Is there such a thing as a natural “energy booster” that really peps you up? Do the so-called fat-burners” actually work? Will protein powders help you build more muscle? Are there legal “steroid replacements” that mimic the effects of powerful anabolic drugs without the side effects?These questions have bewildered millions of health conscious consumers for decades. Because we are constantly bombarded by advertising for hundreds of products making outlandish health claims, it has become increasingly difficult to tell what to believe and what not to. A magic pill that gives you a body like Schwarzennegger overnight doesn’t exist and it never will, but recent advances in nutrition science have produced some remarkably effective products that are definitely worth considering.
A basic mutlivitamin-mineral is the cornerstone of a solid supplementation program. Unfortunately, most people misunderstand the role vitamins and minerals play in human nutrition. If you think you’re going to get a super-charged energy blast, a decrease in body fat, or a spurt of muscle growth by simply popping a few pills every day, you’re in for a big disappointment. Vitamin and mineral supplements will not burn more fat, build more muscle, increase energy, or improve athletic performance. However, if you are deficient in certain nutrients you will most definitely see a decrease in fitness levels, health and performance.
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Today, most people rely heavily on processed, enriched, and refined foods. In addition, high stress levels, strenuous workouts, and missed meals may all contribute to a less than optimal intake of essential nutrients. Under these conditions, it is difficult to guarantee that you’re getting everything you need from your food alone. Taking a vitamin and mineral supplement acts as an “insurance policy” against deficiencies so that you can function at optimal levels.
Chromium for example, is a mineral that has been hyped as a fat burner and muscle builder. It’s true that Chromium plays a role in fat loss and muscle development as well as in the regulation of blood sugar. However, if your diet isn’t deficient in Chromium, taking additional Chromium will probably do little or nothing for you. According to government statistics, many Americans are not getting enough of this important nutrient in their regular diets. The reason for taking the supplement is not because it’s a miracle fat burner and muscle builder, but because it’s protecting you from deficiency. A good multi-vitamin mineral formula will contain every essential nutrient you need (including the recommended daily dose of 200 mcg of Chromium).
There is no such thing as a pill that simply burns away body fat. Fat loss is primarily a function of negative energy balance (burning more calories than you consume). Even if such a “magic” pill did exist, it would not be a permanent solution to the obesity problem because it would be addressing the symptom (the fat) and not the cause (poor nutrition and lack of activity). Many products advertised today as “fat burners” are utterly worthless frauds.
One category of products that are effective is “thermogenic” agents. These formulas raise body temperature and increase metabolism, thereby burning off calories as heat. The most common ingredients in these products are the natural herbs “Ma Huang,” or “ephedra” which contains ephedrine, and “Kola Nut,” which contains caffeine. Published, peer-reviewed studies have shown that this combination works synergistically for a thermogenic and a stimulant effect.
Recently, ephedra products were banned by the FDA and they are no longer available for over the counter sale. The banning of ephedra is not a great loss, however, because thermogenic products, although effective stimulants and thermogenics, were not without their drawbacks. Because they are powerful central nervous system stimulants, overuse may cause side effects such as insomnia, heart palpitations, and jitteriness. Long term use can cause adrenal fatigue. Although ephedrine (and ephedra) was relatively safe when compared to prescription drugs and other over the counter drugs, overuse and abuse has been known to cause trips to the emergency room and even death.
Meal replacement products (MRP’s)
Eating small, frequent meals (five to six per day) speeds up the metabolism, increases energy levels, decreases the chance of fat storage from overfeeding, and allows the body to process more protein and nutrients for muscle growth. With the fast paced, hectic lifestyles that many of us lead, it is often very difficult to eat frequently.
If a crazy schedule makes it hard for you to eat a balanced whole food meal everry three hours or so, meal replacement products (MRP’s) are a tremendous convenience. The addition of one or two MRP’s can improve your results by allowing you to maintain your meal frequency and a steady flow of protein and nutrients into your system.
MRP’s are low in calories and fat, and high in protein and essential nutrients. They usually come in convenient single serving packets that you can carry with you if you are on the go. “MET-RX,” “Myoplex,” and “Labrada’s Lean Body” are some of the more well known and popular brands. These products are not intended to take the place of good eating habits, but they are an extremely convenient way to get a “meal” in a hurry.Protein SupplementsFor years a heated debate has raged over whether or not extra protein will boost muscle development. Everyone knows that protein is the raw material for building muscle, but many people do not consume enough protein foods to support muscle growth during periods of intense training.
Since proteins cannot be stored like carbohydrates, it’s important to eat a serving of protein such as egg whites, fish, lean meat, or a nonfat dairy product with every meal. If you’re already consuming a high quality source of protein with each meal five to six times a day, taking heaps of additional protein probably won’t speed up muscle growth any further. But if you’re one of those people who are not eating enough protein foods in your regular diet, then protein supplements will definitely help.
One of the best types of protein supplement is whey, which is a milk-based protein that has been specially processed (most of the lactose has been removed), and it has one of the highest biological values and utilization rates of all the proteins. Protein powder supplements canbe made into shakes or mixed into food such as oatmeal. Consumed with a balanced meal instead of a protein food provides a great convenience for busy people.
Countless supplements over the years have been touted as “steroid replacements” which supposedly mimic the effects of anabolic drugs. Virtually any product which advertises itself as a “steroid replacement” is a scam. Steroids are drugs, supplements are food; there is a big difference! If any over the counter product did produce the same effects of steroids it would soon be discovered by the FDA who would promptly yank it off the market.
While certainly not approaching the effectiveness of steroids, one compound which has been proven effective in enhancing strength is Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine is a metabolite which regenerates ATP, the high powered chemical that supplies energy for the initial seconds of muscle contraction. The effects of Creatine, which have been studied and documented in peer reviewed scientific and medical journals include increased strength, power, muscle mass, recovery time, and weight gain.
Creatine is unquestionably the most popular supplement in the sports nutrition world today and is being used widely by sprinters, bicyclists, football players, boxers, powerlifters, bodybuilders and virtually any athlete who requires strength and power.
In the quest for a better body, everyone seems to be looking for an easy way, but the truth is there is no way to develop a great physique other than good nutrition and outright hard work. Supplements help, but they simply cannot take the place of good eating habits and hard training. Instead of looking for a magic elixir, you should first start paying more attention to proper nutrition and training. Once you’ve established a sound nutrition program and a consistent training regimen, then try adding some of the supplements we’ve discussed and they might just give you that slight edge that you’re looking for.
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Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author ofBurn the Fat, Feed The Muscle(BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has writtenover 140 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development,Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for Global-Fitness.com and thenutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com and his articles are featured regularly on literally dozens of other websites.