Micronutrition for Optimal Gains

By Phil Kaplan

You know I'm not a big advocate of putting "supplements first."  I shy away not because supplementation is wrong, but since so much of the supplement business is founded in misinformation.  I've done enough to dispel many of the myths related to "supplements as miracle solutions" for you to recognize that I'm not in the business of supplement promotion.  Still, for my personal clients I have at times recommended supplementation as the "addition to" their supportive programs.  Since so many questions from members, radio show listeners, and those who attend my seminars relate to supplements, I wanted to give you a bit of direction in the area of what I'll call "Foundational Supplementation."  This has nothing to do with getting "magical" results, but rather to ptimize the program you're on presently.

I remember being 17 years old, first finding my thirst for physical improvement, and reading the ads in the magazines, looking for anything that would help me speed the process to my fitness goals.  That was 1977.  While the ads in those days were slightly over-hyped, they were minor league compared to the major league insanity stuck in our faces through print and television today. 

Back in the 70's, most of the ads in the fitness magazines were for protein powders, brewers yeast, desiccated liver, weight gain formulas (for bodybuilders), vitamins, and minerals.  Sure there were some scattered ads for amino acids and one or two ads for glandular products, but those were ignored by most readers.  We came to understand the value of protein, of vitamins, and of minerals.

Today, if you walk into a health food store that has any sort of a sports nutrition presence, you'll find that the big containers are moving in and those little vitamin pills are getting lost in the mad rush for the supplement that “works.” MEGA-this and MUSCLE-that come in massive containers promising to do everything from packing on muscle to restoring youthful sex drive.  The ever-increasing quest for muscle has been infiltrated by Creatine Formulations, Ion Exchange Protein Powders, and bigger and bigger packages of highly caloric concoctions.  The question grows ever louder with greater and greater abundance . . . “which of these work?”

The fact is, nothing works, and they all work!  Confused already?  I’ll clarify my seemingly contradictory statement in a moment.  I would like to first make certain that you understand that despite the appearance of bigger and bigger packages with bigger and bigger promises, those little vitamins and minerals, in combination, are the tiny but vital little workers that allow you to excel, progress, and grow!  Back when “supplementation” meant swallowing some vitamin C, desiccated liver, and B-complex caps, the supplement offerings were far narrower.  As a result, confusion was far less evident.  Although science has brought us fantastic insight into better nutrition, we must be careful not to forget the value of those vitamins and mineral formulas that once acted as the mainstay of supplementation.  Their value has not been lessened, but rather overshadowed by the promise of greater gains with less effort.

My Quick Reminder
Before I go on, I want to remind you that supplement refers to "the extra."  I will discuss the value of micronutrients in this issue, but they should never be thought of as crutches that allow you to bypass the need for optimal nutrition and exercise.  I'll probably say that again several times throughout this article. 

The Body Transformation Puzzle
If you consider "body transformation" a puzzle, the micronutrients are simply a piece.  Without that piece, the puzzle is never complete, however, the piece alone in no way represents the entire puzzle.  Get it?  OK, then I'll go on.

Nothing Works and They All Work!
Getting back to my “nothing works and they all work” comment, let’s begin by understanding the first half. “Nothing works.”  Far too many are waiting for the new supplement to come along, the one that will save them from having to train intensely and eat correctly.  That supplement does not exist, and in my opinion, will probably not arrive, at least not in my lifetime.  As long as consumers seek out the miracle, they’ll continue to waste money on supplements that thrive on empty promises and unfulfilled hope.  Nothing works in and of itself.

With that said, let’s examine part two of my comment.  “They all work!”  Nutrients are synergistic.  They act together in magnificent harmony to allow you to call upon energy, to grow muscle, to fight disease, and to continually create new healthy cells.  Putting water in a category by itself as the most life-sustaining nutrient, we can categorize the remaining nutrients as “micro” and “macro.”

Separating the "Micro" From the "Macro"
The macronutrients are those which contain calories, namely, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.  These supply fuel for energy and material for growth.  Take all the pyruvate and creatine in the world, but if you’re not adequately fueled or supplied with the macronutrients, muscle growth and energy are not going to magically arrive. 

Forgive me for stating the obvious, as we all know the value of the macronutrients.  I thought it deserves a quick and simple review as we move into a glance at the synergistic balance of all of the nutrients.  It’s the other area, the “micro” nutrition area in which many are confused.

Vitamins and minerals are essential, and while neither can actually provide energy or muscle growing material, they act upon the caloric nutrients to set the wheels in motion.  That doesn’t mean any single mineral can work magically, or that any single vitamin can improve results.  Remember, they are synergistic.  The true “magic” lies in that synergy.  Put the micronutrients together in the right combinations, eat right, train intensely, and watch your gains soar!

Hold on.  I made a comment that might have perked your ears.  "Vitamins can not provide energy!?!??"  Don't people take vitamins for energy?  Sure they do.  Because vitamin manufacturers or sellers lead them to believe that just because vitamins play a role in the energy process, they will magically produce energy.  The fact is, energy can be re-stated as the body's efficiency at producing heat for movement, and the only nutrients that are capable of providing fuel for heat generation are those that are caloric.  The MACRO nutrients.  Sure, without adequate supplies of specific vitamins and minerals energy may be compromised, but that doesn't equate to vitamins = energy.  It's a myth!

I'm going to enlighten you as to the interactive value of some specific micronutrients and then, after all is said and done, I'll discourage you from attempting to amass a collection of bottles that proves ideal for you.  You'll come to understand why as we go.  Let's start with the top selling micronutrient in this country.  Calcium.

Calcium to Build Bones?
Without science to assist them, many attempt to supplement for synergistic benefit, but fall short in their attempts.  As an example, all over the nation, women over the age of 45 scramble to buy calcium supplements believing that more calcium equals more bone.  Eating more calcium to build bone is an exercise in futility unless other micronutrients are available such as zinc and magnesium.  In seminars I've used this analogy:

"Eating calcium to build bones would be like eating brains to get smarter."

Just because it's a component of bone doesn't mean it just enters your bloodstream and WHAM!  BONES GROW!  It must interact with other micro and macronutrients in the bone growing process.

The synergistic relationship between the nutrients becomes even more important when looking at calcium’s vital role to bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness buffs.  Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body.  Although it did gain a reputation as a vital component of bones and teeth, calcium is also vital in aerobic energy release, in nerve impulse transmission, and in the contraction of skeletal muscle.  Dietary, emotional, and physical stresses often cause the body to excrete calcium in greater amounts; thus dietary need is enhanced among those who regularly challenge their bodies.  Remember, though, calcium alone, without its synergistic aids, is only a smaller yet piece of the proverbial puzzle.

Magnesium - too often neglected
I mentioned calcium as being the “bone” mineral, yet more than half of the body’s magnesium is contained in bone.  Magnesium is also involved in energy production and in transmission of the signals that control and dictate muscular contraction.  In fact, even if you eat the highest grade proteins and carbs, without magnesium’s role those carbs can not efficiently be released to be burned as fuel, nor can amino acids be efficiently assembled for protein synthesis.  With calcium and magnesium as two illustrations of the vital role the micronutrients play, it should be quite obvious that anyone concerned with health, fitness, and muscle development need have concern for these often neglected or misunderstood nutrients.

So, Do You "Need" To Supplement?
The answer to this question is easy.  No.  You don't "need" to supplement.  When it comes to micronutrients, if you are eating as I recommend, in a supportive manner with inclusion of a wide variety of lean proteins, starchy carbs, and fibrous carbs, think of supplementation as "insurance" to make certain you have adequate supply.

Can you get the minerals I discussed already from food?  Of course!  Dairy products are loaded with calcium as are many dark green vegetables and citrus fruits.  Magnesium can be obtained from nuts, whole grains, and fish.  It’s just that exerciser’s needs are enhanced and many of you find that life gets in the way of optimal nutrition.  That's why an insurance policy in the form of supplementation wouldn't hurt.  I just want to make sure you do it sensibly, economically, and without risk.  The simplest way to take advantage of product availability today to "insure" you do not fall short is to make a "multi" nutrient formulation a simple part of your regimen.

The concept of the multi-vitamin, multi-mineral capsule is and has always been a good one, in that formulators can refer to nutritional science to combine micronutrients in combinations that have proven healthful and supportive.  If we were all created identically, if we all maintained the same lifestyles, and we all shared a common physical goal, we’d probably be served well by standardized high quality formulas based upon the “multi” ideal.  Men would take GNC's men's formula, women would take the women's formula, and all our work would be done.  It’s just not that simple.  In the arena of sports, physical activity, and performance, it’s obvious our nutritional needs are increased as well as specialized.

Product formulators have managed to better meet the athlete’s performance and lifestyle-specific demands by leaping a step beyond the “multi” concept and creating the “Mega-Pack.”  After all, you can only get a finite amount of any material in any single pill or capsule.  There are also challenges in blending some of the vital micronutrients together.  The true ideal for supplemental micronutrition is a “package” of “multi-nutrient combinations,” a package that removes all of the guesswork and allows us to simply prepare for optimal performance with an uncomplicated supplement to our meals.  It's unfortunate, but many highly marketed product lines put out inferior products in a mega-pack package, creating a disparity among products that might visible appear similar.

If you want to make life really simple, you can pick up Twinlab's Multi-Mineral caps and their Daily One vitamins and take a couple of capsules of each with two of your supportive meals.  While this is not as specialized as varied-focus "mega packs" might be, it does provide insurance that your vitamin and mineral needs are being met.

From a marketing standpoint, the Mega Packs and the vitamin and mineral formulas are not as sexy as "fat burners," or "slim down bars."  As a result they rarely get prime shelf space or much attention at all.  By now you should understand that despite limited visibility, they can strengthen the foundation on which your future physical development rests.  The difference in the marketing thrust of trendy products vs. legitimate micronutrient formulas is, many, or I'll even say most of the fat burners and slim down bars are sold with fraudulent or deceptive claims and rarely will anyone find them working at the level of expectation.  Vitamins and minerals "work" only as part of the entire process of metabolism, yet understanding that empowers you to stop being fooled by new trendy products.  Don't look for a miracle.  Look for all of the nutrients you ingest to optimally combine to make you look and feel better than ever.

I'll summarize minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients in sections, each with it's own conclusion, and then I'll review key points to make certain that if you supplement your meals with a handful of pills and capsules, you can feel comfortable in your micronutrient supplement investments.  I've already covered calcium and magnesium, so let me go onto mineral #3.

Mineral #3 - Potassium
I've seen people who get occasional cramps being told to take a potassium supplement.  The fact is, they'd probably do better adding a just ripened banana to their daily intake.  Potassium has received attention for its role in maintaining electrolyte balance in cells.  It also assists in metabolic conversion of dietary nutrients and has a regulatory role in hydration.   Potassium is instrumental in the conversion and transport of glucose into glycogen stores, thus without sufficient potassium; energy will suffer regardless of your macro intake.  Again, however, supplemental potassium without its synergistic partners may prove close to worthless. 

Calcium, magnesium, and potassium are probably the most commonly known minerals, but a great many combine to stimulate the "whole-body" effect I've been describing.  The minerals, iodine, selenium, copper, and chromium all play synergistic roles ranging from copper’s role in maintaining integrity of connective tissue to chromium’s role in carbohydrate metabolism.  If you're not educated at an advanced level in nutrition, a multi mineral formula or pack can give you the mineral insurance you need.

Conclusion:Eat supportively and, simply as "insurance," supplement with a multi-mineral formulation by a reputable manufacturer.

Let's Move on to Vitamins
Where minerals are instrumental in building the framework of the body, vitamins are vital in carrying out metabolic activities.  For optimal energy production, muscle contraction, metabolism, and health, you'll also need a full array of the B-vitamins, micronutrients that assist in glycogen release, energy production, fat metabolism, formation of cells and genetic material, and protection in resisting many of the negative effects of both physical and emotional stresses.  For those who want to get a bit more specialized than taking a single vitamin formula, consider Twinlab's B-Complex Stresstabs.  If you wind up taking more than you are going to use, there really isn't very much danger.  Too much niacin might leave you flushed and itchy, but that passes and that's the worst of what you might experience.

The fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, in combination, have antioxidant properties, aid in calcium absorption, and play a role in blood clotting.  It’s important to note, however, that unlike the B-vitamins, vitamins A, D, E, and K, while vital to sustain metabolic function, can be toxic in excessive dosages.  Remember, more isn't always better!  An antioxidant formula with 10,000 iu of vitamin A and 400 iu of vitamin E should be sufficient for anyone maintaining a supportive nutrition program.

Conclusion: Either use a single multi-vitamin formula or an antioxidant formulation plus a B-complex product.

Since we've come this far, let's touch on amino acids
While other supplements can offer “extras,” or “enhanced gains,” without an adequate supply of the micronutrients being discussed, your ability to make any gains at all may plummet drastically!  For those who make muscle growth a concern, there are other nutrients that assist in enhancing the anabolic drive, the muscle building machine.

The most anabolic substance released by the human body is Human Growth Hormone which is produced by the pituitary gland.  Specific combinations of L-Arginine and L-Ornithine have been evidenced in research to stimulate greater GH activity keeping the anabolic drive at peak levels.  Don't misunderstand.  Don't let sellers of oral GH products misquote research done with injectable GH to lead you to believe that an oral product will have the same value.  To date, based on the evidence I've seen, it won't.  It's just, that if L-Arginine and L-Ornithine levels are compromised, so too will be your endogenous GH production.

Many of the ads now offer single amino acids as having great value in building muscle.  Sure, you can buy single amino acids and attempt to literally build your own proteins, however, the digestive tract will often not recognize single free form aminos as amino acids are transported in di and tri-peptide chains.  In addition, while all of the essential aminos are required for anabolism, the ratios and amounts are so varied you’d have to be a biochemist to determine the necessary specific nutrient ratios from any combination of single amino capsules.  Amino acids you probably know as the building blocks of protein.  Stick to complete proteins and don't worry about supplementing with independent amino acids.

There is one exception.  L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in muscle.  I mentioned it last month for its value in dealing with stress.  Since it is so involved in gastrointestinal function, immune function, and protein synthesis, 1-2 grams per day can offer some level of muscle protection.

Conclusion: Eat supportively with complete proteins and don't worry about amino acid supplementation (with the possible exception of L-Glutamine).

I'll conclude this month by offering you a few scenarios that I might personally encourage my active clients to adapt:

If you want simplicity and consider yourself only moderately active, you can cover a great many of the bases with Twinlab multi-mineral caps and Daily One caps.  A couple of each with two meals should be sufficient.

If you eat very supportively, are active both in daily life and in exercise, and want to "cover yourself" to ensure adequate micronutrient supply:

400 iu vitamin E
1000 mg vitamin C
(or an antioxidant formula with those amounts and other vitamins)
B-complex Stresstabs
Multi Mineral caps
L-Glutamine post-exercise

Remember, these are not needs, but options.  Don't get caught up in all the product hype.  Recognize that your future results will be greatly dependent upon the foundation you build for yourself today.  In future issues I'll cover supplementation that can lead to exceptional performance.

Be certain, whether you choose to modify your supplementation program or not, to maximize the benefits of living your life with an attachment to the Synergy I speak about so often. 

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