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A necessary part of the health-and-fitness equation

Published December 26. 2011 05:02PM

A half-truth can do just as much damage as a blatant lie. Especially when it comes to your health and fitness.

That's why last week's article stressed the importance of critically reading health-and-fitness related information while being on guard for what I call "misinformation," information that's not really false, but is to some degree deceptive.

Will Brink, a widely published researcher for the last two decades who has also authored of Fat Loss Revealed and Bodybuilding Revealed, provides a prime example of this at his web site, through a video titled "Understanding Supplement Research!"

In it, Brink mentions a soon-to-be-released study that found a pre- and post-workout supplement drink featuring nitric oxide (in the form of nitric oxide synthase, NOS), the substance that the nitrate in beetroot juice is converted into, significantly increased muscle mass and strength in a relatively short amount of time. In fact, when compared to a control group of previously untrained males receiving a carbohydrate drink as the placebo, the previously untrained males supplementing with NOS added 5 pounds of lean muscle mass in 29 days.

It's the sort of improvement that could cause weightlifters and bodybuilder to race out and buy the stuff. After all, the success makes sense scientifically.

Cells in the body use the amino acid arginine to create the featured element of the supplement, nitric oxide, and arginine has been well-known in bodybuilding circles as a supplement that increases muscle. Additionally, prior studies have shown the efficacy of beetroot juice in delaying fatigue and increase exercise duration, two other factors that aid in adding muscle.

But here's why just about any intermediate or experienced weightlifter or bodybuilder who races out and buys the stuff will probably be disappointed 29 days later.

The supplement featuring NOS also contains creatine.

Many dare I say most? seriously lifting weights are already supplementing with creatine, and taking more in this case does not mean better results. It may even be harmful. Moreover, previous studies using untrained subjects and creatine have produced eerily similar increases in lean muscle mass over a similar time period.

In other words, based on the parameters of the NOS study there's no way to know if the NOS or the creatine is responsible for the increase of lean muscle mass. The only way to know for sure is to perform another study and include a third group of untrained subjects taking only creatine.

Here's where what I call "misinformation" emerges.

The original researchers have done their job. They were not hired to discover if the pre- and post-workout supplement featuring NOS is better than creatine or even if it is worth the cost. Their only job was to pit it against a placebo.

They did that, and I have no doubt about the legitimacy of the results.

But it's the way those results get used that creates the misinformation and profit.

Twenty years ago when creatine was the new, cutting-edge supplement, it was expensive. But its popularity increased the number of companies producing it, and the economic principal of supply and demand drove the price down.

For example, when I purchased some in September to help recapture some of the muscle mass I lost during the cycling season, the cost of the best variety, creatine monohydrate, from a respected company came to be 10 cents per serving.

I recently surfed General Nutrition's web site for products containing nitric oxide and used the "Most Expensive to Least Expensive" filter. The first products listed cost 75 cents a serving.

Using creatine monohydrate to increase muscle mass has withstood the test of time. It's now a rarity to find a physical trainer or a physician who doubts its effectiveness or safety.

Will Brink even suggests vegetarians focused on optimal health supplement with it.

So why are supplement companies now touting pre- and post-workout formulas featuring NOS? Think about the cost per serving, and you may decide that the answer is an obvious one.


Another health half-truth that is harmful is the belief that your willpower is no match for your genes.

Seeming proof of the half-truth appeared in the article in the November issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It found subjects who lasted a year on a "strict," low-cal diet and lost weight were also hungrier one year later, a hunger attributed to the body wanting to get back the lost weight by producing hormones that signal the body to eat more, conserve energy, and store fat.

But elements besides these "multiple compensatory mechanisms" that seemingly work to replace the lost weight deserve consideration.

First, the diet used is considered strict and low-calorie, which is generally regarded as the best way to lose weight temporarily for an upcoming event, like a wrestling match or a 20-year reunion, but the worst way to retain the weight loss for the long term. For years, the medical community has understood what's now called the feast-or-famine theory of weight loss and how a very moderate decrease in calories in conjunction with an increase in calories expended is the way to reset your body weight "set point," so that your body doesn't work so hard to regain the weight.

So why wasn't a more moderate diet used unless the point was to prove that you have little control of your body weight?

An example of when you seemingly can control your genes was discovered by McGill University researchers. In an article they published in PLoS Medicine this October, they revealed that the consumption of fruits and vegetables actually counteracts a "bad" gene that increases your risk for heart disease.

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