Since the dawn of competitive sport athletes have sought ways to gain a competitive edge – a practice that shows no signs of slowing down if we look at the supplement industry and their sales figures over the last few years.
No doubt, unless armed with a degree in molecular biology, most of us have at some point walked into a store and been overwhelmed by the stacks of containers promising to help burn this and build that. Maybe you’ve even left loaded down with bags and a maxed-out credit card but no real idea what it was all for?
While Married to my Macros advocates a whole foods first approach and encourages our members to only supplement in the context of clinical deficiency, there are a few substances that can safely give you a bit of a boost (and more than a few that will do nothing but drain your pocketbook).
To help you gain a little perspective we’ll break down a selection of substances and translate the science into a quick take home message to help you determine whether the powders and potions have a legitimate space on your benchtop (or whether that would be better occupied by an air fryer!)
BRANCH CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAA’S)
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 22 amino acids which are needed for pretty much every biological process in your body; of these 9 are essential, meaning we can’t make them and must get them from our food. Typically these come from animal sources with only a few plant based proteins having a full amino acid profile: if you are eating a plant based diet you HAVE to mix and match your protein sources in order to get a complete amino acid profile.
BCAAs are composed of three of the essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Unlike the other essential amino acids, BCAAs are oxidized in muscle tissue and research has found that exercise increases such oxidation. Proponents of BCAA supplementation claim they reduce levels of creatine phosphokinase and lactate dehydrogenase in the blood during and after exercise (and thus reduce the amount of exercise-induced muscle damage), allowing us to train harder and more frequently with faster recovery. Leucine is unique in that it initiates protein synthesis (muscle building) whereas Isoleucine and Valine are considered glucogenic amino acids – they turn into glucose and supply energy during your workout.
So what’s the rub? Well, it turns out BCAA’s don’t necessarily have these profound effects when consumed in isolation. The science is extremely mixed when it comes to beneficial effects of supplementation with some studies showing no effect whatsoever, whereas others promise the world.
What MTMM generally recommends: Until there is a greater consensus with more rigorous, independent studies we generally recommend ensuring adequate whole food intake of complete proteins (or well mixed incomplete proteins) rather than relying on powders. This ensures the best effect and allows us to avoid artificial sweeteners and other nasties that are frequently mixed into BCAA formulations. There also is no guarantee with any supplement that cross-contamination will not occur as prohibited substances are often processed in the same facilities as legal supplements. All that being said, we’ve had our fair share of athletes who struggle to achieve adequate water intake and from time to time we’ve been known to encourage some BCAA’s just to encourage them to drink a bit more 😉
We all know and love it. What we might not realize is that caffeine is the most widely accepted performance enhancer out there, whether it’ being used in the home, gym, or office.
Caffeine is an adenosine receptor antagonist with central, neuronal, and metabolic effects. Which means what exactly? In sport it can help recruit more motor units, decrease fatigue, and improve neuromuscular coupling, all of which improve performance. It can also cause a SLIGHT increase lipolysis which is why it is used as adjunct in many “fat burner” compounds.
Don’t take this as a free ticket to espresso city though – doses of 3mg/kg provide performance enhancing effects, but this might be relatively high for most people (an average 12oz drip coffee contains about 80mg for perspective), with possible side effects including insomnia, GI irritation, tremor, increased heart rate, and adrenal impairment, particularly if you’re already undereating, overtraining, or highly stressed. Moderation is key when it comes to caffeine, however it does maintain the number one spot in terms of most researched, effective, and safe pre-workout formulas.
What MTMM generally recommends: decrease your caffeine intake to 1 cup a day so that you’re quite sensitized to it. Fuel with whole foods rather than relying on high dose neuro-stimulators.
Check out more about Married to My Macro on their websiteMay 8, 2020