Michael Hennessey on Athletic Performance & Supplement Effectiveness

Michael Hennessey is a 31-year veteran of the Natural Products industry. After managing health food stores for 18 years, his career path led to the creation of an education-based consulting firm working with twenty-two of the most progressive and successful nutritional supplement and natural bodycare companies in the natural channel of health retail, and with manufacturers worldwide.

His company, Blue Moose Consulting, has been the recipient of many national awards for their efforts to educate both retailers and consumers, with his team servicing over 700 outlets in the nine-state mid-Atlantic region.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with you, tell us a little about your background and how did you become involved in the natural products industry?

I started in the natural foods movement rather by accident in 1981 after finishing school at Georgetown University. I needed a job for rent until I could find a real job. Immediately, I fell in love with organic foods, which were just becoming commercially viable back then; and the promise that we could heal people and keep people strong through natural nutritional supplementation.

In College, I decided I wanted to find a job where I would not hurt anyone, 32 years later my goal has stayed consistent. Luckily, I found a career where I actually help people, and I do it every day.

The stories people have told me of how they found ways to make themselves better through their natural health food store and nutritional supplementation are amazing, irrefutable and so much more important than the challenges that industry enemies often float hoping to stop the amazing momentum found in people who live naturally and choose to take care of themselves. We have won!

After 18 years of health retail management, fate moved me to work with the manufacturers in the natural products industry. This career development really increased my wholistic perspective of the entire process of natural health. My learning curve very quickly showed me that there are exceptional manufacturers, and mediocre ones. I gained even more faith in optimal health, and now I could understand the promise found in optimal manufacture!

How has the supplementation industry for athletes evolved over the years, both good and bad?

Michael Hennessey HeadshotAthletes have always wanted the best tools to help them get stronger, last longer, perform, compete and win. In my 32 years of dealing with nutraceuticals, I have seen the field of nutrition burgeon from B-12, to the importance of minerals, to amino acids, to protein isolates and probiotics, to stimulants, sterols, adaptogens and Omega-3s and now the concern for clean sports nutrition.

It has been amazing to watch advancements as they unfolded. It must be said that the developments of natural fermentation B Vitamins and Ascorbate forms of Vitamin C should never be forgotten as revolutionary. I have come to be a strong advocate for foundational nutritional protocols.

Somewhere in the early days, the market morphed as if on steroids both in sales and scope and in hype and cheap prices. For years, bodybuilders became like coupon shoppers, and all they wanted was as big a container as possible at as low a price as they could get. Locker room chatter was gossipy about the best price. This fad started to fade quickly, though it never went away. The best performers talked less and observed which products worked the best for them.

The pursuit of performance led many really smart people to develop products that would allow the body to function at levels earlier generations never dreamed about. To use a strange analogy, most of the best nutraceutical advancements for human nutrition started with veterinarians and their research on animal health. Likewise, many tremendous recent advancements in nutrition were made in the pursuit of sports excellence.

The development of Creatine, and Carnosyn® Beta –Alanine and D-Ribose are achievements that the most wild of imaginations would not have envisioned 15 years ago. To me, alpha lipoic acid and carnitine are gifts from the Sports Gods. Vegetarian Super Oxide Dismutase (S.O.D.) might truly be the Fountain of Youth nutrient, as the master cellular antioxidant as well as the cell’s (and therefore tissues) most powerful endogenous anti-inflammatory.

Recently, many extraordinary nutrients have been discovered by the smart athlete and many are experiencing the benefits of quality fresh and pure Omegs-3 EPA + DHA, CoQ10 and Ubiquinol, the Wellmune WGP® beta glucans for immune support, and quality probiotics. The athlete is learning human physiology with the sophistication of a progressive M.D., and no protocol is too rich for the person looking for optimal performance.

Things have certainly changed. The latest changes we are seeing involve smarter choices about energy sources and caffeine, the concerns about the sources of the sugars necessary for intense workouts and the distinction of quality complex carbohydrates, and an understanding of quality proteins. It is now universally understood that not all whey proteins are alike, in taste, absorption or benefit.

And finally, quality free form pharmaceutical grade bacterial fermentation amino acids (from Japan), are being sought after as people delineate the results found from in better-made products, quality for investment of money spent and for results.

The industry today is being led by sought-after companies that are not the loudest yellers or the brashest promoters, but those companies that can communicate and educate on the highest quality raw materials. This again defines a delineation that we refer to as products earmarked for the mass channel and those accepted and promoted by the natural channel.

We always hear it is a good idea to take a multivitamin, but what should an athlete be looking for in a multivitamin compared to your average individual? And as an athlete how can we make sure all of our bases are covered?

A multivitamin is still foundational, providing the B-complex family, Vitamins A, C, D and Minerals. Truth is to get enough macrominerals, you need to take at least two tabs daily to get sufficient mineral support. Since the water-soluble Bs and Cs need to be replenished more than once daily, I recommend the athlete trains oneself to take a multiple three times a day. Therefore, the purchase should focus on a three-a-day multiple. The highest quality, antioxidant rich 3-a-day that I recommend is Bluebonnet Nutrition’s Super Vita-CoQ10.

This formula is built only with top-quality raw materials. Most consumers are not aware that many companies have two grades of raw materials; those that they advertise for their stand-alone nutrients and a lower grade which they use to make their multiples.

Bluebonnet is first-class all the way. An example, their CoQ10 is from Kaneka, the world’s best manufacturer of ubiquinone. Quality matters. Kaneka makes the only yeast-fermented, all natural CoQ10, a product that is bio-identical to the CoQ10 produced naturally in the body. This product is also made in the USA. Essential yes, but not all multiples are the same.

Another superior product new to the market that many athletes are talking about is Oxylent®. This product is a sensational way to utilize effervescent technology to get immediate absorption of Bs and Cs and Albion® amino acids chelates directly before a workout. This product also provides a quick shot of S.O.D. and CoQ10 and it is about energy and electrolyte replacement, for the brawniest bodybuilder, the most focused precision athlete and for the endurance marathoner. Oxylent® is delicious, and being sugar free, many sportspeople and competitors are making Oxylent® in water their sparkling drink of choice.

For natural athletes looking to improve their performance and lean muscle growth, what non-steroidal enhancers would you recommend?

That is a big question. I refer the reader to a short, intelligent book of sports nutrition by Carl Germano called The Misled Athlete. Carl spells out the reality that excess bulk is not necessary, and that the utilization of nutrients is what really matters.

More athletes are understanding the importance of flexibility with many taking yoga, motion and breathing exercises like Tai Chi Chuang. Athletes are seeking more mental sharpness and brain-eye coordination. I consider these points just as important as lean muscle for optimal performance.

For lean muscle, we still believe that the high Biological Value (BV) of a quality, grass fed whey protein isolate (without unnecessary fillers added to the powder) is still the best building block. The companion to this is complementary BCAA supplementation, the basics amino acids. It is not about pounding grams of protein, it is about figuring the way to utilize and absorb all protein ingested.

Then I look at the body’s ability to handle fats and sugars. Muscle is the structure of the house, but the electricity and the circuitry are actually the next frontier we are developing for achievement.

I would build with a therapeutic amount of pure, natural triglyceride Omega-3 fish oils. At least 2000-4000 IUs daily of EPA/DHA. The partner to Omega-3s for lean muscle is CLA, 1000-3000 mg a day. This will take those proteins and enhance their cellular utilization to achieve profound results. Both these fats are good for your immune system too.

Carnitine and alpha lipoic acid are like the bodyguards of the good fat armored vehicles of cell health. I always recommend l-carnitine manufactured by Lonza with dosage ranges from 500-2000 mg. Alpha lipoic acid, a liver-supportive water and fat soluble antioxidant, makes sure that all good fats are used. Lean muscle is best achieved with whey, Omega-3s, CLA, Carnitine and Alpha Lipoic acid.

For steroidal enhancement, I know many people do not want to hear ‘natural’ and ‘gradual,’ but for those understanding the process to build for enduring results without the side effects I recommend a top-quality herbal liquid extract by Herb Pharm® called Athlete’s Power Tonic™. Again, more people are understanding quality of herb and the results received by Smilax Sarsaparilla, Saw Palmetto (ripe berries only), Eleuthro root and Gotu Kola.

Plant sterols may not be as fast-acting or powerful as synthetic steroids, but they don’t bring the health-consequence baggage either! Sarsaparilla does not contain testosterone, but it has been used for decades by the pharmaceutical industry to make semi-synthetic testosterone. Good sarsaparilla, sourced from Jamaica, is also a kidney detoxifier and anti-inflammatory, with no specified contraindications.

Every athlete should investigate what Himalaya HealthCare’s LiverCare® brings to the table. This product is loved throughout North America by athletes who are clear that the liver processes all protein intake, and is essential in making it into usable human proteins. LiverCare® also benefits cholesterol levels, hormone production and fat metabolism. It is foundationally every athlete’s best friend.

If you can control sugar metabolism, you have solved the puzzle of long-term health, stress-response, peak performance, long-term health and muscle building. Dump tracks of cheap protein is neanderthal and inefficient supplementation for lean protein is an understandable and achievable equation to be added to the exercise protocol. The information is out there, and people have to make sure not to get stuck in mediocre products and rigid brand-loyal limitations.

How important is an athlete’s digestive system for overall core health? And what can we do to make our core health better?

Core health is a term used most often for muscle focus in exercising. And rightly so. Traditional Chinese Medicine named our core as the ‘middle burner’ this is where all the action is for nutrient uptake and therefore energy production. The digestive system is all about positive energy, nutrient absorption.

The biggest mistake that bodybuilders and athletes make is to think they are invincible and that they can abuse their digestive system. In actuality, if the digestive system gets compromised, you really should start all over again, tear down and rebuild because you will not be a true winner if you are building on a faulty foundation.

I believe that there are foundational nutrients for digestive health. A quality multi-function enzyme formula should be the mandatory appetizer before meals. My favorite manufacturer, National Enzyme Company (NEC) is out of Missouri. They are no frills, just the oldest and the best.

Likewise, I believe that being gluttonous on steaks is a bad food choice. Why? Unless the beef is grass-fed, then CLA is absent. Meat prepared for look, taste and price is usually not the best animal protein for building invincible muscle tissue. It may be macho, but the life-long student of sports nutrition knows that if this is the choice – if steak is your proclivity – it should be a treat or a reward. That 16 oz is a burden to the digestive system, and inefficient protein.

Again, digestive enzymes, LiverCare® and aloe vera support an athlete’s digestive system. Aloe vera is a bitter that stimulates HCL and bile. Organic whole leaf aloe vera helps to break down minerals and proteins. The best product on the market is Aloe Life®, whole leaf aloe vera concentrate. One tablespoon, 1-2 times a day, will really heal the gut and make the digestive system purr optimally. Athletes should build around absorption, whole leaf aloe gets the minerals out of the food and helps the digestion of protein.

All readers of the current literature on sports nutrition understand that probiotics define the digestive system. We need daily probiotics for the task of fully lining the intestinal walls. Probiotics work to break down food, to help the communication systems of the body and to strengthen the core of the immune system, which resides in the gut.

To me, no other product available today compares with Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotic. This synbiotic food-based blend is a three-year fermentation of plant-based probiotics and prebiotics. This international bestseller is almost more whole food with probiotics, than just probiotic. It is a probiotic PLUS.

The final star for digestive health for the athlete is called triphala. This is a 1000s year old formula that simply nurtures and conditions the gut. Nothing mentioned above will do what these three myrobalan fruits have done for centuries to nurture optimum digestive system. This formula should also be considered a whole food, and is complementary to everything above. We all know about enzymes before meals and probiotics daily, but the best foundational core protocol also includes aloe vera, and triphala, versatile plant foods that bring the whole package to the workhorse digestive system.

One more thing to mention, when choosing a diet that involves maximum intake; it is also smart to add a digestive bitters formula. Bitters, like whole leaf aloe vera, stimulate the body’s digestive system into action. The best quality and best-tasting therapeutic blend is from Herb Pharm®, Digestive Bitters Compound will do the job of a bitters, and bring warmth to the digestive system while tasting good, as bitters need to be tasted to work!

What are your suggestions for athletes to keep both the gallbladder and liver running optimally? And why should gallbladder and liver health be important to athletes?

Partially answered this question above. There is nothing better than LiverCare.® It might literally be the 2nd most important single thing that a person interested in building muscle could take after a quality protein. The liver performs over 500 functions, and the 276 clinical studies on LiverCare®since it was introduced in 1955 have incorporated the rigors of primary science to verify this herbal formula’s benefit for most of these liver functions. Additional support is always welcome by the liver, so adding milk thistle, dandelion, gotu kola, artichoke and schisandra are all exceptional herbal complements to the liver.

The gallbladder produces bile, saves the body from the acid stomach wash with its alkalinity, and is crucial for fat digestion. Abuse fat intake; and your gallbladder will make you pay. Bile is the digestive system’s friend, as it digests saturated fats, and assists in the elimination of cholesterol and toxins. If there is an imbalance, gallstones will form creating one of the most difficult pains a person can experience.

Bitters are excellent at regulating bile production, and again that pillar of digestive health, whole leaf aloe vera is excellent for stimulating bile production. Other safe and excellent herbs that multi-task for the athlete and will keep the gallbladder functioning well are turmeric, dandelion, milk thistle, artichoke, Oregon grape and khella seed. Note that bitter herbs assist both the liver and the gallbladder. It’s time for athletes to start to understand the benefit of daily herbal food for optimal health.

What would you tell natural athletes who are looking to avoid chemicals and sugars that are found in most supplements?

Shop in the health food store where you feel comfortable that they know what they are talking about. Why? A good health food store is a gate-keeper. I cringe sometimes when I see some of the junk in the body-building, sports jock stores. Loud labels, stock photos and unhealthy though conditioned muscle models promising things to the consumer that are just not gonna happen. My gripe is the artificial flavorings and colors; these products should never be purchased! You can now find everything good in a natural form that does not have hidden or unnecessary additives that you will ultimately pay for as they do more harm than good.

I am a big fan of the new Extreme Edge® stack of sports nutrition products. They have the NSF Certified for Sports® logo which should be the gold standard for the athlete not only because they know the products are tested to not have 165+ banned substances, but also because these products are tested for environmental contaminants. Safe and pure!

Extreme Edge® is the straight-edge product for the clean athlete. It has zero artificials, and no cheap sugars. It provides top-shelf raw materials in a smartly built formula that is goal –oriented for extreme workouts, and the building of powerful muscle. All power, no cheap talk.

I have not found a better product on the market that handles the important question of sugar carb need and clean energy bursts. The labels are well worth finding, reading and appreciating. The products taste great, which is not the case with much of the competition even with their questionable sweetening agents. There is no equal to Extreme Edge®

There is some controversy on the benefits of L-Glutamine for athletes. Do you feel L-Glutamine is an effective supplement?

Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, and its primary use would be for athletic performance and training and the health of the GI tract. The body’s total amino acid pool in muscle consists of 60% glutamine, and it’s the amino acid most abundant in the blood: there really should be no controversy! Glutamine maintains muscle, transports nitrogen in and out of tissue and is important to keeping an amino acid balance in the body.

The writers about glutamine toxicity are from my perspective the same rabble-rousers that need controversy in their advice columns to spur their web readership. Of course, too much of a good thing can be dangerous and there is always biochemical individuality, but normal use of glutamine is good for gut, brain, skeleton and blood. There is always a concern for the extreme athlete to over consume good nutrients. Read Carl Germano’s book, The Misled Athlete.

I suggest people do act prudently on where they buy their amino acids from again, not all amino acids are the same. Free form pharmaceutical grade bacterial fermentation amino acids, and I say always look for the Ajinimoto logo, the only pharmaceutical grade amino acid made in the USA. Amino acid therapy is a form of nutritional therapy in and of itself. Effective, safe and necessary for the performance athlete. Provide the brain good Omega-3 fats EPA/DHA and this drama about glutamine supplementation will be all but eliminated.

The European Food Safety Authority has not besmirched glutamine, Glutamine is used in hospitals for critically ill patients; it is used for Crohn’s disease, cancer treatments and depression. The people who hypothesize that glutamine is bad and dangerous could also say that protein and carrots can be dangerous in excess; they should stop throwing false flags on the playing field and educate people on the primary and safe uses of glutamine. Glutamine is good.

What supplementation would you recommend for an athlete to fuel through a heavy training session.

The best product on the market for exercise over 45 minutes is Carbo Load by Extreme Edge® It is clean and NSF Certified for Sport.® Its carb blend is designed to provide immediate sugar from safe sources for workout needs, and additional complex carbohydrates that are unique, sophisticated and efficient for duration needs. If all formulas were put together with such integrity, we would have greater results and less people detoxing and recovering from the imbalances caused in a fallout from poorly constructed, sugar-saturated, cheap formulas.

For long hard workouts, good carbohydrates are essential. Extreme Edge® provides “complex carbohydrates & long chain glucose polymers from waxy maize, maltodextrin, steel cut oats, brown rice and D-Ribose, and 38 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gm of sugar. For optimal results with responsible nutrition, this product balances its refueling stack with a smart blend of alpha lipoic acid, Cinnulin PF™ water-soluble Cinnamon Bark extract, and Chromium. Built in healing to counter the extreme stressors of heavy training sessions. This product has a strong following with marathoners, cyclists and endurance athletes.

What supplementation could be beneficial in injury prevention?

Preventing injury is just balance and alertness and luck! If I wanted to prevent injury, I would make the mind stronger. The class of herbal adaptogens will get oxygen to the brain and help the body respond to stress while not creating imbalances by overstimulation. A well-built body in intense activity is still prone to injury, and the eyes and mind and electrical response circuitry are the places to concentrate to prevent injury.

Herbal adaptogens, a very specific class of plant medicine, are worth more than gold to the athlete. First, know they are all supportive, all preventative and all antioxidant. They protect, maintain and rejuvenate. Everyone should add adaptogens as daily herbal food, and athletes can and should do double. The adaptogenic herbs are Eleuthro, Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Panax and American Ginseng;,Reishi mushroom (hot water extract), Schisandra, Suma, Astragalus, Shatavari, Guduchi (and Licorice in low dosages).

The most trustworthy herbal companies are Herb Pharm®, which provides liquid herbal extracts for quick uptake for working out and recovery. Himalaya Herbal HealthCare® is an internationally respected herb grower and pure herb manufacturer that specializes in herbs from India like Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Shatavari and Guduchi. They also make the best Tribulus, which they call Gokshura. For standardized herbals, Bluebonnet Nutrition® provides the best product from European and top-quality sources. Adaptogens strengthen, caffeine weakens. Adaptogens work towards allostasis against even the harshest conditions.

My favorite adaptogens for the athlete are Eleuthro, Rhodiola, Panax (Asian) Ginseng and Ashwagandha. The medicinal mushrooms also provide incredibly noticeable results for the athlete. Cordyceps, for endurance and Reishi for the respiratory system. Only Mushroom Science® makes a true hot water extract that guarantees the actives. Connoisseurs will only buy Mushroom Science®

When injury occurs, trauma occurs. Herbally, the herbs Arnica, St Johnswort, and Calendula are the healing triumvirate. These herbs are good orally, topically and homeopathically. Best choices are Trauma Drops from Herb Pharm®, homoeopathic arnica 10x or 3x (in pellets or liquid) from Newton Homeopathics, or their Accident-Injury Remedy. Topically, I am fond of Bodyceuticals Calendula oil and salve. It’s superlative, even magical!

As natural lifters age how does their supplementation need to change? And what do you feel can be effective supplementation to keep optimal strength levels?

Big question, I need some Carbo Load for this interview! As athlete’s age, they need to protect the liver, LiverCare®. All adaptogenic herbs are life extending. I love the Himalaya formula called StressCare® which is actually an anti-aging formula. I think this is a must for a smart extreme sport protocol. StressCare® which contains the world’s oldest multivitamin, Chyvanprash, is a quintessential herbal adaptogenic formula that has the benefit of being clinically-tested and proven.

There are many incredible antioxidants that will assist in aging gracefully, including Pycnogenol®, grape seed extract, and resveratrol. Nutraceutically, the endogenous antioxidants S.O.D. and Ubiquinol are essential. Whole leaf aloe very assists in the breakdown of proteins and more importantly minerals, so it becomes more important as we age.

It is said that Cleopatra and Nefertiti used aloe to maintain lifelong beauty. Quality protein whey protein isolate is protein efficiency personified. But most of all, LiverCare®. Want a happy retirement? Tai chi, liver support, digestive enzymes, anti-oxidants and adaptogens. More raw foods, whole foods and less protein.

In your opinion, what would be the 5 most effective supplements that every natural athlete should invest in and why?

5 huh! I don’t know an athlete that would only want to take 5, so while I always strive to be fair and honest, I will cheat to win here.

  1. The 3-step stack by Extreme Edge®: Pre Workout, Carbo Load and Post Workout this is a system, so I will count it as one. I have a lot of bases covered here, for any and every athlete. NSF Certified for Sport®
  2. LiverCare® and StressCare® to protect the liver, and get a proven adaptogenic herbal formula into the body daily.
  3. Whey Protein Isolate. I like Bluebonnet Nutrition®’s because it has the highest amount of protein per serving, from the best source (made in America and soy-free.) It has no additives at all, and is NSF Certified for Sport® It’s not the cheapest, but it is the best and you get what you pay for. A 31 gm serving provides 26 gms of protein.
  4. Omega-3s. Nordic Naturals® is the best and they have an NSF Certified for Sport® formula that also has Vitamin D-3. The Ultimate Omega®-D3 Sport provides 800 mg EPA/400 mg DHA and 1000 mg D3 cholecalciferol from lanolin, with the fish being purified and fresh from sustainably-sourced anchovies and sardines. This is the best capsule they make for the fitness enthusiast. Best priced products? The best use of money for serious dosing is the Ultimate OmegaXtra® again from Nordic Naturals®—they have no equal. And for us normal folk with limited income, I like their Omega-3D® liquid. I think it tastes great! Nordic Naturals® is the #1 selling fish oil in the US, and is committed to providing the world’s safest, most effective Omega-s oils.
  5. Fats best friends; l-Carnitine and Alpha Lipoic acid. They are a dynamic duo. For the athlete, Bluebonnet’s liquid l-Carnitine is tasty and gets high amounts of carnitine to the body for energy, for the heart and for the ability of the cells to take in that great, healing fat. Alpha lipoic acid for the liver, blood sugar metabolism, and antioxidant support. Again, I depend upon Bluebonnet to give the best quality raw materials at the best price.

These recommendations bring a wholistic approach to the issue of bodybuilding. With this foundation, the Top “5”above, any athlete can build to their own specifications. I will end by saying that quality matters.


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