Supplement Myths


Seasoned coffee drinkers may claim to be able to drink a pot of joe a few hours before bed and have no problems falling asleep, but that doesn’t mean their sleep quality is unaffected. Sleep is a complicated phenomenon. Falling asleep in a loud or uncomfortable spot results in less restful sleep and a rough morning. The same is true for caffeine. Caffeine prevents sleep by blocking adenosine receptors, which cause you to feel sleepy. When these receptors are blocked, sleep quality is impaired, even if the owner of the receptors is already asleep.

Kamal Patel and Kurtis Frank, AskMen

Vitamin B.S.


Romm: Why are vitamins and dietary supplements regulated differently than food or pharmaceuticals?

Price: That’s a long story, but in part because of this big industry push to portray them as totally safe. A law was passed in 1994, called the Dietary Health and Education Act, that separated the way supplements were regulated from the way food or pharmaceuticals or over-the-counter drugs were regulated. For over-the-counter and pharmaceutical drugs, you need to prove safety and efficacy before you sell anything. For supplements, there’s no requirement like that. And the argument was partially that since vitamins are in food, vitamins should be regulated more like food, which has lower standards of proof before you sell it. But that’s different from ginkgo biloba or St. John’s wort or bodybuilding powder or whatever else. Those are not vitamins, and so it does seem strange, at least to me, that those non-vitamin products should be regulated like food, or almost more loosely than food, which is what our current system is.

Cari Romm, The Atlantic

Increasing Dietary Potassium — Find Out Why Most People Need to Consume More of This Mineral


According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, individuals should be taking in 4,700 mg/day [of potassium]. […]

A recent article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighting data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that fewer than 2% of US adults met the daily 4,700 mg recommendation. […]

The dearth of potassium in the typical American diet is troublesome given this mineral’s role in controlling the electrical activity of the heart, regulating acid-base balance, building muscle, and synthesizing proteins. Research suggests consuming an optimal amount of potassium may protect against cardiovascular ailments, muscle wasting, osteoporosis, and kidney stones.

Linda Antinoro, Today’s Dietician

The 10 Best and Worst Foods to Eat for Sleep


Often called “a pill in a peel” by experts, bananas contain high levels of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a muscle relaxant, which can help us start snoozing faster. Also extremely helpful is the whopping 422 milligrams of potassium one banana contains, since studies have shown potassium can help regulate sleep patterns and nerves.

Melissa Romero, Fitness Magazine

Why You Shouldn’t Ditch Bananas


Bananas are a rich source of potassium, which in addition to reducing blood pressure, supports muscle maintenance and acts as a natural diuretic that alleviates water retention and bloating. Their vitamin B6 also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and their fiber content boosts satiety and improves digestive health.

Cynthia Sass, Shape

New Food Rules: What’s OK to Eat


Bananas contain a type of dietary fiber known as resistant starch that your body can’t absorb, so it fills you up temporarily without the risk of filling you out permanently. Other research has linked resistant starch to an increase in post-meal fat-burning, says Janine Higgins, Ph.D., nutrition research director at the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. One of the by-products of the unabsorbed carbohydrates in your system is butyrate, a fatty acid that may inhibit the body’s ability to burn carbs, forcing it to incinerate fat instead.

Choose a greener banana; once it has turned totally yellow, the starch inside has broken down and is no longer resistant to digestion. If you don’t like to eat bananas when they’re that firm, toss one into the blender for a hunger-dampening smoothie. And take a deep whiff before sipping it: Research from The Smell Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago shows that the smell of banana helps reduce appetite, so you may not want to eat as much anyway.

Leslie Goldman, Women’s Health

Are bananas good for a weight loss diet?


Bananas contain a variety of vitamins and minerals; however, they are especially rich in potassium. Potassium is an essential mineral in the body and is required for body systems, including the cardiovascular, nervous, digestive, renal and neuromuscular systems, to function correctly. Potassium is also important in maintaining the fluid balance in the body.

Naomi Tupper, Calorie Secrets

Fat Burning Foods: 10 Foods That Help You Lose Weight


Fruit often gets a bad rap on some diets, but it’s got a lot to offer — specifically for bananas, McCarthy says. “Resistant starch found in foods like bananas and beans/legumes has been found to have a positive affect on fat levels,” she says. “The starch turns into a fatty acid in the gut by the good bacteria and helps to decrease obesity by metabolizing fats after eating, thus decreasing accumulation in the long term.”

Terri Coles, The Huffington Post

It’s official: Americans should drink more coffee


Not only can people stop worrying about whether drinking coffee is bad for them, according to the panel, they might even want to consider drinking a bit more. The panel cited minimal health risks associated with drinking between three and five cups per day. It also said that consuming as many as five cups of coffee each day (400 mg) is tied to several health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. […]

“I don’t want to get into implying coffee cures cancer — nobody thinks that,” Tom Brenna, a member of the committee and a nutritionist at Cornell University, told Bloomberg on Thursday. “But there is no evidence for increased risk, if anything, the other way around.”

Roberto Ferdman, The Washington Post

Sauna use associated with reduced risk of cardiac, all-cause mortality


A sauna may do more than just make you sweat. A new study suggests men who engaged in frequent sauna use had reduced risks of fatal cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine. […] For all-cause mortality, sauna bathing 2 to 3 times per week was associated with a 24 percent lower risk and 4 to 7 times per week with a 40 percent reduction in risk compared to only one sauna session per week.

The amount of time spent in the sauna seemed to matter too. Compared with men who spent less than 11 minutes in the sauna, the risk of SCD was 7 percent lower for sauna sessions of 11 to 19 minutes and 52 percent less for sessions lasting more than 19 minutes. Similar associations were seen for fatal CHDs and fatal CVDs but not for all-cause mortality events.

The JAMA Network Journals

Detoxes: an undefined scam


Fad cleanses often spread through word-of-mouth despite their apparent lack of beneficial health effects. Since a cleanse involves caloric restriction, temporary weight loss often results. This is a result of glycogen loss from the liver and muscles, not fat loss. Under caloric restriction, the body’s glycogen stores can easily be depleted in 24-48 hours, resulting in a weight loss of several pounds (both from the glycogen burnt, and the water weight associated with glycogen storage). Once a regular eating schedule is resumed, however, the glycogen and water come rushing back. Nevertheless, this temporary weight loss leads a lot of people to believe the cleanse they just completed had some beneficial health effects. Not to mention – most people eat poorly. A cleanse usually brings with it vegetable and fruit consumption, which brings a host of nutrients their regular diet is likely severely lacking in.

Sol Orwell,

The Power of Habit, The Craving Brain


Studies of people who have successfully started new exercise routines, for instance, show they are more likely to stick with a workout plan if they choose a specific cue, such as running as soon as they get home from work, and a clear reward, such as a beer or an evening of guilt-free television. Research on dieting says creating new food habits requires a predetermined cue — such as planning menus in advance — and simple rewards for dieters when they stick to their intentions. (Page 36)

If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (such as a midday treat, a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog). But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward — craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment — will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come. (Page 51)

Want to exercise more? Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you’ll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually, that craving will make it easier to push through the gym doors every day.

Want to craft a new eating habit? When researchers affiliated with the National Weight Control Registry — a project infolving more than six thousand people who have all lost more than thirty pounds — looked at the habits of successful dieters, they found that 78 percent of them ate breakfast every morning, a meal cued by a time of day. But most of the successful dieters also envisioned a specific reward for sticking with their diet — a bikini they wanted to wear or the sense of pride they felt when they stepped on the scale each day — something they chose carefully and really wanted. They focused on the cravings for that reward when temptations arose, cultivated the craving into a mild obsession. And their cravings for that reward, researchers found, crowded out the temptation to drop the diet. The craving drove the habit loop. (Pages 58, 59)

Charles Duhigg

Research suggests vitamin D could affect brain function


A growing body of evidence suggests that vitamin D — present in some foods and produced naturally when skin is exposed to sunlight — regulates the enzyme that converts the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter believed to help regulate moods and direct brain development while in the womb.

“It is very important for guiding [where] neurons . . . go in the brain and how they shape the structure and the wiring of the brain,” said researcher Rhonda P. Patrick. “Without adequate serotonin in that developing fetus, the brain . . . doesn’t develop normally.” […]

Because vitamin D regulates about 1,000 different types of genes in the body — roughly 5 percent of the human genome — Patrick and her mentor, Bruce N. Ames, a senior scientist at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, believes the nutrient may play a much larger role in our health than previously realized.

Jeremy Fox, The Boston Globe

‘Detoxing’ has been debunked. Maybe it’s time to debunk that


We live in the Age of Debunking: no sooner has somebody made a false or hyperbolic claim online (resulting in clicks) than someone else announces, with an air of triumph, that they’ve debunked it (resulting in clicks). I plead guilty. And often enough, debunking is a noble pursuit: the idea that we only use 10% of our brains, to pick one example, is flat wrong, and people who believe it ought to be corrected. No convincing evidence of a Benghazi conspiracy has ever been unearthed. Marie Antoinette almost certainly didn’t say “let them eat cake”.

But the internet’s enthusiasm for a vigorous debunking now frequently spills over into what you might call the pseudo-debunk. Sometimes, this involves cynically claiming you’re debunking when you’re really just disagreeing – thereby implying that your opinion is more than mere opinion; it’s “the facts”. More common is the debunking of claims subtly different from those originally made. You may have learned, in recent months, that you can’t actually become a world-class expert in anything you like, merely by putting in 10,000 hours of practice. But do you realize that nobody really said that in the first place?

Which brings us to detoxing. It’s a tricky one, since there’s undoubtedly a lot of poppycock here and the occasional bit of truly dangerous advice. Your intestines aren’t coated with hardened plaque made of feces, so you shouldn’t get a colonic irrigation to flush it out. Extreme fasts can be hazardous. It is indeed “medically futile” to go liquor-free for a month, if you imagine that this will remove toxins from your liver for the long term. (In any case, flushing toxic substances from your body is pretty much your liver’s job description.) There’s little evidence that specific “superfoods” combat specific diseases. And sorry, but yoga won’t “rinse your spine”, whatever that means – though, now I dwell on it, my spine is starting to feel like it could do with a rinse.

Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian

Is depression a kind of allergic reaction?


The basis of this new view is blindingly obvious once it is pointed out: everyone feels miserable when they are ill. That feeling of being too tired, bored and fed up to move off the sofa and get on with life is known among psychologists as sickness behaviour. It happens for a good reason, helping us avoid doing more damage or spreading an infection any further.

It also looks a lot like depression. So if people with depression show classic sickness behaviour and sick people feel a lot like people with depression – might there be a common cause that accounts for both?

The answer to that seems to be yes, and the best candidate so far is inflammation – a part of the immune system that acts as a burglar alarm to close wounds and call other parts of the immune system into action. A family of proteins called cytokines sets off inflammation in the body, and switches the brain into sickness mode.

Caroline Willians, The Guardian

Creatine Isn’t Just for Building Muscle


Creatine is a peptide molecule that the human body can use for energy.

Muscles need fuel to work. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the primary source of energy for cells. ATP comes from a variety of sources, including sugars like glucose.

Some activities, like lifting weights, quickly use up ATP. Exhausted ATP becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Since creatine is stored in the body as creatine phosphate, it can provide a phosphate group for the ADP, which quickly regenerates the ADP into emergency ATP.

Kurtis Frank and Sol Orwell,

A Complete Primer on the Benefits of BCAAs


BCAAs are metabolized differently than other amino acids, and can be oxidized in the muscles during exercise for energy. BCAA levels can increase the availability of carbohydrates and help protect the muscles from exercise-induced protein breakdown. Having BCAAs in your diet may help support optimal muscle size, strength, and performance.

Amber Larsen, Breaking Muscle

5 Common Mistakes That Cause New Habits to Fail


A keystone habit is a behavior or routine that naturally pulls the rest of your life in line. For example, weightlifting is my keystone habit. If I get to the gym, then it creates a ripple effect in other areas of my life. Not only do I get the benefits of working out, I enjoy a wide range of secondary benefits. I focus better after the workout. I tend to eat better when I’m working out consistently. I sleep better at night and wake up with more energy in the morning.

James Clear

Diet and nutrition essential for mental health


Findings of the review revealed that in addition to dietary improvement, evidence now supports the contention that nutrient-based prescription has the potential to assist in the management of mental disorders at the individual and population level. […]

Studies show that many of these nutrients have a clear link to brain health, including omega-3s, B vitamins (particularly folate and B12), choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), vitamin D, and amino acids. […] Dr. Sarris, an executive member of the ISNPR, believes that it is time to advocate for a more integrative approach to psychiatry, with diet and nutrition as key elements. ‘It is time for clinicians to consider diet and additional nutrients as part of the treating package to manage the enormous burden of mental ill health.’


An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit


Distractions, of course, are often about the fear of missing out. We can’t possibly take part in every cool thing that everyone else is doing, but we also don’t want to miss out on any of it. So we look online for what’s going on, what other people are doing and saying, what’s hot. None of that actually matters. What matters is being content, doing things that make people’s lives better, learning, being compassionate, helping. So let’s let go of what we’re missing out on, and focus on the difference we want to make in the world.

Leo Babauta, Zen Habits

The Power of Habit, The Habit Loop


When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new routines — the patter will unfold automatically.

However, simply understanding how habits work — learning the structure of the habit loop — makes them easier to control. Once you break a habit into its components, you can fiddle with the gears. (Page 20)

Charles Duhigg

The Only 6 Supps You Need


Casein is often ignored by many in favor of whey protein but casein does possess a unique place in your training and diet program in certain circumstances. Specifically, research has reported that when dieting (lowering calories to below maintenance levels for the purpose of losing bodyfat), casein outperformed whey protein in terms of losing fat and gaining lean muscle mass. Therefore, during periods of dieting, casein is the preferred protein source.

Bill Campbell, Muscle & Fitness

5 Workout Supplements You Should Be Spending Your Money On


Creatine Monohydrate:

Why should you use it? Start with the fact that if your body didn’t make creatine in small doses, this would be an essential vitamin. Creatine helps in the creation of ATP, which is basically the currency your body uses to pay for energy. When you store and create more ATP, you make it a hell of a lot easier to develop more power and more size.

Protein Powder – Whey and Casein:

The main difference between whey and casein is speed of digestion. Both come from milk, and about 75% of milk protein is casein. Whey is a rapidly digesting form that is broken down and used quickly in the body. Casein is slow digesting that takes hours to break down, and usually used when baking with protein powder. Generally after a workout it’s good to get a mix of both, for sustained release of protein.

While it’s not necessary that you HAVE to get it in 30 minutes after a workout because of the “anabolic window” or some other bullshit myth, it definitely doesn’t hurt to get in a fast digesting protein source to help with recovery. That’s where a good whey protein supplement comes into play.

Quality does matter with protein powder. Companies will “spike” their supplement with amino acids that have no real beneficial effect towards muscle protein synthesis. That makes their protein numbers look higher on the label, and helps marketing.

Fish Oil:

It’s pretty simple: there are 2 kinds of fats you have to get in. Omega-6 and Omega-3, which are both essential fatty acids. We have far better health when the ratio of those fats is close to 1:1. The standard American diet has a ratio that comes close to 20:1. Which means some pretty serious freaking health issues like rampant inflammation – which is a culprit in many different diseases, stiffening of the artery walls, and heart problems.

Tanner Baze, BroBible

How to Figure Out If Your Supplements Are Safe


In a supplement industry survey, 85% of Americans agreed they were “confident” in the “safety, quality, and effectiveness” of supplements. Academic studies have shown similar results, including the idea that people perceive supplements as safe because they are available without a prescription and because they are “natural.”

It’s not hard to find examples of supplements that have caused real harm: Hydroxycut was finally recalled after causing liver damage for years; a supplement called Total Body Formula turned out to contain massively damaging overdoses of selenium, way more than what was listed on the label.

The FDA has the authority to challenge supplement makers who make drug-like claims, and to recall products (like the ones above) that are clearly unsafe, but they only have the budget to go after a handful of companies each year, and their system of collecting safety reports is clearly inadeqaute.

Bottom line: Just because the label says it will do something great for your body, doesn’t mean it actually will; and just because it’s on shelves and sold without a prescription doesn’t mean it’s safe.


If you do take supplements, how can you give yourself the best chance of buying ones that contain what you expect, no more and no less? I asked nutrition researcher Kamal Patel of (an independent supplement information company; they don’t sell any supplements) for tips for consumers. Here’s what he wrote:

One anecdotal trend is for consumers to buy more “pure” supplement formulations. For example, instead of buying BCAA powder that’s tropical fruit punch flavored, they’ll buy straight-up BCAA (which taste terrible) without any additives or fillers. The few companies who provide products like this appear to be more transparent with regards to their manufacturing practices and quality initiatives.

At a recent conference, I talked to one researcher whose family uses mostly supplements where the specific brand has been tested in clinical trials. For example, lavender is a supplement that is used for anxiety. There is one specific brand that has been tested, called Silexan. There are a handful of big manufacturers who have supplements that are frequently used for clinical trials.

Other than NSF, there are a few other testing organizations and product databases. This has its pros and cons, as certification doesn’t necessarily mean quality, since some quality criteria can differ depending on the specific supplement. And private organizations that test don’t have to be transparent with how they test and how that changes over time.

Consumer Reports is traditionally what people went to, but they seem to be doing not so hot financially. It’s almost as important to have organizations looking at the veracity of health claims plastered on the supplement label (like Consumer Reports does) as it is to test the actual supplement. The over-the-counter immune supplement Airborne lost a big settlement in 2010, and had to fund a two-year grant for combating deceptive advertising in supplements. Some (or most?) of the money went to Consumer Reports.

Beth Skwarecki, Vitals

Episode 140: Tim Ferriss


We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a month.

Tim Ferriss, via Duncan Trussell Family Hour

Onnit Podcast #17 with Diamond Dallas Page


Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.

Henry Ford, via Onnit

#46 Three Weeks To Shredded and Your Questions Answered with Mike Dolce


[Dr. Dan Engle] recommends to people to intentionally break this habit of ‘You gotta clean your plate, son!’ You know, we all have that kind of ingrained in our head, like, ‘You better finish your food — there’s people starving in Africa!’ Like your food is somehow going to magically transport to Africa by some Star Trek beam-me-up system, y’know? But he says, he’ll intentionally tell people to leave food on your plate. Just get in that habit of leaving something on your plate so you’re training yourself to break that cycle of ‘I gotta finish everything that’s in front of me,’ and as we know — especially when we’re eating out — what they put on your plate is sometimes an impossible amount of food. So it doesn’t make any sense to clean your plate. It’s not sustainable, and it’s not healthy for the body. Just because you put it in your body doesn’t mean that it’s not wasted: It’s just wasted in your body instead of wasted in the trash. Getting in that habit of like, ‘OK, so I’m gonna leave some food on my plate,’ and saying ‘That’s OK!’ It doesn’t make it better that I put it in my body. My body needs what my body needs — yeah, maybe make smaller portions next time if you want to conserve that — but get in the habit of not feeling the necessity to clean your plate.

Aubrey Marcus, Onnit

Nine Quotes from Stoic Philosophers for Happier Days


It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.

Marcus Aurelius, via Lifehacker

Advice or criticism?


Advice is not criticism.

Seth Godin

Man 2.0 Engineering the Alpha, Discovering the Answers


Named for the Greek word lepton, meaning ‘thin,’ leptin is produced in your fat cells — which means that the more fat you have, the higher your baseline levels of leptin will be. Here’s why this is important: one of the master hormones, leptin influences the production and secretion of other hormones that regulate metabolism, such as thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. When leptin levels are high, your production of T3 and T4 will also be relatively high, allowing you to burn fat faster; when leptin levels drop, these other hormones go too. The fact that leptin is produced in fat cells is an important reason why it’s easier to drop weight when you have more excess weight to lose. However, leptin levels also share a direct relationship with caloric intake — when you eat fewer calories, your leptin levels drop considerably. This, in turn, lowers your other fat-burning hormones, bringing your fat loss to a crawl. (Page 94)

When insulin sensitivity is high, you need less insulin to get the same effect. High insulin sensitivity is the easiest way to ensure that you’ll gain muscle, not fat. You can increase your insulin sensitivity by avoiding foods that cause a high spike, such as sugar, and lifting weight to build more muscle. Your muscles are your best friends when it comes to burning the fuel you put into your body — especially carbs. (Page 97)

Adam Bornstein, John Romaniello