I was talking recently to a friend of mine who wanted some advice about supplements to take. Actually, about 4 friends asked me in the span of a couple days the same kind of question about supplementation. So while I do want to talk some more about supplementation and specifically what I do and why – and some of the science behind it – but first a kind of general overview of how I’ve come to see fitness in general: from supplementation to weight training to eating and everything surrounding those. In short: the body craves variety.
My friends’ questions usually had something to do with them being dissatisfied with their current supplements – in most cases a pre-workout – and they wanted advice about what to change to. When I get this kind of question, my answer is usually that what you change to is not as important as that you change to something. The idea behind the question is that they must be using the wrong product or an inferior product. Well that could be true – there’s nothing to say that all pre-workout supplements are always effective for everyone or are even very good as a rule – but sometimes they just need to change products.
The secret of the body is that it is very efficient at not doing much work. The scientific description of this is “the body is always moving toward equilibrium” but that’s a fancy way of saying that the body gets bored and stops changing. This is true for a wide range of stimuli.
Have you ever noticed that as you sit wherever you are sitting reading this that you aren’t “hearing” every sound that goes on around you? You may only hear the humm of your computer or the click of your mouse. But if you stop you can probably pick out the whirr of appliances, the subtle buzz of light bulbs, the creak of the building, your own breathing and heartbeat. All these stimuli get filtered out, though, and you only really register unusual sounds. For a long list of sensations, the body has a way of pushing them to the background and only responding to the new.
Now my friends all were using different kinds of pre-workout supplements (a pre-workout, for those who don’t know, is basically a stimulant to give you more energy to work out, though some of them have other effects as well) but in most cases they had been using them for a few months. After a while, though, the body can get used to a regular diet of supplements like these. They lose their effectiveness as the body begins to expect, then ignore, the stimulant. Any of you coffee drinkers may recognize this from your daily coffee. It’s always best the first time! So when people ask about a pre-workout supplement I’ll give my own recommendation (I have favorites for reasons I’ll discuss elsewhere) but also say that they can’t really go too wrong by just switching. They’ve become immune to the effect and need to cycle to something else.
This is just like what I said about weight lifting. In order to be growing, you have to have variety at every level. People lifting weights will hit a plateau usually because they have been doing the same thing for too long. The body gets used to it, expects it, then ignores it. It’s why I always change what I’m doing in some way every 6-8 weeks. Longer than that and the body just stops working.
So if you find yourself sitting in place but working incredibly hard – be it with supplements or with weight training or even with eating – you may ask yourself how long you have been doing things the same way. Usually if you’ve been at it more than 2 months, then your body has adapted. Changing – almost in any direction, honestly – will jar the body out of its stasis and get it growing again.