The Heart of the Matter
Q: Hey, Dr. Bowden, what do you think of Coenzyme Q10?
A: I think it's great and I take it every day.
Coenzyme Q10 should definitely be taken for health reasons, particularly for the health of the heart.
CoQ10 is a molecule made by the body and is absolutely necessary for the functioning of cells. It's like an energy nutrient for the heart. It's used, especially in Japan, as a drug for congestive heart failure. Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra calls CoQ10 one of the "awesome foursome" for heart health, the others being D-Ribose, Carnitine, and magnesium.
If you're on a statin drug – one of those oversold, overhyped cholesterol-lowering meds like Zocor or Lipitor – you absolutely have to take CoQ10 since those drugs deplete the nutrient like nobody's business. (One of the side effects of statins is muscle pain and it's believed that's from the depleted levels of CoQ10.)
CoQ10 is often given with L-carnitine as an "energy cocktail," but I believe this works best if you're low in those nutrients to begin with, though there's a little bit of research that CoQ10 may improve symptoms of chronic fatigue.
My personal recommendation is 30-60mg a day for general health, much more (100-300) if you're on a statin drug or have heart issues.
Protein Powders: Do You Get What You Pay For?
Q: Is there a difference in protein powders quality? I mean, heck, I can buy a 40-pound tub of protein at Costco for about 39 cents.
A: Well, you can get a nice Hyundai with a lawnmower engine for ten thousand or you can get a Lamborghini Diablo. Both are cars. Same thing, right?
Okay, I'm being a little facetious, but yes, there are big differences among protein powders. Protein is only as good as the source it comes from. Some protein (meat and whey powder) comes from feedlot farmed cows complete with all the hormones, steroids, and antibiotics these poor animals live on. And some protein comes from grass-fed cows that are raised on pasture and never fed a hormone or a steroid in their lives. Their meat is different and their by-products (like whey) are different. (Grass-fed meat has omega-3's and CLA and lower levels of inflammatory omega-6's, not to mention the absence of the above-mentioned drugs.)
And that's just the whey protein we're talking about. You can get soy protein isolate or soy protein concentrate, and either can be made from organically grown soy or GMO mystery crops. Soy, whey, casein, and rice protein all have slightly different amino acid profiles.
Then there's sweeteners. Some high-quality protein powders are sweetened with a little Xylitol and /or stevia, others have aspartame, still others might have el-cheapo high fructose corn syrup. Does it matter? I think it does.
Protein powder is no different from a million other things in the marketplace, from cars to vitamins to clothing. There are all kinds of ways to skimp on quality. My feeling is that with protein powder, unlike with, say, cars, the difference in price between the tub o' shit and the Rolls Royce isn't that great.
Get the best you can afford. If it's worth taking (or eating) it's worth springing for the good stuff!
The Scoop on Metamyosin
Q: What's this Metamyosin stuff in EAS products? Is it really as wunnerful as they say?
A: Metamyosin is just the proprietary name for a blend of whey and casein, nothing special or unique about it. Theoretically you could make it yourself by mixing whey and casein.
Metamyosin has an interesting history though. It was originally developed by Scott Connelly for his company MetRx back when MetRx was supplied in two separate tubs and you had to mix them together. One of the original investors in MetRx was Bill Phillips (along with Jeff Everson). All three got very, very, rich.
Eventually Phillips and Connelly parted ways, Phillips started EAS, cashed out and sold the company in 1999 for about 180 million, though he stayed on the board for a short time.
EAS now has a proprietary protein blend called MyoPlex, which, as far as I can see, is pretty much the same stuff as Metamyosin. At one time both MetRx and EAS were elite, exclusive brands with great appeal to bodybuilders. Now you can get EAS in Wal-Mart.
Do Joint Formulas Really Work?
Q: What's the deal with glucosamine, chondroitin, SAM-E or any of the other alleged joint formulas? Do they work?
A: Thumbs up on them all.
Glucosamine is a natural compound that's found in healthy cartilage. A nice body of evidence supports its use in the treatment of general osteoarthritis and especially arthritis of the knee. The best studied and most effective form is glucosamine sulfate.
In one study (1) published in the Lancet, 212 patients with knee osteoarthritis were randomly assigned either 1500mg of glucosamine sulfate or placebo once daily for three years. The placebo group had progressive narrowing of the joint space while the group taking glucosamine had zip. Seriously.
Natural Standard (2), one of the most rigorous groups reviewing research on supplements, gives glucosamine an "A" rating (Strong Scientific Evidence) for knee osteoarthritis, and a "B" (Good Scientific Evidence) for general osteoarthritis. It's worth noting that practically every vet in America uses this stuff for joint problems. Vets use what works and don't worry about endless double-blind studies.
Glucosamine sulfate is often taken in conjunction with chondrotin sulfate, an important structural component of cartilage, which provides a lot of the resistance to compression. They work really well together, and I've always found it interesting that vets were using this combo way before the science "establishment" got behind it.
The typical dose is 1500 mg of glucosamine and 1200 mg of chondrotin per day in divided doses. Research shows reduction in pain and improvement in mobility.
Now, SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) is a whole different compound. It's actually a methyl donor, which means it can help with a whole variety of reactions in the body. One of the best known uses for SAMe is arthritis and joint pain. At least one study (3) found that it was very helpful in knee osteoarthritis, though that study used SAMe intravenously first, then followed with oral dosing.
SAMe is best known for being effective for depression and arthritis and possibly liver disease and fibromyalgia. Usual dose (for both depression and arthritis) is 400 mg a day twice a day on an empty stomach, but it's pricey.
Don't ignore fish oil for joint health as well. It's the most anti-inflammatory compound on the planet, and anyone who has aching joints has got inflammation!
Whatta Load of Crap!
Q: Let's talk bowels! What should my poop look like? How often should I take a dump? Sometimes, my poop floats and I read that it might be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. Jesus! What's up with that?
A: Dude, I'm thinking you might have a bit too much time on your hands!
But here's the answer: You eat three times a day, ideally you'd evacuate just as often, or at least close to it. And as far as how it should look, the old adage "a foot long floater with no odor" says it pretty well.
Now, there are a lot of symptoms of pancreatic cancer, like jaundice and pain in the belly area or in the middle of the back. Some symptoms (like tiredness or loss of appetite) could be caused by any number of things so I wouldn't jump to conclusions. But if you have any suspicion that something's wrong in this department, for goodness sake get it checked out. This isn't something to fool around with.
If you're not pooping at least twice a day (preferably three times), you might need a bit of help in the digestive department. Start with digestive enzymes taken at every meal, and get a good probiotic supplement. Also, make sure you're getting enough fiber – we need about 25 to 35 grams a day of the stuff and most people get between 4 and 11! (See question below.)
Bodybuilders and Fiber
Q: How much fiber should I get each day as a bodybuilder? Got an easy, no-brainer way to ingest my fiber?
A: Same as you should get as a healthy human: 25 to 35 grams a day.
Beans are the best source I know of: a cup of adzuki beans has 17 grams, kidney beans and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) about 13, pinto beans 15. And some foods that are high in fiber might surprise you: avocados, for example, which have almost 5 grams per half an avocado.
Very few commercial cereals are fiber heavyweights. Exceptions are Fiber One (a whopping 14 grams of fiber per serving) and All-Bran with Extra Fiber (13 grams per serving) but both have aspartame and All-Bran also has high-fructose corn syrup.
If you're not too much of a purist, you could look at this as a trade-off. After all, that's a heck of a lot of fiber even though I'd much prefer to get it without HFCS or aspartame.
And of course there's always old-fashioned oatmeal, the bodybuilder's favorite: 4 grams per half-cup uncooked, almost no sugar, and 5 grams of protein just for good measure.
The truth is, the whole "breads and cereals for fiber" routine is a crock. Most of the commercial breads and cereals have very little fiber (1-3 grams per serving) especially when compared to beans, and none of them hold a candle to vegetables when it comes to overall nutrition. Even when it comes to fiber, vegetables like brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsnips, and green peas leave the average bread in the dust.
Finally, don't rule out a fiber supplement. You can go low-tech with plain old psyillium husks or get one of the designer fibers that actually taste good. And try adding flaxseed (like Barlean's FortiFlax) to everything – adds a bit of fiber to shakes, salads, and veggies, plus you're getting some healthy plant compounds like lignans to boot.
Veghead to Musclehead
Q: Can I build a lot of muscle as a vegetarian?
A: Well, Bill Pearl did it. Or at least he won his fourth Mr. Universe title as a lacto-ovo vegetarian. He was a meat-eater before that, however.
Remember there are all kinds of vegetarians: the kind that eat fish and the kind that eat milk and eggs (but not red meat). Overall I'd say vegetarian bodybuilders are in a minority, but if you're getting enough protein from high quality sources like eggs and whey and casein, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to get pretty muscular.
Vegans – the kind of super-orthodox vegetarian that eats absolutely no fish, dairy, whey, eggs, or any food product that came from an animal – are a whole other story.
I'd be surprised if any vegans were winning titles, but I've seen some websites and YouTube videos of vegan bodybuilders that are pretty impressive (check out Kenneth Williams or Robert Cheeke). Assuming these dudes are being honest about what they're eating, they're clearly able to grow muscle. Not Mr. Olympia, but still...
Probiotics and Muscle-Building
Q: What do you think of probiotics for the muscle-seeking gym-rat guy? Worth using?
A: Wouldn't be on my top ten list for muscle building, but definitely would be on my top-ten for overall health. Remember, it's possible to care about both!
Some of the benefits: better digestive health, absorption of nutrients (if you don't absorb them you can't use them), and a nice boost to the immune system. But they won't put an extra inch on the guns.
- Lancet. 2001 Jan 27;357(9252):251-6. Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Reginster JY, Deroisy R, Rovati LC, Lee RL, Lejeune E, Bruyere O, Giacovelli G, Henrotin Y, Dacre JE, Gossett C.