Q: Besides zinc and magnesium, what other deficiencies do those of us seeking muscle and performance need to worry about? A: The most common one, which actually causes zinc and magnesium deficiency, is hydrochloric acid (HCl) deficiency. Back when I was an undergrad many moons ago, they used to tell us that you lose about 1% stomach acid per year after the age of 40. Well, that's not true anymore because our high stress levels these days decrease HCl. We did a study at our Chicago facility where we gave 160 clients an HCl test. Only two people passed it with a medium score; 158 had a horrendous score. If there's insufficient hydrochloric acid, proteins will pass into the intestine and putrefy instead of being digested. Carbohydrates will also be left to ferment without adequate digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Fat digestion is also dependent on the acid's influence on the pancreas to secrete lipase and the gall bladder to secrete bile. Poor digestion of these macronutrients means poor absorption of our basic energy sources. Over the last four years, I've been amazed how a correction in HCl deficiency has led to not only dramatic improvements in physique and strength, but also improvements in a variety of health parameters. Interestingly enough, in strength-trained individuals those improvements are often associated with gains of 15 to 18 pounds of lean body mass within two months! Why? They are now absorbing proteins and minerals. Here are a few of the symptoms of low stomach acid: belching or gas within one hour of a meal bloating shortly after eating bad breath loss of taste for meat nausea after taking supplements brittle fingernails undigested food in stool foul-smelling stools stomach pain desire to skip meals estrogen buildup acne rosacea depression In the US, many experts estimate the deficiency to be in the range of 40 to 50%. Some gastroenterologists are now advancing that it is today's most under-diagnosed ailment. There are a variety of medical tests you can get, but here's a simple test you can do at home (but I suggest you talk to a physician qualified in nutritional medicine before you try it). It requires a bottle of Betaine HCl, at 200 mg potency per capsule. Here's how it's performed: Step 1: Have a high-protein solid meal (no shakes). Let's say for illustration purposes a 12-ounce steak and vegetables. Step 2: Eat half the protein, roughly 6 ounces of the steak. Step 3: Swallow a 200mg capsule of HCl. Step 4: Eat the other half of the steak and the vegetables. Step 5: Wait 15 minutes. Step 6: If your stomach acid is normal, you'll feel like you just drank a hot cup of tea or feel a burn. If you feel nothing, you need HCl as a supplement. So what do you do next? At every meal repeat steps 1 to 6, upping the dose one capsule per meal until you feel the burning sensation. So if it takes five meals to get a burning sensation, you need on average four capsules per meal. If you get to seven capsules and you have no burning, stop the test — you're achloridic, meaning you have almost no stomach acid! At our Phoenix center alone we've been doing over 250 tests a year for the last four years, and in that time I've never seen one person not need at least one capsule; the average person tested could feel it after five capsules. You're getting better when you start feeling a burn at your initial determined dosage. For example, if you found that five capsules was your initial need, you may find that three days later it starts to burn, so then you'd cut back to four capsules with a typical high-protein solid meal, and so on. Most people achieve normal levels within eight weeks even when they start at seven capsules, but some individuals take as much as 18 months. I have two clients who need two caps a day permanently. Why? Because neither one will ever escape their stress levels (one of them is a real estate mogul and the other is a highly accomplished author). Make sure that your HCl product also contains the probiotic pepsin and the digestive enzymes papain and pancreatin, as they have a synergistic effect with HCl therapy. (You can acquire my version of this product by contacting Judith@CharlesPoliquin.com.) In addition to the above HCl protocols, here are a few other suggestions to normalize your stomach acid levels. First, avoid carbonated drinks. Second, avoid all-you-can-eat buffets, as they're America's leading source of food-borne pathogens. Finally, there are numerous herbs that can contribute to raising HCl, such as gentian, peppermint, and ginger, but be aware that very few controlled studies exist on this topic. I believe this is so important that my clients aren't given a supplement program until they get an HCl test. Remember, not only are you what you eat, you are what you assimilate!