The Fight Stack: Fact or Fiction?

International Kickboxer Magazine, Vol.16, No.6

Supplementation is a complex business; the science is obfuscated by a jungle of glitzy, aggressive advertising. JARROD BOYLE pushes through the weeds to get the lowdown.

 

Gone are the days of pushing a few vitamin pills down your face and chasing them with a protein shake, it seems. The latest ‘revolution’ in sports supplementation is ‘stacking’, combining specifically-designed products to target each phase of training; pre-, during, and post. The whole concept is complicated further by advertising that makes all kinds of outlandish claims in a desert of scientifically supported data. The most visible of the companies targeting fighters is BSN, the official supplement company supplying the UFC. Their logo is clearly visible nowadays on the octagon canvas. Many of the same fighters rolling around on that canvas have come to feature in their advertisements.

Any edge in a competition is welcome, and if it’s something you can take down from a shelf and swallow, it’s going to be almost as popular as a genie in a magic lamp. The problem with supplements is that unless (or until) you’re Forrest Griffin, the stuff is going to cost a fortune. If you’re going to part with your hard-earned, you want to know that it works. Just as important is how. Supplements work at optimal efficiency when taken at the right time, under the right conditions. We’ll investigate the claims, then the functions. From there, we’ll talk about value for money and what your alternatives are.

The ‘Fight Stack’ is comprised of four separate products. N.O.-Xplode is a ‘pre-training energy and performance igniter’. Nitrix is ‘a supplement that increases blood flow to working muscle tissue and enhances oxygen delivery for improved cardiovascular performance’. Axis-HT, the third component of the stack, is ‘a testosterone amplifier that will boost your natural testosterone levels, leading to increased aggression and power.’ The last product is CellMass, ‘a post-training and night-time mass and recovery activator that helps support intense training and/or sparring sessions.’ While the advertising is descriptively exciting, it’s not very informative.

The most visible of these products on Australian shelves is N.O.-Xplode. The promotional blurb on the BSN website explains it as a ‘pre-workout performance igniter’. This is best explained in terms of the supplement’s active ingredients; creatine, arginine and caffeine. Firstly, creatine is a supplement most people will have heard of. It’s a naturally-occurring substance which, simply put, increases strength and power output for short bursts of high-intensity activity. This is especially useful for fighters, given that fighting is set to rhythms of short bursts of high intensity. Secondly, Arginine is what is known as a vaso-dilator. This means that it allows for an increase of blood flow to working muscle tissue. The more bloodflow, the greater the oxygen supply to working muscles. Finally, caffeine is something most people are familiar with; it provides the ‘buzz’.

The second item in the stack, Cellmass, provides more creatine as well as supplying glutamine, an amino acid which facilitates muscle repair. Nitrix is a very similar product in its function to N.O.-Xplode but comes in a tablet form, and finally, Axis HT is a testosterone booster. The more testosterone you have in your body, the faster your muscles repair and, incidentally, the higher your sex drive.

One of the most striking features of the stack, once you’ve read the product descriptions, is the price tag. For all four products, you’re looking at close to 400 dollars.  If you commit to the fight stack for 12 months, you’re looking at an annual bill of close to five grand.

Reece Lancaster, of Vitamin Me in Chapel Street, South Yarra, is a good friend to have when you’re cruising the shelves for performance-enhancing products that fall on the near side of the legal line. He is studying for a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery. This means that he can distil the complex chemical profiles into laymen’s terms, and see through the hype to the scientific reality beneath. While he sells a solid amount of N.O.-Xplode, he feels there are better supplements on the market. Black Powder, for example. “Black Powder contains beta-alanine as well as creatine. Beta alanine stimulates carnosine production in the muscles, and this acts to create a buffer against lactic acid production” Lactic acid is the byproduct of anaerobic respiration, which is what creates the burning sensation in a fatiguing muscle. More beta-alanine means delayed onset of fatigue.

“The other thing about the BSN stack is that between the N.O-Xplode and the Nitrix, you’re looking at a hefty amount of caffeine. While you’ve got the vasodilation effects of arginine and the creatine assisting in your power activities, they won’t make you feel any different. The ‘buzz’ is pure caffeine. If you’re looking for buzz, you’re better off downing a few Red Bull. It’s cheaper.

“The caffeine and arginine will work against each other, especially with caffeine in such a high concentration. They effectively cancel each other out. You’re better off looking for a pre-workout formula with less caffeine.” Any suggestions? “Dymatize Xpand is a good one; they have a caffeine-free formula. It’s cheaper than the others, too.” It also happens to have a photo of Brock Lesnar, the UFC Heavyweight champion, glaring out from the box.

Reece also recommends MRM BCAA and G as a post-workout recovery formula. The BCAA (branch chain amino acids) rebuild tissue and the glutamine enhances this, as well as providing nitrogen for many other anabolic processes. As far as a testosterone supplement is concerned, Megamass Forte contains the highest concentration of saponins. ‘Saponins’ are the active ingredient in any testosterone booster, and Megamass has the highest concentration of anything on the market. It also has the advantage of being an Australian product. “All these products should be used in conjunction with a good quality protein powder, to be taken post-workout,” Reece advises.      

At the end of the day, it is critical to remember that supplements are a bit like taping your hands. It definitely helps, but is really only a useful addition to a fully-prepped athlete. You have to sort out your diet first. Many personal trainers believe that body composition is sixty to seventy per cent diet-related. The best foundation for training is a balanced diet specifically calibrated to suit your needs. You should work this out in consultation with a nutritionist and regularly (every six to eight weeks) test yourself in terms of both weight and skinfold measurements to monitor your progress. And remember; there is no substitute for hard, focused training.

Thanks to Reece Lancaster and Vitamin Me on Chapel Street, South Yarra.

 

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