in the quest for perfect biceps, many gym rats tinker with their biochemistry. We're talking hormones and other supplements aimed at encouraging bulging tissue growth . Strange as it seems, these substances are sometimes sold at health food outlets, as well as through a vast array of online vendors. But getting in shape in this way has its risks. Ephedra (or its extract, ephedrine) has been pulled from the shelves in Canada when combined with caffeine only, but that doesn't keep it from being popularly consumed in "ECA Stack" formulas (ephedra, caffeine and aspirin) to burn fat and conserve lean muscle mass. The price of using such a substance for sleekness may well be anxiety, panic attacks, even heart failure in some individuals.
Hormones like DHEA, androstenedione and human growth hormone - all illegal in this country without a prescription - are nonetheless readily available on store shelves in many products. They can throw your entire system seriously out of whack, and some experts claim they can even shut down your testicles.
And while you need protein to grow muscles, too much of it, as in protein powder, over the long term weakens the kidneys. The one popular body-building supplement that seems to have a clear record is creatine monophosphate, legal here though banned in France because it affects the kidneys.
If you're not prepared to be a guinea pig for supplement companies, you can still get that "animal" physique by training regularly, eating more than you need and getting plenty of sleep , allowing your body to repair and regrow muscle. You'll find detailed info on lower-risk ways to proceed from folks like the International Natural Bodybuilding Association (www. naturalbodybuilding.com).
what the experts say
"Bodybuilders are generally the first to take too much of something. That's often how we learn what levels of certain substances are toxic. The public should not be using hormones. My patients who take ephedra/caffeine supplements are jumpy and very anxious. To increase size in a roundabout way, lift weights, then do enough cardio after to deplete your muscle glycogen reserves. When you eat enough carbohydrates to replenish those reserves, your body will send more water to that area, and that will make your muscles look bigger."
ALEXANDER HALL, naturopathic doctor, Toronto
"I'm adamantly opposed to taking hormones - it's very dangerous. The same thing holds true when it comes to excessive amounts of vitamins, minerals, food supplements. Any time you can no longer use the amount you're taking of any substance, your body has to fight to get it out of your system, so in the long run it can be as detrimental as an anabolic steroid. There is a healthy way to get strong. I'm a lacto-ovo vegetarian and still able to win competitions.'
BILL PEARL, former Mr. America, four-time Mr. Universe, author, Getting Stronger, Phoenix, Oregon
"Studies have concluded that creatine is very safe. For the few thousand adverse reports surrounding the ECA Stack, an estimated millions of consumers have safely taken the product. It's important to remain properly hydrated due to its metabolism-raising effects. While excess protein does make extra work for the kidneys, this work is well handled by the average healthy adult. All supplements should be considered with the help of your physician."
JEREMY LIKNESS, spokesperson, Bodybuilding.com, Boise, Idaho
"Protein powders contain fillers, sweeteners and protein isolates that you don't find in nature. What's missing are enzymes. Good sources of protein for building ourselves are fresh bee pollen , spirulina , chlorella , wheat and barley grass . F ermented grains are good - when you sprout and ferment them they turn into a higher source of protein. To give us energy, we all (have to realize) we eat too much and don't chew enough."
FRANCIS NAGLICH, holistic dispensary, the Big Carrot, Toronto