Today is Friday, the first Friday of this blog. Friday is also my rest day, no workout for me. Just take it easy and remind myself all day that not working out today is the best thing I can do for my body. Muscles need time to heal, I can drink water and eat right all day and replenish glycogen stores, water, and energy for the monster long ride tomorrow. I drove PCH yesterday and it’s all torn to hell for construction, so I can’t ride north unless I strap the bike to the car and meet the LA Tri Club for their long ride. But that starts at 8 am and goes into the 100 degree San Fernando Valley of Death. My alternative is to go solo and do Culver City, through Beverly Hills, over Franklin Canyon, down Coldwater, across the valley on Ventura, south on Topanga into the hills and climb around Stunt Road, returning back to Ventura and south via Sepulveda to home. Damn construction!
Fridays are a good opportunity for some more in-depth writing. I’ll use that extra hour to do research and report back here. A few months ago I sent an email to the LA Tri Club asking them their personal, anecdotal experience with “fitness in a can”. I was curious if any of the supplements on the market had any noticeable effect for them. First, know that anecdotal information is totally useless when it comes to scientific data. A common mistake is confusing association with causation, and many people can’t distinguish what change they made was responsible for their perceived change. (For example, the praying couple that gets 13 fertility treatments that fail, and the 14th works, thank God for their miracle baby. They don’t wonder where their God was the first 13 times and $130,000 before. For anyone interesting in boning up on logical fallacies see the outstanding top 20 list from The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.) Asking anyone for anecdotal evidence is risky, but I was dipping my feet in the water and got back some very interesting information that helped shape my research.
Most of the athletes who replied confirmed that of all the supplements they had tried, none were as effective at lowering body fat and building lean muscle as a quality diet. Supplements are jammed full of simple sugars and a lot of junk that may or may not be effective for one person’s particular body chemistry. This was something I had seen confirmed with friends who consumed a lot of Cytomax’s Muscle Milk and No-Xplode product. They put on muscle, but they also put on fat and appeared puffy, rather than lean. The supplement industry uses words like “science” and “tested” but there’s more to this than consumers may realize.
In 1994 Bill Clinton signed into law DSHEA, the Dietary and Supplement Health and Education Act. If you ever wanted evidence that Bill Clinton was the best Republican, business-friendly president of our lifetime, this is it. In short, DSHEA allowed supplement manufacturers to bypass the FDA’s drug approval process and market their products with little to no scientific basis. There are typically 4 phases to an FDA-approved drug. Phase 1 is a pilot test, involving a few (20-80) subjects. Neither the testers or the subjects are blinded, meaning both sides know what they’re taking and the subjects can be pre-screened for testing. A Phase 2 test is very similar to Phase 1, but includes a larger subject pool (20-300). A Phase 3 test is a double-blind large (300-3,000 subject) study, where neither the testers or the subjects know what is product and what is placebo. Phase 4 occurs after market, with ongoing testing of long term effects. Supplement manufacturers who claim “scientifically proven” often have never tested their product beyond Phase 1. They’re allowed to make these claims because there is no regulation of their products as drugs! And from I’ve just said about Phase 1 trials, the makers can pre-screen their subjects spiking the results even further. Let’s say you want to sell a product of Magic Juice that claims lean muscle building, fat dropping powers. You could find a dozen mesomorphs at the local gym, ask them to stop working out for a month and increase their fat intake. Then have them take your product as they return to the gym. A mesomorph naturally will drop the extra weight put on within a few days of working out. But if they take your product (always with the added clause, “and a sensible diet”) THEY’RE GOING TO LOSE THE WEIGHT NO MATTER WHAT! But now you have successfully passed Phase 1 trials – assuming none of them have dropped dead from the catnip or ox balls you put in your Magic Juice.
Walk into a GNC or Vitamin Shop and start reading labels of the ripped mass or fat-burning products. Every one is a supplemental food source and unregulated by the FDA. Imagine if we lived in a world where the makers of these products actually had to test their products for efficacy before they came to market. Instead, even the legitimate products (of which there are a few) have zero incentive to fully test their products! Why complete later testing if you don’t have to? If there’s no way to differentiate your working product from the one that doesn’t – because you are using the same language – then why bother?
Herbal remedies and homeopathic remedies in various ways fit into the above model, though homeopathics were grandfathered into the FDA-approved drug through fierce lobbying. Homeopathic remedies are fraud and ought to be tossed in the trash. Herbal remedies can be exceedingly dangerous! Anyone claiming that “all natural” means “safe and effective” ought to be fed arsenic. Arsenic is “all natural”, too! If it’s untested its effects are unknown – and since it’s not FDA-regulated its interaction with other medicines are unknown, too. (The PDA, Physician’s Desk Reference, which is used to determine drug interaction, doesn’t necessarily encompass herbal and unconventional interactions.) The explosive popularity of these remedies has nothing to do with their proven efficacy and everything to do with savvy marketing and snake oil sales pitches.
The only effective way to build lean muscle and lower body fat is through a dietary change supervised by a medical expert.
One of the LA Tri Club members had tremendous success with The Panzer Plan – a guided nutrition program that has clear success with daily interaction with nutrition experts. Another member, a marathon coach training for her first iron man, had great success switching to the “paleo diet“. A coach at Triathletix referred me to New Performance, a local company that does blood testing (to verify there are no cholesterol problems affecting body chemistry), they also have their own line of food products and organic food delivery service. After comparing these options and speaking with representatives and finally my doctor, I went with New Performance. It’s only been a few days, but the changes Matt made to my diet have already given me more energy and I’m starting to lose weight. I eliminated dairy (with a final cheese blowout at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills) and ironically increased the amount of good fat in my diet. I’m eating at eight periods during the day and am rarely hungry. And yesterday for lunch I ate more protein than I should have an a few hours later I collapsed asleep on the couch. Already I’m seeing a cause-and-effect with minor shifts in food intake.
I do have three supplements to use for specific purposes. A whey protein shake is used before bed, and after my long, 3hr+ workouts. That’s happening this weekend and I’ll blog about the results here. I’ve also given away all the Gatorade in the house, purging the high fructose corn syrup. I’m switching to a bottle of ribose supplement and recovery drink exclusively on my weekend workouts. My only concern now is where I’m getting my electrolytes from, and I’m following up today to find out.
We’re all our own guinea pigs and we can only report what works for our particular body chemistry. But being extremely skeptical about the things you put into your body will better inform you as an athlete, and create an effective filter when it comes to the quality of new information. If you’re doing endurance sports you have an income to spend on a frivolous activity – which means you are a highly targeted demographic. Makers of supplements, dietary products, and fitness in a can foods are unrestrained by having to show proof of effectiveness – use with extreme caution.