Monthly Archives: July 2015

  • Straight Talk on Supplements: Separating the BS From the Beneficial

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    Supplements are a massive, billion-dollar industry that’s constantly growing. And for good reason - supplements can help push you past plateaus in your workouts, as well as keep you focused and alert when you’re having an off day.

    The thing is… there’s so much out there! There are so many brands, so many flavors, so many types, so many sizes, and so many recommendations. How can you tell what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s straight up BS when it comes to supplements?

    That’s what I’m here for. I’ll help you cut through all the nonsense floating around out there on supplements and get you set up with recommendations on what’s really worth pursuing and what you should avoid at all costs.

    Because, let’s be real here - there are some supplements out there that you really should avoid.

    So Much Variety

    For starters, let’s run down the list of the most notable fitness-related supplement categories:

    • Protein: Usually taken in the form of a powder, used often in shakes, smoothies or bars, protein will help your muscles recover faster post-workout.
    • Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs): Specific amino acids, often taken in capsule form (sometimes as a powder), that are used to provide focus and prevent muscle breakdown during exercise.
    • Beta-alanine: Another amino acid that helps reduce exercise-induced fatigue and improves your capacity for anaerobic exercise.
    • Creatine monohydrate: Typically taken in powder form and used to help produce ATP (your muscles’ energy source).
    • Glutamine: A common amino acid that transforms glucose into energy (generally taken in powder form).
    • Human growth hormone (HGH): Most often used medicinally with a purpose of helping to offset aging (comes in many forms).

    If you know a bit about supplements, it should be clear to you that one of these things is not like the others.

    kc2It’s human growth hormone. HGH has important medicinal uses, but its place as a casual workout/fitness supplement is definitely not advisable. There are simply too many potential side effects that come along with HGH supplements when there’s no medical need for them, including an increased risk of:

    • Carpal tunnel syndrome
    • High blood pressure
    • Diabetes
    • In some instances, cancer

    Part of the reason for all of these negative side-effects is that non-medically prescribed HGH supplements aren’t regulated, so you don’t really know what you’re taking. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take my supplements cancer-free, please and thank you.

    As for the other supplements on my earlier list, they all serve different, yet important, purposes. Protein powders are great for your post-workout nutrition, as protein is an essential ingredient for rebuilding your sore muscles in recovery. As mentioned in my article on pre- and post-workout nutrition, start with a daily protein intake of 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and increase up to 1.2-1.5 grams as needed, based on your personal physiology and exercise objectives.

    BCAAs, on the other hand, are commonly taken pre-workout, as they help promote focus and alertness, and also help prevent the breakdown of muscles. Amino acid supplements have been studied extensively in their effectiveness as pre-workout supplements, and the results consistently show a positive impact in terms of the long-term strength gains associated with being able to lift more.

    The other amino acid on our list, beta-alanine, has been extensively studied in more than 23 exercise tests and discovered to reduce exercise-induced fatigue by limiting the amount of the dipeptide carnosine that’s stored in the muscles. It’s best taken as a pre-workout supplement, with clinically effective doses ranging from 2.6 to 6.4 grams a day.

    Next up comes creatine monohydrate, a supplement that’s been the subject of lots of debate in the fitness industry. In supplement form, it’s been shown to have some undesirable side effects, such as muscle cramping and irregular heartbeats. The way I see it, if there’s one thing you need during a workout, it’s a reliable heartbeat!

    There’s also the argument made that, since you naturally produce small amounts of creatine and get it from your diet if you eat meat and fish, that supplementation is unnecessary (making your risks of the side effects described above unnecessary as well).

    kc3On the flip side, the side effects of creatine are less severe than those attributed to many other supplements, and it’s worth noting that these side effects haven’t yet been proven to be a direct result of taking supplemental creatine. At the same time, rigorous scientific studies suggest that the compound can be used effectively to build muscle, improve anaerobic endurance and reduce soreness from exercise.

    Clearly, no one knows for certain, so maybe just put supplemental creatine on the back-burner for now. Unless you have kidney disease (in that case, stay away!). For all other users, there’s minimal risk associated with a loading period of 20 grams per day for 5-7 days and a maintenance dose of 5 grams a day after that. Give it a try if you’re interested, but discontinue usage if you experience side effects that outweigh the supplement’s benefits.

    Finally, glutamine rounds out my list of main fitness supplements as a great post-workout complement to your protein powder. Your body’s natural glutamine stores are depleted from intense workouts, and research has shown glutamine supplements have beneficial effects post-workout when it comes to dealing with the stress of regular, prolonged exercise and boosting your immune system.

    So basically, you can recover from your workout more efficiently while fighting off sickness. How’s that for Double Awesomeness?

    That covers the general types of supplements you’ll want to use or avoid, but how do you know whether or not individual products are safe? How do you know they’re healthy? Tackling this tricky territory requires an informed approach.

    My Protein Shake Has What in it?

    I mentioned earlier that HGH supplements are unregulated, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that no fitness supplement is regulated by the FDA or other governmental body.

    Hmmm… Sounds sketchy, right?

    What this means is that you have to do your own “regulating.” And the biggest thing you need to watch out for are certain ingredients, usually called “filler ingredients.” Why? Because, well, they’re just taking up space - and they aren’t doing your body any favors in the process.

    Here are the major things to watch out for on the ingredients list of any supplement:

    • Hydrogenated oils: Look out for any oils labeled “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” These highly processed oils contribute to a number of heart problems, encourage strokes, block absorption of essential fatty acids, and mess with your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Definitely not something you want floating around in your protein shake.
    • Magnesium stearate: Magnesium stearate ends up in your supplements because it makes the ingredients easier to process through manufacturing equipment. Yup, even though “magnesium” is in the name, it has no nutrition value at all, and regular consumption of it has been shown to line your intestines with a film that can block your ability to absorb nutrients. Seems a bit counterintuitive to have something like that in a nutrition supplement, am I right?
    • Titanium dioxide: Titanium dioxide is a pigment used in many cosmetic products, but it’s been officially classified a “Group 2B Carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). So basically, it’s officially been cited as a cancer risk. That’s a pretty clear warning sign to avoid if you see it on the ingredients list of your supplements.

    Most of these filler ingredients end up in your supplements simply because they make processing easier and cheaper - not because they add nutritional value to your supplements. Protect yourself. While you don’t need to go whole-hog “100% natural” to benefit from proper supplementation, it is important to know what you’re putting into your body and why.

    Know Who to Trust

    I’ve covered the main ingredient warning signs (which you should take as bright flashing lights that scream “Run!”), but what about other signs that show a supplement’s quality?

    Just because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements doesn’t mean there aren’t others willing to tackle the job for them. In fact, there are a number of third-party supplement certification organizations. These organizations allow supplement producers to run their product through a number of tests that look for harmful ingredients - including fillers, like the big three I talked about above - as well as investigating the overall nutritional quality of the product.

    If a supplement passes the test, they get a seal for their product packaging to show who they’re certified by. There are a number of these companies, but some of the most trustworthy are:

    Check out any of their websites to see a full run-down of their testing process (like this quick rundown of Informed Choice’s program).

    Navigating the Supplement Waters

    Designing the right supplement routine can be a daunting task, but following these basic principles should help guide your way. Remember, you’ve only got one body - it’s up to you to do your due diligence to be sure you’re treating it properly. Always check ingredients lists, and keep an eye out for seals of approval from trusted nutrition supplement certifiers. Your health and your performance are worth it.

    What supplements do you use before, during and after your workouts? Share your favorites in the comments below!

     

    Images: Flickr, Flickr, Flickr

     

  • Your Complete Guide to Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition

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    Working out is hard. If you want the best results, you have to push yourself to limits you didn’t know you had, and strive to do better and better each time.

    It takes a toll on your body.

    That’s why it’s important to pair an awesome workout plan with an amazing nutrition plan. What you eat is always important, but when you’re hitting it hard in the gym, your nutrition plan before and after your workout might be the most important part of what you eat each day.

    From supplements to real food, from what to eat to when to eat, here’s your complete guide to pre- and post-workout nutrition.

    Timing is Everything

    When you eat goes beyond “before and after my workout.” The key term here is nutrient timing - the specific windows around your workout when you’ll get the most out of what you eat.

    This is important for two reasons:

    1. Fueling your body. You need energy and focus during a workout, and your muscles need to be able to withstand the exertion you place upon them.
    2. Helping your body recover. If you can’t recover from an intense workout, don’t expect to be able to push it hard the next time you’re in the gym.

    Nutrient timing has been debated by fitness professionals ad nauseum, and for good reason. It’s an incredibly important aspect of pre- and post-workout nutrition.

    kc2As they say: “timing is everything.”

    Your body is primed to make the most of the food you put in it at certain times before and after a workout. One commonly-suggested window for timing your pre- and post-workout meals is “one hour before and after a workout.”

    While that’s a good recommendation, let’s get more specific. If you eat smaller meals along with supplements around your workouts, studies indicate an optimal window of 3-4 hours. What does that mean?

    Let’s say you exercise after work and have your pre-workout meal at 5:00 PM. In this case, you’ll want to have your post-workout meal no later than 9:00 PM - four hours after your pre-workout meal. The 3-4 hour window falls from your pre-workout meal to post-workout meal.

    So, of course, the “one hour before and after a workout” window still works, but this larger window gives you more leeway and freedom around how you go about your pre- and post-workout meals. If your workout is only thirty minutes long, you’ve got tons of time before and after your workout. On the other hand, if you’re going for an hour or more, you’ll have to be more aware of the clock.

    If you tend to eat fewer, larger meals, that 3-4 hour window can increase to a 5-6 hour window. Let’s say you work out after a big lunch at 12:00 PM. In this instance, you could wait to eat again until 6:00 PM and still get the full benefit of your post-workout meal.

    Here are some more examples of how this optimal window looks in action:

    • You workout at 5:00 AM, so you eat a light breakfast at 4:00 AM and then a small post-workout meal at 8:00 AM (fitting into the 3-4 hour window)
    • You’ve scheduled a noon workout on a Saturday, so you have a big lunch at 10:30 AM, work out at noon, and then have another full meal again at 3:30 PM (5 hours later, fitting into the larger window for big meals)
    • You’re a night owl, and work out at 10:00 PM. You don’t want to eat huge meals before bed, so you have a quick carb-based snack at 9:30 PM, workout, and then grab a protein bar at 11:30 PM. Your meals work inside the 3-4 hour window as well - it’s not as if you have to wait four hours to have your post-workout meal if you don’t want to.

    The beauty of the 3-4 or 5-6 window is that you can plan around the kind of meal you’re having, not just around these recommended intervals. If you like to eat big before and after a workout, you’ve got more freedom in the way you can time these meals and still get the maximum benefit. Or, if you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, smoothies and protein bars work great as smaller pre- and post-workout meals.

    Nutrient timing has been proven effective, allowing you to gain muscle and strength faster than just “winging it.” When you eat is important to ensure your body gets the most out of what you’re putting in it.

    Of course, timing isn’t everything (despite what the old saying claims), and that’s where the rest of this guide comes in. It’s time to talk about what to eat before and after your workout.

    Time to Get Energized!

    So what’s the pre-workout meal all about? It’s about energy. Eating before your workout should be entirely focused on fueling up and prepping your body to crush an awesome workout. This means you need a different meal and supplement plan pre-workout than you do post-workout.

    kc3The consensus seems to be that caffeine and amino acids are a necessity for improving energy and performance. Caffeine gets a bad rap, but it’s actually good for you in modest amounts. With many studies looking at the effects of caffeine on workout performance, the encouraging results of this research lends credence to the classic tip of having an espresso or two before a workout.

    Amino acids are another necessity, as they help prevent the breakdown of muscles during exercise. This lets you workout longer and, as a result, get more out of your workout.

    Studies on the pre-workout use of caffeine and amino acids show a 10% increase in participants’ aerobic capacity (the maximum amount of oxygen your body has access to during exercise).

    And that’s all pretty impressive, but what does it mean for you?

    An increase of 10% aerobic capacity helps you run farther and faster, and to lift heavier weights longer. That could mean burning an extra 200-300 calories per week from your cardio workouts alone. As an added bonus, on top of burning calories, this extra endurance can help you build muscle and get stronger faster.

    Rest and Recover

    So you’ve had your pre-workout meal, you’ve hit the gym, and worked as hard as you can - now it’s time for that sweet post-workout meal. The post-workout meal is all about recovery, helping you to reap the rewards from your past workout and to get your muscles ready for the next one.

    kc4In order to effectively recover from a workout, you need amino acids and healthy carbs. But you also need the “p” word: protein.

    If you have time for a sit-down meal, cook up some eggs or chicken breast, both of which are great sources of protein. Or, if you’re recovering on the go, try protein bars and shakes along with your Kill Cliff. Greek yogurt serves as a great protein-filled on-the-go snack that can be eaten on its own or mixed into smoothies and shakes to give your post-workout meal a personal touch.

    As far as specific recommendations go, studies indicate that around 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is the minimum needed to get the optimal muscle-building effect. Even if your goal isn’t building muscle, this minimum recommendation is still important when it comes to maintaining your muscle mass and helping your muscles recover from grueling workouts.

    Recovery is key to your ability to perform over the long haul. And protein is a big factor in your ability to recover successfully - whether your goals are building muscle or not.

    Final Thoughts

    Whew - that was a lot of data to throw at you. Now, let’s recap all of those tips, thoughts, and recommendations, as well as provide a few extra tips::

    • Consider the nutrient timing window (3-4 hours for smaller meals or 5-6 hours with big meals) as more of an upper limit. If you want to eat immediately before and after your workout, there’s nothing stopping you.
    • Find what works for you. If you prefer to take your workout nutrition on-the-go, make sure your shakes, bars, and other supplements are hitting the necessary protein amounts. If you have time for a sit-down meal, try to incorporate more whole foods alongside your supplements.
    • The 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight should be taken as a daily minimum. If you’re looking for bigger gains - or if you missed out on protein in your earlier meals - bump that number up as needed.
    • Pre-workout, don’t eat “heavy” foods. Your stomach will thank you when you’re banging out heavy sets. Save these foods for your post-workout recovery meal. Trust me… you don’t want to find yourself in a bind at the bottom of a squat!
    • Finally, if you work out with a friend, get them on board with your pre- and post-workout nutrition plan. Having someone else on the same page when it comes to nutrition will make a big difference in your ability to stick to your plan.

    Pre- and post-workout nutrition can be that “x-factor” that, if you get them right, pushes you into gains and results you never expected. Still, it’s nothing without a solid workout plan, so don’t skimp on your workouts and expect your nutrition plan to pick up the slack.

    Ultimately, it’s a synergistic relationship that depends on your fitness and nutrition working in harmony. Use these tips and recommendations to push you ahead, enhancing your workouts to get awesome, exciting gains.

    Did you learn anything new from these recommendations? Do you have strategies of your own that weren’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below!

     

    Images: Flickr, Pixabay, Pixabay, Pixabay

     

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