5 Essential Supplement Upgrades

How to Choose the Right Supps

For supplements to build muscle, burn fat, or raise testosterone, they need to be concentrated, absorbable, and bioavailable. Here’s what to look for.


Some supplements don’t work. Not a big surprise, right? Now, these supplements were probably manufactured with honest intentions, but the designers just failed to consider two huge factors: oral absorption and bioavailability.

I’ll spare you the pharmacokinetics, but you should at least know that a lot of things need to be just right for a supplement to enter the bloodstream and affect target tissues.

For instance, a supplement can be highly hydrophobic or hydrophilic, and either condition can determine whether it even has a shot of getting into your system. How well it stands up to certain digestive enzymes and reacts to the stomach’s pH also affects its chances.

There are, however, things a manufacturer can do to make sure a supplement is both absorbable and bioavailable. Here are five supplements and the “upgrades” that turn something that only works in theory into something that works in real life.

1. Casein Protein

There are plenty of studies comparing the muscle-building effects of casein and whey, with casein generally coming out on top. Casein is generally a better muscle builder, strength builder, and fat burner than whey.

PLAIN CASEIN

This bodybuilding staple is often absorbed too quickly. Case in point, most inexpensive casein protein powders are composed partially or totally of sodium or calcium caseinate, both of which the body absorbs fast like a bunny. As such, they cause a rapid rise in insulin. They also don’t provide sustained levels of amino acids.

They’re not a complete waste, but they’re kind of anemic when it comes to doing the basic job of protein powders: building muscle.

UPGRADED CASEIN

If you want a casein-based, general-use protein powder – one that does what it’s supposed to do, i.e., bolster your daily protein intake for the purpose of muscle building or losing fat – look for protein powder products that contain micellar casein. Micellar casein is composed of soap-bubble-like molecules (micelles) that form a bolus in the stomach when consumed. That makes them digest really slowly.

It’s really hard to make a protein powder from micellar casein – hence their relative rarity and higher price. You have to process it carefully and leave the milk proteins largely unmolested. Manufacturing micellar casein is almost like catching snowflakes in Maine and shipping them intact to California with a truck driver who stops outside a bar in the Mojave Desert to slam down a few tequilas.

It’s worth the trouble, though, because micellar casein is the only protein shown in lab studies to actually be anti-catabolic (Boire, 1997), meaning not only does it increase protein synthesis, it helps prevent muscle breakdown during and after intense exercise. Metabolic Drive (on Amazon) contains an ample amount of micellar casein.

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2. Curcumin

This bright yellow substance is produced by plants, and it’s known as a potent pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. It also increases testosterone levels and simultaneously exhibits anti-aromatase properties. It enhances cardiovascular health and seems to thwart prostate cancer. It reduces body fat. Heck, it even seems to fight mosquito-borne viral diseases.

Recent research shows that curcumin even enhances the effects of exercise, helping muscles perform better, generate more energy, and repair themselves better.

PLAIN CURCUMIN

Many curcumin supplements on the market contain wildly inconsistent levels and strengths of curcumin. Not only that, but curcumin’s bioavailability is notoriously poor. It generally causes only a tiny rise in blood levels. As soon as it clears the small intestine, the liver makes it water-soluble, and bam! It’s out of your body as fast as a can of Budweiser. As a result, the average user sees (or feels) little benefit from average curcumin products.

UPGRADED CURCUMIN

Various technologies arose through the years that made dents into curcumin’s absorption stubbornness, but none with as much success as what happened at UCLA. Neuroscientists at the university figured out how to make what they call a “solid lipid curcumin particle.”

The process involves gently coating curcumin with lipids (DHA, lecithin, and stearic acid) to form a “micelle.” To conceptualize this, just think of a ball of curcumin molecules surrounded by lipid molecules.

These curcumin micelles survive the acidic pH of the stomach. The result is a 95 to 100-fold (or more) increase in curcumin blood concentration, along with an extraordinarily long half-life. You can take a single 400 mg. capsule and rest easy because it keeps working for 24 hours.

And none of this is theoretical. The solid lipid curcumin particle technology was thoroughly tested using humans. The results were compiled, analyzed, written up, and submitted for peer review, culminating in a patent.

This solid lipid curcumin technology has only recently started to trickle into the open market, and Biotest is among the first to incorporate it in Micellar Curcumin (on Amazon).

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3. Cyanidin 3-Glucoside (C3G)

This polyphenol is found in blueberries, grapes, black beans, and pretty much any fruit or vegetable with a reddish blue or indigo cast.

Studies show it has anti-diabetic effects, making you more insulin sensitive so nutrients can be preferentially shuttled off to muscle tissue. We also know C3G has anti-obesity effects (by raising levels of adipokinectin) and improves exercise capacity by activating fatty acid oxidation.

Users of the supplement can actually eat more carbs without getting fat and, provided they’re working out, have the energy provided by those carbs ferried off to fuel and build muscle. C3G also has phenomenal potential to fight diabetes, improve vision, and promote liver health. It even mimics the life-extension effects seen in calorie-restricted diets.

PLAIN CG3

Most C3G products have two huge problems. First, the substance is pretty expensive, and manufacturers who sell to retail outlets have to price the product at about 4 to 6 times the manufacturing cost to take care of all the middlemen. As such, they typically under-dose the product, resulting in an ineffective supplement with no noticeable effect.

Secondly, while C3G seems to be absorbed by both the stomach and the intestines fairly well, the stuff is broken down really quickly and enters the bloodstream as metabolites rather than the whole compound. While these metabolites may have unique health benefits all their own, they’re not necessarily doing all the same things as the parent compound (purging fat and helping build muscle).

UPGRADED C3G

An effective C3G supplement should provide 300 mg. of cyanadin 3-glucoside per serving. Since it’s intrinsically so expensive, you need to get it from a company that sells direct to the consumer so as to avoid all those retail, pay-the-middleman charges.

Additionally, it should use an innovative delivery system to protect, enhance, and stabilize the parent compound. Biotest added a neat formulation twist adopted from the pharmaceutical industry: Each Indigo-3G (on Amazon) capsule creates a microemulsion of cyanidin 3-glucoside once ingested. This highly effective process improves the potency, bioavailability, and stability of C3G.

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4. Forskolin

This testosterone and thyroid hormone-raising supplement is derived from the herb Coleus forskohlii, and good studies show that it increases lean body mass, decreases body fat, and lowers blood pressure while raising metabolic rate.

It does all this by elevating levels of cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate), which is an interesting compound because it acts as a kind of chemical switch that turns all kinds of body cells on and off.

For instance, increased levels of cAMP can cause the Leydig cells of the testicles to produce more testosterone, which in itself can lead to additional lean body mass. Increased levels of cAMP can also lead to the increased production of hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL), which releases free fatty acids to be used as fuel by the body.

Forskolin also upregulates the thyroid, causing some researchers to compare its effectiveness with thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).

PLAIN FORSKOLIN

Since, like many supplements, it’s derived from a plant, standardization is a pretty big problem. A lot of forskolin products are just “grass clippings” (the whole plant dried, crumbled, and stuffed into a capsule).

The herb also has a short half-life of about 4 hours, so you must take it often for best results. Not ideal. And while its oral absorption is good, its bioavailability is questionable because a lot of things seem to interfere with how successfully it makes it into the bloodstream.

UPGRADED FORSKOLIN

Just as you’d like all the tomatoes you buy to taste great, you also want every batch of forskolin to work like advertised. But plants are fickle. One batch isn’t like the one before it or the next, so you need to make sure you get a product that’s made entirely of the active ingredient – forskolin carbonate – and not the aforementioned “grass clippings.”

By extracting and purifying the active ingredient, you extend the duration of action from 4 to 12 hours. Secondly, you need to improve its bioavailability by combining it with gelucire, a compound made from mixtures of mono, di, and triglycerides. Carbolin 19 (on Amazon) is pure forskolin carbonate and uses the proper delivery system.

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5. Resveratrol

The public knows this plant compound as the life-extending stuff found in red wine, but athletes know it for its ability to raise testosterone levels, lower estrogen, reduce fat storage, or how it makes young muscle cells grow longer and thicker.

Resveratrol also lowers blood sugar in general (thus combating diabetes) and fights cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and a long list of other maladies.

PLAIN RESVERATROL

Most resveratrol supplements just contain powdered resveratrol. Unfortunately, while resveratrol generally has good absorption of about 70%, its bioavailability is still low because it’s rapidly metabolized by the intestine and liver. You can drink all the resveratrol-rich red wine you want, but all you’ll get is drunk.

UPGRADED RESVERATROL

Obviously, an effective resveratrol product needs to contain something to help with that low bioavailability, and again, the poly ethylene glycol ester gelucire does the job nicely. Rez-V (on Amazon) is a top choice. Also, two Rez-V softgels contain 600 mg of active pure trans-resveratrol, the type and amount required for an effective dose.

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We Only Make What We Want to Take

Yeah, yeah, the supplements described are all things that Biotest produces, but I make no apologies. They’re products I know really well because I played a small role in helping Tim Patterson and the rest of the research team develop them. More importantly, I know the reason Biotest made them. We made them because, first and foremost, they’re products WE wanted to use.

We didn’t take “price points” into consideration, so we didn’t scrimp on quality or dosage. We didn’t consult marketing gurus to determine exactly which products the 18 to 30-year-old sweet-spot demographic would give up beer money to buy.

We just looked at the science behind various compounds or formulations, in some cases doing our own studies, and if we got excited, we turned them into supplements we wanted to use. If anybody else got equally excited about them, they can buy and use them, too.

4 Likes

Great stuff again, TC. Quick question: what’s up with these green lipped mussel supplements? Are they just hyped up omega 3’s?

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Greatly appreciate this article. The most important part, I believe, is the last statement. Or was that a paragraph…either way…It’s appreciated.

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Thanks for the reminder TC, I appreciate the refresher on what benefits these deliver. I just received my first order of Indigo (what, no more cool carrying cases for new buyers???) I believe the recommendation is to take it prior to the biggest meal of the day. If that meal is not always at the same time of the day, does it negatively affect the benefits to go from lunch one day to dinner the next, etc.? I was under the impression staying consistent with both dosage and when consumed was beneficial but I could be wrong. Thanks again for the article.