By John M. Berardi
First published at www.johnberardi.com
, May 7 2004.
Every day, the Science Link inboxes fill with hundreds of email notes; some notes praising us for this free information resource, other notes asking detailed questions about one of our articles, and other notes inquiring about our products and services. But, far and away, the most often-asked questions deal with nutritional supplementation.
While we try to answer all the questions we receive, with respect to the supplement questions, two things have become very clear. First, there are few good resources in which supplements are discussed objectively. Rather, it seems like the only place to get supplement information is from the manufacturer or their affiliated media (books, magazines, webzines, etc). Secondly, many readers are absolutely clueless as to how to appraise the worth of a supplement. You know people have been led astray when strength athletes interested in gaining size ask about fat burners and endurance athletes are asking how big their “loading dose” of creatine should be.
It’s for these two reasons that we’ve created this resource, a resource we simply call “JB Approved”. Below you’ll find a list of supplements we’ve used with success in the programs of our various athletes and recreational exercisers. Taking into account quality and efficacy, we’ve given them the JB stamp of approval.
Now, a few things have to be said before we get to the list.
1) Your favorite supplements or brands might not be on the list. It’s inevitable that among the thousands of supplements and hundreds of companies that make each one, our lists may not overlap. Don’t send us hate mail. This article is not an indictment of your favorite brand. Rather this is our preferred list of supplements and manufacturers, a list of supplements that we’ve personally had success with. We’ve chosen these because we like the ingredients lists, we like the quality control, and we like the prices. There could be other products out there that meet our standards that we simply haven’t used. But we’re very happy with the results that these produce so we’re not going to burn up all our time looking through every product on the market. We’ve got athletes to train and this web site to update!
2) Please don’t send us thousands more emails asking about your favorite brand. We’ve made our selections. This list is our “final answer”. We’ve created this list to make it easier on you, not more confusing. So take our advice, you won’t be sorry.
3) This list represents the supplements we MAY use in certain circumstances. Each supplement or grouping is used for specific circumstances. None of our clients will ever be on all of them at once! So don’t think that we’re suggesting you should be taking all of these. Rather, this is a list of supplements that we draw from when considering what one of our clients might need.
4) If a supplement category isn’t on the list, we’ll probably never (or rarely ever) use it. For example, you might be wondering where the nitric oxide boosters are. We never use ‘em so they’re not on the list. How about glutamine? Not on the list. Where are the multi-vitamins? Not on the list (note: we balance out the micronutrients with food selections and, as a result, our none of our athletes have ever had micronutrient deficiencies after we give them their plan). Now, we’ve got one caveat. In some special circumstances (i.e. an athlete has digestive problems, has a specific need for mega dosing of vitamins, or is trying to rehabilitate an injury) we’ll have a few special tricks up our sleeves (more on those at a later date). But about 95% of the time, the list below meets the needs of our clients.
5) If you click on the links below, you’ll be taken to a web site in which you can purchase these supplements right now. In the interest of full disclosure, we do get a small commission on some (but certainly not all) of the products we’ve recommended. So if you pick up a supplement from one of our affiliates links below, you’ll be contributing to the support of this web site. So thanks! If you can find a better price at your local supplement store, go nuts, the recommendation still stands.
Essential Fatty Acids
JB APPROVED PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS
The following list of protein supplements includes only products that contain milk protein blends (a combination of whey protein, casein protein, and/or isolated, unseparated milk protein) and not single protein types. While whey protein may be cheaper, the scientific literature strongly supports the use of milk protein blends over single protein types (whey alone, casein alone, egg alone, etc) if this protein is used as a meal replacement or during a meal. Here’s why.
Milk protein is made up of both casein (80%) and whey (20%). Casein is slowly digested and absorbed while whey is quickly digested and absorbed. Proteins that are slowly digested are optimal for consuming with meals or as meal replacements since they enter the blood stream slowly and powerfully suppress protein breakdown. This may promote a better protein status over time. Proteins that enter the blood stream more quickly are optimal to promote rapid increases in blood amino acid concentrations and acute increases in protein synthesis. Since the whey and casein fractions of the products below are absorbed independently, these products suppress protein breakdown and stimulate protein synthesis.
We use the products below with our clients and don’t hesitate to say that they come from reputable companies and taste great. If you’re going to use a protein supplement, 40g/day is a good amount while 80g/day should represent an upper limit of supplemental protein intake. Of course, protein supplements should never be used as one’s exclusive protein source.
Biotest Low-Carb GROW!
Dorian Yates Approved Pro Peptide
Labrada Pro V
Met-Rx Protein Plus
JB APPROVED RECOVERY DRINKS
While strength and endurance training and competition promote a host of physiological benefits, both types of exercise stress the body to a large degree. Not only are muscle substrates (stored carbohydrate/glycogen, stored amino acids, and stored phosphagens like ATP and phosphocreatine) depleted but also protein status becomes negative, muscles suffer structural damage, blood cortisol rises, and immune function is compromised. Fortunately, the body is designed to respond to these changes by providing a short post exercise period in which all these negative effects can be remedied as long as proper nutrition is provided, and fast. Well designed post-exercise Carbohydrate – Protein supplements are designed to deal with each of the aforementioned changes, rapidly replenishing muscle glycogen and muscle phospagens, rapidly shifting the body from a catabolic state to an anabolic one, managing blood cortisol, supporting immune function, and protecting muscles from excessive structural damage.
The products below are well-designed post-exercise recovery drinks. These types of drinks contain “fast” protein and carbohydrates meaning quickly digested and absorbed proteins (such as whey protein) and simple sugars (including glucose and/or glucose polymers). While I typically recommend avoiding whey protein and sugar during daily meals, they’re optimal during one time of the day and one time only – the workout period. Ingesting a serving (or ˝ a serving if you’re trying to get leaner) immediately before training, during training, and immediately after training can dramatically accelerate recovery and improve muscle mass.
X-Treme Formulations Relentless
JB APPROVED CREATINE
Creatine is a supplement that needs no introduction. While some people may argue this point with me, I think that continual creatine supplementation is essential for good health as well as athletic performance. While creatine has been discussed in the athletic context quite extensively, it has some amazing regenerative effects on all tissues of the body including brain. I think that historically we humans have had a high creatine intake (due to eating a lot of meat) and we've physiologically adapted to this intake. Now, unfortunately, most people don’t get enough of it in the diet so there is, what I might call, a sub clinical deficiency. There are others, of course, that eat enough meat or have an upregulated endogenous creatine production and we call these people "non-responders". But the majority of people out there will receive benefit from basic, powdered creatine supplementation.
I usually recommend 3-5g per day (1 teaspoon), every day – dissolved in a warm beverage like green tea. Using this amount of creatine should increase power output by about 10%. This means heavier loads in the gym, more explosive lifts, and increased athletic performance. For older folk, this means more daily functional capacity. Since 3-5g per day is a rather modest dose, water retention, cramping, etc. isn't an issue (cramping isn't usually an issue even at higher doses). With all the fancy creatine supplements out there, a lot of people have forgotten about simple, powdered creatine. But that’s all we use with our clients.
ProLab Creatine Monohydrate
JB APPROVED ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
Essential Fatty Acids are so-named because it’s essential to get some in your diet. Without them, health and body composition will suffer. Unfortunately the typical North American diet is low in Linoleic Acid (an omega 6 fat) and in Alpha Linolenic Acid (an omega 3 fat); therefore we typically have to seek additional supplementation. Furthermore, even if the EFA content of the diet seems acceptable, the all-important ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats is often askew, with far too much omega 6 and far too few omega 3s. While the omega 3 fat Alpha Linolenic Acid is important in the diet, the downstream metabolic products of ALA (DHA and EPA) are powerful fats responsible for things like: increased metabolic rate, improved fat burning, increased carbohydrate storage in muscle, better glucose and insulin tolerance, reduced blood lipids, reduced risk of platelet aggregation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.
The following fat supplements are grouped into two categories. The first is the fish oil category. Fish oil is rich in DHA and EPA (mentioned above). I typically recommend using about 6-12g of total fish oil per day or 3-6g of DHA+EPA. The second is the liquid oil category that includes products containing combinations of linolenic acid and alpha linolenic acid. Your total daily fat intake should be made up of 1/3 polyunsaturated fats (like those listed here), 1/3 monounsaturated fats, and 1/3 saturated fat. Use these oils below to round out your fat intake.
Nature’s Way Fisol
Zone Perfect Omega 3
Health From The Sun Flax Liquid Gold
Udo’s Choice Oil Blend
JB APPROVED SNACKS
Eating on the go presents a number of challenges for even the most disciplined eaters. Not only can it get difficult to eat regularly if you’re on the road or on an airplane, it is tough to find lean protein! One easy way to prevent poor eating decisions at times like these is to bring your own protein along with you. My good friend and JB.com contributor Austin Blood turned me on to these tasty protein treats below.
JB APPROVED DIGESTION AIDS
In the past, I’ve been critical of digestive enzymes and aids as there are so many bad products on the market. However, there’s no doubt that digestive health is an important concern in today’s nutritional climate. Scientists and clinicians are slowly learning that food “sensitivities” and intolerances are more prevalent than previously recorded. Furthermore, studies are showing that digestive power (i.e. digestive enzyme release and efficacy) can be compromised as we age. If symptoms like regular gas, abdominal distention, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, constipation, or other GI abnormalitites appear in our clients, we typically have a 5-phase system to deal with this.
1) We begin to rotate their protein powders (never ingesting the same powder on consecutive days).
2) If #1 doesn’t produce relief, we add an animal based digestive enzyme like OmegaZyme in order to help with digestion of all foodstuffs. Since we’ve seen favorable activity data on this enzyme, we’re comfortable recommending it.
3) If #2 doesn’t produce relief, we add an enteric coated acidophilus supplement to attempt to populate the GI tract with healthy bacteria.
4) If #3 doesn’t produce relief, remove all protein supplements, replacing them with whole food protein sources.
5) If #4 doesn’t work, we begin slowly (one at a time) removing the main food allergens (wheat, corn, nuts, fish, eggs). If 2 weeks of removing a specific food doesn’t help, we add that food back in and remove another one and so on.
6) If none of these interventions help, it’s time to seek medical attention.
So here are the products we like to recommend. I mentioned OmegaZyme and acidophilus above. IB-Zyme is for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome and is specially formulated without a protein digestive enzyme and with specific herbs that may help repair the wall of the digestive tract.
Nature Made Acidophilus
JB APPROVED MINERALS
We like to design nutritional programs that eliminate the need for vitamin and mineral supplements. And we’re quite effective at doing so. Our athletes that have been tested for vitamin and mineral balance have demonstrated optimal vitamin and mineral status. Occasionally however, due to competitive demands, some athletes need to consider additional mineral supplementation. For example, magnesium is the number one mineral that is deficient in the athlete’s diet. Below, we’ve listed our two favorite magnesium blends. The first is a zinc magnesium blend while the second is a calcium magnesium blend. While some experts have suggested that calcium and magnesium shouldn’t be taken together, I’m not so sure I agree. Both products help improve magnesium status and sleep quality.
JB APPROVED RECOVERY SUPPLEMENTS
During intense training, the body experiences different types of stress including localized muscle damage, adrenal stress, and central nervous system stress. Typical recovery drinks (as mentioned above) serve to improve muscle energy and structure. The products below are our favorites for tackling some of the other components of recovery. Power Drive is a very effective CNS recovery agent and concentration enhancer when take 2x per day. For adrenal stress (i.e. cortisol suppression) a combination of vitamin C and Cort Bloc can be effective during periods of intense training.
Biotest Power Drive
Muscle Link Cort Bloc
Vitamin C 1000
JB APPROVED FAT BURNERS
Regular readers probably know too well that I often warn against regular use of “stimulants” or fat loss supplements. The reason for this is the fact that not only can they present some degree of acute cardiovascular risk (this risk is probably minimal for those with no congenital, genetic, or environmentally induced heart problems), but also they can actually make it more difficult to control your body composition in the long run. After all, artificial metabolic stimulation can cause a rebound-type effect when coming off the supplement, leading to reduced metabolic rate. Therefore you get lean when you’re on the supplement but as soon as you go off, it becomes nearly impossible to preserve your lean condition. Since our nutritional advice alone (without stimulants) has assisted many individuals in their quest to get lean, we feel relatively confident that these products aren’t essential for fat loss. But there is no question that they speed up the process and do help some fat loss resistant individuals reach their goals.
If you’re going to choose a fat loss product (or two), pick up the following two and use them together. They Dymetadrine product has a greater stimulant effect while the ErgoLean product works on increasing thyroid hormone production. The combination of the two can really help accelerate fat loss if you decide to go the supplement route.
Another interesting fat loss combo is offered below. This combination produces less of a stimulant effect and probably won’t accelerate fat loss to the degree of the combination above. However, the potential for side effects is also probably reduced.
Biotest Hot Rox
Nature’s Way Green Tea Extract
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