your workouts with hard, medium and light intensities every other day (e.g., Monday is hard day, Wednesday is medium day, Friday is light day). "Periodization" refers to a concept wherein your training is broken down into chunks (e.g., hard, medium, light workouts) as a means to avoid overtraining and to keep your training "fresh". Training in this way is very practical and will enable you to get stronger, more powerful, and gain muscle mass while lessening the risk of injury.
There are several factors which determine one's ability to recover from workouts. These factors include age, training intensity, nutrition, stress, and level of cardiovascular fitness. The most significant factor is age because younger people recover much faster from workouts than older people. Training intensity is the next significant factor because high-intensity training requires more recovery time. Nutrition should not be underestimated since a lack of nutrients will inevitably slow recovery. Of course, high stress slows the recovery process. A high level of cardiovascular fitness hastens the recovery process because the circulatory system is able to deliver more nutrients and remove metabolites more quickly.
Some of the markers of overtraining are the following:
Do some of these markers seem familiar and apply to yourself? If so, then you need to make a change in either your lifestyle, your training routine, or both.
Regarding a change in your lifestyle, consider the following:
Despite this, there are particular supplements which have a worthy track record in exhibiting consistent positive results. The following are some recommended supplements (in no particular order), potential benefits, research findings, side effects, legal status, and recommended periods to ingest:
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I'm a personal trainer who loves to help others fulfill their health and fitness goals. I consider myself a bodybuilder in that I live the lifestyle of eating healthy food, working out regularly, and sculpting my body.