Understanding Supplements: How to Know if Supplements Work or Not?

Understanding Supplements

Make Wise & Educated Decisions with Supplements

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Do people expect too much from supplements? I think on average people tend to expect 'drug-like' effects from some of the supplements they take. When a supplement does not put 20 pounds of muscle on their body in six weeks, they cry foul and start accusing the manufacturer of conspiring to rip them off I have stated many times that the majority of supplements on the market today really stink to high heaven. But hey, that's an improvement over a few years ago when all the supplements sucked! I mean, the industry has come a l-o-n-g way since the days when cheap protein powder and a multivitamin were about all there was. Many of today's top companies are genuinely trying to produce quality products based on solid science. For example, EAS is spending nearly a million dollars on research this year alone, and I applaud them for it.

Science is tricky. To most people whether a supplement works or not is pretty much cut and dried. Unfortunately it's not that simple in the world of research. In a research vacuum and on paper many supplements appear as f they would be great for bodybuilding. Why, for instance, does arginine look good in the research while doing nothing in real-life situations with real live bodybuilders? Under very specific conditions, with specific populations, arginine given in large doses intravenously causes a fairly substantial rise in growth hormone. Taken orally and in smaller doses, arginine does not do squat.

If you look at the research of many amino acids, you will find that in large enough doses given intravenously (i.e. administering it directly into a vein by IV drip), they produce all sorts of fantastic results, from stimulating growth hormone and improving immunity to slowing down muscle loss to a trickle. The point is, as opposed to directly plugging into your veins a sterile bagful of some amino acid, no one can eat- much less afford - enough of some of these amino acids to notice any significant results in muscle mass, fat loss, or whatever effect you are looking for This is not to say that taking smaller amounts of certain amino acids might not be good for you, because it can be, but to see and feel anything, you have to take some pretty large dosages, 20 to 40 grams a day being a common dose for most of the amino acids. (Note: This is one reason scientists are looking closer at compounds such as KIC, 0KG and HMB that are produced by the body during amino-acid metabolism. You can take less of these compounds and get the same result or even an improved-result over that obtained by taking the precursor amino acid.) Unfortunately, at 20 to 40 grams a day you might get a good stomach ache, interfere with other important metabolic processes, or go broke. This dilemma is associated with several supplements.

Whom the supplement is tested on is of paramount importance. In a deficient population lots of different compounds look great on paper but do nothing for bodybuilders. For example, people who are deficient in chromium will notice improvements in glucose metabolism f they add chromium to their diet. However most bodybuilders take vitamins and other products that contain chromium and therefore are not usually chromium deficient. This is why they don't notice anything in the way of more muscle with less bodyfat from adding additional chromium to their diet. Most of the studies that show chromium makes people lose fat and gain muscle are done using a population deficient in chromium. Very few researchers check the nutritional status of the test subjects before they start. Those who did use subjects not deficient in chromium did not notice significant results. (The diet of the average American is sadly lacking in chromium, so make sure you get enough.) Are you starting to see my point here?

One last example: Creatine, one of my favorite supplements, can also be looked at in this way. I have noticed routinely that vegetarians seem to get a lot more out of creatine than do meat-eaters. Most people who regularly eat meat can put on four to eight pounds of bodyweight when they start using creatine, but vegetarians really do get drug-like effects from creatine. I have seen some of them put on as much as 10 to 15+ pounds! Why is this, you ask? Since creatine is found almost exclusively in meats (especially red meat), and vegetarians don't eat meat, you have a population deficient in creatine. On the other hand, bodybuilders I know who eat red meat every day have told me they gained a few pounds from using creatine but did not experience the type of results other people have gotten from it. Are you seeing a pattern here? The reason creatine works at all in people who eat lots of red meat is that you can take in much more creatine from a bottle than you could ever get from eating red meat, so it is still a worthwhile product to take and I highly recommend it. (I get really annoyed at some anemic nutritionist who says, "You can get all the nutrients you need from your food." Sure, but who wants to eat a crate of oranges every day to get five grams of vitamin C or eat five pounds of red meat to get five grams of creatine when you can add a teaspoon of either to a protein drink? Don't get me started!)

You need to have a critical eye and ask the right questions about your supplements. Was the research done on a deficient population? Did they get these effects using realistic dosages? Did they use healthy athletes, animals or couch potatoes? Was the substance administered intravenously or orally? How long did the study run? Etc., etc., etc. Believe me, you don't need to take years of biochemistry, molecular physiology or bio statistics to learn to he a critical reviewer of the claims made by the research and supplement companies. Good supplement companies want an educated consumer and bad supplement companies fear the educated consumer. Which one do you want to be?

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