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On test: First Endurance Multi-V, November 10, 2005
Your local health food store has a vast array of pills and potions claimed to make you healthier, stronger and irresistible to the opposite sex. But there's often no grounding for their claims, and some supplements have turned out to be a possible cause of positive drug tests. Pam Hinton takes an in-depth look as a vitamin supplement that has a bit more science behind it and whose makers certify that it's clean of test-failing contaminants.
First Endurance, the makers of Optygen, E3, and Ultragen, have added Multi-V, a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, to their line of endurance nutrition products. The supplement contains at least 100 percent of the daily value for most vitamins and trace minerals. Vitamins C and E and B12 are added at significantly higher amounts, 670 percent DV for vitamins C and E and 500 percent DV for B12. Notably missing from the formulation are calcium and vitamins D and K. In addition to the vitamins and minerals, Multi-V contains: omega 3 fatty acids (100 mg); extracts of fruits, ginkgo biloba, green tea; an antioxidant support blend consisting of citrus bioflavonoid, turmeric, and grape seed extracts; and a Carbogen enzyme blend, which is a proprietary mixture of amylase, cellulase, and hemicellulase. One serving (3 tablets) of the supplement is to be taken with the pre-exercise meal. Multi-V is intended to complement the sports (E3) and recovery (Ultragen) drinks made by First Endurance.
First Endurance says that "special ingredients" were included in Multi-V to address the "unique requirements of endurance athletes." The fruit, tea and ginkgo biloba extracts, antioxidant support blend, and large amounts of vitamins C and E were added to increase the antioxidant activity of the supplement. Athletes who train at high intensity experience increased oxidative stress where highly reactive oxygen-containing molecules are produced. These molecules can damage cell membranes and play a role in delayed onset muscle soreness. Anti-oxidants, chemicals that occur naturally in plants, "scavenge" the highly reactive molecules, preventing them from causing tissue damage. An additional benefit of ginkgo biloba may be improved tolerance of hypoxia (low oxygen). There is limited scientific evidence suggesting that ginko biloba improves blood flow by altering the constriction and relaxation of blood vessels. Besides having anti-oxidant activity, the phytochemicals (catechins and flavonols) in green tea appear to stimulate use of fat for energy during exercise.
Omega-3 fatty acids, essential fatty acids, also promote fat oxidation for energy. Omega-3 fatty acids promote the cellular uptake of fat by increasing the activity of the enzyme (lipoprotein lipase) that releases fatty acids from triglycerides and by increasing the amount of fatty acid binding protein, which carries fatty acids across the cell membrane into the cells. Omega-3 fatty acids also facilitate production of energy from fat, by increasing transport of fatty acids into the mitochondria where they are burned to make ATP. Omega-3 fatty acids also are particularly important during recovery because of their anti-inflammatory properties; they compete with omega-6 fatty acids for cyclo-oxygenase and lipoxygenase, thereby inhibiting production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Because omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil, few individuals meet the daily recommended intake. Adult women should consume at least 1.1 g and men 1.6 g of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Multi-V provides 0.1g of omega-3 fatty acids per serving, apparently from fish oil. There is no hiding the noxious taste and smell of fish oil.
Better carbohydrate absorption
Multi-V claims to be the "first multinutrient vitamin [sic] that is clinically proven to enhance endurance." The basis for this claim appears to be a study that tested the effects of Carbogen on performance. Although, the First Endurance literature states that Carbogen has been shown to improve carbohydrate utilization in clinical studies, I only was able to find one published paper on the topic. The study, "The effects of a pre-exercise feeding with or without fungal carbohydrases (Carbogen) on blood parameters and exercise performance in elite cyclists: a preliminary study," was published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism in 2002. Before I describe the details of the study, let's look at the rationale for adding these enzymes to a supplement.
During and post-exercise, it is advantageous to ingest carbohydrates that cause a rapid elevation in blood glucose concentrations. That's why sports beverages and energy gels contain high glycemic index (GI) carbs. The idea behind Carbogen is to increase the availability of carbohydrates from solid foods that have lower GI's than sports beverages or gels. Solid foods contain complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fat, which slow digestion and absorption. Carbogen contains three enzymes: amylase breaks down starch; cellulase and hemicellulase digest fiber. By definition, fiber, e.g., cellulose, is non-digestible carbohydrate; it is made up of glucose and other sugars, but they are linked together by bonds that humans are incapable of breaking because we lack the necessary enzymes. That is why fiber is said to add bulk to the diet, without adding calories. Cellulase and hemicellulase are two of those missing enzymes. By taking them with a fiber-containing food, we can digest the fiber and increase the amount of carbohydrate (glucose) that is available in that food.
Now back to the study. The objective was to determine if consuming the Carbogen with a meal replacement bar (50 g carbohydrate, half of which was fiber) one hour before a 60-minute submaximal exercise session followed by cycling at maximal exertion until exhaustion would have beneficial effects on blood glucose, insulin, lactate and on time to exhaustion compared to the meal replacement bar alone. Five aerobically trained (average VO2 max was 70 ml/kg/min) cyclists did the performance testing twice, with and without ingesting Carbogen.
According to the First Endurance literature, glucose levels were consistently higher and lactose levels consistently lower after Carbogen use, with no affect on insulin. The benefit of "no insulin spike" is that "blood sugar remains elevated for many hours so it can fuel working muscles and improve performance." In the results of the study, yes, blood glucose was significantly higher after ingesting the Carbogen with the meal replacement bar at all time points measured. This is expected based on the increased availability of carbohydrate with the capacity to digest fiber. If the Carbogen allowed the subjects to completely digest the fiber in the bar, they effectively consumed an additional 25 g (100 calories) of carbohydrate. Lactate in blood also was lower during exercise and immediately after exercise with the Carbogen. Insulin, however, was significantly greater (2-fold) one hour after consuming the bar with the Carbogen compared to eating the bar alone. In contrast, insulin levels after 30 and 60 minutes of submaximal exercise were significantly lower after ingesting the Carbogen. If anything, Carbogen caused a greater "spike" in insulin than the bar alone. The subjects were able to cycle at maximal intensity approximately 2 minutes longer with the Carbogen. This finding, based on 5 subjects, supports the claim that Multi-V is "proven to increase endurance immediately." If the objective is to maintain blood glucose during exercise, consuming a sports beverage or energy gel seems like a simpler solution.
Many endurance athletes are concerned about their iron status, and rightly so, because of the negative effects of iron deficiency on performance. Multi-V may appeal to these individuals because it contains "Ferrochel--a highly bioavailable source of iron which is non-toxic and does not affect the absorption of minerals, like other iron sources." Ferrochel, a patented amino acid chelate, is comprised of two molecules of glycine bound to one molecule of iron. The bioavailability of non-heme iron is very low and can be influenced by other compounds in food. For example, only 2-10 percent of non-heme iron is absorbed from the diet. Even less iron is taken up by the intestine in the presence of: phytic acid (phytates), compounds found in cereal grains; calcium; soy and milk proteins. Part of iron's poor bioavailability is because it is not very soluble in water and it has to be in solution to be absorbed. The solubility of non-heme iron increases in an acid environment, so consuming iron with an acidic food (citrus juice) increases percent absorption. Iron amino acid chelates were designed for use in iron supplements because of their greater solubility. However, there has been very little independent study of the absorption and metabolism compound performed, because the company provides the supplement for testing.
Some studies show that iron from Ferrochel is better absorbed than the iron present in common iron supplements, such as ferrous sulfate. Other studies have reported no difference. Similar to other forms of supplemental iron, absorption of iron from Ferrochel is enhanced by ascorbic acid and inhibited by phytates. Minerals with similar chemical properties can interfere with each other's absorption. Iron, zinc, and copper all compete for the same metal transporters in the intestine. Although, Ferrochel may be absorbed using a different transport system, there is no direct evidence that it does not interfere with absorption of other minerals. Iron is highly toxic because there is no way to actively get rid of the excess. The mechanism for controlling iron in the body is by adjusting absorption to meet needs. The amount of iron absorbed increases during iron deficiency and decreases when iron stores are adequate. This safety system can be overwhelmed by ingesting large amounts of iron, regardless of the form of iron.
It is surprising that calcium and vitamin D are missing from the Multi-V formulation. Endurance athletes who participate in non weight-bearing sports, like cycling and swimming, are likely to have low bone density. Adequate calcium and vitamin D can help protect against loss of bone mass. First Endurance provides an explanation for the absence of these key nutrients, "Our athletes told us that they did not want to consume more than 3 tablets in their Multi-Vitamin. The addition of Calcium to this formula would have required a 4th tablet to the daily dose." I am not sure why calcium could not have been added to the current formulation or why it would require 4 tablets to do so. There are many daily nutritional supplements that include all of the vitamins and key minerals available. Calcium may interfere with the absorption of other minerals; although, First Endurance claims this is not an issue with the iron in Ferrochel. Athletes who use the full line of First Endurance products will get some calcium from E3 (100 mg Ca per 100 kcal serving) and Ultragen (500 mg Ca and 200 IU vitamin D per 300 kcal serving). The cost of using the E3 (3 servings per training day), Ultragen (1 serving per training day), and Multi-V (daily) works out to about $6.50 per day, not including shipping and handling costs.
First Endurance has a laudable corporate philosophy. "Research is the most important value at First Endurance," the company says, and, it promises products that are "proven to enhance endurance performance and have scientific validation." The company's commitment to purity and quality control is backed by a certificate of analysis, which states every active and inactive compound used in the manufacture of a product. If you use First Endurance products, you won't be able to blame a positive drug test on your dietary supplement. The company ensures that all of their products are safe, legal (WADA, USADA, UCI) and stimulant free, which is a valuable guarantee to any athlete competing at the elite level.
Multi-V is a thoughtfully formulated multi-nutrient supplement for endurance athletes. In my opinion, some of the benefits of Multi-V are needlessly overstated. Regardless, any athlete who uses Multi-V can be assured that they're covering the bases when it comes to nutrition. For serious elite competitors, Multi-V is a safe, comprehensive insurance policy.
Contains at least 100 percent of the daily value for most vitamins and trace
Claims regarding blood glucose, insulin response, and "instant" improvements
in endurance are overstated
Ability to digest fiber and use the resulting carbohydrates for energy. This will increase the net carbohydrate yield from a meal, which would be advantageous prior to exercise. However, it is not helpful if you are trying to lose weight.
Price: US$49.95 (30 day supply)