Hundred of years ago, the Aztec warriors (Mexico) used to eat the hearts of their enemies, believing that it would increase their bravery. Before their battle, Vikings would drink the milk of reindeers believing it would make them stronger. Many believe that expensive supplements will render them the body they desire. However, don’t be fooled by stories and myths. Proper training will give you muscular results… not food supplements and proteins.
Protein: The most common belief about protein supplementation is that eating more protein will build bigger muscles. It won’t. Consider the following: protein enters into thousands of body functions besides muscle formation. Eating more protein will not automatically increase all those functions. Protein builds skin and enters into the reactions that create the pigment in your skin. Extra protein doesn’t grow you more skin or make you turn brown.
If you are active, you only need a mild raise in protein intake. In high amounts, animal protein contributes to dehydration and loss of calcium. Endurance athletes, however, need a bit more protein than strength athletes, because they burn more calories.
Good and healthy protein is available without meat or supplement powders. You can find it in: beans, lentils, sesame, oats, brown rice, nuts, tahini, spirulina, chickpeas, hummus, brewers yeast, muesli, and seaweed. It is not true that you need to carefully mix specific foods within each meal to get complete proteins; proteins combine on their own in your body.
Carnitine: The excitement over carnitine began when the Italian soccer team won a title while taking it. The team did many other things besides taking carnitine, such as training at high levels. No specific evidence shows that carnitine had anything to do with their winning, yet such advertising sells many bottles of it.
Your body makes its own carnitine and distributes it to your cells. Carnitine acts as a transporter of fat cells to the mitochondria where fat is burned to provide energy. Carnitine is of 2 types: the D-form and the L-form. If you supplement with the D-form, it will make you lose the L-form. In this case, supplementation can be harmful.
There is yet any sufficient evidence to suggest that taking carnitine in any of its forms does much that can be considered helpful, and on the other hand, there is no evidence to reject it completely. Some studies show minor gains; for the small gains and the big price, the average exerciser can gain as much and more through regular exercise.
Carnosine: Carnosine is an amino acid; you manufacture it in your body and it is not an essential nutrient, meaning you don’t need to supplement it.
Vitamins: Vitamins have no calories, so they don’t give you energy (unless you are vitamin deficient). Taking too many vitamins can be unhealthy; some studies have shown an increase in cancer risks with vitamin supplementation. Supplementing with vitamins and minerals makes urine smell foul and makes it cloudy.
Amphetamines: Amphetamines are addictive stimulants and this addiction builds within the first weeks of use. They were given to military forces during World War 2 to delay fatigue, but this resulted in a post-war epidemy. Amphetamines may cause an irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, abdominal cramps, dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, and vomiting, especially after the first use. Studies have shown that abusers increase their doses from 10 to 1000 times which can lead to death.
Ginseng: Ginseng may make you feel stimulated, but does not seem to increase true athletic ability. You may take small amounts in plant form. Ginseng supplementation can lead to diarrhea, nervousness, blood glucose changes, and insomnia.
Ephedra: Ephedra (ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norpseudoephedrine) is used because it has similar effects to amphetamine but to a smaller degree. Ephedra is a strong nervous system stimulant. The problem is not when ephedra is used as a plant in low, normally occurring concentrations, but when ephedrine is concentrated as a stimulant and weight loss product and used often.
What can you take as stimulants?
Caffeine: “Black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love.” This is how coffee was described according to a Turkish proverb. Caffeine is found in coffee and cola drinks; it can extend endurance and is banned in high concentrations by the International Olympic Committee for that reason. Reactions to caffeine vary; for most people it can cause nervousness, increased urine production, and heart beat irregularities. If you are a caffeine drinker, try to keep on low doses.
Theobromine: Theobromine is found in cocoa. Theobromine stimulates the nervous system, opens airways, and increases heart rate (but less intensely than caffeine). Taking true, natural cocoa is a healthful source of theobromine; dark chocolate contains enough theobromine. For people who have migraines, chocolate may trigger the headache, so it is better to avoid it.
When are supplements useful?
Food supplements and proteins can be useful when nutrition is poor; for example, in athletes in weight-restricted events who restrict food and in travel situations without access to healthy food.
In a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Nov 26, 2006), researchers found that eating diets of low carbohydrates and high protein was associated with “increased mortality and risk of cancer.” Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Dec 9, 2006), concluded that a low-protein diet may protect against certain cancers. Research published in 2007 from the University of Leeds found that those with the highest intake of red meat, the equivalent to one portion a day, run a 56% greater risk of breast cancer than those who eat none. Women who eat the most processed meat, such as bacon, sausages, and ham, run a 64% greater risk of breast cancer than those who eat none. Large studies in England and Germany found a 40% lower risk of many kinds of cancer in vegetarians, both men and women, compared to meat eaters.