Walk into any of the many fine health-food retail outlets, and you can’t help but be mesmerized by the smorgasbord of products available. Barely a decade or so ago all you had were protein powders that tasted no better than pigs’ feet soaked in vinegar. You also had an assortment of minerals that were useless for bodybuilding, accompanied by extravagant claims (boron, anyone?).
These days we have creatine and essential amino acids. Then there’s HMB and a host of other solid anabolic/anticatabolic agents that are supported by science. With the good, however, come the bad and downright ugly.
In a study done at the School of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, Dr. Alekha Dash analyzed three popular creatine products.1 He measured levels of creatine and creatinine in two effervescent powders (as seen in Muscle-Link and MET-Rx) and a liquid formulation, which comes in colors bright enough to stop you in your tracks. What the good doctor found was that the two effervescent formulas contained 99.2 to 99.6 percent of the amount claimed on the label. The creatine liquid contained 1.71 percent. Yes, you’re reading that right: 1.71 percent. So if the formula is supposed to have five grams, or 5,000 milligrams, of creatine, it actually only has 85 milligrams. Let’s just say that 85 milligrams might be enough to load a pygmy beaver, but not a human being.
Protein jacks up metabolic rate. When it comes to diets, they all work’as long as you stick with them. But when it comes to losing loads of fat and getting shredded, going the low-carb/high-protein route seems to work best. Why?
A recent study compared the thermogenic effect of a high-protein/lowfat diet to a high-carb/lowfat diet in young healthy female college students.2 It found that postprandial thermogenesis (that’s geekspeak for a rise in metabolic rate after eating) was 100 percent higher in the high-protein group.
So if you ate 1,000 calories of chicken breast (assuming it’s 100 percent protein) vs. 1,000 calories of bread (assuming it’s 100 percent carbs) once a week, theoretically, that should translate into a 14-to-15-pound weight gain in one year. But alas, a calorie is not a calorie. It’s much tougher to get fat on lean-protein calories than it is on carb calories (or fat calories, for that matter).
The study proves that protein is much more thermogenic.
It’s about time! Without science we wouldn’t have effective disease-fighting medicines. When it comes to nutrition, however, the average consumer complains that getting nutrition advice from a physician is no more useful than asking your pet beagle.
Still, we’ve got to hand it to the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published a report that states: ‘Pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.’3 Prudent? How about it being straight common sense? We know that most Americans are fat, out-of-shape slugs. We know most Americans would rather drink a beer and watch football than actually go out there and play football. And we know most Americans would rather eat a cup of lard than a plate of veggies. So why has it taken so long for conventional medicine to tell us the obvious?
Bottom line: Nobody eats perfectly all the time. Taking a vitamin-and-mineral tablet is an insurance policy against inadequate vitamin and mineral intake. What’s the risk of not taking one? According to the authors of the study, ‘Suboptimal folic acid levels, along with suboptimal levels of vitamins B6 and B12, are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, neural-tube defects and colon and breast cancer; low levels of vitamin D contribute to osteopenia and fractures; and low levels of the antioxidant vitamins’A, E and C’may increase risk for several chronic diseases.’ What’s the upside of taking a multi? You decrease the risk for those diseases. Enough said.
1 Dash, A.K., and Sawhney, A. (2002). A simple LC method with UV detection for the analysis of creatine and creatinine and its application to several creatine formulations. Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analyses. In press.
2 Johnston, C.S.; Day, C.S.; and Swan, P.D. (2002) Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100 percent on a high-protein, lowfat diet vs. a high-carbohydrate diet in healthy young women. J Am Coll Nutr. 21:55-61. 3 Fletcher, R.H., and Fairfield, K.M. (2002). Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: clinical applications. JAMA. 287:3127-9. Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., CSCS, earned his doctorate at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He is a co-editor (with Jeffrey R. Stout, Ph.D.) of and contributor to Sports Supplements (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), Sports Supplement Encyclopedia (Nutricia), Supplements for Strength-Power Athletes (Human Kinetics) and Supplements for Endurance Athletes (Human Kinetics). For more information visit www.supplementbooks.com. IM