Most everyone who is into fitness, athletics, sports, or maybe even weight management has considered using supplements to aid their journey towards the goal they’ve set for themselves. Truth be told, in this age of long and grueling working hours, compact families (no dadi/nani/mom/dad to cook for you everyday!), and the constant rush of our daily lives, supplements have now percolated down to the desk drawers of even those who just need a quick and easy way of maintaining their nutritional/health/wellness requirements on the go.
Is it good to take supplements? Well, that’s a whole new debate, and one we wouldn’t necessarily partake in.
Is it good to turn to supplements willy nilly? Ah, now that’s a whole different ball-game. Maybe you take whey proteins because your gym trainer says so; or you swear by multivitamins because your friend/colleague/doctor/nutritionist said so; or maybe you discovered fat burners on the internet, and their marketing was lucrative enough for you to believe that you’d lose that stubborn belly fat before your birthday 2 months hence. While it’s true that supplements work – taking them because conventional wisdom (or your cousin/neighbor/friend’s wisdom) influences you to do so, may not be the best strategy.
YOU are unique. YOU are built differently from others around you. YOU are genetically, “molecularly”, nutritionally, metabolically unique!!!
Fitness today, is more than just being able to fit into smaller clothes and looking younger than before. Numerous aspects such as muscular strength, nutritional requirements, training ability, metabolic rate and other biological parameters, must be understood for their role they play in your fitness levels. While supplementation is a way to make up for something missing from your diet or to build strength, there is no “one size fits all” solution. What works for one, might not work for the other. There’s also the fact that medical experts have reported health risks for some of these compounds. So….how do you know what supplement works best for YOU, the right dosage and health risks that you need to watch out for?
Supplements and your genes
Casein, Whey, egg protein, plant-based, pea, hemp, brown-rice….The list is endless. The average consumer today has access to a plethora of different kinds of protein supplements at his disposal. Irrespective of what the source is – the key active ingredient in all of these is well…protein. Essential for muscle building. So obviously, the more the merrier yes? Well, not exactly – For individuals with a high risk for Chronic Kidney Disorder (CKD), high amounts of protein can spell out a not-so-pretty tale. While high-protein diets haven’t shown to be harmful for healthy individuals, they can accelerate kidney damage in individuals with the disease. Those with a high risk for CKD need to monitor their protein intake, and check their renal health regularly (when on a high-protein diet).
Ah the elixir for the emaciated. Mass gainers are marketed as the one stop supplement for those looking to gain weight, pack on some serious mass, and add more muscle to that scrawny frame. But before you start stocking up on these, you might want to check your genetic predisposition to fat metabolism, gluten intolerance, and your risk for chronic kidney disease. The active ingredient in most mass gainers on the market is large amounts of Carbohydrates (mostly gluten based) and fats. Those amongst us who carry variants of the gene responsible for dietary fat metabolism might find this supplement to be a bit of a bane than a boon, since these “fitness” enthusiasts might find themselves leaning a fair bit more towards FAT than FIT, thanks to their body’s tendency to store every bit of fat consumed. Similarly, for those at risk of gluten intolerance, this may not be the best bet. Needless to say, clinical confirmation for celiac disease would be necessary before switching to a gluten-free diet. High-protein diet affects the kidneys, and those with a high risk for CKD have to monitor for the same (as explained above for protein supplements)
I have to admit. The name, the marketing, and those before-after pictures splashed across the internet for fat-burners or thermogenic supplements make them lucrative to one and all. But at the core of this much-hyped supplement is copious amounts of caffeine. Allow me to emphasise once again – COPIOUS amounts of caffeine – 300mg+ caffeine anhydrous, plus 300-500mg from other sources (green tea extracts etc)! By increasing the resting heart rate (thanks to caffeine), these burners aid fat burn. While consuming a high amount of caffeine comes with its fair share of health concerns, the problems only get exacerbated if the individual taking these supplements has genetic variants that hamper his caffeine metabolism, or increase his underlying risk for any cardiac condition. Understanding your genomic profile vis-a-vis caffeine metabolism and risk for cardiovascular disorders is imperative before you order these “magic” pills.
Essential Fatty Acids – Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) and Omega 3
CLA is the supplement of choice for all those who are looking to shed fat, while not losing their muscle mass. Essentially CLA (or Omega 6) is an essential fatty acid that is crucial for the shredded-physique aficionados. Fighting fat with fat? Sounds like a rather dubious infomercial.
When used in conjunction with a regimented diet and exercise routine, CLA has been shown to not just help reduce fat, but also bolster muscle strength and exercise endurance. Yes, it stood up to its too-good-to-be-true claims in the face of massive scientific enquiries and experiments into its effects and the validity of the claims. CLA reduces body fat by increasing the basal metabolic rate (BMR). But as with all good things, too much of it can be counterproductive. Higher doses (very very commonly seen in gym junkies and elite athletes) can lead to development of a fatty liver, and may worsen insulin resistance in diabetics, or those with a metabolic disorder. Individuals with a high genomic risk for Diabetes (or insulin resistance), and those with an increased risk for biliary cirrhosis must exercise caution when they dabble with this supplement.
Coming to Omega 3 supplements – Why are they creating such a buzz? Fatty acids like DHA, EPA and ALA are being touted as essential components of a supplementation plan, especially if you exercise vigorously on most days of the week. Reason? Exercise routines can contribute to inflammation and this can affect recovery rates, too. Omega-3 fatty acids protect your body (and its organs, such as the heart) from inflammation. Understanding your innate (i.e. genetic) predisposition to maintaining Omega-3/Omega-6 levels in the body, can help you choose the right kind of supplement and the right dosage.
Creatine is probably one of the oldest, most well-researched, and extremely credible supplement that has withstood the test of time in this hyper-dynamic health and nutrition market. Mostly sold in the monohydrate form, Creatine supplements help increase the amount of creatine naturally stored in the muscle – thereby helping the muscles produce more energy, during high intensity exercises – aiding athletic performance. While creatine is hailed to be one of the safest supplements in the market, individuals with a high genomic risk for kidney or liver problems should avoid higher dosage of the same, as it can lead to health complications.
This is another go-to supplement for Bodybuilders and sportspersons alike. An amino acid used primarily by the body for the biosynthesis of carnosine, B-Alanine helps reduce fatigue, increase lean muscle mass and improve workout efficiency.
While research shows that there are no major risks associated with short term use of beta alanine, it can cause some concern for those suffering from, and on medication for, hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Beta-alanine has been shown to increase production of Nitric Oxide (a vasodilator) thereby giving it a “proceed-with-caution” tag for individuals at high genomic risk for CVD and/or hypertension.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
Of course you’ve heard of them…they are probably already a staple in your “supplement shopping list”. Touted to reduce muscle soreness, improve fat burning and reduce the breakdown of muscle cells, BCAAs sure seems to be the king of supplements! All the right buzzwords there, all the benefits one wants in his pursuit of fitness. Lesser known however are the not-too-brilliant effects of BCAAs. High intake of BCAA has been shown to deplete Vitamin B levels, which can be rather bad for someone with an underlying genetic risk for Vitamin B6 deficiency (Vitamin B6 is actually imperative for breaking down BCAAs). Some people also take BCAAs as an essential supplement in aiding a “healthy” caloric deficit diet – restricting carb and protein intake (especially at night). Not necessarily the best bet for individuals with a high genetic predisposition towards reduced satiety levels – since this sets them up for unwarranted, unwanted, unnecessary, untimely snacking. Oops!
Multivitamins have actually transcended the fitness market now. Rapidly becoming a supposed “must-have” part of everyone’s daily diet chart. I mean, grandma takes it, that one cousin takes it, as does mum, dad, dad’s cousin, his wife, their parents, and their neighbors and every other person on the planet. While this sudden spike in interest has greatly benefited the manufacturers and resellers of multivitamins, the scientific community has been a bit confounded. There’s no significant proof that taking multivitamins (or not taking them) impacts one’s well-being in a big way. It’s good to take them, but are they necessary? Again a debate we won’t partake in, but our two cents here?
Of the numerous multivitamins saturating the market out there, which one would best suit YOU? Rather than just taking the first one off the shelf, choose one that has a higher concentration of the vitamin you NEED, rather than a random cocktail. Your genomic risk for vitamin deficiencies is the perfect starting point for discovering just this!
Supplements for enhancing recovery
- Antioxidants – eg., astaxanthin
- Omega 3
- Collagen (for exercise-related joint pain)
- ….. And many more
That exercise produces free radicals and the body uses antioxidants to neutralize them, is a well-known fact. However, post-workout antioxidant supplementation may or may not have the benefits you seek. If you are genetically predisposed to having reduced antioxidant levels, you may need to take specific supplements to avoid/recover faster from exercise-induced injury. However, if you have regular antioxidant levels, having healthy meals with generous helpings of antioxidant-rich foods might be all you need to do.
Nitric oxide (NO)
The fuel for that PUMP!! (Every gym-goer knows what we are talking about!). Nitric Oxide supplements are said to increase the amount of Nitric oxide present naturally in the bloodstream, theoretically leading to better muscle pump, better endurance and faster recovery, by promoting vasodilation (increased blood flow). Makes you feel great! But boy oh boy does it come with a whole lot of “warnings”!
Overdose of NO can lead to metabolic disorders such as hyperglycemia or high blood sugar, with the potential to cause problems in individuals with a high genomic risk for diabetes or insulin resistance.
Being a strong vasodilator, NO must be used with extreme caution by persons with a genomic risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease, or those on medications for the same.
Excess NO can lead to electrolyte imbalances in the body – high levels of creatine, urea, potassium chloride and low phosphate. This is a serious cause of concern for individuals with a increased genomic risk for liver or kidney disorders, since NO can contribute towards the same.
Thinking Supplements? Ah…Think Personal Genomics.
MyFitGeneTM (earlier known as Genomepatri FITTM) is one of the most comprehensive sports genomics tests, not just in India, but across the globe! Taken up by elite athletes, and regular fitness enthusiasts alike, this once-in-a-lifetime, painless, saliva based DNA test assesses your genomic strengths, and identifies weaknesses, to give you an excellent starting point in your race towards a better you!
Genomic profile reporting for MyFitGeneTM is designed keeping sports, fitness, wellness and YOU central to the whole process. Broadly, the report sheds light on three focus areas, namely Nutrition, Fitness and Wellness.
Nutrition: Nutrition is an essential part of fitness. Be it sports, workouts or general well-being, optimal nutrition is imperative. Genomic insensitivity to gluten containing foods, metabolism of dietary fats and vitamins can hamper your nutrition. Antioxidants and Vitamin D are crucial for enhancing recovery and reducing the risk for injury. Can your body metabolise them well? Do you need to alter your diet?
Fitness: How are your muscles built? Genetically speaking, are you built to be a sprinter or a marathoner? Understanding this is crucial right from choosing an optimal sport to the right workout, to tailoring your training regimen to complement your genetic architecture. Cardiac health is another essential focus area for anyone in fitness or sports. Understanding your underlying genomic risk for an apparently silent cardiac condition helps you monitor it better, and avoid unwanted complications, without compromising on your physical regime.
Wellness: Sports and fitness don’t just rely on your physical attributes, but mental ones too. Resilience helps you look adversity in the eye and push on. Good feedback based learning abilities help you avoid making the same errors, and thus gaining an advantage on your opponent. These traits are hard coded in your DNA, among many others that are screened here. Understanding your abilities helps you unlock your full genetic potential.
Important focus areas of MyFitGene
- Cardiorespiratory Fitness – Obesity, HDL/LDL levels, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Atrial Fibrillation, Nicotine dependence, Myocardial Infarction and many more!
- Body Composition – Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Antioxidant levels and many more!
- Neurological components – Resilience, memory, avoidance of errors and many more!
- Muscle Strength and Endurance – Muscle architecture (muscle fibre composition), Ankylosing spondylitis and many more!
- Clinical Parameters – PSA Levels (male), Endometriosis and Premature Menopause (Females), Liver Cirrhosis, Chronic Kidney disease and many more!
- Injury Risk and Recovery – Assessment of multiple factors that cumulatively determine your injury risk and recovery profile, including but not limited to, risk for disc generation, ACL rupture, antioxidant capacity and risk for reduced bone mineral density.
Coupled with a FREE, personalised genetic counseling session, MyFitGeneTM provides you with not just information essential to unlock your potential, but an action plan based on your genomics, to help you realise the same!
About the Author
Udbhav Relan is a member of the Mapmygenome gene pool, having joined us after completing his MSc in Biotechnology and Enterprise from University of Manchester (UK). He loves hitting the gym regularly and going on biking trips. When he isn’t working, he can be found either in a nature reserve – clicking away to his heart’s content, or strumming his guitar trying to ape his childhood heroes – Metallica, but mostly he would be found in a bar, cheering on Manchester United while chugging down gallons of…Green tea (Hey! He’s a fitness freak!)