Useful and Useless Supplements
A guest post from the experts over at Examine.com on several of the most useful and useless supplements you and your clients encounter here. Enjoy!
Useless (or perhaps just overrated):
Glutamine is commonly recommended for helping you build muscle due to its role in muscle cells (more glutamine in a cell means more muscle protein synthesis). Some people go so far as to say it is mandatory for building muscle.
The reality is, yes, more glutamine does more muscle building… if it could actually get to the cells! When you ingest glutamine, it goes from your stomach to your intestines, where it should be absorbed. Unfortunately for your muscles, the intestines and liver love glutamine, and pretty much sequester it all for themselves, tightly regulating how much goes out.
There are only two instances where glutamine becomes deficient and you need supplementation:
- Severe trauma and burn victims. Unless you are in the hospital, this does not apply to you
- Extremely prolonged cardiovascular exercise
Glutamine can also be thought of as a healthy aid for your intestines. But for actually building muscle? Unnecessary.
Glucosamine is interesting because it is highly recommended for joint health, and is in fact one of the world’s best selling supplement.
The reality is that glucosamine only has evidence supporting its usage for people with osteoarthritis; even then, only glucosamine sulfate works, with glucosamine hydrochloride completely useless. The idea that perhaps it is just sulfate that is beneficial is proposed it actually makes sense because:
- Sulfate only helps joint pain in those who are deficient, which explains why 10% of people swear by glucosamine (and the others find it useless).
- Other sulfur based joint health supplements (MSM, N-acetylcysteine) have the same issue.have similar unreliability and similar degrees of benefit
- Glucosamine hydrochloride can be made effective, but only when paired with chondroitin sulfate
Thus it may make more sense to recommend a client consume more dietary protein, particularly sources high in sulfur (whey, eggs), and if they still experience joint pain use anti-inflammatories (boswellia, pycnogenol, curcumin; perhaps even standard NSAIDs) rather than glucosamine supplementation.
It would be incorrect to say all fat burners are useless, but we can safely say that nothing available legally works in any significant matter.
Fat burners tend to fall into one of four categories:
- Things that increase the metabolic rate without necessarily being stimulants
- Appetite suppressants
- Calorie absorption blockers
And all categories have their problems:
- While stimulants do technically work, taking “more” has dangerous side-effects. The increase in metabolic rate is still fairly small (50-100kcal a day or so) resulting in only a small boost, and even then, it only works if you are naive (eg caffeine does not work for habitual coffee drinkers).
- The most proven one (DNP) can also be lethal, whereas the others currently on the market (ginger, fucoxanthin, grains of paradise) are only in preliminary stages of research and seem to have a slightly lower degree of effectiveness than even stimulants.
- While these can be effective for clients who emotionally cannot eat less, they only work because the client eats less.
- Same idea as the appetite suppressants, but less reliable and even then, not very effective.
In a sense, if a client is to be using a fat burner they need to be briefed that they may, at most, make a few pounds of a difference. Stimulants also need to be approached cautiously, particular in those with a history of heart disease.
Testosterone boosters bring up a logical fallacy – just because increased testosterone means an increased libido does not mean increased libido means increased testosterone.
Which is exactly how most testosterone boosters work. The most popular of them all, trib, is an excellent general health supplement and aphrodisiac, but has no discernable impact on your actual testosterone levels.
To be more accurate, the entire category of testosterone boosters that are available legally can be called “libido enhancers” – they in fact may be good for general health, but none will result in extra muscle mass.
Vitamin D and K
The RDI for vitamins is set so that it staves off diseased states. For vitamin D, that is rickets, and for vitamin K, that is hemorrhaging. With that in mind:
- The optimal for D+K is not the RDI, but much higher (just notice how much more vitamin D is recommended )
- You could get them from diet, but it is near impossible
- Supplementation is cheap and safe.
Both of these supplements are health based, particularly for bone and cardiovascular health although there are some minor benefits to cognition and glucose metabolism (anti-diabetes).
While fish oil is not mandatory, it is our primary source of omega-3s.
At the end of the day, you want a ratio of roughly 1:10 for omega-3s to omega-6s. Omega-6s are found aplenty in our diet already – fatty red meat is filled with them. Thus, unless your client is consuming fatty fish, supplementing with omega-3s is the way to go.
An omega-3 supplement that contains omega-6s are useless; pass on those.
While ideally one would balance their dietary intake and supplement accordingly, a general blanket statement for recommendations would be 500-1,000mg for somebody with a low fat western diet and 2,000-3,000mg for a high fat western diet with plenty of animal meat. These doses refer to combined EPA and DHA as well, not overall fish oil (so a 500mg capsule with 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA would only be considered as 300mg).
Magnesium, Zinc, Calcium, Iron (conditionally essential minerals)
Unlike vitamin D and K, there is no dietary mineral which we can conclusively say that ‘everybody should take’ (although magnesium comes close). All we can say is that there are a few minerals which you are more likely to be deficient in and they should be considered to be supplemented if you meet the criteria.
Magnesium is difficult to obtain via diet, but it can be done. If your client is eating a low amount of calories or the nutrient density of the diet is not very high then magnesium might be recommended.
While zinc can be gained through an adequate meat intake (insofar that sedentary omnivores are rarely deficient in the first world), a standard diet with excessive sweating or a vegetarian diet might predispose one to a relative zinc deficiency; in those cases, consider supplementation.
Calcium can easily be obtained through dietary whey and casein protein, and should be considered for women (particularly of older age) and vegetarians.
Finally, iron should be considered again for females and vegetarians, although usually when supplementation is needed it should be overseen by a medical doctor (since iron overdoses are quite dangerous).
Creatine is known to be the most well researched ergogenic aid, and alongside its high efficacy comes a surprisingly good safety profile and mountains of evidence to support its usage. It has numerous benefits worthy of supplementation, including:
- Increasing power output (acutely as well as indirectly via building muscle)
- Increasing the rate of muscle protein synthesis and strength; in the elderly this may result in less falls
- Increasing how anti-diabetic exercise can be (without necessarily causing drops in blood glucose)
- Supports how resilient a cell is to stressors by preventing ATP depletion, which underlies neuroprotective effects
- Maybe only in women, but creatine can augment serotonin based anti-depressants and may confer some anti-depressant properties on its own
- In vegetarians and the elderly, as well as sleep deprived omnivores, creatine improves attention and cognition
Worries about kidney and liver issues are highly overblown. It is also cheap, which is why it is easy to recommend (no need for pills or fancy mixes, just take simple creatine monohydrate).
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