The early forerunners of bodybuilding were adventurous in every sense of the word. From 20 rep squats to raw meat, these men and women stopped at nothing in the pursuit of pure, unadulterated muscle. For muscle anoraks like me, this pursuit resulted in a series of supplements being used, which of course, had varying levels of success.
Though we’ve previously covered old school supplements such as Bob Hoffman’s fish protein powder (excuse me while I gag…), it seemed about time to study a supplement that may actually benefit the current bodybuilding populace.
These ‘vitamins’, combined together, were thought to increase one’s energy and strength levels, lower their body fat and even protect one’s heart and liver. The last benefit being one of major importance at a time when steroids were beginning to hit the scene and few knew what side effects if any they may have.
We are of course, referring to choline and inositol, a power couple used by iron heads for decades with varying results.
What is it, what does it do and where can I get it?
‘Unofficial’ B Vitamins, choline and inositol were once a staple in bodybuilder’s supplementation regimens. Regarding their physical make up, inositol is a vitamin that the body is able to make both from glucose and also from several whole grain foods. you are able to make from glucose, and it is also available in whole grain foods. Similarly choline in its natural state is a water soluble vitamin that can be procured either from foods or failing that, can be synthesised in your own body.
Moving away from the science double speak, these vitamins were promoted by several leading figures during the 60s and 70s. Indeed from Columbu to Gironda, bodybuilders made a point of ensuring they had enough of these pseudo vitamins.
Why did they bother?
Because combined these elements were thought to improve heart health, allow you to train longer in the gym while at the same time lose excess body fat. Pretty amazing right? Where do I sign up? While you’re perhaps right to be sceptical about such claims, the fact that such well regarded figures and their many followers believed this certainly gives pause for thought. Indeed given that many made a point of having sufficient choline in their diet, the vitamins really do deserve our attention.
So was this all ‘bro-science’ to use a modern expression? Unfortunately I’m not the one to sift through scientific data. Old bodybuilding mags? Sure no problem. Clinical trials? Not so much.
In this matter I refer you to the excellent breakdown on the substances from Suppversity.com, a site I have no direct affiliation to apart from reading their pages ad nauseam. So if you’re trying to decide whether or not to include these vitamins into your supplementation regime, do check it out and decide for yourself. Similarly the well regarded Examine.com has separate reference pages for Choline and Inositol.
Far from non-sensical gym speak, there is compelling evidence that choline and inositol may in fact present such benefits in individuals. Although the extent to which these claims shine through varies at best. Similarly there are many other benefits which the bodybuilders on the time seemingly failed to mention such as decreased anxiety levels.
Having trawled through these pages, I can say that at the very least a deficiency in choline is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Where did old-school bodybuilders get their choline?
Aside from the most obvious form of supplementing their choline, abundant supplies of these would be vitamins are present in bodybuilding staples such as liver, beef, eggs, cod, milk and green vegetables.
So if you consume a standard bodybuilding diet of meat, eggs, dairy and greens, chances are you’re on to a winner. The problem comes however for those of us still discarding egg yolks in the morning. A behaviour particularly common amongst North American bodybuilders. Owing primarily to the low fat scare of the 1980s and 1990s, many bodybuilding aficionados still discard the egg yolk for fear of its excess fat. The problem here being that the choline is found in the yolk!
So unless you’re rigidly competing for a bodybuilding competition, in which case all bets are off nutritionally, I’d suggest trying an egg yolk every now and then. It won’t kill you… I promise!
So is it worth supplementing it nowadays?
Truly the jury is out on this one.
For those whose own diet is lacking in eggs, meat or dairy, it would certainly be no harm to include some form of choline supplement into their diet. Without treading on the toes of vegan or vegetarian bodybuilders, cases of choline deficiency amongst these populations are not unheard of. Thus supplementing them presents a common solution to a common problem.
Anecdotally myself and several others have found choline and inositol to be incredibly useful when consuming high amounts of fat as per a Keto or Low Carb diet. Speaking only for myself, days of coconut oil, butter, fatty meat and nuts can take quite a toll on my digestive system at the best of times.
Indeed when I first switched over to Keto it felt like I had a bowling ball in my stomach such was the heaviness engendered by gorging at the feast of buttery goodness. Incorporating 2g choline and inositol each day has helped me digest all those delicious fats and stay on a remarkably effective diet for my own needs.
Finally, some evidence suggests that these vitamins may provide an energy stimulus if taken in the requisite amounts. Once more anecdotally I avoid taking these supplements past 3pm as they’ve interfered with my sleep on several occasions. A mild annoyance shared by several others. That being said, if consumed wisely, they may help you get over the hump in your own training while in theory, burning some body fat (that’s Gironda’s logic after all).
At the end of the day, the decision to supplement these vitamins comes down to personal choice. For me the low cost of these vitamins (I can get a combined bottle of choline and inositol for peanuts) and the benefits I’ve found in taking them have made them a no brainer.
So why not try it out for yourself and let us know how you get on… you’ll be following in the footsteps of many great bodybuilders!