Best Foods for Strength and Stamina: Which Nutrients Provide the Most Energy
A stroll through the aisles of any health food store will reveal a dazzling array of sophisticated and seductively packaged fitness foods, dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, herbal concoctions, organic derivatives and scores of other ingestibles. These products tempt those who dream of effortless weight loss, accelerated muscle-building, or fail-safe protection against aging. Their very names attest to their claims: “Fat Burners.” “Brute Strength.” “Longevity.”
But instead of pushing your “buy me” button, products that promise “easy” fitness should sound shrill alarms.
Sales estimates from fitness foods are in the billions and account for more than half of all health food store revenues. What exactly are these products?
- Miracle Foods or Money Wasters?
- Promises, Promises
- Which Fitness Foods Keep Their Promise?
- Which Fitness Foods Don’t Deliver?
- Some Promising News . . . These May Work
- What Doesn’t Work
- Read the Label! Ingredients to Avoid
- Be Safe
- What Is a Carbohydrate?
- Carbohydrates and Weight Loss
- Top Energy Foods
- When’s the Best Time to Eat for Energy?
- Why Do Athletes “Carbo-Load?”
- Sports Drinks Vs. Juice
- What About Electrolytes?
- Doesn’t Protein Build Muscles?
- Children and Steroids
Nowadays, almost any substance you ingest in hopes of improving your level of nutrition is called a dietary supplement or “fitness food.” Once you achieve optimal nutrition by using supplements—so the theory goes—you will perform better, have boundless energy and strength, be able to burn fat and calories more rapidly, and have a body that looks and acts young well into old age.
For many people, dietary supplements, including vitamins and minerals, may have a place in a healthy diet plan. Products such as nutritionally complete formula meals are indispensable for the ill or the elderly, and for people otherwise unable to consume enough nutrients to meet daily needs.
But there are thousands of products whose health and fitness claims cannot be scientifically proven—and some of these could be harmful.
Promises made about so-called fitness foods run the gamut from speedy, effortless weight loss to efficient, muscular weight-gain. Other products claim to grow hair, reduce the risks of birth defects, lower stress, improve athletic performance, combat osteoporosis, and heighten sexual prowess.
How do you know which preparations will fulfill their promises? The truth is, you really don’t, and, in many cases, unless you’re an expert on nutrition or chemistry, it is unlikely that reading the label will help you choose a product that does what it says it will do.
Concern over consumer confusion and safety has forced government agencies to set new regulatory guidelines for labeling and health claims.
In 1990, the federal Food and Drug Administration passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, which requires food makers to back all explicit and implied health claims—even those suggested by the product’s brand name—with scientific documentation. It also set standards for the meaning of “low,” “light,” and “free”.
Now, for example, each serving of a “low-fat” product must contain no more than three grams of fat in each serving or 100 grams of the food. Products labeled “low-cholesterol” must contain a maximum of 20 milligrams of cholesterol per serving or per 100 grams.
Supplement labels printed since July 1, 1994, cannot make unproven health claims, and so far, only ten have been deemed acceptable. Examples include the statement “aids in preventing osteoporosis” for foods high in calcium, and the claim that foods rich in folic acid help prevent birth defects when taken by pregnant women.
Although the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994 prohibited manufacturers from making unsupported claims, it freed them to introduce new products without FDA approval. The result has been a blizzard of “natural” supplements that promise vague health benefits without claiming to prevent or cure any specific disease. Faced with this largely untested array of tonics and nostrums, consumers today need to be more wary than ever when selecting a product.
The good news is that some products that make fitness claims can and do deliver on their promises. Certain packaged food mixes and diet supplements actually can help you lose weight and reduce body fat.
But there is a caveat. No preparation is effective alone; to achieve fitness you must also follow a well-balanced diet and stick with an exercise plan.
Fitness foods and supplements come in many forms: metabolism-boosting capsules; combination plans consisting of various nutrient-containing capsules along with powdered meals; or simply powders you mix with water, juice, or milk to make meal-in-a-glass shakes.
One of latest of these products, MET-Rx™, describes itself as an “engineered food,” claims to be “the most perfect food the world has ever seen,” and comes with a free 40+ page booklet. Scores of other products make similar fitness claims.
The MET-Rx booklet cautions that the product works best in conjunction with an exercise program (one is provided; it includes daily weight training alternating with aerobics) and a diet plan. Calories and foods are limited; suggested menus, recipes, and portion sizes are provided.
The diet recommendations made by MET-Rx’s manufacturers are sound; the exercise plan is similar to one a personal trainer might recommend. But given calorie limitation, a well-balanced diet, and a daily 30 minute workout, almost anyone would lose body fat, increase muscle mass, and enjoy the energizing benefits that come with regular exercise.
It is estimated that a year’s supply of products such as MET-Rx costs more than $2,500. The question is, are they really worth the money? The answer is up to you.
Some people do well on prepackaged plans that eliminate food choices and guesswork. If you’re one of these people, choose your muscle-building or weight-loss/muscle-toning product carefully to make certain it is well-balanced (or that you’re allowed to get the nutrients you need from whole foods). Double-check with your doctor to be certain that the preparation you’ve selected is a healthy one and that the exercise program is safe for you. Then follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and directions carefully.
When Buying Dietary Supplements or Foods to Increase Fitness…
Be wary of any fitness food or dietary supplement that makes miraculous claims. If a claim sounds unbelievable, it probably is. Pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers spend billions of dollars each year seeking solutions to obesity and cures for life-threatening diseases. When a discovery occurs, it makes headlines.
Think back to the end of 1994, for instance, when researchers working at Rockefeller University announced they had isolated a gene in mice that appeared to govern body weight. Though the scientists cautioned that a medical solution to obesity was still at least five to ten years away, the story was the day’s leading news in major media across the country.
Rest assured: When science finds a genuine cure for obesity, impotence, or AIDS, you’ll have heard about it on the evening news. If a spectacular claim on the label of a dietary supplement seems unfamiliar, that’s probably because it’s false.
Athletes, take note: There is no scientific evidence to indicate that vitamin supplements work as ergogenic (performance-enhancing) aids for healthy, well-nourished individuals, nor is there any evidence to suggest that using vitamins can boost normal energy or strength.
However, research does suggest that deficiencies of certain nutrients may lead to significantly impaired performance. Even short-term deficits of B vitamins, especially thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, can hamper aerobic endurance. Female runners with iron deficiencies are also at risk for endurance problems. In these cases, athletic function returns to normal as soon as the deficiencies are corrected.
Some studies suggest that antioxidant vitamins—C, E, and beta-carotene—can limit or repair the stress that can cause muscle damage during exercise. While hard scientific study has yet to prove that antioxidant supplements can improve athletic performance, some researchers believe that these supplements can guard against damage during training and competition.
Endurance athletes, especially those who are vegetarians or who consume fewer than 2,000 calories a day, may want to consider taking supplements containing E, C, B-complex, and iron. For female athletes—in fact, for all women—a bone-strengthening calcium supplement is advisable, too.
Caffeine. Studies have shown that caffeine may improve endurance and possibly even strength. Caffeine, the central nervous system stimulant found in coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate, and many over-the-counter energy aids, is one of the substances most commonly used by athletes.
There is some evidence to indicate that caffeine may increase the muscles’ fuel-burning abilities, and extend the amount of stored sugar available for energy use. Runners and cyclists have reported being able to achieve greater-than-normal-distance after a couple of cups of coffee.
But beware: Caffeine can also speed muscle contraction, which can lead to cramps. It may increase heart rate and cause palpitations in susceptible individuals. It also heightens the risk of heat stroke. In fact, in excessive amounts, it is on the list of drugs banned by the International Olympic Committee. Don’t forget, too, that caffeine increases your need to urinate and drink extra fluids, which might be highly undesirable during competitive events.
Chromium picolinate. This mineral has gained recent popularity for its abilities to improve glucose (blood sugar) tolerance and reduce blood serum cholesterol levels. The jury is still out on its real value. According to the Medical Tribune, a few studies have suggested that supplementing the diet with this mineral may help reduce body fat without cutting caloric intake. In a study of young athletes, those given chromium picolinate lost 22 percent of their body fat in 6 weeks, compared to 6 percent lost by a control group. In another study, subjects who were given from 200 to 400 micrograms of chromium picolinate a day averaged a loss of 4.2 pounds of fat and a gain of 1.4 pounds of muscle. Yet the majority of studies have failed to show any benefit at all.
Less controversial is the need for chromium supplements. At least one study indicates that the average, well-balanced diet may provide too little chromium to meet even basic needs. The diets studied provided only 13.4 micrograms per 1,000 calories. Although the exact RDA for chromium has yet to be established—estimates range from 50 to 200 micrograms a day—the National Academy of Science recommends 130 micrograms a day.
Carnitine. There is still much controversy about this vitamin-like amino acid. Though there’s no question that carnitine aids in the metabolism of fat, can it also improve stamina?
According to one proponent, Brian Leibowitz, M.S., author of Carnitine: The Vitamin B-T Phenomenon, the answer is a resounding yes. One of carnitine’s benefits, says Leibowitz, is that it can provide athletes with added strength and endurance.
Indeed, one study does show that carnitine supplementation improves athletic performance by 6 to 11 percent. However, another indicates that it had no effect on performance. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that there are “insufficient research data” available for using carnitine as a performance enhancer. And several years ago the French government took action against the makers of dozens of dietary supplements containing carnitine after a commission concluded that it neither enhanced athletic performance, nor was effective in assisting weight loss.
You can easily prevent carnitine deficiency by eating beef steak and ground beef, bacon, cooked fish, chicken breast, whole milk, cheese, and whole wheat. Vegetarians can combine rice, corn, or wheat with beans, to make certain they get an adequate supply.
Should you also use supplements of carnitine? Many experts say no. Others say that supplemental carnitine will produce no negative side effects, and that 1,000 to 4,000 milligrams daily, taken on an empty stomach in divided doses, may help speed weight loss.
Alcohol. Theoretically, alcohol could enhance endurance by literally making you forget that you’re tired. However, it is far more likely that drinking before a workout or competitive event will impair rather than improve your performance. Alcohol acts on the liver to decrease the release of glucose, which can lead to low blood sugar and fatigue. Drinking alcohol diminishes your capacity to think and reason and lowers your body temperature, an especially dangerous—even fatal—condition for skiers and swimmers. Drinking alcohol slows your reflexes and impairs your balance, increasing the risk of injuries. It can also lead to dehydration and heart illness.
Bee pollen has long been touted as a panacea for everything from impotence to memory loss. Though it is rich in many essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, studies have been unable to link it definitively to the enhancement of performance or athletic ability.
Bee pollen can cause life-threatening allergic reactions in some people. It should be avoided by those suffering from gout or kidney disease; and should never be given to infants. Although makers claim benefits for its “pure protein” content, it is ineffective as an energy booster, and at up to $45 per pound, is a wildly extravagant protein supplement.
Vitamin B15 (calcium pangamate). Although animal studies conducted in the Soviet Union suggested that vitamin B15 may enhance metabolism, at least four major studies in the U.S. found no connection between its use and an increase in fitness. Indeed, this product is so suspect that the Food and Drug Administration forbids its sale.
Coenzyme Q10. A fatty substance with the characteristics of a vitamin, coenzyme Q10 plays an essential role in heart functioning and metabolism. It has been used therapeutically in cardiac patients to increase the amount of oxygen the body can use and to improve their exercise performance.
However, both the Journal of the American Dietetic Association and the International Journal of Sports Nutrition warn that research does not support the value of coenzyme Q10, either alone or as part of a commercial supplement, for boosting athletic performance.
One company, Swanson Health Products of Fargo, North Dakota, responding to pressure from the FDA, agreed to stop making therapeutic claims for its coenzyme Q10, which it had marketed as a digestive aid.
However, others have called coenzyme Q10 an effective free radical fighter that has promise for use as a fitness-enhancing supplement. It has no known side effects, but two case reports suggest that it may make the blood-thinning drug Coumadin less effective.
Spirulina. This substance is, quite literally, pond scum—a blue-green algae that forms on the surface of ponds and lakes. The hype surrounding spirulina touts it as an energy and immunity booster that cleanses and detoxifies the body. Claims have been made for its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism, herpes, diabetes, arthritis, certain cancers, mood swings, jet lag, and drug addiction.
Spirulina’s food value is similar to that of the highly nutritious soybean, but with spirulina going for as much as $300 a pound, soybean products are a far better buy. The commonly recommended dosage contains little protein and fewer vitamins and minerals than are found in broccoli. Worse still, some products sold as spirulina contain none of the substance at all.
Choline is present in many foods and is readily manufactured by the body. There is no scientific evidence to indicate that choline can help counter the aging process or that it has any other special benefit. However, studies are being conducted to determine whether it is effective in treating certain brain disorders.
Ginkgo Biloba. Because this substance is found in the oldest living trees on the planet, some people have speculated that ginkgo biloba may be useful in treating a variety of disorders. While there is increasing reason to believe that ginkgo biloba may be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease, there is no proof that it can be used as an energy booster or fitness enhancer.
Ginseng. The Chinese believe ginseng to be a panacea for almost all diseases; it is also widely used by millions as an aphrodisiac. Its popularity and use in this country soared when news stories revealed that Russian athletes and cosmonauts swore by its energizing properties.
There is much lore and legend surrounding ginseng, but very little in the way of hard scientific data to prove its health benefits. On the contrary, it may cause harmful side effects, such as high blood pressure.
If you are one of the five to six million who choose to use this very costly substance, purchase it only from reputable companies: A study that analyzed 54 ginseng products found a quarter of them to be completely ginseng-free.
Shark cartilage. This trendy substance is cropping up in many supplements marketed as anti-inflammatory agents that promise to reduce muscle discomfort. It has also been touted as a remedy for cancer.
Does it work? No clinical tests confirm the claims of shark cartilage as an anti-inflammatory. As for its cancer-fighting benefits, even the manufacturers of shark cartilage admit that no links between the substance and the disease have been scientifically proven.
In addition to having no scientifically proven benefits, there are some supplements that may actually be dangerous. For example, some nutritional supplements containing desiccated porcine or bovine thyroid may, if taken in excess, contribute to an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). In general, products that contain substances derived from the glands of animals should be approached with caution; they may cause allergic reactions in some people, or could contain impurities that could be harmful.
Likewise, products containing ephedrine alkaloids (ephedra, ma huang, or epitonin) are best avoided. Marketed as energy boosters, these products can interact dangerously with a variety of prescription drugs and, in large enough doses, can cause fatalities. The FDA has warned that taking these products can be a dangerous health risk possibly leading to heart attack, stroke, or seizure.
How can you be certain that a dietary supplement is completely safe? Follow the suggestions in the box on choosing dietary supplements. Make certain you’re dealing with reputable, well-established companies. Avoid products that make wild, unsubstantiated claims. If someone recommends a product to you that contains unfamiliar ingredients, such as yohimbe bark or orchic, ask to see scientific proof of their efficacy.
For the best advice, start by asking your doctor. Although most doctors lack specialized knowledge of nutrition, they can usually refer you to a registered dietitian (RD), or they may be part of a medical group that has an RD on staff. There are 63,000 RDs across the country. Unlike “nutritionists,” each registered dietitian has gone through an approved course of study and testing; each is required to keep his or her credentials—and knowledge—up-to-date.
To locate a registered dietitian in your area, or to get more information, you can call the American Dietetic Association’s Hotline at 1-800-366-1655. Up-to-the-minute recorded information is available, as are free brochures. RDs are also listed in the Yellow Pages under “Dietitians.”
Although they claim to be experts, some fitness publications may not provide the soundest or safest nutritional advice. While many of these publications are scrupulous about accepting advertisements only from reputable manufacturers, others are not.
If you see a big ad for a dietary supplement close to an article praising its benefits, ask yourself this: If a publication relies on advertising money from supplement makers for its revenue, how objective will it be when it writes about its advertisers’ products?
What about the real fitness foods—those foods that aren’t engineered or designed, and that do not resemble edible chemistry sets? Which natural foods most enhance your energy and your fitness level?
Overwhelmingly, experts say that a diet rich in complex carbohydrates—fruits, vegetables, and grains—and low in fats is the surest way to overall health, energy, and fitness.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently revised its “Food Guide Pyramid” and now suggests that your daily diet should contain six to 11 daily servings of foods from the bread, rice, cereal, grain, and pasta group. Clearly, complex carbohydrates should form the foundation of a healthy eating plan.
There are two basic types of carbohydrates: starches (complex carbohydrates) and sugars (simple carbohydrates). Both simple and complex carbohydrates occur naturally in foods and can be chemically processed and refined.
Simple carbohydrates circulate in your body as “blood sugar,” or glucose. This type of sugar is essential for supplying the body with energy.
The most common complex carbohydrate is starch, which is made up of hundreds of glucose units linked together. Because starch must be broken down before use, it provides a longer-lasting source of energy.
Your body converts both simple and complex carbohydrates into glycogen, a substance stored in the muscle and the liver as an energy reserve. While it is essentially true that the more carbohydrates you take in—whether simple or complex—the more energy you’ll have, it is better to choose foods rich in complex carbohydrates than foods rich in simple carbohydrates.
Foods rich in complex carbohydrates generally contain large amounts of other essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. In addition, they are often excellent sources of dietary fiber, and are often low in fat.
In other words, foods such as starchy vegetables, pasta, whole-grain bread and cereals, barley, and rice provide plenty of long-lasting energy and offer lots of valuable nutritional benefits, while excess calories from sugary treats, which quickly shoot up your blood sugar level, can leave you feeling listless later on.
Certain popular weight loss programs still advise dieters to eat plenty of lean protein while limiting fats, starches, and sugars. Converting protein to energy is more difficult for the body than converting carbohydrates to energy. As a result, dieters on high-protein, low carb diets often complain of feeling tired, weak, and exhausted.
Most experts advocate precisely the opposite approach. For instance, the American Dietetic Association recommends making 60 to 65 percent of your diet complex carbohydrates. Though some “insulin-resistant” people need to go easy on carbohydrates in order to lose weight, for the majority of us, this percentage works best. In addition, keep fat to about 30 percent or less of your daily calorie intake; protein should make up the rest.
By limiting calories and following an exercise program that includes aerobics as well as strength training, dieters can expect to lose, on average, over a pound a week. In addition, they can expect to gain increased stamina, endurance, and energy. (For more detailed weight loss guidelines, turn to “Best Stategies for Losing Extra Pounds” and “How to Keep the Lost Pounds Off.”)
Complex carbohydrates are excellent energy boosters. Grain products and fruits are your best sources; and many offer a host of extra benefits. For example:
|•||Amaranth: This unfamiliar but highly nutritious grain is high in calcium. Like brown rice, whole wheat, buckwheat, and barley, it is a rich source of fiber and trace minerals.|
|•||Bananas, cantaloupes, oranges: These fruits are loaded with vitamins, fiber, and carbohydrates, and one banana contains as much as 25 percent of a day’s supply of potassium, a mineral needed for healthy blood pressure.|
|•||Carrots: By far the richest natural source of beta-carotene, carrots are high in fiber and minerals. Enjoy carrots frequently in all forms: cooked, raw, and as juice.|
|•||High C Fruits: A single serving of citrus fruit offers a day’s supply (or very nearly so) of vitamin C; and so do kiwis, pineapples, persimmons, and honeydew melons. In addition, many of these are loaded with potassium and other valuable nutrients.|
|•||Beans: All beans are high in iron and other minerals, high in fiber, and can be good sources of protein when combined with other vegetable proteins, such as rice.|
|•||Potatoes: A good source of vitamin C, copper, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, iron, and fiber, and low in calories. Eat them plain or with low-fat dressing.|
Studies at the University of Texas Exercise Science Labs indicate that your body uses carbohydrates most effectively within 2 hours after a workout. John Ivy, Ph.D., who conducted the tests, suggests that a good way to fight fatigue and feed muscles is to eat a protein and carbohydrate meal shortly after exercising. Doing so, he says, will maximize absorption of essential nutrients.
“Carbo-loading” is a dietary regimen that some marathon runners and other endurance athletes use to increase their stamina for races and other rigorous competitions.
The theory behind carbo-loading is that by “starving” skeletal muscles of their primary source of energy, glycogen, for a few days (by eating high-carb foods in much smaller amounts than normal), you can coax the muscles into soaking up glycogen when foods high in carbohydrates are eaten shortly before competition.
Studies have shown that a meal heavy in carbohydrates can indeed boost muscle glycogen by nearly 80 percent and enhance endurance, if not necessarily speed.
If you’re a well-trained athlete in generally good physical condition, it is probably safe to carbo load. Studies haven’t as yet turned up any negative effects from eating this way. As a matter of fact, the very low levels of blood sugar that result from carbo-loading may contribute to the good feeling called “runner’s high.” Be aware, however, that classic carbo-loading can also cause cramping, diarrhea, and extra water weight. Experts now recommend moderation.
Drink More Water When…
As we go through our daily activities, we are constantly losing fluid through perspiration and urine. Exercise increases this water loss. Doctors and nutritionists agree that you must drink liquids to replace those you lose, but which should you choose—and when should you take them?
For most of us, the best way to replace fluid is to drink plain, pure water. Even though water has no nutrients, it is one of the body’s most essential components.
In fact, our bodies are more than half water. Even our bones, the body’s densest components, are nearly one-third water. The brain is 75 percent water. The blood is 90 percent water. We can only survive about four days without water, although we can go for a couple of weeks or more without food.
Whether or not you are athletic, drink plenty of water. Start your morning with eight to 16 ounces, and take time for water breaks throughout the day, especially when exercising. Try to drink at least a half cup (four ounces) of water each hour—more if the air is dry or if it is hot. Don’t forget that caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are diuretics; consume a glass of water along with your coffee, tea, or wine.
When do you need more than water to replenish the body’s fluid losses? Unless you’re very serious about your exercise, the answer is rarely.
If you work out vigorously for over an hour, or at a moderate pace for over two hours, then it’s time to add energy (carbohydrates) to your drink. Otherwise, you are apt to suffer from fatigue or loss of endurance.
Diluting fruit juices half and half with water will give you a refreshing drink that serves up about the same amount of carbohydrates as most sports drinks—about 6 to 8 percent by weight. Drinking higher-carb fluids—whether juice or sports drinks—will slow absorption and may cause cramping.
Avoid sports drinks high in fructose, which can cause nausea and diarrhea at concentrations of 10 percent or higher. Most athletes tolerate simple sugar beverages well at concentrations higher than 10 percent; some can take beverages with glucose-polymers (maltodextrin or Polycose) at carbohydrate concentrations of up to 15 percent with no ill effect. However, it’s wiser to water the sweeter drinks down to the 8 percent level.
What many sports drinks provide that most diluted juices do not is a variety of electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Do you need them?
Electrolytes may improve a beverage’s taste and lead to increased fluid consumption. But most sports physiologists agree that the main point is to slake thirst and provide your body with needed fluid by drinking before and during exercise, and drinking beyond your thirst when you’ve finished working out. Precisely what you drink is of secondary importance.
On the other hand, adding electrolytes to a beverage may improve water and glucose absorption. Some studies have shown that beverages with glucose and electrolytes are more efficient for maintaining your body’s fluid balance.
Look beyond the complicated chemistry of sports beverages and here’s the bottom line: Drinking is essential to maintaining your energy and endurance; and a limited carbohydrate intake is needed to keep up your strength when you’re engaged in activities that require lots of endurance.
If you work out hard for less than an hour, or not so hard for less than two hours, water is just fine for you. If you’re a more dedicated athlete, a more serious sports beverage may be a better choice. But no matter how vigorously, or for how long, you exercise, drink well beyond your level of thirst, and you will fulfill your body’s fluid needs.
What Sports Beverages Contain
16 oz. water
8 oz. water
|Hydra Fuel||8 oz.||16.5||7||66||49.5||12.5||25|
|PR Solution||32 g/
16 oz. water
16 oz. water
12 oz. water
|Revenge Sport||25 g/
16 oz. water
|Ultima Replenisher||11.5 g||10||3||40||39||21||20|
|Ultra Fuel||16 oz||100||22||400||99||25||*|
|* Manufacturers do not specify amount.|
How can you develop the strength and musculature of a Hercules or an Amazon? “It’s easy,” say unscrupulous manufacturers. “Simply open a can and follow the directions.”
Scientists from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reviewed hundreds of self-proclaimed body-building, energy-releasing, and muscle-enhancing products. None were found to have any positive effect whatever on muscle size or strength.
Yet the market for protein- and amino acid-based products is a tremendously profitable one. Why? The answer lies in the consumer: Men and women who are avid body-builders and fitness enthusiasts are extremely susceptible to the aggressive marketing efforts of companies who promise them better bodies. In a study of competitive body-builders, 90 percent of the men and 100 percent of the women were found to use nutritional supplements.
Though no study exists to prove that using amino acid or protein supplements will enhance musculature, there are reliable studies proving that athletes and body-builders believe in the effectiveness of ergogenic (performance-enhancing) drugs and aids. As long as this misconception exists, so will the market for worthless and potentially dangerous muscle-building formulations.
According to one expert, the only way to get muscles from a protein or amino acid supplement is by lugging the can home from the store.
What, then, is behind “protein builds muscles” theory? Protein contains certain amino acids that trigger the release of growth hormone. As its name implies, this hormone stimulates muscle growth, thereby decreasing fat storage. So, if some amino acids are good, more must be better, right?
“Wrong,” say the experts. It’s true that when you eat a protein such as meat, your body uses the amino acids to make new protein in the form of hormones, enzymes, and, yes, muscle tissue. But doctors, dietitians, and physiologists now know that more protein doesn’t equal more muscle formation. Extensive research proves that adequate calorie intake, combined with exercise, is what really builds and strengthens muscles.
Most of us get twice the amount of protein we need every day. Your body cannot store unused protein. The excess makes fat or is converted into energy in an unusually complicated process. Waste products from this conversion are excreted through urine, which places strain on the kidneys and liver. Excess protein consumption also slows the absorption of much needed calcium.
So adding even more protein by taking dietary amino acid and protein supplements is not only ineffective, it could harm your body over time. And if you want another good reason not to buy these supplements, check out their labels. According to the Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Letter, some of the safer ingredients in these supplements include couch grass, adrenal gland concentrate, and insect hormone.
Ten Steps to Naturally Stronger Muscles
|No one needs steroids, protein powders or exotic, expensive dietary supplements to build a better body. If you really want a more powerful physique, follow these steps:
Anabolic steroids are drugs that are illegally used by some athletes to stimulate the buildup of muscle tissue. Closely related to the male sex hormone testosterone, these powerful medications do have several legitimate therapeutic uses. Physicians prescribe them to treat some growth disorders, to offset the negative effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and to cure certain kinds of anemia.
However, using steroids over a prolonged period, even in moderate doses, can lead to disastrous side effects with potentially fatal consequences. Steroids can compromise the healthy functioning of your liver, cardiovascular system, and reproductive organs.
Steroids can harm or even destroy the mental process. Athletes who take steroids are at risk for wild mood swings, and worse: A study of 156 steroid users found that more than 25 percent suffered from severe psychiatric disorders ranging from severe depression to episodes of wild and unwarranted enthusiasm. Steroid use can cause psychotic behavior; some people have even killed while under the drug’s influence.
By taking steroids athletes put themselves and others at increased risk for serious injuries, not only because the drug fuels their aggressive tendencies, but also because their extra-large muscles put stress on joints and ligaments that aren’t equipped to handle the increased strain.
A 1993 survey by the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that over one million Americans aged 12 and older are steroid users; nearly half are below the age of 26. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of high school students may be steroid abusers.
Efforts by celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and the late Lyle Alzado, a football star who attributed his fatal illness to steroid abuse, may help alert young people to the dangers of these drugs. It is also essential that parents, coaches, and teachers be well-informed. No win in the world, no medal, ribbon, or trophy, is worth taking a life-threatening gamble on steroids.