Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Learning: Supplements Explained


If you're into your fitness, or even if you're just starting out, you've probably heard the term "Supplements" a fair few times. If not, then you will after reading this. This post is dedicated to really explaining what the most common supplements are used for, because it's something a lot of people take without really knowing why. It is an unbiased review with- what i found to be- the most relevant scientific information, without having to sit and "read" it all (basically skim read and not take anything in, then get bored and press the cross on your browser). 

This picture highlights the fact that a lot of people are hesitant about introducing supplements into their diet because of the stigma around using steroids. Also, supplements are expensive, their dosage, timings of intake, and effect is still not fully known. Steroids are not part of the group of "supplements" gym-goers use as..they..are..illegal... and the ones used by some/many in the fitness/bodybuilding industry are different to the medicinal ones prescribed by doctors to treat things like arthritis (corticosteroids). The ones i will briefly mention are termed 'Anabolic Steroids'. The simple definition of Anabolic is "building up", which is the opposite of Catabolic "breaking down". Anabolic steroids are related to male sex hormones that promote growth of muscle, and along with it the development of male sexual characteristics (androgenic). Major side effects include organ damage (liver, kidney, heart). In males, they are at risk of developing breasts and shrinking of their testicles; women are at risk of facial hair growth, changes to their menstrual cycle, and a deeper voice, whilst teenagers can serious affect their growth. After looking at many pictures of bodybuilders there are some that are OBVIOUSLY taking them, and you can spot them by what looks extremely unnatrual- i.e. the human body would not be able to form this much muscle had it not have been for a little extra somethin'somethin'. And women do not have the same hormones as men do, so naturally aren't able to build that much muscle that you see in its extreme. That being said, a lot of fitness-competing federations have banned the use of steroids, and do drug checks on athletes to ensure no-one's being naughty.

Okay, enough about steroids. Now onto the commonly used/heard LEGAL supplements:

Note: "supplement"= "to enhance"; it should be used supplementary to a diet, and not to replace.

Essential= Made by the body. Non Essential= Not made by the body so requires sources for intake e.g. food 

What is it: Essential Amino Acids: Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine.
Why is it taken: Taken with the aim of assisting/speeding up muscle recover and thus preventing the reduction of muscle size and strength.
How much is recommended: There is incomplete research about how much and how often is most beneficial. Some tablets have 200mg in each, others have 5g in each. Some say in order for it to truly be efficient you need 20g in a day.
Science behind it: When you put your muscles under tension, i.e. resistance training, that exceeds its pre-existing capacity, causes trauma to the fibres, and then thereafter they repair (by the handy work of Satellite Cells), increasing in thickness and cell-number.

Beta Alanine:
What is it: Non Essential Amino Acids. i.e. not made by the body so obtained by dietary sources including protein rich foods (e.g. chicken, fish)- we ingest 'dipeptides' which contain beta alanine.  Another source is from our liver.
Science behind it: Increased beta Alanine --> Increases Carnosine --> pH buffering --> optimal conditions for maintaing maximum muscle strength and endurance.

What is it: An Amino Acid.
Why is it taken: Taken to prevent muscle breakdown and support muscle growth.

Creatine Monohydrate:
What is it: Made from 3 Amino Acids: Glycine, Methionine, Arginine.
Why is it taken: Taken with the aim to maximise muscle strength and size. 
Science behind it: ATP is the source of energy. Adenosine Tri-Phosphate. Tri means Three. ATP is broken down into ADP. Adenosine Di Phosphate. Di means Two. So there is a loss of a Phosphate. This phosphate is what is providing the energy to your cells. When you exercise, you are using up energy. A lot of energy. In muscle the natural occurring creatine is Creatine Phosphate. Taking CM has been proven to increase CP in muscle. CP (Creatine Phosphate) donates a Phosphate to restore the amount of energy (ATP) available. More ATP- More energy. More energy- More able to perform.
In terms of muscle mass, Creatine increases fluid within muscle cells, and this hydration promotes anabolism (building), as well as increasing the activity of cells which grow the muscle (Satellite cells)

What is it: Fast absorbing form of protein (20minutes into your veins, 20-40 minutes for amino acid levels to peak in the blood).
Why is it taken: Taken to stimulate protein synthesis.

What is it: Slow absorbing form of protein. Peak of amino acids in blood reached 3-4 hours from taking it.
Why is it taken: Taken to reduce protein breakdown.

What is it: Fatty Acids.
Why is it taken: Taken with the aim of reducing fat mass by stimulating (PPAR) system to burn fat.
How much is recommended: It is advised to be taken with meals, and its recommended dosage varies considerably (3,200-6,400mg daily). Again, research is still incomplete. 

Omega 3 aka 'Fish oil': 
What is it: Essential Fatty Acid
Why is it taken: To promote a healthy immune response and joint mobility.
How much is recommended: up to 3g per day. 

Green Tea (Extract):
What is it: Tea made from leaves.
Why is it taken: Antioxidant effect is theorised to reduce muscle/joint/tendon inflammation from the free radicals released during exercise. Fat burner effect by increasing metabolism and fat oxidation.

I will do another post on pre-supplements and fat burners.

Myprotein Is a good online source of these. As is Amazon.
Holland & Barrett and many other health stores are VERY expensive. 

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