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How Dietary Supplements Affect Your Body Composition, According to Science

Fat loss pills. Protein powders. Creatine.

These are probably all supplements you’ve heard of or are even familiar with if you’ve ever stepped foot in a gym. Supplement manufacturers are quick to tout the amazing benefits of these products to help you burn fat, build “lean muscle”, and get six pack abs. And apparently they’re pretty convincing … because the global dietary supplement industry made $132.8 billion in 2016 and that number is expected to increase to $220.3 billion by 2022.

But do these supplements actually make a difference when it comes to body composition?

In this article, we’ll break down the real science behind the most popular dietary supplements and show you which ones appear to work, which ones don’t, and some you may even want to avoid for safety reasons.

Let’s start with what works.

Supplements That Can Help You Improve Lean Body Mass

There’s no shortage of dietary supplements on the market these days marketed toward people trying to improve lean body mass.

However, there are a few that actually directly support body composition improvement (i.e., they’re backed by peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinicals trials).

These are:

1) Protein Powder

2) Creatine

3) Beta-alanine

4) HMB

 

We’ll break down the evidence supporting each.

Protein powders are one of the most common nutritional/dietary supplements. You can now buy protein powders from a variety of sources: milk-based (whey and casein), egg-based, or plant-based (rice, hemp, pea, pumpkin seed, and soy, to name a few).

Whey Protein

Whey protein has been studied more than any other protein powder. A quick search of “whey protein powder” on PubMed brings up close to 400 studies to date. While you can certainly find studies like this one that showed no link between whey protein and body composition, the overall body of evidence seems to suggest whey does, in fact, have some type of impact. A meta analysis (a review of a group of studies) published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition looked at 14 clinical studies including a total of 626 adults and concluded that whey protein powder has favorable effects on body composition (and is even more effective when combined with resistance training).

Rice Protein

Rice protein is a plant-based protein powder used by vegans, vegetarians, and people who can’t tolerate dairy products like whey. In one study published in the journal Nutrition, researchers found that rice protein had similar effects on body composition as whey. There was no difference between the group of subjects that took rice protein and the one that took whey protein; both experienced positive body composition changes.

Soy Protein

Soy protein is another popular plant-based protein powder that gets a bad rap because it contains isoflavones, phytoestrogens that share similarities with estrogen (and because it’s often extracted using hexane, a petroleum-based solvent).   However, according to several studies, soy protein may be beneficial to body composition for older women in particular. One study showed that a daily supplement of soy protein prevented increases in subcutaneous and total abdominal fat in older women. Another showed soy protein had a mild effect on body composition in elderly women. One caveat: whey has been shown to be more effective than soy for improving lean body mass when combined with resistance training. So if lean body mass is your goal, you may want to consider other protein sources than soy if you’re using a protein powder.

The Bottom Line About Protein

In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers compared muscle development in three groups of athletes on the same exercise routine but with different protein intake levels. One group was given less than the daily recommended amount (RDA)--1.4g/kg of body weight, the second group received the current RDA of 1.8g/kg of body weight, and the third group had more than the RDA (2.0g/kg of body weight). The researchers found no improvement in strength or body composition in the group that consumed the most protein. They concluded that 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight was sufficient to see favorable changes in body composition in athletes. For non-athletes and particularly older adults, eating around 0.8 g/kg per day has been shown to help preserve lean body mass. Long story short, most people don’t need to guzzle down protein shakes like bodybuilders and gym rats to see changes in body composition.

Creatine is a popular supplement among bodybuilders and athletes because of its apparently positive effects on muscular strength. While some studies show that creatine may have lean body mass building properties, other researchers argue that water weight gains make it difficult to assess its effectiveness. One small study showed that creatine when combined with other supplements (glucose/taurine/electrolytes) promoted gains in fat/bone-free mass, lifting volume, and sprint performance during intense resistance/agility training. Getting stronger often leads to improvements in lean body mass, but it’s not totally clear if the creatine itself is responsible for this. If you use creatine along with other supplements and resistance training exercises, you’ll see positive changes in your body composition regardless.

BETA-ALANINE

There’s some compelling research about the effects of beta-alanine on body composition. Supplementation with beta-alanine appears to stimulate lean body mass growth in athletes. Also, beta-alanine may enhance high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, which can lead to improvements in endurance performance and lean body mass.

A group of researchers published a paper in the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) reviewing several published studies on beta-alanine supplementation and concluded that four weeks of beta-alanine supplementation (4–6 g/day) may improve skeletal muscle mass and exercise performance (although the effects on strength and endurance exercise beyond 25 minutes needs further study, according to the researchers). It seems like beta-alanine is a good choice to add into your supplement-taking routine to help with endurance, which in turn can help with increasing muscle mass.

HMB

HMB, or beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate, is a metabolite of the essential amino acid leucine that has been used as a dietary supplement in the bodybuilding community for years.

There are mixed opinions about how HMB impacts body composition. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that HMB led to “advantageous changes” in body composition among athletes. However, another small study among athletes found that HMB helped athletes substantially increase their lower body strength … but the effects on body composition were insignificant.  Another team of researchers concluded that HMB may help preserve muscle mass in older adults. 

Long story short, it appears that HMB is effective for helping you preserve lean body mass. Whether it helps with fat loss or building lean body mass, it still needs to be studied more.

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Baytown Student Highlight - Lindsey Hinojosa

 

What is your name and age?                             

Lindsey Hinojosa 35

When did you join Elite MMA?

I joined in 2013 (I think?)

Why did you decide to start taking martial arts?

I wanted to do some sort of physical activity and I had    never done anything like this so I was really excited to get started.  Plus my kids were already taking jiu jitsu here, so it seemed like the perfect fit.

In the past what had caused you not to take martial arts?

I think I needed a little push to start this program.  It was outside my comfort zone but that is what interested me most about martial arts, I had never done it.

Is this your first time taking martial arts and what classes do you take?

Elite is the only place I have done martial arts. I currently take cardio kickboxing, fundamentals class and jiu jitsu.

If you had any concerns about joining Elite MMA, what helped you with your decision?

Robert was great about explaining everything to me when I started and the rest of the coaches and students welcomed me with open arms.

Since you have been part of Elite, please share what you have been able to accomplish?

Since joining Elite I can say that I am in the best shape I have ever been in. I can defend myself if the need were to arise and I have become a part of a family here!

Anything else you want to share with someone who is looking to get involved with martial arts or looking to change their current lifestyle?

Just try it! You will surprise yourself ;) 

 

Kingwood Instructor Highlight: Jordan Rivas

Profession: Owner/General Manager of the Elite MMA Kingwood

What classes do you teach:  Adults BJJ: men's and women's, Advanced BJJ, Kids BJJ, 4-6yr old BJJ, Tier 2 KB

What is a memorable moment for you at Elite MMA? Some moments that really stick out to me; my first class when I met Eric and Hai. Meeting my wife (Alaina) during one of the kickboxing classes. And also the day that I received my black belt.

Do you have any martial arts accomplishments that you are proud of and why? I won silver at the Pan Ams of Jiu Jitsu, and Bronze the same year at the World Championships. As an MMA fighter, I have a combined pro/am record of 5-0, with 3 of my wins via submission. 

Are there any professional accomplishments that you are proud of and why? I am extremely proud of my academy and my students at both the Kingwood and Baytown schools. They demonstrate truly qualities of martial artists both on and off the mat. Our Kingwood school has grown so much in the last few years, and has given Kingwood/Humble area a profession source to learn the mixed martial arts.

What hobbies do you enjoy and why? I love traveling, trying new cuisine, I am a Subaru enthusiast and I can spend hours playing xbox games with my son.

Any memorable family moments that you would like to share? I met my wife Alaina doing the kickboxing class at Elite, and we now have a 9yr old son together (Thales) and a 5yr old daughter (Sophia).

If you could walk us through a day or week in your life what would it consist of? Monday through Friday you can find me at the Kingwood Elite. I am always on the mat with students, during class and after class answering questions. I am passionate about my students advancement in the Mixed Martial Arts, and it is really rewarding for me to see them progress through the art that has done so much for me.

Westheimer Student Highlight—Elijah Thompson

What is your name and age?

My name is Elijah Thompson and I am 18 years old.

When did you join Elite MMA?

I joined Elite MMA 4 years ago.

Why did you decide to start taking martial arts?

I decided to start taking martial arts because I fell in love with the art before I even started training. 

In the past what had caused you not to take martial arts?

What caused me not to take up martial arts in the past was because of a lack of money.

Is this your first time taking martial arts and what classes do you take?

Elite MMA was the first gym I ever attended, and my favorite classes to show up to have been Pat's boxing class.

If you had any concerns about joining Elite MMA, what helped you with your decision?

I did not have any concerns about joining the school; all I needed was somewhere to sign up. 

Since you have been part of Elite, please share what you have been able to accomplish?

Since I've been part of this school, I have been able to make new friends that I now consider my family.  They have help make me stronger than I was before both physically and mentally.

Anything else you want to share with someone who is looking to get involved with martial arts or looking to change their current lifestyle?

I believe Elite MMA has taught me how to tackle problems more than one, and I know it can do the same for you. 

 

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