Ever get tired of watching late-night infomercials and seeing those cheesy guys with bad haircuts hocking pills that make big promises that you KNOW won’t deliver? What about the hunks of steel in the muscle mags that say they got that way from Pill X – but you’d bet your first born they did more than use Pill X to look like that!
Then there’s the anticipation of taking the leap and buying a new supplement, tearing open the bottle and taking it for a few days, only to find out it’s a glorified caffeine pill that does nothing more than make you feel like you’re gonna shake yourself unconscious in the gym.
The fact of the matter is: No supplement fits into a one-size-fits-all category. There’s no such thing as a magic pill to lose weight or gain muscle.
However, there are supplements out there that actually DO assist you towards getting that lean, firm body, those rippling muscles, and the turning-of-heads by the opposite sex you’re looking for (and that goes for both men AND ladies!)
Keep in mind: The key to remember about ANY supplement is timing! Just like you wouldn’t eat a large meal 15 minutes before bedtime, you gotta know when to feed your body the right supplement to get closer to your body goals!
Key Supp #1: Whey Protein Isolate
This amino acid is highly prized by most in the strength training community for its bio availability (aka how much of it is actually absorbed by the body) and that its more easily processed by the body (read: less tummy aches).
However, you gotta keep in mind that whey protein causes an insulin spike, therefore raising your blood sugar level, so you want to confine your intake of this one to strictly after you’ve worked out, and not at night. In about an hour, you’ll have burned through the protein and find yourself hungry again. And at 2am, the last thing you wanna think about is what’s in the fridge (‘cause you’ll prol’ly go for something of the junk food variety!)
Key Supp #2: Casein
So if you can’t drink a whey protein shake before bed, how do you keep that full feeling throughout the night?The answer is still protein, just a different kind.
While whey protein is a byproduct of milk, it only makes up about 20% of the protein in milk. The other 80% is casein! This stuff can take as long as 7 hours to fully release all the amino acids into your blood stream, making it perfect to nosh on before bed. The result? Casein protein keeps you full overnight! Just don’t take right after your workout. It sits in your stomach like a lead weight. Casein protein turns to glue in your gut (literally). Down your casein shake about an hour or so before bed for best results.
This author prefers a chocolate flavored casein shake mixed with a tablespoon of peanut butter. Can you say Reese’s Cup? Yum!
Key Supp #3: Creatine
Prol’ly the most widely researched and scientifically sound supplement on the market today! Women fear it’ll turn them into the Incredible Hulk. Men believe it’ll turn them into the Incredible Hulk.
But they’re both wrong.
When properly consumed, your body converts creatine into phosphocreatine which stores energy for use by the muscles (along with water, but more on that in a sec). Studies indicate it may also help maintain muscle mass and prevent wasting of muscle strength while recovering from muscle injury!
Creatine is not for cyclists, runners, or ‘pure cardio’ fans – you know, lower intensity, repetitive endurance activities. Use it more for short bursts of energy like those needed during weight lifting or playing a sport like basketball.
But you’re in no danger (whether you see it as a good or bad thing) of turning into the Incredible Hulk. Creatine merely gives your muscles energy to perform when you need them to.
Take 15-30 grams daily for 3-4 days followed by a maintenance dose of 2-5 grams daily. (Don’t wanna take it in pill form? You can always just eat more wild game, lean red meat, and fish (including salmon and tuna).) Source: Solve It with Supplements by Robert A. Schulman, MD
Note: Due to its water-retaining properties, creatine isn’t necessarily for someone trying to lose weight (you’ll gain a pound or two while taking it, but the water weight goes away if you stop taking creatine). Also, caffeine may inhibit the effects of creatine. Finally, (as if you needed to be reminded) drink lots of water to make up for that being used by creatine in the muscles.
Key Supp #4: Glutamine
Our next supp is produced in small amounts when you eat and helps with recovery after a workout. Due to its muscle sparing effects, glutamine stimulates biocarbonate production which neutralizes acid production in your muscles (put simply, less soreness after you’ve hit the gym!) Your body manufactures glutamine from the glutamic acid in the liver, which is why liver-related diseases can often result in a glutamine deficiency (think liver cirrhosis or cancer).
It’s even been suggested by scientists that glutamine may prevent some athletes from getting sick or infections after ‘periods of major athletic exertion’ (think contest or competition). Glutamine is stored in the muscle tissues to be converted to glucose and used for energy as your body needs it.
Glutamine is available in powder form and can be mixed with most fluids (except hot water or high-acid juices like orange as it changes its chemical composition). Glutamine pills are also quite common. Dosage ranges from 1-10 grams daily.
Note: Occasional constipation may occur. Drink 10 glasses of water and keep an eye on your soluble fiber intake while taking glutamine.
Key Supp #5: L-Arginine
Wouldn’t it be great to have a supplement that took care of sexual dysfunction, aided in thehealing of wounds, removal of ammonia from body, secretion of important hormones, functioning of immune system? Arginine’s your supp on this one!
Its main role is to help body produce nitric oxide, a substance that dilates blood vessels and relaxes them to allow blood to flow more freely throughout the body.
In plain English – think of your blood vessels as pipes. The bigger the pipe, the more that’ll flow through it. Keep in mind that if you aren’t keeping an eye on your nutrition as well, all the arginine in the world won’t help. It’ll be like giving a garbage truck its own freeway. The garbage just gets there faster and certainly won’t smell any better!
Note: We’re talking vasodilation here. That means if you’re on anything else that would also increase blood flow (read: V1agra) pick one of the two. You can’t take both.
But Wait, There’s More!
Not content with simply the FIVE supplements you shouldn’t do without, here are an extra three to give you the edge you’ve been craving!
Bonus Supp #1: 5-HTP
Ah, 5–hydroxytryptophan. There’s a word you don’t use every day! Better known as 5-HTP, your body uses it to turn it into serotonin (which also works to combat insomnia, depression, headaches, and chronic pain).
Serotonin acts as a gossip line (neurotransmitter) that carries messages between nerve cells. The cool thing about 5_-HTP is that it’s got all the positive effects of prescription meds without the negative side effects that go with them (see any commercial where the guy talks fast at the end and says, “Side effects may include…” and then lists a series of horrible, much-worse-than-the-original-symptom possibilities.)
In one study, overweight women took 5-HTP and changed nothing else in their lives (diet or exercise) and lost 2% of their body weight. When they followed a weight loss plan in conjunction, they lost 3%! Creates a feeling of saiety after eating.
This author I uses it because, with all the energy from a good workout, blood flowing freely and quickly, it can be hard to relax at night (and your muscles can’t recuperate without 8 hours of rest!) You’ll sleep like a baby when you take 5-HTP on an empty stomach before bedtime (give it about 30 minutes, max).
Bonus Supp #2: L-Carnitine
We’re putting out another call to your liver for the production of another muscle assistant! This time, it’s for L-Carnitine. This little gem is produced from the amino acids lysine and methionine and most healthy people produce enough on their own. However, those looking to change the shape of their body (whether bigger or smaller) would want to take an L-Carnitine supplement for more of a good thing!
It actually comes in 3 forms: L-Carnitine (affects muscles), L-acetylcarnitine (affects brain function and memory), and L-propionylcarnitine (affects the heart and brain).
The importance of this particular supp is its vital role in helping the body turn fat into energy. Rather than some fat burners which are nothing more than glorified caffeine pills, L-Carnitine transports long-chain fatty acids to the mitochondria (the energy-producers). It has even been found to block the action of excess thyroid hormone in cells (good if you’ve got hypothyroidism!)
Just know if you’re taking more than the recommended dosage (NO MORE than 5mg a day), you may develop a close relationship with your toilet as diarrhea and nausea are common side effects!
Bonus Supp #3: Yohimbe (topical only)
Ah, the controversial yohimbe (or yohimbine)! An extract from the bark of the yohimbe tree, this one’s primarily promoted for male impotence.
But don’t let the popular cause fool ya! There’s a LOT more to this supp than meets the eye!
Yohimbe doesn’t just dilate the blood vessels. It’s also a selective alpha-2 antagonist and can actually increase peripheral blood flow to specific areas of the body. Put simply, yohimbe works to increase the disposal of the various break down products of fat lipolysis. (Source: The Encyclopedia of Body Building by Robert Kennedy)
But there’s a catch: most folks are content to take this one orally – but then your whole body is absorbing it! While you KNOW you can’t spot reduce any particular area on your body – you CAN…help it along! By using a transdermal cream (similar to the stop-smoking patch), you can apply yohimbe directly to your skin in cream form. This bypasses the absorption by your internal organs and sends this mighty supp straight to the areas you’re looking to reduce! (Don’t go for those products that sell a yohimbe patch to be applied behind the ear. Those go straight into your blood stream and you don’t want that!)
A word of caution, though: If you notice an increase in your heart rate or hand tremors, stop using yohimbe.
Leave the one-size-fits-all to the late night infomercials and start doing more research on what natural supplements are available to help you get the body you’re looking for (minus the 5 easy payments of $19.95!)