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Quality – What to look for when buying supplements

By Andreas Scholz, Dipl. Ecotrophology.

A walk through the annual international health and fitness fair (FIBO) in the city of Essen shows how competitive the selling of nutritional supplements is getting. Many athletes have trouble finding the right product with so much variety being offered on the market. The following information provides help for choosing the right quality product.

What are the right supplements for you?

Particularly performance-oriented bodybuilders complement their diet with supplements. Muscle and strength growth is often difficult to achieve only with a basic diet. Bodybuilders need at least 4000 calories daily to build muscle mass. Anyone who ever tried to reach this amount with basic nutrients in the right proportion will realize that this is only possible with an enormous amount of effort and planning. Fortunately, there are supplements that can easily complement the daily nutrition of an athlete. For example, a pasta dish consisting mainly of carbohydrates can be supplemented with a protein shake. If you have no desire or time to prepare a meal high in carbs before a workout, you can alternatively drink a weight gain protein shake. Athletes have a higher demand for many nutrients that cannot be covered with basic nutrients alone.
Because of the fact that a bodybuilder’s body has to work so much harder than an average person, they require more protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids (e.g. L-glutamine), energy-producing substances like creatine, ribose or anti-catabolic substances like BCAA, HMB and free amino acids in drinking vials or tablets.

Quality Standards of Manufacturers

The media tends to display supplements as drugs instead of food, an assumption that is false. The manufacturing and to place a product on the market is subject to food laws. Horrible reports exist where waste from slaughterhouses were used for protein concentrate. These reports contribute to the passing of tighter food quality regulations. If you want to buy high-quality food supplements, you should not be fooled by low prices. Quality simply has its price. At the end of the day, this quality will only benefit your health and fitness, which is why it is so important to ensure that the manufacturer is certified, also often referred to as quality assurance. Incoming and outgoing goods should be certified according to DIN ISO 9002. The manufacturing process should be monitored for hygiene according to the HACCP concept. This is the only way the consumer can be sure that the supplements are harmless to his or her health and contain no foreign substances. This quality assurance is necessary and has its price.

Development of Supplements

Even if the requirements of the quality assurance are met, it is also important that storage tests have been carried out during the development of the supplements. Long-term studies on tolerability or undesirable side effects have to be researched and taken into consideration. The danger of new trends evolving quickly lies in the implementation of the supplements where it sometimes seems questionable whether proper tests about quality standards have been conducted.

Scientifically and Practically Tested

Numerous studies can promise positive results, but only experienced athletes can tell you if it works. In order to find out whether it actually works in reality, experienced athletes are needed. Only these athletes can really judge whether something is good or not. That is why it takes longer for a serious manufacturer to transform a new trend into a product. This provides the customer with the assurance that top athletes have tested the quality of the product(s).

What do you have to consider for every individual supplement?

Protein concentrates are most frequently associated with sports nutrition. They also seem to have the largest market share. The most popular protein concentrates are found in whey protein and milk protein, however whey protein is the most popular due to its high organic quality. In fact, there is a big difference between the two types of proteins. In comparison to milk protein, the body absorbs whey protein more quickly and it does not coagulate in the stomach. For bodybuilders supplying their metabolism with protein every 2-3 hours during the build-up phase, whey protein is definitely the right choice. The intake of milk protein is recommended for situations where you cannot eat anything for a longer period of time, such as night time.

Gelatine in Protein Concentrate?

The biological quality of gelatine is very low. You should stay away from protein concentrates that list the amino acid hydroxyproline in the amino acid profile, as it indicates the addition of gelatine. Many people are convinced that gelatine is related to joint problems, but this is a different field and has little to do with muscle building

Additional Sources of Protein

You can find protein concentrates in soy or wheat protein available on the market. Soy proteins are believed to prevent cardiovascular diseases, but cannot compete with milk or whey protein concentrates in terms of value, solubility and taste. Many consumers also suspect that the soy protein might come from genetically modified soybeans. Wheat protein has the highest glutamine content of all compared proteins, but is currently still too unknown and expensive.

Weight Gainer

These products have been developed for athletes who want to build muscle mass quickly. They consist of 50-70% carbohydrates and 10-20% protein. Many have a high proportion of simple carbohydrates such as glucose. Simple carbohydrates should generally be avoided, but are ideal for "hard gainers". The intake of simple carbohydrates increases insulin levels, leading to increased nutrient storage and an increased feeling of hunger. Weight Gainer can help anyone grow fast. What is a good Weight Gainer? The simple carbohydrates are often quite useful. It is important that the protein content is composed of several sources. High quality products have a high proportion of micronutrients or creatine.

Active Metabolic Optimizer

These are the best muscle building products on the market. For athletes who have already reached their weight and are interested in building quality muscle, this is the best choice. Active Metabolic Optimizer contain the best ingredients and have the ability to prepare the body for the workout as well as supply all the nutrients after the workout to promote a anabolic state of the organism.

Creatine Monohydrate

When creatine monohydrate came on the market six years ago, prices varied usually around 100 franc for 500 g. The low price today in comparison to the past is because of two main reasons. First, there is more competition, which automatically lowers the price. Secondly, larger quantities are being manufactured leading to a decreasing production cost. There are more and more manufactures from Asia that offer cheap and poor quality products simply because quality standards and environmental protection is non-existent. A great example poses 2-Cyanoguanidine that can often be found in poorly sanitized products from Asia. This cannot happen with European manufactures, but quality of creatine has its price. For someone looking for the best product, he or she should take a combination of Creatine and Ribose. This combination is particularly effective for the resynthesis of ATP during extreme workouts (adenosine triphosphate). Additional to the benefits of creatine, it supports the recovery of the most important energy carrier, ATP.

Cell Volumizer

Muscle cells are known to store more water through various substances such as creatine and glutamine in conjunction with glucose. The muscle looks more defined, the muscle tone changes and the leverage in the muscle fibres increases. The result is an increase in weight and strength, which does not necessarily mean any real muscle growth. Only if these effects are used in addition to intensive and effective training and an adequate supply of nutrients, a lasting progress can be achieved. It is recommended to use six-week cycles; otherwise the effect will decrease too much. Anyone who does not believe that he can build a lot of weight of pure muscle mass in a few weeks is proven wrong with these products.
But again, not all of these products have the same quality and effectiveness. Therefore, you need make sure that the selected cell volumizer also contains BCAA`s. This allows for greater strength and intensive workouts, but BCAA’s are also useful to generate energy. Products containing BCAA's prevent muscles loss during tough workouts. Creatine has many advantages including the ability to neutralize lactic acid. An additional acid buffer in the form of sodium bicarbonate provides two decisive advantages. On the one hand, the additional buffer catches even more lactic acid so the muscle does not reach hyperacidity. The sodium is needed to transport the glucose into the muscle cell (sodium-dependent glucose transport mechanism). Bodybuilders do not have to worry, sodium in this form (not as saline NaCl) does not lead to water storage under the skin, but it stores water in the muscles. Sodium is more of a friend than an enemy for the bodybuilder. Only during the last week before a competition should the sodium intake, especially in the form of cooking salt, be watched closely. If you drink enough, 1 ml per calorie intake (at 4000 kcal per day = 4 liters) should not have problems with water storage under the skin. There is no decisive scientific evidence that products containing taurine help store glucose in the muscle cell.

Amino Acid Products: L-Glutamine

L-glutamine should be of importance for every athlete. According to research, L-glutamine supports the immune system, helps against over-training and contributes to cell hydration. L-glutamine as a powder can, for example, be stirred into shakes. Athletes undergoing intensive training should take at least 10 g daily. L-glutamine is a basic necessity for successful athletes. Athletes are often surprised by sudden infections at their prime state. The immune system is vulnerable in times of stress, and when L-glutamine, which is mainly stored in the muscle, is used up. Caution: L-glutamine is unstable in liquids, when you stir it, you should drink it as quickly as possible.

Free Amino Acids and Peptides

Products that contain not only specific but up to 20 amino acids are mainly used as building blocks of the muscle. Majority are protein hydrolysates, a mixture of amino acids prepared by the splitting of protein. The degree of hydrolysis is the determining factor for the quality, meaning how small the individual components and the biological value of the starting protein is. Again, we recommend whey protein since it has the highest biological value. The higher the degree of hydrolysis, the better, since it depends on the uptake into the bloodstream. As a rule: amino acid tablets should be taken after sports or during meals and liquid amino acids before bedtime. An additional advantage to regular protein is that these products can be resorbed without carbohydrates. This is particularly important for a carbohydrate-reduced diet.

Science and Reality

Theory shows many promising substance combinations that often cannot become a reality. There is always that possibility that substances could react with one another and become unbalanced. In some cases, the product can only be produced with unwanted additives. It can be quite difficult for consumers to understand the quality of a product and if it was scientifically tested. I can recommend: Seek professional advice from personal trainers or nutritionists before buying one or more supplements. It is in your best interest to check the trustworthiness of the supplier, the location of the manufacturer and the origin of the ingredients.