Graham Butler, BSc, CNPA, RH
Nothing compares to that feeling of well-being you get after working up a good sweat in the gym, on the courts or out on the field. It's one of the benefits many men strive for through sports and exercise. We may even have embraced the benefits of a better diet, including nutritional supplements, to keep us strong and vital..
Nothing compares to that feeling of well-being you get after working up a good sweat in the gym, on the courts or out on the field. It's one of the benefits many men strive for through sports and exercise. We may even have embraced the benefits of a better diet, including nutritional supplements, to keep us strong and vital. But what we may be less aware of are the benefits of nutritional sports supplements under conditions of increased physical stress.
How do our nutritional requirements change when we increase our activity levels beyond the norm?
At the same time we increase our level of activity, we also increase the amount of biomechanical stress on our joints, ligaments and tendons, as well as the amount of oxidative stress (free radical damage) on our tissues and cell membranes. For those who follow the Standard American Diet (SAD) of refined sugar and flour products, this leads to a greater incidence of traumatic injury to joints and soft tissue, as well as related chronic disorders as they grow older. But if we enrich our diets with vitamins A, C, B complex, E, bioflavonoids and essential fatty acids, plus the proper sports supplements, we can relieve, if not largely prevent, this damage as well as increase our overall feeling of health and well-being.
Understanding what sports supplements do and how to use them is critical. Ask the staff of your local health food store or gym for guidance and recommendations, or ask your naturopath about how to tailor your supplements to suit specific health needs. Experiment with what works best for you. Although the choice of sports nutrition supplements may seem confusing at first, most products fall into four basic categories.
As with all biological systems, muscles are constantly being deconstructed and rebuilt more so when we exercise, so high quality protein is essential. Food is a good source, but the elevated requirements of active men often make supplementation more efficient and convenient. Protein supplements are also much lower in fat and calories than comparable food sources.
Protein bars: They're one of the most popular choices. Look for an additive-free bar, and avoid hydrogenated and cottonseed oils as ingredients.
Whey protein: Derived from cow's milk, whey protein powders mix well with water, milk or fruit juice and are generally the best absorbed and utilized. The type used in sports supplements is highly purified and very low in fat and carbohydrates. Different processing methods produce slightly different results (varying protein and protein fractions/lower carbohydrate levels), and opinions vary as to which is best. My advice is to purchase a well-known name brand the staff at your health food store can tell you what the most popular ones are. For those who are lactose intolerant, all whey protein contains some lactose (even if the label says it doesn't), albeit very little.
Soy protein: A popular form of protein with about two-thirds the utility of whey protein, it's suitable for those who are lactose-sensitive. Soy is often the choice of women due to its isoflavone compounds (phytoestrogens), which may have a protective effect against certain types of estrogen-sensitive cancers. Choose a product with a standardized isoflavone content for best results. Soy and whey protein blends are available. Soy protein may require a blender, as it can get lumpy.
Other forms of protein: Pea and rice proteins are less frequently used but are easy to digest and good for people with dietary restrictions or allergies. Rice protein is a source of complex carbohydrates and, compared to other grains, is among the highest quality proteins, containing all eight essential amino acids. Peas are also a good source of vegetable protein and amino acids. Both rice and pea protein powders blend well with liquid.
Specialized Protein Products
Many protein products feature additional ingredients.
Weight gainers: Usually powdered protein supplements with added calories, they tend to be used by people with fast metabolisms or those who are very active. They're often the choice of younger male athletes who have higher calorie demands. All weight gain, including muscle gain, requires calories. If these requirements are not met, protein needed for muscle repair, maintenance and growth will be cannibalized to meet energy requirements.
Meal replacements: Pretty well what they sound like, but differing greatly in composition. The simplest are little different than weight gainers, although they usually contain fewer calories. For those on low-carbohydrate diets, meal replacements usually contain a significant amount of carbohydrates to provide metabolic energy. The better products are supplemented with vitamins, minerals and, occasionally, essential fatty acids. Meal replacements are popular among people who want a convenient low-calorie/high-protein meal alternative and those with strict dietary training regimes such as competitive bodybuilders.
Creatine: A natural, nonsteroidal component of animal protein, it increases the amount of work muscles can perform before fatigue sets in, resulting in stronger and more dense muscle tissue. It's available in powders, capsules, chewable wafers, gummy treats, liquids and serums. Mix pure creatine powder with an insulin-stimulating sugar such as dextrose or a nonacidic fruit juice for best absorption. Mix creatine as needed don't store, as it is unstable. Always use with a protein supplement for maximum benefit.
Concerns regarding the potential toxicity of creatine to the liver and kidneys have been noted over the years. Research to date has been unable to confirm this, but occasionally users report a burning sensation in the liver. The most common adverse side-effects are nausea and stomach upset, which you may be able to avoid if you take plenty of water with it. Use of creatine serum avoids
Anabolic And Anti-Catabolic Products
Many of us want a pill that will magically increase our muscle density, size and strength, among other attractive male features. They go by many names but can be classified for the most part under two categories.
Anabolic agents: Simply put, these are products or compounds that increase muscle mass. (Note: they're not the same as anabolic steroids see following). They include hormones such as DHEA, andro and nor-andro, amino acid combinations such as arginine, ornithine and lysine, and human growth hormone. These products are restricted in Canada, and certainly the hormone products have some risk. Products with Tribulus terrestis (puncture vine) and those such as ZMass seem to be safer alternatives. It's worth noting that increasing or retaining lean muscle mass through exercise supports natural hormone synthesis.
Anti-catabolic: If you can't build them, at least don't lose them! Generally considered to be much safer than anabolic agents, anti-catabolics prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue. The main one is the commonly available amino acid L-glutamine. It's often added to protein products and is available as capsules, tablets and powders. L-glutamine also tends to reduce cravings for sweet foods and is useful for those suffering from damage to the small intestine.
Energy And Rehydration Products
These are effective in re-energizing and alleviating fatigue either during or after a workout. Usually they're a mix of electrolytes (calcium, magnesium and potassium) in an easily absorbed carbohydrate-based drink or mix. More complex products may incorporate stimulating herbs such as ephedra and kola nut, and be enriched with vitamins and minerals. Capsule and tablet versions are available. Use ephedra-based products with caution; they can increase heart rate in sensitive individuals. Avoid them if you are hypertensive, pregnant or using anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.
Young or old, the benefits of an active life are many. With a basic knowledge of sport nutrition products, you can gain the greatest benefits from your choices.
Anabolic vs. Anabolic Steroids
Take note, the general term anabolic should not be confused with anabolic steroids. The latter are a group of potentially dangerous pharmaceutical drugs originally developed as growth stimulators for beef cattle and adopted for use by bodybuilders.
To my knowledge, anabolic steroids are not available in health food stores or nutrition centres. There's not much chance of accidentally buying them. On the other hand, I understand they may be available in some gyms. This, of course, is basically a locker-room transaction and quite illegal.