I regularly get questions about dietary guidelines, proper nutrition, and of course, “What supplement should I take?” By now most of you know that I am not a fan of supplements. Even before I started studying nutrition, I did not see much of a benefit in supplements. In high school I took Mass Fuel from Twinlabs when I first started training hard, but most of my nutrition came from massive amounts of food.
At Penn State, I started working with PSU nutritionist Dr. Kristine Clark. Dr Clark assisted me with basic nutrition principles, however optimal joint and muscle health continued to elude me. Occasionally, I would take some protein powders and use a workout stimulant (NO-Xplode) to help my training if I was feeling drowsy or over-worked. I also supplemented creatine to aid in my peak performances.
Today there is only one supplement that I recommend to every client: cod liver oil (CLO). I am not sure if it actually qualifies as a supplement, but for the purposes of this article I will classify it as such.
Why is it so good?
Cod liver oil has been researched extensively, and in numerous trials, has been shown to effectively prevent or treat many diseases. Heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, brain disorders, nervous system development and rickets have all responded to CLO supplementation.
Vitamins A, D, and K are all deficient in the typical American diet. CLO provides these fat-soluble nutrients in a highly accessible form. By simply consuming a tablespoon a day of CLO, you will be getting over the recommended amounts of both Vitamin A and D, a huge step for healthy bones and a healthy immune system.
Along with A and D and K, CLO contains omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is a fatty acid that lowers inflammation in the body. It will relieve bad backs, injured knees, over-used ankles, and even lower your blood pressure. DHA is critical for the development and function of the brain and the nervous system, making it a key nutrient in childhood development and nervous system recovery.
CLO can help with rickets, osteoporosis, bone fractures, arthritis, and more. Recently, the Vitamin D in CLO was shown to dramatically decrease the odds of cancer. These cancers include lymph, colon, and kidney and breast cancer, all prevalent in modern society. Vitamin D also promotes a healthy brain, healthy sexual parts and a tremendous stimulation to the body.
Good for Your Heart
If you are looking to improve your heart health and prevent heart disease, CLO is the way to go in addition to a healthy diet. EPA is credited with most of this work as it heals any inflammation, injuries or tears to arterial linings. Vitamins A, D and K are also important because they play a role in mineral absorption and making blood vessels more elastic. Greater elasticity means you are less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
At Garage Strength, I like to think of training as system training. One motto here is, “At Garage Strength, we train the nervous system from the bone out.” That means our physical training focuses on nervous system excitation but that bone health and joint health is crucial for constant progression. Many western diets are severely deficient in appropriate amounts of Vitamin D. CLO provides improved bone mineral density, promoting healthier teeth and bones which in turn strengthen ligaments and tendons.
Training and the Vitamins in CLO
Both vitamins A and D have been linked to promoting recovery from training. Vitamin A has been linked to providing ample amounts of testosterone and testicular health. It is widely known as the forgotten bodybuilding nutrient. While in the testes, Vitamin A promotes secretion of testosterone and assists in the transportation of iron. In males, it also reduces production of estrogen.
For women, vitamin A is great for moving iron into the muscles for rehabilitation. During menstruation women lose plenty of iron which further increases their need for vitamin A and iron within their diet. Vitamin A also helps reduce acne. The earliest successful anti-acne experiments used large doses of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A is also required for proper protein utilization. A high dietary intake of protein may deplete vitamin A stores in the liver, which makes it even more important to consume as much vitamin A as possible while maintaining a high protein, high fat diet. Vitamin A is used by the body to utilize new protein sources entering the blood stream. Thus CLO consumption plays a major role in the utilization of protein, iron and testosterone, all important bodybuilding nutrients.
Protein utilization with adequate vitamin A = good
Protein utilization with adequate vitamin D = bad
Protein utilization with adequate vitamin D and A = optimal!!
On top of that, vitamin D is used by the muscle system to feed muscles and has been proven to increase muscle power and explosiveness.
CLO is also known for aiding adults who are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics. While lowering blood sugar levels, it also gains full control of triglyceride numbers and lowers levels of inflammation throughout the circulatory system. With proper levels of vitamin D, the body is able to better absorb calcium and magnesium, thereby lowering blood pressure levels. Infants fed CLO and breastfed by mothers supplementing CLO have a SIGNIFICANTLY lower rate of morbidity and diabetic based diseases (as well as nervous system disorders and healthier brain development) as it increases vitamin D in breast milk, further aiding in the development of bones, the brain and central nervous system.
No one ever wants to deal with cortisol in training. Cortisol is a stress related hormone that increases blood pressure and blood sugar while reducing immune health. Cortisol is catabolic and also lowers protein utilization and is detrimental to training adaptation. By supplementing CLO, researchers have found a significantly lower level of cortisol related health issues.
Now, what to do? Go out and buy a bottle of CLO!!! It is simple. Many people worry about mercury contamination but there is no mercury found in CLO. High quality CLO comes from deep, cold water fish that are low on the food chain. I highly recommend taking the Carlson’s brand cod liver oil. If you struggle with fishy tastes I recommend buying the lemon flavored CLO as it covers the fishiness and literally tastes like lemons. It is simple, leaves no aftertaste and you don’t burp up fish throughout the day like you will encounter with CLO pills. There are many high quality brands. Do some research, experiment and start on the path to better health. Take 2 teaspoons in the morning and 2 teaspoons at night, it will be a decision you won’t regret!!!
 Bishop, et. al., “The effect of nutritional factors on sex hormone levels in male twins,” Genet Epidemiol. 1988;5(1):43-59.
 Olafsdottir AS, Wagner KH, Thorsdottir I, Elmadfa I. Fat-Soluble Vitamins in the Maternal Diet, Influence of Cod liver oil Supplementation and Impact of the Maternal Diet on Human Milk Composition. Ann.Nutr Metab 2001;45:265-72.
 Codde JP, Beilin LJ. Dietary fish oil prevents dexamethasone induced hypertension in the rat. Clin Sci.(Lond) 1985;69:691-9.