One of the top product developers in the sports nutrition industry talks frankly about new developments in the wild world of sports supplements.
Serious news reporters often will refer to the sports section of the paper as the "toy department," meaning that the writers on the sports beat seem to have way too much fun to actually be considered working.
If the bodybuilding industry has a toy department it would have to be where the product developers work. Think about it; they have access to virtually every nutritional supplement under the sun, and essentially spend their days formulating and beta-testing the newest products months before the average customer even catches wind of them.
Sounds cool to me.
If a career in sports supplement development is like working in the toy department, then Biotest's own Tim Ziegenfuss is like the CEO of Mattel. Dr. Ziegenfuss received graduate degrees from Purdue (M.S. in Exercise Physiology) and Kent State (PhD in Exercise Physiology with cognates in nutrition and statistics) and has been working with Biotest's product development team since 2004.
As a married father of five little Zs (3 boys and 2 girls), Tim's a pretty busy guy, but he still took a few minutes of his day to talk creatine, beta alanine, and of course, try to tell us something that we don't know.
— Bryan Krahn
T-Nation: You've been involved in the supplement business for many years now. Is there any advancement in particular that you've been a part of that you're most proud of?
Dr. Tim Ziegenfuss: That question takes me back to the early 1990s, when Lonnie Lowery and I were both grad students under Peter Lemon at Kent State University. Dr. Lemon had secured funding to perform a series of formative studies on creatine monohydrate, CLA, and whey protein (actually comparing whey isolate to whey concentrate and casein).
In essence, our lab helped supercharge the EAS creatine machine of the mid-90s. In contrast, CLA was largely discarded until recently when purity and isomer issues were finally figured out.
Fast forward to 1996, when I finished my PhD and stepped into the academic world. At Eastern Michigan University I completed the very first studies on various andro compounds and delivery systems like sublinguals and cyclodextrin complexes. I also looked at more than my share of thermogenic compounds and glycerol as a hyperhydrating agent for body builders. Basically, I studied everything that was hot in the industry at the time.
T-Nation: I'm sooo having a '90's flashback. And the thing you're most proud of is?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: This is going to sound kind of butt-kissy, but one of the things I'm most proud of is being a part of the product development team at Biotest. Over the past few years, we've brought to market a few ingredients and products that I feel are industry standards. As someone with first hand knowledge of how this industry operates, I can honestly say that "from soup to nuts" no one else even comes close. And no, in case you're wondering, I currently do not receive any type of royalties for product sales. But I have a great gig where I can work from home and spend lots of time with my kids.
T-Nation: As a scientist, what supplement do you feel everyone, lifter, athlete, or otherwise, should have in their cupboards? And since you already gave us a healthy plug, feel free to go beyond the Biotest family.
Dr. Ziegenfuss: I'm going to make several categories here, because quite honestly, I think your question is a little short sighted.
Level 3 (gut/immune problems) – Probiotic formula (Ganeden BC-30 is tops in my opinion), d-lenolate, green tea extract+L-theanine, andrographis paniculata, quercetin.
T-Nation: Very interesting. What would you say is the biggest scam in the industry?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: Easy. Creatine ethyl ester. It's total garbage – enough said.
T-Nation: Really? I always figured simple, plain old creatine monohydrate was the gold star considering that's the form used in all the initial clinical trials.
Dr. Ziegenfuss: You're spot on, and apart from creatine pyruvate and perhaps creatine magnesium chelate, none of the other forms on the market are worth the price. Supplement companies are constantly searching for the "next creatine" that next supplement that's going to safely deliver strength and lean mass gains above and beyond creatine monohydrate. Since they can't find it, they're trying to just tweak the molecule slightly or reinvent it by using some sort of goofy (but unproven) delivery system. It's a page straight out of Marketing 101.
T-Nation: Staying with creatine, I know that it's been studied harder than Jessica Biel's backside, but are there any new or interesting findings on it?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: I don't know if "new" is the right word because the studies have been out for some time. But creatine monohydrate has been shown to increase intramuscular levels of IGF-1 and decrease serum myostatin concentrations [thus allowing the muscle to grow bigger]. Both of these effects may play a direct role in how creatine increases muscle growth in response to resistance exercise. Throw those tidbits at half-wit personal trainers who say creatine just causes water retention!
T-Nation: What about Beta Alanine? It's been getting a lot of good feedback. Does it actually increase strength and build muscle, or does it just provide a nice training effect?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: By buffering hydrogen ions, beta alanine allows athletes to increase their training intensity and volume. Whether it has an additive effect on muscle growth when combined with creatine is somewhat controversial. In short, beta alanine is an anti-fatigue agent, so it's especially useful for athletes who compete in sports where lactate levels are off the charts. I get the tingles, as in parasthesia, when I use it and I kind of dig that feeling.
T-Nation: Tingling, huh? We'll get into how you spend your Friday nights in a future interview, Doc. Branched chain amino acids are used by bodybuilders to prevent muscle catabolism, especially in dieting scenarios. Is there any research to support this practice? Could leucine also play a role in this regard?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: There's very little research to support the use of branched chains to prevent muscle catabolism, especially in humans. But the effects are undeniable, and as you pointed out, there's reason to suspect the key player is leucine.
Leucine interacts with the insulin-signaling pathway and helps regulate skeletal muscle use of glucose via the glucose alanine cycle. In rodents, leucine also stimulates uncoupling protein 3 in thermogenic tissues. So along with being a potent stimulus for muscle protein synthesis (via activation of mTOR), leucine helps athletes retain muscle during low carb diets, at least when protein intake is adequate.
I predict that once scientists confirm these effects, you're going to increasingly see weight loss products contain added leucine.
T-Nation: Well, many dieting bodybuilders are adding leucine to their shakes anyway, so it wouldn't surprise me if companies started capitalizing on this trend. Let's stick with protein. Plazma™ and Mag-10® Protein Pulsing Protocol™ seem to have a major buzz surrounding them. Why? Aren't they both just forms of casein hydrolysate (CH)?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: Not at all. I apologize if this sounds like supplement ad copy, but the CH in both Mag-10 and Anaconda is a blend of rapidly absorbed di- and tri-peptides that no other company has.
T-Nation: So it's not the same as DSM PeptoPro?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: Absolutely not. We actually worked with DSM [DSM Nutritional Products is the world's leading supplier of vitamins, carotenoids and other fine chemicals to the feed, food, pharmaceutical and personal care industries] to create our own unique amino acid profile. The result is a supercharged CH with more muscle building properties (on a gram to gram basis) than any other protein on the market. I am utterly convinced of that. Unless you're allergic or have a food intolerance to casein, that is.
T-Nation: Makes sense. What about nitric oxide boosters. You're not a fan. Why?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: What I'm not fond of is the name "nitric oxide booster." There are a few great pre-workout products out there that are labeled as such, but whether they actually boost nitric oxide is a matter of debate.
The worthwhile ones contain creatine, beta alanine, taurine, and not surprisingly, a nice big crack of leucine. Toss in some caffeine to blunt the perception of pain and allow a guy to train harder and whammo – better pumps. It's hardly rocket science, but it is pretty cool marketing.
T-Nation: I'm reading a lot about L-carnitine lately, for both ergogenic and health enhancing benefits. I remember reading about that stuff in my old Michael Colgan Optimum Sports Nutrition book from the 90's. What's the deal?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: L-carnitine has been around for well over a decade, and until recently, exercise scientists had dismissed it as an ergogenic aid. Some really neat research produced by Dr. Bill Kraemer and Dr. Jeff Volek at UCONN showed that L-carnitine could increase androgen receptor content in response to intense resistance exercise.
They also showed convincingly that L-carnitine improved the recovery process by reducing certain inflammatory markers of muscle tissue breakdown and muscle soreness.
T-Nation: That's kinda cool. How does it do that?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: We don't know for sure. It's been hypothesized that L-carnitine may somehow increase blood flow, oxygen delivery, and/or regeneration of ATP. It's worth noting that just like creatine, L-carnitine uptake by muscle is enhanced by insulin.
T-Nation: Insulin, huh? Another case for the addition of carbohydrates to pre/post workout protocols. Let's switch to the future. What's coming out soon that's got you really excited?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: "Soon" is a relative word, but Tim Patterson, Bill Roberts, and I are working on a few new fat loss ingredients. If they work out half as well as I hope, they will change the face of the industry, especially in people who just can't seem to drop body fat into the single digits.
T-Nation: Now THAT sounds cool. Any hints?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: Sorry, no hints. You'll have to wait like everyone else (insert evil grin). We're also looking into adding an ingredient to one of our first products, Tribex, to increase its effectiveness. But you'll have to stay tuned for that one. I ain't saying anything!
T-Nation: Fine, be that way. Okay Dr. Z, we're up to the last question, the franchise question, if you will. Tell us something we don't know?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: Many T NATION readers may already be somewhat aware of this, but it's so important I'm going to say it again. Because of diet and/or where we live, many of us are walking around with vitamin D levels that are suboptimal for building muscle, enhancing immune function, and reducing our risk of chronic diseases. If this is news to you, the first thing I'd recommend is to read this piece by Chris Shugart.
The second thing to do is have your blood drawn and tested for 25(hydroxy)D. You want your levels to be at least 30 ng/mL. Personally, I concur with the Vitamin D Council and think the sweet spot for this vitamin to be at least 50 ng/mL.
If you need to supplement, be sure to go with vitamin D3 and re-check your levels every two months. Don't be surprised if you need to take really high doses (50,000-100,000 IU per week) for a few months to get your levels up to the optimal range. I did.
Finally, because of the key interactions between them, make sure your diet contains ample amounts of calcium, vitamin A (beta carotene) and vitamin K2. Otherwise, all the vitamin D in the world isn't going to help you, and may in fact do the opposite. Incidentally, Tim Patterson and I have been working on an Elite Pro Multivitamin.
T-Nation: A Biotest multivitamin? It's about time! So when can we expect to see that one?
Dr. Ziegenfuss: Gotta run, my friend. It's a little quiet in my house all of a sudden. When you got five kids, that's probably not a good sign.
T-Nation: No worries. Thanks for doing this today Tim!
Dr. Ziegenfuss: It was my pleasure.