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Which Ones Complete The Puzzle?

by Phil Kaplan

This article was originally published in Personal Fitness Professional Magazine.

The day I began this article, a client sat down with a member of my training staff and held her bottles out with pride. This was a scheduled nutrition discussion and before any mention of food, she was inclined to review her supplement regimen.

"This is what I take," she proclaimed. The trainer, as he's been trained to do, asked the obvious question.

"And what is it that you're trying to achieve?"

Two words followed. "Burn fat."



He brought her into my office and explained that she was frustrated. After all, chromium was supposed to melt fat away while she sat on the couch and watched TV. Pyruvate was going to cause every cell in her body to exercise for her. The thermogenic formula was going to boost her metabolism and give her a lean, shapely body. I asked a simple question, "If any of these "worked," would you be sitting here right now?" It took mere seconds for common sense to set in.

The awakening I witness in such cases still astounds me.

Cutting through Confusion
I know every trainer has faced the supplement junkie in search of the "one that works." I also know that while trainers understand that supplements cannot be a "solution," they are, as are their clients, in some cases every bit as confused as to what "research has proven.” With the multitude of new "fat burners" showing up in everywhere from convenience stores to gas stations and promotions for these products infiltrating TV, radio and even shopping malls, it's no wonder confusion abounds.

Let's be honest. NO supplement burns fat!

Before you jump out of your shorts screaming "thermogenic magic," revisit that statement. I didn't say there aren't supplements that can play a role in the fat burning process. I said NO supplement burns fat, and I'll stand behind that statement until ...well...until fat melts off my body "while I eat all the pizza, ice cream and butter I want," just as the ads promise.

To attempt to answer every supplement question in a single article would be a fruitless undertaking. My goal, therefore, is to provide a "filter," a foundation of knowledge which can help you see through much of the supplement deception and put you in a far better position to share valuable information with your dedicated clients.

The first rule: A supplement, by definition, means "the addition to." The addition to what? Obviously, if the goal is fitness, muscle gain or fat loss, the addition to training and eating.

Here’s a second rule: NEVER blindly believe the ads! That doesn't mean all ads are fraudulent, it just means the companies that place them buy the space and use it to say, in many cases, anything they want. While some offer insight into legitimate science and sell their products based on true product value, others confuse consumers with scientific double talk and lead people to believe that some "new miracle discovery" has opened the door for miraculous results.

From A to Z
Read the ads. Know what information your clients are being subjected to and do the best you can to filter the information so you can empower clients to make wiser choices. With fraud pushed aside, there are some incredible supplements that can aid your clients immensely. Let's take a look at some of the "hottest" products and examine their potential benefits:

Pyruvate - If you know anyone who "melted fat without exercise" using pyruvate, I beg you to contact me. Pyruvate (pyruvic acid) is in fact a by product of carbohydrate metabolism, but that doesn't necessarily mean oral supplementation magnifies the effect. If an individual consumes adequate carbohydrates and exercises regularly, pyruvate is manufactured without any need for oral addition. The study most quoted in pyruvate ads uses overweight women on low-calorie diets. There are far too many variables to consider this study conclusive, especially one that would lend itself to active people who are eating supportively and exercising. Another oft-referenced study performed on exercising men and women (“The effects of pyruvate supplementation on body composition in overweight individuals.” Nutrition, 1999) used six grams of pyruvate per day, far more than the products referencing the research provide in their recommendations. Most popular supplements suggest doses of 500 milligrams – 750 milligrams three times daily.

Fat Blockers – Xenical the drug and chitosan the supplement achieve their actions are differently, yet both promise to block the absorption of fat. When you put chitosan, a substance extracted from shellfish, in the digestive tract it attracts fat molecules and blobs them up into such large "fat balls" they can't be absorbed. Whenever you block absorption of fat, there are some possible discomforts and risks. First, the essential vitamins, A, D, E and K are fat soluble vitamins. If you are limiting fat absorption, you can not help but restrict absorption of these essential micronutrients. These vitamins play a role in metabolism, immune function and overall health. Aside from blocking absorption of essential vitamins, the side effects of keeping fat in the digestive tract include (I'm using the words in the Xenical disclaimers although most, if not all of these can be listed as risks with chitosan as well) oily spotting, anal leakage, intestinal cramping, gas with discharge, nausea, diarrhea, fecal urgency, loose and oily stools as well as fecal incontinence. I believe, from our standpoint, the worst part of the fat blocker marketing is the promotion of the belief people can eat all the fat they want, take a pill and not worry about any potential ills. One of the largest marketers of chitosan was recently fined more than $10 million by the FTC for making misleading claims. Still, the products sell.

Thermogenics - Thermogenic means "initiating heat." Since a calorie is a unit of heat, any product or activity that can increase heat production, even moderately, can result in greater caloric expenditure over time. The thermogenic products most popular among bodybuilding and weight-loss markets are herbal combinations of the drugs caffeine and ephedrine. Some incorporate other compounds such as aspirin to potentiate the “thermogenic” effect. Caffeine and ephedrine are both stimulants, as well as addictive and together they suppress appetite. Caffeine also has a slight diuretic effect. If you elevate someone's heart rate, feed him less (due to decreased appetite) and get him addicted to stimulant products with water loss properties, is he going to lose weight? Of course! Does that mean it's healthful or there's a long-term benefit to metabolism? Does that mean "fat melts?" Nope. Can these thermogenics play a role in facilitating greater fat loss if used sparingly as "the addition to" a carefully designed exercise program? Yes. All the way back in 1984, researchers were able to evidence the weight loss benefits of ephedrine in clinical trials. There has since been extensive research in humans proving caffeine and ephedrine to assist in quest of weight loss. The challenge here is that too many randomly swallow these thermogenic formulas and run the risk of addiction and side effects. Too many believe the thermogenic products, in and of themselves, will rid their bodies of excess fat. Many weight-loss hopefuls who have battled obesity for decades have thyroid, blood pressure and cardiorespiratory issues that might put them in the high-risk category for which ephedrine and caffeine are contraindicated. The side effects can range from headaches and tremors to, in extreme cases of overuse or abuse by individuals with risk factors, stroke and death. My intention is not to discourage you from recognizing the potential value of these products, but rather to help you understand they are not "fat-burning miracles" as the advertising may lead you to believe. As misinformation in this area abounds, you might consider the importance we need to place upon education. Remember, NO supplement burns fat!

Protein Powders - After years of debate, it appears clear that exercising individuals, especially those in search of muscle gain stimulated by intense resistance training, have greater protein demands than their sedentary counterparts. Realize, however, that protein is not a supplement, but a nutrient. In the event that you cannot comfortably get enough protein from meals, a protein supplement becomes a valid option. Protein manufacturers have learned to chemically break proteins down into hydrolysates, smaller chains of amino acids, to make the formulas "better," with whey developing a reputation as the "best" protein source. Before you jump on the whey hydrolysate bandwagon, understand that more important than what you "eat" is "what you use." A recent study (Boirie Y; Dangin M; Gachon P; Vasson MP; Maubois JL; Beaufr`ere B, Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proc National Academy of Sciences United States of America, 94(26):14930-5 1997) illustrated that ingestion of a protein hydrolysate formula with quick gastric emptying properties can result in abrupt increases in serum amino acid levels, causing liver enzymes to metabolize many of the amino acids that could have been used for protein synthesis. It appears, based upon the Boirie study, that you'd get much better utilization by combining a high-quality whey isolate with a slower release protein, such as casein. Do you have to therefore become a scientist to understand what protein powders work? No. You just need to understand the ads sometimes hype products based on laboratory jargon that has little relevance to actual human results. An affordable combination of milk protein isolates and/or egg protein will in all likelihood provide your clients with equal or superior benefit to many of the “cutting-edge” formulas for far less money.

MRPs (meal replacement powders) - When a supportive meal is not available, a meal replacement can certainly act as a valuable aid. You have to become a bit of a label-reading detective to tell the differences between the formulas, and even with careful label inspection it's hard to tell what's inside. If you find quality proteins (usually grouped together as a trademarked "proprietary blend”), maltodextrin as a carbohydrate source and a complete mix of vitamins and minerals, you're doing okay. Be on the lookout for ingredient lists that include barley malt, corn syrup, fructose, etc. These are all simple sugars. The new breed of MRPs have not sacrificed taste by eliminating sugar. They’ve developed great tasting powders using acesulfame K, stevia, sucralose and other sweeteners. Also watch ingredient labels for hydrogenated oils added, not for biological value, but rather for “mouth feel.” The best selling commercial brands are all quite similar. Using the few guidelines offered here, anyone should be able to make a wise choice in selecting a meal replacement formula that aids in obtaining valuable nutrient intake frequently throughout the day.

Androstenedione (and other testosterone precursors) – Before randomly swallowing hormonal “supplements,” it’s important to recognize that when you synthetically alter production of a specific hormone (i.e. testosterone), you can be certain there’s going to be an effect on other hormones in the hormonal cascade (i.e. estrogen). I haven’t seen any published research to validate muscle growth claims of any versions of the new hormonal products and a recent study appeared to evidence no muscle building benefit and possible increases in estradiol, an estrogen, the complete opposite effect most “andro” consumers seek. An understanding of biochemistry might lead you to conclude that oral hormone manipulation using some of the testosterone precursors can actually result in some of the side effects of anabolic steroid drugs without delivering desired effects. I would discourage trainers from recommending their clients attempt to manipulate hormones through random supplementation.

Creatine - Creatine monohydrate can result in attracting more water into every muscle cell, as well as increasing phosphocreatine supply in muscle. It’s the first and only supplement I've ever wholeheartedly endorsed as an aid for muscle gain, strength and performance. Creatine monohydrate powder conclusively proves efficacious in research. Other forms of creatine are often sold more with hype than substantiated value. If you are speaking to your clients about the benefits of creatine monohydrate, you’re safe keeping references to creatine monohydrate powder. While research has further shown a potential added benefit of ingesting five milligrams of creatine with 35 to 75 grams of sugar, many product manufacturers have increased their profit margins by creating “creatine delivery” formulas, which allow them to charge you lots of money for inexpensive sugar.

Recovery - the post exercise state offers a unique opportunity to refill glycogen stores. There is substantial evidence to suggest a muscle building and recuperative advantage to consuming a post-workout mix of glucose and fructose within 30 minutes following exercise. The newest formulas are enhanced with predigested proteins for quick absorption and L-glutamine, creatine and complete vitamin/mineral profiles. These formulas can definitely act as aids in furthering workout intensity and benefit.

There Are No Miracles
There are some age-old vitamin and mineral supplements that have been touted as having great benefits. The fact is, they are micronutrients, essential in the picture of optimal health, but not single performers presenting any miraculous improvement. Without essential micronutrition, you might limit your potential for results. Since exercise increases bodily demand for all nutrients, there are some supplements that can be protective or can act as insurance to make sure micronutrition needs are met. I personally use 2000 milligrams of supplemental Vitamin C, 400 iu of Vitamin E, a B-complex and a multi-mineral formula. I’ve always shared the potential benefits of these nutrients with clients and allowed them to make their own decisions. Most of my clients take a C, E, multi-mineral and B-complex with breakfast, but none expect miracles. They understand that building a lean, toned, healthy body has far more to do with a foundation of exercise and eating than it does with any promised “magic in a bottle.”

I’d suggest that as a professional, you maintain a consistent focus on what you know to be effective and maintain an ongoing commitment to learn, question and protect your clients from what may be unproven, over-hyped and in some cases, potentially dangerous. Exercise and supportive eating offers a sound foundation for any physical excellence program. While proven supplements can be integrated into a complete program of exercise and nutrition with safety and value, there is not and probably never will be a supplement that replaces the foundation we’ve all been trained to uphold and build upon.

Phil Kaplan is the author of Personal Training Profits and A Secure Fitness Future and one of the world’s most in-demand fitness professionals. His PEAK Training seminar program helps fitness professionals build and develop their careers. He can be reached at 800.552.1998 or you can visit him on the Web at www.philkaplan.com.



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