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Supplement Guide

In an effort to keep you educated without boring you with too much detail, I've compiled this list of some of the most useful supplements out there.

Supplement Guide

While I've covered the most critical ingredients in the JYM Supplement Science line in individual Ingredient Breakdowns, in this article I'll breakdown the other supplements I think you may want to consider adding to your regimen for even further benefit. For many of these, I'll give you a brief rundown on the benefits, tell you how to use them, and rank them from 1-10—with 1 being “Don't even bother”, 10 being “You MUST use this supplement”, and 2 -9 increasing in importance and effectiveness with the number. I’ll also go in-depth to highlight a few that I think you should know even more about.

Supplement Roundup: A

Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP)

Adenosine triphosphate is a nucleic acid that is the major energy source for every cell in the body. Taking ATP in supplemental form does not increase the amount of ATP within cells; rather, it boosts blood levels of ATP. This increases blood flow to exercising muscles. ATP also encourages the body to store less fat and to burn more that's already stored. One study reported that subjects taking an ATP supplement for 14 days increased their one-rep max strength and the number of reps they could complete with a weight to failure.

Take: 125-250 milligrams (mg) twice a day on an empty stomach.

Rank: 6 – I wouldn't make sure your supplements have ATP in them, but if you use a supplement that does it certainly is not going to hurt your performance in the gym on the field.

African Mango Extract

This is an extract from the seed of the African mango fruit, which grows on the tree known more formally as Irvingia gabonensis. The tree grows in Central and West Africa. The seeds are rich in soluble fiber, which is one of the first proposed mechanism for the fat loss benefits provided by African mango.

However, more recent research suggests that it works in the body to reduce body fat through a number of mechanisms. Some of these include increasing levels of adiponectin, a hormone that increases the uptake of carbohydrates by muscle and other active cells while increasing metabolic rate and fat burning. It also appears to modify leptin levels, which can help to reduce hunger while helping your body burn more calories.

In addition to this, the active ingredients in the seeds of African mango may lower body fat, as well as cholesterol levels, by activating specific proteins known as peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs). PPARs typically work by activating genes that decrease fat and cholesterol production while enhancing fat burning. One study reported that subjects taking African mango supplements for 10 weeks without any diet or exercise intervention, experienced a drop in their percent body fat of over 6% and lost over 16 cm on their waist, which was significantly better than the group taking a placebo.

Take: 150-300 mg of African mango extract 30-60 minutes before meals 2-3 times per day.

Rank: 7 – It appears that African mango is a fairly effective fat burner given the fact that several studies have shown significant losses in body fat and waist size, even when subjects did not add exercise and a diet to their program. With a solid training and nutrition plan, these results could be even greater.

Agmatine

This byproduct of the breakdown of the amino acid arginine, boosts nitric-oxide (NO) levels. However, agmatine does far more than just enhance NO production. To start, agmatine increases insulin release, and insulin is not only an anabolic hormone that increases muscle growth, it also dilates blood vessels to further boost blood flow to muscles.

Agmatine also works in the body as a novel neurotransmitter. That means that it can boost training intensity and muscle strength by ramping you up and creating stronger muscle contractions. It can also blunt pain to help you train past the pain barrier, allowing you to complete more reps and instigate more muscle growth. Agmatine can even help to boost levels of the anabolic hormones testosterone and growth hormone, both of which are critical for muscle growth. Plus, it provides an antioxidant benefit that can aid muscle recovery.

Take: 500-1000 mg of agmatine about 30-60 minutes before workouts.

Rank: 7 – There is not enough research and anecdotal reports to really rank agmatine any higher. It came on the scene with a lot of promise and it is effective. But more evidence needs to come it to put it in a higher rank.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid, or ALA, is a powerful antioxidant. It also improves muscle glucose and creatine uptake when it is consumed with simple carbs, such as dextrose. ALA is an ingredient in some fat-loss products because it reduces the amount of insulin released when carbs are eaten, increases fat burning and reduces hunger.

Take: 500-600 mg of ALA with two to five grams of creatine to increase creatine uptake. For fat loss and for better antioxidant protection, take 100-300 mg two to three times per day.

Rank: 8 – ALA is a solid supplement as it boosts health, creatine uptake and fat loss. Is it mandatory that you take it? No! But if you do decide to, it can be pretty effective.

Anacyclus Pyrethrum DC Extract

This perennial herb that grows mainly in North Africa is known commonly as pellitory root. Recent research studies in animals suggest that supplementing with this herb increases testosterone levels, as well as sperm production and motility, and libido. This appears to be due to its ability to increase the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland, which travels in the bloodstream to the testicles where it encourages greater testosterone production from cholesterol.

Take: It is currently hard to say how much of this herb needs to be taken for it to be effective for boosting testosterone levels, but I would suggest taking about 250-750 mg twice a day such as mornings and nights, or about 30-60 minutes before workouts.

Rank: 5 - This low ranking does not suggest that this supplement is not that effective. It's just too early to tell. Research in animals is very positive and so is anecdotal evidence from those taking it. However, research is humans is lacking at the moment.

Arginine

Arginine enhances nitric oxide (NO) production because in the body arginine is converted into NO. But you already knew that! You probably also know that NO helps to improve blood flow to exercising muscles and therefore the delivery of nutrients, hormones and oxygen, which can help improve training energy, strength and intensity and recovery. Arginine has also been shown to boost growth hormone (GH) levels. Research shows significant strength and endurance improvements in subjects taking arginine products, as well as enhanced muscle growth and fat loss.

All that said, more recent research shows that citrulline boosts NO levels much more effectively than arginine, which is why I include citrulline malate in Pre JYM instead of arginine. For more on this topic, read the Citrulline section in my Pre JYM Ingredient Breakdown.

Take: In the absence of citrulline malate or l-citrulline, have 3-5 g of arginine or NO products 30-45 minutes prior to workouts.

Rank: 5 – Research now shows that supplementing citrulline is more effective for boosting NO than arginine.

Astaxanthin

Astaxanthin, pronounced asta-zan-thin, is a supplement you may have heard of but just never knew what it was. This carotenoid is a powerful antioxidant that provides numerous health benefits, such as promoting improved immune function, cardiovascular health, and potentially protecting the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration. Research has also shown that this antioxidant can increase endurance by up to 150%. This is thanks to its ability to increase fat burning.

Take: 4-6 mg of astaxanthin with meals once or twice per day with one dose taken with your pre-workout shake.

Rank: 8 – This is a great supplement to take for the health benefits. And if you wanted to add it to your regimen, you can also expect a boost in endurance and even fat loss.

Supplement Spotlight: Astaxanthin

Newer research shows that astaxanthin has a few more tricks up its sleeve that make it more appealing to those interested in boosting performance in the gym or on the field, as well as sculpting a better body.

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid—similar to beta-carotene—and while it is an antioxidant, just like beta-carotene is, it does not convert into vitamin A in the body as beta-carotene does. Also like beta-carotene, which imparts it's orange coloring to carrots and sweet potatoes, astaxanthin is a colorful chemical that imparts a reddish-pink to foods like salmon, shrimp, krill. In fact, it's used as a food color in animal feed. But the fact that the major source of astaxanthin is seafood means you are likely not getting adequate amounts in your diet.

Thanks to astaxanthin's powerful antioxidant properties, it provides a laundry list of potential health benefits, such as: Promoting better immune function and cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of many cancers, protecting the brain from dementia and Alzheimer's, reducing inflammation, protecting the skin from sun damage, improving sperm count and quality, protecting cells and DNA from oxidative damage, reducing the risk of diabetes, and protecting your eyes from cataracts, macular degeneration, and blindness.

One study from Washington State reported that subjects receiving astaxanthin supplements for eight weeks had significant reductions in DNA damage and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation associated with heart disease. Plus, they experienced a large boost in function of important immune cells. Japanese researchers supported astaxanthin's heart health benefits, when they reported that subjects supplementing with astaxanthin for 12 weeks had a 25% decrease in their blood triglyceride levels, and a 15% increase in HDL (good) cholesterol levels. And Lithuanian researchers even reported that when subjects with indigestion took a high dose of astaxanthin (40 mg per day) for four weeks they had reduced symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.

While health benefits are fine and dandy, I know what you're looking for when it comes to spending money on supplements to stock in your cabinet. Sure, healthy-promotion is good, but they also need to provide some real boost to your training and your physique—and astaxanthin delivers there, too.

Whether it's in the weight room or on your favorite cardio machine, having more muscle endurance means you can train harder for longer. With weight training, that leads to more muscle strength and more muscle mass. With cardio, it means greater fat burning and better cardiovascular health. Astaxanthin has been found to boost muscle endurance by 150%!

Researchers from Tokyo University found that mice given astaxanthin for 5 weeks were able to swim with 10% of their body weight strapped to them for 5 minutes before reaching exhaustion, while those getting a placebo were only able to go for 2 minutes. Wile you probably won't be swimming with almost 20 pounds strapped to your back, astaxanthin can have a dramatic impact on how many times you can bench press a certain weight, or how long you can sprint at your all-out pace.

In addition to building more muscle and burning more fat indirectly by allowing you to train harder, astaxanthin has been shown to directly increase fat loss.

Another team of Japanese researchers reported in a 2008 study that mice supplemented with astaxanthin while following an exercise program for four weeks had accelerated fat-burning, greater fat loss and enhanced endurance when compared to mice that just exercised alone. The researchers reported that astaxanthin protects the system that transports fat into the mitochondria of muscle cells, where it is burned away for fuel. This is the same system that carnitine is involved in to enhance fat burning. By protecting this transport system, the body can burn more fat. That not only leads to a leaner, meaner bod, but it also boosts your endurance by sparing muscle glycogen.

So consider adding astaxanthin your supplement plan. Not many supplements can provide all the health benefits it offers in addition to the benefits it provides your training and your physique. The best way to take advantage of all of astaxanthin's benefits is to take about 4 mg of with meals once or twice per day with one dose taken with your pre-workout meal. If you also want to take it to reduce indigestion and heartburn, go with about 20 mg twice per days with meals.

References
Avena Sativa

This may sound like a mysterious ingredient, but it's simply the scientific name for oats—yes, like the oatmeal you eat for breakfast. Avena sativa contains the active ingredient avenacosides, which are a type of plant saponin similar to the furostanolic saponins in tribulus. These saponins increase the amount of luteinizing hormone released from the pituitary gland, which influences the testicles to produce more testosterone.

There is also some evidence that the avenacosides free up testosterone from its carrier protein, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). By freeing up testosterone from SHBG, more of it becomes available to enter muscle cells and stimulate muscle growth and strength gains.

Take: 100-300 mg of a 10:1 avena sativa extract and take two to three times a day with one dose about 30-60 minutes before workouts.

Rank: 5 – I wouldn't specifically look for testosterone boosters with avena, but if the one you choose happens to use it, it's not a bad thing.

Supplement Roundup: B

Banaba Leaf Extract

Used as traditional medicine in the Philippines to treat diabetes and kidney diseases, the leaves of this Southeast Asian tree appear to act in a similar manner to insulin by activating insulin receptors. One of the main ingredients in banaba leaf responsible for this action is corosolic acid.

Take: 30-50 mg banaba leaf extract standardized for corosolic acid with your post-workout shake.

Rank: 6 – While banaba is an effective way to boost the uptake of glucose, amino acids, creatine etc., it's not that critical of a supplement to take.

Beta-Ecdysterone

This phytochemical found in plants such as spinach protects the plant from insects, and Russian scientists were the first to discover it also has anabolic properties. Because beta-ecdysterone is a replica of hormones used by insects and crustaceans, it was originally assumed that it acted like a hormone in the body. Instead, beta-ecdysterone stimulates protein synthesis and drives muscle growth with no impact on hormone levels.

Take: 100 mg with meals in the morning, before and after workouts, as well as with lunch and even dinner, for a total of 400–500 mg per day.

Rank: 7 - If you take the dose I recommend above you will see very decent results.

Beta-Phenylethylamine

Also called phenylethylamine (PEA), this naturally occurring metabolite of the amino acid phenylalanine is an important stimulatory transmitter in the body that enhances neurotransmission. It promotes fat-burning by increasing the release of norepinephrine, reducing the sensation of pain and boosting feelings of euphoria (which can help bodybuilders better tolerate lower-calorie and -carb diets) by increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Take: 100–500 mg 1–2 times daily. PEA is also available as beta-methoxyphenylethylamine; this significantly enhances its half-life in the body and allows a single dose to be effective.

Rank: 6 – While PEA can be very effective for aiding fat loss, it is not on the top of my list. That being said, products that contain it along with other fat-burning ingredients can work quite well.

Bovine Colostrum

Large doses of bovine colostrum—the first milk produced by cows during the initial days after giving birth—have been shown to improve immune function and increase levels of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), a powerful anabolic compound. In addition, research indicates that the supplement may aid muscle endurance, helping you to pump out more reps per set. Gram per gram, the protein in colostrum is a bit more anabolic than that found in whey or other protein powders, such as casein or egg protein.

Take: Replace 5–10 grams of protein in your pre- and post-workout shakes with 5–10 grams of bovine colostrum.

Rank: 5 - As effective as colostrum can be, it is just not worth the money it costs.

Brassaiopsis Giomerulata Extract

This is a large shrub plant that grows in southeast Asia, especially Vietnam and Indonesia. It has been used medicinally for many years. Recent evidence from a 2009 study shows that the plant contains natural aromatase inhibitors. Aromatase is the enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen, lowering testosterone levels and raising estrogen. By taking this extract it blocks the aromatase enzyme from catalyzing this reaction so that you end up with higher testosterone levels and lower estrogen levels.

Take: Currently it is hard to determine the precise dose needed of this extract, but 100-500 mg should be effective.

Rank: 5 - This low number does not mean that Brassaiopsis is not an effective supplement. It's just too early to tell. Research shows that it definitely contains aromatase inhibitors, but how effective these work in humans to decrease estrogen and boost testosterone is hard to tell.

Brown Rice Protein Powder

This protein powder is created by a specialized manufacturing process that treats brown rice with enzymes that cause separation between the carbohydrates and the protein allowing a concentrated form of protein from rice. Not only is this a great protein source to help you build muscle and strength, but it can help you lose fat and keep cholesterol levels low.

This appears top be due to its ability to activate specific proteins known as PPARs (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors) and LXRs (liver X receptors). PPARS and LXRs typically work by activating genes that decrease fat and cholesterol production, and enhance fat burning. In addition, brown rice protein has about four times the amount of arginine that whey contains. This means it can help to boost nitric oxide (NO) and growth hormone (GH) levels.

Take: 20 grams of brown rice protein powder before and after workouts and as snacks between meals. Or add about 10 grams to your typical protein shake. You can also look for a mixed protein that provides brown rice protein and other beneficial proteins, such as whey.

Rank: 6 - While brown rice protein powder has clear benefits that milk proteins like whey and casein don't offer, it is inferior to them for building muscle. I would only recommend using this form of protein powder exclusively if you are vegan. And I would only suggest adding it to your whey and casein if you have the money to do so, or you use a mixed protein powder that includes it in the mix.

Supplement Roundup: C

Calcium

Calcium is best known for its important role in maintaining bone health. But you are misinformed if you think that only old ladies need to be concerned with their bone health. Research shows that men with higher bone mineral density are able to make greater gains in muscle strength. Calcium is also critical for the contraction and relaxation of muscle tissue. In addition, calcium can help burn body fat by promoting thermogenesis and reducing dietary fat absorption. Research also shows that calcium is important for boosting testosterone levels.

Take: A supplement providing 500-600 mg of calcium two to three times a day along with 1000-3000 IU of vitamin D.

Rank: 10 – Calcium is an absolute "must have" supplement for men and women. Do NOT miss out on the benefits of supplementing with this critical mineral!

Carnosine

If you are familiar with beta-alanine then you know carnosine. Carnosine is what beta-alanine forms in muscle cells when it combines with histidine. It is actually carnosine that provides all the benefits of beta-alanine. So why do most supplement companies use beta-alanine and not carnosine? Because when you consume carnosine it just gets broken down in the digestive tract to beta-alanine and histidine, so it makes more sense to just take beta-alanine. However, some supplements do provide carnosine. Whether you take carnosine or beta-alanine, both are effective for boosting muscle strength, power, and size.

Take: 2-3 g with your pre- and post-workout shakes.

Rank: 9 – I only rank carnosine a 9 since beta-alanine (which I rank a 10) is more widely available.

Chitosan

A charged protein derived from chitin, which provides structure to the shells of crustaceans, chitosan attracts fat, binding it and removing it from the digestive system before it can be absorbed by the body. A 2006 study found that test subjects taking chitosan without dieting lost about 3 pounds more body fat than subjects taking a placebo.

Take: 2 grams before higher-fat meals.

Rank: 5 – Although research shows it can help with fat loss, it is not found in many fat loss supplements on the market today. And when it comes to spending money on supplements, you're better off going with other fat burner ingredients with higher ranking.

Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is a group of green pigments found in plants and some algae. It absorbs light necessary for photosynthesis, which sustains plant life through the conversion of sunlight into chemical energy. Chlorophyll is actually similar to heme in our red blood cells, but instead of containing iron—which gives blood its red color—chlorophyll contains magnesium, which provides the green color.

Taking chlorophyll can provide numerous benefits, mainly due to its antioxidant and antiinflammatory powers.  Research studies in humans have found that supplementing with chlorophyll daily can decrease DNA damage by over 50%. This can also help with muscle recovery. Chlorophyll may even help to boost endurance by aiding the oxygen delivery to muscles. It may also protect against certain cancers and even halitosis.

Take: 100 mg 2-3 times per day of chlorophyll or chlorophyllin (the synthetic derivative of chlorophyll).

Rank: 5 – Is chlorophyll an effective supplement for aiding your health? Yes! Do I feel it is a supplement that you really should spend money on? Not really, but if you do you should notice definite benefits.

Chocamine

Chocamine is an extract from cocoa that provides all the benefits of chocolate without the sugar or fat. Chocamine contains a number of active ingredients that help suppress appetite and increase metabolic rate, including caffeine, tyramine, theobromine, and phenylethylamine. These components also boost energy and improve mood, concentration, and alertness.

Take: 1-2 g taken one to three times per day.

Rank: 6 – Yes, chocamine is effective for fat loss, but not an essential fat loss ingredient.

Choline

This is an essential nutrient that can increase muscle strength and brain function. That's because one of the main roles that choline plays is in the formation of the critical neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is an important chemical for nerve signals, including those that signal muscles to contract. By providing your nervous system with more acetylcholine you can produce stronger muscle contractions. It can also help to enhance cognitive function and increase mental focus during workouts. Another role that choline plays is in the production of betaine, which has been shown to increase muscle strength and power.

Take: 500-1500 mg of choline from sources such as choline bitartrate, choline chloride, or choline dihydrogen citrate per day with meals in one or two divided doses.

Rank: 6 – A lot of people who try choline do like the benefits, especially for those who train really intensely. But it is not a critical supplement to add to your regimen.

Supplement Spotlight: Choline

A recent study from the University of Granada in Spain confirms the benefits of choline on brain function. Researchers supplemented the diet of healthy adult rats with choline for 12 weeks. They reported in the journal Behavioral Brain Research that compared to the animals not receiving any supplemental choline, the rats consuming extra choline had better attention and learned new tasks faster.

Jim's Take-Home Message

Choline is a supplement that can be highly beneficial for your mental acuity throughout the day, which can enhance your performance on the job or in the classroom. Plus, it can help you remember where you left your gym bag. This is just one reason why I included AlphaSize alpha-GPC (alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline) in my Pre JYM pre-workout formula. You will notice the word choline at the end of this ingredient's name. That's because alpha-GPC is a specialized phospholipid that supplies choline. in fact, getting choline in this form appears to be superior than taking regular choline. That's because this form of choline is taken up by the brain better than standard choline, meaning that you can take far less alpha-GPC and get more choline into the brain, where it’s needed to provide its benefits.

The alpha-GPC in Pre JYM will help to boost your focus in the gym, your mind muscle connection, your strength and power, your muscle endurance, and your growth hormone levels. These benefits of alpha-GPC are all supported with clinical research studies and with data from in the gym. Plus, the alpha-GPC in Pre JYM makes this product a preworkout supplement that not only delivers benefits to your workouts and your physique, but also enhances your brain function and quality of life throughout the day.

If you want to take additional choline, go with about 500-1500 mg of choline from sources such as choline bitartrate, choline chloride, or choline dihydrogen citrate per day with meals in one or two divided doses.

Reference

Supporting Research

Moreno, H., et al. Chronic dietary choline supplementation modulates attentional change in adult rats. Behavioral Brain Research 243:278-285, 2013.

Chondroitin

Chondroitin is a glycosaminoglycan, which is an important component of joint cartilage that helps maintain its structural integrity. It may also inhibit destructive enzymes that break down joint tissue. Chondroitin and glucosamine have a synergistic effect on promoting joint health when taken together, which is why so many joint products combine the two.

Take: 800–1,500 mg as chondroitin sulfate or chondroitin hydrochloride daily in 2–3 divided doses. It may take up to three months of continuous use before effects are noticeable.

Rank: 8 – If you are having joint pain, or if you just want to avoid future joint pain, chondroitin is definitely an ingredient you want to use.

Chrysin

Also known as 5, 7-Dihydroxyflavone, this flavonoid compound is found in many plants, as well as in honey. It has been known for years to inhibit the aromatase enzyme to inhibit the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. Research from Texas Tech University found that it can also directly increase testosterone production by enhancing the testis ability to convert cholesterol into steroid hormones, such as testosterone.

Take: 1 gram of chrysin with breakfast, lunch, and the last meal of the day.

Rank: 7 – Although it can be an effective test booster, chrysin is not as available or as effective as many other test boosters. However, if a testosterone boosting product includes it, it is definitely a bonus.

Cinnamon Extract

Cinnamon contains the active component hydroxychalcone. This natural chemical works by imitating the effects of insulin in muscle cells, as well as allowing better binding of insulin to its receptors on muscle cells. What does all that mean? It means that you get numerous benefits relating to lean muscle growth. Insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone that drives carbohydrates and amino acids into muscle cells. Plus, with more of the carbs being pushed into the muscle fibers, it is less likely than those carbs will be stored as body fat. In addition, insulin acts like a key in muscle cells to directly turn on the process known as muscle protein synthesis, which boosts muscle growth.

Take: 100-250 mg of cinnamon extract, such as the trademarked cinnamon extract Cinnulin PF, with meals.

Rank: 7 – Yes, cinnamon extract is effective, but you don't need to go out and spend money directly on it. However, if a product such as a creatine product, post-workout product, or fat burner includes it, that is a definite plus.

Collagen Hydrolysate/Gelatin

This is a protein that helps regenerate and synthesize cartilage. Collagen hydrolysate typically comes from pigs, cows, oxen, chicken or sheep. One study on osteoarthritis patients reported that those taking collagen had significant pain reduction and could reduce their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Collagen hydrolysate also stimulates the synthesis of type II collagen in cartilage.

Take: 10 g per day, taken for at least three months.

Rank: 6 – it does have some good feedback on its ability to prevent joint pain, but it's not a supplement I suggest you run out and buy.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

This naturally occurring group of healthy omega-6 fats found in meats and dairy products can help incinerate body fat while simultaneously increasing muscle mass and strength. CLA appears to work to rid body fat by boosting metabolic rate and inhibiting the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL). LPL allows fat cells to take up fat from the bloodstream and store it as body fat. By inhibiting LPL, CLA encourages the body to burn fat instead of store it.

Not only does this decrease body fat, but it also spares muscle mass, because if your body is burning body fat it doesn't need to break down muscle for fuel. In fact, numerous studies have reported that subjects taking CLA lose body fat while simultaneously gaining lean muscle mass and strength. And this research also suggests that a good portion of the body fat that is lost comes from the midsection.

Research also suggests that CLA increases the amount of fat that is burned during sleep. This, too, will not only help you get leaner, but it will help to prevent the breakdown of muscle protein for fuel while you sleep, which can help you get bigger. CLA also assists in reducing the risk of certain cancers. You must supplement for at least 12 weeks for effects to take.

Take: 2–3 grams of CLA with breakfast, lunch and dinner (look for cis-9, tran-11 and/or tran-10, cis-12 on the label).

Rank: 10 – Do not miss out on the benefits of this muscle builder and fat burner!

Cordyceps

Cordyceps is a genus of fungi that include up to 400 species. However, when you see Cordyceps listed in a supplement, it is usually referring to Cordyceps sinensis, which is a parasitic fungi that actually grows on caterpillars. However, it was found that this species is not related to most of the other Cordyceps species and was renamed Ophiocordyceps sinensis. It has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its bountiful benefits.

Among its many benefits, it has been suggested to help maintain levels of hormones such as testosterone, increase the body's resistance to stress, improve cholesterol levels, regulate insulin release, and increase energy and mental focus. The active components in Cordyceps appear to be cordycepin, nucleotides, polysaccharides, and amino acids. Research shows that cordyceps may boost testosterone levels by binding to specific receptors on the testicles to influence them to increase testosterone production. Other research shows that it can increase muscle endurance, likely by increasing oxygen consumption.

Take: 500-1500 mg of cordyceps in standardized extract form two to three times per day with one dose about 30-60 minutes before workouts and another before bed for best results.

Rank: 7 – Although there are some positive clinical data and anecdotal reports on Cordyceps, it is not completely essential to take. Plus, the real issue is whether or not the supplement you are taking includes the proper species of cordyceps that has been shown to provide the major benefits.

Curcumin

This active ingredient in the spice tumeric not only protects you from cancer and heart disease, but has been shown to relieve the pain and inflammation associated with healing from surgery and arthritis. Research has also shown that it can significantly reduce cartilage destruction by inhibiting chemicals that instigate inflammation in the body.

Take: 200-500 mg of turmeric extract standardized for at least 85% curcumin two to three times per day.

Rank: 7 – It is a very effective ingredient, but I do not suggest that you run out and buy it. However, if other products you use do include curcumin that is quite a bonus.

Supplement Roundup: D

D-Aspartic Acid

Also known as D-aspartate, this amino acid is produced naturally in the pituitary gland where it stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone (LH). LH travels via the bloodstream to the testicles where it causes a boost in testosterone production. D-aspartate is also produced inside the testicles and acts on Leydig cells (special cells in the testicles that produce testosterone) to increase testosterone production, as well as the production of sperm. This appears to work due to D-aspartate's ability to increase levels of the nucleotide cyclic AMP, which is a messenger that acts to boost testosterone production. A study performed by Italian scientists reported that men taking the D-aspartate for just 12 days increased their testosterone levels by over 40%.

Take: 3 grams of D-aspartic acid in the morning.

Rank: 8 – While D-asp is quite effective for boosting testosterone levels, it is not critical for everyone to take.

Supplement Spotlight: D-Aspartic Acid

As men age, we have to be worried about testosterone levels.

After all, it is THE male hormone and it is responsible for muscle growth, strength, fat loss and sex drive. If its levels drop, so do muscle size, muscle strength, and sex drive, while body fat goes up. Low testosterone levels can predispose a man to depression, as well. Since test levels peak when men are in their early to mid-20's and start to really fall by the time we're 30, at my age I have a lot to be concerned with. But I've researched a number of testosterone boosters and experimented with numerous ones to see which ones work well, and luckily there are quite a few that work well. One natural testosterone booster that works very well is D-aspartic acid.

Aspartic acid is an amino acid, much like arginine and glutamine. It's used to build proteins in the body. However, the only form of amino acids that the body recognizes for building protein is the L (left-handed or levorotatory) form, such as L-arginine, L-glutamine, L-leucine, and L-aspartic acid. The L refers to the configuration of the molecule.

The other configuration that amino acids can be in is the D (right handed or dextrorotatory) form. Most D-amino acids are not recognized by the body, yet D-aspartic acid is. D-aspartic acid is formed when the enzyme aspartate racemase converts L-aspartic Acid into D-aspartic acid. This usually occurs in the testicles, pituitary gland, and nerve cells. It's this D-form of aspartic acid that has testosterone-boosting properties.

Most of the research discovering what D-aspartic acid does and how it does it has been done in animals. However, Italian scientists did study the effects of D-aspartic acid supplementation in men aged 27-37 years old. Every morning for 12 days 43 men took either 3 grams of D-aspartate along with the B vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid or a placebo, which contained just the vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid without the D-aspartate.

The researchers from Italy reported in a 2009 issue of the Journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology that the subjects taking the D-aspartate supplement increased their LH levels by over 30% and subsequently their testosterone levels by over 40% as compared to the guys getting just the B-vitamin placebo.

Jim's Take-Home Message:

D-aspartate works well as the clinical study found, but also as thousands of people have reported to me on their own experience. And personally I have used it with good success to keep my own falling test levels up. Since the Italian study used 3 grams of D-aspartate per day, most D-aspartate products supply that much per dose, and that is the dose that I recommend going with as well.

Although the clinical study supplied all 3 grams of D-aspartic acid in one sitting, you can also try splitting the dose throughout the day in two or three doses. Some guys report that D-aspartate supplements irritate their stomachs similar to the way that creatine did in the days before it was micronized. Taking smaller doses more frequently throughout the day may help to avoid these stomach issues yet still provide testosterone-boosting benefits.

D-Aspartic Acid May Need Cycling

I recommend cycling most testosterone boosters due to what is known as a negative-feedback loop on testosterone. In other words, when you increase testosterone levels, the higher test levels influence the brain to reduce LH production, which then results in lower testosterone levels. You can try several different cycles with D-aspartate. The simplest one is taking it for eight weeks straight and then stopping it for four weeks before repeating for another 8-week cycle. Another option is to take it for two weeks and stop for one week and cycle it in that fashion. No one is sure yet what the best cycle is for D-aspartate.

We're not even sure yet if 3 grams is the optimal dose, since it's all based on one study, so the cycle depends more on your body's own biochemistry. If it gives you quite a big boost in testosterone levels then you may need to do a shorter cycling scheme. If it results in only a small boost in T levels, you may not need to ever cycle it. In that case, taking D-aspartate long term may be your best bet to keep D-aspartic acid levels optimal in the pituitary and the testicles. So try different cycles to see which one works best for you and let me know what you find works for you.

Does D-Aspartic Acid Increase Estrogen?

There is some data in boars that shows D-aspartate actually increases the activity of an aromatase enzyme in the testicles that converts testosterone into estrogen, so some experts are warning that D-aspartate increases estrogen levels. However, the only data on estrogen and D-asp is in boars. Although the Italian study in humans did not measure estrogen levels, with the fact that testosterone levels increased so dramatically it is unlikely that D-aspartic acid is converting testosterone to estrogen in male testicles. So at this point it looks like this is estrogen effect is specific to certain animals.

However, taking a natural aromatase inhibitor is a good idea whenever you take any testosterone booster. When testosterone levels go up, estrogen levels also can go up a bit. By taking a supplement that inhibits the aromatase enzyme you can keep estrogen low and bump testosterone levels up even higher. A good supplement to do this is damiana, also known as Turnera diffusa. Research from the University of Mississippi discovered that damiana contains the active ingredients pinocembrin and acacetin, which are potent inhibitors of the aromatase enzyme. Take 300-1000 mg of Damiana extract three times a day such as morning mid-day and night.

Can Women Take D-Aspartic Acid?

D-aspartic acid is not a supplement that females should take. It will not increase testosterone levels in females since women obviously do not have testicles, but also because an increase in LH provides different effects in women. Namely it triggers ovulation. By falsely raising LH levels, it could interfere with the normal menstrual cycle. For a supplement that can help women to naturally increase testosterone levels, read my Female-Friendly Supplements article.

References

Supporting Research

D'Aniello, A. D-Aspartic acid: an endogenous amino acid with an important neuroendocrine role. Brain Res Rev 2007;53(2):215-34.

Furuchi T, Homma H. Free D-aspartate in mammals. Biol Pharm Bull 2005;28(9):1566-70.

Homma, H. Biochemical behavior and function of free D-aspartate in the mammalian body. Seikagaku 2008 Apr;80(4):277-86.

Nagata Y, Homma H, Lee JA, Imai K. D-Aspartate stimulation of testosterone synthesis in rat Leydig cells. FEBS Lett 1999;444(2-3):160-4.

Topo, E., et al. The role and molecular mechanism of D-aspartic Acid in the release and synthesis of LH and testosterone in humans and rats. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 7(120), 2009.

D'Aniello, S., et al. D-Aspartic acid is a novel endogenous neurotransmitter. FASEB J. 2011 Mar;25(3):1014-27.

Lamanna, C., et al. Involvement of D-Asp in P450 aromatase activity and estrogen receptors in boar testis. Amino Acids. 2007 Jan;32(1):45-51.

Lamanna, C., et al. Endogenous testicular D-aspartic acid regulates gonadal aromatase activity in boar. J Endocrinol Invest. 2006 Feb;29(2):141-6.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

Produced by the adrenal glands, the hormone DHEA is involved in several important physiological processes in the body. These include supporting insulin function, increasing bone density, promoting mental health and, of course, working as a precursor for testosterone. Research has found that DHEA helps reduce body fat, particularly from the midsection. It also increases levels of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), an anabolic factor critical for muscle growth.

Although DHEA is thought of as an "old man" supplement, levels can start to decline in the early 20s in males who train intensely, so supplementation can help to add mass and strength as well as drop body fat for males of any age. It's also a good supplement for women to take since DHEA is the main way that women make testosterone. Yes, even women need some testosterone.

Take: 25-100 mg once or twice daily

Rank: 9 – I highly recommend DHEA for any one from 25 on up.

Supplement Spotlight: DHEA

So why should you take a DHEA supplement?

Because DHEA levels start to decline as we age, which can result in decreased testosterone production, a decrease in energy levels, a decline in brain function and mood, as well as an increase in body fat. But don't think that you're in the clear until you hit your 40's. DHEA levels in the body have actually been found to steadily decline by about 5% per year after the age of 21-24 years old. In addition to this, intense training can also cause a major drop in DHEA levels.

Studies have shown that periods of ultra-intense training and physical stress can lead to a severe drop in DHEA and testosterone levels in as little as five days. By supplementing with DHEA, you can help prevent the fall in DHEA levels that occurs with aging and with intense training. This may allow you to train more effectively and recover quicker, ultimately resulting in increased muscle and strength gains, as well as enhanced fat loss.

DHEA Can Aid in Fat Loss

Research in both animals and humans has found that DHEA helps to reduce body fat. Studies in overweight adults have reported that not only do subjects taking DHEA experience major losses in body fat, but the majority of the fat comes off the midsection. DHEA helps to reduce body fat by turning on a receptor known as Peroxisome Proliferator-Activator Receptor Alpha (PPAR alpha). Activating PPAR alpha works to turn on genes that increase fat oxidation (burning) and genes that decrease fat storage. Research also has discovered that DHEA increases levels of insulin-like growth-factor-I (IGF-I) in the body. This anabolic growth factor is critical for muscle growth. By supplementing with DHEA you can help to add more mass and strength, as well as drop some body fat.

I suggest you take 50-100 mg of DHEA twice per day, such as with breakfast and dinner.

References

Supporting Research

Gomez-Merino, D. et al. Immune and hormonal changes following intense military training. Mil Med. 2003 Dec;168(12):1034-8.

Chatard, J. et al. Cortisol, DHEA, performance and training in elite swimmers. Int J Sports Med. 2002 Oct;23(7):510-5.

Orentreich, N. Age changes and sex differences in serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate concentrations throughout adulthood. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1984 Sep;59(3):551-5.

Digestive Enzymes

Enzymes are proteins that act as catalysts in the body, enabling metabolic processes to occur at lightning speed. They also break down the macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fat—we eat. Of course, the ones of most importance to those of us who train and eat a high-protein diet are the protease enzymes that break down protein. Supplementing with these enzymes helps you better digest the protein you take in and therefore enables you to absorb more for enhanced muscle growth. Research also shows that they can also help accelerate muscle recovery after workouts as well as reduce swelling and speed the healing of injuries.

Take: 250–500 mg of protease enzymes about 15 minutes before meals. Choose an enzyme formula that contains some or all of the following: trypsin, chymotrypsin, pepsin, pancreatic enzymes, bromelain, and papain. Many protein powders now include various enzyme mixes, such as Aminogen, which has been shown in research studies to enhance protein absorption.

Rank: 8 - Digestive enzymes, especially proteases can help with absorption and therefore recovery and growth. I don't think that you necessarily have to go out and buy digestive enzymes to add to your regimen unless you tend to have digestive issues when you eat meals or down protein shakes, but if your protein powder has enzymes added to it that can be a good bonus.

Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE)

DMAE was originally marketed in the 1960s as a prescription drug to enhance learning and memory in individuals with attention disorders. Research shows that it leads to higher choline levels in the brain, better than taking choline itself. This effect seems to be due to the fact that DMAE inhibits the breakdown of choline, which should lead to higher acetylcholine levels and, thus, better mental function and even muscle strength. Plus choline is involved in the production of betaine, which has been shown to increase muscle strength and power.

Take: 100-200 mg once or twice a day

Rank: 8 – DMAE is a potent brain booster.

Dimethylamylamine

This stimulant, also known as both methylhexanamine and 1-3-dimethylamylamine, is the active ingredient found in geranium oil. Although it has been compared to caffeine, many claim that its stimulant effect is much different. Anecdotal reports claim that dimethylamylamine provides a euphoric effect that enhances workouts better than caffeine. In addition to increasing alertness, it can enhance mood, decrease hunger, and aid fat burning.

It's able to do all this because its chemical structure is similar to the neurohormone norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is related to epinephrine (adrenaline), which ramps you up, boosts your brain function, increases your metabolic rate and enhances your body's ability to burn up fat for fuel. This all leads to more intense workouts with greater strength and endurance.

Take: 25-50 mg of dimethylamylamine or 150-500 mg of geranium extract about 30 minutes before workouts.

Rank: 7 – I know that many people out there would give this stimulant a 9 or even a 10. However, personally, I would give it a 6 at best. But again that is due to my personal preference. So I bumped it up a bit to a 7 given that many people do love it. I just don't like the kind of jolt it gives. Plus, many guys are reporting that it appears to be a stimulant much like ephedrine, which can cause some temporary impotence.

Vitamin D

Of all the vitamins, D ranks up there as my number one most critical vitamin to take.

While most of the vitamins—such as vitamin A, the B's, C, and E—are essential, vitamin D is actually a non-essential vitamin. That's because the skin produces vitamin D upon exposure to light. Sunshine triggers vitamin D production in skin by converting cholesterol into vitamin D3.

There are actually two forms of vitamin D: Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). The liver and kidneys are the primary sites in the body where both forms of vitamin D are converted to the active form, the steroid hormone 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D. Any extra vitamin D that's not needed by the body is stored in fat tissue for future use. Vitamin D2 is found in plant sources and some supplements and can only enter the body through the diet. Vitamin D3, which can be produced through sun exposure or from animal products, such as fatty fish, or supplementation, is the more potent form of the vitamin as it tends to be more readily converted to the active form in the body.

In theory, your body should be able to make all the vitamin D you need. I'll repeat: In theory: But the reality is that your body does not even come close to making adequate levels of vitamin D, regardless of whether it's during sunny summer months or dark and dreary winter. That's why it is so essential to supplement with vitamin D—that is, if you want to reap all of the benefits that vitamin D has to offer.

Vitamin D Helps Keep Bones Strong

The most obvious role of vitamin D is in promoting bone health. Vitamin D helps to maintain bone health by aiding calcium absorption and regulating the movement of calcium in and out of bone tissue. Without D, you would absorb less than half of the calcium you do from food and supplements.

Vitamin D Promotes Better Immunity

Vitamin D also keeps your immune system up to fight off the germs like colds and flu that can beat you down and leave you missing workouts. It's been theorized that this is one reason why the flu is so prevalent in the colder darker months of the year. With less sunshine in the winter months, most people have lower levels of vitamin D and an impaired immune system. Vitamin D is important for the immune system because it actually triggers T cells, which are the immune system's killer cells. They basically do the dirty work to "knock off" these invaders.

Vitamin D May Also Help to Protect You from Certain Cancers

One study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that women living in sunnier regions of the world had higher blood levels of vitamin D, as well as a significantly lower risk of ovarian cancer, than those in less sunny regions. Another study found that sun exposure and a diet rich in vitamin D lowered the risk of breast cancer. And sunshine exposure has also been correlated with lower risk of colon cancer.

Vitamin D Has Potential Brain Benefits

Low levels of vitamin D are associated with psychiatric and neurological disorders, as well as a bigger cognitive decline with aging. One study from Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis) reported that vitamin D deficiency was associated with depression and diminishing cognitive performance. In fact, Georgia State researchers reported that individuals with vitamin D deficiency have an 85% greater risk of developing depression.

In addition to the many health benefits covered above, vitamin D has several physique and performance benefits as well. Considering that Vitamin D actually gets converted in the body to a steroid hormone, it makes sense that it would have effects on muscle fibers.

Vitamin D Can Help to Increase Muscle Strength and Muscle Size

The active form of Vitamin D binds to specific receptors found on muscle cell membranes and in muscle cell nuclei. When it binds to these receptors it enhances muscle contraction and protein synthesis, which is the build-up of muscle protein. Research shows that certain types of these receptors may be responsible for greater muscle size and strength. Although you can't alter the type of Vitamin D receptors you have in your muscles, making sure you have adequate Vitamin D levels in your body can help ensure your muscle vitamin D receptors are activated for optimal muscle function, strength and muscle growth.

Vitamin D Can Help to Reduce Body Fat

One study reported that college females at the University of Southern California with lower blood levels of vitamin D had significantly higher levels of fat in their muscles than those with high blood levels of vitamin D. You can store body fat under the skin, as well as in your muscles. Having fattier muscles not only means that you have more body fat, but it can also result in weaker muscles with less endurance.

The higher fat content of the muscle impairs mitochondrial function, so the muscles produce less energy and can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity. Although they're not sure precisely how vitamin D prevents fat accumulation in muscle, it is well known that vitamin D and calcium work together to encourage fat loss. One recent study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition reported that when men and women consumed a breakfast containing over 500 mg of calcium and about 350 IU of vitamin D, they burned up more calories and fat, and ate 320 calories less throughout the day as compared to when they started the day with a breakfast containing about half as much calcium and D.

Vitamin D is Critical for Maintaining Healthy Testosterone Levels.

Since vitamin D is produced in the body from cholesterol, as is testosterone, it makes sense that higher vitamin D levels can encourage higher testosterone levels in men. In fact, Austrian scientists from the Medical University of Graz reported that men with higher blood levels of vitamin D had significantly higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) than those with low levels of vitamin D in their blood. Having lower SHBG means that more of that testosterone produced is free to get in the muscles and increase muscle growth.

But that doesn't mean that vitamin D necessarily raises testosterone levels. That's why this group of researchers did a follow-up study on men to see if vitamin D supplementation actually could raise testosterone levels. And wouldn't you know it, it did! The Austrian researchers reported in a recent issue of Hormone and Metabolic Research that the men receiving just over 3300 IU per day of vitamin D for one year had a 25% increase in testosterone levels while those getting a placebo had no such rise.

That's right, supplementing with a high dose of vitamin D raised testosterone levels by 25%!

Jim's Vitamin D Dosing Recommendations

To take advantage of all that vitamin D has to offer, such as increased bone health, better immune function, enhanced mood and brain function, higher testosterone levels, increased muscle size and strength, and less body fat, I recommend that go with 2000-6000 IU per day taken with meals. Your best bet is to take it with calcium. Since you can only absorb about 500-600 mg of calcium at a time, I suggest you take vitamin D and calcium two to three times per day. For example, take 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D and 500-600 mg of calcium with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That will nab you a total of 3000-6000 IU of D and 1500-1800 mg of calcium. By the way, high doses of calcium have been found to also raise testosterone levels in men. So guys, be sure to take it!

Regardless of what brand of vitamin D you use, be sure that you supplement with D3. One study from Creighton University reported that D3 supplements were about 90% more potent at raising levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the storage form of vitamin D in the body, than vitamin D2. It also increased stored levels of the vitamin three times more than D2 did.

Note for Those Taking Medication

If you take any medications regularly, you may want to notify your doctor that you are taking high doses of vitamin D. Vitamin has been found to activate a gene for a liver enzyme known as CYP3A4 that metabolizes about half the drugs routinely prescribed. Don't worry, there's no danger in taking vitamin D with medications. The only problem is that with higher levels of the liver enzyme, your body will break down some medications more quickly, meaning that you may have to take a higher dose. Of course, the sad news is that your doctor will likely have no idea about this. Hopefully, if you do have to take medication, your doctor is the type who keeps up with research.

Supplement Roundup: E

Echinacea

Well known for its immune-protective properties, this herb has been shown to offer some defense against colds and flu, and can be used to protect the immune system from the stress caused by heavy training. Research shows that echinacea can also reduce the length and severity of colds and flu. Echinacea may also boost the appetite, which can be critical in mass-gaining phases for those who have trouble eating enough. Some research even suggests that echinacea increases production of the oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which could enhance endurance.

Take: Look for products that contain Echinacea purpurea, standardized to 4% sesquiterpene esters, or Echinacea angustifolia standardized to 4% echinacosides. Take 200-400 mg two to four times per day during flu season or at the onset of a cold. To stimulate appetite, take 400–500 mg before meals. If taken for longer periods, it is best to cycle this supplement in periods of three weeks on and one week off.

Rank: 8 – The research on Echinacea has shown both positive benefits and not such significant results, depending on the study. But anecdotal reports that I have received show definite positive results for preventing colds and flu, as well as reducing their length and severity.

Elderberry Extract

Elderberry extract comes from the fruit of the Sambucus plant, which is a species of shrubs. A study published in the journal Phytochemistry reported that phytochemicals in Elderberry directly bind to the H1N1 virus and block it's ability to enter cells, which is critical for its infectious effects. And if you do contract the flu this season, research shows that taking elderberry extract can reduce the duration by half.

Take: 2-4 grams of elderberry extract four times per day when sick or to prevent getting sick.

Rank: 8 – Elderberry extract can be quite effective when you have the flu.

Evodiamine

This extract from the Evodia rutaecarpa fruit burns fat by stimulating specific receptors in the central nervous system that boost metabolic rate. Evodiamine also reduces hunger and slows the digestion of food, which not only keeps you feeling fuller longer, but causes a slow and steady release of glucose into the bloodstream. This helps prevent spikes in insulin, which could help to prevent fat gain and maintain better energy levels.

Take: 30-50 mg two to three times per day

Rank: 6 - There is not a lot of research that directly supports evodiamine's fat-burning effects, and even anecdotal reports are not all that stellar.

Supplement Roundup: F

Fiber

Fiber is an indigestible complex carbohydrate. Consumption of soluble and insoluble fiber enhances the health of the digestive tract and improves the absorption and efficiency of bodybuilding diets. Fiber increases the bulk of food consumed, helping to process it, and keeps the digestive system working at peak efficiency. It can also slow down the digestion of food to keep blood glucose and insulin levels to prevent fat gain. Plus it can help to blunt hunger and help you to eat less when dieting. Fiber can also help to lower cholesterol levels.

Take: you should consume about 10-15 g of total fiber in your diet for every 1,000 calories eaten from food or supplements. If you do not get enough fiber in your diet, consider taking 3-5 grams of fiber from supplements before large meals to help slow digestion. You can do this one to three times per day.

Rank: 6 – Many of you may be surprised by the low ranking I gave fiber. While I would give dietary fiber a 10, this rank of 6 refers to fiber supplements. If you are eating an adequate amount of vegetables than a fiber supplement is absolutely unnecessary. So it's a supplement that few of you will need. Plus, getting in too much fiber can actually reduce testosterone levels.

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

This modified amino acid is what the essential amino acid tryptophan is converted to before it forms serotonin and melatonin in the body. 5-HTP has been shown to increase luteinizing hormone and gonadotropin-releasing hormone in men to boost testosterone levels. Serotonin can help curb food cravings, especially for carbohydrates; and melatonin can help relax you before bed. All this makes 5-HTP great to take at night to promote testosterone production and ease food cravings when they are often strongest. In a study from the University of Rome, subjects taking 5-HTP ate fewer calories per day and lost an average of 11 pounds in 12 weeks, while a placebo group had difficulty limiting caloric intake and lost only 2 pounds in the same period.

Take: 50-1300 mg of 5-HTP 30-60 minutes before bedtime (those taking prescribed antidepressants should not use 5-HTP before discussing it with a physician).

Rank: 6 - While 5-HTP is an effective supplement, it's really not that critical to use unless you have anxiety issues or trouble relaxing at night or trouble with intense carb cravings. While it can boost testosterone levels, there are far more effective test boosters out there. But this testosterone-boosting effect is a good fringe benefit if you need to use it for its other properties.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. Unlike the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in fish oil, this form of omega-3 fat is not usable by the body and must be converted to EPA and DHA. There is some debate over how much alpha-linolenic acid gets converted in the body, but recent research suggests that it is converted at a decent rate to offer similar benefits as taking fish oil. If on a low-fat diet, men should limit the amount of flaxseed oil consumed to 30 grams per day; when combined with a diet low in fat, it has been shown to reduce testosterone by 15% within 30 days.

Take: 1-2 tablespoons per day with food. It is easy to add flaxseed oil to protein shakes, such as a nighttime casein shake, it adds a nutty flavor and can help to further slow down the digestion of the protein.

Rank: 4 - While flaxseed oil provides an essential omega-3 fat there is little reason to use this form over fish oil. Fish oil directly provides EPA and DHA in known quantities, while with flaxseed oil you have no real idea of how much alpha-linolenic acid is being converted to EPA and DHA in the body. Why risk it unless you are vegan?

Forskolin

Forskolin is the active compound in the herb Coleus forskohlii, a member of the mint family. It enhances fat loss mainly by activating the enzyme adenylate cyclase, which is also involved in testosterone production. This leads to a cascade of events including activation of hormone-sensitive lipase, which allows fat stored in fat cells to be broken down for use as fuel. It also activates the testicles to produce more testosterone. One study from the University of Kansas (Lawrence) found that overweight men who took forskolin for 12 weeks lost considerably more body fat and had higher levels of testosterone than a placebo group. The same biochemical pathway that forskolin uses to target fat cells also allows it to enhance thyroid production and relax blood vessels.

Take: Look for products that include Coleus forskohlii extract standardized for 20–50 mg of forskolin 2–3 times daily before meals.  As with any supplement that boosts testosterone levels, it may be best to cycle forskolin by taking it for 8-10 weeks then stopping it for 2-4 weeks before taking again.

Rank: 8 - Forskolin is an effective supplement for both fat loss and testosterone boosting. Some people, however, report stomach issues from taking it. If this is the case, you can try taking it with meals.

Fucoxanthin

This is the active ingredient in the brown seaweed Wakame, known scientifically as undaria pinnatifida. This carotenoid increases the activity of uncoupling proteins in fat cells. Uncoupling proteins increase the activity of the metabolic machinery in cells, making them burn more fuel to produce adequate energy. In other words, you burn more calories, such as fat, each day. Research shows that mice and rats supplemented with fucoxanthin lost significantly more abdominal fat than animals receiving a placebo. Overweight females given wakame extract had a higher metabolic rate and lost significantly more bodyweight and body fat than a placebo group.

Take: Look for products that contain fucoxanthin extract such as in the trademarked form Xanthigen and take 150–200 mg 2–3 times per day before meals.

Rank: 6 - Although fucoxanthin is a very interesting and promising ingredient that can be an effective fat burner, there are far better ones to take. There is just not yet enough solid research and anecdotal reports to know just how effective this ingredient is. However, if you are using a commercially prepared fat burner product that contains fucoxanthin among other fat burning ingredients, it is definitely a benefit.

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

GABA is an amino acid, but it is actually classified as a neurotransmitter.

This means that it signals nerve impulses. GABA has numerous beneficial effects on the nervous system, or the brain. Research has found that supplementing with GABA can boost brain function and also enhance sleep. In addition to enhancing brain function and sleep, GABA can also enhance muscle growth. A few earlier studies have reported that GABA supplementation does stimulate the release of growth hormone (GH). Despite these studies, few people were taking GABA for boosting muscle growth via boosting GH. A newer study, supporting GABA's GH-boosting benefits should get you more interested in this multi-faceted amino.

Shenandoah University (Winchester, VA) researchers had weight-trained men take either 3 g of GABA or a placebo before working out or just resting. The researchers reported that when the subjects took GABA they increased their GH levels after the workout by about 200% and increased GH levels at rest by about 400% as compared to when they took the placebo. That significant a boost in GH levels means that taking a GABA supplement may help to boost your muscle growth and fat burning, as GH is involved in both processes.

Research has confirmed that subjects who consistently increase GH levels during workouts make significantly greater gains in muscle growth and strength, as well as lose greater body fat than those who experience lower GH levels. Recent evidence has questioned how critical the GH response is for gains in muscle mass and strength and points to local factors, such as insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) levels produced within the muscle, as the more critical components influencing muscle growth and strength gains. Either way, it's too early to discount GH's influence on muscle growth and strength. Plus, few would argue with its benefits for fat burning.

Dose: Take 3-5 grams of GABA without food about 30-60 minutes before workouts to boost GH levels and potentially boost muscle size and strength gains, as well as to burn off more body fat. Also, consider taking another 3-5 gram dose 30-60 minutes before bed to boost GH levels higher during the night for even better recovery.

Reference

Supporting Research

Cavagnini, F., et al. Effect of acute and repeated administration of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) on growth hormone and prolactin secretion in man. Acta Endocrinol 1980 Feb;93(2):149-54.

Ginseng

Although I don't often recommend ginseng as a "must have" supplement, I do get a lot of questions regarding its efficacy.

When it comes down to it, ginseng is fairly effective for boosting performance in the gym and on the field, as well as aiding muscle growth and fat loss, and it even offers numerous health benefits. Here's my review of one of the world's oldest supplements:

Ginseng refers to the species Panax ginseng, known less formally as Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng or just Asian ginseng in general. Other ginsengs are also available, such as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Japanese ginseng (Panax japonicus), and tienqi ginseng (Panax notoginseng). However, Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is not a true ginseng and therefore is a completely different supplement that will not be discussed here.

Ginseng is the most studied herb on the planet for physical performance. It's been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been popularly used as an energy enhancer and sexual stimulant. Today we know that the primary active ingredients in ginseng are saponins referred to as ginsenosides. There are 13 known ginsenosides and these provide the wide range of benefits that ginseng is known for, such as enhanced physical performance, better muscle recovery, increased sexual performance, boosted brain function and mood, as well as a host of physique and health-promoting benefits.

Several Studies Have Reported That Ginseng Can Help to Boost Physical Performance.

Although most of these studies were concerned with muscle endurance, one study reported that male and female subjects taking 1 gram of Panax ginseng every day for six weeks increased muscle strength in both the upper body and lower body. Ginseng may increase strength due to its ability to enhance the body's own creatine production.

A 2010 study by Chinese researchers found that mice supplemented with ginseng for 15 days experienced less fatigue during forced swimming. They discovered that one of the main ways that ginseng blunted fatigue in the mice was by increasing levels of enzymes involved in creatine production. This allowed them to have more quick energy and burn fewer carbohydrates. Greater levels of the quick energy from creatine can lead to more strength in the gym, as well as muscle growth.

In athletic circles, ginseng is best known for its ability to boost muscle endurance.

One study from Germany reported that trained athletes taking Panax ginseng alone or in combination with vitamin E experienced significant improvements in their aerobic capacity. A study from California State Polytechnic University reported that subjects taking Panax notoginseng for 30 days increased their exercise time to exhaustion by over 7 minutes. Canadian researchers reported that rats receiving ginseng for just 4 days increased their exercise time to exhaustion due to ginseng's ability to spare glucose and burn more fat for fuel. This not only explains why ginseng increases muscle endurance, but also why it can aid fat loss.

Ginseng May Also Delay Fatigue by a Direct Effect on the Brain.

Korean researchers found that rats given ginseng before exercise showed increased time to exhaustion for treadmill running due to lower serotonin production from tryptophan in the brain. Serotonin signals fatigue, which reduces muscle strength and endurance. By inhibiting serotonin production, you can train stronger for longer. This also suggests that if you take ginseng pre-workout with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) you can get a synergistic effect on fatigue prevention. Since BCAAs decrease tryptophan uptake by the brain, while ginseng decreases the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, taking both will better fight fatigue and help you train with more intensity.

Spanish researchers, on the other hand, discovered that rats given ginseng for 12 weeks experienced higher mitochondria number and greater blood vessel density of their muscles. This means that ginseng may enhance endurance by getting more nutrients and oxygen from the blood to the muscles. With more mitochondria, the muscles are better equipped to convert those nutrients and oxygen into fuel.

Italian scientists reported that trained subjects taking a combination of ginseng, dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE), vitamins and minerals for six weeks increased their aerobic performance through increased oxygen consumption. This may have been a result of greater blood vessel density as seen in the Spanish study, or it may be due to a boost in nitric oxide (NO) levels, which ginseng has been shown to increase.

Seoul National University (Korea) researchers reported that rabbits fed ginsenosides had improved blood vessel dilation due to greater NO production. Austrian researchers also found a dose-dependent increase in NO production in cells treated with Panax ginseng extract. This is likely due to ginseng's ability to increase the activity of the enzyme that converts arginine into NO in the body. Having higher NO levels during workouts means that ginseng will not only increase your endurance, but will also boost muscle size and strength gains as research confirms.

In addition to aiding your performance during workouts with increased strength and endurance, ginseng can also aid muscle recovery after the workout is over to encourage greater gains in muscle mass.

Spanish scientists fed rats a Panax ginseng extract after completing a bout of downhill running—known to cause muscle damage similar to doing negative reps. The rats that received the ginseng had significantly less damage to their thigh muscles as well as reduced inflammation.

Korean researchers reported that male college students taking ginseng for one week experienced less muscle damage and inflammation after an intense uphill running test as compared to those receiving a placebo. This allowed the subjects taking ginseng to maintain higher insulin sensitivity after the workout, which could further lead to enhanced recovery and muscle growth since insulin is an anabolic hormone. Chinese researchers reported similar findings in male college students following four weeks of ginseng supplementation.

Another group of Korean researchers found that 8 weeks of Panax ginseng supplementation in men decreased exercise-induced oxidative damage by increasing free-radical scavenging. This not only helped to prolong their exercise time to exhaustion, but also aided their ability to recover from the workout. Similar results were also reported in animal studies. Less oxidative damage means that the muscles can recover quicker.

Ginseng May Protect Muscle Tissue

Ginseng not only protects muscles from oxidative damage following aerobic exercise, but it also appears to protect the muscles from mechanical damage, such as occurs with weight lifting. Brazilian researchers have reported in several studies that ginseng supplementation protects the muscle fibers from damage during eccentric exercise (negative rep training). They discovered that ginseng better protects membrane integrity and decreases the accompanying oxidative damage. This can result in better muscle recovery and growth. One way that this is possible is through maintenance of higher insulin sensitivity, as discussed above. Since insulin is critical after workouts to instigate muscle recovery and growth, this can lead to greater gains in muscle size and strength.

In addition to performance and recovery benefits, which can lead to physique benefits as well, ginseng provides a plethora of health benefits. And these can also help to further improve your performance and your physique.

Numerous studies confirm that ginseng supplementation lowers blood glucose levels and insulin levels. Although the precise mechanism is not known, this may be due to ginseng's ability to increase insulin sensitivity at muscle cells, as discussed above. It may also be due to ginseng's ability to slow down gastric emptying, which means it takes longer to digest carbohydrates eaten. Regardless of how it works, this benefit could clearly help to keep body fat off.

Ginseng Boosts Energy

Ginseng has been found to boost alertness and cognitive function in studies that go back decades. It also has been found to significantly improve mood. But while taking care of your head is fine and dandy, there is another head, at least in the case for men, that can be improved with ginseng. Yes, ginseng has been well-documented for thousands of years to boost sexual performance. This may be due to its ability to boost the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland in the brain. LH travels to the testicles where it encourages the production of testosterone, the hormone critical for sex drive. Of course, ginseng's documented ability to boost NO levels is also important for sexual performance. NO increases blood flow, and the most critical area for a guy to get more blood is down there in that other head.

In addition to all this, research suggests that ginseng offers even more benefits. Clinical studies have found that ginseng can boost immunity and help prevent colds and flu, as well as decrease their duration. It may even fight off cancer, prevent diabetes, and improve general well being and quality of life.

Jim's Rating: On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being "Must have" supplements such as whey protein, creatine, and BCAAs, ginseng is rated a 7

Jim's Dosing Recommendations: Take 500-1000 mg of Panax ginseng (Chinese ginseng), Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng), Panax japonicus (Japanese ginseng), or Panax notoginseng (tienqi ginseng) standardized for at least 3% total ginsenosides, two to three times per day, with one of those doses taken 30 minutes before workouts.

References

Supporting Research

Bucci LR. Selected herbals and human exercise performance. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72:624S–36S.

McNaughton L. A comparison of Chinese and Russian ginseng as ergogenic aids to improve various facets of physical fitness. Int Clin Nutr Rev 1989;9:32–5.

Wang LC and Lee TF. Effect of ginseng saponins on exercise performance in non-trained rats. Planta Med. 1998 Mar;64(2):130-3.

Forgo I. Effect of drugs on physical exertion and the hormonal system of athlete [in German]. MMW Munch Med Wochenschr. 1983;125:822-824.

Liang MT, Panax notoginseng supplementation enhances physical performance during endurance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Feb;19(1):108-14.

Wang J, et al. Anti-fatigue activity of the water-soluble polysaccharides isolated from Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Jul 20;130(2):421-3.

Min YK, et al. Red ginseng inhibits exercise-induced increase in 5-hydroxytryptamine synthesis and tryptophan hydroxylase expression in dorsal raphe of rats. J Pharmacol Sci. 2003 Oct;93(2):218-21.

Ferrando A, et al. Effects of a standardized Panax ginseng extract on the skeletal muscle of the rat: a comparative study in animals at rest and under exercise. Planta Med. 1999 Apr;65(3):239-44.

Pieralisi, G., et al. Effects of a standardized ginseng extract combined with dimethylaminoethanol bitartrate, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements on physical performance during exercise. Clin Ther. 1991 May-Jun;13(3):373-82.

Kang, SY, et al. Dietary ginsenosides improve endothelium-dependent relaxation in the thoracic aorta of hypercholesterolemic rabbit. Gen Pharmacol. 1995 May;26(3):483-7.

Friedl, R., et al. Stimulation of nitric oxide synthesis by the aqueous extract of Panax ginseng root in RAW 264.7 cells. Br J Pharmacol. 2001 Dec;134(8):1663-70.

Jung HL, et al. Effects of Panax ginseng Supplementation on Muscle Damage and Inflammation after Uphill Treadmill Running in Humans. Am J Chin Med. 2011;39(3):441-50.

Hsu CC, et al. American ginseng supplementation attenuates creatine kinase level induced by submaximal exercise in human beings. World J Gastroenterol. 2005 Sep 14;11(34):5327-31.

Kim SH, et al. Effects of Panax ginseng extract on exercise-induced oxidative stress. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2005 Jun;45(2):178-82.

Cabral de Oliveira AC, et al. Protection of Panax ginseng in injured muscles after eccentric exercise. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Feb 28;97(2):211-4.

Reay, JL, et al. The glycaemic effects of single doses of Panax ginseng in young healthy volunteers. Br J Nutr. 2006 Oct;96(4):639-42.

Reay JL, et al. Effects of Panax ginseng, consumed with and without glucose, on blood glucose levels and cognitive performance during sustained 'mentally demanding' tasks. J Psychopharmacol. 2006 Nov;20(6):771-81. Epub 2006 Jan 9.

Vuksan, V., et al. American ginseng improves glycemia in normal individuals with normal glucose tolerance: effect of dose and time escalation. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 19:738–744, 2000.

Vuksan, V., et al. Similar postprandial glycemic reductions with escalation of dose and administration time of American ginseng in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 23:1,221–1,226, 2000.

Vuksan, V., et al. American ginseng reduces postprandial glycemia in nondiabetic subjects and subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Archives of Internal Medicine 160:1,009–1,013, 2000.

Vuksan, V., et al. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) attenuates postprandial glycemia in a time-dependent but not dose-dependent manner in healthy individuals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 73:753–758, 2001.

Koo, MW. Effects of ginseng on ethanol induced sedation in mice. Life Sci. 1999;64(2):153-60.

Kennedy DO and Scholey AB. Ginseng: potential for the enhancement of cognitive performance and mood. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003 Jun;75(3):687-700.

Kennedy DO, et al. Dose-dependent changes in cognitive performance and mood following acute administration of Ginseng to healthy young volunteers. Nutr Neurosci. 2001;4(4):295-310.

Kennedy DO, et al. Modulation of cognition and mood following administration of single doses of Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and a ginkgo/ginseng combination to healthy young adults. Physiol Behav. 2002 Apr 15;75(5):739-51.

HICA

You should know by now that leucine is one of, if not the most critical of all the amino acids when it comes to muscle growth.

And there are a number of leucine metabolites that also have anabolic and anticatabolic properties in the body, such as KIC (Ketoisocaproate) and HMB (beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate). Alpha-hydroxyisocaproic acid (HICA) is another one. HICA is formed when leucine is completely broken down and has been shown to inhibit muscle loss by blocking the action of catabolic compounds known as metalloproteinases.

The first study to test the effects of supplementing HICA was done in competitive wrestlers by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

This was just a pilot study and the results were never published. However, they were fairly impressive, nonetheless. The wrestlers were given 500 mg HICA three times per day during six weeks of intense training. They took the HICA after workouts. Yes, they did three workouts per day! I said it was during a period of intense training. At the end of the six weeks, the wrestlers added about 2 pounds of lean muscle to their frames. While this may not sound like much, the results are rather impressive considering they were training up to five hours per day, a time period in which they would be expected to lose muscle. The wrestlers also reported significantly less delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) compared to the previous six weeks when they were not receiving the supplement.

After seeing these results in wrestlers, the Finnish researchers decided to run another study in soccer players.

They gave one group of athletes 500 mg of HICA three times per day with meals while the second group received a placebo over four weeks. All of the athletes participated in an intensive training program consisting of four practice sessions, one match and two weight-training workouts each week.

As they found in the wrestlers, the soccer players receiving HICA increased their muscle mass.

The researchers reported that they added one pound of muscle to their legs. The placebo group, on the other hand, lost muscle as expected due to the high volume of training and energy expenditure over the four weeks. DOMS was also significantly less in the HICA group compared to the placebo group.

Jim's Take-Home Message

So what do these studies mean for you? Well, both studies on HICA involved periods of very intense training and often multiple workouts per day. While you may be training with a lot of intensity, I doubt that you're doing multiple workouts per day. So it's hard to confirm whether or not HICA would increase muscle mass for those who may train just an hour or 90 minutes per day. However, if you are following an intense program like Showtime or HIIT 100's while also following a strict diet, like in both of these programs, then taking HICA may work to help prevent you from losing muscle and actually help you gain muscle.

I suggest you take 500 mg of HICA three times per day, which is the dosing that they used in the studies. Take it with meals. On workout days take one dose with your pre-workout shake and another with your post-workout shake.

If you do try HICA, let me know how it worked for you and what your training and diet were like. So far, the feedback that I have received has not been very promising. But none of the guys that were using it were training hard enough or dieting strict enough in my opinion.

Reference

Supporting Research

Mero, A. A., et al. Effects Of alpha-hydroxy-isocaproic Acid On Body Composition, Doms And Performance In Athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 7:1, 2010.

HMB-FA

Lately, I've been getting a lot of questions regarding HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate), and specifically, the new form of it: HMB-FA, which stands for "HMB free acid." For those of you who don't remember when HMB came on the scene many years ago -- also with a lot of hype -- I'll give you a brief introduction to this supplement.

What is HMB?

HMB is a metabolite of the branched chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine. Because HMB and HMB-FA are closely related, they do act in a similar manner in the body, but they also act differently. HMB was first hyped when studies done on untrained subjects showed that it increased muscle mass and strength gains better than a placebo. But follow-up studies on trained subjects showed that the effects weren't all that impressive. So, HMB fell off of everyone's radar and become another one of those supplements that looked promising in lab studies, but just did not hold up when used in the gym.

The main way that HMB is believed to work is by aiding muscle recovery following muscle damage. So, it makes sense that novice trainers experience decent gains from HMB, since their unaccustomed muscles experience the most muscle damage from weight training. When you weight train, you gain a protective mechanism within the muscle fibers that helps prevent further muscle damage. The more trained you are, the harder it is to induce further muscle damage, which is probably why HMB studies on trained lifters failed to show significant improvements in muscle mass and strength gains.

This new form of HMB, HMB-FA, is generating a lot of hype again for this supplement. HMB-FA is better taken up by the body than the standard form. The excitement over HMB-FA is due to a new study showing some impressive results, and one supplement company, in particular, is banking on this study to sell its new HMB-FA supplement. The question is: Do the study and HMB-FA really hold up to prove that HMB-FA is the Holy Grail?

The Study

Before I get into the study, let me state that some of the researchers are friends and colleagues of mine. The study was not flawed in terms of research. What is flawed is the way that a certain supplement company is exploiting the data to sell one of its new products. Unfortunately, the data does not really hold up in the real world, as I will explain.

In the study, which was performed at the University of Tampa, researchers had 24 weight-trained men follow a 12-week, periodized strength-training program that mainly consisted of a full-body training split. After eight weeks of training, the program utilized overreaching for two weeks. Overreaching is when you increase training intensity and/or volume and/or frequency to a point that will eventually lead to overtraining, but then you back off before you enter a state of being overtrained. (*If you are familiar with "My Six Weeks To Sick Arms" program, then you know about overreaching all too well.) During the final two weeks of the study, the subjects tapered off the training.

The first group received one gram of HMB-FA three times per day, with one dose taken 30 minutes before workouts. The second group received a placebo at the same times. The subjects had not taken any other supplements for three months prior to the study, and did not take any other supplements during the 12-week study. Remember that point, as it is an important one that I will bring up again later on.

The results that everyone is talking about are the differences in strength gains that the subjects taking HMB-FA experienced compared to the placebo group. The subjects taking the HMB-FA gained about 60 pounds more on their squat, 15 pounds more on their bench press, and about 30 pounds more on their deadlift at the end of the 12 weeks. Admittedly, those are insane results! But before you empty out your bank account and start downing HMB-FA all day, there's more information you need to know.

When the strength differences between the HMB-FA group and the placebo group were compared after the first eight weeks of training—when the subjects were following the regular periodized training program—the only significant strength difference was for the squat, which was 15 pounds greater for the HMB-FA group than the placebo group. The difference in bench-press strength and deadlift strength between the two groups was not significant.

But how does a difference in strength gained on the squat go from a 15-pound difference after eight weeks of training, to a 60-pound difference four weeks later? The massive strength and power differences came only after the subjects were put through the overreaching protocol, which caused the placebo group to lose strength and power. So, the massive strength differences are largely due to a drop in strength in the placebo group.

A drop in strength after overreaching is to be expected for the placebo group. Remember: The subjects were not taking a pre- or post-workout protein shake, carbs, BCAAs, creatine, beta-alanine, betaine, or anything pre- or post-workout to allow them to recover properly after several grueling weeks of overreaching. In other words, they were undernourished for the training that they were doing.

In fact, three of the 12 placebo subjects (25% of the group) dropped out, two due to injury. It's no surprise that the group getting the HMB-FA would see far better gains following overreaching than a group getting nothing. HMB works by decreasing muscle breakdown from intense training; it prevents the decrease in muscle strength and muscle size that undernourished subjects experience during overreaching.

The HMB-FA group also gained significantly more muscle mass and dropped more body fat than the placebo group. The HMB-FA group gained about 15 pounds of lean mass in 12 weeks, while the placebo group gained about five pounds of lean muscle. However, after the eight-week mark, before the overreaching portion of the study, the placebo group gained almost seven pounds of muscle. The overreaching phase of the training actually caused them to lose about two pounds of muscle. Again, this is to be expected when getting no proper nutrients around workouts that involve overreaching.

The HMB-FA group also lost more than 10 pounds of body fat over the 12 weeks, while the placebo group lost about four pounds of body fat. HMB has been shown in previous studies to aid fat loss, so these results are expected.

Metabolic Technologies, Inc. funded this study and supplied it with the HMB-FA, known as BetaTOR, which is also in the supplement that is banking on the results. In addition, three of the study's authors are employees of Metabolic Technologies, Inc. I don't want to claim that foul play was involved, since I'm not sure that any data massaging would be needed. Taking HMB-FA during an overreaching training protocol will produce better results than taking nothing -- that's pretty simple.

One could argue that designing a study that involved overreaching and provided one group nothing as far as workout nutrition and the other group with HMB-FA, was meant to guarantee better results for the HMB-FA group. But I know that many of you will find the results far less credible when the study was not only funded by the company that has a financial interest in the supplement being tested, but also co-authored by members of that company. I am providing you with that information for full disclosure purposes, so you can make your own conclusion about any potential outside influences on the study results or design.

Jim's Take-Home Message

I'll start with the question that you want me to answer: Do I think that HMB-FA is a supplement that will produce significant results for you? My short answer is "No." But let me explain in more detail.

Do I think that if you were dumb enough to follow an overreaching training program (or any training program), and didn't bother to take pre-workout and post-workout protein, carbs, BCAAs, creatine, beta-alanine, or betaine, that taking HMB-FA would provide better benefits than nothing? Absolutely!

Do I think that if you were following proper workout nutrition and taking pre-workout and post-workout protein, carbs, BCAAs, creatine, beta-alanine, and betaine and added HMB-FA to your supplement regimen that you would see a big difference? Absolutely not.

However, if, after you have your proper workout nutrition covered with pre-workout and post-workout protein, carbs, BCAAs, creatine, beta-alanine, and betaine, and you have the money to spend on HMB-FA, then go ahead and try it. I will warn you that the only HMB-FA product available on the market today costs about $70 for a 28-day supply. Speaking from experience, I can guarantee you that it won't provide $70 worth of benefits in 28 days.

The problem with research studies like this one is that to truly see if a supplement is beneficial, you have to remove all other variables, meaning all other supplements. It's one of the limitations with the results we find in the lab and how they carry over to the real world.

No one who takes their training seriously would follow a training program and not have their pre-workout and post-workout nutrition and supplementation perfected; at least, no one who follows my advice. So, the results of the study don't really apply to those who follow proper pre-workout and post-workout nutrition. Adding HMB-FA would have little added benefit to a solid supplement regimen and considering the cost of HMB-FA, it's not really worth the minimal benefits.

I would predict that if you did a similar study, but with four different groups: 1) an HMB-FA group, 2) a placebo group, 3) a pre-workout and post-workout protein, carbs, BCAAs, creatine, beta-alanine, and betaine group, and 4) an HMB-FA plus pre-workout and post-workout protein, carbs, BCAAs, creatine, beta-alanine, and betaine group, the results would be as follows: Group 1 would produce better gains in muscle size and strength than Group 2. Both Groups 3 and 4 would produce better gains in muscle size and strength than Group 1 and Group 2. Group 4 would have no additional benefits beyond what Group 3 experienced.

Many other supplements before HMB-FA also arrived on the scene with a lot of hype, thanks to research studies showing impressive results compared to taking a placebo. But in the real world, these supplements failed to produce any true benefits. Supplements like GAKIC, phosphatidic acid, colostrum, GPLC, and the original HMB all come to mind.

The problem with the hype generated from a study like this one is that everyone is looking for that magic bullet. But I have some bad news for you. That magic bullet does not exist. A single ingredient like HMB-FA is not going to deliver crazy results.

The key to getting impressive results with supplements is using a combination of ingredients that are true nutrients that work in synergy with one another, and when taken with a solid diet, provide real, long-term benefits in strength and power, endurance, muscle growth and fat loss. That's the key to taking a whey/casein protein powder blend, BCAAs, creatine, beta-alanine, and betaine, to name a few, before and after every workout. These are nutrients with a long track record in the lab and the gym that have been proven to work well together.

So, stop looking for the magic bullet in one ingredient and focus on combining the proper nutrients and proper timing of those nutrients for the best long-term and continuous results. That's what sports nutrition is really about. Once you educate yourself on nutrient combinations and timing, then you truly have found the Holy Grail.

Reference

Orotic Acid

You may have noticed the ingredient orotic acid in a number of supplements.

If not, that's because you will genuinely only see some of its salts, such as creatine orotate, or tri-creatine orotate. This is simply creatine bound to orotic acid. If you've seen this version of creatine then you've probably wondered what orotate or orotic acid is.

Orotic acid was once thought to be a B vitamin and was actually given the moniker vitamin B13.

However, today we know that orotic acid is not an essential vitamin, but is produced in our intestines by the beneficial gut microflora that live there. But if it was an essential B vitamin that we needed to get in our diet, the good news is that orotic acid is present in milk. A liter of it contains anywhere from 20-100 mg of orotic acid.

Orotic Acid Functions in the Body as a Precursor of Nucleic Acids

That basically means that it is needed to make DNA and RNA. So you can see why it was originally thought to be an essential nutrient. It still is essential for our bodies, but now we know that our bodies, or organisms that live in our bodies, routinely make it so that we do not need to get it in our diet.

Orotic Acid Is Also Important in the Production of Energy in Muscle Cells

Orotic acid is important for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main energy currency of all cells. ATP is critical for muscle contractions and is what essentially fuels your workouts. Your muscles store some ATP. And that is what you use for energy during the first few reps of a set. After that your body has to quickly produce more ATP so your muscles can keep contracting to keep completing reps. This is where creatine comes in. In the muscles, creatine gets a high-energy phosphate ion attached to it. It donates this phosphate to make more ATP (remember that the "P" in ATP stands for phosphate). Orotic acid is not only important in the amount of ATP your muscles store, but it is also important in creatine's role to produce ATP. Orotic acid enhances the formation of creatine phosphate in muscle cells.

Orotic Acid Also Increases Carnosine Levels in Muscle

As you may recall, beta-alanine combines with histidine in muscle cells to produce carnosine. And having higher carnosine levels in muscle has been shown to boost muscle strength, muscle endurance, and even muscle growth. So this is yet another way that orotic acid is important for energy and strength levels.

Now you can see why supplement scientists thought it would be a great idea to combine creatine with orotic acid. But does orotic acid, or creatine orotate hold up in the lab and in the gym? Let's take a look:

Some older research, going back a few decades did show that supplementing with orotic acid could aid muscle endurance. But these studies were limited – they were not published in highly accessible scientific journals. So there is not much to go on as far as scientific evidence to support supplementing with orotic acid to boost energy, strength, or muscle size.

Orotic Acid Has Been Proposed to Increase the Absorption of Creatine and Other Supplements

However, there is no research to show that creatine orotate is absorbed any better than creatine monohydrate or any other form of creatine. The only research done on this area has been done with the mineral zinc. Both studies concluded that zinc orotate (zinc combined with orotic acid) was absorbed in a similar manner to other forms of zinc, including zinc sulphate, zinc aspartate, zinc gluconate, zinc pantothenate, and zinc histidine. Since there is no research comparing creatine orotate uptake to other forms of creatine, and because the few studies showing zinc orotate was not absorbed any better than other forms of zinc, I would have to conclude that creatine orotate is likely not taken up any better than creatine monohydrate.

Jim's Take-Home Message

So is orotic acid a supplement that you need? As of now, I would say no.

Your body should produce enough orotic acid on it's own. As an alternative, I might suggest that you take a probiotic, such as Soloray's Multidophilus , which provides the healthy bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. For the first two weeks take enough probiotic bacteria to provide 10 billion colony forming units (cfu) daily and then follow with 1–2 billion cfu daily for maintenance. This can help you keep enough of the beneficial bacteria in our gut to produce adequate amounts of orotic acid. And you should be supplementing with a probiotic anyway since they offer so many benefits, such as enhanced immune function, better gut health, can aid fat loss and even boost performance.

Is creatine orotate or tri-creatine orotate any better than other forms of creatine?

Since there is no data to suggest otherwise, I would have to say a big NO. Even though I am a scientist, I do not base these kinds of decisions solely on research studies. So I am not just saying this because there is no research to suggest that this form of creatine is better. If a supplement is gaining a lot of buzz in gyms for being very effective then I also listen to that. Back in the mid 90's before creatine had hundreds of studies supporting its effectiveness, scientists were saying that there was not enough evidence to support it. I was NOT one of those scientists.

Even though there were just a few studies on creatine back then I was arguing with the naysayer researchers that the evidence I saw in myself and in many of my clients and friends in the gym was all I needed to see to know that creatine is effective. Of course, today we now all agree that creatine is effective. But my point to that aside is that IF creatine orotate created a lot of buzz in gyms around the world, then we ALL would have heard about it. However, orotic acid came on the supplement scene a little over 5 years ago and was promised to be the next big thing. That's right around the time that forms of creatine orotate also started popping up.

Years later, no one is really talking about how amazing creatine orotate is or orotic acid is. And that would go the same for other supplements that are combined with orotic acid, such as glutamine orotate (tri-glutamine orotate) or arginine orotate (tri-arginine orotate), which are now being sold. Of course these forms are also not taken up by the body any worse than other forms. So they are effective—I'm just saying that there is not yet enough evidence to suggest that they are any better than other forms. Take a look at creatine hydrochloride, on the other hand, which has a little research to back it up, but also a LOT of BUZZ to suggest that this form of creatine is more effective than other forms of creatine. If it works people will talk about it.

So my conclusion is that if you want to try creatine orotate, give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

As I always say, we all have different biochemistry and different supplements will work differently in different people. You won't know until you try it. But the safest bet for the money is creatine monohydrate. Research shows it works well. And if you want to spend a little more on a form of creatine that has been shown in the lab and in the gym to even outperform creatine monohydrate, then you should go with creatine HCl.

Phosphatidic Acid

Phosphatidic acid is a phospholipid. A phospholipid is a lipid (fat) that has a phosphate group attached to it. Phospholipids are a major component of cell membranes, such as muscle cell membranes. However, phosphatidic acid is one phospholipid that also works as a signaling messenger inside cells. One of the signaling proteins that phosphatidic acid appears to stimulate is mTOR, which is a critical player in muscle protein synthesis and therefore, muscle growth. And now recent research supports the notion that phosphatidic acid can promote muscle growth.

Researchers from the University of Central Florida had trained lifters follow an 8-week strength-training program.

One group of subjects consumed 750 mg of phosphatidic acid daily. A second group of subjects consumed a placebo. Both the phosphatidic acid group and the placebo group consumed a 36-gram protein, amino acid, and carb drink within 30 minutes after workouts.

They reported in a 2012 issue of the Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition that the group receiving the phosphatidic acid supplement gained about 4 pounds of muscle mass while the placebo group gained none.

The phosphatidic acid group also increased their squat strength by almost 40 pounds, while the placebo group increased their squat strength by less than 30 pounds.

Jim's Take-Home Message

Supplementing with phosphatidic acid appeared to increase muscle growth and strength gains during this study. While a 4-pound increase in muscle mass and a 40 pound increase in squat strength is nothing earth shattering in 8 weeks of training, the subjects were limited in their gains by the strength-training program they were put on by the researchers. They stuck with 10-12 reps on all sets of all exercises for all eight weeks of the training program. Had they periodized the training, such as many of my training programs, the strength and muscle mass gains may have been even more dramatic with the use of phosphatidic acid.

Phosphatidic acid is so new that you will have a difficult time find it in supplement form at the moment. I haven't even had ample time yet to test it out in my own lab and gym. But once I have some data for you, I will update you on how well it works and what doses and times to take it seem to work best. Right now all we have to go off of is this one study using a 750 mg dose. If you do find a supplement that has phosphatidic acid in it, make sure that it supplies 750 mg per dose and consider taking it before or immediately after training.

Reference

Supporting Research

Resveratrol

One supplement that I've been sure to add to my arsenal in the past few years is resveratrol.

After all, the research on resveratrol right out of the gate showed some impressive benefits. Those benefits quickly built up to include reduce the risk of cancer, aid heart health, enhance fat loss, lower estrogen levels, and increase muscle endurance. Now a new study shows yet another benefit of this powerful antioxidant found in grape skins and seeds.

Hungarian researchers had adults with type 2 diabetes take a 5 mg resveratrol supplement or a placebo twice a day for four weeks.

They studied their muscle's ability to use insulin as a measure of insulin sensitivity. They reported in a 2011 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition that the subjects receiving the resveratrol experienced a significant increase in their insulin sensitivity. This appears to be due to the antioxidant property of resveratrol, which reduces oxidative stress and allows insulin to react better at the muscle cell and increase glucose uptake.

Although the subjects had type 2 diabetes, these results have impact for the healthy bodybuilder as well. During exercise, oxidative stress increases, which could inhibit insulin signaling at the muscle cell. But resveratrol can reduce this oxidative stress and allow better insulin signaling. This can aid muscle recovery and growth.

Jim's Dosing Recommendations

Take 5-500 mg of resveratrol in the morning about 30-60 minutes before workouts without food. On rest days replace the preworkout dose with an afternoon dose

Reference

Supporting Research

Ursolic Acid

Most of you know that I am a big fan of apples as a fruit choice, especially before workouts.

Not just because they are a great slow-digesting carb source, but because they contain polyphenols that have been shown in research studies to boost muscle strength, endurance, and fat loss – especially fat from the abs. And they have even been shown to help fight cancer.

Researchers from Nippon Sport Science University in Tokyo had male rats consume either apple polyphenols for three weeks or a placebo. They measured the rats' body weight, body fat, muscle force (strength) of the gastrocnemius (calf muscle), and muscle fatigue of the gastroc before and after the three-week trial. They reported in a 2007 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise that the rats given apple polyphenols had a slightly lower body weight and almost 30% less body fat than the rats given the placebo.

The also found that the rats given the apple polyphenols gained almost 100% more muscle strength in their gastroc, and were significantly less prone to muscle fatigue than the rats given the placebo.

Another Japanese study, from the University of Arts and Sciences study had 71 obese male and female subjects consume 600 mg of apple polyphenols per day or placebo for six weeks. They measured the subjects' total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, bodyweight and abdominal fat before and after the 12-week study. They reported in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Oleo Science that subjects supplementing with apple polyphenols for just 3 weeks had significant reductions in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, body weight and abdominal fat as compared to the subjects consuming a placebo.

The rat study discovered that apple polyphenols decrease body fat by increasing the activity of genes that increase fat burning and decrease fat production and storage in the body. Although they did not determine why apple polyphenols increased muscle strength and decreased muscle fatigue they speculated that the increase use of fat for energy may have enhanced the fatigue resistance of the muscle, while the ability of apple polyphenols to decrease oxidative damage to muscle may have led to the increase in muscle strength.

The latest research shows that one of the polyphenols in apples (mainly found in the peel), ursolic acid may be responsible for a good deal of these beneficial properties.

University of Iowa researchers fed mice a diet supplemented with ursolic acid for 5 weeks and found that those getting the ursolic acid gained 15% more muscle mass while simultaneously losing more body fat than those eating a diet without additional ursolic acid.

Plus, the mice getting the ursolic acid were much stronger than the mice not getting extra ursolic acid. It appears that ursolic acid works to boost muscle growth and strength by increasing insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) levels in muscle cells. This is one of the growth factors that I have studied extensively in the lab. It is critical for stimulating muscle growth.

Other research has shown that ursolic acid may also reduce the amount of testosterone that is converted into estrogen in the body, leaving you with higher test levels. And it may also reduce cortisol levels, which further promoted the anabolic actions of testosterone.

Jim's Take-Home Message

So when it comes to selecting pre-workout fruit, you may want to stick with my advice to go with an apple. You may even want to consider taking an ursolic acid supplement before workouts. Go with about 250-1500 mg before workouts. Currently ursolic acid supplements are tough to find. My prediction is that soon you will see more pre-workout products including ursolic acid in them. Until then, the pre-workout apple is the easiest way to take advantage of this phytonutrient’s benefits.

Yohimbe

If you still think yohimbe is just a sex aid supplement, it's time to put that in the past. The extract from the bark of this West African tree, Pausinystalia yohimbe, contains the active compound yohimbine, which is now known primarily for it's fat-burning effects. It aids fat loss by specifically increasing the amount of fat that gets released from your fat cells, much like caffeine does, but via a different mechanism. That means taking both together can have additive effects on fat release. Research shows that when taken before exercise, yohimbine may more than double the amount of fat released from fat cells.

Take: Use enough yohimbe extract to provide 5-20 mg of yohimbine per dose and take two to three times per day, with one of those doses 30-60 minutes before workouts on training days.

Note: Over the last couple of years, I have received feedback from hundreds of thousands of people on my fat loss supplement recommendations. I have received a LOT of feedback from people who are quite sensitive to Yohimbe or yohimbine. When they take it they feel light-headed, nauseous, dizzy, and uneasy. If you experience this, stop taking Yohimbe or yohimbine. The caffeine will be enough to free up fat from the fat cells. Yohimbe is also illegal in numerous countries due to some safety concerns. These are all reasons why I left Yohimbe out of my Shred JYM formula and replaced it with synephrine instead. The negatives of Yohimbe seem to outweigh the benefits of this supplement.

References

Supporting Research

Galitzky, J., et al. Alpha 2-antagonist compounds and lipid mobilization: evidence for a lipid mobilizing effect of oral yohimbine in healthy male volunteers. Eur J Clin Invest 1988; 18: 587-594.

Berlan, M., et al. Plasma catecholamine levels and lipid mobilization induced by yohimbine in obese and non-obese women. Int J Obes 1991; 15: 305-315

Ostojic, S. Yohimbine: effects on body composition and exercise performance in elite soccer players. Institute of Sports Medicine, Sports academy, Deligradska 27/II, Belgrade 11000, Serbia & Montenegro.

 





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