Two subjects that most young people ask about are the issues of supplements and performance enhancing substances. I see a lot of young people training the wrong way, using bad routines, wrong combinations, and imperfect exercise executions.
They rarely ask about how they should exercise, but what they should take or eat to perform and look well. I have a request from young people who wish to exercise and transform themselves during the school holidays.
They wish to know what sort of supplements they should take to assist them in their training.
This week, I will talk about supplements and next week I will discuss the issue of performance enhancing substances.
To be honest, I come from an old school type of training which relied heavily on hard training and strict diet to achieve the results we got then.
During the times I competed successfully, supplements were very difficult to get. When we started there was one local protein supplement which was called Hytresco.
One would have to find someone who was travelling out of the country to get a tin of protein which one would cherish and try to make it last for as long as possible. Now you can just walk into any shop and buy them over the counter.
This does not mean I am not tuned in to the current affairs and new methods of obtaining physical performance and fitness results.
On the contrary, I can reflect and see the things I used to do well and what I used to do wrong. I also have children who are heavily involved in sport and I meet other young people who exercise and we share notes.
From my experience I have learnt that there are certain things that should not change in the fitness world and those things should not be abandoned and those things are the basics.
New methods of training and dieting come and go. These can only serve to confuse someone if one relies heavily on these new methods and throw out the basics. There is a lot of fancy stuff that is being manufactured every day and touted as the greatest but supplements are only meant to assist and not to replace proper food.
Supplements are add-ons, they are meant to augment one's diet. They do not work magic. I believe if your diet is perfect and the energy input and output equation is balanced there is no need to take supplements. If your recovery rate after workouts is perfect then you do not need supplements.
You have to analyse your diet, find out if there is anything missing. One's diet should comprise of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals. If any of these elements is missing or not adequate then there is need to find a supplement that will supply one's body with the missing or inadequate component.
This does not apply to weight trainers only but athletes from many sporting disciplines as well as fitness enthusiasts.
I know rugby players and wrestlers among other athletes are also into supplements. These athletes need momentum and this entails them to put on size. Momentum is a combination of speed and size in motion; a big and fast athlete has the momentum to bulldoze a small opponent like what the late Jonah Lomu used to do.
A small and fast athlete though, can have the momentum to knock out a big but slow athlete. The ultimate combination is that of size and speed. That and the cosmetic appeal, is the reason why most young people like to bulk up as much as they can.
Supplements are food in tablet or powder form. They are not meant for medicinal purposes but to provide one with adequate nutrition. One has to be very careful about their source of supply as there is the possibility of buying counterfeits.
Supplements should be acquired from reputable sources like health shops and pharmacies. The professionals in these outlets source their supplements from reputable dealers and they know their products very well. They can even help one analyse their diet and prescribe appropriate supplements as needed.
Athletes have to know all the substances that are banned in their respective sporting disciplines and be able to read and compare these with the components on the labels of the supplements' covers.
Some substances included may be banned substances depending on their international associations. This is done for the benefit of the athlete, for example an excessive amount of coffee is banned by most international sporting associations.
This is because coffee is a stimulant it will increase the heart rate and the combination of large amounts of coffee and intense performance may result in cardiac arrest.
Interestingly a recent a survey of English Premier League Soccer players revealed that most of them had bad teeth. The possible cause was attributed to the copious amounts of sugary energy drinks they consume for energy during practice and matches.
In professional sports, because of the gruelling intense workouts and match performances athletes cannot consume the large amounts of food required to replenish their bodies hence they have to take supplements.
I had the honour to speak to two sporting greats Victor Hungwe and Royal Mwale. Victor Hungwe is one of the best body-builders in the country at the moment. Victor takes Whey protein, Branched chain amino acids and Nerovapor. Victor says he needs these supplements to replenish his physique and recover from workouts.
The frequency and the intensity of workouts, particularly towards a contest require that he supplement his diet.
Whey protein gives him additional protein to replenish the existing body cells and feed the new cells that emerge as a result of the splitting of cells during workouts.
The branched chain amino acids provides for all the required amino acids ensuring optimum utilisation of protein. As for the Nerovapour ,Victor says it helps his joints to withstand the rigours of the frequent, heavy and intense workouts.
Victor stops taking supplements ten to eight weeks before a competition in order to flush out extracellular water. Supplements absorb water and too much water in the body is not good for body-builders.
Please take heed that flushing out water is timed to the day of the contest and it is done only for a short period of time as dehydration can be fatal.
I also had a chat with twenty-six year-old Royal Mwale a member of the Sables team which represented Zimbabwe in the Nations Rugby Cup tournament in Hong Kong recently. Royal is based in Durban, South Africa where he plays for Rovers Rugby Club and represents Sharks in the provincial tournaments.
Royal grew up in Hwange. He did his schooling at Falcon College. He started playing rugby at the age of six. The youngster is big and he looks every bit a rugby player even in casual clothes.
Royal is part of the forwards and plays the position of hooker. Royal trains twice day. The first session is at five in the morning at the gym and this comprises of strength and conditioning exercises. Because of his role as a forward Royal, the fitness component he needs most is power, so he does explosive, fast strength movements with reasonably heavy weights.
The first session lasts for an hour of intense work. Because of the different roles they play on the pitch pre season gym training is done seriously as individuals, but in the off-season they train as a group and have fun in the gym.
The second session is a fitness session done at the field of play for one and half hours .With this kind of gruelling work Royal just like Victor has to supplement his diet for fast recovery .Royal takes Whey protein, glutamine, branched chain amino acids and vitamins.
Royal also has an advantage because he is studying sports science therefore he is well equipped in terms of nutritional knowledge.
The interesting thing is that most athletes I spoke to take Whey protein. This list of Whey fanatics includes my son Tawanda.
Whey protein is a by-product that remains after the manufacture of milk products such as yoghurt and cheese. Of the few people I spoke to no one mentioned creatine. I asked why they have abandoned creatine, which of late was one of the most used supplements.
Victor said, creatine was definitely still being used but for him as a competitive body-builder its water retention effects contradicted with his intentions of acquiring lean body mass. I may also add that anyone who takes creatine has to drink lots of water otherwise they will suffer from cramps. The volumisation and water retention of creatine has been pointed out by those opposed to it as having a possible effect on kidneys, though this has not been proved.
There are two schools of thought. One that is pro supplements cites that there is no evidence of bad effects of supplements.
The other that is anti supplements cites unforeseen consequences and mentioning that there is not enough time to study the long term effects of supplements which do not have the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.
To the youngsters who are just starting training I recommend that you start training without supplements and allow you body to adapt and make progress without supplements.
Starting on supplements and training at the same time will affect you psychologically. You will not be able to train without supplements at all in future.
You will have built a dependency syndrome psychologically and training to you will mean supplements, even if you are not training for tournaments, which is not good.
A time will come when you reach a level like the guys I have mentioned above when you will need to supplement your diet .You will be able to analyse your needs and take relevant supplements accordingly.
Remember there has to be a need for supplements first.
Contact your doctor and acquire them with his/her approval. Buy the supplements from recommended and approved sources only.
Remember you cannot be taking supplements all year round; you have to give your body and purse a break. Exercising should be for life. When you retire from sport you should continue to exercise without taking supplements unnecessarily.
I would like to encourage the young people to eat more of natural foods and train naturally. Eat the right foods at the right time; small frequent meals.
Train the correct way; use the ideal exercise combinations, incorporate the relevant exercises in the correct sequence, use strict form to get the best from exercises as well as prevent injuries and you will never fail to get the desired results despite your body type.
Form exercise partnerships with other youths who are committed just like you are and enjoy the workouts. Do not under-train and try not to over-train as well, although a bit of overstraining will never hurt the young as their recovery period is short .This will also help them to relax, sleep well and stay out of mischief .
Whatever you do try to learn from the best in the discipline you take part in. Bear in mind though that some of the best may just be lucky and may not necessarily be the best, so you have to sift whatever they teach you. Last but not least do not neglect your studies, in fact they should come first and exercising should help to stimulate your mind.
Innocent Choga is a six-time National Bodybuilding Champion with international experience. Currently he is studying for a science degree in Physical Education and Sport.