Today’s post, along with a few more in the coming months, is from my friend Sol Orwell, who runs Examine.com – A compendium on supplements and nutrition. We analyze scientific research to separate the facts from the myths when it comes to supplements and nutrition.
Enjoy the info.
In being asked to offer recommendations for supplementation on “feeling stronger and being lean” I came across a slight conundrum; am I supposed to recommend strength enhancing agents (per se) or do I take the “feeling” word at face value and just make people feel stronger/better. In fumbling around with the thought for a while, I realized both goals are acceptable; why not just cater to both in one article?
My first thoughts always go to Creatine when it comes to strength enhancement. Creatine is just outright unrivalled in the amount of studies done and the reliability of the results. It is the best choice you can make for feeling and being stronger. Buy a bit of creatine, and take 10g a day for a few days. If you suddenly gain a bunch of water weight then congratulations are in order – you’re a responder. Afterwards, take creatine at 2-5g daily forever, depending on bodyweight. Buy the powder form as it is tasteless. And make sure you get plenty of water when you consume it, otherwise you can get stomach cramps (about the only downside of creatine).
Beta-Alanine is up next, primarily due to its popularity. Beta-alanine has reliable benefits, but the benefits are small in magnitude; the most recent meta-analysis on the subject matter found significant benefits associated with activity over 60 seconds in time (the 60-240s range) that was, numerically, 2.85%. It is a small amount, and 33% of the studies were funded by companies with vested interests in beta-alanine.
The only reason I suggest beta-alanine is that it appears to enhance the rate of muscle mass accrual, independent of the amount of work done. Basically, take one dose of beta-alanine, and you won’t perform better than placebo; keep on taking daily doses of beta-alanine, and you will perform better than placebo after 8 weeks or so. Just to note, beta-alanine still works even if you lose the “tingling” feeling.
The next set of compounds I’ll cover are those that minimize DOMS and soreness – “feeling strong” includes not being so sore and crippled that you roll around in bed whining like a puppy. Cissus Quadrangularis is one of the recommendations here, and is more catered to joints; unfortunately, its social renown (usually in martial arts, where a large amount of rapid joint loosening jabs are used repeatedly) is ahead of science, which suggests great things but lacks human interventions. It’s the same supplement recommended by Tim Ferris as a fat burner, but this claim is not supported by literature.
A similarly interesting compound is Spirulina, and I will say outright that this is the most interesting compound I have come across that is both mainstream but also underrated. It works on a unique pathway (NADPH Oxidase Inhibition), and is quite potent too. Animal models of disease that have this mechanism involved in the pathology show such an improvement that “fixing disease” can actually be claimed from these studies. One of the diseases tested was arthritis, and it showed strong benefits in three different models of arthritis.
Caption: That is what Spirulina can do.
The downside is that human studies are non-existent. They just haven’t been conducted yet. The few that have been conducted were case studies (a step above anecdotal) but showed tremendous results.
With that in mind, spirulina joins my list of recommended anti-inflammatory supplements. You can always superload on fish oil – yes, they reduce muscle protein synthesis rates a bit, but missing a workout or underperforming reduces muscle protein synthesis rates even more. Anti-inflammatory compounds are the lesser of two evils.
Feeling Strong Mentally
My recommendations for subtle stimulant and subtle aphrodisiac, respectively, are D-Aspartic Acid and Eurycoma Longifolia. I do not put much faith into either of these compounds as testosterone boosters, as Eurycoma has no good evidence for it boosting testosterone in otherwise healthy men (it does in hypogonadic men though) and D-Aspartic Acid can be used in a university course called “What happens when a single study gets too much steam and, before replication, becomes a million dollar industry”. These recommendations are so you feel good.
There is a whole subset of compounds called nootropics that can help with mental functions, but we will leave those for another day.
While being strong is an awesome topic, I realize that being lean is probably more important to most. The recommendations in this section are much less effective and (to be honest) there are not too many supplemental interventions for fat loss that would meet the expectations of society (miracle pills).
Yes, your diet is still the most important component of fat loss. Let’s be honest, if you train hard and frequently then the only things that can stop you from losing fat are either a medical condition (see a doctor for that) or if you ate even more food to negate the work done. Being lean, in the overall context of a strong and dominating lifestyle, is not succumbing to the urge to eat so much food.
It is weird that many people shun appetite suppressants for not being “real” fat burners, yet they’re the one area that supplementation has the best hope of helping people lose fat.
Ephedrine is sort of misplaced in a list of appetite suppressants, but anything that releases adrenaline or otherwise increases the bioactivity of adrenaline can help suppress appetite; this is proven by wanting to vomit when you take too much. Adrenaline-mediated appetite suppression extends to Yohimbine and Green Tea Catechins; if you have a good heart, these are the way to go for subtle appetite suppression.
ALA appears to potently suppress appetite for 2 weeks (at best); it has not been explored in humans, but it is so reliable in animals that researchers actually have to make more control groups and match for food intake (so three groups; control, ALA group, control group that is fed the same amount of food as ALA group; known as pair-fed) otherwise ALA will screw with the results of the study.
Caralluma Fimbriata is used as a famine food in some Indian regions, where it attenuates the desire to eat and drink (which is nice when there is nothing to eat or drink). It showed promise in one human study, but it appears to take time to build up and said human study ended when Caralluma was becoming most effect. It seems to work similar to Hoodia (if anybody remembers that) and I have no clue which is more potent. We can also probably use Hoodia as a good example of how an appetite suppressant doesn’t mean that you won’t eat ice cream, it will just make it entice you a bit less; not a ‘get out of willpower free’ supplement by any means although they may help.
Alternatively, you can always just squat until you lose your appetite.
Sol Orwell is a co-founder of Examine.com, a science-based compendium on supplements, nutrition, fitness, and health.