The notification hit my computer:
Born… can you please give us clarification on deer-antler spray? Why are athletes using it?
Immediately, I knew that Ray Lewis was to blame. And even worse? I was about to deflate all the media hype.
The message was from Neema Yazdani. Some of you might recognize Neema’s name from my most recent book, The Men’s Health Big Book: Getting Abs. Neema was a test subject that epitomized the great results you could receive with the program. As a guy that had tried just about everything during the last 12 years, Neema dropped body fat and added muscle with a simpler approach included in the book.
But the desire for an edge still burns within. Neema is always looking for ways to become better. And I can’t blame him. He is just like any other warm-blooded human. We want results—and we want them fast.
So when news of Ray Lewis using deer antler spray (also known as deer antler velvet) found it’s way onto the internet, the media started clamoring and men everywhere started salivating about the potential over-the-counter super supplement.
While consumers wanted more information on the product. Let’s not forget the supplement industry is a multi-billionaire dollar business. And if Ray used the product then it must be legit, right? That’s what the immediate response in supplement sales would have you believe, as ESPN business reporter Darren Rovel reported that purchases skyrocketed within 24 hours of the report.
Take away the question of him using the product (he has denied it, and the timing of the report is a little odd, given that the source claims he began taking the product months ago), and let’s just focus on the bottom line: does deer antler spray actually work to build muscle and speed recovery?
The answer is that deer antler velvet is just another fat burner. Another cell volumizer. Another body-toning shoe. It’s fitness marketing at it’s finest—playing off a goal you desire (gaining more muscle and size) and drawing unsubstantiated and wildly exaggerated claims. There’s nothing miraculous about deer antler spray. And after a closer look at the product, there’s really—well—nothing to it at all.
The Truth About Deer Antler Velvet
Deer antler velvet is supposed to help you build muscle. It allegedly elevates levels of IGF-1, an important hormone that helps you pack on mass. As “side effects” you also should see improvements in strength and endurance. And some products even claim it speeds recovery, which is why it was linked to Ray Lewis who earlier suffered an apparent season-ending injury, and yet has played and performed at a high level in the playoffs.
The truth? While research is limited, there’s nothing to suggest that deer antler velvet (or deer antler spray in the supplement form) actually does what it claims. In fact, there are two published studies (in real scientific journals, you can see them here and here) that suggest deer antler velvet does not (I repeat, does not) even elicit a hormonal response. What’s more, it also did not increase muscular strength or aerobic power.
Ok, so what’s two studies? I fully expect many readers will claim studies suck. Or that some things occur “in the trenches” and will always be ahead of scientific research. And you know what? That’s a valid argument. A lot of great information will never get published.
If people see results with deer antler velvet it’s probably the result of another valid argument: The placebo effect. If you believe something works, it sure can seem to have a powerful impact. Nothing is stronger than your mind. And with deer antler velvet, that’s most likely what’s happening.
Just in case you don’t want to take my word, I decided to dig a little deeper. After all, I don’t care about winning arguments. All I care about is helping you find better ways to improve your health and fitness, and make sure you don’t blow your money. So before you dismiss my evidence, you’ll want to read this.
Deer Antler Velvet: A Big Hoax?
Most deer antler spray bottles contain about 3,000 to 5,000 nanograms of IGF-1 from antler velvet. That’s not my guess—it comes straight from the manufacturer. You know, those same people that are selling you on the miraculous benefits.
Now, you’ll probably read a lot about the power of IGF-1 in many reports about Ray Lewis. And while it’s true that IGF-1 is illegal in man-made form, let’s not mistake illegal products (because they are synthetic) with guaranteed amazing results. IGF-1 can have a significant impact on your body, but it’s not that easy to get the levels you need from deer antler. In fact, given what’s in a typical bottle, it is damn near impossible.
Published research has shown that IGF-1 can produce similar results to growth hormone. The catch? If you do the math from the study, a 150-pound man (that’s a pretty small guy, so a bigger man would need more) would have to take more than 25 million nanograms just to experience the growth hormone-like effects of more muscle, less fat, and faster recovery.
I’m no math major, but take a quick look at the numbers. An entire bottle of deer antler velvet contains only 3,000 to 5,000 nanograms of IGF-1. To receive growth hormone benefits you need to take 25 million nanograms. PER DAY.
Assuming that deer antler velvet is the next biggest thing in muscle building and athletics isn’t just a massive leap of faith, it’s something that can’t be supported by science in any way, shape, or form. So why is it illegal? Because it’s still a synthetic, man-made growth hormone precursor. Those are illegal, according to most professional sports.
You want to see great results? The formula hasn’t changed. Train hard, recover harder (sleep, nutrition, massage), eat well, smile, and enjoy life. And yes, find reputable information and sources.
If you want to take supplements, don’t expect any miracles. They can help, but they are still just supplementing what you do with diet and exercise. If you want to know what supplements I take, the list is below.
- Protein powder
- Fish Oil
- Vitamin D
- Greens powder
And if you want me to be honest, the only one’s you probably “need” are fish oil and Vitamin D. Everything else you can get from a rock-solid diet.
That’s a headline that won’t grab anyone’s attention or help anyone make a quick dollar, but it’s still the best advice to looking awesome and feeling good.
Make it Count,
Looking for more guidance?
If you want help building muscle and losing fat, you can apply to work with me one-on-one. You’ll receive professionally designed workouts, have access to me and some of the best strength and nutrition coaches to ask your questions and get the help you need. Best of all? The first month is risk free so you can ensure that the program is right for you.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.