Big guns for big bucks?
I am not unjustified in thinking of the nutrition and dieting aspect in the fitness industry as the loudest section. The sheer amount of marketing, product placement and the promotion of constantly growing fad diets is shocking. Since dieting in general is broad, it also branches off into many areas not related to fitness by its nature.
As a result, this gives the impression that it is more complicated than it really is. In this article, I will be cutting through all the noise, showing you what is truly effective and what is just polished hype designed to fill the pockets of big companies.
Some of these people are simply out for your money.
At 16 years old, being naive and getting caught up on the fitness hype train, I was convinced into buying my first muscle-building product: a mass gainer. A slick marketing campaign with shiny colorful packaging – I was sold.
Allow me to describe the experience. It was mostly horrible, sure it tasted fine, but I had to use 5 scoops of this powder and upon mixing it with the instructed ratio of water/milk, I had to force myself to drink the thickest pile of goop after every training session. So thick that it would take a while for it spill out of a shaker cup when held upside down.
At around a whopping 1100 calories per drink, I piled on the weight as a ‘weight gainer’ would indicate, but I just ended up becoming the fattest I’d ever been in my whole life. See, the words: extreme muscle mass gain would paint some Herculean physique in your mind (and in their product pictures), but as a beginner – you’d just end up looking like an overweight person who doesn’t even exercise.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a useful application. It will increase muscle, but in the worst possible way – with maximum sacrifice. It’s also expensive for how much of it you need versus how much of it they actually give you. If you were a solider who needed around 4000 calories a day and who is also aiming to build muscle, it could perhaps be useful, or if you were competing to be a world strongman who only cared about performance then this product would likely work.
It was certainly a specific product catering to a narrow niche. For the majority, this simply wasn’t the case, but they didn’t disclose that kind of information in large colorful font now did they? It was packed and up for mass marketing at the time, and it was available at almost every major retailer.
Creatine, is one of the most well scientifically researched supplements that has been subjected to peer reviewed non-biased studies over a significant amount of time. This is not you average cold-pressed-condensed-super-berry-mega-organic-40 herb-extract-shamanic-meal replacement bar. This supplement is proven and potent. Here is a study that has been cited 381 times by medical, biochemistry, and sports science articles (1).
Creatine, is a naturally occurring organic acid in the body that helps with the production of a substance known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP contributes to providing the energy for muscle contractions and fitness-related performances requiring strength and endurance.
Sources of creatine can be found in high protein foods such as meat and fish, though not in significant quantities.
Benefits of creatine
- Increases muscle hypertrophy
- Inceases energy levels of muscle cells
- Increases the production of myosin
- Increases maximal power output
- Increases strength
- Potential therapeutic uses
Myosin and Myostatin
Myosins are a family of proteins that move along filaments which are dependent on ATP. They are mostly known for their role in muscle contraction and movements (2).
Myostatin is a protein that acts on the growth function of muscle cells by controlling the limits of muscle cell growth. It is essentially responsible for the genetic muscle differentiation by regulating the extent at which muscles can grow (3).
Take for example, a person who has trained hard and consistently for almost a decade. Of course, it is self-evident that there is only so much muscle one human being can put on in a lifetime, no matter how long and hard one trains there is a point at which one reaches where they will be at their genetic max. If there was no limit to the level of strength and size a person could gain, we would witness real hulks in this world.
However, it is possible for one to break their natural limits. Even if max levels are exceeded slightly, it is definitely a big deal. It is currently understood that a reduction in myostatin not only inhibits muscle dystrophy (loss of muscle) but also enables the body to break the cap on muscle growth (3).
Both humans and animals have rare mutations, and these individuals have naturally low levels of myostatin. You could call them genetic freaks and you wouldn’t be politically incorrect.
Muscle-bound cows – lean beef
Here we have a Belgian Blue cow with a mutation of the myostatin gene. Behold those blessed gains. Not limited to cows, there are also dog breeds with high levels of muscle hypertrophy.
Animals and humans treated with myostatin inhibitors or in possession of a rare mutation exhibit significant increases in muscle mass.
To be or not to be?
First and foremost, it is important to always consider prioritizing whole natural foods as your primary source of all nutrients. Supplements are supplements, as the name would state, they exist to supplement the diet – they are not meal replacements.
If you are looking for safe and effective supplements, look no further than creatine monohydrate and whey protein.
Whey protein is included because it has a high bioavailabilty of pure protein while keeping a low calorie count. It is the fastest way for the body to absorb sufficient protein when muscle break occurs post-training. It is also an extremely convenient way to maintain a positive nitrogen balance and for effectively timed protein synthesis to occur since whey protein is absorbed quickly without much breakdown.
You can generally get enough protein from foods alone, but with busy lifestyles and time constraints, it is not always easy to take in a high amount of protein every day. Whey is the most utilized and convenient gym supplement out there, it is now part of a huge industry, and you can find all sorts of flavors to suit many palettes.
Besides convenience, the harder you work in the gym, the more you body becomes constrained into a catabolic state. This begins during and especially in post work out. For effective protein synthetis to occur in the most optimal setting, it is recommended to consume a protein shake (within 1 hour) when muscle tissue break down occurs within this time window.
- Krieder, RB (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptions: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p..
- Myosins: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/…
- K, Tsuchida (2008). Targeting myostatin for therapies against muscle wasting disorders: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p…