Food is important, and food not supplements should serve as your foundation for building a healthy,
powerful physique. Yet we need to shed the misconception that we can get everything we need from
The old concept of three square meats a day may have worked in the past for those who weren't
concerned with amino acid levels, nitrogen balance and their overall anabolic environment, But, in
fact, most bodybuilders would have to eat like a bear before hibernation to get the calories and
nutrients necessary for optimal muscle growth in only three whole-food meals. Sometimes using
supplements is actually more feasible, makes more sense and, in light of recent research, may be
For example, taking supplemental Vitamin E at doses of roughly 400 lUs daily may prevent or reduce
the risk of cardiovascular disease. How would you get that much Vitamin E from food alone? Drinking
vegetable oil might do the trick. Or would you rather eat 20 cups of almonds a day? Obviously a
supplement works better in this and many other nutrient scenarios.
What about every bodybuilder's favorite supplement creatine? A typical non-vegetarian consumes
about 1.5-2 grams of creatine, mainly from meat and fish, per day. The body uses about 2 grams, so
in this situation you'd just maintain your creatine stores. Certainly, you could try to consume an
extra pound of herring daily or 2-3 pounds of beef to get the 3-5 additional grams of creatine
daily that generally helps build muscle.
But how would you complete a loading phase without supplementation? Imagine consuming 10 pounds of
beef daily for one week - the weight gain you'd experience would most likely be due to factors other
than the creatine! Instead, just scoop some powdered creatine monohydrate into a shake each day.
Carob vs. Casein
In a recent issue of the journal Nutrition, an intriguing study on glutamine sheds more light on the
supplement vs. whole-food issue. Remember, glutamine accounts for roughly one- third of all the amino
acids present in blood, and has been shown to have an anti-catabolic effect during times of severe
stress. For bodybuilders, supplemental glutamine might keep the immune system fine-tuned as well
as provide a protein-sparing effect during times of very intense training.
Glutamine is obviously an important dietary component, but which source is better food or
supplement? In this investigation, researchers measured the plasma levels of glutamine in subjects
who consumed five different protein preparations: 1) casein (9% glutamine), 2) free-form glutamine
plus casein (17% glutamine), 3) carob germ meal (17% glutamine), 4) carob protein concentrate (17%
glutamine), and 5) carob protein hydrolysate (16% glutamine).
The whole-food carob preparations naturally contained glutamine as a component. Subjects drank a
total of 30 grams of protein in each preparation plus 40 grams of maltodextrin, 10 grams of sucrose
and about 14 ounces of water. Except for the casein-only preparation, all the other preparations
had virtually the same amount of glutamine (about 5 grams).
Now, you'd think that whole foods would he a great way to elevate blood levels of glutamine, hut
study results showed that plasma glutamine levels were higher when subjects consumed the
glutamine-casein supplement than the carob preparations based on whole food. In fact, glutamine levels
in blood rose 42% after consumption of the glutamine-casein preparation; the maximum reached by the
carob-only drinks was 18%-23%. Furthermore, the insulin response was greater in the glutamine casein
group compared to all the other groups.
More glutamine and insulin in the blood suggest that the supplemental glutamine induced a more
potent anabolic effect than the whole-food glutamine source. The bottom line? Add free-form glutamine
to your protein powder or take it as a singular supplement; it will get to your bloodstream more
Let's recap: Not all dietary compounds derived from foods and supplements should he treated equally
- even when equal amounts are consumed.