There are several criteria wemust consider when evaluating a nutri-tional supplement for bodybuilders. First,is there some plausible mechanism bywhich the supplement might work? Thisjust means is there some logical reasonwhy the supplement should be expectedto produce results. For example, we mightexpect protein supplements to be helpfulbecause they provide the building blocksthe body needs to build more muscletissue. Second, is the supplementactually absorbed by the body anddelivered to the site where it’s sup-posed to act? If your supplement isnot absorbed into the bloodstreamand carried to muscle cells, it prob-ably won’t do much. Third, does itproduce its effects at the recom-mended usage level, or is the amountused too small to really be effective.And fourth, the most important cri-teria is, does the supplement actu-ally produce the desired effect bet-ter than a placebo or control. Thefirst few criteria are really asking,“CAN the supplement work?”
Andthe last question is asking, “Does thesupplement REALLY work and dowhat it’s supposed to do?”Unfortunately, few scientificallycontrolled studies have been performedto specifically evaluate how well nutritionalsupplements work to help bodybuilders.Many of the supplements out on the mar-ket have never been tested to see if theyreally work. Some of them have been,however. A recent article in the Journalof Applied Physiology (1) tested the ef-fects of either a carbohydrate supplementalone (CHO), a protein supplement (PRO),or else a mixture of carbohydrate and pro-tein (CHO-PRO) to see how the varioussupplements affected the levels of ana-bolic hormones in healthy drug-freeweight lifters. In addition to merely pro-viding the raw materials for buildingmuscle tissue and storing glycogen, foodsand supplements can affect the hormonalenvironment of the body. In this maga-zine I have written extensively about howto use food to control various hormoneand enzyme levels to create an anabolicenvironment in the body where nutrientsare shuttled to the lean compartment(muscle) while drawing on stored bodyfat as an energy source.
This concept of“nutrient partitioning” amounts to eatingin such a way that the food you eat isused to build muscle tissue while yourbody fat is burned as a fuel source. Tome, this is the essence of bodybuildingnutrition. This works because many ofthe body’s anabolic and catabolic hor-mones are significantly influenced by diet,and it is the levels of these hormones thatdetermines to a great degree whether thecalories you eat will be stored as fat orturned into muscle.At Parrillo Performance, we doa lot of “end point” testing of our supple-ments before a formulation is released onthe market. By this I mean we try variousformulations of supplements onelite, competitive bodybuilders tofind out what actually works. Thecompetitive bodybuilder is the ul-timate research lab for studyingbodybuilding supplements, be-cause any little change in his or herphysique is readily apparent. Wefollow the athlete’s weight, leanbody mass, percent body fat,strength on the core lifts, overall“look” and hardness, plus subjec-tive information such as energylevel, training intensity, and how heor she feels.
By making smallchanges in formulations we can seehow these affect size, strength,conditioning, endurance, and en-ergy level. This is really results-driven testing, because the reason peoplecome to Parrillo Performance is for re-sults. Sometimes (often times, actually)we figure out what works “out in the field”with real bodybuilders before the scien-tists back in the labs have figured out whyor how it works. It’s always gratifyingwhen the biochemical research explainssome of the results we’ve seen in the gym,and that’s the case with this paper.It has been well established thatweight lifting causes an increase in growth hormone and, to a lesser extent, testoster-one (2,3,4). This is no doubt part of theway in which resistance exercise bringsabout muscle growth. The question is, canwe use any nutritional “tricks” to help thisprocess along, above and beyond simplyproviding the raw materials needed tomake more muscle protein? In fact, wecan use supplements to improve the ana-bolic milieu to further enhance musclegrowth. The most obvious way to im-prove the situation is to increase insulinlevels, which acts as a potent stimulus toincrease muscle amino acid uptake andactivate the protein synthetic machinery.Exercise tends to lower insulin levels,which is great because this promotes fatburning during exercise, but then afterexercise during the recovery period wewant to activate insulin to take advantageof its anabolic properties. This is one timewhen we don’t have to worry so muchabout insulin causing fat accumulation, fortwo reasons.
First, right after training themuscle cells are hungry for nutrients andthey will gobble up all the calories beforethe fat cells can get them. Second, afterexercise glycogen stores are depleted soany carbohydrates you eat at that time willbe stored as glycogen rather than beingconverted to fat.Carbohydrate alone or in combi-nation with protein (but not protein alone)serves as a potent stimulus for insulin re-lease (5,6). Furthermore, we know thatprotein feeding stimulates growth hor-mone and IGF-1. The tension placed onmuscle during weight training somehowactivates protein synthesis and inducesmuscular hypertrophy (by some mecha-nism not yet completely understood) —the question is can we use supplementsto enhance this process? If so, do thesupplements work by favorably modulat-ing hormone levels to create a more ana-bolic environment?To investigate this issue a groupof researchers at The Exercise Physiol-ogy and Metabolism Laboratory at the Uni-versity of Texas used a group of ninehealthy drug-free weight lifters. Theiraverage age was 25, average weightaround 180 pounds at 11.8% body fat,and all had at least 2 years of weight train-ing experience.
This is important becauseit means we can apply their results to realbodybuilders, which is a problem in manystudies which use novice trainers and lowintensity programs. The subjects weregiven four different supplements to test:carbohydrate (CHO) which was a mix-ture of dextrose and maltodextrin, pro-tein (PRO) which was a mixture of milkprotein isolate and whey protein, carbo-hydrate plus protein (PRO-CHO) whichwas 70% carbohydrate and 30% protein,or else plain water, which was used asthe control. This is also good news be-cause the protein and carbohydratesupplements used are virtually identical tothe most popular protein and carb supple-ments used by bodybuilders. The CHOsupplement was given at a dose of 1.5grams CHO per kg of body weight, whichworks out to be about 120 grams of carbs,or 480 calories on average per supplementdose. Again, this is good news becausethis is a realistic amount of supplementand we should expect to see an effect, ifthere is one. The other supplements (PROand CHO-PRO) were given at equal ca-loric loads to the CHO supplement, so wecan directly compare the effects of thedifferent formulas.
The subjects performed high in-tensity training sessions going to failurebetween 8-10 reps on 8 core exercises.Then immediately after exercise and again2 hours after the exercise session the ath-letes were given one of the supplementformulas. Before exercise and for the nexteight hours after exercise the athletes’blood was monitored for glucose, test-osterone, growth hormone, IGF-1, andinsulin levels. Thirty minutes after theexercise and the supplement ingestion,plasma glucose levels in the CHO andCHO-PRO groups were significantly el-evated compared to the PRO and controlgroups. Another supplement dose wasgiven two hours after exercise, but thisdid not seem to further affect blood glu-cose levels. Going along with this, plasmainsulin was significantly increased in theCHO and CHO-PRO groups, and to alesser extent in the PRO supplement. Thecombination CHO-PRO supplement ac-tually increased insulin levels to a greaterdegree than CHO alone. We might nothave expected this, since the CHO supple-ment alone increased blood glucose lev-els greater than the combination supple-ment, but keep in mind that protein alsoserves as an insulin stimulus. So eventhough carbohydrate alone increases bloodsugars levels more, adding some proteinto it results in a higher insulin level. So farwe can already draw some very impor-tant conclusions.First, when you take a supple-ment after training you definitely want toinclude some carbohydrate in it, ratherthan just using a pure protein powder. Thisresults in a much higher insulin level thanprotein alone, and this will help drive theamino acids into the muscle. Second, mix-ing protein along with the carbohydratefurther boosts insulin levels beyond carbsalone, which is exactly the effect we want here. We’re not too worried about carbsspilling over into fat stores because rightafter a workout glycogen levels are de-pleted, so the carbs will be used to re-plenish glycogen and will not be convertedinto fat. Third, taking a second supple-ment dose 2 hours after training has mini-mal effect on hormone levels.
The bigbenefit seems to come from taking a re-spectable dose (120 grams in this study)of the supplement as soon as possible af-ter training, and certainly within 30 min-utes after you finish your workout. I sug-gest taking a shaker bottle to the gym withyou and drinking your supplement at thegym as soon as you finish training.Growth hormone levels rosesharply immediately after the exercisebout but declined back to baselinewithin 2 hours after exercise. Thesupplements seemed to have no imme-diate effect on GH levels, but at 6 hoursafter exercise the GH levels were higherin the CHO and CHO-PRO groups. Itseems that the exercise itself has a big-ger short-term impact on GH releasethan the supplements, but by six hoursafter exercise the effect of the supple-ments becomes apparent. It is alsoworth mentioning that the GH increasebrought about by the exercise sessionitself was greater than the GH increaseseen at six hours post-exercise, whichwas attributed to the supplements. Thisreally comes as no surprise, since weknow that weight training is really theprime stimulus for muscle growth, notsupplements. Plasma testosterone lev-els were seen to rise sharply immedi-ately after exercise, but then within onehour declined to below pre-exerciselevels. All of the supplements resultedin testosterone levels declining belowthe value seen with water alone. Within6 hours after exercise the CHO andCHO-PRO groups had returned essen-tially to pre-exercise levels, but the PROalone was still depressed. More on thislater.What does this all mean? Weknow that the early rapid gains seen bybeginning weight trainers are primarily dueto increased motor learning (1). Thismeans training the nervous system to re-cruit more muscle fibers to fire simulta-neously. The more efficiently the nervoussystem can activate the muscle, the stron-ger the contraction. So early on we aremainly training the nervous system. It’snot unusual for a novice trainer to basi-cally double his strength in the first sixmonths of training.
After a few monthsof initial training, you likely remember hit-ting a plateau, where further increases instrength came more slowly. At this pointfurther increases in strength are moreclosely related to increased muscle massand muscle cross-sectional area (1). Sev-eral factors influence the rate of increaseof new muscle mass. These include thevolume and intensity of training, the avail-ability of adequate nutritional substratesand calories to support growth, and thehormonal environment of the muscle. Ifthe only purpose of nutrition was to sup-ply the building blocks for growth, then itwouldn’t matter that much what you ate.If, however, you want to control the hor-mones directing the anabolic drive, thistakes a more sophisticated approach. Thehormones most directly related to mus-cular growth are insulin, growth hormone,testosterone, and IGF-1. Insulin may po-tentiate muscular hypertrophy by stimu-lating amino acid uptake and protein syn-thesis by muscle. Furthermore, insulinseems to increase growth hormone levelsby inducing hypoglycemia (7). This isprobably what was happening when wesaw GH levels increased by the CHO andCHO-PRO supplements six hours afterexercise. The supplements caused an ini-tial increase in insulin levels, which af-ter a few hours resulted in hypoglyce-mia (low blood sugar) which in turnstimulated GH release.Probably the biggest surprise wasobserved with testosterone — all thesupplements seemed to decrease test-osterone levels compared to plain wa-ter. What’s up with this? Either test-osterone secretion by the testes wasdecreased, or else possibly the supple-ments caused more testosterone to becleared from the blood (maybe bymoving it inside cells) thereby result-ing in a lower blood level. To investi-gate this the authors looked at LH(lutinizing hormone) levels. LH is thestimulus for testosterone to be releasedfrom the testes, so if the supplementscaused decreased testosterone secre-tion then LH levels should be depressedas well.
They found that LH levels wereunaffected by the CHO supplement(the only one they tested for this) sug-gesting that the testosterone level wasdecreased as the result of increased re-moval of testosterone from the bloodrather than decreased secretion. Whileit remains to be proven, the authorssuggest that plasma testosterone mayhave been decreased by the supple-ments as a consequence of increasedmovement of testosterone into musclecells, where it acts to promote proteinsynthesis.A number of important conclusions can be drawn from this study. Youshould supplement with a combination ofprotein and carbohydrate after training be-cause this results in a more favorable ana-bolic hormonal environment than eitherprotein or carbohydrate alone. You shouldtake the supplement soon after training,within 15-30 minutes. A second dose ofsupplement two hours after exerciseseems to confer little additional benefit interms of altering hormone levels comparedto a single dose. The dose used here wasabout 120 grams of protein and/or carbo-hydrate. We agree that thisis an appropriate dose sizefor stimulating growthand optimizing recoveryafter training. Also,the anabolic hor-mone most respon-sive to dietary con-trol is insulin, and toa lesser degreegrowth hormone(whose secretion isstimulated mainlyby protein). Thiscomes as no sur-prise. Growth hor-mone and testoster-one are best stimu-lated by intense train-ing. This is why we need a combinationof hard training plus a carefully crafteddiet to generate optimal hormone levels tomaximize muscle growth and fat loss.Since this study came out acouple of years ago we have used this asa starting point and done some of our owntrials here at Parrillo Performance. Wehave tried various formulations on sometop level competitive bodybuilders and fit-ness athletes and have taken the idea de-scribed in this paper a few steps further.First, we found that with our athletes, whotrain harder and longer than the ones inthis study, a ratio closer to 50% protein -50% carbs works better. Top level body-builders just seem to need a little moreprotein to get that degree of muscle hard-ness we’re going for. Also, we get betterresults if we use maltodextrin without thedextrose as the carbohydrate source. Dex-trose is another name for glucose, a simplesugar. We find that our athletes can packon more muscle without gaining fat if weleave the sugar out of the formula.
Third,we have added glycine (an amino acid) tothe formula to further improve its ana-bolic effect. 50/50 Plus™ contains nosugar and no fat. We have settled on acombination of whey protein and othermilk protein isolates to generate what wefeel is an optimal amino acid profile.This new product line is called“50/50 Plus™” to reflect its compositionof about 50% protein and 50% carbs. Italso provides a good sourceof calcium and includes vi-tamins important for musclerepair and growth. We’revery proud of this newsupplement develop-ment. It’s designed spe-cifically to promote ni-trogen retention andmuscle growth. Theideal times to use it areimmediately after train-ing, as your first mealof the day to set up ananabolic hormonal en-vironment, or any timeas needed with or be-tween meals. The beautyof this product is that it is“programmed” to generate a hormonal en-vironment which results in muscle growth.Not only does it provide the raw materi-als your muscles need to grow, but it alsoprograms your hormone levels to chan-nel the nutrients into muscle and not fat.It comes in four delicious flavors: choco-late, vanilla, milk (which is great inoatmeal), and orange-cream. I suggest aserving size of 4 scoops if you are usingit as a post-workout recovery and growthsupplement, 4 scoops in place of a meal,or 2 scoops if used as a calorie boost withor between meals. I think this product isvery solid and deserves to be considereda “first line” supplement for bodybuild-ers. An excellent entry level supplementprogram would be 50/50 Plus™, Creat-ine Monohydrate, and the Essential Vita-min and Mineral- Electrolyte Formulas. Ithink you’ll find this supplement mighteasily push your growth to the next level.The work of hormonal control and nutri-ent partitioning has been done for you -all you have to do is train hard and takethe supplement and you’re guaranteed toprovide your muscles with the ultimatehormonal milieu for growth.
1. Chandler RM, Byrne HK, Patterson JG,and Ivy JL. Dietary supplements affectthe anabolic hormones after weight train-ing exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 76(2): 839-845, 1994.
2. Kraemer RR, Kilgore JL, Kraemer GR,and Castracane VD. Growth hormone,IGF-1, and testosterone responses to re-sistive exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exer-cise 24: 1346-1352, 1992.
3. Kraemer WJ, Gordon SE, Fleck SJ,Marchitelli LJ, Mello R, Dzaidos JE, FreidlK, and Harmon E. Endogenous anabolichormonal and growth factor responses toheavy resistance exercise in males and fe-males. Intl. J. Sports Med. 12: 228-235,1991.
4. Kraemer WJ, Marchitelli L, Gordon SE,Harmon E, Dziados JE, Mello R, FrykmanP, McCurry D, and Fleck SJ. Hormonaland growth factor responses to heavy re-sistance exercise protocols. J. Appl.Physiol. 69: 1442-1450, 1990.
5. Rabinowitz D, Merimee TJ, MaffezzoliR, and Burgess JA. Patterns of hormonalrelease after glucose, protein, and glucoseplus protein. Lancet 2: 454-457, 1966.
6. Zawadzki KM, Yaspelkis BB, and IvyJL. Carbohydrate-protein complex in-creases the rate of muscle glycogen stor-age after exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 72:1854-1859, 1992.
7. Roth J, Glick S, and Valow RS.Hypoglycaemia: a potent stimulus ofgrowth hormone. Science Wash. DC 140:987-988, 1963.