The truth about Performance Nutritional Supplements
In this week’s column, fitness expert Bogdan Merkes weighs up the pros and cons of performance supplements.
Performance Nutritional Supplements: More Knowledge Enhanced Results
If you have been exercising for a while and been in and out of health clubs or just flicking through random fitness magazines, you have probably also been bombarded with the heavily marketed ads for performance supplements, from protein powders, creatine and glutamine right down to fat burning compounds and muscle building formulas. But which ones are beneficial and what evidence is there to back this up?
I remember being a kid in school and hearing rumours about the rugby jocks taking performance enhancing supplements which shrunk their testicles and gave them acne. Sure, plenty of dodgy illegal supplements can produce a side effect profile of this nature (for more detail on this see last week’s article ) but today I’ll focus on safe and FDA-approved forms of complementing your work out regime. After all, I suspect many of these rumours were sourced through jealousy of the well-developed physiques of the rugger buggers, achieved by endless hard work and toil.
When can I take performance supplements?
Firstly, how do you rate your nutrition? Not so good? Well then maybe you shouldn’t worry too much about getting yourself a weight gainer that promises to make you put on heaps of lean tissue in just days. In fact, they should be avoided by all as most are loaded with sugars that are going to do nothing but aggravate insulin levels, resulting in weight gain not in the form of lean muscle as desired, but in the form of stubborn fat tissue.
What supplements are safe and which one should I take?
With so many brands and products out there, it is easy to see why one may be confused with another.
Does the claim made by manufacturer of the product match the science of nutrition and exercise as you know it? As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true then then it probably is. Most approved supplements are safe to use as long as they’re not abused and I will explain the few that are worth considering. Here are some of my favourites and introduction to why, how and when you should use them.
The Big Sellers
I have yet to find a better solution for recovery post training. Liquid mixtures are easily metabolised by the body, meaning nutrients are easily absorbed so that the muscles are readily supplied with much-needed protein for recovery and growth. It is a well-established fact that after training there is a 20- to 30-minute window within which to supply muscles with nutrients. Protein powders consumed as soon as possible post training are swiftly metabolised and are extremely convenient to use – all you need is a shaker and water and you’re ready to go!
Why? Post training recovery, lean tissue growth and repair
How? 25g-40g after training
When? Preferably post training
Creatine is a protein made from three amino acids (arginine, glycine and methionine) and when used correctly will improve all-round performance. It is of particular benefit to those athletes and individuals involved in high intensity and anaerobic based activity who, after a long period of training at a high level, find themselves reaching a plateau and subsequently struggle to increase weight lifted or increase body mass. Although it doesn’t work for everyone, creatine is stored in the muscle as phosphocreatine which prolongs maximal power output, speeds recovery between high intensity sets, increases lean and total body mass and buffers build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.
Why? Maximal power output, enhanced recovery, muscle mass gain.
How? Either a loading phase of 20g (4 x 5g) per day for 5 days followed by 2g per day maintenance or daily 3-6g divided dose for 30 days.
When? During the loading phase take 5g in the morning, lunchtime, pre and post training and dinner time. On a single dose take it 2 hours prior to training. Remember to take your servings on you’re off-training days too
Other popular supplements and their uses
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
BCAA are three essential amino acids (valine, leucine and isoleucine). It can help by decreasing protein breakdown during intense exercise and it could be of benefit to individuals on a carbohydrate restrictive program. There are no conclusive side effects. However, when taken in excess it can reduce the absorption of other amino acids in the body.
Why? Prevent protein breakdown on carb restrictive diets
How? 4g taken during and after exercise
When? Before, during and after exercise
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid found in muscle cells which can help prevent muscle breakdown and exercise induced immunosuppression, although it may not be conclusive of these claims. It may benefit athletes during periods of intense training or immediately after prolonged intense exercise e.g. major competition such as a triathlon.
Why? Prevent muscle breakdown
How? 100mg/kg body weight
When? Post exercise
I would suggest optimizing your nutrition before considering any supplements. My advice is to observe the bull’s-eye bod regime of improving diet and targeting nutrients to the body’s precise needs. If you’ve been nourishing your body religiously with the good-stuff, cutting out the crap, training hard consistently and to the best of your ability, only then should you look to forms of supplementation.
Ploughing in the protein powder and creatine is futile if the basics are not in place. Follow the bulls-eye bod regime, boost your baseline nutrition, enhance your training programme, THEN source out the various (legal) concoctions to gain that extra edge!
Bogdan Merkes is writing a column every Wednesday until the end of September. If you want to learn more about his services check out ultimatefitcrew.com or like his page on Facebook. Check out more articles from Bogdan on his blog at bogdanmerkes.com, and you can also follow him on Twitter. All comments/questions/suggestions gratefully accepted.
[Main picture via Noodles and Beef/Flickr Creative Commons]