I’ve decided to do a blog post that is not a product review. I was sitting at my desk, considering what supplement to review next (I’ll take suggestions in the comments, too), and I was experiencing a bit of “blogger’s block”. Then, I stumbled upon an excellent bit of advice (from Po Bronson), which was, simply, “write about what makes you angry.” What delightful advice that is; many things make me angry! With regards to the supplement industry, however, I do not equivocate in the slightest about what makes me angry: it’s the “quick-fixers”. What’s a quick-fixer? These are the people who think the solution to all their physique problems lies in new product X; these are the people who call us and breathlessly describe their situation, which inevitably concludes with “… so the cruise (wedding, high school reunion) is in nine days and I need to lose 20lbs. before then. Oh, and I can’t do cardio; I have a medical condition. What do you sell that does this?”; these are the people who eat less than 100g of protein per day, but insist that they just “can’t gain weight”, and therefore have to have the new pre-workout formula (because that’s obviously their biggest problem, lack of NO-Xplode!); these are the people that call in and interrupt – smugly – with the assertion that they’ve “done a bit of research, too, and if there’s one ingredient backed by science, it’s arginine” (completely absurd, see here). I can go on for days with these. Have you met a quick-fixer, and therefore dealt with the mind-numbing frustration they cause? Are you a quick-fixer? Well, I’m going to *ahem* fix it for you, and quickly (if you’re willing to listen). Let’s use a case study like they do at all the fancy-schmancy graduate schools, shall we? Away we go.
Scenario: You have $150 in your pocket, own zero supplements, and have ambition. You want to gain lean muscle, but “could be a bit leaner, too”.
First off, congratulations on the ambition part, now you just have to sustain it and you will be miles ahead of 95% of the population; however, there is a serious problem with this statement that needs to be addressed before I can talk about what you should spend your money on. You cannot – to any significant degree – gain lean body mass and lose fat at the same time (unless you are a rank beginner, and even then, these so-called “newbie gains” cannot be sustained)! This is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. I used to say to my clients, “if you chase two rabbits, both will get away.” I get these emails from our customers – we do free diet consults via email with a purchase, by the way – and they often say things like, “I’m 150 pounds at 20% body fat, and I want to be 180 pounds at 10% body fat! I’ve got six weeks; I’ve been up since 5AM drinking coffee and snorting crack – it’s a fat potent fat burner, you know; let’s do it, coach!” Hold up a second, tiger, let’s sit down, take a hard look in the mirror and decide what you really want the most.
My recommendation in the case of overweight people is always the same: you need to lose the fat first. Lean people tend to stay lean (yes it is unfair, but more than likely, they worked hard for that leanness), and they also tend to put on less fat when they do attempt to gain muscle (for a variety of hormonal and enzyme-related reasons).
That being said, let’s revisit the specific scenario at hand: you’ve got $150 and you’re full of fire and brimstone, and let’s say you happen to be sufficiently lean. Again, before we get “all hopped up on NO-Xplode“, are you taking, AT THE BARE MINIUM, 1g of protein per lb. of bodyweight (e.g., a 170lb. person needs 170g of protein per day)? If not, start doing that, and if you can’t reach that number with whole food products, you need a protein supplement. Lately, I’ve been using this one: Myofusion. Going to get it from us? You’ll be out $37.99, but you’re getting 63 servings so it’s definitely cost-effective. Any high-quality protein that is predominately whey will work fine, however. Let’s say you purchased the Myofusion, here’s your current financial state: $150 – $38 = $112.
Now you’re eating high-quality, whole food sources of protein and supplementing with Myofusion when a chicken breast is not convenient or practical, and you’re eating somewhere between 4-6 times per day to get to your magic number: 170g of protein per day (for ease of example, you’ve temporarily become the 170lb. person in question, just go with it). If you’re weight-training with sufficient intensity, post-workout is the one time I consider supplementation to be paramount and irreplaceable. You need to be taking a recovery beverage post-workout as an insurance policy against wasting time in the gym. If you were paying attention above, you’d notice that I was using the Myofusion as a hedge against not getting enough protein from whole food sources. If you’re easily meeting your minimum daily protein requirement (everyone say it with me: 1g of protein per lb. of bodyweight) using whole food sources, feel free to drop the protein powder. Recovery beverages (assuming you’re using a quality one) do something that whole foods cannot: digest rapidly; therefore, they cannot be replaced by whole foods. In this case, speed is to your advantage, especially when replenishing muscle glycogen is of primary importance, as certain enzymes (e.g., glycogen synthetase) that are acutely elevated after exercise will degrade rapidly. Getting amino acids (from protein) to your depleted muscles post-exercise is your other main concern, and this usually can be accomplished far faster with a recovery beverage, too. Not fulfilling these two important needs after working out is a sure-fire way to not make progress at the gym. Purchase your insurance policy, people. Empyrean Nutrition’s Insu-Pro is the best we’ve got, so let’s balance the checkbook: $112 – $45 = $67.
Okay, we’re consistently eating adequate amounts of protein and recovering properly; what’s next? Consider these questions: Are you interested in improving overall health and mood and energy? Are you interested in minimizing your risk of almost every major disease currently crippling America? Are you interested in preventing a deficiency that can hinder your progress towards newly minted hard-earned muscle?
All these questions lead to the important question: Are you currently taking an omega-3/essential fat supplement?
Fats (and amino acids for that matter), when labeled essential, refer to the fact that the body cannot synthesize them on their own; they must be realized through dietary intake, and if they are not, the resulting deficiencies can eventually result in death. Now, granted, we don’t have people keeling over from omega-3 deficiency, but there is a world of difference between bare minimum and optimum. The science of omega-3s/essential fats can (and will) be an entire blog post by itself; however, rest assured that inadequate levels of them can have serious ramifications to your progress in the gym. My favorite essential fat product is Udo’s Choice 3-6-9 Oil with DHA. Use a few teaspoons judiciously on salads or in protein shakes throughout the day and you’ll feel… better. Such supplementation will impart modest improvements in mood, concentration and energy; coupled with decreased joint and muscle pain; and, increased fat metabolism and fewer incidences of sugar/carbohydrate cravings. Each individual effect may be subtle, but the sum total is profound. You’ll thank me, and the benefit compared to the cost is immense: $67 – $28 = $39.
What I’ve been doing above isn’t haphazard; I’m not taking the shotgun approach to supplementation (like everyone else).
I’ve been systematically removing three incredibly common roadblocks to progress. By covering your protein intake, your post-workout nutrition, and your essential fat intake, you now have an open highway to drive towards your goal, but you’d be amazed how many people are not currently addressing any of these factors. Zero. Not a single one. You can use the remaining $39 at your discretion; if you’re even slightly concerned about performance, I suggest reading John’s blog post about creatine and beta-alanine, and supplementing accordingly. Cover the basics before buying supplements that I call “feel” products (e.g., fat burners and pre-workout drinks and nitric oxide/arginine pills) and your body will thank you, the scale will drop precipitously, you’ll be the envy of all your friends, famous people will want to sleep with you, a money tree will grow in your backyard… Okay, I’m kidding, but look around you in your gym; would you say the majority of the people are meeting their goals? Ever wonder why? If you’re not meeting yours either, consider going back to the basics. The road to success starts with consistently getting enough protein and essential fats, and insuring your time spent at the gym with a quality post-workout beverage. Get back to the essentials here:
Gaspari Nutrition MyoFusion 5LB
Kaizen Creatine Monohydrate