Body builders and serious weightlifters aren't exactly known for modest understatement. They often talk about getting "huge" and "ripped," and many will flex at the slightest pretense.
But for real over-the-top muscle mania, check out the body-building supplement section of a health food store. The packages feature pictures of mountainous biceps and 12-pack abs, and the claims on the labels border on the spectacular.
Take, for instance, naNO Vapor, a muscle-building supplement from MuscleTech containing more than 50 ingredients, including a laundry list of amino acids (such as L-arginine and L-leucine), stimulants (such as caffeine and taurine), various vitamins and minerals, and a little sugar for good measure. The supplement also contains an undisclosed amount of creatine, a natural compound made of the amino acids L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine.
According to the label, naNO Vapor offers the "world's strongest vaso-anabolic psychoactive experience," a claim the company deemed catchy enough to trademark. The "NO" in the name refers to nitric oxide, a gas that is getting a lot of buzz in the weightlifting community. Word in the gym is that nitric oxide will supercharge workouts by opening up the blood vessels that feed the muscles. NaNO Vapor is just one of many so-called nitric oxide supplements that supposedly boost supplies of the gas.
NaNO Vapor is sold in major sports nutrition stores, such as GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe, as well as at Rite Aid. A 960-gram (2.11-pound) canister costs about $40. The product is also sold in variety packs of 75-gram ( 2.6-ounce) pouches containing different flavors.
Because of the "extreme potency," new users are instructed to start slowly by drinking a single scoop (about 18 grams) with 4 ounces of cold water a half-hour before their daily workout. If that trial run goes well, they can mix two or three scoops with 8 to 12 ounces of water.
The label ominously warns, "Do not exceed recommended dosage. Ever."
It also says the product shouldn't be used by anyone who has had a heart attack. People with cardiovascular disease, nerve problems or "genito-urinary problems" are urged to consult a doctor before taking it.
MuscleTech's website promises "more intense workouts, skin-splitting muscle pumps and razor-sharp mental focus." The site also claims that a study involving one of naNO Vapor's "key musclebuilding compounds" found that users gained more than 7 pounds of muscle in just 12 weeks. Another cited study of 18 bench pressers supposedly found that a "key ingredient" in naNO Vapor instantly increased strength by 18%.
Details of the research were so sketchy that it proved impossible to track down the studies. A representative from Iovate Health Services Inc., which manufactures MuscleTech products, said that nobody would be available to answer questions about the product.
The bottom line
At least some of the 50-plus ingredients in naNO Vapor really can give weightlifters and other athletes a boost, says Joan Eckerson, associate chair of the department of exercise science at Creighton University in Omaha. But she notes that the label doesn't specify the amounts of most ingredients, making it impossible for users to know what they're really getting. She also points out that the studies touted on the website involved individual ingredients, not naNO Vapor itself. "The marketing is misleading," she says.
Creatine, a natural compound that helps provide energy to muscle cells, really can help build muscle, boost strength and improve endurance, says Richard Kreider, director of the Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory and head of the department of health and kinesiology at Texas A&M University in College Station. According to Kreider, it's reasonable to expect that a good creatine supplement actually could add more than 7 pounds of muscle in 12 weeks.
For athletes who want to try creatine, Kreider recommends taking about 5 grams three to five times a day. Again, though, there's no way to know how much creatine is in naNO Vapor.
There's also no guarantee that naNO Vapor or any other so-called nitric oxide supplement can really deliver a game-changing shot of the gas to muscles, Kreider says. Although some research suggests that L-arginine, one of the amino acids in naNO Vapor, can increase the supply of nitric oxide, nobody has ever shown that extra nitric oxide translates into better results in the gym.
"Nitric oxide supplements are going crazy in sales, but I'm not convinced they do anything," Kreider says. "It may give you a pumped feeling, but we haven't seen any effect on muscle mass or anything else."
Kreider says that there are many simpler, cheaper muscle-building products on the market and that any product that combines creatine, carbohydrates and whey protein would probably do just about everything a weightlifter could ask for. In his opinion, many of the 50-plus ingredients in naNO Vapor are just there for show.
"They've taken a shotgun approach," he says. "Normally, companies such as MuscleTech are very careful about their claims. But sometimes the marketing team pushes the envelope."
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