ZMA Debunked

Posted: May 1, 2012 in For every athlete

If you have any experience with athletic supplements you may have heard of the product ZMA, which stands for Zinc, Magnesium, and vitamin B-6. The recommended dose of three capsules per day (for men) provides a total of 30 milligrams of zinc, 450 milligrams of magnesium, and 10.5 milligrams of vitamin B-6. Companies that manufacture ZMA claim that supplementation can increase testosterone production, and therefore increase strength and performance. This sounds great, right? It would be if these claims were true. Unfortunately, they are not.

When ZMA first came out it came with a research backed guarantee that it was effective. Little did the public know that the research was done by the manufacturer, so it was far from a credible study. The manufacturer also claimed that the study had been published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, which was actually untrue. Both these claims led to a huge generation of interest among prospective bodybuilders and athletes alike, and the dude’s revenue skyrocketed. A quick warning, many people in the supplement industry will do anything for a quick buck, so don’t be quick to trust companies “guarantees”.

A few years later some legitimate companies studied the effectiveness of certain ZMA supplements and guess what they found? ZMA does nothing. Zilch. Nada. Nothing, except, put a dent in your wallet. One group of researchers published a study that had their subjects ingest the exact dosage recommendation of ZMA and then monitored the concentration of androgen’s (which includes testosterone) in their subjects for 56 days. When compared to a placebo group, they found no difference. So as to the effects? It’s pretty clear that there are none.

You may wonder how companies can make such ludicrous claims that contain no inclination of truth to them. This can happen because the FDA does not review or authorize claims, so there is no one to regulate the myriad supplement on the market. The creator of ZMA saw an opportunity to start a lucrative business, and he took advantage of it. This is the way the supplement industry operates. So no, ZMA does not raise testosterone. And no, most supplements do not provide the benefits they claim. So if your going to invest in a supplement, first invest time into researching it and making sure that it can actually provide some potential benefits.


A vastly overlooked aspect of athletic performance is staying healthy. In my experience, most athletes are blissfully ignorant of injuries and injury prevention until they actually have an injury, in which case it is usually too late. Some of the most common injuries among athletes include trauma to certain joints, such as the ankles and knees. These can come from a single, traumatic impact, or repeated impacts causing wear and tear over a long period of time. Many athletes experience joint pain and soreness simply because they put their body through such high and constant amounts of stress.

The reason glucosamine can be a beneficial supplement for athletes is because it can potentially decrease joint pain, improve mobility, and decrease use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Glucosamine, a combination of glucose and glutamine, contributes to the formation of cartilage and is naturally found in the shells of shellfish, animal bones and bone marrow. Since glucosamine is a precursor for glycosominoglycans, and glycosaminoglycans are a major component of joint cartilage, supplemental glucosamine may help to prevent cartilage degeneration. There is some controversy about the effectiveness of supplementing with glucosamine (as with virtually every other supplement), but one example study found that after 28 days of treatment, the patients from the glucosamine group demonstrated significant improvement in knee flexion and extension compared to the placebo group. A quick Google search might cause you to assume that supplementing with glucosamine is traditionally used to prevent and/or calm arthritis pain, but it has a widely documented use among athletes as well.

One other benefit of glucosamine is that it has far fewer side effects than NSAIDS (ibuprofen, advil, etc.), which are the conventional type of medicine taken for joint pain. NSAIDS are histamine blockers, so they sooth pain by decreasing inflammation. What they also can do is erode the stomach lining and lead to gastro-intestinal bleeding, which are obviously not good things. Glucosamine, on the other hand,  has very few reported side effects. It is much safer than NSAIDS, and taking it will most likely not cause any negative effects. Another quick note, it is near impossible to find a product with no purported side effects. Even a simple vitamin C bottle comes with side effect warnings that include kidney stones, nausea, and diarrhea.

Caffeine is one of the most commonly used supplements in America. It is used by far more people than just athletes, however, due to it’s effects as a stimulant. But what is caffeine, and can it be beneficial for athletics? The short answer is, yes, but in order to use it for maximal performance benefits you should first understand a little about it.

Now I should mention (and if your a college athlete you probably know) that caffeine is banned by the NCAA in certain doses. During a drug test the urine concentration of caffeine must exceed 15 micrograms/ml though, and in a recent study subjects took a caffeine dose equivalent to 8 cups of coffee and only reached 14 micrograms/ml. So, unless your planning on popping caffeine pills like jelly beans you should be just fine if you get tested.

Caffeine is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds many plants, and is found in many items such as tea, coffee, chocolate, and soft drinks. Caffeine itself has diuretic properties, so it could (it is controversial) increase urinary excretion and cause  dehydration when used in sufficient doses. Caffeine also has a biological half-life of 3-5 hours, which means that it will still exhibit effects on the body for up to 6-10 hours after ingestion. So now that you know a little about what caffeine is, let’s look at what it does.

The reason caffeine is so widely used is due to its stimulant affect on the central nervous system, which can temporarily ward off drowsiness and increase alertness.  According to an article, 90% of adults living in North America consume caffeine on a daily basis, so I’m assuming you’re no stranger to it’s effects. But what you probably don’t know is how it works its magic. I should start off by saying that caffeine’s mechanism of action isn’t fully understood. What is known, however, is that it stimulates the release of epinephrine from the adrenal medulla. Epinephrine, or what you probably know as adrenaline, comes from stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and is what you experience under stress. Adrenaline is vital to athletics, because it is what gives you that extra boost during competition. Caffeine also has an analgesic effect on the central nervous system, which reduces the users perception of effort.

Seems almost too good to be true, right? Well, research shows that it isn’t. Caffeine, like creatine, is one of the few proven supplements to benefit athletics and has been shown in many studies to benefit various aspects of sport performance. Most markedly, though, it has been shown to benefit endurance performance in events such as prolonged cycling. It can give the user the potential to exercise longer until exhaustion, as well as maintain a higher intensity of effort. This is thought to be due to caffeine’s ability to increase lipolysis (utilization of fats), which is important during long durations of prolonged exercise because we have much more energy stored in the form of fat than we have stored as carbohydrate. This is why I would recommend caffeine to those looking to maximize their endurance performances.

Caffeine is water soluble, and it achieves peak concentration 50-75 minutes after oral ingestion. Keep this in mind when trying to achieve maximal results from caffeine supplementation.

Too Much Protein

Posted: April 17, 2012 in For every athlete

Too often do I see athletes and bodybuilders eating piles of eggs, scarfing down towers of chicken breasts, and pounding protein shakes 3 times a day. While protein is vital to recovery, excess protein is not better, and consuming too much of it can actually be harmful to health.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends 1.5-2.0 grams per/kg body weight of protein consumption for strength training athletes to ensure adequate protein intake, which amounts to 102-136 grams of protein daily for a 150-lb (68-kg) athlete. Endurance athletes require even less: about  1.2–1.4 g/kg body weight daily. For a 150-lb endurance athlete, this amounts to about 82–95 grams of protein daily. According a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2007-2008, the average American diet includes a net protein intake of 101.9 grams for males and 70.1 grams for females a day. This is way above the recommended amount for a sedentary person, and if you account for the fact that hard-training athletes are most likely consuming many more calories (and therefore grams of protein) in their diet than the average person, this would consequently mean that athletes are also consuming way more protein than they need.

First of all, if you consume excessive amounts of protein, the extra calories will most likely be stored as fat. It can also lead to over-straining of kidneys and long-term metabolic problems. Excess protein intake enhances diuresis (loss of body water) because the body is forced to excrete the excess nitrogen  through urine. This causes mineral losses and increases the risk for dehydration. Dehydration is something every athlete training at high intensities should try their very best to avoid, as it can lead to further problems such as cramping and injury. High-protein diets are also often high in cholesterol and may contribute to obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.

Another important piece of information is that high-protein diets that replace carbohydrates with protein are especially unsuitable for any athlete participating in endurance-related activities. These diets deplete muscle glycogen stores and therefore impair the athletes ability to undertake prolonged, high-intensity exercise. For more information on the physiological process stimulated by consuming vast amounts of protein, check out this web site.

There are certain protein requirements that you should follow if you want to optimize your potential. It is OK to consume more than the recommended protein, but if your protein intake is more than 30% of your total diet you may want to reconsider replacing some of that protein with carbohydrates. This isn’t a huge problem, but I would definitely check your diet if you don’t want to experience any of the negative effects of consuming too much protein.

Being a collegiate athlete can be very time consuming. Between classes, practice, and games it can be hard to find time to get all your meals in. Not consuming adequate calories can be extremely detrimental to any athlete, because calories = energy. One of the biggest mistakes college athletes make in regards to nutrition is consuming large amounts of protein and not consuming enough carbohydrates.  A single chicken breast contains around 35 grams of protein, so it is not hard to meet protein requirements. Many other conventional food items, such as bread and pasta, also contain protein, so there is no need to eat lots of meat products in order to get enough.

The majority of athletes get the protein they need, but what they often don’t understand is the importance of consuming adequate calories and carbs along with protein. If an athlete isn’t consuming enough carbohydrates, the body will be forced to synthesize glucose from the less-efficient protein and fat stores, which will negatively impact performance and energy levels. In cases of severe calorie deficiencies, the body will actually break down muscle  in order to use the amino acids to synthesize ATP and meet the body’s energy demands. Carbohydrates are key to any athletes performance, because they provide the body with the quickest and most and efficient way to create energy.

When your schedule is full of class and practice, a meal replacement shake can be vital in meeting your nutritional needs. Many shakes can provide athletes with large amounts of calories in an easy, ready-to-go powder form. All you have to do is add water and boom, you have a meal that contains fat, protein, and carbohydrates. If you aren’t eating enough your results will suffer, and so will your performance on the field and in the classroom. If you would like to make your own meal replacement shakes (and learn some more about the importance of good nutrition for athletes) there are some good recipes here.

Post-Workout Shakes

Posted: April 12, 2012 in For every athlete

As important as gatorade and other sports drinks are for maximizing performance during workouts, what you consume post-workout is just as important for making sure you get adequate recovery. Protein shakes are ubiquitous throughout the supplement industry. There are virtually endless brands, some of the most popular including whey protein, casein protein, and soy protein. There’s only one problem with using these protein shakes as post-exercise shakes: they contain protein but not any carbohydrates. Everyone thinks that because protein is required for re-building muscle, that it is all that they need after working out. This is far from the case, however, because hard-training athletes are constantly depleting their muscle glycogen stores, which are most efficiently replenished from carbohydrates. Muscle lipids are also diminished during long, hard workouts, so consuming adequate fat post-workout is also important. For those that argue that fat will decrease the insulin response and therefore decrease the amount of carbohydrate and protein that is shuttled to the muscle, a recent study shows that  a drink with carbohydrate, protein, and fat increases glucose and insulin after exercise to the same extent as a straight carbohydrate drink. All in all, I would recommend collegiate muscle milk for a post-workout drink, because it provides a good carbohydrate to protein ratio, as well as a healthy dose of fat. If you want to learn more about muscle milk, click here.

If you want to get the most our of your post-workout shake, here are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Make sure to consume it no later than 60 minutes following working out
  • Make sure it is actually a shake (in liquid form), which is easier for the body to digest
  • Try to keep around a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio
  • Make it tasty, there’s no need to blend something up that’s going to make you gag

I’ve heard a lot of speculation about the pros and cons of Gatorade (along with other sports drinks) and it seems to be a topic of much confusion. Some say that Gatorade should be watered down because of it’s high sugar content, and some drink it for breakfast lunch and dinner because they heard it was beneficial for athletes. Most of the speculations have some elements of truth to them, but until those are elements are brought together to form a complete picture, they are next to useless. I’d like to start off by saying that I will only be discussing the original Gatorade (Gatorade Perform), for that is by far the most popular form and it is the kind that is found in vending machines, convenience stores, soda fountains, etc. I’d also like to say that yes, sports drinks do contain electrolytes that are good for hydration, but everyone knows that so I don’t think that it really needs to be discussed.

For those that say that Gatorade is just another sugary drink that should be watered down for maximum benefit, you are half right. If you are drinking Gatorade while you are not working out, such as a drink to go with a meal, it has very little benefit and does have a fairly high sugar count. But Gatorade was not designed to drink as a conventional drink was it? No, it was designed for athletes who are working out hard and depleting their carbohydrate stores. As you can see here, there are 14 grams of carbohydrates per 240 mL serving, which means that the solution is roughly 6% carbohydrates. The current recommendation for sport drink makeup is 6-8% carbohydrate, because it maximizes hydration while also stimulating the use of ingested carbohydrates as a fuel source for the working muscle. As you can see, 6% is in that recommendation, and is a relatively smart amount because as the carbohydrate percentage gets higher, it increases the chance of there being gastric upset (stomach problems).

Now on to the type of carbohydrate that is found in Gatorade: sugar. People have been taught to think that sugar is bad, but that is not necessarily true during exercise. Simple sugars, which are the same kind of sugar found in your jelly beans, are rapidly absorbed and cause a sharp insulin spike. While not exercising, this is not good, but during exercise you want to replenish lost carbohydrate stores in the muscle, so the body is trying to shuttle as much carbohydrate as it can into the depleted stores. At this point, it is actually beneficial to consume fast absorbing carbohydrates, because they will be quickly shuttled off to the muscle. Be wary though, because high fructose corn syrup (the cheapest and therefore most common form of sugar used for flavoring) is not ideal for consumption during exercise because it slows the rate of gastric emptying and can cause gastrointestinal upset. The most efficient form of sugar to consume during and right after exercise is sucrose, which is composed of both glucose and fructose. This is because there are both fructose and glucose channels in the body, so when provided with both the body can shuttle carbohydrates in extra fast. This is why Powerade, in which the main ingredient besides water is high fructose corn syrup, is not nearly as efficient as Gatorade, in which the main ingredient other than water is sucrose. If you are interested in making your own sports drink, try these recipes.