What is natural, anyway?
A term I’ve used a lot is natural. Someone is natural or training natural.
What do I mean exactly? Evidently it means no drugs are involved, of the performance-enhancing variety. But what about supplements like protein powders, pre-workout caffeine drinks? What about creatine supplements, that are apparently meant to be ‘cycled-on and off’?
Can you only be considered natural if you train on real food only, with no supplements altogether?
Generally speaking when I talk about someone being natural, I mean they don’t take PEDs, like steroids or growth hormone (there are a lot of PEDs and drugs out there but I’m going to use the blanket term of ‘steroids’ to cover them all).
Now, I’ve never done steroids and I’m certainly not promoting myself as any sort of authority on them. But I have read extensively about them, as well as having trained hard for the past 10 years or so.
To me, unless you are altering or enhancing your hormone balance or messing around with your endocrine system then you are natural.
It’s because steroids allow you to exceed your genetic potential and go past what nature decided were biological limits. That is not natural.
Human beings are not supposed to be carrying huge amounts of muscle. You can’t be huge and ripped at the same time. People were never meant to have 18 inch lean biceps.
Altering or increasing your hormone levels can allow you to do this, along with a whole host of other external substances that can drastically change the natural characteristics of the human body, such as having paper-thin skin, hard and separated muscles or huge levels of strength and aggression.
This is why steroids are referred to as ‘performance-enhancing’: no matter how good you are off the juice, you WILL be better on it. Some will be better than others but everyone will be able to exceed what they could do when natural.
But aren’t supplements perfomance-enhancing too?
This is where some will argue that you can only be truly natural if you don’t take ANY supplements at all, and just eat real, solid food- no caffeine pre-workouts, no electrolyte-replenishing energy drinks, no BCAAs and post workout fast-acting protein shakes.
Don’t all those also enhance performance?
The big difference between steroids and supplements is that steroids definitively WORK.
In one study by the New England Journal of Medicine on the effects of testosterone on muscle size and strength a group of 43 men between 19 – 43 and similar training experience were split into four groups.
– Group 1 did no exercise and did not receive testosterone injections
– Group 2 did no exercise but received testosterone
– Group 3 followed a set weight training plan but received no injections
– Group 4 followed the same weight training plan but also received testosterone.
The study went on for 10 weeks with the nutrition being constant across the 4 groups.
The result? Group 1 (no exercise, no test) unsurprisingly gained nothing. Group 4 (exercise and test) gained the most, around 13 lbs of muscle.
But Group 2 (no exercise, test) gained 3 lbs MORE than Group 3 who were working out!
So even doing nothing, you can gain muscle while using steroids.
That is real performance enhancement, and definitely not natural.
Supplements simply do not do this. No matter what the labels claim, or how many words like ‘anabolic’ or ‘growth factor 500’ an off-the-shelf supplement tub screams at you it is not hormones.
Cheese by-product protein powders or caffeine rich pre-workouts are not going to boost your performance by very much at all.
Sure, if you struggle to meet your protein requirements to recover then protein powder helps you to do this. If you feel tired a caffeine buzz can make your workout more effective.
But will it make you look anything remotely like the guy on the label? No, because you’re still operating well-within the bounds of nature and biology. Any supplement that doesn’t cross over into the realms of hormones and steroids is just like eating an extra steak or drinking three coffees.
Those two things are not going to turn you into superman. Supplements won’t either.
Stuff like creatine is hyped as giving you more energy, cutting down recovery time and therefore allowing you to do more reps, more weight more often, resulting in more muscle growth.
It might just do that. Creatine is after all naturally present in the body and important for energy supply. But then after a while you hit your impenetrable genetic wall, and it’s not once you’re 200 lbs and 7% bodyfat.
What is creatine supplementation doing then in your quest to look like a fitness model? Nada.
What I’m trying to impress is that for training and muscle-building nothing works like steroids. Nothing comes close.
You are still totally natural even if you are employing protein powders, pre-workouts, BCAAs and creatine in your regime, because none of them really do shit when you compare it to injecting hormones.
Let’s face it, when’s the last time anyone in the Western World wasn’t getting enough protein from their diet? Since when was eating a banana or having an espresso not as effective energy wise as draining a plastic cup of green goo, just because it says ‘hyper’ on the label?
It’s in supplement companies interests to make you believe that 200 lbs at 7% bodyfat and bench pressing 180 kgs is possible naturally with their products. They want you to think you NEED their stuff.
I’ve even seen some adverts claiming their supplement was ‘so potent it was until recently banned due to its steroid-like effects’. Then they pasted some juiced-up powerlifter next to it, claiming they set their world record using it.
Don’t fall for it. As I said, I’m not an expert on steroids. But I’ve trained long enough and hard enough to know what you can do with supplements, as a natural.
Safe to say, I won’t be breaking any records anytime soon.
Take supplements if you want. Take steroids if you want to, too. I have nothing against them as long as you are fully informed on what you are letting yourself in for and know the risks.
But if you want to stay natural you might as well forget the powders and colourful labels and concentrate on being consistent.