The supplement industry isn’t regulated by the FDA. Unfortunately, it leaves very little to be trusted because the supplement industry as a whole isn’t exactly forthcoming with information. Having had a frightening discussion with my gastroenterologist about the use of pre-workout and certain protein powders, I swore to stay off of anything remotely close to what I was taking before.
After reading a plethora of books such as The Zane Body, Advanced Sports Nutrition by Dan Bernardot, and many research articles, I produced what I believe is a trustworthy list to live by. Summer is fast approaching and everyone has goals they want to reach safely while maintaining health for the long-term.
Supplementation isn’t a replacement for hard work. Supplementation is something you need to trust yourself with and utilize to its maximal potential in conjunction with nutrition that supports your goals. As I prepped for a contest, the following supplements proved to help me in ways that I cannot imagine. These supplements are all derived from animals and/or plants and thus synthetic production isn’t a worry here.
Beneficial Supplementation: Caffeine
Caffeine is one of the most researched supplements to date. Caffeine proves to be useful in boosting energy, and its thermogenic properties assist like a great pre-workout supplement option. Instead of taking a proprietary blend, this is a great alternative.
Many may be concerned about kidney fatigue or adrenal fatigue with the regular use of caffeine, but that is an unfounded claim. The origin of this claim is derived from a misnomer regarding sympathetic stimulation for prolonged periods of time and spikes in cortisol.
The adrenal glands produce epinephrine which is responsible for the fight or flight response. A synthetic drug called ephedrine (in high doses/prolonged use) can cause the adrenal glands to reduce in size because the body recognizes this as the same hormone, thus creating a negative feedback loop.
Where caffeine’s “wired” effect comes into play is related to dose dependency. Earlier research explained that 250mg doses are responsible for “…elation, pleasantness, and peacefulness,” whereas supramaximal doses, such as doses over 500mg, may be responsible for “…tension, nervousness, irritability, palpitations (caffeine increases blood pressure), and restlessness."
Thermogenic properties of caffeine are, in part, due to “..triglyceride and lactate production and increased vascular smooth muscle tone.” I suggest that due to this reasoning that taking caffeine prior to a training session is best. This translates to a slight preference of the use of free fatty acid for oxidation in order to produce energy and an increased likelihood of lactate being a metabolic driving force to create hypertrophy within skeletal muscle.
Tip—caffeine should be used in training approximately 30 minutes prior in order to notice effects. Like any drug, there is a half-life, which is the amount of time for a drug to reach half its amount. For those who are caffeine sensitive (slow metabolizers of caffeine) cutting the dose to 250mg or taking earlier on in the day is recommended.
Beneficial Supplementation: Acetyl-L Carnitine and Carnitine
As Sahlin explains, carnitine has been proven to alter muscle metabolism during training by inducing glycogen sparing effect and second reducing pyruvate dehydrogenase complex activity by allowing lipid to be utilized more than carbohydrate (CHO). What may be most useful to the average consumer is its ability to increase work output by approximately 11%.
Its partner acetyl-l carnitine, in conjunction with linoleic acid, has been shown in a study to improve lipid oxidation in mitochondria and improve serum levels of lipid throughout the vasculature of the rats.
As for my personal findings, I have found increased concentration, decreased fatigue, and improved working capacity pre-training. More studies need to be conducted in terms of the long-term effects of acetyl-l carnitine, however, based on labwork done and overall changes to my physique, regular use has proven to be beneficial.
Tip—this supplement can also be taken pre-workout in concert with caffeine.
Beneficial Supplementation: Racemic-Alpha Lipoic Acid
Both an antioxidant and lipid metabolizer, this supplement is a two for one special. Its brother alpha-lipoic acid is also useful but R-ALA is the most active form. Its role in fat loss is based on its ability to be a helper (co-factor) in mitochondrial oxidation processes. In addition, there are a few pilot studies that show retardation of Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis in conjunction with exercise.
The reason for supplementation (in addition to many of these options), is that the food derivative (aside from caffeine) does not produce detectable increases of free lipoic acid in human plasma or cells. In short, eating large amounts of meat and fish is not an advisable option to obtain these same values.
Tip—this supplement is best taken on an empty stomach to increase absorption.
Beneficial Supplementation: Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Safflower oil has been studied in its lipolytic properties. A few forms such as nanoemulisfied exist but the most common form is not and will provide the same effect. There are anti-obesity effects of CLA, more importantly, the increase of leptin levels post feeding. This helps to promote satiation naturally, thus during a cutting phase you are likely to remain in caloric deficit.
Additional research shows that up to six months the best results of CLA are exhibited. At approximately two years of chronic use, it reaches a plateau. This indirectly suggests that it should be cycled. As far as a proper cycling schedule, it isn’t well studied. However, if your goal is to shred for the summer, I suggest starting out at least three months in advance.
Tip—3 grams (and up to 6 grams) has been proven to be most useful in obtaining a modest result. Combining this supplement with cardio has proved to increase the thermogenic properties it also carries.
Beneficial Supplementation: Chitosan
Chitosan is shellfish fiber. More specifically, the outer skeleton of shellfish, including crab, lobster, and shrimp. It is used in medicine to treat obesity, high cholesterol, and Crohn’s disease—as such it is safe to use.
More specifically, the ability to absorb digested carbohydrates is of greater importance. Maximizing caloric intake is always a plus during a cut and formulating the right group of supplements to maintain muscle mass and reduce addition of adipose tissue is key.
Beneficial Supplementation: Curcumin
Curcumin is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that is far better than NSAIDS for discomfort—and far less toxic. As you train hard the body creates micro-tears in muscle and a build of lactate occurs. This is a fairly understood concept.
Beta-oxidation of free fatty acids occurs—sometimes also ketosis. This nutrient found in turmeric is highly recommended for individuals who train on a regular basis to help decrease problematic inflammation and pain associated with training and recovery.
NSAIDS comparatively have been more damaging on the liver and kidneys when used for the same length of time. I have found curcumin helps my clients who complain of arthritis during squatting and deadlifting, respectively.
Dependency Is the Enemy
As to any supplement in this industry, dependency is the enemy—focused utilization is the goal. Choose a food first approach and the body will thank you. Always listen to your body and make scientific decisions by consulting with your physician for routine bloodwork as a guideline for supplementation, not the defining factor.
Lift with love my friends!