The old cliché “you are what you eat” has special meaning for most athletes. Of course, there’s always the athlete who succeeds in spite of himself. But for most of us, proper nutrition is important, especially for lifters looking to increase strength through training that makes heavy demands on physical and emotional reserves.
To withstand these stresses, our diet must be optimized so we can weather the storm of workouts, as well as repair and strengthen during the following calm. However, in looking for that elusive edge, many feel they must go beyond a well-balanced diet, and they may be willing to try almost anything to enhance their athletic performance.
To feed the unquenchable appetites of potential (and often naive) successes, a massive industry has burgeoned to supply the athlete with as grand a menu as his aspirations, offering a variety of supplements which are guaranteed to match and surpass anabolic steroids in enhancing performance; and people believe what they create a need for.
Yesterday’s snake oils are today’s ergogenic aids, the stuff of which dreams are made. In a society that wants it all and wants it easy, supplements are pitched as a shortcut to progress. Realistically, supplements are not the answer. The secret of success is hard work, good genes, motivation, hard work, perseverance and hard work.
But still the questions remain. Do you need to supplement your diet with exotic nutritional products? Is there any truth in the exaggerated claims made by these supplement companies? Is the breakfast of champions really Wheaties?
On the other hand, is a good diet all we really need? Is a good diet the same today as it was in previous generations?
I personally look with skepticism on many of the pills, capsules, powders and liquids that athletes take to augment their daily food allowance. It’s well-known that the general consensus among doctors (excluding those on supplement company payrolls) is that none of these products will significantly enhance performance in a healthy athlete. The available research is often biased and far from conclusive.
For me, non-steroidal supplements did very little. I tried many of them, then went without any, and saw no appreciable difference. But there are other athletes who do see a difference. I have talked to many lifters who swear by various products including some knowledgeable World Class lifters who can separate the wheat from the chaff. So what’s going on?
There are several possible explanations. Some athletes may be deficient for one reason or another in one or more nutrients which are subsequently supplied by the supplements. It’s possible a lifter may be unable to absorb a certain nutrient normally present in his diet. This also would make some form of supplementation necessary, often leading to improved performance.
On the other hand, some of the supplements may do more than just replace deficient nutrients. They may directly stimulate the endogenous production of some compound or hormone which may increase performance. Some supplements may increase energy levels beyond what is normal for a lifter (caffeine, ephedrine etc.) and therefore allow for more intense and focused training. Others may seem to enhance performance simply because of a placebo or psychological effect.
Perhaps the best advice I can give is to improve your diet before using any compounds or nutritional supplements. In order to meet all your requirements take in a variety of foods every day, including fresh vegetables, fruits, grains and complete proteins. Cut out all the junk food and processed foods you can. If you’re trying to put on some weight increase your fats and carbohydrates, and if you’re attempting to some weight decrease your fat and carbohydrate intake.
At least half your protein intake should come from foods which contain all the essential amino acids (complete proteins). Foods of animal origin are valuable for their protein, vitamin and mineral content.
A few months after you’ve improved your basic nutrition, try out some of the supplements and see for yourself if they increase your energy or enhance your performance. Try them out one at a time and maintain objectivity and impartiality. Most of these supplements can’t hurt you except in the pocketbook. You can determine their effect by keeping a detailed diary, taking note of all outside factors (rest, stresses, etc.) and let the truth be your judge. Then ask yourself if you really need those supplements.