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ECA: Burn Fat, Shed Muscle?

Does ephedrine trigger stress hormones that cannibalize lean mass?

Despite the fact that ephedrine has been crucified by the media and the FDA has banned its use, many of us still use ephedrine-and-caffeine products on a regular basis to boost workout intensity and enhance fat burning. Most major supplement companies have reformulated their fat burners and added other, less controversial ingredients, but I've found that they don't offer anywhere near the same kick as the products that include ephedrine.

I've stocked up for the inevitable day when those products become as hard to acquire as steroids. After all, unless you have a heart problem or are an out-of-shape, dehydrated baseball player suffering through spring training in the crushing heat and humidity of Florida, the risk seems to be minimal. Besides which, many of us have grown to love and even depend on the enhanced concentration and endurance that ephedrine and caffeine products impart in the gym. Skip La Cour suggested I try them more than 10 years ago, and I've used them ever since.

I would have kept popping those gelcaps like M&M's before every workout had it not been for a seminar I recently attended in New Hampshire with top amateur superheavyweight bodybuilder Dave Palumbo. An audience member asked his opinion of ephedra products, and for the first time I heard a totally different and far more compelling reason to avoid them. 'Ephedrine stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, and that's a very bad thing for anyone attempting to gain muscle mass,' Palumbo explained. 'You'd never catch me taking ephedrine. A strong cup of coffee before you train is more than adequate to boost your intensity and focus, and there are other options for fat burning as well.'

All of a sudden my mind started racing. Was I, along with many thousands of bodybuilders, stifling potential gains by habitual use of ephedrine-and-caffeine compounds? Dave is one of the most knowledgeable men in the sport, especially with regard to nutrition and supplementation, so I couldn't brush off his opinion lightly.

As a result of Palumbo's comments, I have curtailed my ephedrine use to just one workout a week, for whichever bodypart I feel I need the extra intensity. Most bodybuilders would opt to use it on back or leg day; for me it's arms. Although it's far too early for me to say that I've noticed an improvement in my gains from cutting out the ephedrine, I have a strong feeling that weaning myself off this drug can only be a positive thing.

I urge all of you who have made ephedrine as much a part of your workout as your lifting belt and favorite tank top to at least consider cycling on and off it. If nothing else, you'll once again get the old kick from ephedrine that you used to before your body grew accustomed to it. Something that helps you train harder isn't of much use if it also prevents you from making gains from that training. IM

Editor's note: Visit Ron Harris' Web site at

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