Q: Do supplements really work? I’m 26 years old and just got back into the gym. Now that my career is in place and money isn’t a huge problem, I want to get really serious. I trained pretty hard and consistently from the time I was 16 until I got out of college at 21. I used a lot of supplements back then, but don’t think they helped very much. I’ve talked to some people who think that supplements work wonders. Others who say they’re all a scam. All I need is food, they say. Who’s right? I want to look awesome. I don’t want to shell out my hard-earned cash for garbage. Give it to me straight. Do supplements really work or not?
A: Allow me to preface my answer with a brief discussion of what we mean by work. Do supplements really work the same way steroids and other drugs work? The answer is no. The possible exception is prohormones, which I’ll get to later. Steroids are powerful drugs. They dramatically enhance protein synthesis and ramp up testosterone production.
Do Supplements Really Work? They are not drugs.
Supplements have come a long way since you were using them. I remember some of the first products I bought in the late ’80s. There was Dynamic Muscle Builder. It was mostly starch and sugar. There was an allegedly cherry-flavored amino acid drink. One teaspoon of which had me gagging and coughing. Eventually I figured out it was easier if I held my nose and drank. There was a metabolic optimizer that smelled bizarre. It made me the laughingstock of the film criticism class where I took it every day.
The supplements in those days tasted horrible. It’s questionable whether they provided any benefit. Fads like boron and smilax came and went. They promised steroid-like effects and never delivered. I can’t blame you for being skeptical if you were one of the thousands who bought those dubious items. But, to paraphrase the cigarette ads, we’ve come a long way, baby.
Do Supplements Really Work – MRPs
Around 1992 Met-Rx started the whole trend of meal-replacement powders. Each packet contained a complete meal. You mixed it with water. You could drink it quickly, and it tasted good. That was a huge step toward making perfect nutrition accessible to everybody.
Anybody could get his or her meals every two hours. Many other companies now make excellent meal-replacement powders. They come in a wide variety of great-tasting flavors. In fact, an entire generation of athletes thrives on them.
Supplements Really Work – Creatine
The next big advancement was the introduction of creatine monohydrate in 1993. You loaded up on the granular powder. It could be mixed with fruit juice or water. Bodybuilders found they made concrete gains in strength, body weight, and power. Creatine allows muscle cells to store more water. This is part of what steroids are believed to do. Everyone from bodybuilders and sprinters to star baseball sluggers swears by creatine.
Next, we had whey protein. This is a higher quality protein than eggs. They were the previous standard to which all other protein sources were compared. Thanks to whey, bodybuilders who wanted to increase their protein intake could do so. The number should be 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of body weight. With whey, you can just mix up a quick shake a few times a day.
Previously, getting more protein meant either eating more meat. That’s a hassle and expensive to boot. Or, it means drinking weight-gain shakes or meal replacements. That might carry extra carbs and calories. A person who was trying to get or stay lean would definitely not want that.
High Protein Bars
We also have several high-quality bars. They can provide a quick and satisfying meal. They can easily be kept in a fanny pack, briefcase or purse. Some of them taste at least as good as a Snicker’s or Three Musketeers candy bar. The difference is that they are good for you. There are many other useful products as well. L-glutamine is an exciting prospect that promises to elevate GH levels.
Do Supplements Really Work – What About Prohormones?
The latest and most controversial supplements to hit the scene are the so-called prohormones. These are andro and norandro products. Research shows it converts to testosterone and nandrolone in the body. This is where the line between drugs and supplements begins to blur. Yet many natural bodybuilders are reporting excellent results. Cortisol blockers are another innovation, stopping excess cortisol from catabolizing our precious muscle tissue.
Supplements Really Work – An Example
Let me leave you with an example of how much of an impact supplements can have on a hard-training, drug-free individual. My wife, Janet, did two shape-up contests at our gym from June to November 2004. She used protein shakes and supplement bars for the first five-week competition. Then she added meal replacement shakes, creatine monohydrate, a diet pill a day, and L-glutamine for the second five weeks.
How about a total of 10 pounds of muscle gained and 16 pounds of fat loss? Her body fat dropped from 25 percent to 12 percent and counting. It should be said that she was not a novice. She has trained consistently since 1994, and has never used any performance-enhancing drugs. I think those results are outstanding. I believe that supplements had a lot to do with her success.
Supplements are tools to make good nutrition even better. They give us added nutrients and substrates that would be impossible to glean from food alone. For that reason, I say that supplements really work. Is it possible to get results without supplements? Of course, it is. To craft a body that isn’t just good but great, however, the vast majority of genetically average people need today’s supplements.
Supplements are fast approaching the point where proven results will make up for the ill will created by years of scams. There are many excellent products on the market today. They can be very beneficial for those of us who strive to be ever bigger, stronger, and leaner. Put your doubts aside, keep an open mind, and give them a chance.