Category Archives: Supplements

Carnitine supplements

Acetyl L-Carnitine and L-carnitine are supplements that I’m being asked about more frequently these days by clients, so I thought a post was in order.  Its only been about… forever since I wrote a post, so here it goes!

A little bit about the biology of L-carnitine to get started

L-Carnitine is a dipeptide made from the essential amino acids lysine and methionine, and as a result it is often classified as an “essential amino acid” itself.  L-Carnitine has been shown to play an important role in cellular energy exchange.  Specifically, L-carnitine is involved in transforming fats into energy in the mitochondria (which are basically little cellular power factories).  There is also evidence that L-Carnitine can facilitate the metabolism of carbs by improving ATP production.  As ATP is a critical molecule in making us LIVE, this is probably an important thing to support.  With this in mind, its perhaps not surprising that L-Carnitine is found in highest concentrations in the heart and liver tissues.  Importantly, there is some good evidence to suggest that L-Carnitine works synergistically with Co-Q10, an antioxidant and energy production cofactor that is found in the inner membrane of the mitochondria.

With this association between L-Carnitine and fat metabolism, some people refer to the supplement as a “fat burner.”  As long branched chain fatty acids can only pass through the mitochondrial membrane as a result of esterification by Carnitine, there is some element of truth to the statement!

Enough biochemistry talk… lets get to the good stuff.

So there are some fairly decent studies showing that there are beneficial effects of L-carnitine supplementation for a variety of biological processes involving fat-loss, mortality and morbidiy and brain function that I’ll highlight below!  Looks like a pretty good supplement overall, right?

L-Carnitine improving fatty-acid oxidation

L-Carnitine supplementation associated with a 27% decrease in death, 65% decrease in ventricular arrhythmias, and 40% reduction in angina

Benefits of L-Carnitine on brain function/degeneration

I could keep going on this but instead I’ll just leave some links at the bottom of the page which illustrate the rather broad amount of research that has been done on L-carnitine.  The list is not all inclusive…

So, what kind of supplement should I take???

So there are two kinds of Carnitine supplements that you are likely to run into, L-Carnitine and Acetyl-L Carnitine.  They are based off of the same structure, but work slightly differently, notably the Acetyl form can pass through the blood brain barrier and therefore has more of a neurological effect.  Another aspect is that Acetyl-L Carnitine may also provide substrate (acetyl groups) for synthesis of acetylcholine—a primary neurotransmitter in the brain.  There is still some support for the idea that the Acetyl L-Carnitine can still help for converting fat into energy, but perhaps less as a primary benefit than the regular L-Carnitine claims.

I’ve read some claims that ALL the various forms of Carnitine will provide support for nervous system, cardiovascular system and muscles, but a specific form is probably preferred for a specific function.  As I’m most comfortable with the research supporting the neurological benefits, I personally take the Acetyl-L Carnitine form, but to each their own!

SPECIFICALLY, I take 1000 mg of ALC with 200 mg of ubiquinol in the morning (around 10 am) to help get my brain rolling.  Overall, I feel as though I see a benefit in my day to day functioning.

As usual, email with any questions!

Additional References

Prada, P.O., Hirabara, S.M., de Souza, C.T., Schenka, A.A., Zecchin,H.G., Vassallo, J., Velloso, L.A., Carneiro, E., Carvalheira, J.B., Curi, R. & Saad, M.J. (2007) L-glutamine supplementation induces insulin resistance in adipose tissue and improves insulin signalling in liver and muscle with diet-induced obesity,Diabetologia, Volume 50, issue 9, (pp. 149-15

Wutzke, K.D. & Lorenz, H. (2004) The Effect of l-Carnitine on Fat Oxidation, Protein Turnover, and Body Composition in Slightly Overweight Subjects, Metabolism, Vol. 53, issue 8, (pp. 1002-1006)

Reda, E., D’Iddio, S., Nicolai, R., Benatti, P. & Calvani, M. (2003) The Carnitine System and Body Composition, Acta Diabetol, issue 40, (pp. 106-113)

Evangeliou, A. & Vlassopoulos, D. (2003) Carnitine Metabolism and Deficit – When Supplementation is Necessary? Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology (pp. 211-219)

Müller, D.M., Seim, H., Kiess, W., Löster, H. & Richter, T. (2002) Effects of Oral l-Carnitine Supplementation on In Vivo Long-Chain Fatty Acid Oxidation in Healthy Adults, Metabolism, Vol. 51, issue 11, (pp. 1389-1391)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The in’s and out’s of whey protein

I get at least one question a week about whey protein. Who should be taking whey protein, when to take it, how much, what company, will it make me fat? it goes on and on.  This post will hopefully answer many of your questions and concerns.  Before we start down that road though, I want to preface everything by saying that whey protein is not some magical formula that will take your performance to the next level.  It is a small tool that can help improve recovery time and is a convenient option for many.  Lets get started!

Who should be taking whey protein?

I actually think its easier to focus on who should NOT be using a whey protein shake than it is to focus on who should be.  If you are:

1) Trying to lose body fat

2) Focusing mostly on health and general fitness as a goal.

3) This should go without saying but if you’re not very active at all, you don’t need whey protein shakes.  Sounds too insane to be true, but trust me, I’ve seen people stop working out and continue to use protein shakes.

These  3 groups of people should focus on eating real foods post workout instead of taking in a protein isolate.  This mostly has to do with the effects of liquid food on the body, a fact Robb Wolf has laid out more than enough over the years.  While the science isn’t actually very convincing, the experience that I’ve had with DOZENS of clients has been.  People struggling to lose weight generally make better progress when they drop the protein shake and eat real foods post-workout.  Yes it requires you spend 15 less minutes prepping food, but the results are worth it.

A good post workout option for those looking to improve body composition
A good post workout option for those looking to improve body composition

When to take in whey protein and how much to take?

Now, if you’re a lean person, focusing on athletic performance with intense exercise more than 3 days a week, whey protein can be a very useful tool to aid in your  recovery.  Generally I recommend 30 grams of protein for men and 20 grams for women as a starting point for discussion.  Try to consume the shake as soon as possible after finishing my workout.

The one situation where I’ll wait an extra 20-30 minutes is if the workout has been extremely intense.  In this situation, the body responds by inducing a “leaky-gut” state, most likely to improve nutrient reabsorption from the intestinal lumen.  While I couldn’t find any sound evidence to show that this leads to increased potential for food intolerance, it makes sense immunologically that undigested whey proteins crossing intact into the intestinal tissue could induce an immune response.  It might not actually be a problem, but the trade off of waiting a half an hour is minimal.

What to look for in a good whey protein?

1) I prefer whey protein isolates as the isolation process removes most (but not quite all) of the other ingredients in dairy that can give people problems.

2) Your whey protein should have digestive enzymes added to improve the bioavailability of the protein.

3) All artificial sweeteners suck, but stevia seems to be the least horrible of them all so finding a whey protein that uses stevia is about as good an option as you’re going to find.  Personally, as a lean individual I don’t mind the higher carbohydrate whey proteins that use maltodextrin as a sugar source, but they aren’t for everyone.

Personally, I’ve had very good experiences with two whey proteins:

1) Low carb whey protein from MRM (w/ Stevia)

2) Higher carb whey protein from MRM (with maltodextrin)

There are many other brands out there that also produce a good product however, I would generally avoid many of the highly commercialized main stream products however.  A consumer reports study of EAS and Muscle Milk found high levels of several heavy metals such as arsenic (a poison) cadmium and lead.  Needless to say, spend a very small amount of extra money and get the higher quality products.

Hopefully this helps answer a number of questions you have about whey protein.  If you have a specific one, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

 

John Oliver and the supplement industry.

There’s a fantastic new show on HBO called “Last Week with John Oliver.”  It loosely resembles The Daily Show but is infinitely better.  In fact, it might actually be better than CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc at actually reporting the news…

Last week, the show took the supplement industry to town, which you can see in the link below.  I highly recommend watching it through to the end, especially if you like Steve Buscemi.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA0wKeokWUU

The points made in the segment are all extremely valid.

1) Many supplements have no evidence to back up their claims.

2) Some supplements don’t even have the listed ingredients in the supplement (What a bunch of assholes).

3) Some of these over-the-counter supplements have proven to be dangerous and, in extreme cases, lethal.

I think the natural response after watching the segment is to try and improve the regulation system of over-the-counter supplements, perhaps even make it a mirror of the prescription medication system which requires FDA approval.

Let me preface this next sentence by telling you the following, I sell exactly zero supplements of my own so I have no financial ties to the supplement industry.  Despite that fact, the idea of regulating the supplement industry in the same manner we regulate medical prescriptions is not something that I’d be excited about seeing happen.  Why?  Well, if we were to tightly regulate supplements, I think there’d be several major effects.

1) It would likely make the supplement industry safer and hopefully improve the quality of research on supplements (A good thing).

2) It would drive the price of supplements through the roof as basic research and safety trials would have to be conducted prior to sale.  Trials are EXTREMELY expensive and as a result, the end product would have to cost more to make up the difference (Mostly a bad thing).

3) This added cost would likely dissuade many people from starting new businesses around supplements.  For instance, Mike Kesthely’s Max Adrenal product which he sells through Dynamic Nutrition.  Many of my clients have reported insanely impressive result with this product and there are scientific publications supporting all of the ingredients that are put into it.  My guess is that if we were to regulate the supplement industry like we regulate medical drugs, Mike would have never created the product in the first place… (A very bad thing).

In my opinion, the cost of driving good, helpful supplements out of the market outweighs the benefits of getting rid of all the snake oil that Dr. OZ wants you to buy.

Realistically, I don’t see any changes happening to the way the supplement industry is regulated anyway because of all the lobbying described by John Oliver.  Instead, YOU are going to have to take some personal responsibility and figure out how to tell if something is a pile of bull shit or a product that can help your health and/or performance.  Personal responsibility… what a crazy idea.

Here’s how I would go about deciphering whether or not a supplement is A) Safe and B) Useful.

1) Know what happens if you take too much (aka overdose).  Something like magnesium or arginine causes diarrhea when you take too much.  Shit happens, but its not the end of the world.  Other supplements with reported health benefits also can have serious side effects at higher amounts, most frequently liver issues.  Know how to decipher between the two or work with someone that does.

2) If you’re a trainer or consult people on nutrition, I would HIGHLY recommend investing in a guide to help summarize the research on supplements, as doing Google searches (or better yet, PubMed searches) can be overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out safety and efficacy.  I’ve had good experiences with “Stack Guides”  as it has sections about the synergistic effects of various supplements which many other sites lack.   Also, “Stack Guides” doesn’t sell any supplements themselves so they’re not trying to steer you towards their products.  Definitely worth the investment…

3) Listen to people with more experience in the industry than you.  No one says that you have to know everything and I guarantee if you’re thinking of trying a supplement, then so have 1000 other people.  Find the people you respect and listen to their opinions on the topic.

4) You should probably stop listening to Dr. Oz.

Blonyx HMB+Creatine review

A couple months back, I wrote a short post talking about HMB supplementation and the WIDE variety of responses you can find about the Leucine metabolite.  Since that time, I was introduced to Rowan, owner of Blonyx, who sells an HMB+creatine supplemental product.  He seemed like a great guy who believes fully in his product, and ultimately he agreed to send along some product for me to evaluate.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 9.51.40 AM

Before I started, I did a bunch of research on the product.  Some people seem to have good responses while others really see no changes at all (good or bad).  One variable that actually had some research on it was a study showing that efficacy of HMB was dependent upon vitamin D levels being above 30 pg/ml.  My most recent tests didn’t show any issues but I took 1000 IU/day of D3 before getting started just to be sure to try and control for that factor..
My first impression is that Blonyx is a very high quality product:  I’ve only found two types of creatine based products that do not cause me to have minor bloating, the first is MRM creatine which I’ve been recommending for a while now.  The second one was Blonyx’s HMB+Creatine.  Very happy with that to say the least… its hard to find a high quality supplement line these days that doesn’t put some filler in their products so kudos to Blonyx on that front.
Athletic results:
During the time I was taking Blonyx, I was in a mass gain phase trying to go from about 181-184 to a solid 190 pounds.  I’m generally a very hard gainer but over the month with Blonyx, I hit 190 once and stayed consistently around 187-189.
As for the actual lifts, I have seen some nice PR’s during the month I was taking Blonyx.
1) Strict Press PR of 195 (15 lb PR)
2) Front squat PR of 305×5.
3) Muscle up PR of 14 and pull up PR of 62.
4) Tied a strict HSPU PR of 40 unbroken.
Now, based upon the mass gain, I would expect the strength numbers to have increased to some extent as a result of the extra mass, but a 15 lb press PR was completely unexpected.  Additionally, to add 7-8 pounds of mass while still improving on gymnastics movements was unexpected as well.
As far as feel, I didn’t notice any difference in energy during my sessions but overall I’m very happy with the results I had during the month on Blonyx.  Like I said before, it seems like people either LOVE products with HMB or have no response with it.  I still don’t really have a good understanding of why that is unfortunately.  That said, I think giving it a shot for 30 days is worth it if you’re looking to take your game to the next level.

Max Adrenal review

Sometimes we are all our own worst enemy… we know how to make the right choices for our health, performance, etc but let other things get in the way.    As many of you know, I spend most of my day working for a small biotech company in New Hampshire, trying to develop drugs for cancer and autoimmunity.  I also coach multiple Crossfit classes a week, consult people nutritionally for Crossfit, marathons, weight loss, life as a Navy Seal, etc.  Needless to say it’s a lot but no more than most people deal with in reality.  We’re all busy and all have stress in our lives.  Where I become my own worst enemy is when I try to train like a freaking pro-athlete on top of all the other work.  I can handle it for a while but the overall stress has run me down a couple times in the past to the point of needing a complete break from training…

I’ve tried some supplements in the past to extend how far I can push.  BCAA’s and creatine were a big help.  Adding in dense starchy foods was another step in the right direction.  Overall, I still wasn’t feeling quite right though, so I started to play with adaptogens, which are supplements that are supposed to help correct hormonal imbalances related to stress.  Ultimately I decided to try a new supplement from Nova 3 Labs called Max Adrenal.  The purpose of Max Adrenal is to help the body maintain the appropriate response to exercise by helping the body to produce the correct hormonal response to exercise.  In a person who has pushed the gas pedal too hard for too long, the body sometimes stops making the appropriate amounts of cortisol, DHEA, testosterone, etc…  Max Adrenal’s goal is to help restore some hormonal balance OR to prevent you from getting out of whack in the first place.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-6-57-52-am

Mike Kesthely, creator of Max Adrenal, was kind enough to send me a list of links for every single ingredient that is in his product (there are many).  I’ll list them at the bottom of this post for anyone that wants to have a look through the research.  Overall, I was pretty impressed by the background that went into the selection of supplements in the product.  Many solid studies with well controlled experiments… something that cannot be said for all products in this market.

After taking Max Adrenal solidly for 1 month solidly these are the biggest differences I’ve noticed:

1) Deeper sleep with less frequent disruptions in the last 2 hours of sleep (4am-6am).

2) Fewer days where I have absolutely zero energy to train and have to call it a day before even getting started.  It still happens, but not as often.

3) More energy from 2pm-6pm on a daily basis with less of an afternoon wall.  This generally correlates with the post workout for me as well.  I used to just be an absolute zombie after working out, but its much less of an issue now.

4) Falling asleep much more easily.

5) Improved quality and consistency in the fast lifts.  I still have days where I just cannot get myself firing correctly (like today) but overall this has been happening less than usual despite pushing harder.  Recently, I hit 5 out of 7 snatches at 215 after a solid back squat session.  I can’t give all the credit to Max Adrenal, but I do feel like it was part of the process in making progress.

Now, I’m not saying that Max Adrenal is a wonder drug.  You’ve still got to be smart and take care of the other aspects of your life; meaning  eat cleanly and the appropriate amount, take rest days and get enough sleep to recover from your workouts.  Manage the other stress in your life as best as you can.  What I will say though is that Max Adrenal has let me push that gas pedal harder and longer than I’ve been able to in the past.  I’m looking forward to getting my next shipment soon.

If you want to give it a try, you can use a 20% discount code (MOLLOY20) for the next order with NOVA3.

REFERENCE MATERIAL:

Vitamin A: required for the conversion of cholesterol to steroid hormones

1. http://www.westonaprice.org/ask-the-doctor/steroid-drugs

2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/9/4/36.abstract

Vitamin C: The highest concentrations of vitamin C reside in the eyes, brain and adrenal glands; stress,infection and intense exercise all increase the cellular demand for vitamin C, with studies showing how blood levels of ascorbic acid fall at an increased rate during these time

1. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/abstract/1998/08000/effects_of_ascorbic_acid_on_serum_cortisol_and_the.10.aspx

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19223675

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17616774

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6668225

Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Pyridoxine (B6), Pantothenic Acid (B5): All B vitamins are essential in the Kreb’s cycle for conversion of fat, carbs and protein to energy. Specific to the adrenal cascade, pantothenic acid is required for the production of co-enzyme-A, which is essential for the creation of acetylcholine and pregnenolone. Thiamine is used in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Riboflavin, key in the citric acid cycle, is also a cofactor in the utilization of B6 in the creation of neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4320823

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4060684

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10450194

Zinc: Zinc is an essential trace element required for the activity of over 300 enzymes and is involved in most major metabolic pathways. Zinc participates not only in catalytic processes, but also in the structure and stability of some regulatory proteins, as is essential for immune support and testosterone production. Training reduces levels through metabolic use and sweat loss.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17984944

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16338007

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11475319

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9812018

Adrenal/Spleen Extract: Clinical experience has long endorsed the use of glandular extracts to support the activity of the target gland. Glandulars provide peptides and nutrient cofactors which are found in the gland itself when it is healthy and fully functioning, and which are required for the gland to carry out its biological functions. A highly active mineralocorticoid, aldosterone, 19-hydroxy-11-desoxycorticosterone and a sodium-retaining substance have all been isolated from beef adrenal extract. Despite the widespread belief that such peptide cofactors would be destroyed by the digestive process, it’s now known the main route of absorption of amino acids is, in fact, by active transport in the form of peptides, rather than by totally breaking down proteins into individual amino acids. Evidence has also accumulated that many surprisingly large polypeptides and even proteins are directly absorbed by the gut.

1. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v169/n4306/abs/169795a0.html

2. http://reference.medscape.com/drug/adrenal-extract-aortic-glycosaminoglycans-gags-
glandular-products-344579#0

DL-Phenylalanine: DLPA is a depression fighting mixture that combines two forms of the amino acid, phenylalanine. The L-portion of phenylalanine, found in protein-rich foods, bolsters mood-elevating chemicals in the brain, specifically dopamine and nor-epinephrine, while The “D” form of phenylalanine is made synthetically in a laboratory. The mechanism of DL-phenylalanine’s supposed antidepressant activity may be accounted for by the precursor role of L-phenylalanine in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/335027

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2243904

L-Tyrosine: One of the 22 amino acids used in the formation of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. It is also involved in the formation of thyroid hormones like triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Supplementation has shown greater efficacy to reduce perception of stress while under stress.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2736402

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7794222

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10230711

Rhodiola Rosea: is a potent adaptogen that has been the focus of much research. Rhodiola provides a buffer to stress-related mental and physical fatigue. Rhodiola contains a glycoside known as salisdroside. This component helps combat anxiety and aging, and has been investigated for use in high-altitude sickness, as it modulates EPO gene expression. Rhodiola suppresses the production of cortisol and increases levels of stress-resistant proteins. Studies have found that it restores normal patterns of eating and sleeping after stress, & combats mental and physical fatigue by affecting RPE (perception to STRESS).

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19500070

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23443221

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20378318

L-Methionine: Methionine belongs to a group of compounds called lipotropics which help the liver to process fat in the body. Once in the liver, methionine is converted into SAM(s-adenosyl methionine); SAMe is known to have a high degree of efficacy in treating various forms of depression. Methionine also converts the stronger and carcinogenic estradiol (E2) into estriol (E3) which is the “good” estrogen as compared to estradiol; imbalance is common in various form of adrenal dysfunction. Methionine supports methylation pathways, which facilitate the conversion of norepinephrine to epinephrine, essential in the adrenal cascade.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20595412

2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/5/1151S.abstract

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18950248

Octocasonol: The main component of policosanol, a lipophilic component derived from Cuban cane sugar. While initial studies concentrated on it’s ability to affect cholesterol levels, it also has positive neurological effects specific to reaction time and Ach (acetylcholine) release.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10094851

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10754431

Schisandra Chinensis: A vine native to northern China and Eastern Russia, commonly known as Wu Wei Zi, or “Five flavor berry”. Much of the research that ahs been done on Schisandra Chinesis was done in Russia decades ago, hence the popularity with Eastern European athletes. Noted is the ability to both raise and lower cortisol in response to stressors.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21666550

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18515024

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10228607

Bacopa Monnieri: Bacopa (aka Brahmi) is an Indian Ayurvedic herb noted for its use as a nootropic, or “mental focusing & memory enhancing” agent, and also acts protectively in neurodegeneration. It appears to work through enhancing synaptic transmission, and also acts as an anti-oxidant, hence the protective effects.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23788517

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24252493

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18683852

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12093601

Eleutherococcus senticosus: Commonly known as Siberian Ginseng or in Chinese medicine Ci Wu Ju. Although it is not related to true ginseng (Panax ginseng), the name Siberian ginseng became popular based on potential properties similar to Panax ginseng. This adaptogenic herb has both properties of increasing work capacity and immunity. Increased work capacity is thought to be due to increased oxygen efficiency through FFA use. Immunomodulating polysaccharides or saponins isolated from Siberian ginseng stimulate macrophages, promoted antibody formation, activated complement, and increased T lymphocyte proliferation.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21793317

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10641044

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11798012

Magnolia Officinalis: Another herb traditional used in Chinese medicine; the bark contains the polyphenolic compounds honokiol and magnolol, which have been found to have neuroprotective and anxiolytic activity, the latter of which is due to the effect on GABA receptors and the attenuation of cortisol-induced stress perception.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16631734

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11408830

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23924268

Rehmannia Glutinosia: Also known as Yukmijihwang-tang or Chinese foxglove; it contains vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as the active component catalpol. Regarded as a tonic herb and used in TCM for centuries, current well-controlled human data is still lacking. That said, it shows promise as a neuro- protecting agent as well as a nootropic.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18407446

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15635169

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15844838

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17078935

Bupleurum Falcatum: Commonly known as Chinese Thoroughwax, it has been traditionally used to treat disorders of inflammation. One of the active components are saikosaponins; their metabolites have been shown to induce corticosterone activity, hence it use as an adrenal tonic in TCM. It also shows serotonergic and noradrenergic activity, and therefore used as an anti-depressant.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2045012

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19932727

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22450800

Panax Ginseng: Also known as Red or Korean ginseng (not to be confused with Siberian). The predominant pharmacologically active constituents of Panax are ginsenosides; at least 25 of which have been identified and are present in variable amounts and ratios, depending on the particular species. One of the most studies herbal adaptogens in history, its efficacy in treating fatigue, mood, immune system and adrenal issues is second to none.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11842896

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16355078

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16401645

Plectranthus Barbatus (Forskolii): Better known as Coleus Forskoli, the active component tis forskolin, which stimulates the cellular production of cAMP. When cAMP increases, a wide range of signaling properties can occur because of it. While much research has ben done on upregulation of cAMP and fat loss, recent research suggests that cAMP affects the function of higher-order thinking in the prefrontal cortex through its regulation of ion channels. Much of the marketed focus has been on the ability to increase testosterone, which plays an integral role in the treatment of adrenal dysfunction.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9029414

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129715

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1648588

Withania Somnifera: Another Ayurvedic herb, Ashwagandha, aka Indian Ginseng, rivals that of Panax. Ginseng in the amount of positive data available. It shows adaptogenic properties both in attenuating stress perception, altering cortisol, and increasing TTE (time to exhaustion) in trained athletes. The potentially active constituents of ashwagandha include alkaloids and steroidal lactones that together are called withanolides (particularly withaferin A), and preparations are often standardized to their percentage contents of withanolides.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23326093

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22987912

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10956379

If you’re an athlete… take creatine. If you’re not an athlete… take creatine.

Recently, I’ve received a lot of questions from people about creatine regarding who should take it, when to take it, how much to take… the list goes on.  So I thought would write a quick post about my thoughts on creatine.  Up front though, I have to say that not all creatine’s are equal, buy a high quality one and you’ll thank me.  Personally I use MRM’s but there are MANY other good options out there.

How much?

There’s a lot of chatter out there that you need to have a loading phase with creatine but this is just a load of BS.  There’s a nice study from St. Francis Xavier University which showed that if you consume 10 grams of creatine, you’ll piss just under half of it out of your body.  Combine that with a second study from Ball State where lower doses showed really nice efficacy without a loading phase and I think we can safely say that ~ 5 grams of creatine daily is enough to generate desired effects.

Is this going to hurt my kidneys?

There are too many studies to list showing that this is NOT a problem.  If you have a kidney disease, may be a different story but since 99.9% of people I know don’t have kidney problems, lets just go with no.

Am I going to retain a bunch of water?

Another myth about creatine, especially if you buy high quality stuff and take the recommended 5 grams.  If you’re cheap, then your creatine might have some sodium in it which could cause water retention, but again, its the sodium’s fault, not the creatine.  If you take a shit load of it, then that’s another story.

Health and performance benefits

Alright, that should prevent anyone from being scared of taking creatine.  Now onto the benefits.  Most times the fitness industry can’t agree on anything but almost everyone agrees that creatine will improve your output for power sports, high intensity interval training, lactate producing sports, etc.  Some people would even tell you it can help with endurance sports which is fascinating.  Great review if you want to read more: Creatine and athletic performance

What’s really cool is that there’s an emerging pile of literature showing that creatine has some pretty impressive effects on neurological performance as well.  The study referenced here showed that 5 grams per day improved working memory and overall intelligence.  Not impressed?  How about this study discussing that creatine supplementation in animals provided enhanced protection against models of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and sclerosis… oh yeah, they also lived about 10% longer as well.

Most men are willing to give creatine a try but women are a different story due to fears about excessive bulking.  Well there’s a pretty good study from 2003 in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” showing that creatine supplementation improved women’s strength, fat-free mass and body fat levels without any weight gain… which is amazing.

At the end of the day, there appears to be a ton of physical and mental benefits to supplementing with ~ 5 grams of creatine daily.  Let me know if you have any questions.

HMB supplementation, is it worth it?

Recently I was discussing performance based supplements with a local CF owner and coach.  As anyone who has ever thought about increasing performance knows, there are a shit-load of different types of supplements out there, and for each one, at least 5-20 vendors that want to sell it to you.  Needless to say, it can be daunting to figure out what will actually boost your performance and what is just snake-venom (a waste of money).

One of the last topics we chatted about was HMB supplementation… specifically from the company Blonyx.  When I research a new supplement, I’ll generally look in two extremely different places.  The first is the least scientific place ever… message boards on sites for powerlifting, weight lifting, BJJ, crossfit, etc.  You can get a decent sense of whether people are excited about something or not but that’s about it.  Sometimes you’ll run across an intelligent post but most of it is garbage.  That said, its still helpful just to know if there’s a pre-existing opinion about it from people that are training hard day in and day out.  The second place I’ll look is in a Pubmed search which has a mixture of good and bad scientific studies on almost anything you can think of… seriously I mean ANYTHING.  The problem with the studies is that usually the style of training used in them is not-applicable to how most of us actually train.  Anyway, here’s what I found:

First, the scientific reports… these look pretty promising at a first glance:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Nissen+HMB

Seems like HMB has some pretty wide ranging effects… but it also seems like many of the metabolism/strength performance based papers used it in combination with various amino acids (L-arginine and L-lysine, etc.) OR creatine.  This particular study caught my attention because Blonyx sells HMB with creatine as one of its products.  Also, in those message boards I mentioned earlier, the people that did mention some improvement in performance seemed to be taking HMB in combination with BCAA’s and/or creatine. Very interesting…

One more study caught my eye, this one linking HMB efficacy and vitamin D levels which basically said that you need to have adequate levels of vitamin D to actually get a strength benefit from HMB… considering that upwards of 50% of the U.S. is vitamin D deficient, it could explain why various people have really different results with HMB supplementation.

Ultimately, I can’t say for sure that HMB is going to turn you into an animal but I think its worth checking out based upon the literature out there.  That said, if you’re going to give it a try, it definitely seems like you’d want to take it with creatine, BCAA’s and make sure that you’re not vitamin D deficient.  If anyone does have experience with it (positive or negative) leave a comment below.  Its always good to learn from one another.

Vitamin D… the world’s easiest supplement

I’m often asked what supplements are worth taking and which ones are junk.  Like many aspects of health, the answer can be specific to each individual.  Oftentimes, people look at supplements as short cuts to improved body composition, athletic performance, etc when the reality is that there are no short cuts.  You have to eat well, get the necessary sleep and exercise appropriately.  Once those three things are in order, there are cases where adding in supplements can be beneficial.  In my opinion, one of the best and easiest supplements to start with is Vitamin D.

Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to:

Muscle weakness, bone pain, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, severe asthma in children, cancer and immune derangement, SEASONAL DEPRESSION… just to name a few.  Obviously those are some pretty serious diseases that we want to avoid.

The bad news is that recent studies indicate that anywhere from 50-75% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D… YIKES!  The good news is that improving your vitamin D levels is as simple as spending some time in the sun.  Vitamin D is actually produced by cells in your skin called keratinocytes (and a few other cell types).  The vitamin D produced in your skin then travels systemically throughout the rest of the body, affecting and regulating all kinds of processes.

Sure is easy to get sun in a place like this.... Can I go back please??? Forever...
Sure is easy to get sun in a place like this…. Can I go back please??? Forever…

Of course, many of us don’t live in nice sunny places like the one above, and worse yet are forced to spend our days inside where we get zero natural sunlight.  What is a person to do???  Lets be clear, I think the number one option is to make Vitamin D the natural way by spending time outside.  Avoid getting burned of course, but its the free, safe and enjoyable to be outside.  That said, the body has adapted to other methods of Vitamin D acquisition, notably through absorption through the GI tract.  After absorbing Vitamin D, it travels to the liver where it is converted into calcidiol… the same product produced by your skin and metabolically nothing is different from that point on.

OK, so where can we get vitamin D from besides the sun?  Some foods like wild salmon, mackeral and other fishes are loaded with Vitamin D but ultimately are not going to get the job done by themselves.  An oral supplement is the way to go in my opinion.  I personally use “NowFoods 1000 IU” daily in the winter to help keep my vitamin D levels elevated.  One little pill does the trick and it is safe at that dose.  The only people that may have problems with Vitamin D are people with wool allergies due to the isolation method.  That said, its extremely rare so most people should do just fine.

Winter is coming (OK, its actually here).... so get your Vitamin D supplements.
Winter is coming (OK, its actually here)…. so get your Vitamin D supplements.