Monday, March 12, 2007

Supplemental Education

I just had a friend ask me to give him some advice about vitamins. I believe my answer went something like, "ask somebody smarter." Vitamins are the technological gadgetry of nutrition. If you check out for a bit, you get passed by and before you know it you're standing in the vitamin isle as if you've just upgraded technology and encountered a new operating system. I imagine there's some low-tech equivalent to the frantic mouse-clicking panic that happens when you suddenly realize you have no idea what you're doing. I gave him a mouse-clicking response and threw a lateral to PCC or Whole Foods nutrition (excuse me, Whole Body) department.

The following article from PT on the Net illustrates the point. Though I agree with some of the following, I disagree with parts of it. And there will continue to be contradictions and voodoo magic that accompanies this murky science. I still say, go visit the wizards of this dark art at PCC or Whole Foods and bring with you a healthy scepticism, common sense and a healing crystal. Oh, and eat better food.

Top 10 Supplement Facts You Probably Didn't Know
By Joe Cannon

Fact #1. Natural vitamins are not better than synthetic vitamins.

A common mistake made not only by the general public but also by many fitness professionals as well is that vitamins made in nature are superior to synthetically-made vitamins. The fact is that the chemical structure of synthetic and natural vitamins is basically identical. In other words, synthetic vitamin C looks the same as natural vitamin C. This means that your body cannot tell the difference between them. In some instances, the absorption of vitamins can differ between natural and synthetic, but this does not always favor natural vitamins. For example, folic acid, common among prenatal vitamins, is actually the synthetic version of the B vitamin, folate. Folic acid is used in prenatal vitamins because it is better absorbed.

Fact #2. - Censored for your safety

Please do not believe what you read about soy or cholesterol. There's more information on this to come, in the meantime, the above advice is an industry standard that should be ignored. Please remember that Soy is the #2 crop produced in this country and that the food industry is compelled to find markets for it. Link to the article if you want to read what the author had to say. I felt compelled to delete it because those of you who 'ticker' read, would have missed my objection.

Fact #3. Vitamins do not give us energy.

Some people may take massive amounts of vitamins (especially B vitamins) in the hopes that they will provide more pep to get through hectic days. This is why you often see a lot of B vitamins in energy drinks. However, a problem arises when it becomes known that vitamins do not contain any usable energy (calories). Vitamins do help us extract energy from food and process it. In a malnourished person, such vitamins may indeed help, but for those who eat an even halfway decent diet, vitamins alone are unlikely to improve energy levels. Remember, vitamins and food work in concert with each other to keep us healthy and provide us with the energy we need.

For those of you who missed it the first couple of hundred times I said it, eat better food.

Fact #4. Glucosamine may help arthritis.

Many studies over the last several years found that glucosamine may help reduce arthritis-related pain. For glucosamine to work, you must have osteoarthritis. Of the over 100 types of arthritis known to exist, osteoarthritis is the most common and results when the cartilage between bones wears away. This is the type of arthritis that responds to glucosamine. While the degree of osteoarthritis and length of time you have it may impact success with this nutrient, studies tend show that four to eight weeks of glucosamine supplementation may be needed before results are observed. For best results, look for glucosamine sulfate as this form has the most evidence that it might help.

Fact #5. Natural does not always mean safe.

A common mantra repeated on many web sites today is that because supplements are natural, they are automatically safe for everyone. On the contrary, some supplements, if used by the wrong people may have significant side effects. For example, St. John’s wort, which is typically used for depression, may interact with not only antidepressant drugs but also those used to treat cancer and AIDS. Vitamin E might reduce the blood’s ability to clot. This is the reason why doctors typically tell their patients to stop using vitamin E before surgery. While many supplements are indeed safe, it is also true that people should know what they put in their bodies.

Fact #6. To build the most muscle, eat your protein after working out.

Frequently, I am asked the question, “When is the best time to eat protein, before or after exercise?” While your body will absorb protein no matter when you eat it, new research suggests that after exercise may be better than before exercise. In a study of older individuals who lifted weights, researchers found that people who ate protein immediately after exercise built more muscle than seniors who ate protein two hours later. While this study investigated the effects of protein and strength training in seniors, there is little reason to doubt that the same effect would not be seen in younger persons. If you like to eat protein before exercise, that’s fine. Just remember to also eat some protein (and carbs) preferably within 30 to 60 minutes after exercise to get the best results.

In fact, many sources recommend a 4/1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates post workout. I've had people tell me this works fabulously, however, I've found that if your nutrition is sound most of the time, this formula isn't necessary. There are studies that show great results with chocolate milk since the ratio is about right. I say, whenever chocolate milk becomes 'health food' you should be skeptical.

Fact #7. The government does regulate supplements.

It’s often stated that the US government doesn’t regulate supplements. In reality, it does, but the regulations are different than those used for medications. The government has a very lengthy definition to describe what can and cannot be called a “supplement.” While this does allow for a wide range of products to be sold, the definition does have limits. For example, some hormones are not permitted to be sold as supplements. Another stipulation is that supplement companies cannot make specific claims that a product can treat or cure any diseases or conditions. Doing so might confuse people and make the product appear to be like a drug.

In contrast, supplement labels can list what are called structure/function claims. These claims make reference to how a supplement is involved in helping the body. For example, the claim that a supplement helps keep bones strong is a structure/function claim. Structure/function claims are pretty easy to identify because they usually contain words like supports, aids or maintains.

Fact #8. You CAN absorb more than 40 grams of protein at a time.

There is an urban legend circulating through some fitness circles that maintains that people can only absorb a certain amount of protein per meal. Usually, people say this amount is about 40 grams. This may be why some protein bars and shakes usually do not contain much more than this amount. Regardless, while we can indeed utilize more than 40 grams of protein per meal, the real question is whether or not all of that protein is going to build and maintain muscle. This is a much harder question to answer and depends on your exercise routine, how often you work out and how much rest you get, to name a few.

I've read this in a variety of forms. I believe the first place I saw it was in 'Natural Hormonal Enhancement' by Rob Faigin. I'm not sure which way I'm leaning but if you consume protein in the form of real food, you may find it's self limiting based on how much chewing you can tolerate in one sitting and how full you get.

Fact #9. Extra vitamins will not make you a better athlete.

While a good quality multivitamin is probably something to consider, many studies have found that extra vitamins do not make people stronger, faster or improve any exercise-related activity. As a rule, people who exercise regularly tend to eat more food and make healthier food choices overall. Food is also a very good source of vitamins. So the more food people are eating, the more vitamins they tend to eat as well.

Fact #10. Even if you eat a healthy diet, you might still benefit from supplements.

Sometimes people email me and ask, “Do I need supplements if I eat well”? It turns out that the answer appears to depend on who you are. Research shows that some supplements may benefit certain groups of people when used above what is normally consumed in a typical diet. For example, it is well known that as people grow older, they tend to eat less. This can have disastrous consequences by leading to muscle and strength loss and a reduced quality of life. Some new research is finding that the branch chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) can stimulate appetite in older adults. Potentially, if you can stimulate appetite, this might lead to stronger muscles and a better chance of remaining independent to a ripe old age. Another example is the amino acid glutamine. Studies tend to show that when consumed at higher amounts than is normally eaten, glutamine may lead to shorter hospital stays and increased body weight in some cancer patients.