May 192010

I see the red pill, but where's the blue one?

Not exactly a balanced breakfast...

Last time, we began delving into the subject of nutritional supplements. With such a broad spectrum of claims being made, it’s useful to narrow the field a bit this time around, and focus on things that are expressly aimed at folks who work out. That’s still a fairly wide swath, so we’re not going to be able touch on every workout supplement under the sun. If you have something in particular you’re curious about, leave a note in the comments, or send us an email at

Show of hands: Who thinks all this stuff is just a bunch of marketing-fueled malarkey? (Yeah, I still love the word “malarkey.” At some point, I’ll manage to gain some traction with my plan to bring “gadzooks” back into the vernacular, too.)

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Apr 192010
Snakes in a Flask!

Modern snake oil, from Vietnam (courtesy of w a a on Flickr)

Q: What is a dietary supplement?

A: A dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet.

Source: United States Food & Drug Administration

This is the first installment of a multi-part series of articles, taking a look at the various facets of the nutritional supplement field. This time around, we’ll be looking at the more mundane, or at least less-freaky-sounding, end of the spectrum – stuff you’re apt to find in a casual perusal of your local drug store or supermarket. Basically, things like vitamins and less-esoteric herbs… things you won’t need to need to skill up (or head to a specialty store, either online or in the big blue room) to gather, basically.

One thing that you’ll become intimately familiar with, whether you’re looking at the latest workout-blasting powder or something as simple as a multivitamin, is the asterisk (*), which appears on pretty much every single thing that proclaims to offer a health benefit.

* – These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What this means is that there is a whole buttload of leeway here, and, furthermore, that many of the nutrients don’t have any kind of recommended daily amount (RDA). In short, it’s the Wild West out there – anyone can say anything does whatever they want. As a result, a lot of research has been done to support or debunk the efficacy of various supplements, which has resulted in a little bit more clarity on the subject, as well as this really cool graph.

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Sep 162009

Thats a nice six-pack, too.

That's a nice six-pack, too.

Repeat after me: Crunches, leg-raises, and situps do not give you killer abs.

In all probability, you already have moderately decent abs, they’re just shy. Hiding. Phased out. Or, you know, well-insulated. Unless you’re incapable of holding yourself upright, or have been corset-training for years, your abs (and your entire core, for that matter) are strong enough to keep the entire upper half of your body from folding over on your keyboard, as well as provide a platform for any upper-body lifting you’re doing.

There’s exactly one move that is guaranteed to flense that insulation from your six-pack: pushing back from the table. Hm, that sounds suspiciously like one of the main components of “eat less and exercise more.”  There’s a reason: for guys, definition in the abdominals tends to happen in the high single digits as far as body fat percentage. For women, who have a higher essential body fat level, your abs will show up in the mid to low teens. This is tough territory to get into without a lot of discipline and dedication, not to mention attention to what you’re putting in your mouth.

Truthfully, crunches and situps are a good way to mess up your back, even with one of those contraptions you see advertised at three in the morning. (Want to protect your back? Strengthen your butt.)

[Via @Fitness_tips on Twitter]

Aug 282009

Protein_shakeA friend of ShrinkGeek approached me on my blog with a question about protein shakes:

I was wanting to know if you knew anything about Muscle Milk [Light].  I take it twice a day as part of my “trying to lose 30lbs and strengthen my heart” workout. I was looking for something to help recover after the workout as I was not in great shape when I started and felt weak at the end of the day. Because I was looking to lose weight I needed it to have a very low sugar count. This seemed like the best thing that wasn’t some scary Mc-Muscle powder from GNC. I’ve lost 10lbs in 6 weeks while toning my body in the process.

First off, congrats on the excellent progress so far!

Protein, not to put too fine a point on it, is what your body uses to build and repair pretty much everything from muscles to fingernails.  Making sure you get enough of it is a great way to recover after a workout, especially if you’re trying to build some muscle and tone up. There has also been some research that suggests adding protein to a healthy nutritional regimen can contribute to weight loss. (I’m not talking going all the way to Atkins-land, just getting a little more protein.) With that said, there is also a body of research that shows this isn’t the case. The waters are a little bit muddy on this point, to say the least.

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