So what the heck is actually in all those colorful bottles and jugs in the nutritional supplement section of your local gym or health club? More importantly, do they actually work? And if they do, are they just for athletes or for people trying to lose mass amounts of weight? To address these questions, let’s take a look at a sampling of nutritional supplements from my local gym.
I literally took each bottle off the shelf and inspected the label. Without any further ado, here’s the results:
- Fat Burn: Pyruvate
- Pyruvate is basically an intermediate compound in your body’s carbohydrate burning cycle. This carb burning cycle acts like a wheel that spins at certain rate. The faster the wheel spins, the more carbs you burn. By increasing the amount of available pyruvate, this supplement would speed up the wheel. When combined with a low calorie diet, this can be effective, especially if you have a high carb intake. This supplement would be most useful for individuals trying to speed up their metabolism without feeling the “overdrive” effect of energy supplements and caffeine.
- Fat Burn: Thermogenics
- Just as the name implies, thermogenics increase the body’s core temperature, while also stimulating release of fat cells for energy and regulating appetite. People who are not overly sensitive to caffeine or other central nervous system stimulants can actually benefit from this boost to the metabolism. Athletes may also find something like this useful as an ergogenic aid to increase awareness and conserve the body’s carbohydrate stores by burning more fat.
- Carb Resist Formula – HCA
- The primary ingredient in this supplement is hydroxy citric acid. This compound can help reduce carbohydrate conversion to fat and instead cause formation of glycogen, your body’s storage carbohydrate. This process actually tricks your brain into thinking that food is present in excess, thereby controlling your appetite. This would be useful for compulsive eaters or individuals attempting to control caloric intake.
- Carb Resist Formula – CCK
- CCK stands for “Cholesystokinin”, which is a protein used by your body to control appetite. Normally when you eat food, you digestive system release CCK, and this causes your nervous system to send a signal to the brain that you’re “full and satisfied”. By presenting CCK in the absence of food, this supplement achieves the same result without the calories. Again useful for people who just need to control their appetite.
- Glucosamine-Chondroitin Join Support
- Most of us have dealt with joint pain or arthritis-like symptoms at some point, especially with high amounts of exercise. Glucosamine and chondroitin act by attracting water into a joint (which enhances lubrication), forming healthy joint bone tissue and reducing the level of cartilage-destroying compounds in the joint. Many individuals claim a significant amount of reduced joint pain upon supplementing with a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin.
- Children’s Multivitamin
- In the absence of a proper and complete diet (which defines most typical Western diets), kids often need more than just food in order to develop properly. While you shouldn’t use multi-vitamins as a crutch to ignore poor dietary habits, supplying your kids with a complete array of multivitamins and minerals in a tasty chewable form is a good idea.
- Multivitamin for Protein Diet & Multivitamin for Carb Diet
- Depending on the type of diet you consume, you will have a higher requirement for certain arrays of enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. For instance, an individual consuming a high protein diet with lots of animal meats will have a lower need for supplements like vitamin B and iron. By categorizing multi-vitamins according to macronutrient intake, these allow you to avoid ingesting excess compounds that you may not need, while still obtaining adequate vitamin levels.
- Exercise, pollution, and environmental toxins produce free radicals in our bodies, which can contribute to cell membrane and muscle tissue damage, while at the same time inhibiting proper recovery and immune system integrity. An antioxidant formula contains an array of natural compounds designed to “scavenge and destroy” free radicals. Even though fruits and vegetables also contain high amounts of antioxidants, if you exercise regularly or with a large amount of intensity, your recovery would be highly enhanced by including antioxidants in your diet.
- Vitamin C
- High doses of vitamin C have been suggested to enhance immune system strength, maximize the immune system response, and decrease levels of free radicals. Especially during cold and flu season, this can be useful. A vitamin C supplement provides a packaged and convenient way to get your vitamin C, which is nice when you just don’t have time to reach for the OJ.
- Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s)
- Amino acids are the building blocks for protein formation, which your body especially needs after heavy amounts of a muscle tearing exercise, such as resistance training. Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are the three amino acids found in most BCAA supplements, and can not only help minimize muscle degradation, but can also delay fatigue. This would be a great compound for athletes and individuals for which a quick recovery from exercise is important. As a bonus for endurance athletes, it can also be a significant source of energy during workouts that exceed 2-3 hours.
- Most supplements of this nature are designed with one goal in mind: build muscle mass. To achieve this effect, this mixture includes creatine for enhancing intensity and duration of muscular contractions, combined with taurine, glutamine, glycine, alanine, betaine, and inositol for muscle building, recovery, energy conservation, and antioxidant activity. A “mass-builder” like this would be most beneficial for a bodybuilder or athlete attempting to increase size as quickly as possible without sacrificing explosiveness, intensity, and recovery capability.
- Protein Tablets and Protein Powder
- As a provider of all the necessary amino acids, complete proteins are necessary for recovery and muscle building. And that’s not just for individuals trying to “get heavier” or increase muscle mass. Any individual engaging in strenuous cardiovascular exercise or any form of resistance training must consume a complete protein within 30 minutes after exercise to be properly recovered. The reason for this is that the levels of the hormones responsible for protein uptake into muscle tissue are highest during this time, then begin to drop off as you relax. The convenience of protein tablets and protein powder allows this recovery to take place as soon as you’re done exercising. Most gyms will sell some type of shaker or mixer to make your shake on the spot, rather than waiting to eat until you drive home.
- Meal Replacement
- The primary difference between protein powders and meal replacement drinks is the presence of carbohydrate in the meal replacement drink. While it’s true that protein is essential for muscle recovery, carbohydrate is also essential for recovery, activity, and the assurance of a good workout the next day. I actually recommend a meal replacement drink *over* the consumption of a protein-only drink during the time immediately following exercise. This way, a protein-only drink can be used at a different time of day, when carbohydrate consumption is not as important, and the excess carbohydrates may actually cause weight gain.
- Nitric Oxide
- Nitric oxide, or NO for short, causes vasodilation in your blood vessels. This means that the vessel becomes larger, allowing for a greater amount of oxygen flow, energy delivery and glucose uptake. Individuals who would benefit most from this effect would be heavy weightlifters, who need that extra pump of blood for more oxygen during a large lift, and bodybuilders, who need that “venous” look. Many NO supplements also include other muscle mass volumizing compounds like creatine, branched chain amino acids and whey protein. So although they can be more expensive, you may save money in the long term on such a mixture.
- Cell Mass
- I mention this compound because it includes a “muscle cell uptake proprietary matrix”. All this means is that compounds are included in the supplement that enhance delivery from the gut into the bloodstream or from the bloodstream into the muscle tissue. Since many supplements are not as easily absorbed as their whole food counterparts, the presense of absorption enhancement can be a valuable addition.
While supplements are convenient, nothing replaces a quality diet that includes high amounts of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and lean proteins. If you have questions about certain supplements that you’re currently taking, and if they’re right for you, look into a Lean Body Nutritional Analysis from Greenfield Fitness Systems. Next week, I’ll cover more supplements…
Until next time, train smart,
M.S. PE, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
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