Supplements To Avoid
I specifically avoided calling this article supplements that don't work, as I initially intended to. That wouldn't be fair to these substances. The things listed here all made my blacklist for different reasons but this doesn't mean that they don't actually work to a certain capacity. I believe that no single product is actually a complete scam, only supplements don't work, not the things they are made of.
I know of companies that will try to sell you a raw deal by making it look like their product compares favorably to a good supplement, and I know a lot of products that negate their effect because they contain a stack of products that counteract each other. I'm not going to make it an issue to name these supplements, because I feel that would give you a wrong idea. Obviously I don't know all the bad supplements, and I feel its irresponsible to give some a bad wrap only so that equally bad supplements could take their place in the market. And by not going into specific supplements I also reduce the chance of laying personal grudges into my words.
This article will consist of a first part, describing some supplements you should avoid for the time being. Not because of their inefficacy, but mostly because of things like not being able to live up to their promised potential, low cost-effectivity, toxicity, adverse effects and in a single case because it will have a very bad result. These products are listed because they may be hazardous in reaching your maximum gains, but mostly because in the current state of affairs they are not worth the money. The second part of the article will make you pay attention to some things you should watch when buying stacked supplements to avoid selling yourself short. Take your time to read this. Knowing what works is important, as important as knowing how to use it. But perhaps the thing you really need to know is the things that don't work. A critical eye when shopping will save you many a dollar.
Substances that you should know about...
I will explain the benefits, or supposed benefits of the supplement as well, to give them the benefit of the doubt. Most of this is based on experience and test results, but I don't always believe those sources either. And neither should you. If you find these supplements work for you, use them, by all means. This is merely a friendly warning from a guy trying to save you some money. I have no alterior motives, I don't get any money for saying this, in fact if the people at Bodybuilding.com find that this is in their disadvantage, they'll probably never print this.
The only people still trying to push this supplement are the people at the Weider nutrition labs. They have the largest stake in it, and they get stuck with the bill if we don't buy it. That's why FLEX magazine is the only magazine still printing ads for vanadyl.
Vanadyl finds its uses in mimicking Insulin, much like ALA, which I discussed in my article on creatine. It regulates blood-sugar levels and helps the uptake of glucose into the cells, instead of turning it to fat. So it promotes the efficacy of creatine and protein. Vanadyl sulfate is derived of the trace mineral vanadium, and is in effect a salt. Users claim they get an increased pump from it.
My beef with vanadyl is the toxicity level. Though the recommended doses are far below toxic, they are also far below effective. They recommend 25-50 mg, prior to workout or after a meal, but the effective dose for bodybuilders lies closer to 75 mg. The toxicity level starts at 100 mg for most people, though some claim it's higher, I dare you to test it. So what's the problem you ask? 75 isn't 100. True enough, but like all trace minerals, vanadium remains in the body longer than you would like, and as you keep using it, the body level of vanadium keeps going up. Vanadyl accumulates in bone, kidneys and in high concentrations in the liver. For someone watching this closely it's not a true problem, but I should warn you that your multi-vitamin and several other supplements contains small amounts of vanadium as well. As a result using vanadyl requires cycling it 3 weeks on, 12 weeks off. This hardly makes it a favorite for supplementation. The standard RDA is 10 mcg, that's a tenth of a gram. So what is the use of extra, for the little benefit it has. You'll find ALA to be more effective for a similar price. Some studies do show that the effective doses are lower than thought, but I urge you to take into account that this stuff goes to the liver and bones faster than the skeletal muscle. This means that even if you get enough in your muscles you are already stacking more of it in your organs.
Vanadyl has uses in medical conditions, but most nutritionists will advise you to avoid vanadyl if you are in good shape. They may be of little benefit to most, but perhaps to the big-boned individual they may have merit. Then still there are many other insulin potentiators that work just as well. I refer you once again to my article on creatine.
The Verdict: Vanadyl is possibly harmful. There are better products available.
I know I'm going to get a lot of hot water for badmouthing this one. But fact remains this is the shadiest stuff on the market. The most recent tests I found were dated 1981, and all of them conducted under suspect circumstances in the country of origin, Hungary. All of the information on Methoxy isoflavone and Ipriflavone , the two most common forms of methoxy, is based on US patent information dating back to 1977. Even with the patent locked up, there should have been evidence of use in the sports world throughout the past 24 years. After all, they claim this stuff is better than steroids. I've heard some pretty bold remarks by companies claiming their supplements are almost as good as steroids and not be able to uphold it, but this is ludicrous. I don't think anyone could really fall for something better than steroids but with no side-effects. What really worries me is that I haven't heard even a single testimonial from someone who gained a pound of lean mass that couldn't be accredited to something else. I mean, even with the worst supplements you always hear someone that experiences some minor gains, but not a one with methoxy. The body protects itself against exogenous substances, which is why steroids are so popular, because they trick the body into thinking they're endogenous substances. But with flavonoids, they would be broken down before exerting these effects. If any of these test-results are for real, I guarantee you the stuff was injected.
And is it common in this industry to go by test material supplied by the manufacturing company (Chinoin), tests done in-house and with a world of flaws in them ? In the medical community people laugh at practices like these, but praying on the believing nature of intermediate bodybuilders they just smell money. When Twinlabs or Universal comes out with a methoxy supplement, I may just decide to give methoxy the benefit of doubt, but as long as the major, quality companies shy away from it, It remains hard to accept the supplement as a steady factor. Which is why it is so hard to find quality Nor-diol as well...
(Update! Universal has two new Methoxy products: Natural Sterol Extreme and IsoStak. Twinlab does not yet have a Methoxy product.)
A recent attempt has been undertaken to do tests to prove methoxy worked. They showed it did. Why does this not surprise me you ask? Well, looking at the study you'll notice that the study contains a few flaws both in the way testing was performed (the gains were not shown to be conclusive, nor shown to be accredited to the product) and the test-subjects. Last time I tried to explain this to someone I was said to be prejudiced. But if you look at the top of the study you'll also notice that the study was sponsored (and we're not talking peanuts so I think some of that money may compromise the integrity of the researcher) by one of the companies that manufactures methoxy and has a great stake in that market. I'm not going to name the company, but if you go back through some of the message boards of the past few weeks and months you can find it.
As far as I'm concerned, buying methoxy is wasted money. I wrote to some people in the industry who have their ears to the grapevine where new supplements are concerned. All of them agreed that there is no basis for the power of methoxy, and I believe Will Brink gave me the best answer "There is no proof this stuff works, and for me that's all I need to know."
Not too long ago, after I became aware that some supplements contained alternate versions of the hormone epinephrine, I issued a warning on the message boards. That epinephrine has its values is not an issue here. Next to cortisol, cathecholamines (epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine) are the only hormones capable of burning fat instead of glycogen, and considering that cortisol will inhibit glycogen use epinephrine is probably the wiser choice. But to go as far as supplementing it is ludicrous. Perhaps I can clear a lot of things up if I tell you that the common name for epinephrine is adrenaline. The fight or flight hormone. Having high epinephrine levels for short times is beneficial because it will positively influence GH balance and hold back excessive cortisol production. Motivation and anxiety will trigger the manufacture of dopamine and eventually epinephrine. That's why short intense bursts of training are usually preferred over long moderate exercise. This is the principle Mentzer's HIT is based upon and the logic behind fast reps, training no longer than 45 minutes and keeping intensity high.
Of course there is an unfortunate downside to epinephrine. Epinephrine negates the effect of insulin. When bodybuilders maximize insulin, they attempt to store large amounts of muscle-protein and glycogen for future actions. This is the correct way for bulking up, because you can counter the adverse effects of training hard. By turning blood-glucose into stored glycogen, you can create a higher energy potential and faster recovery. Epinephrine does the opposite, it will rob tissue of glycogen and turns it into free glucose. If this goes on long enough, you will deplete your recovery reserves, which isn't wishful for a bodybuilder seeking to gain.
Putting epinephrine in supplements is irresponsible and unethical. They will not only not improve your results, chances are they will simply reverse them. The benefits of epinephrine can be had naturally, by staying motivated, anticipation and when dieting a good ECA stack will give you all the fat-metabolizing benefits of cathecholamines. If you really believe you need larger amounts of epinephrine, taking in higher amounts of the amino acid Tyrosine may be the best choice. All cathecholamines are manufactured from this amino acid. Since it's not even an essential amino acid, I think you really shouldn't worry about epinephrine levels. If my rant hasn't convinced you consider that cathecholamines are very similar to cortisol. And cortisol is our enemy. These hormones kick in when there is a high stress placed on our bodies that threatens to completely deplete our body's glycogen and is used to find alternate sources of energy. Mostly fat, but also protein. High levels of these substances will break down muscle tissue. What's more is that they decrease immune efficiency, because all resources are pulled together for body function instead of body protection. Adrenaline and cortisone, artificial forms of respectively epinephrine and cortisol, were popular drugs to cyclists a while ago. They couldn't detect the stuff in the body, and even if they could, they would claim the cortisone was taken to counter inflamation of an injury. But it became obvious if a virus was introduced to the area and 35 cyclists in the same race, came down with the exact same infection. Since cyclists usually have good immune systems and this particular virus wasn't very strong, suspicion was imminent, but proof was never found.
In short, taking epinephrine is a dangerous affair, the likes of steroids, and will shortchange your gains, unlike steroids. So its a lose-lose situation. This stuff is very dangerous and you should definitely avoid anything that contains it.
This isn't so much a bad product as an outdated one. It works to a certain extent. It's made in the body under the influence of carbohydrates and insuline. It is the compound that will start the Krebs cycle that allows constant performance during long periods of stressful activity. It has been linked to weight loss and performance increase. Originally derived from the oligo-element pyruvic acid, but only isolated as pyruvate because the acid is unstable and will cause upset stomachs.
Most of the tests referred to when talking about the benefits of pyruvate were the ones conducted by Dr. R. Stanko. When talking with colleagues we often make jokes about his studies. Let's just say that among peers, he is no longer held in as high a regard as the supp manufacturers would like. The study I'm referring to was the one that supposedly proved that Pyruvate caused 37 percent more weight loss and 48 percent more fat loss. I did go through the study carefully and have to warn you that it was conducted on seriously obese people (we're talking bodyfat between 20 and 33 percent) put on a 1000 calorie diet. That is ridiculously low, and as you can tell from the percentages there was a serious amount of dry weight lost. The amounts of pyruvate were enough to set you back a couple of dollars daily.
Apart from that, pyruvate is a legit supplement in energy increases for endurance athletes. The biggest problem however is the cost. Taking 1 to 1.5 grams of pyruvate per 10 pounds of bodyweight isn't very cheap. And of course the fact that it will cause stomach disorders in excess of 30 grams is no laughing matter either. However, while I've provided you with enough reasons to blacklist this product, the only actual reason I mention it is because creatine will illicit better gains in a similar way and more tailored to our kind of energy expenditure: Short and powerful. Not only is creatine better, its also cheaper. Which is why I consider pyruvate to be an outdated supplement with little or no use in a constantly improving market.
My advice: Use a good creatine supplement and leave the pyruvate for endurance athletes.
Stacks you should know about...
Some products are real class-acts, but can be turned into shit-factories when improperly stacked. It's obvious that apart from 3 or 4 respected companies, not a lot of people do research in this line of work. This is apparent from the dozens of claims I pick out of magazines every month that prove untrue or unsubstantiated. But most of all this refers to synergistic effects. One supplement is good, so is another, let's put them together and make money. Not a good attitude in my opinion. There is the effect of competition between nutrients in the body. It's not because you think something is best for you that your body will agree, and some manufacturers can't get that through their thick, very thick skulls. I won't name supplements, but armed with this info you should be able to pick them out by scanning a label. Here are the most popular ones:
ZMA and calcium
Though every quality company will mention this on the bottle, I know of at least one company that has a product that stacks protein, rich in calcium, together with ZMA in one product. It also contains some other worthless additives, but this one is most striking. The whole process of ZMA supplementation hinges on the maximal absorption of the Zinc. That's why all these people spared no cost to fuse the Zinc to monomethionine. When calcium and Zinc reach the receptor at the same time, the body will favor calcium, simply because the body needs more of it. But that doesn't help you get more out of a supplement that is now rendered useless because of faulty stacking. Those of you familiar with ZMA, or those of you who read my article on testosterone potentiators, will know that this is powerful stuff, capable of elevating testosterone by 100 percent overnight. You will also be aware, if you bought quality ZMA, that it is supposed to be taken prior to sleeping on an empty stomach, with NO CALCIUM. So be on the lookout.
ZMA and NAC
ZMA is a feable substance, what can I say? It can't take much. The reason for avoiding this stack is already explained in my article on testosterone potentiators. This is one of the stacking commandments most often ignored. I have found four such stacks so far, and one of them that tries to pass its supplements off as legitimate and scientifically backed. NAC has an effect on saving testosterone, but minor. It's mostly used as an inhalant to combat respiratory problems because it broncho-dilates. ZMA is a powerful testosterone booster, in fact the most effective natural one. But NAC has the unfortunate side-effect of excreting more Zinc and Copper in the urine, again negating the effect of Zinc that ZMA hinges on. So watch out when buying testosterone boosting stacks.
Vitamin E and Prohormones
Vitamin E is a popular anti-oxidant amongst athletes and justly so. I myself supplement 400 IU most of the year. But when on a prohormones stack it may be wise to give it a rest for a couple of weeks. As a fat-soluble vitamin your storages are plentiful if you supplement year-round. But Vitamin E will inhibit the effect of prohormones, and even some test boosters. The conversion will not happen fully, and that's only if the prohormones actually reach receptors. You are potentially cutting your gains by 50 to 60 percent. Prohormones stack well with most supplements though. Just kick back the vitamin E, you'll be getting small amounts in your multi anyway.
Creatine and Ribose
This stack makes a lot of sense. If only the people who stacked it had some common sense. The amounts in which Ribose is stacked with creatine are totally ineffective, making for an expensive urine-filler if you are aware of the cost of Ribose. I would actually suggest taking them separately, like 5 grams of Ribose during the workout and 5 grams of creatine immediately after the workout. At 2.5 grams or less, you are unlikely to experience any benefits, even long-term.
I wish I could tell you this is a definite article that is a fail-safe against buying bad supplements, but it's not. I just know that the next magazine I pick up is a treasure for new stupidities among supplement ads. For every great supplement manufactured, some idiot will try to get a piece of the pie, the million-dollar pie that gullable shoppers provide them with. It's not surprising that many experienced bodybuilders look upon this industry as a cesspool of corruption and fraud. I don't need convincing of what works and what doesn't. When in doubt, find out. Of course not everyone has the ability to test supplements, which is why I hoped that some of my articles provided a clearer picture of the industry and provided you with enough information to make sure you don't get ripped off. Believe it or not, most people working at supplement stores and companies know less about the product than you do, so there isn't much help to be had from that corner (No, I don't mean you Fit, but face it, you're an exception to the rule). If I can save a few people some money or get more size for their buck, I'm a happy man. It sounds cheesy but it's true. Call it my good deed.
Use your head if you ever want to get big like Stan McCrary (c) Avidan
Most of all, I want you to find that thin line between being overly suspicious of supplements and the I'll-buy-anything attitude. Keep an open mind and a critical eye. Unless you have the facts, give supplements the benefit of the doubt, but don't rush out to give in to the first hype that comes along. Unless you are in a hurry to get big, give it some time until the dust settles. Having said that, I won't take it the wrong way if you choose not to believe the things I say. I'm well aware that some people could drink my blood, and try to discredit my advice. Jealousy is a painful thing. But here too, my best advice is to use a critical eye. If they make more sense than I do and they can back it up, you have no reason to doubt them. And should you be left with a dilemma, you can always contact me and I'll be glad to try and clear it up. Obviously if I can't, I was on the wrong end of the discussion. I never said I was perfect, but I haven't been caught giving bad advice any time in the last few months.
Next time I will have my final article in this series for now. I hope to have an update for you in a few months, as this industry obviously isn't going to stop where I do. In the mean time I would appreciate all your remarks, comments and suggestions for updates, and questions, when they are to the point, are always welcome too.
I hope to be back shortly! A first article in my new series on training tactics should be out soon. Don't forget me in the mean time, and give me some thought when you go shopping for supplements. My last article will deal on some effective stacks you could be taking.
Until then, buyer beware.