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Keep nutritional supplements in perspective

This is an excerpt from Men's Body Sculpting - 2nd Edition by Nicholas Evans.

Supplement Stack

In the same way that your exercise regimen evolves by climbing the ladder of intensity, your fuel intake can evolve with supplementation. However, keep the need for nutritional supplements in perspective. As the name suggests, these products are intended to supplement a balanced diet. They don't replace the need for food, nor do they compensate for a poor diet. Nevertheless, consuming the right food and the best supplements will improve efforts at muscle gain and fat loss. Enhancing your physique with nutritional supplements is a safer choice than chemical assistance with anabolic steroids.

The idea that certain substances enhance sporting performance is not new. In fact, the notion dates back to the first Olympic Games in 776 BC. Historical records describe some athletes using herbs and plant extracts to gain a competitive edge. Not so long ago, a protein shake meant a glass of whole milk with a few raw eggs thrown in. Over the past few decades, we have witnessed major developments in sport nutrition. Health food stores have become as commonplace as coffee shops, and the catalog of different products can be confusing. New must-have products are emerging so fast, it's tough to keep up.

Over the years, I have witnessed many products come and go. New supplements get hyped as the next best thing, only to disappear without a trace by your next birthday. Sadly, the quality of some supplements is questionable. We've all seen those amazing advertising claims that seem too good to be true. It's tough for consumers to distinguish fact from fiction, and we should not have to spend hours scanning the medical literature to determine whether a company's research claims are bogus. It isn't right that consumers are misled into parting with hard-earned cash for an overpriced product that is no more effective than powdered milk, particularly if that supplement could cause more harm than good.

If I were to list the thousands of products available on the market today, you'd have to sift through a compendium the size of a phone book. Instead, I narrow my discussion to the supplements I believe are most useful for muscle building and fat loss.

There are six common reasons for using nutritional supplements:

  1. To conveniently boost calories. Supplements are ready to eat anytime, anywhere.
  2. To add fuel and increase protein intake.
  3. To gain an ergogenic edge, boosting your workout performance.
  4. To help burn fat and lose weight.
  5. To provide a hormonal boost and help anabolism.
  6. To provide additional benefits, such as preventing joint pain or vitamin deficiency.

As I mentioned, nutritional aids are intended to supplement your diet, not replace it. None of the products listed are absolutely essential, but all of them can help build muscle and support fat loss. Based on efficacy and safety, the products currently available for bodybuilding purposes are summarized in table 13.1.

Table 13.1

I have put together a short list of the most effective supplements on the market today. Each product has qualified for inclusion based on its track record and scientific research. But keep three points in mind. First, the list contains only products that can help you build muscle and lose fat legally. I have not included products that are illegal or those not backed by scientific research. Nor have I included products that have other potential benefits such as improved sexual performance, restful sleep, or a reduced risk of colds and flu. It is all about sculpting a better body, so the supplements are streamlined to this topic. Second, science is constantly moving forward. In the near future, new products might be added to this list, and some might be withdrawn. Third, laws differ from country to country, and although a substance may be banned in the United States, it can be legal in other parts of the world.

Meal-Replacement Products

A meal-replacement product (MRP) does exactly what its name suggests. It provides a convenient way for you to consume all the nutrients you'd expect from a complete, healthy meal. The main advantage of a good MRP is convenience. It can be consumed anytime, anywhere, with minimal preparation. What's more, when you're outside of the home, you don't have to rely on traditional fast-food eateries, where the calorie content of the meal is an unknown quantity. The product label of a good-quality meal replacement tells you exactly what you're eating. MRPs are also generally cheaper than your average fast-food meal.

A good MRP should provide nutrients in the proportions you need, such as 50 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrate, and 10 percent fat. It should also contain all the essential vitamins and minerals. The difference between a good bodybuilding MRP and other formulations is the relative content of protein and fat. Try to choose a product containing at least 30 grams of protein, with no more than a few grams of fat. Match the calorie content of the meal replacement with what you would expect from a regular meal—around 300 calories. MRPs are available in powder form (mixed with water), in ready-to-drink bottles, or in bars that look like candy bars.

MRPs are a reliable source of fast, convenient food. They are not directly ergogenic; they won't boost your workout performance. They will, however, enhance recovery by providing all the essential muscle-building nutrients. The liquid formulation is easily digested and more readily absorbed than a meal of solid food, so you won't feel bloated although your hunger will be satisfied.

Depending on your daily schedule, you can substitute an MRP for any meal. You should consume at least three meals of solid food each day, but an MRP is ideal for either of the other two meals, typically eaten at midmorning or midafternoon. As long as your MRP is from a reputable manufacturer, there's no cause for health concerns, but do make sure it's not loaded with fat calories.


Protein is a component of all living cells and is essential for the growth and repair of body tissues. Although the foods such as tuna and egg whites, are excellent sources of protein, preparing them can be inconvenient, and making them tasty sometimes means adding unwanted calories.

Alternatively, protein supplementation is a convenient way of increasing your intake and ensuring you get your daily requirement of amino acids. The most effective muscle-building supplements contain whey protein, which has a biological value (BV) of more than 100. To make protein supplements even more convenient, some products are packaged ready to drink or are available in the form of tasty bars.

To meet your daily protein requirement, each of your meals should contain at least 30 grams of protein. Your intestine will absorb 30 to 40 grams of protein per meal. If you want to stay lean, make sure your protein supplement is not loaded with extra carbohydrate or calories. Consuming 30 to 40 grams of protein with each meal is not harmful if you have good kidney function and you stay well hydrated.

More Excerpts From Men's Body Sculpting 2nd Edition