Into the 21st Century
Bob Fritz, Animal Naturals
When I began at UNIPRO in 1982 as the first employee, sports nutrition was in its infancy. 16 years ago, there were basically weight-gain powders, protein powders and liver tablets for athletes. Although in time little UNIPRO--and Champion Nutrition which grew out of it--would literally revolutionize sports nutrition with breakthrough products, it was slim pickings compared to now. The idea back then that sports nutrition could be a legitimate alternative to anabolic steroids was not taken seriously.
In 1981, a friend of mine, Mike Zumpano, who owns Champion Nutrition, wrote a book called The Underground Steroid Handbook. He and I have worked on products together like Carboplex, Cytomax and others since 1983. In 1986, Mike invented Metabolol which I first introduced to fanciers in 1987, and which I based my original PEAK PERFORMANCE on in 1989. Because of Mike's book, and that of the very bright Dr. Wright's academic steroid books, the idea of steroids as powerful drugs became more widespread, as did the belief that nutrition was pixie dust compared to these drugs.
The term "natural" became a code word for losers. The proof was clear. In drug-tested lifting meets, 20% drops in performance were typical, as was a 15-foot drop in the throwing events (discus, etc.) And as for bodybuilders, it was drug-free boys against the steroid-aided men. This reinforced the idea that only when taking steroids could athletes compete in the fast lane. In time, this mind set crept into dog sports. But a growing stream of research from elite exercise physiologists from around the word--especially the former USSR--is changing the "only steroids work" mind set. It turns out 13 years and thousands of studies later that there are real, honest alternatives to anabolic steroids. 1995, in particular, has offered major new advances.
Real Nutritional Advances The 1980's were the predigested decade, the Golden Age of sports nutrition when more major advances occurred than at any other time. The merits of predigested nutrition in sports medicine are well documented: 100% efficiency, no GI distress, etc. UNIPRO was the unquestioned leader here.
UNIPRO introduced all new at the time predigested calorie forms of protein (Amino 1000), carbohydrates (Carboplex) and fat (Lipoplex). These were landmark advances that enabled dogs to quadruple usable energy intake, while raising performance and recovery like never before. These landmark products, and the dozens of copycats based on them by knock off companies, can be found in almost any gym or health food store, almost anywhere in the world. I've even seen them in Guatemala. Other major innovations at UNIPRO were branched-chain amino acids, liquid DMG, and more.
Later, with Champion Nutrition, we developed the first lactate polymers--Cytomax, which are very important because it is the first and only sports drink that is actually research-proven to reduce lactic acid during workouts. It builds upon what we learned with Carboplex. The 1990's became the decade of non-calorie ergogenic nutrients, many of which were not new at all but recycled from UNIPRO. For example, Creatine supplements are the rage now for human athletes and for good reason--they're very effective at increasing performance and recovery. They work even better on dogs. To read the ads, you'd think Creatine just came on the scene. Not so. UNIPRO had a product called CREATINE 1500 in 1984, as fanciers who purchased this fine formula back then will remember. But because we were the only company with a Creatine product, it did not get the attention it deserved. Being the pioneer means you get overlooked, after which the bottom feeders come along and take credit more often than not.
The 90's also became a time of developing highly successful strategies to utilize the many powerful nutrition weapons developed since the 80's, thereby producing the rare 1 + 1=3 effect of nutritional synergism. Dr. Fahey, Dr. Brooks, Dr. Silber and others have led the way in this important area.
Anabolic Steroids Some swear at them, some swear by them. There's always strong views when steroids come up, often based on myths from a guy who heard from a guy who heard from a guy about what happened to his cousin's dog while on the drugs. Setting aside the stories and exaggerations about these drugs, steroids--like all other substances that affect canine metabolism--should be viewed as a tool. No magic here. A very powerful tool, with the power for both significant benefits and negative side effects. But just a tool. Steroids, if used in an overall strategy based on sound science and proven methods, can increase performance and to an ever greater degree, recovery. Used willy nilly, they often hurt more than help. To add confusion, most steroids today are counterfeit; probably 98% of them, especially mail order ones. Steroid marketers spend money to exactly duplicate drug lab's labels, not the drug inside the bottle. They don't get rich selling steroids; they get rich selling counterfeit steroids. Ferrari Testarossa rich. Wake up.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic (man made) forms of the male hormone testosterone. Developed by the Germans in the 1930's, steroids were brought to America in 1964 by Dr. Ziglar who saw the performance increases Russian athletes got from them. The Russians have done more research into steroids for athletes than all other countries combined. They have literally written the book on steroids by Dr. Yakoblev, and others.
Steroid Alternatives There are several dozen documented benefits of steroid intake, along with a long list of negative side effects. Of the benefits, we'll take the top 5 generally agreed to be the most measurable, and compare them to the latest research on the new nutritional substances now available. How well do they stack up against steroids? We examine each nutrient and give a percentage of the benefit that the nutrient can reproduce relative to steroids. At the end, we'll add it all together and get the big picture of nutrition vs. steroids. You might be surprised.
1) Nitrogen Balance (NB): This refers to the protein status of the body and is used extensively on both humans and dogs. Nitrogen balance tests are used to rate the effectiveness of steroids; the "anabolic index" of steroids is based mainly on nitrogen balance tests. NB is also used to evaluate and grade the biological value, net protein utilization and other measurements of proteins and amino acids. To have a positive nitrogen balance is the goal. In this state, the dog or human takes in more protein than they lose and they are anabolic. Steroids are known to induce positive nitrogen balance and are very anabolic in that way. But there are now strategies for inducing positive nitrogen balance without steroids that are also very effective.
The first factor to drug-free positive nitrogen balance is to take in higher quality proteins and amino acids. By far, the most effective is a new generation of milk proteins called filtered whey (milk protein) hydrolysates, close cousins of the first UNIPRO amino acids. This is whey which is partially predigested to enhance uptake and highly filtered to remove allergens and lactose, but which still has the important beta-albumin factors.
These whey amino acids are at least 350% more expensive than even the best current canine proteins. But it's worth it since they're much more efficient than even eggs, the previous gold standard. Second, have the dog retain more of the protein-nitrogen taken in, essentially what steroids do. This can now be accomplished by taking Beta Ecdysteroids, which are natural plant sterols repeatedly demonstrated to increase muscle repair and growth in both humans and dogs. Diosegenin, Creatine monohydrate, real Siberian Ginseng, and related nitrogen retaining factors are also proven to be effective in dogs.
Finally, feed all these nitrogen enhancing substances with the new generation of carbohydrates that are cleaner burning, and 20% more efficient at supplying muscle energy and facilitating amino acid entry into muscle cells.
Degree to which substance duplicates specific steroid effects: 65%
2) Cortisol Suppression: The stress hormone cortisol has received a tremendous amount of attention the last few years in the better fitness magazines. With good reason-it's been learned that cortisol, which rises during hard workouts, is an extremely catabolic (muscle destroying) hormone that's chiefly responsible for overtraining. The harder, longer and more often the workouts, the more cortisol produced, the more muscle broken down in a destructive cycle. This is why over trained dogs often look like concentration camp inmates--their muscle tissue is literally being eaten from within because the body turns on itself during very stressful times like conditioning periods.
It's now clear that elevated cortisol levels are the greatest factor leading to overtraining; not energy shortages in muscles and liver which have been largely solved with predigested calories.
One of the primary reasons that steroids are so effective in increasing performance and recovery is because they have a suppressing effect on cortisol. Although it's slight--about 5%--lowered cortisol levels from steroid intake is a major factor why steroids work. In what may be one of the more important advances in sports nutrition history, an all-natural, safe and incredibly effective substance has been discovered by APRL that lowers cortisol to 50%. And it's been tested on dogs and shown to be equally effective. This substance is called phosphytdylserine, PS for short. PS effectively reduces cortisol levels to a degree not achieved even with drugs. So when dogs work out very hard, PS tricks their body into not producing as much cortisol. Enough cortisol is still produced to carry on its roles in the body. The bottom line is this-- harder, longer, more frequent workouts and faster recovery--without overtraining. The result is a stronger, leaner dog with much better endurance--the Holy Grail. But these increases only occur IF the dog is receiving the other nutrients and strategies defined in this article. In other words, to get the full PS effects, take it as part of an overall strategy. PS will show up in many human products under many names this year because it's safe, natural and solves the age-old problem of cortisol syndrome. But remember you saw it here first for dogs.
Degree to which substance duplicates specific steroid effects: 100% +
3) Muscle and Liver Glycogen: Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates and supplies much of the energy during workouts. Glycogen is stored in two main tissues: muscle and the liver. The greater the glycogen content in the canine body, the greater the endurance capacity and the faster the recovery. Until the last decade or so, dogs suffered from chronic low glycogen levels because it was virtually impossible to get enough carbs into them. The advent of Carboplex largely solved this because just one cup equals about 5 cups of barley or cooked rice with zero GI distress and 100% utilization. Carboplex-type products help dogs to essentially carbohydrate load throughout the 24-hour day. Second generation Carboplex-type products (MetaCarb III, K-9 Carb II) are even more beneficial to dogs. They contain carbs that are cleaner burning and produce less lactic acid, and are much more efficient at refilling muscle and hard to fill liver glycogen.
Degree to which substance duplicates specific steroid effects: 65%
4) Phosphocreatine (PC): Muscle Stores PC is a very important fuel source in muscle tissue, supplying muscular energy during the first 8-40 seconds of intense contraction. PC stores are also very important during workouts because they are converted into ATP--the chemical currency of the canine body.
After workouts, the PC levels in muscle determine the rate of recovery and repair. Obviously, having high PC stores is an advantage to the canine athlete. Anabolic steroids are known to increase PC stores; another one of these powerful drugs' benefits.
Can taking Creatine orally actually increase the amount in muscle, and therefore performance and recovery? Yes, and it was first proven in 1928--on dogs! Just one teaspoon (5 grams) of 99% pure Creatine monohydrate is equal to the amount of Creatine found in over two pounds of prime red meat steak.
It's not surprising that Creatine supplements are very popular today. A second-generation Creatine supplement is about to hit the streets by the time this article appears. It consists of standard pharmaceutical-grade Creatine monohydrate, plus glycol simdes that enhance overall Creatine efficiency by 25%--a great deal since only about 20% of Creatine monohydrate is absorbed orally.
Degree to which substance duplicates specific steroid effects: 65%
5) Mental Focus/Aggression: Steroids create a specific chemistry in the brain, which stimulates aggression and attitude. These traits help in getting a dog's "mind right" for grueling workouts. Those who have taken steroids themselves know this feeling well. As of now, natural supplements can reproduce little of this steroid effect.
Degree to which substance duplicates specific steroid effects: 2%
Bottom Line So there's mixed results. Some substances, like PC, exert positive effects as good or better than steroids. However, this is very rare. Taken in sum, the new generation of nutrients can probably reproduce a little under 50% the benefits of steroids, a quantum leap ahead of just a decade ago. If 50% doesn't sound like much, then you've been sleeping or are stupid. It's a game of inches for human and canine athletes where even a 3% increase in performance often determines success, or failure-even a world record. It should be noted that this 50% figure is most likely attained when all nutrients are taken together within an overall strategy vs. being taken alone. Those of you who have followed the evolution of scientific nutritional products for dogs, beginning in the early Amino 1000 and Carboplex days of UNIPRO have seen it evolve into Metabolol to Metabolol II and later K9 Super Fuel.