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  • Josh MacGowan

Science vs Anecdote

Your peers swear a product helps them recovery faster, or their skin look better, or their muscles look fuller, but science doesn’t support it (yet). The staff at your local store swear a product has been getting amazing feedback and that customers are noticing results, but you can’t find any studies to back it up. Is it placebo, are they tripping, do they know something the science doesn’t, or are they lying?


Honestly, depending on the product it could be any of the above. I used to fall into the camp of only following principals or taking products that had undeniable scientific evidence showing their effectiveness. I still lean towards scientific evidence and results from well designed double blind placebo controlled studies when possible, but the problem is for most supplements, nutrition protocols, and training methodologies there simply isn’t enough funding to have properly studied the different variables with a large enough sample size to get to the bottom of things and if we wait for these things to have undeniable scientific proof, we will always be behind the curve on the latest athletic performance enhancement methodologies rather than on the cutting edge. Let me give an extreme example.


In the early days of anabolics, when they were legal, they were prescribed in Germany for depression. It wasn’t until the 50’s when the Russians began using testosterone for their athletes in the Olympics. There was a time where it was not scientifically proven that something as powerful as anabolic steroids built muscle, but the athletic community knew that long before. Now, the reason I used that example is because it is extreme. If you can imagine that it was known but not proven that anabolic steroids built muscle, you can likely see where it is highly probable that it could take a while after the affects of a nutraceutical are known by athletes for the scientific community to be able to prove the effectiveness of less powerful supplements. The results aren’t as powerful, so small flaws in study design could easily throw off the results and not show enough difference between groups receiving the supplement and those not for the effects to be statistically significant.


For some current world examples of what I’m talking about, let’s use amino acid supplementation. For the most part, science tells us that if we consume enough protein, we do not need amino acid supplementation. For the most part, I agree - in fact.. NEED is almost never a word we use when it comes to supplementation. For the most part in our use, however, it comes down to optimizing performance and results, not what someone NEEDS. Now, the first issue that becomes apparent to me is that enough protein has been a moving target over the years. If you took this exact advice and compared it with the advice given by the International Society of Sports Nutrition only a few years back, the recommended protein intake would have been lower. They just increased the amount they recommend recently. So, had you been taking additional EAA supplements on top of the recommended dose during that time period, you would have been at an advantage.


Next, 9/10 people that we deal with do NOT get enough protein in their diets. So blanket advice that BCAA’s or EAA’a are useless because science shows they are ineffective may discourage that crowd from using them when they would in fact get significant benefit. Blanket statements drawn from the results of a study you read should be made with extreme caution, because changing any one variable in a study could dramatically change the outcome and when you’re dealing with mass population, the variables are endless. For most people looking to improve body composition, amino acid supplementation would be a huge advantage. If it was as simple

as just getting everyone on a perfect diet, then I’d understand the argument that for the average person they may be LESS important, but seriously good luck doing that.


Finally, the most bro part of it all: I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with some of the most heavily muscled and highest performing athletes in the world including 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, 4x Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, Classic Physique Mr. Olympia Chris Bumstead, World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson, and up and coming bodybuilders such as Regan Grimes, Iain Valliere along with incredible local trainers and coaches who all know one thing: their recovery and performance is more optimal when consuming Essential Amino Acid supplements around their training.

The studies that say protein alone is sufficient are often based around controlled workouts that most people reading this would laugh at. A study may read like “We gave 20 men aged 18-24 years old 10 grams of essential amino acids supplements during a workout along with 20 grams of whey protein. For 12 consecutive weeks, we put them on a controlled exercise regimen of 3 sets of 12 repetitions on seated leg extensions to study the effects of EAA supplements on muscle circumference and power output of the quadriceps vs a group of the same size and age taking a protein supplement only.” Of course that isn’t going to be enough stimulus to maximize the subtle, but noticeable, benefits of amino acid supplement.


If that is how you train, you’re probably right that they won’t do much. But, get in the gym with some of these pros, or go train with some local beasts such as Saskatoon’s own Travis Smith and Morgan Sharpe at Maxxout Muscle, and tell me that a good EAA product with electrolytes doesn’t help you recover better after the punishment they put a body through. Trust me when I say you’ll be craving those EAA’s after.


I guess after all of this my point certainly isn’t to try to discredit science, that would be ignorant. My point is that often, their is a “hypothesis” (I use the quotations because I know that word has a specific meaning that I’m stretching a little here) in the athletic community that an ingredient is helping with something. Many people start taking said ingredient and noticing a benefit. It normally isn’t until years later that a study is done to investigate this ”hypothesis”, and often due to lack of funding there is never a properly controlled study done. It’s important to recognize the difference between something not YET scientifically proven vs something proven ineffective. Just because the science isn’t there yet, doesn’t mean a product doesn’t work.


We take great care in balancing our anecdotal feedback with scientific proof and try to always be clear when something is based more on anecdote as we believe that is important to note. We also strive to be on the cutting edge and if something is getting our clients, our athletes, and the trainers of these top athletes results - we are going to share it. Even if the science isn’t there... YET.

I hope this explains why you may occasionally see us talking about a product that you may see some others saying they have seen studies showing you don’t need. Need is subjective and research is always evolving, and our goal is to be on the forefront. The funny and interesting thing about most research if you read the full study is that it almost ALWAYS ends with the researchers saying: “this needs more research.”


Thanks for reading and check back for some information coming soon on picking the best products for your own goals! We’d be interested to know: what are your thoughts? Do you wait for 100% scientific proof to use something, or do you try to stay on the cutting edge and get the advantages you can?


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