Cyclic Dextrin: Does It Work?

It was January of this year when, upon preparing to unintentionally strain my Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) with a measly 300lb Deadlift, I was feeling as physically uncomfortable as I could be for someone who really needed to hurry up and head home before the start of work. I’d been experiencing more gastric distress than I ever had in all my years of lifting weights (and it escalated from there!). I doubt that it was at all because I ate a hard boiled egg and a small cup of rice before training. So there could’ve been just one possible culprit: Dextrose Powder.

I’d written an article in 2019, praising Dextrose Powder to the Nth Power. I’d recommended it for intra and post training supplementation, regardless of the fact that one serving of the brand I alone used contains 46g of sugar. What I didn’t think about was the fact that Dextrose, a simple sugar, is made from corn starch, which has a molecular structure that’s almost identical to Glucose. Corn alone is not an easily digestible food, and anything that’s not easily digestible depending on the person can lead to gastric distress.

Looking back as I write this, I imagine that Dextrose Powder played a big part in my gaining twenty pounds in the months following the release of the aforementioned article. I was 173lbs when the article was written and within a few months I was up to 190lbs. Some of that was muscle for sure; but the gut I suddenly had could only be from my insulin spiking more than it ever had as a result from the sugar content in the dextrose powder. I imagine personal stress didn’t help either.

So I purchased Cyclic Dextrin upon doing some research. Here are some benefits of Cyclic Dextrin:

  • Due to its low osmolarity, it’s far easier to digest, thus providing a faster gastric emptying time.
  • It’s not just gluten free, it’s also sugar free. That alone diminishes any chance of insulin spikes, which lead to fat gain.
  • When taken during and after your training, Cyclic Dextrin enters your muscles at a faster rate than any other Carbohydrate powder. This is thanks not just to its low osmolarity, but also to its increased molecular weight. It provides a steadier stream of carbs into the muscles allowing for prolonged training sessions.

Some government studies may validate these claims. An abstract of one crossover, double blind study compared the effects of low doses (15g) of both Cyclic Dextrin and Maltodextrin during an endurance exercise using Rate Of Perceived Exertion (RPE). The abstract stated in the end that “The RPE increased during exercise and its increase was significantly less at 30 and 60 min after ingesting HBCD than maltodextrin.”

For those unfamiliar with RPE, it’s a rating system where the trainee subjectively rates his/her performance using a number system with 1 indicating no effort was needed and 10 indicating that max effort has been applied. So if the study shown here states that, while RPE did increase as could’ve been expected, the increase itself wasn’t necessarily significant, it can then be implied that the Cyclic Dextrin used made training easier to continue.

As for my own, personal experience; I can say that it does work for me, in both the sense that I don’t feel overly fatigued after intense training anymore, and that not once have I felt bloated or experienced any stomach problems upon using Cyclic Dextrin. If you’re bloated and are preparing for a relatively heavy set of squats or deadlifts, engaging your core will be more than difficult. Therefore, Cyclic Dextrin allows me to move through my training in a far more efficient and comfortable manner.

How And When Should I Use Cyclic Dextrin?

Do not concern yourself with using Cyclic Dextrin if you’re just starting out. All you’d need is water, although you can add a pinch of sea salt in the water for maximum hydration as well as avoiding cramps. Concern yourself with eating right, perfecting your exercise technique and advancing as much as you can without any supplementation at all. In terms of use, Cyclic Dextrin can be very beneficial if you’re training on an empty stomach, as I’ve been doing lately. It’s obviously also beneficial if you’ve reached a point in your training where you need a boost to sustain your training session for the sake if instant absorption of carbs directly into the muscles.

The Muscle Sport brand, the brand I use, recommends using 1 scoop for every 16-20oz of water. You can and should take it during and after your training sessions. Admittedly, Cyclic Dextrin is pricier than we’d all like it to be. But I find it a worthy investment, far more superior to any other Carb Powder on the market.

Eat Your Spinach!

You might’ve seen the old Popeye cartoons. You might not have (and I’d like to know how!). But if you somehow haven’t, Popeye usually needed to save Olive Oyl from the ultra thirsty Bluto. And whenever he needed a boost, Spinach was his immediate go-to super food. Just like that his biceps would bulge and Bluto would be running for cover. This also made Spinach the third most favorite children’s food after Turkey and Ice Cream upon Popeye’s debut in 1929. In fact, I dare say it was because of Popeye that my mom was able to successfully get me to eat my spinach as a kid!

Evidently Popeye was on to something.

But as I’d come to find out years later, Spinach – the green, leafy vegetable with Persian roots – is one hell of a super food! Here are some benefits of Spinach:

  • Very low in calories – the caloric count in Spinach comes in at around the 25 calories per serving mark.
  • High in insoluble fiber and low in carbs – While Spinach is low in carbs, those carbs are what contain the fiber. And insoluble fiber helps in preventing constipation.
  • Rich in Vitamins and Minerals such as Vitamin A, K, Potassium and Magnesium.

You can also use Spinach in a few different ways. You can sauté it, roast it, as I do, or you can even blend raw spinach with your smoothies, as I also do. I explained this to some students five years ago, as they understandably were instantly grossed out. Raw spinach, unlike the cooked version has zero flavor. Blend it in a smoothie with all the other fruits you’d like to add, and you won’t taste a thing. Trust me here, I do this every day.

Is There Really A Difference Between Raw And Cooked Spinach?

I’m not sure that this is a highly debated question; but I know it’s been brought up a few times. So let’s clear the air here. Raw Spinach does contain Oxalic Acid. Oxalic Acid, when digested, binds with calcium, therefore blocking the absorption of other minerals. However, Oxalic Acid also has a melting point of 372 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, once under high heat via cooking in whichever way you prefer, key nutrients such as Iron, may be more absorbable by the body. But does this mean that Raw Spinach is more nutritious than cooked? Not necessarily. Spinach either way still is packed with the aforementioned vitamins and minerals. However, like most vegetables, the bioavailability of key vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins A and K, simply increase.

So What’s the Final Verdict Coach??

I say both kinds of Spinach are equally valuable in their own way. Eat it raw. Cook it. Doesn’t matter. Just remember that if you want to be big and strong like that sailor with the obscenely huge arms that you know you obsessed over as a kid, just eat your spinach.

The Trap Bar Deadlift

I’d first read up on the Trap Bar Deadlift in Stuart McRobert’s 1991 Hardgainer bible, Brawn, back in 2010. It’d been listed by him as a possible Deadlift variation. The Trap Bar, designed by Al Gerard, is a rhombus shaped bar, fixed to two plate loaded ends. It’s purpose was and is to make the Deadlift movement safer and more comfortable when handling relatively heavy weights. Also, the bar has two sets of handles; there are two high handles, parallel to each other on the bar. You can also flip the bar over and pull using the bases of the handles. Some bars also come in a hexagonal shape.

It should be noted, however, that the Trap Bar was named after the Trapezius muscles in the upper body. In fact Paul Kelso wrote a whole book on how to perform trap exercises using the Trap Bar. But for the sake of this article we will only be discussing the Trap Bar Deadlift.

Simply flip the bar over if you wish to use it’s low handles.

Some benefits of this incredible bar include:

  • Greatly mitigates stress on the lumbar spine
  • High handles for those with limited hip range of motion (ROM)
  • The parallel direction eliminates the need for a mixed grip
  • Reduced anterior deltoid stress
  • More stimulus on the quads, glutes, and abs.
  • You will see an increase in both your size as well as your strength – best of both worlds!

As you can see above, the Trap Bar Deadlift, while still a hip hinge exercise, can force your body to adapt to new stimuli, all while protecting key areas from a potential injury if you’re already headed in that direction. More on that later. Here’s how to properly perform the Trap Bar Deadlift using the bar’s high handles.

  • Step inside the bar
  • Brace your core as if you were performing a traditional Deadlift
  • Grabbing the handles, lift your chest up and keep your spine neutral
  • Push from the floor as if you’re performing a leg press
  • Exhale at the top, inhale again and smoothly bring the bar down
You might find it easier to maintain a neutral spine with the Trap Bar Deadlift as opposed to a traditional Deadlift bar.

Much like a traditional Deadlift, where your shoulders land after you straighten your back out will determine where your hips land during the set up. While this exercise does come off as more of a squat since your quads are targeted more than your hamstrings, never force your hips to go lower than they are. This even goes for if you chose to pull with the low handles, which will emulate the traditional pull a little more due to the lower leverage. And while this is a fantastic Deadlift variation, don’t think it doesn’t come with some cons.

  • Grip Problems – the handles on the trap bars tend to be on the thinner side. Upon performing this move for the first time early last year, I found out the hard way just how easy it is to really tear the skin off your palms. If you have this problem then make sure to put a generous amount of chalk on your palms before gripping the bar.
  • Limited Weight – I’d asked my Instagram followers just a few days ago to tell offer their views on the Trap Bar Deadlift. One follower made the incredibly insightful statement that, while he found it to be his 2nd best accessory lift for the traditional pull, the biggest downside is that most commercial gym trap bars “cap out at 405”. Sadly this is very true, and even the bars in some hardcore gyms are the same.

Upon my first use of the bar early last year, I did so to give my anterior delts a much needed break, as well as provide a new stimulus to my quads. Shortly before the gyms shut down my quads were measured at 24 1/4 inches, a quarter of an inch thicker than they were three weeks before that measurement, and I know I have the Trap Bar Deadlift, along with other lower body accessories to thank for it. I started using it again seven weeks ago because I had just come back from a TFL (Tensor Fascia Latae) strain and wanted as little pressure on my lower back and sacrum as possible.

I highly recommend use of the Trap Bar for those who are either recovering from an injury or trying to prevent one from occurring, those who are training for the military, as it’s now a staple of their fitness assessment, and just about anyone looking for something different on their journey to overall size and strength, regardless of your goals. In fact, if you’re a Strongman competitor you can definitely use the Trap Bar to perform farmer carries!

Do you perform the Trap Bar Deadlift in your routine? Why? What are your goals? Tell me in the comments!

Works Cited:

McRobert, Stuart. (1991). Brawn. Nicosia, Cyprus. CS Publishing Ltd.

Chelated Magnesium

There’ve been quite a few articles, and videos, regarding the Top 3 Natural Testosterone Boosters and in the case of some videos, whether or not you should incorporate them into your own regimen. If you haven’t seen them already here’s a quick spoiler alert: they are Vitamin D3, Zinc and of course Magnesium. And one more spoiler alert: of course you should be taking them! I kind of alluded to the benefits of Zinc and Magnesium as individual minerals in a recent article I wrote on ZMA’s. So I decided to write something a little more specific, as there are at least few types of Magnesium on the market.

Quick Run Through On Magnesium’s Benefits

Let’s first start of with a brief rundown of the benefits of Magnesium for those of you who might be unaware. Magnesium is a mineral that is crucial for:

  • Relaxed Muscles
  • Relaxed Nerves (This can help if you suffer from depression)
  • Possible Boost In Athletic Performance
  • Decreased Insulin Resistance
  • Improves PMS symptoms

And some food sources of Magnesium include, but are not limited to:

  • Cooked Spinach (cooking spinach increases the amount of Magnesium in it)
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Dark Chocolate (the real stuff, not Milk Chocolate)
  • Salmon

While there are quite few natural, readily available sources of Magnesium, most of the general public is still deficient in this amazing mineral. Part of this can be directly related to diet, hence why such minerals are available in supplement form. But it also can be related to absorption. Magnesium is chiefly absorbed through the small intestine, its absorption being dependent on the amount ingested. As we age, we produce less stomach acid, therefore limiting the amount of mineral we absorption. Other factors may block its absorption as well, such as interactions with other vitamins and minerals and especially medications.

So What Is Chelated Magnesium?

By definition, to chelate (KEY-late) means to boost the absorption of a mineral or vitamin. This is done by binding a mineral to an amino acid, ensuring the mineral won’t interact with anything else once it’s ingested. Therefore, a Magnesium in chelated form won’t require as much stomach acid as a non chelated form. It also will absorb better in the small intestine, not requiring as much water to do so. That alone, in my opinion, makes Chelated Magnesium far more effective that any other source.

This is important because, as mentioned before, most people do not acquire enough Magnesium in their diet. I alone mentioned in my ZMA article that I do not eat salmon (or any fish for that matter!). And don’t forget that some of us out there might not like any of the other food sources of Magnesium, or they’re on a specific diet for any number of reasons. So that’s why it’s important to supplement with any minerals your diet might be lacking in.

Recommendations

Suggested Use is four tablets, one with each meal. I wouldn’t do that right away!

The Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of Magnesium for males 19 and up is 400 – 420mg, with the RDA being set at 300 – 320mg for women. If you use Solgar’s Chelated Magnesium, one serving size consist of four pills. While it’s recommended that one pill is ingested with each meal, I’d do so with caution. Being that Magnesium is a muscle relaxer, it can also loosen your bowels. And since stomach problems and diarrhea are two common side effects of consuming Magnesium, I wouldn’t recommend taking four pills daily.

While I personally take just half a pill with my last meal, I’d say start with just one pill a day during your final meal. Historically, results on any Magnesium use are varied from one individual to another. So with Chelated Magnesium, your own use should be more instinctive. If your diet includes at least any of the foods mentioned above, then you’re already on the right track, which again is why these pills are only meant to supplement your diet, not be the only source of the mineral.

HG 2.0: The Digital Revival Of Hardgainer Magazine!

Announcing: HARDGAINER 2.0

HARDGAINER print magazine—HG 1.0—was published every other month from 1989 until 2004, for 89 issues. All the issues of HARDGAINER 2.0 will be brand new and published monthly. HG 2.0 is not a digitalization of the issues of HG 1.0. “Why are you bringing HG back?” you may ask. Because its message is still sorely needed today, and because I’m full of energy and enthusiasm to publish it again. I lost my mojo for a while because I was so exhausted by work and the rigors of my life outside of work. But today, my life is much simpler and I can comfortably devote my full working life to the magazine. HG 2.0 is digital, not paper format. (A print training magazine isn’t viable today.) But it looks like a magazine, not a website. And you’ll be able to read it across your devices. Some of the most trustworthy authors from HG 1.0 will contribute exclusive, new articles alongside exclusive, fresh content from other exceptional, trustworthy authors, including some from a new generation of writers and coaches. And today, I’m much more knowledgeable about training than I was when I published HG 1.0, and a better writer and editor. HG 2.0 is based on the same principles that HG 1.0 was founded on. So, it’s devoid of synthetic (drug-fed) muscle monsters and free of the drugs, egos, fraud, training nonsense, and endless ads and commercial messages that are endemic in the mainstream. And it’s not a photo album or a catalog of food supplements. I’ll publish the first issue of HG 2.0 on April 10th. And how to order will be made public on that day, so you can receive your first issue as soon as you’ve signed up. The first issue has 60 pages. The training experience of the authors in it totals around 400 years. Not just any type of training experience, though, but mostly abbreviated training. HG 2.0 is a one-of-a-kind, monthly feast of inspiration, motivation, and premium instruction for building muscle and strength without using bodybuilding drugs. HG 2.0 will focus your attention on a single, time-tested, time-efficient, and highly effective way to train—abbreviated training properly applied. But this trustworthy, specialized approach has different interpretations, to accommodate the needs of all trainees. And the magazine is for all gainers, not just hard gainers. HG 2.0 will be even better than HG 1.0 because your subscription will get you more than just a magazine. More on that later. Whether you’re a man or a woman; a bodybuilder or a strength trainee; use free-weights, machines or a mixture of the two; train in a home gym, commercial facility or elsewhere; or whatever your age; HG 2.0 will help you no end.

Welcome! 💪👊👍

This is a direct statement from Stuart McRobert, the legendary Iron Man Magazine columnist, author of books such as Brawn, Beyond Brawn, and of course, Hardgainer Magazine. Stuart released this statement this past week on Chris Donlon’s Abbreviated Training group on Facebook. Needless to say, the announcement was met with overwhelmingly positive responses.

The History Of Hardgainer Magazine

Starting in 1989, Stuart McRobert, already carrying a reputation for his articles in Iron Man Magazine, parlayed that into his own magazine. Hardgainer – the term which McRobert himself coined – was the ultimate answer and salvation for anyone willing and ready to look past the more mainstream magazines that are more tailored to advanced athletes and bodybuilders. Hardgainer catered to the drug free crowd, as well as those who might not have the time to three times a week or more. Therefore, old school, basic routines, such as the 20 Rep Squat Routine would be introduced to a new generation.

With Hardgainer Magazine, you were provided with:

  • Templates for simple yet effective Bodybuilding routines
  • Basic Powerlifting routines
  • Nutritional guidaince
  • Injury and recovery guidance

That’s the short list. But read between the lines. While McRobert might have coined the term “Hardgainer” he made clear something I said in a previous article: to be a Hardgainer is not a death sentence. All you need to do is get serious, use your instincts and train smarter. Hell, if I, with my lower than average genetics kept using body part splits that the pros use I never would’ve squatted 350lbs or deadlifted 410lbs.

Revival

Beginning in 2018, Chris Donlon began the Abbreviated Training group on Facebook, noticing the lack of useful information on basic, effective training for drug free athletes of all kinds following the 2004 retirement of Hardgainer Magazine. As explained in his own statement regarding the revival of the magazine, after some time he contacted Staurt McRobert and convinced him to join Facebook and ultimately his group. Both Donlon and McRobert realized their ideals and views on training and nutrtion were so identical that it inspired McRobert to revive Hardgainer Magazine on a digital platform.

So why is this a big deal? Because there is way too much information on training from experts who, while meaning well, offer advice that’s way to generalized. It’s a big deal because the man behind the magazine and the earlier aforementioned books has been in the situation that most of us with not the best genetics have been in. Stuart McRobert was the one of the first to let it be known that yes, you cannot be as big as Mr. O. But there’s still hope if you’re willing to train not just harder, but smarter.

If you want to join the Abbreviated Training group on Facebook, you may do so by clicking here. I hope to see you there.

Find Your Squat Stance!

I had mentioned in a previous article that, in order to squat safely, with proper depth, and in a way that’s relative to your frame, that you might need to find the right stance for you. Therefore, I decided to delve into this topic a little more, partially because I neglected something important in my last brief demonstration. More on that momentarily.

The following drill, which I origianlly used in 2018, will help you to find that sweet spot. You never want your legs to be too close together or too wide when you squat. Having your legs too close together could mean they make contact with your stomach, which could mean you won’t hit parallel. Squat with your legs too wide and you’ll see why some Westside Barbell squatters are often scrutinized, as your adductors can potentially reach the end of their extensibility before you even hit parallel.

This is the second time I’ve called out Westside Barbell. But with all due respect to Louie and the gang, don’t squat like this. Seriously.

Before you try this out it might behoove you to foam roll your adductors in order to loosen them up, if you have one available.

Always remember to keep your spine as flat as you can and your head in line with your spine.
  • Start off by standing straight, your heels shoulder width apart and your toes out about 30 degrees.
  • After taking note of where your heels are positioned in relation to your shoulders, squat down as low as you can. Keep in mind that toe positioning can have a direct effect on just how low you can get. So if you needed, you might have to point your toes out more than 30 degrees.
  • Place your elbows against your knees, and your palms together. Begin to shove your knees as outward as you can. If your adductors are not flexible enough then this will ultimately function as a stretch. If needed stay in the bottom position for a few seconds. If you’re fatigued by this, stand up, rest a few seconds and then resume stretching your adductors using the elbows. Fatigue might be a sign of limited flexibility.
  • Here’s the part I grossly neglected. Once your bottom positioned has been established, your back must be as flat as can be. It should ideally be at a 45 degree angle. Do not try to move into a vertical position with your back at any time.
  • Once all the pieces are established, ascend by driving your butt straight in the air. Do not ascend forward. This is what will keep the weight distributed throughout your whole foot and not shift it to your toes. Since establishing Hip Drive is the goal, the hips should be your driver, not the knees.

It’s important to remember that the Squat is not a Leg Press, it’s a Squat. Therefore, the hips have to take control at first, especially if strength and/or power is your goal. Hip Extension and a flat, horizontal back must come before any other pattern is initiated. Eye gaze is also important. Make sure your head is in line with your spine. I was taught a few years back that if you look up too much, you will not only compromise your set bottom position, but it will also alter the trajectory of your ascension. The only time I ever raise my head up in the squat is when I’m retracting my scapula, setting myself up underneath the bar, before I even unrack the bar. A good way to develop this motor pattern is by performing Supinated Pull Aparts. But once you have all of this establish, you may experiment with focusing your gaze in a slightly higher position.

My References:

Rippetoe, Mark. Starting Strength. Wichita Fall, TX. The Aasgard Company. 2005

Open Your Hips Up With The Frog Stretch!

Do You Have Tight Hips?

Have you been working from home since the current pandemic put the world in a state of lockdown nearly a year ago? Do you often find yourself to be inactive during the day? If you squat, do you feel pain in your hip flexors? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions then you probably have tight hips.

Tight hips, as hinted at above, are caused by prolonged periods of inactivity. If not addressed, your major hip flexors, including your Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL, not a Starbucks drink) and your Psoas will will become weaker, leading to tightness and ultimately pain. And if you squat in the gym (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be!) then this will negatively impact your mobility and stability. The more you ignore this problem, the closer you are to getting hurt, especially as the load increases.

Enter The Frog Stretch

The Frog Stretch (or Mandukasana if you practice Yoga regularly) is a great hip opener I briefly alluded to in a recent article. The benefits and carryover of the Frog Stretch include:

  • Improved Hip Flexibility
  • Improved Squat Stability and Mobility
  • Decreased Pain In Key Areas Of The LHPC Including Hips and Lumbar Spine

How To Perform The Frog Stretch

Before you get started you might want to have with you a foam roller and especially a yoga mat, and make sure it’s long. You will want to warm up before performing the Frog Stretch because trust me when I tell you this will hurt like hell; therefore I prefer either taking a hot shower or placing a foam roller under your adductor muscles, rolling each side 10 – 15 times. Performing this stretch on a bare floor of any kind may put too much pressure on your knees, so placing a yoga mat underneath you will greatly reduce any shearing forces. If you’re in a gym and you happen to be wearing knee sleeves, those work fine as well. All of this is optional, but highly recommended.

  1. Get down to your hands and knees. If using a yoga mat, be sure to fold the ends up and place your knees on the folded sections. Be sure place your forearms parallel to the floor, inside your legs, your spine neutral, your head looking forward.
  2. Breathe in and out as you slowly move you legs more and more outward, leading with your knees. If you feel tightness, stop and hold where you are. This is where the move will become painful.
  3. Hold in areas of tightness for about fifteen seconds before trying to move further. If it’s too difficult to do so, you may stop, and take a thirty second rest before trying again. Repeat this for as many times as necessary. Do not forget to breathe.
  4. Once you get to a point where your body is as low as it possibly can go, at which point your stomach should be a few inches from touching the floor, you can either hold that position for as long as you like or you can slowly rock your hips back and forth. This clearly turns a static stretch into a more dynamic movement.

Never force your legs to go farther than they physically can, especially if you are new to this move. It will take a little bit of time to attain enough flexibility here. The first few times I tried the Frog Stretch were absolutely painful, as well as a wake up call in terms of just how tight I really was. You might not ever like to do the Frog Stretch (and I sure wouldn’t blame you!), but I find it to be absolutely necessary for anyone, especially any squatter, who’s lacking in hip mobility from sitting all day, also making this an excellent corrective exercise.

You can perform the Frog Stretch any time you wish. I personally prefer to do so after my initial warmup and directly before I perform any major compound movement, in-between squat sets, after I’m finished training and before I go to bed at night. Performing the Frog Stretch in-between sets is probably not that necessary for most of you, but I feel better knowing my hips are staying fully opened before the sets begin to get heavier.

Remember that when I do this I’m going by instinct; training should equally be as instinctive as it is organized. Try the Frog Stretch today and see where it fits best in your own routine. But I do promise you that you will thank me. Your hips might as well.

ZMA’s: Do They Work?

The following article is not a paid advertisement, nor am I sponsored by any supplement companies to promote their products.

ZMA’s have been a bit of a hot topic of discussion for a while now. Some kingpins in the fitness industry as well as lifters of all kinds swear by them. Others think ZMA’s are a joke, and are unnecessary so long as your diet is on point. So what the hell is this pill that’s all the hubbub?

ZMA is really just a combination of two minerals and one vitamin that, while crucial to your diet, can still be lacking: Zinc (Z), Magnesium Aspartate (MA) and Vitamin B6. Here’s a quick rundown of the benefits of each individual mineral as pertains to the purpose of this supplement:

  • Zinc – required for cellular growth, nervous system maintenance and a strong immune system. Since the body does not produce zinc on its own, we need to increase the zinc in our bodies with food. Main food sources include: red meat, poultry and seafood, in particular oysters.
  • Magnesium – required for bone strength, calms nerves and relaxes your muscles, which also proves beneficial for loosening your stools.
  • Vitamin B6 – may reduce depression symptoms and improve your mood. Food sources include: poultry, salmon, potatoes and bananas, making it pretty easy to obtain enough of this Vitamin throughout the day.
Oysters are considered to be a main source of Zinc. Too bad I won’t touch ’em!

There’s also a lot of talk regarding the potential benefits of inclidung ZMA’s in your own regimen. These include:

  • Improved Sleep (Magnesium)
  • Increased Testosterone Levels (Zinc)

The jury however, is still on the fence about ZMA’s, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. According to a randomized controlled trial, going all the way back to the tail end of 2004, forty one healthy, injury free males between the ages of 18 and 50 were split into two groups with each group being assigned to take either a dextrose placebo or a commercially available ZMA supplement 30 – 60 minutes before going to sleep for eight weeks. According to the results of that study “Results of the present study do not support contentions that ZMA supplementation increases zinc or magnesium status and/or affects training adaptations in experienced resistance trained males with normal zinc status. These findings are in contrast with the notion that ZMA supplementation can increase zinc and magnesium status, anabolic hormone status, and/or strength gains during training”.

According to another, more recent study using a similar RCT format, eighteen football players between the ages of 18 and 25 were also assigned to take either a ZMA or a placebo for eight weeks. It’s important to note that their diets were designed by a nutritionist. In the end, the testosterone levels in both groups saw a similar increase. This led to the conclusion that “extra doses of the micronutrients present in the ZMA do not bring any additional benefits, either in the body composition or in the hormonal levels in subjects under adequate diet”.

So what about this pill’s supposed ability to help you sleep? After all, for every person who claims to have wild dreams with spin off episodes, there are just as many that’ll tell you it’s all in your head. Just remember what I mentioned earlier about Magnesium acting as a muscle relaxer. Taking Magnesium before you sleep will help you fall asleep much faster.

The Verdict

In terms of whether or not a supplement as controversial as ZMA works, I can only speak from my own personal experience. I began using ZMA via the suggestion of a powerlifter once I realized that taking melatonin before bed post workout would no longer work (a story for another time). So I brought the True Athlete brand and, upon going to bed after my next day of training I proceeded to ingest three pills as instructed. It was one of the deepest sleeps I’d had in a long time.

Ok so it wasn’t this deep of a sleep. But I definitely can say I’m out or the count!

To address that claim of having wild dreams: it’s true as far as I’m concerned! My dreams have been a little too vivid at times. All too real. And sometimes that’s not a good thing, believe me.

What’s important to remember is that ZMA is a supplement. While most supplements are mere snake oil, I feel like it can be beneficial, especially for those who don’t or cannot get enough Magnesium or Zinc on their diets for any number of reason. Zinc and Magnesium are found in Oysters and Salmon, respectively, and I for one do not eat seafood. Also, for some who might be reading this, certain foods, such as red meat can be a a little expensive.

In regards to increases in my testosterone; I don’t know that taking these increased my strength levels. Any alleged testosterone booster won’t do that anyway. But I might’ve noticed changes elsewhere upon waking up. I’ll just leave it at that.

As for it’s ability to help you sleep. Let’s get this clear now: ZMA is not a sleep aid. However, with a dosage of 450mg for men and 300mg for women (if you take the True Athlete brand), you’re taking in just over the Recommended Daily Amounts (RDA) per gender. That’s more than enough to relax you just before bed.

To finish this off, while I don’t believe that ZMA is ideal as an strength booster, I do believe it helps me relax after I’m finished with my training sessions. However, at the end of the day, you should be your own judge and see for yourself if you wish. I speak as someone who really doesn’t rely on supplements the way I did when I was younger. But if you’re lucky, you might have a good night’s sleep.

Long Live The Blade

I’d like to use this space to congratulate Dexter Jackson on his recent retirement following last month’s 2020 Mr. Olympia contest, which saw the coronation of Big Ramy as the new Mr. Olympia. After 21 years, multiple Arnold Classic championships, multiple top placings in several Mr. Olympias over the years and, of course, his long deserved 2008 Mr. O win, it was time for the Blade to call it a day. But why am I using this space to discuss a competitor in a category I don’t usually discuss? Because his physique offered the one component that his biggest rivals didn’t bring: consistency.

Official Muscular Development Magazine - Massive Biceps & Triceps - Dexter  Jackson's 8 Great Exercises---> http://musculardevelopment.com/training /15376-massive-biceps-triceps-dexter-jackson-s-8-great-exercises.html#.WusdXJch3QU  | Facebook

It was the fall of 2008. The Mass Monsters were the most popular of bodybuilders going back to the early 90’s. You know who I’m talking about. These guys set the bar pretty high in terms of size and conditioning. But they also set the bar low, in my opinion, in symmetry, taking away any kind of balance.

Balance. While I’ve never tried my hand at a bodybuilding competition, I’ve always viewed Bodybuilding competitions as more of a living art display than a sport. And if you’re going up there to be judged on your physique, that physique ought to be well proportioned. It should be as lean as it is muscular. And the bubble gut? It boggles my mind that some bodybuilders won the Olympia with that crap! But that’s a story for a another time.

Battle of the Bubble (gut) who wins it?? : bodybuilding
This is gross. Change my mind.

So I was surprised when I read the Mr. Olympia Report in Flex Magazine, where I learned that after years of consistently placing in the Top 5, Dexter Jackson beat defending Mr. O Jay Cutler to win what would be his sole Sandow trophy. This win was automatically different than other Mr. O wins of the better part of the last two decades. At just 5″ 6′ and a contest weight of 215lbs, this was the man to beat a much larger behemoth in Jay? It was surreal.

In an age where size was everything, Dexter brought back the total package of size, conditioning, and symmetry.

But more than that, it was a breath of fresh air for once.

The moment Dexter Jackson broke the glass ceiling placed atop the Bodybuilding world nearly two decades earlier.

Dexter’s win over the much larger Jay Cutler, someone who aside from his size had those stereotypical American looks, gave me hope that just maybe the focus in Bodybuilding as a whole would revert back to the aesthetics and symmetry reminiscent of an era gone by. In the same way the a wrestler like Bret Hart made wrestling the main focus in the WWF following the Hogan/Steroid Scandal, just maybe Dexter Jackson could usher in a new era on substance over flash in Bodybuilding. Dexter had broken the proverbial glass ceiling after all.

Of course, that wasn’t to last. Jay Cutler came back with a vengeance the next year to reclaim his Mr. Olympia title. But I still didn’t like it, I didn’t care how much leaner he was this time around. But there were two things that neither Jay Cutler or most bodybuilders had during this time. Balance.

Balance is why Dex was able to compete at a high level for years, always placing in the top 5 in high profile events all the way up to the age of 51. Dexter could’ve easily settled for the Men’s Physique Division, where symmetry and balance are king over all else. He’d probably win 1st Place every year. But Dexter was about defying the odds. Dex, to me, is comparable to Rich Gaspari in the 80’s. He wasn’t nicknamed the Dragon Slayer just for fun. At just 5″ 9′ he not only beat out much larger competitors, he also placed 2nd behind Lee Haney in three consecutive Mr. Olympias.

Lee Haney vs. Rich Gaspari - 1987 Epic Olympia Showdown - YouTube
At one point during Lee Haney’s record breaking eight title reign, his biggest threat was the smaller Rich Gaspari.

Dexter Jackson was a legitimate throwback to the previous era because, much like those bodybuilders, he returned to the stage at every competition with the same delivery. Every time. His proportions, his low bodyfat (no bubble guts here!), his penchant for perfection. I like to think that there’d be no Phil Heath without Dexter Jackson.

Arnold Classic 2015!!!

So, what can we learn from the illustrious career of The Blade? That the best path to success sometimes is the road less travelled, to kind of quote Robert Frost for a second. That all it takes sometimes is your own individuality to break the glass ceiling, thus giving others like you a chance. Dexter Jackson’s legacy will be that, in a world filled with Mass Monsters, a true total package broke the mold and reminded everybody about all of what’s supposed to be good about Bodybuilding as not just a sport, but as a spectacle. And for that Dexter, I thank you.