Sunday, March 11, 2012

These Three Simple Rules of "Sensible Supplementation" Will Help You to Save Truckloads of Money, Achieve Your Aims and Maintain and Improve Your Overall Health

Image 1: This "supplement based" breakfast is not the breakfast of a champion, but the one of a complete moron who disregards the first, and probably all other rules of "sensible supplementation" (img consumersearch)
I guess you are surprised now, right? After all it's Sunday and thusly time for the next episode of the "Insulin Resistance Saga". And while you are right, I bet that only very few of you will be disappointed, to hear that I lost interest in continuing this "soap" after I realized that I was making the same stupid mistake as the regiment of bloggers, podcasters and even book authors who have dedicated their life to bemoaning how bad and miserable the situation is, how the treacherous government is tricking us into the obesity trap, how carbohydrates are the devil and gluten is his excrement and the whole migella... The "new Sunday" here at the SuppVersity is thusly going to be (re-)dedicated to more concrete and, wherever possible, useful information - and what else could I start with than with a seminar on "sensible supplementation"?

"Sensible supplementation" what does that mean?

Before we dig into the fundamental underpinnings of "sensible supplementation", it appears to be prudent to agree on a definition of what the term "sensible supplementation" actually means. You may now argue that "sensible" means "in a way that makes sense" and in essence, this is 100% correct. "Sensible" is however not the term of which I believe that it has to be clearly defined to make sure that everybody understands what we are talking about, here. It's rather the term "supplementation" the meaning of which has become more and more skewed in the course of the past decades.

Image 2: Oftentimes you can learn more about "sensible supplementation" from a dictionary than from your resident guru
If we take a look at the "official" definition of the word "supplement" in the venerable Oxford English Dictonary, it tells us that a supplement is
  • [s]omething added to supply a deficiency;
  • an addition to anything by which its defects are supplied; 
  • an auxiliary means, an aid
Now, you tell me if the multi-vitamin, many people regard as a an obligatory part of what they refer as their "supplementation regimen" is a supplement... For the vast majority of you, folks, the correct answer to this question is "No!" Why? With the balanced whole-foods diet, I hope you are following, your multi-vitamin does not fix a deficiency, it does not supply any defect and though it is "auxilliary" it is probably not "aiding" you in any way (regardless of whether you pay 5$ or 500$ per months).

1st principle of "sensible supplementation": Restriction

"Sensible supplementation" requires that you understand that it is not normal to have 10 different pills for breakfast and that the race is not won by the one who's popping the most pills, but by the one who has his nutrition and training regimen 100% in check and takes the right pills. The first principle of sensible supplementation is thusly:
Limit the number of supplements you take and constantly revise which of them you actually need to supply a deficiency or defect, or to aid you in reaching your current goals.
Let's take the example of the multivitamin: If you have been following the twinkie-diet for the past couple of months, a multivitamin would obviously have been part of a "sensible supplementation" regimen. After switching (back) to a nutrient-dense whole-foods diet, its use will yet become obsolete, so that the first principle of "reasonable" supplementation requires that you ditch it from your "regimen".

Image 3: As unfortunate as it may be, but the information here at the SuppVersity and from other reliable sources is never about you. So that you have to make your own diagnoses whether what worked for the subjects in study X could work for you, as well.
2nd principle of "sensible supplementation": Specificity

The necessity of vitamin and mineral supplementation on the "twinkies diet" takes us directly to the 2nd principle of "sensible supplementation", which is:
Select supplements according to your specific needs and goals at a specific point in your life.
It would, for example be plain-out stupid to continue taking the stimulant-based fat burner that helped you to get rid of the love handles, when you are "bulking". Other than maybe before an intermittent fast or a long workout, the fat, the ephedrine, caffeine, geranamine or whatever "-ine" the product contains is liberating from your adipose tissue (remember: these products don't "burn" fat, they will just "stress" it out of the cells), will at best be restored to where it came from - in the worst case it will be redistributed from the subcutaneous to the visceral fat stores.

You contemporary goals are yet not the only thing you have to take into account: The sensible selection of "specific" supplements also depends on your age, your body composition, your diet your training status, your metabolic and endocrine health and obviously the other supplements and/or medication you take. To give you an idea of what that means, I will give you a few examples:
  • Jimmy, 16 years old does not need a DHEA supplement. His grandpa Joe, 58 years old, however could derive huge benefits from it, after all, after a peak in your mid-twenties DHEA is on a steady decline and though the medical orthodoxy has done a pretty decent job in giving it a bad rep, even the non-quack faction of the "anti aging docs" prescribes it regularly to patients with an established deficiency
  • Janet, 22 years old, and hitherto at best "moderately active" wants to start weight lifting. She could benefit from taking creatine (increased performance, increased glucose uptake, general health benefits), although the product is marketed mainly to male physical culturists.
  • Bobby, 22 years old, competitive physique athlete and splendidly healthy, could benefit from taking OxyElite (or any other stimulant based fat-burner) during on a "cut" (cf. "USPLabs finds OxyElite Works"). His mother, morbidly obese and hypertensive, however, runs the risk of having a heart attack after popping two of the violet pills and hopping on the treadmill for the HIIT cardio session her son prescribed.
Knowing how vigilant you are, you probably have already noticed the italicized "could's" in the examples, which lead us directly to the last of the three main principles of "sensible supplementation".

3rd principle of "sensible supplementation": Experimentation

Regardless of how much research there is and how many positive and maybe even credible testimonials on the efficacy of a supplement you have read. No matter how well it appears to suit your current goals, your age, your life-style, your diet and training regimen, etc. you can never be 100% sure that supplement X is going to work for you! The third principle of "sensible supplementation" is thus:
Experiment with those supplements of which you have good reason to believe that they will either fix a deficiency or defect or aid you in achieving your contemporary goals.
The idea is to do a carefully planned and well-conducted N=1 experiment, which means:
  1. You have selected a single supplement based on the specificity criterion.

    • Never stack two new supplements, or you will not know which of the two is giving you high blood pressure and a headache and which one is responsible for the 2 inches you already lost off your waist.
    • Also make sure that you keep all other parameters the same, if you start your taking one of those fancy new creatine products, for example, it would not be smart to completely revamp your workout plan at the same time, after all you would not be able to tell if is the creatine or just the new workout that leads to strength and size gains.
  2. You have selected a marker against which you will measure the "effectivity" of your new supplement

    • Oftentimes this marker will be pretty straight forward. In the examples in 1) this would be the waist line and your bench press strength, for example; for fish oil, for example it could be general well-being (I doubt that will improve ;-) or your triglyceride levels, etc.
    • It is imperative that you evaluate the effectivity on a regular base. While some supplements, like pre-workouts, lose their effects within weeks, others start to work only after taking them for months and still others may have been working great in the first weeks and eventually begin to backfire (this by the way is almost always the case with high doses of isolated micronutrients, such as vitamins or minerals).
    • Don't fool yourself and honestly admit that you wasted money on product X; also, always remember the placebo effect is HUGE!
  3. You have done your homework and know the optimal dosing (time + amount), the time it is supposed to take until the first effects occur and which side effects may be arising at various time-points.

    Image 4: The equivalent of the "patient information sheet" that comes with commercial drugs is called "advertisement" is is usually nothing but a pack of lies - so you better do your own research to "know which pill to take" ;-)
    • If you just rely on the dosage scheme the supplement manufacturers suggest, you are lost. Taking a supplement which contains 200mg of l-carnitine once a day will do nothing (no conditional necessary here)
    • Use your marker from 2) and monitor it very closely, when after +20% of the time that you should see initial effects you still don't see any results, you should contemplate that the supplement is not working for you.
    • If any of the side-effects you expected or other side effects occur, do a cost-benefit analysis and decide whether it is really worth taking the supplement.
  4. Based on what you know about how the supplement should work, you have set an obligatory endpoint to the experiment, after which you will carefully take stock before you either re-order or discard the supplement as "not useful for me at the moment"

    • It may sound counter-intuitive, but I can tell you that "running out" can be one of the best things that can happen to you; especially if you have tricked yourself into believing that a supplement works, you will save tons of money if you "run out" and realize that a) nothing happens or b) you feel better than before (I suggest you try that with your multivitamin ;-)
    • There are also supplements, like beta alanine, and most of the minerals, like zinc, where it is simply unnecessary to take them chronically, once you have (re-)established optimal levels. With beta alanine, for example, it takes max. 6 weeks to top off your carnosine stores, which, as you should know (cf. 3) is what you are actually interested in, when you supplement with BA,  with a >9 weeks wash out period and in view of the potential downsides of unbound beta alanine floating around in your system (cf. "Beta Alanine Suffocates Myocytes") it would thusly be prudent to cycle it.
Obviously I cannot force you to follow these three rules, but my personal experience has told me that even if you have unlimited funds and the truckloads of money they are going to save you are not a concern, your progress towards whichever goals you may have and more importantly your overall health should be.