It probably wasn't too long after the invention of the barbell that bodybuilders started ingesting various concoctions man effort to
enhance their progress. Probably not long after that a shrewd businessman thought of selling some exotic elixir that promised to more
quickly build bigger and stronger muscles. As athletes became more sophisticated, so did the promotion techniques of the hucksters.
Today's athletes no longer fall for ambiguous terms like "adaptogens" or "energy boosters." They want scientific evidence. Even scientific studies don't often give an accurate depiction. Worse still is combining pseudo-science babble with the latest buzz words in an effort to con the public. Al] the "university studies" in the world are meaningless if the product doesn't work. But times have changed. Although a lot of ineffective supplements are still on the market, more recently we have seen some very impressive advancements in the field of physical enhancement through natural pathways. In order to have a better understanding of how and why some products work and why some don't, let's trace the evolvement of today's supplements, starting with what was considered the first major advancement to catch the attention of the bodybuilding community.
Until the 1980s supplementation consisted mostly of protein powders and canned drinks. The protein source was usually soy since it was inexpensive and had a high protein "ratio" (over 90 percent). Various vitamin/mineral combinations were also in use as well as brewer's yeast and desiccated liver. Weight-gain and weight-loss shakes were essentially the same protein drinks with a different marketing angle. If you added a few to your normal diet, you'd gain weight. Mix the same powder with skim milk and drink it in place of a meal and it became a product for losing weight. Simple. A similar strategy is currently being employed by a major supplement company. They have added a "Mass Gainer" and a "lite" version of their protein product line. They're all the same! The "Mass" simply has a larger portion and the "lite" has a smaller portion. Some things never change.
After the release of Pumping lion in 1976 gym memberships soared. This was a mixed blessing for the major bodybuilding promoters in that sales of home gym equipment declined. Supplements became the main sales objective. Around the same time anabolic steroids became readily available and their use grew widespread.
A Weider Mega-Pak was the approximate price of a month's supply of Dianabol, and I don't have to tell you which of the two produced more muscle!
Then we heard reports that European athletes were experimenting with natural substances that were giving them a tremendous performance advantage. Most of these substances, like sarsaparilla root and gamma oryzanol, have now been proven to have little or no anabolic properties, but that didn't stop the merchandisers from letting on differently.
One small family-owned company had the idea of combining all the latest nutrients in a protein base not of soy but from freeze-dried meat glands. (Yes, it tasted lousy, but that meant it was really good for you, right?) They also added a hefty dose of yohimbe so that the customer would definitely feel a kick. They touted this esoteric formula as having the ability to increase testosterone! It was named Hot Stuff and it became an overnight success. Suddenly supplements were once again big business.
Soon after the Hot Stuff phenomenon a young entrepreneur, who had established himself as an authority on steroids, released a seemingly objective report on supplements. He referred to Hot Stuff as a total scam but reported on a genius doctor who was working on a new kind of "engineered food" that would change bodybuilding forever. The unavailability of this product made it all that much more desirable. After a few months, lo and behold, the new invention became available. It was called MET-Rx and the demand for this latest scientific breakthrough was overwhelming.
Interestingly enough, MET-Rx wasn't all that different from its predecessors. The higher nutritional profile came from replacing some sugar with more protein and then adding aspartame to bring up the sweetness. Hardly quantum physics. But it was a quality product that used a superior protein (whey) and tasted good. All the hype obviously worked. It made a millionaire out of its promoter, Bill Phillips, before he was 30 years old.
Perhaps the most significant advancement of late was the discovery of creatine. No guesswork here. This stuff worked! Creatine gave credibility to the concept that a nutritional source can bring noticeable results you use enough of it. That brings up an important point in the usage of supplements. In my opinion, for a supplement to work it must be used in very high doses - very often as much as six times the suggested allowance. These are dosages that most people aren't willing to commit to, Just like the geek who takes a couple of amino-acid tablets and claims "they don't do anything," the same holds true for even the most effective product.
Realize this: Most natural substances will not remain in the bloodstream long enough to make a significant physiological change. Therefore, one must flood the bloodstream with a constant barrage to promote a tangible physical alteration. Another factor that must be considered is that any substance will lose some of its efficacy after a while. Vanadyl sulfate is a good example. When first trying vanadyl, most people were sure it was doing something. The results were more cosmetic than anabolic as it filled the muscles with glycogen providing a pumped-up look. In time the effect stopped. That's because the body is an adaptive mechanism. It develops a tolerance to a once-foreign compound, and results come to a halt. This is true of all external stimuli, including drugs.
Although drugs work in a different manner from nutrients, what really matters is the end result. After all, a drug like Anavar (Oxandrolone) never produced great muscle gains. It promotes strength gains by recirculating creatine ingested from food sources. Since creatine is now available in doses far beyond what can be consumed from food alone, Anavar seems to be pretty much a dinosaur drug. A few years ago no one would have thought that hormones would he available to the general public without a prescription, yet DREA and melatonin are now sold in health-food stores. And they're cheap State-of-the-art supplements like androstene, androdiol and norandrostene are proving to be legitimate androgenic compounds. There is even some speculation that they should be classified as drugs. But can they do what steroids do?
Unfortunately I don't think a natural substance can ever work like a drug simply because drugs have the ability to 'override" the system. Look at it this way: No matter how efficiently your body is working or how nourished you may be, if you go long enough without sleep you will eventually grow fatigued. You can bypass that fatigue, however, through artificial means by taking a stimulant like caffeine - i.e., a drug. The result is temporary, and if you take the stimulant too often it will result in compromises to your health, but only a drug is capable of such a transformation.
Another example is the attempt at nitrogen retention. A few years ago a plant derivative called Pfaffia Paniculata, otherwise known as Suma, was thought to retain nitrogen. Last year it was Beta Ectersterone (caterpillar fungus). Neither compound proved very successful. Now there HMB. The studies on HMB look good but, as many of you have found, in reality nobody is turning into a potential ME Olympia contender through its use. The body will take only what it needs and discard the rest. If you're training extra hard, and there is more demand for protein, HMB might help - but only to a point. A steroid, on the other hand, will force the body to use more protein by preventing the liver from eliminating it. This process causes a considerable strain on the liver, but exactly how damaging the process is remains uncertain.
What does all this development come down to? Are drugs the only answer? Not at all. It is now possible to make gains naturally that would once have been considered impossible. The fact that even steroid-users are adding certain supplements to their stack suggests how effective they can be. Many of the supplements available today are used in conjunction with a steroid course to enhance the effectiveness, thus allowing for lower dosages of the drugs or using the supplements as a bridge between cycles to maintain the steroid-induced gains. Always be aware, though, that steroid use can harm your health and is illegal unless prescribed by a doctor to treat a genuine medical condition. Certain legal compounds by themselves produce excellent results if used correctly. What is most crucial to know is, what supplements work? When should they be taken? What is the optimal dosage and what brands are the most reputable? Also, what advancements in supplementation are on the horizon? These are topics we'll take a closer look at next time!