Pro wrestling. You gotta love it. The hype. The smack talk. The lie shrouded in testosterone, sweat, and six-packs that you overlooked because it was just so damn entertaining. Tell me you didn’t want to be the Hulkamaniac at some point during your childhood. I dare you. Or, maybe it was the Macho Man. Ewwwwwww yeaaaaaa!
Ah, the glory days of suplexes and DDT’s…
Seeing just how ridiculous pro wresting is now that we’re mature adults, is it any surprise to see that our testosterone oozing ego has fooled us again.
How, you ask?
The supplement industry.
Yes, the six packs, chiseled chests, and bulging biceps got me again. Did I really think the bodybuilder on that supplement ad really got that way from the supplement he’s pictured next to? No, but I also didn’t think the Undertaker was really buried alive three times yet I still sat on the edge of my seat hoping for a resurrection. It’s that damn testosterone I tell you.
THE SUPPLEMENT INDUSTRY
So, let me de-testosterone your gullibility with these two interesting tidbits real quick so you aren’t fooled a second time like I was. Oh, if only I could get the money back I wasted on supplements in my twenties…
- You and I, with less than $2,000, can start a supplement company from our garage. No experience needed. All we need is a graphic designer, a private label company, and a company name that sounds “sciency.” Add a website, and we’re open for business. No experience or credentials needed. No inspections to pass.
- Even worse, look at this, directly from the Food and Drug Administrations’ (FDA) website: “Federal law does not require dietary supplements to be proven safe to the FDA’s satisfaction before they are marketed. For most claims made in the labeling of dietary supplements, the law does not require the manufacturer or seller to prove to FDA’s satisfaction that the claim is accurate or truthful before it appears on the product.” Yes, you read that right partner. We don’t even have to prove our stuff is safe before selling it on our website. Heck, we don’t even have to prove our claim is accurate or truthful either. What are we waiting for? Let’s stick some labels on these pills filled with white powder from China and start making some money. Cha-ching.
As hard as that is to believe, what I just said is 100% accurate and truthful. That’s how easy it is to start selling a supplement in the U.S. Scary, right?
So is it any wonder that 99% of the supplements on the market are complete, utter junk. In fact, the majority of them are no better than if you’d take a sugar packet and start using it daily before your workouts. Of course, that’s excluding the supplements that have tested positive for traces of steroids in them.
THE POWER OF THE PLACEBO
But, I can feeeeell it working, you say.
Let me tell you about something called the placebo effect. This is how powerful it is.
Imagine you’re a surgeon serving in WWII. You’re in charge of treating wounded soldiers, everything from applying a few bandages to amputating a leg to attempting to save a life that you know can’t be saved. You’re in the middle of a war zone, with supplies being delivered inconsistently at best, cutoff from the technology and convenience of your normal U.S. hospital operating room.
A soldier is rushed into your tent, suffering a life threatening injury from battle. Your heart is racing as you assess the patient and within seconds realize he needs immediate surgery to save his life. As you prep your operating table, you quickly realize you’re out of the only painkiller you have access to, morphine. Without it, you fear that you’ll send the solider, already clinging to life, into shock from the unbridled pain from surgery and almost certain death. With no other options, what do you do?
Well, here is what Dr. Henry Beecher, a Harvard-trained surgeon, did during his service in WWII. Challenged with the very same scenario, his astute nurse added saline to a syringe and injected it into the wounded soldier’s vein just as she’d do with morphine. Even though there wasn’t a single milligram of morphine in the syringe, the soldier felt little pain during the surgery, avoiding shock, and recovering just as if there was morphine in the syringe, when in in reality it was just salt water. Boom. The power of the placebo was born.
And now we see the very same thing happening in the supplement industry, everything from the healing powers of powder from a unicorn’s horn (yes, it’s actually marketed as that) to the various homeopathic remedies that “treat” everything from cancer to pain to the common cold. As John Milton said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
3 SUPPLEMENTS THAT WORK
So now that that veil has been lifted, let me tell you about the three supplements that are worth the money, have science and real-world results to support them, and can fit in any budget.
A.K.A steak, fish, turkey, eggs, milk, or any other meat you can dream of.
When it comes to weight loss or building muscle, protein is king. Do NOT even consider another supplement until you’re hitting your daily protein goals. Why? Because the only thing that can overcome a lack of protein is steroids. Forget the test boosters, preworkouts, and BCAA’s. Illegal steroids. That’s it.
What it does: If you’re building a brick house, what do you want to make sure you don’t run out of? Bricks, duh. It’s the same with muscle. Muscle is made of protein (among a few other things). So if you’re trying to build more muscle, which is critical if you want to lose the beer gut, you need to consume an adequate amount of protein, preferably 1 gram per pound of body weight.
Of course, there is nothing magical about protein powder. Although the protein in a shake may be slightly more bioavailable than the protein in steak, in the long-run it won’t make that much of a difference. The value is found not in the protein itself but in the way it’s used to create a caloric deficit. Because most protein supplements provide a whopping 25 grams of protein per serving while only containing 140 calories, they allow you to hit your protein goal without going over your daily calories. Plus, they are ridiculously convenient to make. Therein lies the magic.
Is it safe: Yes. Study after study has supported its safety, even in fairly large amounts. What about its effects on kidney function? Unless you’re already suffering from kidney disease, you have nothing to worry about if you’re consuming our recommended amount of 1 gram per pound of body weight.
The cost: $52 for 5lbs of whey protein. Although that may initially sound like a lot, let me reframe it this way. A 5lb container has 67 servings. Each serving has 25 grams of protein, which is equivalent to about a 4oz of steak. $52/67 equals 78 cents per serving. Find me a 4oz steak that’s 78 cents per serving. In fact, if you add an apple to a protein shake, you have a meal that’s less than $1.50 loaded with protein, carbs, and vitamins. Find me a cooked meal that costs less than $1.50. You can’t, not even at McDonald’s.
How to take it: Mix 1-2 servings in a glass of water or skim milk as needed to achieve 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily.
For a more in-depth review of protein and exercise, please see the Journal of the International Society of Sport Nutrition’s position.
The first time I heard about creatine monohydrate was when ESPN briefly caught a glimpse of it in Mark McGwire’s locker as he was chasing Roger Maris’ home run record. Unfortunately, I was about 100 years too late as it was being studied in labs across the U.S. in the early 1900s, and used as a performance enhancement supplement as early as the 1960s.
What it does: In its simplest form, creatine monohydrate allows us to exercise harder longer. More work = more muscle. How? Creatine, via a simple reaction in the muscle, provides an energy source called creatine phosphate for the muscle to use to lift weights. Because our reservoir for creatine phosphate isn’t typically full, consuming creatine monohydrate as a supplement fills our reservoir up allowing us to lift more weight for more reps. And that’s how you build muscle – more weights for more reps.
Is it safe: Unlike most supplements, creatine monohydrate has been extensively studied by medical researchers. In fact, there have been thousands and thousands of studies on creatine monohydrate. They’ve tested in various medical conditions including muscle dystrophy, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. They’ve tested it on children, healthy adults, and elderly patients with multiple chronic medical conditions. And study after study, year after year, the most common side effect seems to be GI discomfort, and that’s minimal.
The cost: $20 for 1000 grams, which will last anywhere from 3-6 months. Do NOT fall for a supplement advertiser’s claim that a new form of creatine is superior to plain, old creatine monohydrate. The gold standard is still creatine monohydrate.
How to take it: 5 grams four times daily for 5 days to saturate your reservoir and then take 5 grams daily thereafter to maintain adequate stores. It mixes easily in water, juice, or protein shakes, and is virtually tasteless.
For a more in-depth review of creatine, please see this research review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Fish oil… It’s the least sexy of the 3. Although it’d be hard to convince a 21 year-old kid the value of fish oil, as we age and see more and more friends suffer heart attacks, we begin to see the value in using supplements for health, as opposed to just aesthetics.
What it does: Its primary benefit to busy dads is its ability to fight inflammation. Think of it as aspirin if you will. Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and an ever-expanding gut. And by the way, that gut and the fat within it can in turn lead to increased inflammation thus creating a viscous cycle.
Is it safe: Yes. The only concern is it may thin your blood slightly. If you’re on a blood thinner, talk to your doctor first. Otherwise, it’s no more dangerous than a multivitamin.
The cost: $10 for 145 1000mg capsules. 145 capsules will last you almost 24 days at 6 capsules per day.
How to take it: Take 6-9 capsules daily. To avoid the fishy aftertaste, take 3 capsules before breakfast and 3 capsules before lunch/dinner.
That’s it. That’s your supplement stack. Not as sexy as what the ads in the bodybuilding magazines look like, but then again, wrestling around with your brother wasn’t as fun as watching Diamond Dallas Page clothesline Sting. Reality tends to be less entertaining than the imagination.
Side note: Of course, in an ideal world, we would get all of our nutrients from whole foods. However, kids, jobs, and everyday life makes it hard.
My Current Supplement Stack
So, for someone like me who owns a business and has a family, I have to use supplements to hit my protein and micronutrient goals. Currently, because of their commitment to quality (and they’re from the Lou), I use 1st Phorm supplements. My current supplement cabinet looks like: