Tribulus Terrestris – Supplement Profile

I first read of a tribulus terrestris product called Tribestan®, which I believe was the first tribulus terrestris product marketed to the public, in Dan Duchaine’s Underground Steroid Handbook. Since that time I have accumulated mostly second hand accounts of how, and how well, it works. Tribulus is an herbal supplement used since the late 70′s in Eastern Europe. It’s purported effects include increased luteinizing hormone release and thus testosterone production, increased sperm production, increased ejaculatory volume, and increased libido. In young patients with a condition known as hypogonadism, an increase in pubic hair has also been observed. All of these effects make tribulus an interesting supplement indeed. [Read more...]

Ephedrine, Caffeine, Aspirin plus Yohimbine

Q: Can you give me a brief rundown on the Ephedrine/Caffeine/Aspirin stack I keep hearing so much about? The guys at my gym tell me it’s great for fat loss but I’ve also seen stories in the media that it can be dangerous. What’s the deal? Also I’ve seen some suggest yohimbe for fat loss. Is it safe to take yohimbe with ephedrine? [Read more...]

Going on a Diet? The Protein Supplement You Choose Might Make a Big Difference

Everybody knows that when you go on a diet, consuming a bit more protein will help you hold on to hard earned muscle. The reason for this is that, skeletal muscle is your body’s main “store” of protein and when food is scarce the body uses this protein for glucose (sugar) production. You can blame your brain for this. You see, your brain and central nervous system rely almost entirely on glucose for energy, fat is out of the question. In order not to slip into a hypoglycemic stupor, or even worse, a coma, the body has set up a system that goes around breaking down muscle tissue in order to feed its glucose manufacturing centers in the liver. A necessary evil I guess. [Read more...]

Glutamine – Supplement Profile

Anybody who has been bodybuilding during the last ten years or so is certainly familiar with glutamine. Even if you have only bought a tub of protein lately you have probably heard about glutamine. Everybody seems to be claiming that it is the bell or whistle that makes their protein so “special”. Go to any bodybuilding contest and you will hear several competitors swear by it. So what does it do? Why does everybody give it so much credit? Well, the answer might surprise you. [Read more...]

What Supplements Would You Buy on a Limited Budget?

I am frequently asked, “If you had a limited budget, what supplements would you buy?” This is a great question. The reality is that most people don’t have an unlimited amount of money to spend on supplements; so getting the most out of their monthly investment is critical.

Assuming your diet is already in order, here is how I would prioritize supplements. [Read more...]

Magnesium – Supplement Profile

Magnesium is a versatile mineral that has some major implications with regards to athletes. It has been studied quite extensively in the research. This article tries to answer the question “Why is magnesium so important to athletes and what are its functions?” By exploring some general information on magnesium and then examining the research, it may be clear to see why this mineral is so important for proper metabolic function. [Read more...]

Guggulipids – Supplement Profile

To begin the discussion about guggulipid, we must first talk about thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormones are very important for normal growth and development. Thyroid hormones maintain metabolic stability by regulating oxygen requirements, body weight, and intermediary metabolism (1). Thyroid hormones have effects in almost all tissues of the body. Thyroid hormones exert effects on thermogenesis and temperature regulation. This can explain some of the effects they have on energy metabolism. Thyroid hormones can actually stimulate protein synthesis, which is a big plus for bodybuilders and other athletes. Thyroid hormones have also been implicated in lowering cholesterol. Now let’s get to the most important effect of thyroid hormone on athletes. Thyroid hormones can enhance lipolysis (fat burning) in adipose (fat) tissue. More lipolysis… more fat loss. Capish! [Read more...]

Creatine: The Ergogenic / Anabolic Supplement

Overview

Scientific studies indicate that creatine supplementation is an effective and safe nutritional strategy to promote gains in strength and muscle mass during resistance-training. Moreover, that creatine supplementation may be an effective alternative to other less effective and/or potentially dangerous nutritional and pharmacological strategies that athletes have used in an attempt to increase strength and muscle mass during training. Consequently, creatine has become one of the most popular nutritional supplements for resistance-trained athletes and body builders. Yet despite the scientific evidence, there has been a significant amount of controversy about creatine reported in the popular media. This article will examine what we do and don’t know about creatine and whether concerns about side effects reported in the popular media have any merit. [Read more...]

Protein Bars Revealed

For those of us workout buffs and workaholics out there, a high protein bar can save the day (especially a very busy one—sometimes I find myself busier than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest!) The problem is there are so many protein bars out there it’s hard to sort through them all. There seems to be more new bars on the market than web sites going up. But which protein bars are the best? How can they be beneficial? What do you need to know before purchasing them? How about low carb protein bars vs. higher carb protein bars? Well, never fear, the answers you have been looking for are here. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ingredients found in protein bars.

Most of us know that quality nutrition and supplementation is the key to achieving athletic and physique success. It is important to eat 5-7 small meals daily to increase nutrient absorption, enhance metabolic rate, and help stabilize blood sugar (and insulin) levels. High protein meal replacement bars allow you to get all your meals in a convenient and generally tasty manner (I sure don’t have the time to cook 6 food meals daily!). They help improve overall nutrition and give you key nutrients your body needs to improve health and physical performance.

Protein bars usually contain protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals, and additional functional ingredients. High protein/moderate to high carb bars are best suited for athletes and workout fanatics looking to get quality protein and carbs for increased energy. They are excellent for after a workout to enhance recovery and recuperation and enhance carbohydrate storage (glycogen) in muscle tissue.

Most protein bars usually start out with a “proprietary protein blend”. Some bars may have only one protein source such as whey protein isolate but it is preferred to get a protein blend to utilize all the functional benefits of different proteins and help support lean muscle mass. Quality whey protein isolate has benefits including providing intact immunoglobulins to support immune function, providing the highest concentration of BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine which play a key role in the muscle building process-about 25%), it has a high biological value (BV) which means it is readily absorbed and utilized by human muscle tissue, and it may even support IGF-1 levels.

It is very important to look at the processing techniques of different whey proteins. The processing will determine whether the important protein microfractions (the compounds that give whey its functional benefits) are still intact and not. Look for ion exchange whey isolate. The ion-exchange process separates proteins based on their electric charge, which is controlled using various chemicals. Two other good choices are “ultrafiltered” or “cross flow microfiltered” whey. Both processes use a very high tech cold microfiltration process that utilizes ceramic filters to remove the fat and lactose thus separating out or “isolating” the protein without damaging it. Whey protein concentrate is a less processed and consequently less expensive form of whey protein. Whey protein concentrate is not as pure as whey isolate in that some fat, lactose and minerals are still left in the protein.

Casein is another milk protein that seems to have a timed-release effect as it forms a gel in the gut to slow the transit time of amino acids. This effect may enhance absorption. It has a very high natural glutamine content. Most of the glutamine in casein is found in the peptide form for better absorption (due to peptide transport systems in the digestive tract). Glutamine is a very important amino acid that has many benefits including supporting lean muscle mass. In a recent study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, whey protein was compared with a casein protein hydrolysate (which contains about 20 % glutamine peptides) and a hypocaloric diet with regards to lean muscle mass, strength, and body fat. The results of this study showed that the casein protein hydrolysate group lost more body fat, gained more lean muscle mass, and had greater strength increases. The authors of the study stated that, “this significant difference in body composition and strength is likely due to improved nitrogen retention and overall anti-catabolic effects caused by the peptide components of the casein hydrolysate”. Milk protein isolate contains both whey and casein and it is a decent source for these two proteins.

Soy protein isolate has been shown to enhance thyroid hormone output, which can increase metabolic rate to support fat loss. The isoflavones in soy have been shown to have numerous health benefits including cholesterol and triglyceride lowering effects. It contains an excellent ratio of glutamine, arginine, and the BCAA’s. It is a fairly low priced protein source and can have positive benefits for women mainly, but men as well.

Egg albumin protein is the “regular old Joe” protein. It boasts a great amino acid profile but does not offer very many functional benefits. Hydrolyzed protein is also another source of protein found frequently in bars because it is inexpensive. This protein is heat-treated (and pre-digested) and most of the microfractions are destroyed. However, it does contain peptides that are easily absorbed in the body.

Most high protein bars on the market are not baked nowadays so if the raw materials were quality, then the protein microfractions stay intact. However, the raw material ingredients that make up a bar may have been subjected to heat. Ask manufacturers of bars to provide you with certificates of analysis for the proteins in the bar (and for the bar itself for that matter). This should give you peace of mind about the quality of the protein you are getting. Bars that contain rolled oats and some granola type bars are baked and the proteins in them lose the microfractions due to baking.

The basic bar making process from a quality manufacturer goes like this: first the main ingredients (including the proteins) are mixed together (manually or using an industrial sized mixer) with water, then the mixture is laid on a table evenly and goes through a “cooling” machine process using a cooling tunnel/extruder. Next, the bar is taken out of the cooling machine and enrobed (coated) with chocolate. Finally, the bar sheets are cut and ready to be wrapped. Keep in mind this is a greatly simplified explanation of the process.

Protein bars contain carbohydrates as well. Typically the main source is glycrerol (glycerine) which is a trihydric alcohol. Glycerol forms the backbone of triglycerides in the body. It is used in bars to help keep them soft and moist since glycerol is very good at drawing moisture. It also helps sweeten the bar. Although many companies do not list this as a source of carbohydrates, the FDA defines it as a carbohydrate. It has a very low glycemic index so it does not impact blood sugar levels greatly. Interestingly enough, there are ergogenic benefits associated with ingesting glycerol such as increasing the amount of water retained in the body and enhancing hydration (maybe even enhancing vascularity). Bars loaded with glycerol may cause stomach discomfort in some people so unless you want to hit the porcelain throne throughout the day, drink plenty of water with these protein bars. Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (dextrose), rice syrup, maltitol, honey (invert sugar), turbinado sugar, sucrose (which is glucose +fructose), crisp rice, and fructose are all used as carbohydrate sources in bars. Fructose is fruit sugar and is added to bars not only to provide a source of carbohydrates but also to sweeten the product as it has a very sweet taste. Fructose is mainly metabolized in the liver and therefore has a lower glycemic index. Consuming high amounts of fructose can lower metabolic rate and cause de-novo lipogenesis (the conversion of sugar into fat) since the liver can only metabolize limited amounts of fructose.

Protein bars also contain fat. The usual fats found in these bars are partially hydrogenated oils, fractionated vegetable oils, palm kernel oil, and peanut butter. A few bars have added essential fatty acids (EFA’s) but it is very difficult to preserve the quality due to their sensitivity to light, heat and oxygen. Most of the fat (especially the saturated fat) found in bars is in the coating. Saturated fats have been linked to many health problems including cardiovascular disease. Partially hydrogenated oils produce trans fatty acids (along with other altered fats) during the hydrogenation process. They are also very detrimental to health and have been known to increase cholesterol and interfere with the livers detoxification system. Hydrogenated oils increase shelf life of products, which is usually 9 months to 1 year for most protein bars. Fractionated oils seem to be better for you. Fractionation is the process of separating an oil into two or more different triglyceride fractions. In other words, it allows weaker oils to be changed into better oils.

Protein bars contain a blend of vitamins and minerals to support overall health and many chemical processes in the body. Pre-mixes from companies like Roche are usually added to formulas. Vitamins and minerals are usually ancillary items to bars and many minerals in the formulas actually compete for absorption like calcium and magnesium plus they are generally not in the higher absorbable chelated forms. Chromium is added to some bars (usually in the better polynicotinate form) to support optimal blood sugar levels and help aid in fat loss.

Some high quality bars on the market (for various purposes including post workout recovery, energy, and lower carb/high protein bars) include: LoCarb2 from BIOCHEM, Lean Body by Labrada, BioComplete by Bodylogix, Protein Plus from Powerbar, Lean Machine bars by GEN, Meso-Tech bars by MuscleTech, Met-Rx Food bars by Met-Rx, LoCarb sports bar by APT Nutrition, Myoplex Lite bars by EAS, and the Ultimate Protein Bar by BIOCHEM.

In the future, we will evaluate popular bars on the market and give them a rating based on various criteria.

*References available upon request.

Meal Replacement Powders (MRPs) Revealed

Don’t worry, this is not one of those articles that tells you what’s wrong with meal replacement powders on the market and then tries to sell you one because it has “better” ingredients than the others. This article is about MRP ingredients and what the benefits are of using them. [Read more...]