Replacing Steroids: Natural Ways to Juice Up

By: Excerpts from Power Eating by Susan Kleiner

Susan Kleiner's book, Power Eating, "the blueprint for gaining muscle mass and reducing fat", is rising rapidly on the best-seller lists. Kleiner, who has a doctorate in research and who is also a Registered Dietician, is considered one of the authorities on protein utilization in world-class athletes and an expert on anabolic steroid-ingesting athlete's needs. In this excerpt from Power Eating, Chapter 7, Kleiner discusses alternatives to steroids in building muscle mass rapidly.

(All text copyright 1998 by Human Kinetics Publishing, from POWER EATING by Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD, with Maggie Greenwood-Robinson, and excerpted and reprinted here by their express written permission. All rights reserved. No portions whatsoever may be reproduced by any means without the express written consent of Human Kinetics Publishing, 1607 N. Market St., Champaign, IL. Available in bookstores or by calling 1-800-747-4457.)

You train hard. You are building body-hard muscle. Still, you want to know: Isn't there something besides intense workouts and healthy food that can help you make gains a little faster, something that will give you a muscle-building edge, with less effort?

Definitely. There are several things you can do to pack on lean muscle. Unfortunately, not all of them are safe - or legal. Anabolic steroids, though approved for medical use and available by prescription only, are among the most abused drugs among athletes. "Anabolic" means "to build," and anabolic steroids tend to make the body grow in certain ways. They do have muscle-building effects, but they are dangerous and life threatening. Once practiced mainly by elite athletes, anabolic steroid abuse has spread to recreational and teen athletes and is now a national health concern. Research shows that among teenagers, 40 percent of kids under age 15 have tried anabolic steroids.

In addition to steroids, athletes use other types of drugs including stimulants, pain killers, diuretics, and drugs that mask the presence of certain drugs in the urine. Synthetic growth hormone (GH) is used by athletes as well, because they believe it will increase strength and muscle mass. GH has many horrible side effects, including progressive overgrowth of body tissues, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. GH is one of more than 100 drugs that has been banned by the International Olympic Committee. The full list of banned substances appears in table 7.2. Notice that not one of these substances is nutritional; they are drugs and not food substances.

Here's the good news. Forget health-destroying drugs. There are some natural aids you can use to enhance muscle building, give you an extra edge in training, and generally keep your body in healthy balance. Most involve dietary manipulations; some require the use of special supplemental products. Here is a roundup of those aids, from high-calorie supplementation to creatine, that will help you develop your physique and improve your performance in the gym.

High Calorie, High Carbohydrate Nutrition

The single most important nutritional factor affecting muscle gain is calories, specifically calories from carbohydrates. Building muscle requires an intense, rigorous strength-training program. A tremendous amount of energy is required to fuel this type of exercise - energy that is best supplied by carbs. A high-carbohydrate diet allows for the greatest recovery of muscle glycogen stores on a daily basis. This ongoing replenishment lets your muscles work equally hard on successive days. Studies continue to show that high-calorie, high-carbohydrate diets give strength-trained athletes the edge in their workouts. Here is the bottom line: The harder you train, the more muscle you can build.

To build a pound of muscle, add 2,500 calories a week. This means introducing extra calories into your diet. Ideally, you must increase your calories by 500 to 1,000 a day. But do this gradually, so you don't gain too much fat. What I suggest to strength trainers in a building phase is to start by introducing only 300 to 350 calories a day for a while. Then after a week or two, increase to 500 calories a day. As long as you are not gaining fat, start introducing 1,000 extra calories into your diet daily.

Most of these additional calories should come from carbohydrates in the form of food and liquid carbohydrate supplements. An example of 1,000 calories worth of carbs from food is two cups of pasta, two bagels, and two bananas. It just doesn't take that much additional food to up your carbs.

To be really exact, you can match your carb intake to your weight. As a strength trainer who wants to build muscle, you should take in about nine grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight a day. If you are an athlete who cross trains with strength training and you want to build, figure about 10 grams of carb per kilogram of body weight a day.

Supplementing with liquid carbs is an excellent way to increase those calories. Plus, it appears to support muscle growth. In a landmark experiment, competitive weightlifters took a liquid high-calorie supplement for 15 weeks. The goal of the study was to see how the supplement affected the athletes' weight gain, body composition, and strength. The weightlifters were divided into three groups: those using the supplement and no anabolic steroids, those using the supplement plus anabolic steroids, and a control group taking no supplements or steroids but participating in exercise. The supplement contained 540 calories and 70.5 grams of carbohydrate, plus other nutrients.

All the participants followed their usual diets. The supplement-plus-steroid group and the control group ate most of their calories from fat rather than carbs (45 percent fat, 37 percent carbohydrate). The supplement-only group ate more carbs and less fat (34 percent fat, 47 percent carbs). What's more, the supplement-only group ate about 830 more calories a day than the controls and 1,300 more calories a day than the supplement-plus-steroid group.

Here is what happened. The weight gain in both supplemented groups was significantly greater than in the controls. Those in the supplement-only group gained an average of seven pounds; those in the supplement-plus-steroid group, 10 pounds; those in the control group, three and a half pounds. Lean mass in both of the supplement groups more than doubled, compared to the control group. The supplement-only group lost 0.91 percent body fat, while the supplement-plus-steroid group gained 0.50 percent body fat. Both the supplement-only and supplement-plus-steroid groups gained strength - equally.

These results are amazing, really. They prove that ample calories and carbs are essential for a successful strength-training and muscle-building program. Even more astounding is the fact that you can potentially attain the same results with diet alone as you can with drugs. That is powerful news for drug-free strength trainers everywhere. In chapter 10, you will learn how to plan your own high-calorie, high-carbohydrate diet to support muscle growth.

Carbohydrate/Protein Sport Drinks

There is more to the carbohydrate supplementation story. Unimaginable as it may seem, it is within your control to retool your body for more lean muscle and less fat - and do it naturally - all with a simple formulation. Here's how. Immediately following your workout, drink a liquid carb supplement that contains protein, and you will jump-start the muscle-building process, plus boost your energy levels.

This simple formula is 11 ounces of carbohydrates and protein in liquid form taken immediately following your strength-training routine. This is the time your body is best able to use these nutrients for muscle firming and fat burning. The supplement I use with my clients is a Gatorade product, GatorPro. Convenient to take to the gym for a quick refresher after your workout, GatorPro provides 360 calories, 59 grams of carbohydrate, 17 grams of protein, and 7 grams of fat. Be sure to drink it cold. It tastes better that way. You can use any of the meal-replacement drinks on the market.

If you would rather drink your carb-protein supplement at home, try my homemade muscle-building formula. Simply mix a packet of Carnation Instant Breakfast with eight ounces of skim milk, one medium banana, and one tablespoon of peanut butter, and blend until smooth. One serving gives you 414 calories, 17 grams of protein, 70 grams of carbohydrate, and 10 grams of fat.

For a long time now, I have used this formula or GatorPro with many of my bodybuilding clients and soon started observing some major shifts in their body composition, from less fat to more muscle.

How It Works

But why? How does this formula help muscles get stronger and firmer? Exercise, of course, is the initial stimulus. You challenge your muscles by working out, and they respond with growth. But for muscle building to take place, muscles need protein and carbs in combination to create the right hormonal climate for muscle growth.

What happens is this. Protein and carbohydrates trigger the release of the hormones insulin and growth hormone in your body. Insulin is a powerful factor in building muscle, and in many other functions. It helps ferry amino acids into cells, reassembles those amino acids into body tissue, and prevents muscle wasting and tissue loss.

Growth hormone increases the rate of protein production by the body, spurring on muscle-building activity. It also promotes fat burning. Both hormones are directly involved in muscle growth. So you see, your body is primed for growth, thanks to this simple muscle-gain formula.

Scientific Proof

Exploding research into the effect of carb-protein supplements on athletes and exerciser supports what I have observed for years. Some examples follow:

In one scientific study, 14 normal-weight men and women ate test meals containing various amounts of protein, 0 grams (a protein-free meal), 15.8 grams, 21.5 grams, 33.6 grams, and 49.9 grams, along with 58 grams of carbohydrate. Blood samples were taken at intervals following the meal. The protein-containing meals produced the greatest rise in insulin, compared to the protein-free meal. This study points out that protein clearly has an insulin-boosting effect.

- In another study, nine experienced male strength trainers were given either water (which served as the control), a carbohydrate supplement, a protein supplement, or a carbohydrate/protein supplement. The men took their designated supplement immediately after working out and again two hours later. Right after exercise and throughout the next eight hours, the researchers drew blood samples to determine the levels of various hormones in the blood, including insulin, testosterone (a male hormone also involved in muscle growth), and growth hormone.

The most significant finding was that the carbohydrate/protein supplement triggered the greatest elevations in insulin and growth hormone. Clearly, the protein works hand in hand with post-exercise carbs to create a hormonal climate that is highly conducive to muscle growth.

More Energy

If you supplement with a carb/protein beverage after your workout, you will notice something else. That "something else" is higher energy levels. Not only does this nutrient combination stimulate hormone activity, it also starts replenishing muscle glycogen. That means more muscle energy. The harder you can work out, the greater your muscular gains.

When protein is added to the supplement mix, your body's glycogen-making process accelerates faster than if you just consumed carbs by themselves.

Some intriguing research proves this point. In one study, nine men cycled for two full hours during three different sessions to deplete their muscle glycogen stores. Immediately after each exercise bout and again two hours later, the men drank either a straight carb supplement, a straight protein supplement, or a carbohydrate/protein supplement. By looking at actual biopsies of the muscles, the researchers observed that the rate of muscle glycogen storage was significantly faster when the carb/protein mixture was consumed.

Why such speed? It is well known that eating carbs after prolonged endurance exercise helps restore muscle glycogen. When protein is consumed along with carbs, there is a surge in insulin. Biochemically, insulin is like an acceleration pedal. It races the body's glycogen-making motor in two ways. First, it speeds up the movement of glucose and amino acids into cells, and second, it activates a special enzyme crucial to glycogen synthesis.


Quite probably, creatine is the most important natural performance-enhancing supplement yet to be discovered for strength trainers. Unlike a lot of supplements, creatine has been extensively researched. Exciting experiments show that creatine produces significant improvement in sports that require high levels of strength and power, including strength training, rowing, and cycling sprints. Another big plus for creatine: Several creatine supplementation studies have shown gains in strength and power, and body mass gains averaging two to four pounds or more in one week. Some of this initial weight gain is water that accumulates inside the muscle cells joined with the added creatine. But an increase in cell water is the first step in the anabolic process of muscle building. This, combined with greater strength and power, and higher intensity workouts, leads to more muscle.

Not a Gimmick

Creatine received the following endorsement from a review article in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition, a respected publication in sports nutrition. "Creatine should not be viewed as another gimmick supplement; its ingestion is a means of providing immediate, significant performance improvements to athletes involved in explosive sports."

Sound good? You bet. Who wouldn't prefer a bona fide natural supplement like creatine over synthetic, dangerous compounds like steroids? Creatine is the ticket to greater strength and improved muscularity.

How It Works

Creatine is a substance produced in the liver and kidneys - at a rate of about two grams a day - from arginine, glycine, and methionine, three nonessential amino acids. About 95 percent of the body's creatine travels by the blood to be stored in the muscles, heart, and other body cells. Inside muscle cells, creatine is turned into a compound called creatine phosphate (CP). CP serves as a tiny energy supply, enough for several seconds of action. CP thus works best over the short haul, in activities like strength training that require short, fast bursts of activity. CP also replenishes your cellular reserves of ATP, the molecular fuel that provides the power for muscular contractions. With more ATP around, your muscles can do more work.

You load creatine into your muscles, just like endurance athletes do with carbs. Consequently, you can push harder and longer in your workouts because creatine boosts the pace of energy production in your muscle cells. Creatine supplementation does not build muscle directly. But it does have an indirect effect. You can work out more intensely, and this translates into muscle gains.

How Much?

Creatine supplements clearly swell the ranks of creatine in your muscles. This gives a boost to the working muscles' fuel source, glycogen from carbohydrates. The question is, how much creatine do you need? You do get creatine from foodÑroughly one gram a day. But that is not enough to enhance strength-training performance. You need more.

Creatine usually comes in a powdered form as creatine monohydrate. Scientific research shows that taking 20-25 grams of creatine monohydrate in four or five, five-gram doses (five grams is about a teaspoon) will do the trick. After that, two grams a dayÑabout half a teaspoonÑwill keep your muscles saturated with enough extra creatine.

The logic that if a small dose is good, a large dose is better, isn't a good idea. The body has a ceiling on the amount of creatine that it will store in the muscles. If you keep taking more, creatine will not continue to load into the muscles. The only known side effect associated with creatine intakes of one to ten grams per day is water weight gain. One report suggests that some people may experience muscle cramping, and possibly muscle tearing when supplementing with creatine. However, these claims are without studies and are unsupportable. While loading with creatine, make sure to drink extra water. This may control the cramping. And you're asking for trouble if you belt down daily dosages of 40 grams or more. Such high doses may cause possible liver and kidney damage, according to some reports. Check with your physician before supplementing with creatine.

Supercharge: Creatine with Carbs

Here is an important, newly discovered fact about creatine supplementation. Creatine works best in combination with a liquid carbohydrate supplement. In fact, this combination boosts the amount of creatine accumulated in muscles by as much as 60 percent!

That is the key finding of a recent study. Investigators divided 24 men (average age was 24) into experimental and control groups. The control group took a total of 20 grams of creatine monohydrate a day (five grams of creatine in sugar-free orange juice four times a day) for five days. The experimental group took the same four doses of creatine monohydrate followed 30 minutes later by 17 ounces of a solution containing carbs. Muscle biopsies taken following the five-day test period showed that both groups had elevated creatine levelsÑbut with one dramatic difference. Creatine levels in the experimental group were 60 percent higher than in the control group. The investigators also found higher concentrations of insulin in the muscles of the experimental group.

The implications of this study to strength trainers, athletes, and exerciser are enormous. Just think: By supplementing with creatine and carbs at the same time, you are supercharging your body. With more creatine in your muscles, you have more power to strength train.

The fact that the creatine/carb combo increases insulin is equally important. Insulin increases the uptake of glucose, which is ultimately stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles for fuel. The more glycogen you can stockpile, the more energy you'll have for exerciseÑincluding aerobics. The creatine/carb combo is a bona fide energy booster for all types of exercise activity.

Weight-Gain Powders

You've seen them: huge cans brightly labeled with alluring product descriptions like "weight gainer," "solid mass," "lean mass enhancer," or "muscle provider." These products belong to a group of supplements known as weight-gain powders. Most contain various concoctions of carbohydrate, protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients thought to enhance performance. The manufacturers of these products claim that their specific formulations will help you pack on muscle.

But do they? Actually, no one knows for sure. But in 1996, a group of researchers at the University of Memphis put two weight-gain powders to the test. One powder was Gainers Fuel 1000, a high-calorie supplement that adds about 1,400 calories a day to the diet (60 grams of protein, 290 grams of carbohydrate, and 1 gram of fat). Although the supplement contains many other ingredients, it is formulated with two minerals that have been hyped as muscle builders: chromium picolinate and boron.

Chromium picolinate's link to muscle growth has to do with the fact that it increases the action of insulin, a muscle-building hormone. But that is where the association ends. There is no valid scientific evidence that chromium directly promotes muscle building. (For more on chromium picolinate, see chapter 6.)

Boron has been touted as a supplement that promotes muscle growth, too, by increasing the amount of testosterone circulating in the blood. But experiments have failed to verify this claim. In one recent study, 10 male bodybuilders took two and one-half milligrams of boron daily for seven weeks, while nine male bodybuilders took a placebo. Both groups performed their regular bodybuilding routines for the entire seven weeks. The results were interesting. Lean mass, strength, and testosterone levels increased in all 19 men to the same relative degree. Boron supplementation did not make a bit of difference. It was the training, pure and simple, that did the trick.

Back to the study on weight-gain powders: The second supplement investigated was Phosphagain. It adds about 570 calories a day to the diet (67 grams of protein, 64 grams of carbohydrate, and 5 grams of fat). Like most weight-gain powders, Phos-phagain contains lots of other ingredients that are rumored to build muscle. Among the most notable are creatine (see the previous section), taurine, nucleotides, and L-glutamine. An amino acid found in muscles, taurine has been found in animal studies to enhance the effectiveness of insulin. Nucleotides are the building blocks of RNA and DNA; the nucleotides in Phosphagain are derived from the RNA in yeast. Nucleotides are fundamental to metabolism and integral to the cell division and replication involved in growth and development. As for L-glutamine, an amino acid, it theoretically regulates the water volume in cells and the protein-making process in muscles.

To check the effects of Gainers Fuel 1000 and Phosphagain on muscle growth, the University of Memphis researchers selected 28 strength-trained men, all about the same age (average age was 26). None was currently taking anabolic steroids, nor did any have a history of steroid use. The subjects had been training for an average of six years.

The researchers assigned the men to one of three groups:
(1) a third of the men took a maltodextrin supplement three times a day (maltodextrin is a carbohydrate derived from corn);
(2) a third took two servings of Gainers Fuel 1000 daily according to the manufacturer's directions; and
(3) the remaining third took three servings a day of Phosphagain, according to the manufacturer's directions.

The subjects took their supplements with their morning, midday, and evening meals. None knew which supplement he was taking. They all continued their normal workouts and diets during the course of the study. Additionally, they were told not to take any other supplements for two weeks prior to the study and until the study was over.

Before, during, and after the study, the researchers analyzed the subjects' body composition using some of the most accurate and sophisticated technologies available.

Here's a summary of what the researchers discovered:
- Both the maltodextrin supplement and the Gainers Fuel 1000 promoted modest gains in muscle mass in combination with a strength-training program.

- In the group that supplemented with Gainers Fuel 1000, fat weight and percent body fat increased significantly.

- Phosphagain supplementation was more effective in promoting muscle gains than either maltodextrin or Gainers Fuel 1000 during strength training. In fact, muscle gains were "significantly greater" with Phosphagain, according to the researchers. The men who supplemented with Phosphagain did not gain any additional fat.

Now before you draw your own conclusions, let me emphasize that it is still up in the air as to exactly which ingredients in Phosphagain were responsible for these results. More tests are needed on weight-gain powders in general, as well as on the individual ingredients they contain to confirm these findings. But, carbs with some protein (weight-gain powders contain both), taken at the proper times, are important supplements to a muscle-building diet. Also, the creatine in Phosphagain could have been a factor in the results.

Look for more from Power Eating by Dr. Susan Kleiner in the next issue of Max Muscle. (Buy the complete book at local bookstores, or call 1-800-747-4457).