Deer Velvet Antler: A Grappler's Secret Supplement Weapon or Just Snake Oil?
"Man, have you heard about NFL players taking ground-up deer horns cause it's a growth hormone??"
"What? Is this a joke?"
"No, seriously, some guy told me he read it on the internet, so I checked it out! It's for real, go look it up!"
And that's how the whole "deer antler velvet" as a legal performance enhancer-thing started around my jiu-jitsu school. Maybe you heard the same thing around your school, too.
Seems a lot of people started talking about this unlikely supplement thanks to David Wetzel's piece on Yahoo!Sports earlier this year.
As a graduate of journalism school, I am accustomed to Job 1 being a healthy dose of research regarding my subject. Job 2, that's constructing the "inverted pyramid." Or maybe it's the who, what, when, where, why-sequence. I can't remember. It's been quite a while since college. But this isn't an exposition on journalistic concepts; it's a piece on the efficacy of deer velvet. Will it prove to be a grappler's secret weapon, building strength, endurance, and enhanced recovery? Or is it just the supplemental equivalent of "The Shake Weight"?
Well, never one to turn down a (legal) shortcut, I decided to try it for myself.
Legitimate scientific studies (read: those studies not paid for by the companies hawking the supplements) on deer velvet are few and far between. I was able to find this study by Langone Medical Center which concluded that there were no benefits or drawbacks to taking deer velvet. In short, the study concluded deer velvet doesn't help, but it doesn't hurt anything. Except maybe your wallet.
However, it is a fact deer velvet has been used in Chinese and Korean culture for more than 2,000 years, and is claimed to have a beneficial effect on symptoms of osteoarthritis. In addition, Russian and Roman cultures have used for relief of some conditions associated with aging, stimulation of the immune system, and assistance with growth, strength training, and recovery. Within the past decade or so, Westerners (including pro athletes) have been using deer velvet in the belief it's responsible for quicker recovery time from intense training, reduced tension, anxiety, and stress, and increases in strength and endurance. Specifically, it's supposed to be responsible for containing IGF-1, also known as "Growth Factor 1," a banned substance.
An interesting- but not exactly unbiased- report can be found here.
With a dearth of evidence about deer velvet, what's left to do but evaluate it for myself?
After months of trying multiple deer velvet products from several different companies, I do believe -with a couple of caveats- that deer velvet is definitely worth a try, but I can recommend it specifically from only two sources.
Before I go into my results, let's address those caveats. First, around the same time, I began to take about 6,000 mg of Omega 3 fish oil per day. Dr. Barry Sears, creator of the Zone Diet, believes fish oil is “as close to a miracle drug as I'll ever find.” That's pretty high praise, and I have to agree. Fish oil has been shown to combat heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and a whole host of other good stuff. About the same time, I began to follow a strict Paleo diet and completely eliminate alcohol.
So the two specific products I will recommend are responsible, I believe, for increasing my strength significantly, decreasing my recovery time, providing me with more energy and the need to sleep less (!), and more "magic" in the "magic room."
First, I was most impressed by Pure Vitality's "Ultra Vitality" product. Containing 1000mg of deer antler velvet, 550 mg of creatine, 550 mg of L-Arginine, and 200 mg of guarana, Ultra Vitality has some serious muscle in its mojo. After taking four pills daily for one month, I noticed my deadlift and squat PRs had increased by around 15 lbs. and my Fran time (for those familiar with CrossFit) was reduced by 47 seconds! If you know Fran, you know that's an entire lifetime! Also, my cardio respiratory endurance seemed bulletproof. Rolling for an hour straight after coming off a heavy deadlifting session just hours before was no problem. In short, I credit Ultra Vitality's deer antler velvet for increased strength, endurance, stamina, and focus. This is a product I intend to continue using. In addition, Pure Vitality's service and follow up is top notch. I cannot recommend this company and its products enough.
The other deer velvet product I was particularly impressed with was Life Extension's deer velvet. Although a significantly lower dosage than the Pure Vitality product, I began by taking Life Extension's product first and had noticeably better stamina while rolling and even more overall focus and ability to think clearly. As with Pure Vitality, Life Extension is top notch in customer satisfaction and speedy delivery.
So what is the upshot? Is deer velvet a grappler's secret weapon when it comes to strength, endurance, stamina and focus? Or is it just another supplement meant to wrestle a few bucks from a grappler's wallet? Well, my empirical evidence says there are only two supplements I can recommend: Ultra Vitality by Pure Vitality, and deer antler velvet from Life Extension. All others I tried are pretty much fit for the ashcan. I won't mention the other companies because there are no conclusive studies which prove or disprove the efficacy of deer velvet. There is only opinion.
And now you have mine.
Try it and see what you think.