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The Hierarchy of Athletic Supplements

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The name of the game is PERFORMANCE. That’s what it’s all about. Whether you’re on the field, at home behind closed doors or in the office, your ability to perform is the bottom line. Perform well and you make the grade. Score the winning goal and you’re a hero, but miss the shot one too many times…and you’re history. Success in our world is measured by our ability to execute action. Performance reflects mental, emotional and physical competence.

The good news is that anyone can improve their performance, regardless of age or gender. All it takes is desire and a little organized planning. There are twelve basic variables which influence athletic performance. The first three are what many elite, professional and world class athletes rely on. Genetics, youth and illicit doping agents (drugs). Then you’ve got pain tolerance, desire to win, coaching, training technique, experience, skill developed through practice, natural ability and high-tech exercise equipment.

And finally, there’s nutrition. OPTIMUM NUTRITION. Perhaps the single most important variable for long-term health but one which is seldom put into practice by athletes and coaches. Optimum nutrition means eating the best of the right foods. Whole natural food. Foods rich in micronutrients and selected according to your body and blood type, training objectives, health status and biochemical individuality. Optimum nutrition also includes the correct use of reputable dietary supplements, a concept I refer to as “The Intelligent Choice”.

Primary Essential Micronutrients

The primary essential micronutrients include 8 amino acids, 2 fatty acids, 13 vitamins and about 20 minerals. Essential means indispensable or absolutely necessary to life. These are the ones our bodies either can’t make in sufficient quantities or can’t make at all. To optimize performance you need to obtain all of them with precision in the right balance.

Without sufficient chromium, vitamin E, zinc and essential omega-3 fatty acids, insulin efficiency is greatly reduced. That means creatine loses it punch and somatomedin C (IGF-1) production goes way down. If you lack manganese, the cartilage in your knees will scream when you squat with weights, and without adequate B12, B6 and folic acid, dietary protein can evolve into toxic levels of homocysteine, causing blood platelets to stick together and arteries to clog up. Get the synergy picture?

Don’t assume you’ll get everything you need from a “balanced diet”. You won’t. Besides, define “everything.” Do you know exactly how much of what you need and how to obtain it? Have you ever analyzed the micronutrient density of your food or determined the blood plasma and intracellular levels of enzymes and vitamin cofactors in your own body? I’m not talking about minimum levels. I’m talking about optimum quantities of nutrients associated in research with life extension, disease prevention and maximum performance.

This is my advice. Start your program by taking a good quality, high potency multiple vitamin and mineral. Buy it from a health food store. Add some Ester C, vitamin E and The Sport Oil (mix it in your whey protein shake). From there you can expand into a mixed carotenoid combined with retinol (Vitamin A). Add a B-complex, keep the C & E, drop the multi- and add a mineral only complex with a touch of added vitamin D, or combine with the mineral complex a separate, non-rancid form of cod liver oil, which will provide vitamin D as well as naturally occurring EPA and retinol. There, now you’ve got an excellent foundation.

Multiple Source Antioxidants

Energy is essential to life and health. But it comes with a price. The conversion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates into ATP, our body’s atomic energy currency, produces by-products called free radicals. So does breathing. And it gets worse when you train, because working muscles demand plenty of oxygen. More oxygen inhaled through the lungs produces more oxygen radicals.

Oxidizing free radicals exist in many forms and love to play dirty. They slowly disrupt our cell structure and cause damage to our DNA. That’s like a shot below the belt. So in the same way that male athletes wear padding and a plastic cup for protection in sport, we can also protect our cells and genetic hardware by ingesting a broad range of antioxidants via natural food and dietary supplements. Things like beta-carotene, lutein, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, magnesium and zinc.

But if you’re a goalie in the NHL, you wear a “special” cup made of metal surrounded with extra padding. Who wouldn’t? And so it is with anyone who wants extra protection against uncontrolled free radical attack. The kind and quantity you never see until you really challenge yourself in sport, exercise and physical activity. For these and other free radical species, I include grape seed extract, coenzyme Q10, glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid and n-acetyl-cysteine (NAC).

Whey Protein Isolate

Protein is the cornerstone of human structure, nutrition and health. It supplies the amino acids we need to build, maintain and repair the foundation of our body. Protein is not stored like fat or carbohydrate and must be partitioned in sufficient quantities throughout the day to prevent fatigue, weakness and depression. As a primary macronutrient, protein is also utilized for energy and influences our metabolism as a constituent of hormones, immune cells, enzymes and brain neurotransmitters. Protein directly affects how we look and feel.

The best whey proteins are isolates (90% protein) derived from multiple extraction methods, including cross-flow membrane ultrafiltration, ion-exchange and microfiltration. A small percentage of predigested peptides called hydrolysates, formed by enzyme modification and reaction with water (hydrolysis) should also be present to enhance absorption and assimilation.

No other protein exceeds the biological value (BV) of whey protein isolate (WPI). This means your body can retain and utilize the nitrogen in WPI better than the nitrogen in eggs, meat, fish and soy. WPI also boosts immune function better than any known protein (enhances thymus function, raises glutathione levels and supplies antioxidant peptides which scavenge free radicals).

Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine is a natural compound formed in everyone’s body from three amino acids (glycine, arginine and methionine). It is synthesized primarily in the liver and pancreas, and is transported through the blood to skeletal muscle. Once delivered to its destination, creatine moves across the cell membrane with the help of insulin and several enzymes, where it then participates in a complex energy array. Creatine helps restore levels of muscle ATP in the absence of oxygen, providing fuel for repetitive exercise and activities which require immediate energy for maximum performance.

Creatine monohydrate is a white, crystalline powder. As the most popular and reliable oral supplement form of creatine in the world, it provides more free creatine per gram (88%) than creatine citrate (44%) creatine pyruvate (60%) or creatine phosphate (62%). Creatine monohydrate is recognized by the vast majority of health professionals, clinicians, elite athletes and authorities as the most reliable and efficacious form of creatine, and is supported with the most research.

Don’t be fooled by misleading absorption claims. Creatine monohydrate with carbs disassociates in the gut into “free creatine” and is rapidly absorbed through the intestinal wall. The time it takes to enter the blood and saturate muscle fibers isn’t the issue. It’s inefficient insulin metabolism that non-responders need to improve. And outside of safety, legitimate performance data specific to growth of muscle, vertical jump height, sprint speed, muscle strength and muscle endurance is all that matters.


Glutamine is the most common free amino acid in the body. It is highly concentrated in the bloodstream and forms a vast intracellular pool in muscle cells. Glutamine plays a key role in muscle metabolism and immune function. During stress, muscle tissue produces large quantities of glutamine to support wound healing and fight infection. Immune cells require glutamine for their replication and depend on healthy, functional muscle as their primary source. Without sufficient glutamine, the immune system loses its strength and vitality.

Supplemental glutamine enhances muscle cell volume which improves nitrogen retention and protein synthesis. As a derivative of protein, this “conditionally essential” amino acid functions as a building block for glucosamine synthesis, which plays an important role in tissue remodeling and cartilage regeneration. Glutamine is required for numerous performance dependent reactions in the body, including those which affect brain metabolism, cognitive function and neurotransmitter activity.


HMB (beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate) inhibits the breakdown of protein and reduces muscle damage associated with virtually any form of strenuous activity! When used in conjunction with phosphatidyl serine and vitamin C, HMB can offset the muscle wasting and immune suppressing effects of cortisol, a steroid adrenal hormone. Cortisol levels can remain chronically elevated in the blood in response to emotional trauma, sleep deprivation, recreational drug abuse, stress, injury and high volume strenuous exercise.

HMB also contributes to the process of beta-oxidation (fat-burning). When compared to a placebo group in university studies, exercise participants not only lost more body fat, but gained more strength when their diet included three grams of this supplement. HMB is a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine and is a natural component of human breast milk. It strengthens the immune system by enhancing white blood cell production and may increase aerobic performance by enhancing peak oxygen consumption and extending lactate threshold. Every runner, triathlete and endurance athlete should consider HMB.

Assessory Nutrients

These products are like icing on the cake. D-Ribose is a remarkable product. This constituent of ATP helps increase energy in the heart and skeletal muscles and can shorten your recuperation time after strenuous exercise, physical labour or sport. It's also an excellent supplement for people with poor circulation and ischemic conditions that cause a decrease in blood flow and oxygen availability to the heart and skeletal muscles, such as coronary artery disease (clogged arteries) and peripheral vascular disease.

To enhance fat-burning, experiment with ephedrine or its more mild chemical cousin synephrine. Try an Ester C electrolyte mix to compensate for heavy sweating and mineral loss. Use a standardized panax ginseng as an adaptogen to support the adrenals. Tyrosine helps with pre-workout motivation and both gingko biloba and phosphatidylserine (PS) can improve your cognitive function. Consider a probiotic friendly bacteria supplement reinforced with fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Think of the benefits of soy isoflavones and the plant sterols/sterolins for your immune system.

Accessory nutrients aren’t essential, meaning you can live without them. But they will definitely add more value to your supplement program and your quest for health. Follow the science and choose your accessory nutrients wisely. Don’t get conned into tribulus, androstenedione, fat-blockers, sport bars saturated with trans-fatty acids or weight-gainers loaded with fructose and empty carbohydrates.

Medicinal Agents

Use these products to treat injury, pain or temporary health problems such as colds, flu and infection. Homeopathic remedies are wonderful for adults and pose no threat to children. Consider glucosamine sulfate, MSM, SAMe or salmon oil (EPA) for joint problems. Mix golden seal with echinacea, thymus extract or garlic extract for colds. Try shark liver oil, lysine and pine bark extract (pycnogenol) for herpes infection. Use botanical creams and lotions to soothe irritated skin.

Purchase a copy of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing published by Alive Books. It’s a great guide and provides a tremendous wealth of information on health and healing. Check out the section on Sports Injuries. Identify the underlying cause of your problem and learn to work with your body’s inherent and natural ability to heal itself. Try the remedies found in Nature’s Pharmacy first before using OTC and prescription drugs.