Someone new to bodybuilding recently asked me a question that required “retroactive empathy” on my part. The question was “does Nitrobol work.”
For those of you already asking the ‘does Nitrobol work’ question, you already know what this stuff is: a bodybuilding protein supplement. For those of you just stumbling upon this question now – here’s what Nitrobol is: a protein supplement purported by its marketers to build muscle faster than a gazillion other protein products on the market.
The reason the question ‘does Nitrobol work’ calls for empathy from my past experience is two-fold:
- Desire by one to improve one’s body intensifies the emotional side of one’s thinking.
- I was once young and consumed by this emotion.
In short, if ‘Nitrobol’ had existed twenty-two years ago, I’d have been one of the guys reading the claims of “builds muscle faster” and “anabolic like steroids” with more than a passive willingness to believe. I’d have probably tried it. This would have inevitably led to over-paying for protein that could have been obtained with the same quality, but greater quantity, for a fraction of the price. My only benefit would have been discovering the answer to ‘does Nitrobol work’ firsthand.
‘Does Nitrobol Work?’ Let’s look at the marketing claims
The marketers of Nitrobol want us to believe their product has a better amino acid profile than any other protein and, thus, will build muscle faster for us if we use it. This requires us to have faith about one thing (the amino acid profile of Nitrobol) under the assumption of another (the better profile builds muscle faster). It also means that if the assumption just mentioned is false, then the claim that it supports is meaningless. It means that if the benefits of a better amino acid profile peak at a relatively low level of difference within the context of most quality protein’s ability to provide that benefit, then Nitrobol and other ‘custom proteins’ are mostly marketing hype.
How is Nitrobol hyped?
The same way many other protein supplements have been hyped over the years. First, it’s said that the formula is derived from a closely guarded secret of a bodybuilding guru from the distant past. Then, an association is made in a prospect’s mind by mentioning that all the great bodybuilders (Frank Zane, Arnold, Larry Scott) used advice from this guru. That might be true – but the guru could have actually given them his best posing routine, for all we know. Then, it’s said that the guru…
“…had the secret of achieving steroid-like results before drugs were even known to the bodybuilding world.”
Of course, the assumption you’re supposed to draw is that the great bodybuilding legends mentioned above were building muscle without steroids. Anyone with even scant knowledge of bodybuilding history, however, knows this is nonsense; steroids were first created during WW2 and made their way to bodybuilders and athletes soon thereafter. The historic bodybuilders mentioned have admitted to using them.
But the ‘does Nitrobol work’ question should be analyzed from the amino acid profile claim. The claim is that the product is so crammed full of essential amino acids that the effect is what its marketers are calling “targeted anabolic drive” (yeah… they’ve actually made up a nonsensical term).
Listed in bold are some benefits that the marketers of Nitrobol claim will come from this optimal amino acid profile:
“You can build lean muscle as fast as possible because Nitrobol has a 99% absorption rate”
As soon as someone uses the term “lean muscle”, a red flag goes up for me. Is there such a thing as muscle that’s not lean? Last time I checked, fat was fat and muscle was muscle; if there’s such a thing as lean muscle, then there’d also be such a thing as “fat muscle”. And if there were such a thing as “fat muscle”, then there could be such a thing as “muscular fat.” How come nobody ever uses THAT term?
“Gee… I can’t tell if I have more fatty muscle or muscular fat… maybe it’s both.”
When we gain muscle, the tissue we gain is lean. I’m not saying we can’t gain fat at the same time, but that’s an entirely different physiological process.
A 99% absorption rate? That’s a funny number; what happens with the remaining 1%?
While it’s true that some amino acids can miss being absorbed by the digestive tract, this problem is easily overridden by eating foods with a high Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). These include sources like milk products, egg whites, lean beef, whey, and tuna.
“It’s fully absorbed in less than 19 minutes”
Hmmm… am I seeing a pattern with these numbers that fall just one short of a common round number?
The biggest problem I have with protein marketers who use the “fast absorbed protein” spiel is that they REALLY treat us like we’re idiots. If there were ever a muscle building benefit to absorbing protein ASAP after a workout, somebody would have figured it out a long time ago and recommended eating a tuna sandwich (or bowl of egg whites…etc.) halfway through bodybuilding workouts.
If you believe “fast protein builds muscle”, why not try that? Simply discover the length of time it takes to absorb a food protein and eat it at that length of time BEFORE the end of your workout. Haha… you’ll beat Nitrobol to the punch; its amino acids will be hitting its users systems “19 minutes” after their workouts and the protein from your tuna sandwich will hit your system… ONE MINUTE after YOUR workout.
“Nitrobol keeps your body in an anabolic state so you're constantly packing on muscle tissue... not tearing it down.”
What’s funny about protein supplement marketers is that if you take to heart what many of them are saying in advertising, you’ll believe muscle tissue was never supposed to be torn down. Or you’ll at least think that when you do tear it down, you’ll have just committed a mortal sin that needs the quick redemption of reconciliatory tissue building blocks… in the form of a protein supplement, of course.
But muscle protein synthesis isn’t stimulated without a hefty dose of catabolism (tissue breakdown) preceding it. Don’t get me wrong: for muscles to grow, they need a ratio of much greater time resting between workouts than time spent working out. But we need to actively seek tissue catabolism in order for anabolism (muscle growth) to ever take place. That’s the whole reason behind bodybuilding workouts – to cause some friggin’ tissue damage in order that repair and compensatory growth is stimulated.
“Nitrobol is a potent anabolic inducer that allows you to grow from each and every workout.”
Well… that’s true. But it’s the same thing food does. The only way you could fail to be “anabolically induced” from workouts is by refusing to eat. Also, not consuming adequate protein or resting long enough between workouts could likewise thwart muscle growth. But as long as your protein sources possess all the essential amino acids (egg whites, tuna, dairy, beef, etc…), then there’s no evidence that one of these protein sources builds muscle any better than another.
‘Does Nitrobol Work?’ Only if Protein “Works”
The marketers of Nitrobol want us to believe that because their product contains high concentrations of only the eight essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis:
L-Leucine, L-Valine, L-Isoleucine, L-Lysine, L-Phenylalanine, L-Threonine, L-Methionine, and L-Tryptophan
… that we’ll be getting only what our bodies need for the process and, thus, the process will be more effective. They apparently base their claim on the findings of this study. The findings of the study can be summed up in this short paragraph from the abstract:
…ingestion of 6 g of essential amino acids with carbohydrate 1 or 3 h after resistance exercise increased arterial phenylalanine and insulin concentrations, phenylalanine net balance across the leg, and muscle protein synthesis. These results indicate that ingestion of essential amino acids in conjunction with carbohydrate 1 or 3 h after resistance exercise promotes muscle anabolism by increasing muscle protein synthesis.
Apparently, the makers of Nitrobol combined these findings with those of another study. What was discovered in this other study can be summed up in the following sentence from the study’s summary of findings:
The principal finding of this study was that ingestion of a relatively small amount (6 g) of EAA effectively stimulated net muscle protein balance after resistance exercise.
But a key detail that the Nitrobol marketers are quite willing to omit is this finding from the summary of the same study:
Although plasma concentrations of some individual non-essential amino acids fell after ingestion of essential amino acids, intracellular concentrations of NEAAs were generally maintained, indicating that availability of NEAAs did not limit the response of muscle protein synthesis
What I gather from this last sentence is quite simple: Supplements that deliver only essential amino acids with the idea that this enhances protein synthesis are likely no more effective than foods that deliver essential and non-essential amino acids.
However, I welcome any comments from individuals who’ve tried Nitrobol (or similar products). Let us know if evidence of faster protein synthesis occurred.