With my summer workout program in full swing, before I got started, I was researching pre-/post-workout supplements to help with soreness, muscle and glycogen recovery, and to aid in improved cellular function. From my previous years in the gym, I already knew that most post-workout supplements that enhance recovery, guarantee no muscle soreness, and all that junk are just that, junk. They’re supplements sold to Delta Bravos who will believe just about anything because it says it on a bottle, so I set out to find things that were well received in the weightlifting world — meaning reputable sites such as Amazon and Bodybuilding.com had dozens of reviews — and was backed by scientific evidence, hopefully. And if the supplement had any other effects, such as aiding in a most restful sleep or stuff like that, all the better I thought. So after searching and searching, I somehow stumbled onto ZMA, a mineral blend purported to both increase testosterone production, with the side effect of helping you sleep better.

ZMA itself is just a blend of the minerals Zinc, Magnesium and Aspartate, a non-essential amino acid which has been identified to aid in gluconeogenesis and acts as a precursor acid to other amino acids in the body. Both zinc and magnesium — chemically similar minerals — play vital functions in the body in that they aid in muscular repair and development, amongst other roles. So basically I found a compound made up of three minerals that all play some part in cellular reproduction, muscular regeneration, and ATP or glucose production? Count me in! I then proceeded to read every review about ZMA I could find that provided both reviews of actual products and user reviews on its purported effects. After all, if its claims of increasing testosterone production, decreasing muscle soreness and/or increasing muscular repair, and better, deeper sleep were true, every gymrat and Delta Bravo would be taking it, right? Turns out, a lot of people are taking it, I must have hundreds of reviews over the course of two weeks, almost all of which were positive and those that were not either believe they did not take it correctly — take on an empty stomach, especially one free of any calcium-heavy foods — or that the particular brand of ZMA just sucked. I even scoured Mark’s Daily Apple and Robb Wolf’s site for recommendations, since I knew both would have covered it one point and what I found on their sites was promising, based on their reviews of the scientific materials. I was still skeptical of its benefits but hey, ZMA is cheap so it couldn’t hurt to try it.

So I went and bought a 90 count bottle of NOW Foods ZMA, linked above. At the suggested dosage of 3 per night, that would give me 30 days of intake to help gauge its effectiveness. NOW Foods’ is a proprietary blend of ZMA itself with a kick of vitamin B6 thrown in as seems to be common in the supplement. I was totally geeked up to try this stuff, mostly because I was amped about the potential for getting a more restful night’s sleep. For me, the muscular benefits ended up being secondary because muscle soreness is always going to occur if you’re working out, and you can speed it up by eating lots of good quality protein which is almost impossible to screw up on the primal diet. Per the instructions on the bottle, I made sure to pop 3 capsules about 30 minutes before I planned on going to bed and I made sure it had been many hours since I ate (and I totally made sure) and sure enough, about 35 minutes after taking the ZMA, I felt extremely sleepy and was definitely ready for bed. I kind of felt like I’d taken an Ambien because it came out of nowhere and was a heavy drowsy feeling, so I high-tailed my ass to bed to take advantage of this. I don’t recall sleeping any better than normal or experiencing any of the weird dreams some people reported, I just slept hard. Like a rock.

Unfortunately, that was also the only time I ever experienced that feeling. I don’t know if it was because I couldn’t ensure my stomach was completely empty every time I took ZMA or if it was basically a bunch of baloney. I continued with the dosage until I finished the bottle off and I honestly cannot tell you truthfully if I ever experienced any differences in sleep quality or how my body felt after a day at the gym. Well, turns out the claims about increasing testosterone are effectively unfounded. The studies linked to PubMed do state that there may be some increased effects in sufficiently zinc deficient people but anyone eating a healthy diet with a moderate amount of green leafy vegetables or taking just about any multivitamin isn’t going to be zinc deficient in any way. And if they’re one of the guys pretending to be a bodybuilder in the gym, they’re in the zone of zinc toxicity, if anything. And the effects of aspartate may increase testosterone, according to the studies, but it would need to be delivered in much higher doses than currently delivered. NOW Foods’ ZMA blend delivers 2.4 grams of their proprietary blend, so you have exactly no idea how much of any particular mineral you’re actually getting, so there’s no way you can manipulate intake to increase efficacy. My guess is that since their product includes 450mg of magnesium and 30mg of zinc in addition to the ZMA blend (comprised of 4 minerals), you’re getting very little aspartate overall.

Would I buy this again? Not unless NOW Foods’ published their blend contents or the supplement industry at large began heavily loading these ZMA blends with higher levels of aspartate or in much higher doses than 2400mg — I think I saw one product that was 3000mg total, the rest of the field were 2400mg and less. Do I think ZMA can help a certain portion of the population? Yes, it can probably help all the obese people in America whose diets consist of Diet Coke and Twinkies but other than that, no, it’s only going to help NOW Foods and their bottom line.

Disclaimer: I paid for this item myself and was not provided anything by anyone, except by the UPS guy who delivered the box from Amazon. While I only reviewed one product from one company, the information applies to all ZMA supplements currently available.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot more articles by detractors of different realms, such as paleo/primal and why everyone is wrong and a lot on politics and movements. On the surface, neither seem to be terribly interrelated but once you involve “science”, many problems people see with either one get equated to basically the same things:

* I’m right, you’re wrong
* I’m right, you’re wrong because you’re stupid and/or I refuse to listen to another opinion
* Because you didn’t scrutinize every last detail to the Nth degree, you didn’t do enough research and are therefore, utterly wrong
* You’re different and I don’t like different/change/etc

Every one of those applies to politics and political science in almost every arena, argument, debate, and TV show, almost all simultaneously, every time as well. But I’m not here to talk about politics, it just makes me angry(ier). I actually want to discuss science, food science, how paleo is “wrong”, and how people are just unbelievably stupid.

Preface: I am not a scientist by degree (yet) nor by trade, but I have Google and like everyone else, that makes me an expert at everything, always.

There are tons of people who write daily about how any type of diet is wrong, bad for you, will probably kill you, can give you every disease known to man, and so forth. Some of these people are scientists, some are nutritionists or dietitians, but most are regular Joes like me. But unlike most of those regular Joes, I do have a training background in science, how to read scientific articles and journals, and how to interpret results, whether they apply to plant sterols or indigenous populations of people in the backwoods of Guinea. I may not always understand the content but I can sure as hell read it, but a lot of people can’t or don’t. They will either rely solely on interpretations of others or read abstracts of papers, which give the most minute indication of what a paper is about and what its outcome was. Both are very prevalent but they make people feel like they know what they’re talking about, which is not necessarily a bad thing but it is once it dupes people into believing they know what they are talking about, in exquisite detail, although they don’t really know any of the science behind it. And this is where “bad and incomplete” science comes into play. People decry studies like those conducted by Dr. Lustig about the extreme dangers of greatly increased sugar intake and its detrimental effects on the body by calling his science “bad”. I don’t even have to really explain this, you can just read all the comments over at Project Syndicate where people are decrying his findings — which are vetted by others in academic journals, meaning they reviewed the material themselves and evaluated it to be true or not — because they think he’s full of it. Sure, he’s overblown on the sugar fear-factor scale a bit but he’s not wrong, overdosing on sugar is going to screw you up, just look at the majority of people who routinely consume soft drinks and look at their body composition, they’re generally fat. By “routinely”, I mean a few times a day, and I certainly understand that there are far more confounding factors at play than simply soda intake. Things like HFCS are slipped into most processed foods produced in America and our bodies have not yet evolved a mechanism to metabolise fake sugar as efficiently as it has regular ol’ fructose , glucose, and galactose found in naturally sweet things like fruit. But there are long standing links, anecdotal and scientific, showing that increased sugar intake screws you up. Just look at American Indian skulls before and after the introduction of Maize into their societies, the amount of dental carries and dental disease skyrockets afterwards.

So, because people have a strong affinity for sweets and love consuming them, all the while being told by the companies like the Corn Refiners Association that “sugar by another name is still sugar”, they just don’t like being told they’re wrong. And because they just love munching on candy, drinking sugar from cans, and eating donuts by the handful, they deem the science “bad”.

This also translates over to the whole paleo movement, which people are bowling each other over to say is based on “bad and incomplete” science. Well, I have a huge but obscenely non-obvious statement for all of you:

Over time, ALL science is incomplete, is potentially bad, and that is the exact NATURE of scientific examination. Deal with it.

This takes literally no amount of thought or rationality to understand, it’s just how it works. Remember when smart people jailed Galileo for hypothesizing and then proving heliocentrism was indeed correct whereas geocentrism wasn’t? Yeah, that’s because the science was incomplete until he proved otherwise. Or that people thought the Earth was flat? Just how many pre-Enlightenment explorers proved that one wrong simply by sailing around the world and living to tell people about it? Even then, the scientific knowledge of the world was grossly incorrect and incomplete. What about something more recent? OK, in September 2011, some scientists from CERN said that some neutrinos could travel faster than the speed of light, thus proving that Einstein’s special theory of relativity was wrong. They even backed it up with reams of documentation and actual experiments! Well, turns out they were wrong and Einstein was not. In fact, their science has been overturned a number of times since September 2011. And remember, these people are smart as hell, smarter than you and me combined.

…How does this relate to diets? It’s the exact same thing, just replace all of that stuff with food, or carbs, or sugar, or macronutrients, or whatever. You can literally substitute anything in there. People are tearing down Lustig for his sugar-scare theory, Taubes for his work on carbohydrates, Jimmy Moore for airing podcasts about nutrition for the last 5+ years that have helped thousands of people lose weight, how the China Study was right and everyone else is wrong, etc., etc. Some commentators argue that the science is “bad and incomplete” based on what others are telling them or they have read from others’ interpretations without consulting the source material themselves — after all, they can’t be blamed for that, everyone does it — and it generally lands on the side of arguing semantics about something, see points #2 and #3 I made at the beginning. Some people argue the science behind it and when they do so, it’s incredibly compelling and interesting to understand how they tested a hypothesis, interpreted the data, or otherwise came to that different conclusion. But the first set of people? They just ramble on, like I’m doing, and assume they are right and justify it by calling the science (and scientist) names. They do this because they’re typically over their heads.

I’m not going to provide links because I have no want to drive any traffic their way but these sites can be found easily by Googling up things about Dr. Jack Kruse, Gary Taubes, et al. But here’s where the complainers are wrong: sometimes science is incomplete but it works without fail. Einstein’s theories only hypothesized that black holes existed but then we built telescopes powerful enough to prove him right. So what about paleo/primal, eating clean, LC, and all the other new fad diets? Well, the proof is in the pudding, as they say.

Richard Nikoley posted this today, where it contains evidence that cutting crap food out of your diet works and works amazingly.

Mark’s Daily Apple, by far the biggest primal blogger there is, has an incredibly long list, complete with pictures and stories about how going primal and cutting out the crap has worked for so many people — a list updated monthly as well. Not only does this prove paleo and primal work, the constant updates proves that it’s continuing to work for a lot of people.

Then there’s this TV show, Biggest Loser, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. It’s about to start its fourteenth season, which they’re currently filming parts of now. They have taken hundreds of participants and stuck them on diets at the BL Ranch that are almost always very low carb and low fake sugar, and then proceed to beat the snot out of people with workouts and foods they’re not used to. And guess what? It works incredibly well. In recent seasons, Bob and Jillian have been advocating paleo-style diets while at the Ranch and guess what? It works.

So if all of this paleo business is based on broke, faulty, “bad and incomplete” science, why the hell does it work so effectively? The science behind it may be incomplete — like all scientific studies are, at one point or another — but the results speak for themselves and that’s the most important part of the entire thing.

Now that I’ve completed my first week on the Stronglifts protocol, it looks like I’ve got my summer training protocol. I considered switching over to Starting Strength since the two programs are identical except for SS includes the power clean rather than a bent row, but I haven’t done a clean in a very long time, so I’m not going to integrate it yet. But overall, the program is fun and easy and reminds me of what I started out doing in middle school with simple complex compound movements before I got sucked up in the bodybuilding craze that almost every gym rat does at one point or another. These days, I’m old and I don’t really care about having insane muscular striation or increased vascularity just to look like I workout a lot, I’d rather just be strong and fit, that’ll be proof enough.

Now that I’ve got this plan knocked out for now and it’s a 12 week program, I may be switching up to something like a 2-day 5/3/1 protocol once school gets here and will be adding in more runs for conditioning, in training for upcoming fall season races. I definitely want to get to that 12-13 mile distance by December for Tough Mudder and I just may be able to do that as I think I’ve finally found a training partner that’s stoked to do this stuff just like I am. That should be exciting but that training is still a little ways off. Otherwise, it’s all GTL for now.

Frankly, my life seems pretty routine right now, I just realized I basically wrote this same post twice before in previous months, and very little has really changed. How strange.