Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Supplements that "work" - Part 1

A few weeks ago on the LRB Facebook page I asked what supplements everyone was taking, and which ones they felt like "worked".

Worked being the key word here, but there wasn't always a description of what worked meant to each person.

Let me preface this with the fact that I'm not offering anything revolutionary here.  But one of the biggest problems with guys and gals that do buy supplements is that they buy anything new, or anything under the sun, and then sometimes neglect a lot of the supplements to do actually offer real benefits.

With that said, there were a few supplements that generally made the list for the great majority of people.  The next few weeks I will be going over those supplements and writing about what "works" means in regards to said supplements.

Fish oil - 

Fish oil was for the most part, on everyone's list.

I've used fish oil before, but probably not in large enough doses or consistently enough to notice anything special from its use.

So let me say off hand, I can't vouch for fish oil personally, but there are tons and tons of people who can.

So what are the ways that fish oil "works" for people?

Positive effects of fish oil - 

To start with, fish oil is heavily researched.  So to throw out the captain obvious quote for this article, we know a lot about it from a scientific standpoint.

To start with, it's been shown that fish oil has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.  For guys with beat up joints and an overall feeling of being beat to shit, this is a really good thing.  Anyone that lifts for long enough probably finds their way to the ibuprofen section of the drug store on a fairly often basis.

Seeing as how mega dosing with an NSAID isn't a truly wise thing to do, does fish oil opt as an alternative to dealing with inflammation in place of it?

It appears so.

From this linkage...

Of the 250 patients, 125 returned the questionnaire at an average of 75 days on fish oil. Seventy-eight percent were taking 1200 mg and 22% were taking 2400 mg of EFAs. Fifty-nine percent discontinued to take their prescription NSAID medications for pain. Sixty percent stated that their overall pain was improved, and 60% stated that their joint pain had improved. Eighty percent stated they were satisfied with their improvement, and 88% stated they would continue to take the fish oil. There were no significant side effects reported.
CONCLUSIONS:  Our results mirror other controlled studies that compared ibuprofen and omega-3 EFAs demonstrating equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain. omega-3 EFA fish oil supplements appear to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of nonsurgical neck or back pain in this selective group.

Outside of pain management, it's important to understand that there are a ton of medical issues related to high level of inflammation.  Asthma, cancer, depression, autoimmune diseases, and arthritis just to start.  This is why most medical associations recommend eating fish at least two times a week.  

It's been speculated that fish oil can have positive effects on heart health, but that's sketchy at best at this point.

From webmd.....

"Looking at the 17 randomized clinical trials that we combined, the majority of the trials -- especially the more recent and large-scale ones -- showed consistently little or no significant effect on reducing coronary heart disease events," said Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, lead author of a comprehensive review of nutrition research related to fats.

I read through quite a few other studies in regards to this, and it appears that while fish oil can play a huge part in reducing inflammation and has some serious positive impacts on brain function (though the reviews have been a bit mixed), but not so much in regards to heart health.

Either way, reducing inflammation in the body is a very big deal, and can play a huge impact in regards to overall health, and effective training.

It also apparently saved the life of this 16 year old boy, who had a severe brain injury.  Take some time to read it...

How much to take - 

The thing to focus on here, is the amount of EPA and DHA you're getting in per day.  Studies on the health benefits of omega-3 fats typically use higher amounts of DHA of about 1,000 to 2,500 milligrams per day, which may be required to achieve some of these benefits.  If you look around you may see less here and there, but this seems to cover the upper end of the spectrum in regards to how much you need.

Creatine - 

Creatine has been around for a long time now (since the 70's actually), and has been one of the most popular supplements to use in regards to actually "working" for people.

Creatine is converted into creatine phosphate in the body, which in turn helps to create something called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  APT is used by the body for muscular contractions.  So if should make sense that the more ATP you have, the more energy you have for muscular contraction.

There is also the belief that different kinds of creatine have a greater impact than others, but I believe that has been debunked.  So going with regular ol creatime monohydrate is just fine.

Loading - 

Most people tend to respond well to creatine by starting off with a loading phase.  This is where you take 20 grams a day for the first week, then go on a maintenance dose of around 3-5 grams ED.

Non-responders -

Apparently it turns out (sort of) that about 20% of the people who use creatine are what they call "non-responders".  They claim that they took creatine and that there was so significant increase in strength or performance from using it.

However upon looking more closely at why this could be, gives us some answers.

The non-responders in studies didn't have as much muscle mass, especially type-II muscle, as the other people.  The other factor was apparently that they were already pretty well "loaded" in regards to creatine so adding more in, didn't seem to do much.

Check here.....

In boring ass lame fucking scientific talk.......

Responders also showed improvement in 1RM leg press scores following the 5-day loading period. NR had higher preload levels of Cr + PCr, less type II muscle fibers, small preload muscle CSA, and lower fat-free mass and displayed no improvements in 1RM strength scores. The results suggest that to be considered a responder to acute oral supplementation, a favorable preexisting biological profile may determine the final extent to which an individual responds to supplementation.
The bolded part there is a sciencey way of saying "look asshole, you don't have enough muscle mass yet."

This makes sense to me as I can see a bunch of kids buying shit at GNC to "get swole" that have been training all of 3 months.  In other words, the container (the actual muscle cells) aren't large enough benefit from adding in creatine in the first place.

So if you are a noob, get some muscle on you first before you add in the creatine.  Otherwise, there is a good chance it's not going to do a lot for you.

BCAA's - 

I remember when I started using BCAA as my choice of peri-workout drink.

I had more energy, felt better during training, and felt like I recovered better from hard training sessions.  Of course, it could have all been placebo, but even if so, there is nothing wrong with placebo effect if it does indeed make you better.

I think half of that was placebo, but half was not.  Apparently the feeling of recovering better was indeed very real....

Data show that BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis.

And this one......

BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), particularly leucine, have anabolic effects on protein metabolism by increasing the rate of protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein degradation in resting human muscle. Also, during recovery from endurance exercise, BCAAs were found to have anabolic effects in human muscle.

If this is making your head spin, let's understand that what BCAA's do is increase muscle protein synthesis.  In laymans terms, muscle protein synthesis is the removing or rebuilding of damaged muscle tissue in the body.

After training, muscle protein synthesis is increased by about 50% approximately four after after a hard training session, and peaks at about 109% 24 hours after training.  After that it declines pretty rapidly back to normal at about 36 hours.

So the first 24 hours after training is the time in which you need to do all of the right things to make this process work for you.  And that's where BCAA's play a part in helping to speed up recovery.

Dosage -

I use BCAA during training and take in somewhere between 15 and 20 grams in that time.  I don't use it before, or after.  I generally rely on food for pre and post workout meals.  I have used supplements for this, but for me I've found that eating makes me feel better overall.  For the last couple of years I have used USPLabs version, in case someone wants to ask for a brand name recommendation.

Broscience - 

I did cite studies here, because I do believe they are important.  However I don't think any study is the be-all end-all of say in regards to training, diet, or supplementation.

We live in a time where access to studies and research is unparalleled.  And that's great.  To a point.

If you dismiss the word of thousands of people about the benefits of taking a supplement because a study says it doesn't work, then it's possible you're missing out.  Everything in training, dieting, and supplementation can't be narrowed down to a study.  It can only give us some insight to particular areas of those things.  The rest has to be "tried" by you as an individual so you can make a decision for yourself.

For example, I used chromium picolinate for years and without fail, when I upped the dose on it, I would get leaner.  Even if my diet didn't change.  But studies will say it can't do it.  I can tell you for a fact, it did.  Every single time I took it.  So had I only read a study, I would have dismissed it as a supplement that doesn't work.

The three supplements above have been both studied AND used by a metric shit ton of people, with great success.  So these are three supplements you can start with, and feel pretty good about in regards to spending your money.

Part 2 next week......

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  1. Good read. I work out first thing in the morning and take BCAAs during training with Gatorade per Mike Israetel's suggestion in your talks with him. After working out I take whey with creatine. With fish oil I'd imagine quality plays a massive role in how effective it is for you. A lot of the pills can get rancid and with that being the case the health benefits become pretty dubious. I used to take casein back when I first started lifting to protect my GAINZ when I was 150 lbs. So I look forward to seeing if you have a strong take on drinking a casein shake at night.

  2. Paul how come you haven't been posting training logs/videos anymore? That was my favorite part about this blog.

    1. I can get back on it. Just been difficult lately.

  3. You may be in a subset of people with a chromium deficiency.

    Imagine if the creatine responder vs. non-responder ratios were flipped. A number of initial studies likely show no benefits of creatine over just regular training --> topic looses publicity --> research dollars stop flowing --> no more studies. Then, those saying that creatine works for them are deemed to be spewing "broscience." It's frustrating how these "broscience" claims are routinely ruled out without consideration of the hypothetical scenario outlined above.

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