Common Health and Fitness Concerns

Common Health and Fitness Concerns
Headlines today are full of dire warnings about supplements and nutrition. Here, I clear up these often misguided concerns.

Updated October 31, 2018

These days there’s no shortage of sensational headlines about health and fitness. Sometimes they even conflict with each other—one week coffee is bad for you, the next it will save your life. This leads to a lot of confusion and concerns that leave many doubting whether a healthy lifestyle is even possible. Clearing up this kind of confusion is central to my mission as an educator.

In this article, I’ll address a laundry list of common concerns regarding nutrition, supplementation, and training, so that you can educate yourself on these topics and continue on the path of fitness with confidence.

Does Research Prove a High-Protein Diet is Dangerous?

You've probably seen the media flurry about one weak study claiming that a high-protein diet will significantly increase your risk of cancer and diabetes. Reporters have taken the researchers' message and escalated it to incite hysteria among the masses. Now, every time you order a double chicken breast with veggies on the side, you'll hear some snide remark from an uneducated friend or family member about how all that protein you eat is going to kill you. Read on for some ammo to fire back at them as they butter their fifth piece of white bread to go with their pasta.

A Closer Look at This High-Protein Diet Study

The study that everyone is talking about is an epidemiological study from the University of Southern California. An epidemiological study means that they did not actually perform the study in a lab, but simply looked at factors in life to make associations or correlations. They did some further research in mice and yeast to support their hypothesis, but that's a huge leap to connect to humans. I will focus solely on the epidemiological study in humans.

In this study, data was taken from a pre-existing survey (NHANES III; one of the largest national surveys of health and nutrition done in the U.S.), assessing about 6,300 people over the age of 50 years old. They separated them into three different groups: 1) high protein—those who consumed 20% or more of their daily calories from protein, 2) low protein—those who consumed 10% or less of their daily calories from protein, and 3) a middle group that fell in the middle of the low and high groups. The researchers followed them for 18 years and studied their death rates and cause of death.

In the subjects aged 50-65 (those who consumed a high-protein diet, mainly from animal protein), were 75% more likely to have died over the next 18 years as compared to those consuming a low-protein diet. They also had a four-fold greater risk of dying from cancer, as well as a greater risk of dying from diabetes.

Yet in those 65 and older, there was no greater risk of death or death from cancer from eating a high-protein diet. In fact, it seems that the higher-protein diet in those over 65 decreased the risk of overall death and death from cancer, while the low-protein diet increased their risk of death. However, there still was a greater risk of dying from diabetes in all ages eating a higher-protein diet. The higher-protein intake and higher risk of death from cancer was associated with higher IGF-I (insulin-like growth factor-I) levels in these subjects, although they only had IGF-I data on about 1/3 of subjects in the study.

Researchers Jumped to Some Strange Conclusions About Protein

Based on these studies, the scientists jumped to the conclusion that anyone age 50-65 should be consuming a very low-protein diet (10% of total daily calories or less from protein). If you consumed 3,000 calories per day, that would equate to 75 grams of protein total per day. If you were down at 2,000 calories per day, that would be just 50 grams of protein total for the day That's not enough to cover most of us for our protein needs around workouts.

They also suggested that those over the age of 65 should be consuming a high-protein diet to prevent frailty and an increased risk of death. That's quite a confusing and contradicting message to provide. I'll discuss more on that below.

The lead researcher went on to state in an interview that eating a higher-protein diet is as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes! That statement is what the media glommed onto to create hysteria and confusion.

The Flaws in This Protein Study

The fatal flaw of this study was how the researchers' determined the subjects' protein intake. They used a method called 24-hour recall. Basically, subjects were asked what they ate the prior day. Yes, just ONE day! It's absolutely ridiculous to conclude that what these people ate on ONE day of their life represents the diet they maintained for up to 18 years. We honestly have no idea what the subjects' diets were like in the years that they were followed.

Another problem with their method of determining protein intake was that they just calculated total protein from animal sources or plant sources. There was no report of what the source of the animal protein was or what else was eaten with the protein. Was the animal protein from lean cut of beef, poultry, dairy and eggs, along with a low- to moderate-carb diet rich in vegetables and carbs that came mainly from fruits and low-glycemic carbs? Or was the protein from burgers eaten on white bread with fries, fried chicken with mashed potatoes, and salami sandwiches on white bread with mayo?

The fact that the NHANES III interviews were performed in the late 1990s means that the subjects were born in the 1940s and earlier. Due to the dietary habits of families during the early part of the 20th century, my guess is that most of the diets represented the latter example. But none of that matters, since a snapshot of one random day of eating does not accurately represent the average American's diet for the next 18 years.

The researchers also reported that carb intake had no impact on not only overall death and death from cancer, but on death from diabetes. But protein intake did have a negative impact on diabetes. We're expected to believe that eating chicken breasts, lean beef, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy has a negative impact on diabetes, but eating a loaf of white bread every day does not? Huh?! That particular point should indicate just how flawed the 24-hour dietary recall is for being a reliable indicator of the subjects' eating habits over time. We know that one of the best dietary methods for those with diabetes is to follow a high-protein, low-carb diet. In fact, there is evidence that simply dropping back on carb intake can reverse Type II diabetes.

Given the fatal flaw of how the researchers determined protein intake over the study's timeframe, means that nothing that the researchers found was truly relevant to the subjects' dietary practices.

Another thing that they failed to record is the exercise routines of these 6,000+ people. Even if they truly were eating a higher protein diet, I can almost guarantee you that people who trained consistently and lived a healthy lifestyle would have a lower incidence of overall death, death from cancer and especially death from diabetes.

The Problem with Some Research

One thing about research in general is something that you won't hear from the media or even other experts. That's because few, if any, have actually collaborated with other researchers, designed research studies, obtained grant money, and carried them out published them in peer-reviewed journals. When many researchers design a study with a hypothesis in mind, their goal is to prove that hypothesis. In other words, they have a bias that influences the results.

I call this bias "propaganda." The propaganda is their theories; they want to protect the theories that they supported in previous studies to continue getting grant money. For example, let's say that researchers have a theory that growth hormone (GH) is a critical element for muscle growth. They saw some evidence for this in several studies. They probably have a solid line of grant money to fund these studies based on this theory. But if they perform a study that disproves their own theory, then all their previous work is basically erased, along with their legacy and further grant money. So, the follow-up studies are designed to support their theory, legacy continued funds. That's why I call it propaganda.

So what happens when researchers design a study to support their theory, but after running statistics, find that there's either no evidence to support their theory or that it contradicts their theory? They run different statistics! Often, they run different statistical methods until they find some significance—or at least a trend—that supports their theory. Sometimes they bring in statistics experts to help them figure out what stats to run to show support of their theory.

I'm not suggesting that the researchers in this case went that far. I'm saying that many times, biased researchers find data to support their theory when they want. The lab that performed this study published several other studies on IGF-I, cancer and protein intake. So they already established a theory that high-protein diets increase the risk of death from cancer.

However, in the statistics for this entire group of more than 6,000 subjects age 50 and above, they didn't find an increased risk of overall death or death from cancer with a high-protein intake. In fact, the stats showed the opposite. But when they specifically tweezed out individuals aged 50-65, they found a relationship that supported their theory. Perhaps when they were analyzing the data and saw no significant interaction between protein intake and overall death or death from cancer—or a protective effect of protein on death from cancer, which contradicted their hypothesis—they realized that a few more people in the high-protein group in the 50-65 age range died from cancer. Running statistics on this significantly smaller number of subjects (less than half of the total study) with more deaths might allow for significance to be seen. And that's what was found.

Low-Protein Recommendations Don’t Make Sense

The researchers went on to recommend some of the silliest advice that I've ever heard. They recommended that since there was a relationship between a high-protein intake and death from cancer in those 50-65 years old, that when you reach 50, you should stop eating animal protein. But then they went further to recommend that because there's a relationship between high-protein intake and a reduced death from cancer in those older than 65, that once you reach 65, you should go back to a high-protein diet to prevent muscle loss, frailty and death. What?!

If you eat barely any protein from the time you are 50-65 years old, it will be too late to start pounding protein again when you are 66 years old. You will have already lost too much muscle mass and will likely be quite weak and frail. Any attempt to regain all that muscle and strength that you lost will be too little, too late and your quality of life will have suffered.

Low-Protein Recommendations Are Downright Harmful

This isn't just silly advice, but irresponsible—for a number of reasons. The first is that this advice will cause older people to lose significant muscle mass and strength, which will have a negative impact on their quality of life. All based on a theory and a study that relied on one 24-hour period of eating, and not the actual diet that the subjects followed over the 18 years of the study.

Another reason this advice is irresponsible is because it could prompt people to forgo eating a much healthier diet higher in protein, lower in carbs and rich in vegetables. The researchers claimed that carbohydrate intake had no impact on death from diabetes, yet protein intake did! People who are trying to eat healthier by reducing their carb intake and opting for more lean protein are going to be confused. This message, as flawed as it is, is likely going to convince many people to ditch their low-carb, high-protein diet and just eat carbs all day instead.

The researchers are also irresponsible for the comparison they made between higher-protein diets and smoking. I can't believe that the primary researcher actually stated in an interview that the study provides convincing evidence that a high-protein diet is as bad for your health as smoking. For those reading about the study and smoke, that message may make them think, "What's the point of giving up smoking when simply eating too much protein is a similar health risk?"

Jim's Take-Home Points

Should you be concerned about eating a high-protein diet? No! Should you switch to a low-protein diet when you turn 50 and switch back to a high-protein diet when you reach 66? No! The data from this study, and the conclusions that the researchers made, are as reliable as the promises that politicians make.

Do what you've always known to be good for you and what makes you feel good: eat more protein. The relationship between IGF-I and cancer progression, as well as high-protein intake and IGF-I is interesting. But we are FAR from having a true handle on the causes of cancer, its progression, and death from it. There's no way to single out animal protein as the DEVIL. There are far too many dietary interactions going on to call out one macronutrient as the scapegoat—that's researcher propaganda at its finest. There are genetic and epigenetic factors that we are far from understanding, as well as environmental factors.

There's also data to suggest that low IGF-I levels increase frailty and death in older individuals. So, maintaining higher IGF-I levels by eating a high-protein diet appears to be a good thing as we age. It all depends on whose propaganda you want to believe.

I believe that you should eat your protein and stop worrying about the propaganda of a few scientists. After all, are you really going to eat 50-75 grams of protein per day, be weak, skinny but fat, and have a low quality of life due to some watery theory? Of course not! There are so many benefits to a high-protein diet. Live your life strong, healthy, and eat plenty of protein!

Reference

Levine, M. E., et al. Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population. Cell Metabolism 19 (3): 407-417, 2014.

Are Vitamins Useless or Dangerous?

If you've read the headlines lately, then you probably are well aware that multivitamins are a complete waste of money and may even be unsafe for you. Well, that isn't actual fact—that is in actuality just the opinion of an editorial panel of medical doctors from John Hopkins, the University of Warwick, and the American College of Physicians. You know, those medical doctors that receive little to no classwork on nutrition or dietary supplements. Despite this, they have titled their editorial that was published in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, "Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements". That title pretty much sums up their short-sided view on supplements.

Some supplement proponents would point out, in conspiracy-theorist fashion, that the medical establishment and Big Pharma, which pays off medical doctors to push their pills, does not want disease prevention. After all, Big Pharma makes money on treating diseases not preventing diseases. But whether you feel that this ulterior motive drove these doctors to make such strong statements despite little facts to back it up with, or that they are just misinformed and strongly biased, the real truth is that they are well off the mark here.

A Closer Look at These Vitamin Studies

First, let's look at the three studies that they are basing their strong claims on. Yes, they are claiming that vitamin and mineral supplements are a waste based off of just three studies published in one issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine while completely ignoring the multitude of studies done over several decades that show clear health benefits of these supplements.

The first study was a sub-study of the Physicians Health Study II. This was an analysis of almost 6,000 male physicians aged 65 years old or older that found that there was no difference in cognitive function between the group of physicians receiving a multivitamin and the group receiving a placebo. What is most interesting about this sub-study of the Physicians Health Study II is that the authors concluded that the low-dose vitamin supplements that were given may have not provided a high enough dose to provide benefits. Yet the biased MDs that scripted the editorial ignored that possibility and used it to promote their propaganda. Also interesting about the Physicians Health study is the fact that one sub-study, published in a 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that the subjects receiving the multivitamins had a reduced risk of cancer. Yet the MD's didn't bother to mention that in their editorial either.

The second study looked at the potential benefit of a high-dose multivitamin in patients who suffered a myocardial infarction (heart attack). They reported that after almost 5 years of supplementing, the multivitamin offered no reduced risk of the patients suffering further cardiovascular events compared to the placebo. As beneficial as supplements can be, for the most part, a multivitamin is likely not going to help much prevent a person who has already suffered a heart attack from suffering future heart issues. The damage has been done. So this study is a poor one for the editorial panel to hang their hat on to claim that vitamin and mineral supplements offer zero benefit.

The third study was an update to the previously published U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation on the efficacy of vitamin supplements for primary prevention in community-dwelling adults with no nutritional deficiencies.

In the editorial, the panel of MDs claimed that there is evidence showing that Beta-carotene and vitamin E supplements increase mortality. Yet, the USPSTF report did not identify any safety concerns for vitamins. In fact, it actually states, 'The USPSTF found adequate evidence that supplementation with vitamin E has little or no significant harm". And the concerns about beta-carotene are isolated to smokers only. So the editorial panel went quite out of their way to bend the real science in their favor to invent safety concerns over specific vitamins.

Another thing that the editorial panel forgot to mention while they were penning a one-sided case against vitamin and mineral supplements was the dozens of studies suggesting benefits of supplementing with them. The real truth is that studies concluding that vitamin and mineral supplements are beneficial far outnumber those claiming that they are not. In fact, numerous studies show that they reduce the risk of certain diseases and death.

Many Studies Have Shown the Benefits of Taking Vitamins

One such example is a study published in the June 2012 issue of the European Journal of Nutrition. German researchers reported that in about 24,000 people those taking vitamin/mineral supplements at the start of the study had a 42% reduced risk in all-cause mortality over the 11 years of the study and a 48% reduced risk in cancer-related death. Another 2012 study published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology suggested that supplementing with a multivitamin could reduce the risk of colon cancer. A 2010 study from Harvard reported that supplementing with multivitamins, especially those including vitamins A, C, and E reduced the risk of colon cancer. Another 2010 study, from the Karolinska Institute, reported that women using multivitamins had a 30% reduced risk of a heart attack.

A 2009 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggested that multivitamin use of over 10 years reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 16%, while vitamin E supplementation specifically can reduce the risk by almost 30%. Another 2009 study, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, reported that women taking a multivitamin supplement have a younger biological age based on telomere length as compared to those not supplementing. And a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that taking selenium along with a multivitamin reduced the risk of prostate cancer by 40%. One 2003 study by the Lewin Group reported that the use of a daily multivitamin by older adults could save the US government more than $1.6 billion in Medicare over the five year period from 2004-2008. Another 2003 study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that in 130 adults, those taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement for one year had significantly less infection, such as respiratory and urinary tract infections, influenza and gastrointestinal infections, and a lower rate of illness-related absenteeism than those receiving a placebo.

I also find it interesting that the panel of MDs focused on that one sub-study from the Physicians Health Study II that showed no difference in cognitive function between a low-dose multivitamin and a placebo. Yet there are multiple studies published showing a clear benefit in cognitive function with multivitamin supplementation. One 2012 study from Australia analyzed the data from 10 studies on cognitive function and multivitamin use in over 3000 subjects. They reported that multivitamin use was associated with better memory in females. Another 2012 study published in Psychopharmacology reported that elderly women with cognitive decline given a multivitamin/mineral complex for 4 months had significant improvements in memory as compared to those getting a placebo. And a 2010 study from UK researchers found that young to middle-aged women taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement for nine weeks performed significantly better on cognitive tasks than those taking a placebo. And this boost in brain power is not reserved just for women.

A 20011 study from Australian researchers reported that eight weeks of supplementation with a multivitamin in men increased alertness and feelings of general day-to-day well being. And a 2010 UK study revealed that men taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement for about 5 weeks performed better on cognitive tasks, were less mentally tired, and reported improved vigor as compared to those getting a placebo. These mental benefits have even been recorded in children. UK researchers reported in a 2008 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition that children aged 8-14 taking a multivitamin supplement for 12 weeks demonstrated better attention and cognitive function.

This year a review conducted by Frost & Sullivan and commissioned by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Foundation concluded that supplement use can add up to billions of dollars in savings on health care costs by reducing hospital visits and the use of other medical services. The survey looked at several different supplements and conditions including omega-3 fats, B vitamins, plant sterols, and psyllium dietary fiber for heart health, lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health, chromium picolinate for heart disease induced by diabetes, and calcium—as well as vitamin D3—for bone health. They not only included positive studies on these supplements, but also negative and null studies to create a real state of the evidence review, unlike the panel of doctors that wrote the editorial. At any rate, the review reported positive results. Supplementing with calcium and vitamin D could save over $1.5 billion a year on osteoporosis costs alone. Some supplements were concluded to save up to $3.3 billion per year, such as plant sterols for services related to heart health.

Don’t Fall for the Negative Hype About Vitamins

When you consider that the Frost & Sullivan review concluded that supplements could save us billions of dollars in health care costs, the editorial penned by the panel of MDs starts to make more sense. Maybe the conspiracy theorists are right and Big Pharma is scared to lose billions of dollars in revenue if more people took their health seriously and started exercising, eating better, and using proper supplements. You really have to wonder about MDs who adamantly state that vitamin and mineral supplements are useless and dangerous, yet likely have no issue pushing drugs on their patients at the first sign of any health issue.

What I find most disturbing about this editorial is the fact that as physicians, the panel of MDs has the responsibility to influence patients to take the best path for their health. And yet they are abusing their power to misinform the public in an effort to sell them on their lopsided negative view of supplements. Yet these same MDs would likely tell a patient who has high blood pressure to take a prescription drug versus trying to reduce their blood pressure through proper diet, exercise, and yes, supplementation. But then most MDs aren't actually qualified to provide cogent exercise, diet, or supplement advice.

Jim's Take-Home Points

So take the views of this panel of MDs with a grain of salt. And don't even get me started on the MDs who believe that every individual should drastically reduce their salt intake! But seriously, take your own health in your hands and do what you know is best for your body. You already do that with proper exercise and nutrition. And since you exercise you are likely low in numerous vitamins and minerals, as research shows. These include in particular, the B vitamins, vitamin C, chromium, selenium, zinc, magnesium and copper. This is due to a variety of factors, such as loss of the minerals in sweat and urine, as well as their increased use for energy production during the workout as well as recovery and protein synthesis following training.

Look for a multivitamin/mineral supplement that provides you at least 100% of the DV (daily value) for most of the vitamins and minerals, including: vitamin A (should be mainly from beta-carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, B12, biotin, folate, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, and selenium, and take it with breakfast. The less calcium and zinc in your multivitamin the better. Calcium can interfere with the absorption of zinc, iron and manganese. Because of this, I recommend taking 500-600 mg of calcium along with at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, which can further enhance its uptake and use. Zinc can inhibit copper uptake. Your best bet is to take zinc and magnesium before bed, preferably as ZMA.

To learn more about multivitamins and zinc/magnesium supplements, check out my Vita JYM Ingredient Breakdown and ZMA JYM Ingredient Breakdown

References

Supporting Research

Guallar, E., et al. Enough is enough: stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements. Annals of Internal Medicine 159 (12):850-851, 2013.

Grodstein, F., et al. Long-Term multivitamin supplementation and cognitive function in men: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 159 (12):806-814, 2013.

Lamas, G. A., et al. Oral high-dose multivitamins and minerals after myocardial infarction: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 159 (12):797-805, 2013.

Fortmann, S. P., et al. Vitamin and mineral supplements in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: An updated systematic evidence review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Annals of Internal Medicine 159 (12):824-834, 2013.

Li, K., et al. Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality in a German prospective cohort (EPIC-Heidelberg). Eur J Nutr. 2012 Jun;51(4):407-13.

Arul, A. B., et al. Multivitamin and mineral supplementation in 1,2-dimethylhydrazine induced experimental colon carcinogenesis and evaluation of free radical status, antioxidant potential, and incidence of ACF. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 90(1):45-54, 2012.

Park, Y. et al. Intakes of vitamins A, C, and E and use of multiple vitamin supplements and risk of colon cancer: a pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies. Cancer Causes Control. 2010 Nov;21(11):1745-57.

Rautiainen, S., et al. Multivitamin use and the risk of myocardial infarction: a population-based cohort of Swedish women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010.

Pocobelli, G., et al. Use of supplements of multivitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E in relation to mortality. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2009.

Xu, C., et al. Multivitamin use and telomere length in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89(6):1857-1863, 2009.

Peters, U., et al. Serum selenium and risk of prostate cancer: A nested case-control study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 85(1):209-217, 2007.

Dobson, A. et al. A study of the cost effects of daily multivitamin for older adults. The Lewin Group, 2003.

Barringer, T. A., et al. Effect of a Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement on Infection and Quality of Life: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 138(5):365–371, 2003.

Macpherson, H. et al. Memory improvements in elderly women following 16 weeks treatment with a combined multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplement—A randomized controlled trial. Psychopharmacology 220(2): 351-365, 2012.

Haskell, C. F., et al. Effects of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement on cognitive function and fatigue during extended multi-tasking. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2010 Aug;25(6):448-61.

Harris, E., et al. The effect of multivitamin supplementation on mood and stress in healthy older men. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental 26(8): 560-567, 2011.

Kennedy, D. O., et al. Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Jul;211(1):55-68.

Haskell, C. F., et al. Cognitive and mood effects in healthy children during 12 weeks supplementation with multi-vitamin/minerals. Br J Nutr. 2008 Nov;100(5):1086-96.

Gibson, J. C., et al. Nutrition status of junior elite Canadian female soccer athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Dec;21(6):507-14.

Czaja, J., et al. Evaluation for magnesium and vitamin B6 supplementation among Polish elite athletes. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2011;62(4):413-8.

Martinovic, J., et al. Oxidative stress biomarker monitoring in elite women volleyball athletes during a 6-week training period. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1360-7.

Zai­tseva IP. Efficiency of using vitamin-mineral complexes in the prevention of iron-deficiency states in athletes. Gig Sanit. 2010 Jul-Aug;(4):66-9.

Louis, J, et al. Vitamin and mineral supplementation effect on muscular activity and cycling efficiency in master athletes. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010 Jun;35(3):251-60.

Clarkson, P. M. Effects of exercise on chromium levels. Is supplementation required? Sports Med. 1997 Jun;23(6):341-9.

Clarkson P. M. and Haymes E. M. Trace mineral requirements for athletes. Int J Sport Nutr. 1994 Jun;4(2):104-19.

Telford, R. D., et al. The effect of 7 to 8 months of vitamin/mineral supplementation on the vitamin and mineral status of athletes. Int J Sport Nutr. 1992 Jun;2(2):123-34.

Dam, B. V. Vitamins and sport. Br J Sports Med. 1978 Jun;12(2):74-9.

Mursu, J., et al. Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: The Iowa women's health study. Archive of Internal Medicine 171(18):1625-1633, 2011.

Do Supplements Cause Testicular Cancer?

Based on the number of questions I’ve received in the last week or so, it’s evident that many of you heard the news of the recent study that linked supplement use in men to higher risk of developing testicular cancer. The media sensationalism surrounding this study has, figuratively speaking, kicked many men below the belt. After all, it hits guys on three scary topics: Possibly forgoing their favorite supplements, their testicles, and cancer. Ouch!

But before you get too concerned about this “study,” you should know all the facts about it—the real facts you won’t get from those media websites that want to incite fear and hook you with a compelling headline that demonizes dietary supplements. Yes, you can remove your hands from your crotch now and stop wincing.

A Closer Look at This Study Linking Supplements to Testicular Cancer

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine—the same place where I did my post-doctoral fellowship—performed the study in question. So when I question the study, you know I have no political agenda due to the institution; I’m questioning the actual data.

The researchers interviewed over 350 men (ages 18-55) diagnosed with testicular cancer between 2006 and 2010, along with over 500 control subjects (men without testicular cancer). Participants were asked about their dietary supplement use—or as the study stated, “muscle-building supplements,” including protein powders, creatine, and androstenedione. The inclusion of androstenedione (a prohormone) should immediately raise some red flags regarding this study.

The subjects were asked how many of the 30 different “muscle-building supplements” they used, how old they were when they started using them, and how long they used them for. (I’ll continue to put parentheses around “muscle-building supplements” because this is the researchers’ vague, misleading term, not mine.) With this data, statistics were run to determine if there was a link between supplement use and testicular cancer.

The researchers reported in a 2015 issue of the British Journal of Cancer that there was, in fact, an association between “muscle-building supplement” use and the development of testicular cancer. More precisely, they found a higher risk in testicular cancer in men who reported using more than one kind of supplement, in those who started using supplements before the age of 25, and in those who used supplements for three years or more.

Don’t Confuse Coincidence for Cause

While most media outlets have reported on this study as being a definitive answer to the question, “Do supplements cause cancer?”, the truth of the matter is that this study fails to answer much of anything. This type of epidemiological study doesn’t allow for anything more than an association to be drawn.

Even though the statistics used suggested that “muscle-building supplements” are associated with a higher risk of testicular cancer, there is no cause and effect that can be made. Imagine doing the same study and replacing supplements with the ingestion of any common food or food products. Statistically speaking, you can find an association between almost anything and any disease, especially if you throw enough statistics at it until you find such an association.

Another issue with this study is the fact that they used a questionnaire that relied on a subject’s memory of their previous supplement use. It’s well established that most people can’t accurately recall what they consumed a week ago, let alone several years ago.

One of the biggest issues with the study, though, is that no one really knows what kind of supplements the subjects were using. Androstenedione was included in the list of 30 different kinds of “muscle-building supplements,” along with creatine and protein powders. The prohormone androstenedione is NOT a supplement! It’s essentially an anabolic drug. Comparing androstenedione with protein powders and creatine is ridiculous. Plus, there’s no telling whether or not the supplements the subjects used were spiked with anabolic steroids or other questionable ingredients not listed on product labels. In fact, the researchers discussed that possibility in the research paper.

So ignore the sensationalism around this weak study. And when someone tries to inform you—er, misinform you—that supplements have been found to increase the risk of cancer, you can throw some real science back at them. Not to mention the results you’ve been seeing in the gym, in your physique, and in your health, thanks to the help of “muscle-building supplements.”

Reference

Li, N., et al. Muscle-building supplement use and increased risk of testicular germ cell cancer in men from Connecticut and Massachusetts. British Journal of Cancer 112(7):1247-1250, 2015.

Do Omega-3 Supplements Cause Cancer?

I have been getting bombarded the last few days on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by people wanting to know whether or not omega-3 fats cause prostate cancer. This is due to a brand new study that suggests that they do.

The first thing that I want to say is that this study is complete BULLSHIT! Sorry for the language, but it angers me when scientists publish crap research and it causes the media to get the public in a tizzy over the fake dangers of supplements. Now that I have gotten that off of my chest, let's take a look at this "study".

A Closer Look at the Study Linking Omega-3s and Cancer

The study in question, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by researchers from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, claims that those with higher blood levels of omega-3 fats had more than a 70% greater risk in developing high-grade prostate cancer, an almost 45% increase in the risk of low-grade prostate cancer, and almost a 45% increase in the risk for all prostate cancers.

The lead author was then quoted as saying, "We've shown once again that use of nutritional supplements may be harmful." Now hold up there! These subjects were taking omega-3 supplements? Oh, wait, no they were NOT! That's right, all this study looked at was the level of omega-3 fats in the blood of these patients. It did not determine how the levels were increased.

So despite the fact that the study has no idea whether any of the patients with higher risk of prostate cancer took omega-3 supplements, the lead author was jumping to the wild conclusion that omega-3 supplements are harmful.

Beware Anti-Supplement Bias

He doesn't warn against eating salmon, which is also very high in omega-3 fats. No, he warns against the supplements. To me, that sounds like a guy who holds a strong bias against dietary supplements. I've seen too many of these guys in the lab with my own two eyes. They know little about supplements, so apparently, they have to condemn what they do not know.

Sounds like the researchers went into this study looking to prove a point... against supplements.

And when you look back at that quote by the lead author, you also notice that he said, "We've shown ONCE AGAIN:" It's interesting that they also showed in a 2011 study that men with the highest levels of the omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) had 2.5 times the risk of developing high-grade prostate cancer compared to those with the lowest levels.

As I said above, when a research scientist is trying to support the findings of their earlier research so that they have more data to prove their theory, I call it propaganda. They're hunting for data to promote their propaganda. You see, scientific research isn't always about getting to the truth of things. In many cases, scientists are simply trying to prove their theories—revealing their biases—so that they can continue getting funding and continue publishing research papers, which secures the chance of them getting tenure. When a scientist is trying to prove his theory he wants to make sure that the research supports his theory, tnd there are ways to manipulate data and statistics to show what you want to see. Now, I am not claiming that that is at the root of this study, but it is interesting that when numerous other studies have shown that omega-3 fats REDUCE the risk of cancers, including prostate cancer, this one lab is finding the complete opposite.

Omega-3s Actually Help Fight Cancer

If omega-3 fats were causing prostate cancer, then you would expect that countries with the highest fish intake would have the highest rates of prostate cancer, And you would also expect that the countries with the lowest fish intake would have the lowest rates of prostate cancer—yet that is far from reality.

Something is fishy with this study and their previous study. In fact, several research scientists have stated that they are surprised that this study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center team was even published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute because it was so flawed.

Exploring the Flaws in This Omega-3 Cancer Study

For starters is the fact that the actual blood levels of omega-3 fats that separated the patients into groups was very small. The blood levels of omega-3 fats in the patients that were considered to have a higher risk of prostate cancer were 4.66%. The blood levels of omega-3 in the control group were 4.48%. That's a change of less than 0.2%! This is a minuscule difference and should be statistically insignificant. But as I alluded to above, if you run enough different statistical tests you can eventually find one that helps you show significance.

Another issue with the study is that the researchers did not give subjects omega-3 supplements or even a diet high in fatty fish, like salmon.

Nope. All they did was take old data from previous studies and look at the level of omega-3 fats in the patients' blood and run statistics to show that there was a relationship to the rate of prostate cancer. They don't even have a single clue as to why these patients had slightly (very slightly) higher levels of omega-3 fats in their blood. This is called correlation and it does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. It simply shows an interesting relationship.

However, another interesting relationship that the researchers found, and you won't hear them talking about this, is the fact that those who smoke had a significantly lower risk of prostate cancer and those who were not smokers had a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer.

There was also an interesting relationship that they found in their 2011 study that also claimed that omega-3 fats somehow increased the risk of prostate cancer.

In their 2011 study, they discovered that those who had the highest blood levels of trans fat had a 50% reduction in the risk of prostate cancer! Yes, that is THE trans fat that you are thinking of, the very worst fat of them all. How could anyone believe that trans fats could reduce the risk of prostate cancer? It's as silly as believing that omega-3 fats could increase the risk of prostate cancer.

So if you really listened to the conclusions of the two studies by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, then you should avoid fatty fish like salmon and stop taking fish oil to keep your omega-3 fat levels low; eat packaged foods and dine at fast food restaurants to increase your trans fat intake; and chain smoke so that you can prevent prostate cancer!

Sound like a smart plan? No, no it doesn't. So don't listen to these clearly flawed "studies" that should never have been published in the first place. Do what you know works and keep supplementing with fish oil. It can increase muscle growth, aid fat loss, enhance joint health, boost brain function and mood, and reduce inflammation, which can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and many cancers. And that's just the short list of the benefits.

To read more about fish oil supplements, read my Omega JYM Ingredient Breakdown.

References (and I Use the Term "References" Lightly)

Brasky, T. M., et al. Plasma Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk in the SELECT Trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. In press, 2013.

Brasky, T. M, et al. Serum phospholipid fatty acids and prostate cancer risk: results from the prostate cancer prevention trial. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 15;173(12):1429-39.

Will Carnitine Kill You?

Maybe you've come across a study that has recently been making headlines about how terrible carnitine is for you. The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic. They reported that the intestines contain microbiota that can convert carnitine into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), which may promote atherosclerosis. They also reported that the consumption of carnitine increased TMAO levels in red meat eaters, but not in vegans due to a difference in gut microbes between omnivores and vegans or vegetarians. In other words, the study suggests that if you eat meat and you take carnitine, then there is a chance that your body will convert the carnitine into TMAO and that will increase your risk of atherosclerosis, which is hardening and thickening of the arteries

A Closer Look at This Study Claiming Carnitine is Dangerous

Before you throw out your bottle of carnitine, I should mention that there are MAJOR flaws in this study. For starters, the researchers gathered much of their info on TMAO based on research done in mice. So we don't truly know whether or not TMAO actually causes cardiovascular disease. Another issue is the fact that the human component of their study consisted of only six people: One was vegan and five were meat eaters. Six people is NOT even close to being enough subjects to make ANY conclusions. Plus, you have to wonder about the health of these meat-eating subjects. Did they exercise regularly? Did they eat a healthy diet? These factors can all dramatically impact a person's gut microbiota. So this study is weak at best and should be taken with a very small grain of salt: or better yet, ignored completely.

Other Research Shows the Benefits of Carnitine

On the flip side of this study, a brand new meta-analysis study shows that carnitine actually reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers analyzed 13 different studies on the effects of carnitine and cardiovascular disease with a total subject population running 3,600 people. Compare that to 6 subjects in the TMAO study discussed above. They reported in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings that carnitine is actually helpful for fighting against cardiovascular disease, not contributing to it. More specifically, they found that supplementing with carnitine reduced all-cause mortality by almost 30%, reduced heart arrhythmias by 65%, and reduced symptoms of angina by 40%. There's also research showing that carnitine helps to prevent atherosclerosis.

Why I Recommend Carnitine

L-carnitine, or just carnitine (the "L" refers to the configuration of the carnitine molecule that is biologically active) is often referred to as an amino acid, but it is not a true amino acid. Carnitine is an amino-acid-like compound that is made in the body from the amino acids lysine and methionine. Its name is derived from the Greek word for flesh or meat—carnus.

One of the main roles that carnitine plays in the body is in assisting the transport of fat into the mitochondria of cells, such as muscle cells. It is here in the mitochondria where the fat is burned away as fuel. This is why carnitine is a popular fat-burning ingredient. Research confirms that supplementing with carnitine increases the amount of fat burned, particularly during exercise. This not only enhances fat loss but also boosts muscle endurance by sparing muscle glycogen. Carnitine has also been found to improve blood flow by increasing nitric oxide (NO) production. This in turn relaxes the smooth muscles of the blood vessels, causing them to widen, which allows more blood to flow through. This can further promote muscle endurance through better delivery of nutrients and oxygen to working muscles and also helps to improve recovery after exercise.

So continue taking carnitine for better endurance during workouts, greater muscle growth and strength gains, and improved fat loss, not to mention a host of other benefits that include enhanced cardiovascular health. For more on why and when to use carnitine for these purposes, check out my Pre JYM Ingredient Breakdown and Post JYM Ingredient Breakdown.

Because L-carnitine requires insulin to be taken up into the muscle, I usually suggest taking about 2-3 grams of L-carnitine or L-carnitine L-tartrate (Carnipure) either with high carb meals and/or a protein shake. Good times for this are in the morning with your morning shake or breakfast, and with your pre and post-workout meals.

If your main goal is maximizing fat loss, then also consider using acetyl-L-carnitine. The acetyl group enhances the absorption and uptake of the carnitine, which makes this form of carnitine a good one to take between meals with other fat burning ingredients, such as caffeine and green tea extract. This combo can be very effective for fat loss, as you may have already found out. For this I usually suggest you take 1-3 grams of acetyl_L-carnitine first thing in the morning before breakfast and about an hour before workouts with 200-400 mg of caffeine and 500 mg of green tea extract. Still take the 2-3 g L-carnitine with your post-workout meal. For a more detailed explanation of carnitine’s fat-loss benefits, read my Shred JYM Ingredient Breakdown.

References

Supporting Research

Koeth, R. A., et al. Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nat Med. In press, 2013.

DiNicolantonio, J. J., et al. L-Carnitine in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. In press, 2013.

Sayed-Ahmed, M. M., et al. L-carnitine prevents the progression of atherosclerotic lesions in hypercholesterolaemic rabbits. Pharmacol Res. 2001 Sep;44(3):235-42.

Natali, A., et al. Effects of acute hypercarnitinemia during increased fatty substrate oxidation in man. Metabolism. 42(5):594-600, 1993.

Muller, D. M., et al. Effects of oral L-carnitine supplementation on in vivo long-chain fatty acid oxidation in healthy adults. Metabolism 51(11):1389-91, 2002.

Wutzke, K. D. and Lorenz, H. The effect of l-carnitine on fat oxidation, protein turnover, and body composition in slightly overweight subjects. Metabolism. 53(8):1002-6, 2004.

Bacurau, R. F., et al. Does exercise training interfere with the effects of L-carnitine supplementation? Nutrition. 19(4):337-41, 2003.

Stephens, F. B., et al. New insights concerning the role of carnitine in the regulation of fuel metabolism in skeletal muscle. J Physiol 581(2): 431–444, 2007.

Stephens, F. B., et al. An acute increase in skeletal muscle carnitine content alters fuel metabolism in resting human skeletal muscle. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Dec;91(12):5013-8.

Huang, A. and Owen, K. Role of supplementary L-carnitine in exercise and exercise recovery. Med Sport Sci. 59:135-42, 2012.

Stephens, F. B., et al. Insulin stimulates L-carnitine accumulation in human skeletal muscle. FASEB J. 20(2):377-9, 2006.

Stephens, F. B., et al. Carbohydrate ingestion augments L-carnitine retention in humans. J Appl Physiol 102: 1065–1070, 2007.

Are Pre-Workout Stimulants Safe?

Of all the concerns you’ll find in this article, this is the one time I’ll agree with news: Stay away from stimulants like DMAA! One of the many reasons I started JYM Supplement Science was to provide you supplements that are both effective AND safe. When you read the supplement facts panel on any JYM supplement, you can see precisely what's in the product and exactly how much of it. And if you know a thing or two about supplements, you can also see that every ingredient in every JYM product is one that's been studied extensively and used long enough to ensure its safety.

Unfortunately, I'm one of the few supplement brands that maintain this integrity. It's because of my background in the lab and in the gym, studying ingredients from the level of petri dishes to athletes' bodies, that gives me an advantage to combine safe ingredients at the precise doses to create supplements that deliver unparalleled results. Plus, I'm willing to spend far more money to produce my supplements than any other brand because I use them myself and I want you to experience the same results I do.

Some Supplement Companies Ignore Risk for Profit

Whatever the reason, many supplement companies are out there trying to create the next hot supplement by using experimental ingredients that haven't been studied in humans and may actually be classified as drugs rather than natural dietary supplements. I'm all for the advancement of the science of dietary supplements, but experimenting on unaware consumers is not the way to do it.

Sadly, most of these companies aren't even interested in advancing the science; they're just looking to advance their sales. Many companies are trying to put in questionable ingredients that you will really "feel" in hopes that you buy enough before too many people report serious health issues, or possibly even die, or the FDA bans the ingredient for lack of any evidence that it's safe and/or truly a supplement and not a drug.

Are There Amphetamines in Your Pre-Workout?

A horrific example of this is the use of an amphetamine-like compound referred to as eth-amphetamine that showed up in a few products in 2013. The compound was not listed anywhere on the label of the products and is far from being safe, let alone being cleared as a dietary supplement. The products were essentially laced with a drug similar to "speed," known by the chemical names N-ethyl-1-phenyl-2-butylamine, N,alpha-dimethyl-benzeneethanamine and N,alpha-diethylphenylethylamine. Whatever you call it, it's a structural isomer to methamphetamine.

Yes, you read that correctly: Methamphetamine. Lacing supplements with such a drug is dangerous, dirty, and downright despicable.

The FDA banned the products containing them, but not before they caused some serious consequences for many people. This included health issues and even legal issues. A physique athlete and a rugby player were both banned from competition for testing positive for amphetamines due to using products laced with eth-amphetamine. And yet the companies that illegally laced their products with the substances are still allowed to continue doing business. Amazing.

One Stimulant is Banned, Another Takes Its Place

Another example of a chemical that has no right being used in supplements is the stimulant 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), or what some refer to as DIME. Fortunately, DMAA didn't last long and was swiftly banned. One positive note about DMAA is that it was listed on the supplement labels of the products, so you at least you knew you were taking it, unlike the case of eth-amphetamine. The problem with DMAA was that it posed serious health risks and was not a natural dietary supplement; it was actually a drug introduced as a nasal decongestant by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in 1948, but it was withdrawn from the U.S. market over 40 years ago.

Around 2006, DMAA started showing up in dietary supplements such as pre-workout products and fat burners. Companies using the chemical claimed that it occurred naturally in geranium oil. Research suggested differently, however, so DMAA was banned. This, of course, left many supplement companies scurrying to find a replacement to keep their customers "high" and addicted to that speed-like feeling that DMAA delivered. Sadly, many companies have landed on a replacement that's very similar yet allows them to fly under the radar. This chemical is an analogue to DMAA called 1.3-dimethylbutylamine (DMBA), also known as 2-amino-4-methylpentane and 4-methyl-2-pentanamine.

According to a recent study, supplements that list the ingredients AMP Citrate or 4-amino-2-methylpentane citrate, as well as several other marketing names, on their label are likely spiked with DMBA. A research team from the Harvard Medical School (Cambridge, MA) had 14 different supplements tested in parallel by both the NSF International (Ann Arbor, MI) and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (Bilthoven, The Netherlands). They reported that 12 of the 14 products tested positive for DMBA and included it at doses ranging from 13–120 mg per serving.

Some of the companies claimed that DMBA was extracted from Pouchong tea, which uses the same tea leaves as oolong and green tea. So it's highly unlikely that they extracted the DMBA from tea. In other words, they were likely lying through their teeth.

Even if the DMBA did come from tea, which it most likely didn't, there's still a huge problem with this chemical. That problem being the fact that it has never been studied in humans, so we have no idea if it's safe for human consumption. Since it's similar to DMAA, it's very likely not safe. Yet these companies are willing to make consumers guinea pigs in an effort to try and make money. That's completely despicable, to say the least.

Jim's Take-Home Points

My prediction is that DMBA will likely be banned by the FDA in the near future. In the meantime, don't put your health in the hands of companies that have little interest in anything more than making a quick buck. Especially companies that have no concern for your health and well being. Refuse to be used as a guinea pig. Read labels carefully and know what every ingredient in a product is. Of course, you can make it real simple and just make sure the bottle has "JYM" on it. That way, you're guaranteed to get only ingredients that are safe and effective.

For more on what a quality pre-workout should—and shouldn't—have, check out my Pre-Workout Guide.

Reference

Cohen, P. A., et al. A synthetic stimulant never tested in humans, 1,3-dimethylbutylamine (DMBA), is identified in multiple dietary supplements. Drug Testing And Analysis, 2014.

Will Soy in JYM Supplements Raise Estrogen Levels?

Some people have raised concern that my Pre JYM and Post JYM contain soy lecithin.

Most are misinformed men who are concerned that having soy is going to lower their testosterone levels and raise estrogen levels. First off, there is a very insignificant amount of soy lecithin in Pre JYM and Post JYM to simply enhance the powders' ability to mix easily in fluids without any clumping. Second, this ingredient is not equivalent to the soy you are thinking of. This is simply a phospholipid (special type of fat) that happens to be derived from soy. It does not include the phytoestrogens from soy. Much like whey does not contain the saturated fat from milk, which it is derived from. Third, a recent study evaluating all the studies done on soy protein confirms that men consuming soy protein do not experience a drop in testosterone levels.

I will reiterate that there is an insignificant amount of soy lecithin in Pre JYM and Post JYM.

However, if there was a decent amount of it in these products it would not be a negative and would actually be a positive. Soy lecithin is simply the phospholipid lecithin that just so happens is derived from soy. Lecithin has been touted as a memory enhancer by improving cognitive function. It is also known as phosphatidylcholine because it provides choline to the body. Choline is important for the movement of fat into cells and is an important component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). ACh is the molecule that is released from the motor nerves that stimulate muscles to contract. During a grueling workout this neurotransmitter becomes depleted and this leads to muscle fatigue. Getting in extra choline helps to replenish ACh stores and this can give you the drive you need to get more reps and the focus to pass the pain barrier. Research also shows a link between depleted acetylcholine levels in the brain and Alzheimer's disease and that lecithin may slow its onset.

Jim's Take-Home Points

The bottom line is that you should not be concerned about soy lecithin in Pre JYM and Post JYM. There is an insignificant amount of it in these products, it will not decrease testosterone or raise estrogen, and if there were decent amounts of soy lecithin in these products it would only be a positive and not a negative.

Reference

Hamilton-Reeves, J.M., et al. Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: Results of a meta-analysis. Fertil Steril. 94 (3):997-1007, 2010.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for You?

Artificial sweeteners are in many of the foods and supplements that you consume daily. This includes diet beverages, protein powders and protein bars, as well as pre-workout and post-workout supplements. They allow these foods and supplements to taste great but not cause you to pack on body fat.

Many argue that instead of artificial sweeteners, natural sugar could be used instead. I can assure you that this argument has never come from anyone who has less than 8% body fat! After all, the amount of sugar that you would need to make these products barely palatable would be more than anyone who is concerned with their diet and their body fat levels would be willing to consume.

Most of us aren't too concerned about artificial sweeteners since they are used in such minute quantities and there is no definitive data proving that they're harmful. Yet there are some people who have fallen deeply for the scaremongering that many misinformed bloggers have spread regarding artificial sweeteners.

The Most Commonly Used Artificial Sweeteners in Supplements

While the list of artificial sweeteners that are being used today is a long one, the two main sweeteners used in supplements are sucralose and acesulfame potassium. For the purpose of brevity, I will focus mainly on these two. Below is a brief breakdown of each one:

Sucralose

You may know this sweetener by its brand name Splenda. This is a sugar molecule that is altered so that it passes through the body undigested and thus has no calories. Less than 15% of the sucralose ingested is absorbed by the body. The sucralose that is absorbed has been shown to leave the body through the urine intact. The body does not metabolize or degrade the sucralose in the body to any other chemicals, meaning that it has no reactions in the body. It is simply excreted as it was consumed. Since it is about 600 times sweeter than regular sugar, it is needed only in minute quantities.

Sucralose is one of the most-tested food ingredients used today. It has been used in food products since the early '90s in over 30 different countries. It has been approved as a safe food product by not only the FDA, but also the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the Health Protection Branch of Health and Welfare Canada, the National Food Authority of Australia, and the health ministries of Argentina, Brazil, China and Mexico. More than than 100 clinical studies on the safety of sucralose have been done on both its short-term and long-term use in both animals and humans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for sucralose at 5 mg/kg of body weight. That means that a 200-pound (about 91 kg) person could safely consume up to 455 mg per day of sucralose. Since a 1 gram packet of Splenda contains only about 10 mg of sucralose, that amount would be equivalent to about 45 packets of Splenda a day. That's a LOT of Splenda that you would need to consume!

Acesulfame Potassium

Also listed as acesulfame K, this calorie-free sweetener gained FDA approval in the 80's. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and is used in more than 4,000 products in more than 90 countries. It is often used in combination with other artificial sweeteners to create more of a sugar-like taste than any other sweetener alone. Like sucralose, acesulfame potassium is not metabolized or stored in the body and is quickly excreted in its original form.

Over 90 studies have been performed that demonstrate the safety of acesulfame potassium. The FDA has established the ADI for acesulfame potassium at 15 mg per kg of body weight. So a 200-pound person (about 91 kg) could safely consume 1,365 mg of acesulfame potassium per day. That's been estimated to be equivalent to the amount in over 5,000 cans of Coke Zero. That is a ton of this sweetener! You would never even come close to consuming that much in a day.

Evidence That Artificial Sweeteners Aren’t Safe Is Weak

Most people who are concerned with the use of sucralose and acesulfame potassium in supplements claim that research shows that they cause cancer and a laundry list of other health problems. As a scientist and nutrition expert who has worked with athletes' diets for decades, I can assure you that those claims are far from being reliable.

There is weak evidence, at best, that these artificial sweeteners pose a health risk. And that weak evidence comes from animal studies using amounts that a human would never come close to consuming and poor correlations gathered from epidemiological studies. The problem with most animal studies is that due to their size, most studies done on small animals provided the ingredients in amounts that would be next to impossible for most humans to consume. In fact, one study reported that rodents given 16,000 milligrams of sucralose per kilogram of body weight per day experienced no negative side effects. That would be 1,120,000 mg for a person weighing 70 kg (about 150 pounds).

The problem with most of the human studies suggesting any potential harm from sucralose or acesulfame potassium is that they are simple correlation studies in which the subjects were not actually given the sweetener. Instead, the subjects were asked about their artificial sweetener use and correlations with certain diseases were made. This is problematic because most people do not recall their actual diet as well as they believe they do. And another problem is that correlation does not confirm cause and effect. In fact, with the right statistics, you could show a correlation between any food item and any disease—even broccoli!

And as far as the anecdotal reports from people claiming that artificial sweeteners caused this illness or that condition, these obviously need to be taken with a grain of salt. Even bottled water companies have a laundry list of anecdotal reports from customers claiming that they experienced some adverse event from drinking plain bottled water.

If Artificial Sweeteners Still Concern You, There Are Alternatives

In the end the choice is yours. I personally have no issues with these two artificial sweeteners. They allow products to taste good while also allowing me to maintain very low body-fat levels. Based on those needs and the real science behind artificial sweeteners, I see no reason to avoid sucralose and acesulfame potassium. But that is just my expert opinion as a scientist.

You, however, need to make your own decision. If you are not comfortable consuming any sucralose or acesulfame potassium, no matter how small the amount, then don't use supplements or food products that include them. This is why I introduced my Natural Line of JYM Supplements, which contain no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors. But before you get carried away with all the products you are foregoing, you should also consider the chemicals you're ingesting that you can't control and avoid.

Jim’s Take Home Points

Every day, you inhale numerous chemicals from the air. The types and amounts of these chemicals varies depending on where you live. But unless you live in a truly toxic environment, the amounts of these chemicals are too minute to cause any true harm to your body. That's because your body has the capacity to metabolize and/or excrete these chemicals when in small doses. When you eat at a restaurant, you are consuming food that likely has ingredients/chemicals that you are not aware of. And based on how food is cooked, it can create chemicals that show some evidence to be harmful. Yet the amount of these chemicals are likely too small to be of any real major concern.

The point that I'm making here is that you can't control every minute amount of a chemical that is entering your body. And there is no major concern over that because it poses no threat to you in small doses. It just seems silly to me that people get so worked up over these miniscule quantities of sweeteners in supplements when there is no real science to suggest any true harm. Plus, there's the fact that they are in such minute doses that they are essentially insignificant. But again, that is just my opinion. It is, however, an opinion that is based on years of study and knowledge of the human body. You need to rely on your own opinion on the matter. Just don't create that opinion from scaremongering nonsense that you read on the web and is not backed by any real concrete data.

References

Supporting Research

Grotz, V. L. and Munro, I. C. An overview of the safety of sucralose. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 55(1):1-5, 2009.

Rodero, A.B., et al. Toxicity of Sucralose in Humans: A Review. International Journal of Morphology 27(1):239-244, 2009.

Baird, I.M., et al. Repeated Dose Study of Sucralose Tolerance in Human Subjects. Food and Chemical Toxicology 38(Suppl 2):S123-9, 2000.

Brusick, D. Expert Panel Report on a Study of Splenda in Male Rats. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 55(1):6-12, 2009.

Sucralose Safety Assessment. Food Chem Toxicol. 38(suppl 2):S1-S129, 2000.

Goldsmith, L. A. Acute and subchronic toxicity of sucralose. Food Chem Toxicol 38(suppl 2):S53-S69, 2003.

O'Brien-Nabors, Lyn. Alternative Sweeteners [Fourth Edition]. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, ISBN 978-1-4398-4614-8: pp. 185-186, 2011.

Should You Cut Back on Sodium?

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple decades, you've been bombarded with warnings from the media about the dangers of sodium. In fact, it's hard to go out to eat and not have sodium guidelines forced upon you, most notably at Asian restaurants. The lower sodium soy sauce is green (as in "go!") and the regular stuff is red (as in "stop!"). The general consensus says the less sodium, the better. But I'm here to tell you, "Not so fast."

Low-Salt Recommendations Are Misguided

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), which establishes the National Dietary Guidelines, has set guidelines for how much sodium people should ingest. For adults between the ages of 19 and 50, the IOM recommends getting no more than 2,300 mg per day of sodium, which comes out to roughly the amount in 1 teaspoon of salt. The American Heart Association (AHA) has dropped its recommendations even lower, to less than 1,500 mg per day for everyone.

All this low-sodium enforcement is in your best interest, right? After all, government experts know what's best for you and would never steer you wrong. Or would they?

Remember that low-fat campaign they tried to push on us in the '80s and '90s when they advised Americans to shun all dietary fat? The 1980 National Dietary Guidelines made fat the official villain of the nation and it was blamed for everything from obesity to heart disease. Of course, despite the fact that many Americans adopted the low-fat eating plan by gobbling down on fat-free cookies, our nation kept getting fatter. Fat wasn't the problem, so in 2000 the committee for the National Dietary Guidelines withdrew its earlier recommendation about eating low fat. We now know that fat, especially certain fats like omega-3s, are essential and can actually help us stay lean and healthy. So when it comes to the government's campaign against sodium, you should be very wary.

The Role Sodium Plays in Athletic Bodies

If you've been duped into thinking that you need to keep sodium extremely low to stay healthy and lean, as well as prevent water retention from blurring your hard-earned muscularity, here's a newsflash: Eating a low-sodium diet could actually be working against you. Although often used interchangeably, sodium and salt are not the same thing. Technically speaking, salt is sodium attached to chloride. Salt is only about 40% sodium. Sodium is an important element. In fact, the sodium ion, which is positively charged, is critical to our survival. Along with another element, potassium, sodium is responsible for allowing an electrostatic charge to build on cell membranes, such as nerve cells and muscle cells. This is basically how nerve impulses are generated and muscles contract. Without adequate sodium intake, our nerves and muscles would not work properly. This is just one reason why low-sodium diets may not be the best thing for muscle-minded individuals.

Another critical role that sodium plays is maintaining the body's water level. As you've likely heard, muscle is about 75% water and the human body is somewhere around 60% water, so keeping adequate water levels is important. Sodium is especially critical for maintaining blood volume, as well as helping the kidneys determine how much water to excrete and how much to hold in the body. These two roles are what confuse doctors, scientists, nutritionists and the mass media when it comes to figuring how much sodium we should consume each day. It's true that too much sodium can cause serious health consequences, such as high blood pressure, but that's only in certain people, such as those with kidney issues or with a history of blood pressure issues. For the rest of us, getting in higher amounts of sodium just means that our body will readily get rid of what it doesn't need via urine and sweat.

The levels of sodium and water in your body are closely related and carefully regulated. The reason for this is that sodium draws water to it. Wherever sodium is, water follows. In the body of a healthy, muscular individual, the system works something like this:

If your body is holding too much fluid, your kidneys pull it out of your bloodstream and excrete it as urine.

If your body has too little fluid, your kidneys will pull less fluid out and you won't urinate as much.

If you ingest large amounts of sodium, fluid is pulled out of the body's tissues and into the bloodstream to dilute sodium levels. This fluid increases blood volume, which leads to an increase in blood pressure. However, If your kidneys are functioning properly, as most of ours are, they'll react to an increase in fluid in your bloodstream and increase urine output (excreting both sodium and water) to reduce blood volume fluid levels.

Only if your kidneys aren't working properly will you maintain that increased blood volume longer and therefore experience higher blood pressure.This can put increased pressure on your heart, since the more fluid the heart has to move around your body, the harder it has to work. Chronically elevated blood pressure can eventually lead to organ damage, heart attacks, strokes, kidney problems, memory loss and erectile dysfunction. This is why the IOM and the AHA recommend that everyone drop their sodium intake to extremely low levels.

But here's the problem with that advice: While a low-sodium diet may be essential for those who have kidney problems or a history of high blood pressure, it can actually be unhealthy for others.

Studies Suggest a Low-Sodium Diet Can Actually Harm You

Sodium is required by the body to function normally. The reason we acquired a taste bud for "salty" in the first place is to allow us to seek out foods that contain sodium to essentially keep us alive and functioning optimally. Researchers from the University of California-Davis believe that the brain regulates sodium appetite so that people consume a set optimal daily level of the mineral. They published research showing that, based on surveys in over 30 countries, sodium intake is about the same despite wide differences in diet and culture. They've also published work showing that even though most Americans are eating more food today (and more processed foods), they still consume about the same amount of sodium as they have in previous decades.

The UC-Davis researchers have demonstrated that the typical daily intake of sodium is about 3,700 mg, with the absolute lowest intakes at around 2,700 mg. And they believe that it would be impossible to get people to eat less sodium, as their bodies would seek it out. In fact, this theory has been supported by a study that put adults on a restricted sodium diet of about 1,800 mg per day for three years. Despite given specific dietary instructions on how to keep sodium to 1,800 mg per day, the lowest sodium intake that these adults were able to maintain was 2,700 mg per day, with the average intake being around 3,200 mg. It seems that the set point for sodium levels that our bodies have created will prevent us from eating too little sodium to avoid negative health consequences.

The UC Davis team and I aren't the only people arguing with the IOC and AHA's recommendations for cutting sodium for all adults. Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York are also against the recommendations. They've shown that of the 11 studies examining the link between sodium and cardiovascular disease (CVD), only five have shown that a low-salt diet was associated with a lower CVD risk. That's less than half! The rest have shown that a low-sodium diet either had no effect on CVD risk or actually increased the risk. Yes, a low-sodium diet may actually increase the risk for heart disease!

One study published in the July 2007 issue of the journal Current Opinion in Cardiology discovered that very low levels (less than 2,000 mg) and very high levels (more than 4,000 mg) of sodium intake were associated with increased levels of mortality, whereas intakes in between those two extremes had no association. An article published in the American Journal of Medicine calculated that adults who consumed less than the recommended 2,300 mg of sodium per day were almost 40% more likely to die from cardiovascular causes than those who ate more than 2,300 mg.

How does low sodium intake increase the risk of CVD? It has to do with the integral chemical system that's in place to regulate sodium levels. When sodium intake is low, it causes the production of a protein known as angiotensin. This protein constricts blood vessels to increase blood pressure and has been found to damage blood vessels and thicken them. This can obviously lead to a higher risk of CVD. Low sodium intake can also lead to other health consequences, such as diabetes and obesity.

Sodium Intake Impacts Insulin Sensitivity

This all has to do with insulin. Clinical research studies have shown that when sodium intake is decreased, so is insulin sensitivity. A reduction in insulin sensitivity means it takes more insulin to get the job done. In other words, your body has to produce more insulin when you consume carbs, which can lead to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity. It can also limit muscle growth. Since insulin is important for pushing carbs, amino acids and creatine into your muscles, lower insulin sensitivity can make it harder for you to recover after workouts and gain muscle and strength. In fact, one study published in a 1999 issue of Acta Physiologica Scandinavica found that when sodium levels were reduced by about 85%, creatine uptake was also reduced by about 80%.

Exercise Makes a Difference

One factor that seems to be forgotten about with the blanket recommendations to cut sodium intake by the IOC and AHA is exercise. If you're a member of my site, you obviously exercise; probably a LOT compared to your friends and family. While cutting sodium may be beneficial for individuals who don't exercise, it doesn't really hold water for those of us who train hard.

For starters, you lose sodium in your sweat. With all the sweating you do during your workouts (weights and cardio), your sodium requirements are higher than the typical couch potato. Another thing to consider is just how critical sodium is for muscle contractions. Every rep you perform in a workout is dependent on sodium for the muscle contraction to occur. Without adequate levels of sodium, muscle contraction won't be optimal and your strength and muscle endurance could suffer.

Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that exercise has been shown to reverse salt sensitivity. Yes, there are some people who are more sensitive to sodium's effects on raising blood pressure. But those who exercise regularly don't seem to be in this category. One study even showed that working out helped to reverse salt sensitivity. University of Minnesota researchers reported in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Human Hypertension that in a group of hypertensive adults who worked out for six months, a good proportion of those who were salt sensitive before the workout program were no longer sensitive after the workout program. The research showed that the sweet spot for sodium appears to be between 2,000 and 4,000 mg per day. Fall outside of this range and you'll likely experience health consequences. This sweet spot will also keep your muscle strength and size maximized.

Jim’s Take-Home Points

So where does your diet fall? There's no need to carefully calculate every milligram of sodium you put into your mouth each day; I've already analyzed the typical diets that I provide you. They fall somewhere between 2,800—3,800 mg, depending on the diet. This is right in the sweet spot for sodium  and happens to be right around what the typical diet provides. So if you follow my diets, you'll be good to go with sodium without having to worry if you're getting in too little or too much.

And if you're worried about looking bloated from a higher sodium diet, don't be. Remember that your body's water levels are tightly regulated. Although short periods of high sodium intake will make you retain more water and short periods of low sodium intake will cause you to hold less water, over the long run you'll retain the same amount of water whether you eat a higher or lower sodium diet, because your body will work to maintain a certain level of water.

All that said, by eating a higher sodium diet now, you not only gain the health and muscle building benefits of sodium, but it will make it that much easier to drop water when you want to cut sodium for a short period to peak for a contest or photo shoot. To see how to use sodium loading and dropping to peak for a photo shoot or contest in a two-week span, read my article Reach Your Peak.

In the meantime, don't be afraid to ask, "Pass the salt."

References

Supporting Research

Alderman, M. H. Reducing dietary sodium. The case for caution. JAMA 303(5):448-449, 2010.

Cohen HW, Alderman MH. Sodium, blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Curr Opin Cardiol. 2007 Jul;22(4):306-10.

Cohen HW, Hailpern SM, Fang J, Alderman MH. Sodium intake and mortality in the NHANES II follow-up study. Am J Med. 2006 Mar;119(3):275.e7-14.

Dengel, D. R., et al. Effect of aerobic exercise training on blood pressure sensitivity to dietary sodium in older hypertensives. J Hum Hypertens.  2006 May;20(5):372-8.

McCarron, D. A., et al. Can dietary sodium intake be modified by public policy? Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 4: 1878 –1882, 2009.

Willott CA, Young ME, Leighton B, Kemp GJ, Boehm EA, Radda GK, Clarke K. Creatine uptake in isolated soleus muscle: kinetics and dependence on sodium, but not on insulin. Acta Physiol Scand. 1999 Jun;166(2):99-104.

Is Alcohol Bad for You?

Are you worried that pint of beer, glass of wine or whisky on the rocks will sidetrack your fitness goals and ruin your health? Don't be. Go ahead and have a drink tonight, if you like.

A plethora of research already suggests that moderate alcohol intake provides a laundry list of health benefits, particularly where the heart is concerned. As if that wasn't enough to justify imbibing, a new study of nearly 15,000 adult men and women showed that drinking up to seven drinks a week is associated with a lower risk of developing future heart failure when compared to not drinking at all.

Moderate Alcohol Use Provides Health Benefits

Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers analyzed data from 14,629 people, ages 45-64 years old, recruited to the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study in the late 1980s. They kept tabs on the participants for over 20 years (through the end of 2011), questioning them about their alcohol consumption at the start of the study as well as at each of three subsequent visits.

As measured in the follow-up period, more than 1,200 men and 1,200 women developed heart failure. The lowest rate of these occurrences was found in those drinking up to seven alcoholic drinks weekly, whereas the highest rate was found among former drinkers. After taking into account the various risk factors that could affect the results—including age, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, body mass index, cholesterol count, activity level, smoking—the researchers reported in a 2015 issue of the European Heart Journal that those who consumed up to seven drinks a week had roughly a 20% reduced risk of developing heart failure compared to non-drinkers.

Not surprisingly, the study also showed that you can certainly have too much of a good thing. Participants consuming 14 drinks per week or more showed no reduction in heart-failure risk compared to abstainers. And in those drinking 21 drinks or more weekly, there were nearly 50% and 90% increases in risk of death, respectively, for men and women.

Jim's Take-Home Points

These study results aren't meant to encourage slamming beers as a means of boosting heart health. Sorry to burst your bubble! They do suggest, however, that moderate drinking—one drink per day, 3-4 on two weekend nights, or hell, all seven in one night—may offer a protective mechanism against heart failure as you age. The researchers in this case define one drink as about 14 grams of alcohol. This is the equivalent to approximately one small glass (4-5 ounces) of wine, a 12-ounce beer or one shot of liquor, such as whisky or vodka.

In other words, don't be afraid to drink in accordance to these rough guidelines. Enjoying a moderate amount of beer, wine or even hard alcohol won't take away from all the work and dedication you put into your training and nutrition—it might actually enhance it! I believe in balance, and that includes enjoying good food and drink, if you're so inclined. Life's too short not to savor the things you love on occasion!

Reference

Goncalves, A., et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of heart failure: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. European Heart Journal, 2015.

Experiencing Heartburn During Workouts?

That burning sensation you feel in your muscles during a grueling high-rep set or HIIT cardio session is a good thing. But a burning in your esophagus due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)? Not good. Better known as heartburn, this uncomfortable occurrence can impede your performance in the gym and blunt training intensity. Not to mention, it's just downright annoying. Unfortunately, GERD is a common problem for those who hit the weights hard.

A study from the University of Oklahoma comparing reflux in runners, cyclists and weightlifters found that seven out of the 10 lifters tested had reflux that was considerably worse than the other athletes. The researchers explained that this high incidence of heartburn in weightlifters is due primarily to the high pressure that builds up in the abdominal cavity as you "push your guts out" on a set and perform a Valsalva maneuver, which entails holding your breath while exhaling against a closed glottis (the opening between the vocal cords in the throat).

While the Valsalva maneuver is beneficial when lifting to provide better spinal support and greater overall stability to help generate more strength and power, that increased abdominal pressure can literally push stomach acid into your esophagus. This is especially common during exercises where the torso is horizontal, such as bench press and bent-over rows.

How You Can Address Heartburn Issues

If heartburn is affecting your workouts or your life at any other time, try these tips to minimize GERD attacks:

Nix the Weightlifting Belt

I generally promote the use of a weight belt, at least for heavy sets, because it causes an increase in abdominal pressure, which is great for increasing strength and power. But it's also bad for heartburn sufferers, as it can increase gastric reflux.

Don't Forget to Breathe

While holding your breath to perform a Valsalva maneuver during a heavy set can boost your strength and better protect your spine, if you frequently suffer from GERD, you may want to focus on exhaling normally during the positive portion of reps.

Get/Stay Lean

Extra fat in the abdominal area puts extra pressure on your stomach, which can increase reflux. Recent evidence suggests that overweight individuals have less parasympathetic nervous system activity than leaner people, which may make the lower esophageal sphincter more relaxed and allow more stomach acid to enter the esophagus and cause heartburn.

Eat Well Before Your Workout

Have a whole-food meal about 2-3 hours before your workout, as opposed to right before, which can make you more susceptible to reflux. Taking Pre JYM and Pro JYM closer to your training session won't cause heartburn for most.

Use Antacids

Over-the-counter products like Tums, Zantac or Prilosec can be a big help when symptoms strike or if GERD is a recurring issue. The goal of these products is basically the same, but they vary in how they work inside the body. Antacids like Tums use calcium carbonate to buffer the acid in your esophagus and stomach. Medications like Zantac use the active ingredient ranitidine, which is a histamine H2-receptor antagonist that inhibits the production of stomach acid; this ingredient not only helps when symptoms strike, but it can also prevent them when taken 30-60 minutes before mealtime. Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) such as Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid can be taken daily to prevent GERD by working to block the active stomach pumps that produce acid.

Reference

Collings, K. L., et al. Esophageal reflux in conditioned runners, cyclists, and weightlifters. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 35(5):730-736, 2003.

Devendran, N., GERD and obesity: is the autonomic nervous system the missing link? Crit Rev Biomed Eng. 42(1):17-24, 2014.

Do Workouts Make You Queasy?

One question I see pop up from time to time has to do with throwing up during or after workouts. This is a common problem, but understanding why it happens and how to deal with it is rare. I’ll break it down for you here so you don’t have to worry about losing your lunch during your next leg day.

Nausea During Workouts is Natural

The most likely reason you puke during an exceptionally hard workout is that your body isn’t used to lactate (aka, lactic acid). Lactic acid is produced when you train intensely and are burning a lot of glucose for fuel through the process of glycolysis. The byproduct of converting glucose into energy is lactic acid, which builds up in the blood.

Normally, through a process called the Cori cycle, the liver converts excess lactate into glucose, which can then be used as fuel via glycolysis. But if your body isn’t accustomed to converting such large amounts of lactate into glucose, blood levels of lactate surge. High levels of lactate in the blood irritate the vagus nerve, which connects the brain with the gastrointestinal tract and the esophagus. Irritating the vagus nerve results in vomiting, which helps the body clear the lactate.

This tends to happen more often on leg day because the leg muscles comprise a large amount of muscle mass. Because there’s so much muscle being used, there’s more lactic acid produced. The same applies to HIIT sessions that utilize whole body exercises, such as doing cardioacceleration or Tabata intervals.

Once your body becomes adjusted to the intensity of your training and can better handle the lactate levels, puking should no longer be a problem. That is, unless you suddenly bump your training intensity up another level or you take significant time off from the gym and then try to come back immediately at full force.

What You Can Do to Prevent Workout Nausea

Of course, vomiting during workouts may simply be due to poor food choices before your workout and nothing to do with how hard you’re pushing it in the gym. This is one reason it makes sense to choose liquid meals pre-workout—for example, a protein shake versus whole foods like eggs or meat. When training, blood flow to the working muscles is maximized, meaning blood flow to the GI tract must be shunted away to the muscles. With less blood flow to the GI tract, you’ll experience less digestion during workouts.

If you eat a whole-food meal that’s challenging for your body to digest in the first place before your workout, the lower blood flow is going to make digestion even more challenging. In fact, your body may decide to not digest it and instead “reject it” all over the gym floor.  This is especially true if your pre-workout regimen consists of a stop at Taco Bell. A shake comprised of a protein blend, like Pro JYM, will be digested more easily than a whole-food meal, which makes it your best friend before and/or during workouts for more reasons than one.

Do Workouts Give You Headaches?

On social media, I get a lot of questions that may seem random to the average person. But when you talk to thousands of people every day, as I do, you begin to see some issues that affect more people than you would imagine. Once such issue is exercise headaches, or more technically referred to as "exertional headaches."

These are simply headaches that come on during or right after exercise. Although there's no conclusive answer as to the cause, one theory is that they're the result of the dilation of blood vessels in the head during exercise.For most people, they hit suddenly for an hour or two, reappear for a few days, then disappear. This is normal and not problematic. But if the headaches last longer than a day and continue more than just a few days, you should take action.

What To Do if You Experience Headaches from Workouts

The first thing you should do is to see a doctor to make sure that it's truly a "primary" exertional headache and not a "secondary" exertional headache. Primary exertional headaches are benign (mainly harmless) and not caused by any known issue. Secondary exertional headache is a symptom of more serious condition, and worsens with exercise.

If you're prone to exertional headaches, try to avoid exercising in severe heat or at higher altitudes. Some people get headaches only from certain types of exercise, such as running. If you are susceptible to exertion headaches, simply doing a 5-15-minute warm-up before starting hardcore training can help prevent headaches.

Exertion headaches can also be caused from holding your breath, such as when you do heavy lifts or heavy squats. While you normally should hold your breath during the hardest part of a lift (such as when ascending from a squat to better support the spine by increasing intra-abdominal pressure), try exhaling during the ascent to avoid a headache.Avoid clenching your teeth/jaw when you lift; if you can't avoid it, consider getting a mouth guard or bite guard when you train.

Treating Exertional Headaches

While an easy fix is to take an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or Tylenol (acetaminophen), some evidence suggests that these can interfere with muscle protein synthesis. But research in humans taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen while undergoing weight-training programs showed no negative effect on muscle growth.

In a 2011 issue of the American Journal of Physiology, a Ball State University study of older adults (60-85 years old) found that subjects taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen during a weight-training program for 12 weeks actually gained significantly more muscle mass and strength than those taking a placebo.

Whether you are worried about muscle growth or just do not want to have to take anti-inflammatory medications every time you train, a more natural alternative is melatonin. Some research suggests that those taking as little as 3 mg to as much as 12 mg of melatonin every night before bed had a reduction in recurring headaches. I recommend a sublingual melatonin and starting with a 2-3 mg dose. If this doesn't help, you can gradually increase the dosage.

Another option is to take melatonin before your workout. Some research shows that taking as little as 0.5 mg melatonin 60 minutes before working out can lead to higher growth hormone (GH) levels during the workout. Although we're no longer sure if boosting GH levels during exercise can promote further muscle growth, it may help to enhance fat loss by increasing lipolysis, or the release of fat from fat cells. Taking melatonin before exercise won't make you tired: Research shows that while a 5 mg dose can decrease alertness (but not performance), a smaller amount (2.5 mg or less) won't induce sleepiness or decrease alertness.

References

Supporting Research

Trappe, T. A., et al. Effect of ibuprofen and acetaminophen on postexercise muscle protein synthesis. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 282: E551–E556, 2002.

Soltow, Q. A., et al. Ibuprofen inhibits skeletal muscle hypertrophy in rats. Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise 38 (5): 840-846, 2006.

Trappe, T. A., et al. Influence of acetaminophen and ibuprofen on skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance exercise in older adults. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 300(3):R655-662, 2011.

Trappe, T. A. and Liu, S.Z. Effects of prostaglandins and COX-inhibiting drugs on skeletal muscle adaptations to exercise. J Appl Physiol 115(6):909-p19, 2013.

Trappe, T. A., et al. Prostaglandin and myokine involvement in the cyclooxygenase-inhibiting drug enhancement of skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance exercise in older adults. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 304(3):R198-205, 2013.

Peres, M. F., et al. Potential therapeutic use of melatonin in migraine and other headache disorders. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 15(4):367-375, 2006.

Srinivasan, V., et al. Melatonin in antinociception: its therapeutic applications. Curr Neuropharmacol. 10(2):167-178, 2012.

Meeking, D. Exercise-induced GH secretion is enhanced by the oral ingestion of melatonin in healthy adult male subjects. Eur J Endocrinol. 1999 Jul;141(1):22-6.

Nasser, E., et al. Effects of prophylactic n-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine supplementation and resistance exercise on serum growth hormone levels and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in young males and females. JISSN 4:14, 2007.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Old to Exercise?

If you're one of those people who uses age as an excuse to go easier in the gym, one study in particular may bust you.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida (Orlando) investigated how age affected gains in muscle size and strength. They placed untrained men and women aged 18-40 years old on a 12-week periodized strength-training program for their non-dominant arms. Each subject worked out that one arm twice per week and the opposite arm (the dominant one) served as a control.

The UCF team found that when they compared the subjects by age group—teens, those in their 20s and those in their 30s—there was no difference in the amount of muscle mass gained for any group. All three groups gained about 20% more muscle on their non-dominants arms versus the control arm. The only benefit that being younger had was the ability to gain slightly more one-rep max strength on the preacher curl. However, the older the subjects were, the more strength and muscle size they had when they started the 12-week program. Typically, the more strength you have, the less strength you can gain, since you're closer to your so-called ceiling.

Jim's Take-Home Point

There's really no difference in the ability to gain muscle size as you age, at least up to 40 years old. While you may have some minor limits on your capacity to increase one-rep strength than your younger counterparts, you're likely stronger at this point than they are. If you're just getting started into lifting, it doesn't matter how old you are. You can train just as often and as intensely as younger lifters. In other words, it's never too late to start lifting weights or to continue making gains.

Reference

Lowndes, J., et al. Association of age with muscle size and strength before and after short-term resistance training in young adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(7): 1915-1920, 2009.

 

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