Robb Wolf Talks Supplements

Robb Wolf Talks Supplements
Robb Wolf Interview from

Are you anti-supplement? Do you think they’re necessary, irreplaceable, worthless, a waste of money, a luxury, etc.? In general, where do you stand – and here I’m talking mainly about athletes, but feel free to talk about general health.

Robb Wolf: I’m definitely not “anti” supplement, but I do think label claims often overhype potential therapeutic benefits. It’s interesting, literature reviews seem to paint the basic multi-vitamin as somewhere between worthless or possibly harmful when we consider the methylating activity of high dose B-vites.

High dose anti-oxidants seem to have been a failure in preventing disease associated with oxidative stress and may even be problematic in preventing the normal hormetic stress response associated with training. That said, however, we see clear benefit from both B-vites and high dose vitamin-C in conditions like adrenal fatigue. Then when we consider certain herbs like licorice (again in adrenal fatigue) there are clear benefits.

I think we need to consider both the individual (goals, genetics etc.) and the potential therapeutic action of a specific supplement. Creatine, for example, is cheap and seems to be 2nd only to Chuck Norris’ tears in improving performance!

AR: Agreed on creatine. There’s probably about 5-6 supplements that most sports nutritionists would agree on, and that would be one of them. I also agree on the overhype found in the supplement industry.

I’ll be honest though, other than an acknowledgement of the fact that I need to be generally healthy to exercise, I’m mostly focused on performance-related concerns (i.e. will a certain supplement make me faster or stronger). With that in mind, what kind of dietary supplements (ingredients, not brands) do you think athletes ought to be taking? In other words, I know what 5-6 supplements are generally considered unimpeachable in the supplement industry, but what are your top five for performance?

RW: Ok, for “pure performance” I feel like I could back: Creatine, beta-alanine, whey protein isolate (assuming one does not suffer GI issues… some folks with gluten intolerance cross react with dairy proteins, although that is mainly a casein issue) and BCAAs. I “like” some adaptogens like cordyceps and Rhodiola, but those are tough to really build a solid scientific case around their utility.

AR: Generally, the sports supplement industry agrees on all of those compounds you’ve just mentioned (whey, beta-alanine, creatine) and the additional two in everyone’s top five is going to be caffeine and fish oil. It’s interesting to note that we’re really still talking about macronutritents here, or macro-derived nutrients (except for caffeine). Your list, for example, is basically all protein or proteinesque (aminos): creatine, beta-alanine, and BCAAs…

And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you probably agree with the fish oil and likely the caffeine as well?

With so much crossover and agreement on what works for performance, why do you have a reputation as being anti-supplement?

RW: AH! Totally forgot about Caffeine and fish oil, yes totally agree. Caffeine has a pretty narrow therapeutic window, 150-300mg depending on athlete size. More unfortunately seems to be ergolytic vs ergogenic. And fish oil seems to be good in the 2-4g range, with some therapeutic benefits from large dose at specific times (fat loss, post injury).

I guess I’ve come across as “anti-supplement” more from the multi-pack, b-vitamin stuff. I see that being beneficial for specific situations only.

AR: It’s funny because we really find this “five supplements that work” kind of a thing going across the board. Some people would argue dairy (i.e. whole milk protein) in lieu of whey or whey hydrolysate and not isolate, but it’s generally all within a pretty narrow scope. Almost nobody who I’d consider “in the know” has a list of two dozen supplements that they would put out there. For me, the whole idea is to achieve a worthwhile performance effect – because you can eat a ton of fish and meat and never get the high levels of creatine and omega fats that you get through supplementation. What about for general health? Do supplements have a role for simply gaining and maintaining health, or just eat the right quality and quantity of foods and you’ll be ok?

RW: I really wish I could hang my hat on supplements for general health and longevity…but it’s tough. I think many preparations hold therapeutic benefit (CoQ10 for folks taking statins, or just to offset aging), adaptogens, specific amino acids for neurotransmitter deficiencies…I think that stuff is all legit but HIGHLY specific. I think it makes sense to get adequate protein and co-factors in glutathione production (Alpha lipoic acid, selenium) but it seems like so much of what we are supplementing is just “stuff” we’d like to get out of a good diet.

Now, I may destroy all credibility here but there is an astragalus extract, TA-65, which seems to hold promise for reversing aging by repairing telomerase. But it is wickedly expensive and some folks fear that tinkering with telomerase may increase cancer risk (as cancer cells automatically repair telomerase and effectively become “imortal”…not tied to the Hayflick limit).

AR: Ok – I had to actually Google TA-65…I’ve never heard of the stuff.

Final question: I’d probably recommend the same core group of supplements that we just discussed to any and every athlete, as long as they could handle dairy, etc. Are there specific supplement recommendations you would make to tailor this towards endurance athletes versus power athletes versus skill-sport athletes? Would you add or subtract anything, and what would it be, if you had to throw down some supplements for different areas?

RW: Funny enough, I see these supps benefitting most any athlete as well. I might tweak timing or dosage a bit, but endurance athletes benefit from creatine, caffeine and BCAA’s as do power athletes. Honestly, I have never thought about the overlap there until you made that statement! Now, we might get into the weeds and subtract say, creatine, for a really elite level endurance runner as the fluid retention might be problematic, but I’d really want to test that on training runs as I can make a strong argument that the increased hydration would be a good thing, despite the weight gain.

There are some more exotic things like Mucuna and 5-HTP for dopa and serotonin precursors respectively. If a coach knows what he/she is doing these can be quite helpful in staving off some of the neurological symptoms of overtraining, but this is really getting out in the weeds.

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