Sunday, March 15, 2015

SnM: Supplements Not Miracles

Since I am going to be posting several supplement reviews in the near future, I decided to write this precursor to what I will call my SnM series. Because while it may seem obvious when you think about it, most people really believe, or at least suspend their logic so they can proceed to blindly hope, that what they buy at Vitamin Shoppe is going to be their secret pill to massive gains. As if Beta Alanine is the missing ingredient, the reason why you're still benching 175 lbs. for the last three years.

Before I start let me say this is not an anti-supplement article. I use them everyday. But I am smart about it. I buy what works, make educated decisions, and am not easily fooled by flashy marketing or obviously false promises.

Nevertheless, I get it. Everyone wants that miracle drug. We all want to put on 20 lbs. of muscle this year. We want to lose 50 lbs. of fat without restricting calorie intake. Infomercials have been preying on this for decades, and most of the fitness industry is based on this powerful desire. We want these things so badly that we suspend our rational thinking every time something new comes out. Oh yeah, that Ab rocker didn't work but the Ab BLASTER is totally going to get me ripped.  But if you do just a little research you can see that the people having success are all doing the same basic things. They might frost it differently, but they're all using a very similar cake recipe and baking it in the oven for a similar amount of time.

What you have to realize with supplements is that anything that is super effective is going to attract the attention of "the man", in this case big pharmaceutical companies. Anything that really works the way you want it to work, which is to say like a potent drug, is going to get restricted, classified as a drug, and handed over to Big Pharma to either package and sell (which will require a prescription and all that nonsense) or just locked away so they don't have competition. Whether or not it is safe no longer matters, it's just about money and control. So for this very basic reason, a supplement is never going to be drug-like in effect, which is to say, significantly potent. And if it is, it won't be around for long. You must keep that in mind when choosing to buy a new product.

This doesn't mean supplements don't work. It just means that an herbal libido enhancer or test booster isn't Viagra, not even close. In all likelihood it won't do anything very noticeable, and it certainly won't raise your test like stee-roids. Pre-workouts are not methamphetamine. Stimulants are actually the most effective supplements in terms of doing what they say they will do. But they aren't cocaine. As said, when something halfway decent comes along and gets popular the FDA bans it for being "unsafe."

Which leads to the title of this article. These are supplements, not miracles. Their effect is not going to be huge. And if you have other aspects of your life off point the supplement might not do anything at all in terms of getting you positive benefit in your muscle building endeavors. Which brings me to the second point.

Gamma Rays probably won't have the same effect on you, but neither will whatever you bought at GNC last week.
You know what's more important than a pre-workout? Sleep. You know what else is more important than caffeine? Calories. If you're sleeping 6 hours a night and eating 1500 calories a day you are compromising your strength in the gym and you're not going to build much muscle, if any. A pre-workout, which is often just a glorified cup of coffee, isn't going to change that.

By the same token, if you're not sleeping, and not eating enough fat, and you're depressed because you hate your job, an herbal test booster isn't going to give you a raging hard on. But you know what might? Sleeping 10 hours a night, eating the materials your body needs to make the hormones you need, and fixing your life so you don't hate waking up everyday.

You can't make a cake using only frosting. You have to make the cake first, then worry about frosting it. Supplements aren't going to fix you. Used properly they might slightly enhance you if you're doing the basics right already. This being true, you can imagine that most of the stuff in a Vitamin Shoppe probably isn't all that useful. I don't want to make this a "what supplements should I take" article, but what is useful?

Creatine Monohydrate - We know it works. There's no debating. But what it actually does is something a lot of people don't know. They think it "builds muscle" and "adds strength" because that's what the label says. What it does is saturates your muscles with ATP. This is the energy you use when you lift weights. So the end result is that you can perform longer (get more reps) and recover faster (less rest between sets). This is good, obviously. It's more fuel. This doesn't mean it "builds more muscle" though. It is still something you should take and it's dirt cheap.

Omega 3s - These are anti-inflammatory fats. Whether or not you get them from fish oil is up to you. Fish oil is the common way to supplement them. They counteract omega 6s, of which modern food is loaded. So chances are you're eating too much 6s and not enough 3s. That's why it's beneficial to supplement omega 3s with fish oil.

Vitamins and minerals - there are too many here to list. It's a hornets' nest to sort out. There is research to suggest that we don't get enough of anything from our foods, and apparently being deficient in one of these is theoretically devastating. There are things like Magnesium and Vitamin D that you don't want to be deficient in, but almost certainly are if you are not supplementing them.

However the same can probably be said for everything. As such I'm not getting into it. There's too much here. Take a multivitamin that probably doesn't have enough of these things anyway, and who knows how much gets absorbed. I'm just not going to touch this topic because it's too messy and I don't have the answers. You could spend a fortune supplementing quality forms of all the vitamins and minerals you need so you'll have to make your own decisions here.

Protein - Whether it comes in bar, powder, pre-mixed liquid, or some other delivery system, protein is food, and it's necessary for muscle gains. Do you need to supplement it instead of just eating food from the grocery store? That's up to you. It depends on what you eat from the grocery store. Protein supplements definitely have their use.

Stimulants - we know for a fact that stimulants work. Caffeine is obviously the big one but there are definitely other things that increase your energy. However, there's also a lot of fluff that isn't really going to do anything. It's always a good idea to simply try caffeine pills at $3 a bottle first instead of going for C4 or Jack3d. Chances are the biggest factor in your preworkout is caffeine, and caffeine is cheap. There are definitely more stimulants than caffeine, although most companies don't really use them.

There are also other compounds that have use pre-workout that aren't necessarily stimulants. There's Beta Alanine, for example. Taken in a high enough dose, it makes your skin tingly / itchy. This makes you want to get up and move around, so in that regard it serves a purpose. In my experience it doesn't last particularly long, but it's a nice effect.

Pain Killers - reducing pain and inflammation is a good thing. There's no debating the efficacy of such drugs. Of course, they are only useful if you are actually hurting.

Vasodilators - which is to say things that make your veins bigger to move more blood. In other words, pump products. Again the effect is cool. Whether or not it results in any increase in strength or muscle gain is up for debate. And that brings me to another point.

The Placebo Effect is real, and taking something because you believe it works is a valid strategy. Taking something that produces a desirable immediate effect is also legit, if you think it's cool and it makes you feel good about yourself. It might not result in getting bigger and stronger, though. So as long as you are cool with that, then it's all good.

That's hardly a comprehensive list but it's most of the broad strokes. But the bigger point is that even when supplements work acutely, which means an effect in this moment, what effect does this have in the long term goal? Are you going to be bigger and stronger in two years because you took that pump product, compared to if you hadn't taken it? Maybe that test booster does acutely raise your test levels a bit, but does that mean you build more muscle as a result? Maybe the pre-workout got you psyched to go lift for a 5 lb. PR that one time, but does that mean you put on an extra pound of muscle that month? And perhaps creatine allowed you to bang out 2 extra reps each week, but what long term affect does that have? Can you even measure it, and better yet, can you notice it without sensitive measuring devices?

I got ninety-nine ingredients but divine intervention ain't one.
The fact is, if you have everything on point, supplements might add a tiny amount of actual measurable progress over the long term. But most average people don't have everything on point. And these people would be far better off fixing their diet, sleep, training, and attitude. This isn't to say that supplements don't work if you're not already perfect. They can certainly take you from shit show to immeasurably less of a shit show. But most often people go in with stupid expectations, see nothing of the effect they were looking for, and just end up wasting their money. They then proceed to buy more and more ridiculous products in their effort to find the holy grail of gains. Illegal Anabolics are the holy grail of gains. So unless you're willing to do that, stop looking for magic in a jar and get your shit in order.

Sleep 8 to 10 hours a night. Yeah, you want to put 8 hours as the ceiling, I consider it the floor. If you're lifting in a brutal fashion, and working full time, you should be pretty damn tired, so sleep instead of checking facebook for 2 hours a night.

Eat enough food, dammit. You know how it's enough? You'll gain weight. If you're not gaining weight, you're not gaining muscle. So unless you're already ripped, siting at your desired body weight, you're probably looking to build more muscle. You're going to hit a hard wall if you try to build strength without adding muscle mass. Obviously there are mechanisms for this to happen but it's really better off done at two points in time: Your first few months of training ever, and after you've reached your desired lean body weight. Otherwise you're better served by actually building new lean tissue, which requires that you gain body weight. So if you're not gaining weight you're not eating enough, in general. And I don't care how many calories you eat, or whether or not you think that it's a lot of food. Bar don't lie, and scale don't either. Small and weak? then eat more, and stop whining about how hard it is, genius. Actually, I don't care if you whine or not, as long as you eat more you'll see them gains.

Eat enough protein. I'm not going to debate what's enough. 0.8 grams per lb. of body weight is the minimum. It's what science seems to say will max out your muscle building endeavors. So I'm going to put that as the minimum recommended figure. Going less than this is dumb because studies show that you are giving up gains when you do it. There is nothing negative that comes from eating more protein so there really isn't any practical ceiling. I like the 1.5 grams per lb. of body weight but I concede that it might be a bit high. I think 1 gram per lb. is a good starting point in general.

Don't be a sad cunt, as Zyzz would say.  Emotional stress has profound effects on the body. How motivated are you going to be to go to the gym when you hate your job? If you struggle to get out of bed because you spend 1/3 of your life doing something you dread, that stress is going to leak into the rest of your life. Now maybe this makes you mad and actually want to go to the gym, but maybe it makes you depressed. If so then that is going to fuck up your gains, even if you do manage to train well. Short term physiological stress is what makes the body grow, but prolonged psychological stress is not a good thing. In other words, find a way to enjoy your life. You can't be sad 8 hours a day and expect positive things to result. At the very least get pissed and use that energy to lift heavy things after work. Anger is always better than sadness. Sad cunts make no gains, angry people do. Happy people do too. My point is that there is a tipping point on the emotional scale, below which you can kiss your gains goodbye, if you stay there chronically. Sounds dumb, I know, but it's true. But if you can stay pissed off or better you're probably good to go.

Once again I'll reiterate that I am not trying to knock all supplements, just wanting you to put things in perspective, because they are supplements, not miracles. A stimulant based fat burner is not going to burn off 1000 calories in a day for you. It's going to burn off a very small amount, and maybe suppress your appetite, as stimulants tend to do. It's still up to you to not eat that damn Big Mac. You have to do the basics, you have to intake less energy, or you're not going to lose fat. It's not rocket science and your problem isn't a lack of pills. Conversely if you aren't gaining weight you need to eat more and lift more. If you want those calories to come from Serious Mass then so be it but your issue isn't a lack of supplements, it's a lack of food.

With all that being said, you can expect a few supplement reviews in the near future. I plan to review several Chaos and Pain brand supplements, starting with their pre-workouts Ferox and Aggro, as well as their test booster, Cannibal Alpha. And probably their upcoming sleep aid Hypnos, and perhaps their pump product Permaswole. Yeah, it's all CnP stuff for now because they are an awesome company, and I can't very well review basic stuff like creatine and multivitamins and protein powder, right? Just go buy Vitamin Shoppe brand or whatever is cheapest and tastes good to you.

I just wanted to throw this article out there first. Supplements are not miracles, and the sooner you learn that the better. Also understanding that, unlike in the past, modern supplements are far less drug-like than most of us want them to be. And understanding this will put you in a better position to make wise decisions. This doesn't mean you don't buy any supplements, it just means you understand what you are buying so that you can buy what you can use instead of buying some dream in a bottle that never pans out.

Now if you're not willing to do what it takes then that's fine, but save your money if that's the case. Because supplements aren't going to make up for chronic lack of sleep and food. And you would be better off spending that $40 on chicken and a comfortable pillow instead of going to GNC.


  1. Fantastic post - Great explainations and thinking.I'm looking forward to what you have for us next..!

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