The Concurrent Training Effect Blog #4

The Concurrent Training Effect Blog #4

The first three blogs of this series provided a basic understanding of the molecular underpinnings of the concurrent training effect (the blunting/elimination of the hypertrophy and strength response when both strength and endurance training are performed concurrently).  This edition is going to take that knowledge and use it to recommend specific training protocols focused on mitigating, and potentially even eliminating it.

The primary training factor which seems to drive the concurrent training effect is the intensity of the endurance exercise being performed.  Closely following intensity is frequency, and when high intensity is combined with high frequency the effect is maximized.

Recommendation 1:

As noted in blog #3 both AMPK and SIRT1 are activated by high intensity endurance exercise.  As both can inhibit mTORC1 one clearly does not want them activated when strength training is performed.  What has not yet been noted is that both will return to baseline levels roughly three hours after activation from intense endurance exercise.  The simple conclusion is that there should be at least three hours between an intense endurance session and a strength training session.  CrossFitters take note, if you are going to do an intense endurance session, and can only train once that day, skip the strength training afterwards (or prior to).  If you can do more than one session, intense endurance in the morning followed by strength training in the evening would be ideal.

This couple needs to wait at least 4 hours before any endurance work...
This couple needs to wait at least 3 hours before any endurance work…

Recommendation 2:

As noted above, frequency of high intensity endurance training is a factor in the concurrent training effect.  The molecular reason for this effect is unknown, but empirical evidence and personal experience indicate that no more than three sessions at greater than 70% of VO2max are best for mitigation of the concurrent training effect.

Recommendation 3:

Blog #2 focused on the molecular machinations relative to the hypertrophy response to strength training.  It was noted that mTORC1 is the driver of hypertrophy.  It was also noted that the mechanical stimulation of strength training was not the only manner in which mTORC1 is potently activated post workout.  A huge skeletal muscular spike in the uptake of the BCAA leucine occurs immediately after strength training.  Leucine itself is a potent stimulator of mTORC1.  The recommendation is thus to make sure plenty of blood-borne leucine is available.  Below are some specific recommendations using ALN products:

1) Take one serving of ALN Finish immediately after strength training.  Within 30 minutes, and preferably as soon as possible, take one serving of Recover as well.
2) If fat loss is the primary goal replace Recover above with Nitrean, or take two servings of Finish and skip either Recover or Nitrean to minimize total caloric intake.

ALN's Finish
ALN’s Finish

Recommendation 4:

Strength training immediately after an endurance session of low to moderate intensity (no more than 69%) is fine.  In fact, strength training immediately following a low intensity endurance session positively influences the endurance adaptation while simultaneously not impairing the hypertrophy and strength adaptations.

We aren’t done yet.  I am going to do more research and we are going to learn even more about the concurrent training effect and how to control it.  

Chris Mason
Owner
AtLarge Nutrition, LLC

The Concurrent Training Effect Blog #2

This 2nd edition of The Concurrent Training Effect blog is going to focus on the molecular underpinnings of skeletal muscular hypertrophy.  Understanding the driving force behind the molecular response to strength training can provide us insight into why concurrent strength and endurance training can negatively affect muscular hypertrophy and strength.  In addition, a better understanding can lead to ways to mitigate the effect and optimize progress.  If you are a CrossFitter, or any other form of hybrid athlete this blog is for you.  Keep reading…

Mike Mentzer - knew a thing or two about muscular hypertrophy.
Mike Mentzer – knew a thing or two about muscular hypertrophy.

A Very Cursory Overview of the Science:

The currently agreed upon molecular key to skeletal muscular hypertrophy is the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR).  mTOR exists in two complexes with mTORC1 as the type associated with muscular hypertrophy.  mTOR is most commonly activated via growth factors, but with strength training its activation is executed in an entirely different fashion.  An unknown kinase gets activated causing a chemical cascade resulting in the potent stimulation of mTORC1.

Mechanical kinase activation is the not the only manner in which strength training stimulates mTOR.  We have all heard of the post-workout anabolic window for nutrient consumption.  The following molecular explanation is THE reason the post-workout window has been so widely touted (and misrepresented equally as often) in the fitness world.

After an intense training session (and for several hours) the skeletal muscles pull a significantly greater amount of the amino acids leucine and glutamine from the blood.  The leucine individually is a potent activator mTORC1 and augments the previously mentioned kinase based mTORC1 activation.  The increased glutamine yet again enhances this synergistic effect as the resultant transport of glutamine out of the muscle further up-regulates leucine intake.

Start and Finish provide both leucine and glutamine (as well as other great stuff).
Start and Finish provide both leucine and glutamine (as well as other great stuff).

The Bottom Line

Bottom line, and there is a lot more to it than described here, the end game for strength training induced muscular hypertrophy is it is almost totally dependent on mTORC1.  One can thus reasonably deduct that endurance training can somehow blunt mTORC1 activation, and or its ability once activated to execute its normal spike in protein synthesis and the resultant muscular hypertrophy.

The next installment of The Concurrent Training Effect blog will focus on the manner(s) with which endurance training may effect mTORC1.

Nitrean Natural Has Launched!

WWW.ATLARGENUTRITION.COM

Our new Nitrean Natural
Our new Nitrean Natural
For years our customers have been asking if we planned to offer an artificial sweetener free version of our wildly popular Nitrean series. The answer has always been no, but that answer just changed!

As many of you know we have recently begun manufacturing our own products for the first time in our 12 years history. Our new plant has given us the freedom to delve into new, and previously unexplored facets of the supplement business. The first example of this freedom is our release of the Nitrean Natural series.

We are incredibly excited about the release of Nitrean Natural. We have always felt that we offer the finest protein supplements available, but this product line truly sets the industry standard. Here are just a few of the highlights:

– A new and improved version of our proprietary protein matrix consisting of three forms of grass fed, rBGH free, drug free whey (concentrate, isolate, and hydrolyzed), micellar casein, and whole egg proteins.
Artificial sweetener free, all natural stevia based flavoring systems.
– Amazing new flavors and the same easy mixing you have come to expect from AtLarge Nutrition.

Bottom line, if you want a protein supplement that is simultaneously clean, environmentally friendly, and supremely effective, you want Nitrean Natural. Order now, and get on the road to optimize your body!

HMB and Creatine: Giving RESULTS Every Time!

Strength, power, muscle, and speed are our specialties at AtLarge Nutrition, LLC.

Every single day we work with and speak with the best athletes in the world. We listen to their needs, hear about the rigors of their sports, and sympathize when they tell us they need just a little something extra to help them reach their full potential. That’s when we head to our lab, lock ourselves inside, and design the highest quality supplements that will help the best of the best get the results that they want.

Recently, we strove to formulate a product that would dramatically enhance performance while simultaneously remaining safe and legal in as many athletic federations as possible. Exhaustive research and in-the-trenches conversations led to the creation of RESULTS™.

Two ingredients in RESULTS™, HMB (b-hydroxy-b-methylbutyrate) and creatine monohydrate, are potent enough to be stand-alone supplements. However, we found something that shocked us: when you combine these two amazing compounds, the effects were far more exciting and powerful.

Simply put, the results were increased lean muscle mass and strength and reduced body fat.

HMB for Muscle Growth and Increased Endurance Performance

HMB is a naturally occurring compound produced in the body during metabolism of the amino acid leucine. Leucine is a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) of great interest.  Taken in comparatively low doses (4-6g), it has been demonstrated to stimulate protein synthesis to the same degree as much larger servings of complete proteins. This effectively means that you can get the same surge of protein synthesis without taking in tons of protein.

Dr. Steven Nissen was the first man to explore the potential health and ergogenic benefits of HMB. He theorized that leucine’s powerful protein synthesis-stimulating effects were correlated to its metabolism of HMB in the body.  Following Dr. Nissen’s pioneering work, HMB has become one of the most studied supplements in the sports nutrition industry. Recent research has elucidated the ways in which HMB both stimulates protein synthesis (2) and blunts catabolism (3), thus assisting in creation of a net anabolic environment.

HMB not only has positive effects on the net protein state of the body (and thus potentially on skeletal muscular hypertrophy), but it has also been recently shown to aid endurance. It does so via two distinct pathways:

Pathway 1 – Enhancement of maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max)

Pathway 2 – Improvement of the respiratory compensation point (RCP) (4)

These improvements allow endurance athletes to exercise at a higher level of intensity for a longer period of time, thus potentially improving performance.

In yet another study, HMB reduced peak creatine kinase (CK) levels after a prolonged run (5).  CK is generally considered to be a marker of muscle damage, and thus a reduction in peak levels indicates reduced muscle damage, more rapid recovery, or both. CK levels are also highly correlated with muscular soreness.  A reduction in peak CK levels may result in reduced muscular soreness from intense training. This means you can train more frequently and feel better!

So far we have discussed proven effects of HMB that should result in improved performance in the gym. But what about real-life results?

Two Studies – Nothing Short of Phenomenal

In one study, HMB users experienced double the strength increase and three times the lean gain in muscle mass as compared to that of those using a placebo. This study’s amazing results prompted a second seven-week study that resulted in HMB users increasing their bench press strength three times that of placebo users! (6)

Safe and Effective!

Supplements or drugs with the proven ergogenic benefits of HMB are often considered unsafe, but HMB is one of the very few exceptions. In fact, it may even be beneficial to overall health via a positive effect on LDL cholesterol and blood pressure.

Bottom line: If HMB isn’t part of your daily supplement regimen, then it very well should be!

Creatine: The Classic Stand-By That Packs a Punch

Creatine, or α-methylguanido-acetic acid, is a naturally-occurring nitrogen compound that contains an acidic component found both in select foods (primarily meats) and in the body. The majority of creatine in the body is found in the skeletal muscle system and plays a very important role in energy metabolism.

Supplementation with creatine allows for increased intramuscular stores and thus enhanced anaerobic training endurance (more reps with the same weight). This enhanced endurance allows for greater training volume and thus greater potential stimulation of muscular hypertrophy.

Creatine supplementation also increases intramuscular stores of fluid, which results in volumization of the muscle cells, and volumization of muscle cells has a stimulating effect on protein synthesis. Therefore, creatine allows the trainee to lift more weight and potentially to respond to the increased training stimulus with greater muscular hypertrophy.

Creatine’s theoretical benefits, as listed above, have been proven in research. Volek et al. studied the effects of a one-week creatine loading phase. The result was that creatine significantly increased the work performed (on the bench press and with jump squats) as compared to placebo (8).  In a separate study, creatine was shown to improve 100-meter sprint times (9).  Finally, another study by Volek et al. involving 12 weeks of creatine supplementation resulted in both increased muscle mass and training volume (10).

As with HMB, there is a literal mountain of studies on creatine proving both its efficacy as an ergogen and its safety. Again, like HMB, creatine may even provide certain health benefits such as acting as a potent antioxidant.

Chuck Vogelpohl Squatting 1,140 pounds (All-Time Record Squat ) – Chuck is a regular user of Results

The Super Supplement: RESULTS™

As addressed above, both creatine and HMB have been proven to increase skeletal muscle mass and strength.  Individually, they are both impressive ergogenic supplements, but when combined, they make for a kind of super supplement.

A 2001 study by Jowko et al. clearly demonstrated that each compound produced its ergogenic benefits via unique pathways, and thus combining them could produced additive effects (greater results than using either supplement individually) (1).

Most companies would stop right there and settle for a product that combined them, but here at AtLarge, we wanted more! We wanted to create a straightforward, no-BS product that would bend the minds of its users with gains such as never before! (We even took the no-BS approach when we named this super supplement. What you see is what you get!)

We combed the research journals and eventually came upon the ultimate ingredient to combine with creatine and HMB for a triangle of power!

That third ingredient is β-alanine.

Research had shown that β-alanine combined with creatine (much like creatine plus HMB) has additive effects on size and strength.

We theorized that throwing creatine, HMB, and β-alanine together (along with some dextrose for an insulin spike) into one product would revolutionize nonhormone-based supplementation.

And guess what? We nailed it!

The biggest and strongest athletes in the world use RESULTS™ for a reason: it flat-out works! (Chuck Vogelpohl, Donnie Thompson, Ryan Celli, Scott Yard, Tom Mutaffis, Travis Bell & Vincent Dizenzo and the Westside Barbell Powerlifting Team to name a few!)

So don’t force yourself through even one more day of lackluster performance. Get RESULTS™ and get results.

Scott Yard – 505 lb RAW Bench – Another regular user of Results

Written by Chris Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – HMB and Creatine: Giving RESULTS Every Time! discussion thread.

References

1. Jówko, E., Ostaszewski, P., Jank, M., Sacharuk, J., Zieniewicz, A., Wilczak, J. & Nissen, S. (2001) Creatine and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) additively increase lean body mass and muscle strength during a weight training program. Nutr. 17(7-8): 558-566.

2. Eley, H. L., Russell, S. T. & Tisdale, M. J. (2008) Attenuation of depression of muscle protein synthesis induced by lipopolysaccharide, tumor necrosis factor and angiotensin II by beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate. Am. J. Physiol Endocrinol. Metab. 295(6):1409-1416.

3. Smith, H. J., Wyke, S. M. & Tisdale, M. J. (2004) Mechanism of the attenuation of proteolysis-inducing factor stimulated protein degradation in muscle by beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate. Cancer Res. 64: 8731-8735.

4. Lamboley, C. R., Royer, D. & Dionne, I. J. (2007) Effect of beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate on aerobic-performance components and body composition in college students. Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exer. Metab. 17(1):56-69.

5. Knitter, A. E., Panton, L., Rathmacher, J. A., Petersen, A. & Sharp, R. (2000) Effects of beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate on muscle damage following a prolonged run. J. Appl. Physiol. 89(4):1340-1344.

6. Nissen, S., Sharp, R., Ray, M., Rathmacher, J. A., Rice, D., Fuller, J. C., Jr., Connelly, A. S. & Abumrad, N. N. (1996) Effect of the leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate on muscle metabolism during resistance-exercise training. J. Appl. Physiol. 81(5): 2095-2104.

7. Nissen, S., Panton, L., Sharp, R. L., Vukovich, M., Trappe, S. W. & Fuller, J. C., Jr. (2000) Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) supplementation in humans is safe and may decrease cardiovascular risk factors. J. Nutr. 130(8): 1937-1945.

8. Volek, J.S., Kraemer, W.J., Bush, J.A., Boetes, M., Incledon, T., Clark, K.L., & Lynch, J.M. (1997) Creatine supplementation enhances muscular performance during high-intensity resistance exercise. J Am Diet Assoc, 97: 765-770.

9. Skare, O.C., Skadberg, & Wisnes, A.R. (2001) Creatine supplementation improves sprint performance in male sprinters. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports, 11: 96-102.

10. Volek, J.S., Duncan, N.D., Mazzetti, S.A., Staron, R.S., Putukian, M., Gomez, A.L., Pearson, D.R., Fink, W.J. &  Kraemer, W.J. (1999) Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 31: 1147-1156.

Supplement Staples for 2009 – Protein is Prime

Now that the Holiday Season is over and the New Year is upon us, it is a perfect time to re-examine your supplement plan for 2009. With thousands of different dietary supplements available, it quickly becomes an overwhelming task to make sense of product claims and separate fact from fiction.

The first order of business is to make sure you have the basics covered. There is a sizeable amount of scientific literature supporting the anabolic effects of creatine and the general health benefits of fish oil.

While I’m a major advocate for including these as staples for any serious athlete, I think the number one supplement you need in your arsenal is protein. Regardless of your specific goals or whether you are a novice or veteran in the gym, a high quality protein supplement is essential for maximizing training adaptations. 
 
The Most Important Reason You Need Protein

If you don’t consume protein around your workout, protein balance is negative. In the fasted state, it is true that resistance exercise alone has an anabolic effect by increasing protein synthesis proportionally more than breakdown, but the end result is still a negative protein balance. That simple fact is the main reason you need to consider a protein supplement as part of your nutritional supplement program.  Simply put, the amino acids provided by protein serve as the building blocks for building muscle proteins. If you do not provide the amino acids in your diet, the body breaks down its own muscle proteins to provide the amino acids needed.

Three Key Questions

When it comes to protein supplements, there are a large number of products to choose from. From a practical standpoint, there are 3 main questions to address with protein supplementation:

  1. What source of protein should be used?
  2. How much protein should be ingested?
  3. When should protein be consumed?

Be skeptical if anyone claims to have unequivocal answers to these questions because the science is far from absolute.  We have some very good knowledge about protein supplementation, but there are still many gaps that need to be addressed. The results from studies can, however, begin to point us in a direction that makes the most sense.  When looking at the preponderance of evidence a sensible case can be made for providing recommendations on protein supplementation.
 
1. What source of Protein should be used?

Two of the most popular protein sources are whey and casein, the two major milk proteins.  Both are excellent sources of all the essential amino acids, but they have some key differences.

Whey is renowned for its high quality rating and is definitively the most popular supplemental protein. Scientific studies have revealed that whey has several unique qualities that make it an attractive protein source for athletes:

  • A distinguishing feature of whey protein is its high prevalence of essential amino acids.
  • Whey contains about 10% leucine which directly activates a critical compound in muscle cells called the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR).  mTOR activates protein synthesis. 
  • Whey protein is digested and absorbed quickly resulting in a rapid increase in plasma amino acids.  This results in a large and rapid increase in protein synthesis.
  • Chronic ingestion of whey results in improved body composition including both increased lean body mass and decreased fat mass.
  • Whey is helpful in weight management due to increased satiety and increased energy expenditure.
  • Whey protein consumed after resistance exercise provides a greater overall anabolic effect on skeletal muscle.
  • Whey protein improves blood glucose control.
  • Whey protein has antioxidant effects due to the fact it is a unique and rich source of cysteine and thiol groups (3-4 times higher than soy).  These groups are rate-limiting for synthesis of glutathione (GSH), one of the most important non-enzymatic antioxidant defense systems.
  • Whey fractions such as lactoferrin, glutamine, immunoglobulins, and other peptides (eg, lysozome, –b-lactoglobulin, and b-lactalbumin) may have positive effects on immune function.
    • Several peptides from whey protein have been shown to possess hypotensive properties, and some studies show lowering of  blood pressure on par with some drugs.

Casein also has several unique characteristics worth noting. Casein is the most abundant protein in milk. It has all the essential amino acids and scores high on all methods of protein quality. Whereas whey protein is more soluble in an acid environment, casein is relatively insoluble. Because casein is insoluble it tends to form structures called micelles. Micelles are suspensions of spherical structures that increase solubility in water.  Casein’s insolubility slows its digestion rate. In contrast to the rapid digestion and release of amino acids into the blood after ingestion of whey, the slow digestion of casein in the stomach results in a prolonged and steady release of amino acids. The effects of this pattern of slow release have been investigated in a number of studies.  For strength trainees, one very important effect is the promotion of an anti-catabolic environment.

An early (considered classic) study documenting the effects of casein on protein metabolism was done by French researchers and published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(1). Healthy subjects ingested 30 g of either whey or casein and anabolic and catabolic effects were measured for 7 hours after consumption. Whey protein resulted in a rapid increase in blood amino acids and protein synthesis, but it was short-lived. Casein, on the other hand, resulted in a prolonged increase in blood amino acids and a 34% reduction in protein breakdown. The net protein balance remained more positive for casein over a 7 hour period. The authors attributed this to casein’s delayed gastric emptying and slower absorption rate from the gastrointestinal tract. These findings were quite revolutionary.  In fact, a commentary was written in the top science journal in the world, Nature(2).

To gain further insight into these phenomena, researchers performed additional experiments to document the effects of protein digestion rate on protein turnover. In one study(3), healthy young men were provided one of four meals: 1) a single meal composed of 30 g of casein, 2) a single meal containing 30 g of individual amino acids equal to the casein meal, 3) a single meal composed of 30 g of whey, and 4) 30 g of whey provided in a sequence of 13 small meals given each 20 min.  In this case, Meal 1 and Meal 2 were essentially both casein, but varied in digestion rate. Meal 3 was whey which is a fast-digesting protein. Meal 4 was whey, but the repeated ingestion mimicked the characteristics of a slow digestion protein like casein. The results supported the importance of digestion rate on protein turnover. Meal 2 (free amino acids) and Meal 3 (whey), both fast-digesting meals, resulted in a larger increase in protein synthesis, but it was transient. They also resulted in a large transient increase in protein oxidation. Meal 1 (casein) and Meal 4 (repeated small whey feedings), both effectively slow-digesting meals, resulted in a smaller effect on protein synthesis, but prevented protein oxidation and strongly inhibited protein breakdown. Protein balance over the 7 hour period of measurements was significantly higher with the slow-digesting meals. Thus, casein, or small whey “meals” consumed repeatedly resulted in the most favorable protein balance over a sustained period.

These studies show unequivocally that digestion rate is an independent regulator of protein retention. Therefore, casein makes an ideal protein supplement to sustain long periods of an anabolic environment for muscle growth.

Since whey rapidly increases protein synthesis, and casein blocks protein breakdown, a combination of both proteins makes intuitive sense. A recent study (4) compared the effects of supplementing with either a combination of whey and casein, or carbohydrate on several markers of muscle anabolism during strength training. Untrained men participated in a 10 wk resistance training program and either supplemented with 40 g of carbohydrate or 40 g of protein (containing a mixture of whey and casein). Half of the respective supplements were consumed one hour before and immediately after exercise on workout days. The results were overwhelmingly positive for the combination protein group. Despite similar background diets and identical training programs, supplementation with protein resulted in greater increases in several measures of muscle anabolism including greater increases in lean body mass, thigh muscle mass, muscle strength, anabolic hormones, and muscle specific proteins.

In a similar study(5) that lasted 14 weeks, untrained men performed resistance training and received either 25 g of carbohydrate, or 25 g of a combination protein (whey and casein) 1 hr before and immediately after exercise. The combination protein group resulted in significantly greater increases in muscle fiber size compared to the carbohydrate group. These studies provide strong evidence that a combination protein consumed before and after workouts augments muscle anabolism.

These studies support the general concept that combining whey and casein has an anabolic effect, but the control groups consumed carbohydrate, so it is unclear if the combined effects would be better than the individual protein sources. Few studies have directly compared whey versus casein, or a combination of whey and casein versus each alone on the adaptations to resistance training. One study does, however, provide evidence supporting the theory that a combined whey and casein supplement is superior. This study showed that a group of men who received a protein supplement consisting of both whey and casein had greater increases in lean body mass after 10 weeks of training compared to a group that received only whey protein(6).

2. How much protein should be ingested?

Many of the early studies showing that protein supplementation after resistance exercise augmented protein synthesis used only 6 grams of essential amino acids, thus you get a pretty good bang for your buck.  However, few studies have addressed whether providing more is better. Prominent protein researchers addressed this void in the literature by conducting a dose response study in healthy active men(7). The protocol involved subjects performing a resistance exercise session on five separate occasions. After exercise, they randomly consumed a drink containing different doses of protein: 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 grams. The source of protein was egg. Compared to consuming no protein, muscle protein synthesis was increased by 37% after the 5 g dose and 56% after the 10 g dose of protein. The 20 g dose condition increased protein synthesis even further by 97%. When 40 g of egg protein was ingested, there was no further increase in protein synthesis.

These results indicate an efficacious dose response relationship between the amount of protein ingested and stimulation of protein synthesis after resistance exercise up to 20 grams of dietary protein. At the higher dose, there was a marked increase in protein oxidation suggesting that the extra protein was being used as fuel. This is a milestone study that shows 20 grams of high quality protein providing about 9 grams of essential amino acids is a sound dose to consume after resistance exercise.

3. When should protein be consumed?

When it comes to protein supplementation, the what and how much are critical, but new research indicates so is the when. The majority of protein supplementation studies have focused on the post-exercise time period and this work unequivocally shows it is an important time. However, there is accumulating evidence that the pre-exercise time period is important as well. The main evidence for this comes from a study where researchers gave subjects 6 grams of essential amino acids after exercise and showed it stimulated protein synthesis(8). This was a well characterized response at the time. The surprising finding from the study was that when the same dose of protein was given immediately before exercise, there was a significantly greater increase in protein synthesis after exercise. The greater effect associated with pre-exercise supplementation was attributed to elevated blood levels of amino acids before exercise and greater delivery of those amino acids to the active muscles as a result of muscle contraction. It has been shown that delivery of amino acids to muscle is one of the rate limiting steps in protein synthesis. This landmark study makes a strong case for consuming protein during the pre-exercise time period.

A follow up study by this group examined whether the timing of whey protein supplementation was important in terms of promoting anabolism(9). Healthy subjects were placed into a group that received 20 g of whey immediately before, or a group that received the same dose immediately after a bout of resistance exercise. The anabolic response (muscle protein balance) was increased in both groups, but was similar, indicating that timing (relative to before or after training) of whey protein supplementation was not a factor. The reason for the lack of a greater response with pre-exercise consumption like the previous work is unclear, but could be due to the difference in protein sources (intact whey versus free amino acids). The researchers did not have a group who consumed protein at both time points (both pre and post-exercise). The important point to gleam from the research is that consuming protein either immediately before, or immediately after resistance training increased protein synthesis, so a reasonable inference is that consuming protein at both times would be of equal or potentially greater benefit than either or. 

Summary

The science clearly shows that protein supplementation around a workout is crucial in order to switch from a negative to a positive protein balance.  While there are many high quality protein sources available, whey and casein are two of the most popular and each have unique features with favorable qualities.  Whey is quickly digested with rapid and transient anabolic effects, whereas casein is slowly digested with prolonged anti-catabolic effects and superior net retention. Combining whey and casein thus makes intuitive sense and there is evidence such an approach may be better than using either alone for augmenting adaptations to training. The ideal amount of protein that increases protein synthesis without sharply increasing protein oxidation appears to be somewhere around 20 grams per serving. Finally, there is evidence that both the pre-exercise and post-exercise time periods are important for increasing protein balance.  If you are seeking a high quality blend of both whey and casein proteins, AtLarge Nutrition’s Nitrean provides a nearly ideal blend with the added benefit of egg protein. 

Written by Jeff Volek, PhD, RD

Wannabebig’s Protein Powder Supplement recommendation Nitrean is one of the premier protein products on the market today. It is superior to any whey-only powder with its blend of whey (isolates, concentrate, and hydrolyzed), casein, and egg proteins.

In addition, it is one of the best mixing and tasting products available.Men’s Health have recommended Nitrean Protein numerous times and most recently as their top choice for the protein supplement category in their 2008 awards.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Supplement Staples for 2009 – Protein is Prime discussion thread.

References

1. Boirie, Y., Dangin, M., Gachon, P., Vasson, M. P., Maubois, J. L. & Beaufrere, B. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. (1997); 94:14930-14935.

2. Fruhbeck, G. Protein metabolism. Slow and fast dietary proteins. Nature. (1998); 391:843, 845.

3. Dangin, M., Boirie, Y., Garcia-Rodenas, C., Gachon, P., Fauquant, J., Callier, P., Ballevre, O. & Beaufrere, B. The digestion rate of protein is an independent regulating factor of postprandial protein retention. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. (2001); 280:E340-348.

4. Willoughby, D. S., Stout, J. R. & Wilborn, C. D. Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids. (2006).

5. Andersen, L. L., Tufekovic, G., Zebis, M. K., Crameri, R. M., Verlaan, G., Kjaer, M., Suetta, C., Magnusson, P. & Aagaard, P. The effect of resistance training combined with timed ingestion of protein on muscle fiber size and muscle strength. Metabolism. (2005); 54:151-156.

6. Kerksick, C. M., Rasmussen, C. J., Lancaster, S. L., Magu, B., Smith, P., Melton, C., Greenwood, M., Almada, A. L., Earnest, C. P. & Kreider, R. B. The effects of protein and amino acid supplementation on performance and training adaptations during ten weeks of resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. (2006); 20:643-653.

7. Moore, D. R., Robinson, M. J., Fry, J. L., Tang, J. E., Glover, E. I., Wilkinson, S. B., Prior, T., Tarnopolsky, M. A. & Phillips, S. M. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. (2008).

8. Tipton, K. D., Rasmussen, B. B., Miller, S. L., Wolf, S. E., Owens-Stovall, S. K., Petrini, B. E. & Wolfe, R. R. Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. (2001); 281:E197-206.

9. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Aarsland, A. A., Sanford, A. P. & Wolfe, R. R. Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. (2007); 292:E71-76.

Fish Oil – Just The Facts

The Dawn of Fat Phobia

If you have a few years of training under your belt, you can probably remember what I call the “Fat-Free 80’s.” Think back to a time when dietary fat was the enemy. Ah, yes, a time when fat-free products lined the shelves of the supermarket. A time when it was not a bad thing to get a box of Entemann’s cinnamon rolls, as long as they were the FAT-FREE cinnamon rolls. Health Valley made some positively disgusting fat-free cookies, along with a host of other fat-free products that tasted like sugary cardboard. And we can’t forget the weight gainer products, those were priceless. 1,000, 2000, 4,000 calories per serving, and all you had to do was mix about a cup of powder into your favourite drink.

No worries, though, these gainers were virtually fat-free! What we were led to believe was that fat-free products equated to fat-free physiques. Unfortunately, that was far from the truth.

During the 1980’s national obesity rates started to drastically climb. Large behavioral trend studies such as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES II & III), the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), and the Calorie Control Council Report (CCCR) collectively showed a 31% increase in overweight prevalence from 1976-1991. What is the punch line? This increase in weight was accompanied by an 11% decrease in percentage of calories from fat (from 41.0% to 36.6%). The most recent report by the BRFSS shows a further decrease in fat intake to 33%, accompanied by an increase in obesity from 11.6% to 22.1%. This is a 90.5% increase in US obesity from 1990-2002[1]. It’s obvious that dietary fat is not the evil culprit in the expansion of the population’s waistline.

A Brief Evolution of Our Knowledge of Fats

As indicated by the fat-free product boom a couple of decades back, there indeed was the widespread belief that ALL fats were a substance to be minimized or avoided altogether. But with the forward march of research, we came to understand that different fats had different effects on health. Since it is human nature to think in black and white terms, the great divide initially fell between saturated (SFA) and mono- or polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFA & PUFA). SFA were thought to be the root of all evil, conjuring images of arterial plaque and eventual heart failure, while unsaturated fat was regarded as a universally angelic substance. This turned out to be a gross oversimplification of reality.

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The intricacies and widely varying sources and subtypes of SFA is another article altogether, but suffice it to say that it’s not that simple to pigeonhole them as unhealthy. SFA are not created equal. They have markedly variable physiological effects from the detrimental all the way to the beneficial. Given this, it depends on which ones you want throw onto the theoretical chopping block. Stearic acid, an SFA abundant in meat & milk fat, has been consistently observed to actually reduce blood platelet aggregation [2]. This is a good thing. In contrast, trans fats (found in high concentrations in commercially baked goods as well as processed & fried foods) have been observed to negatively impact blood lipids by not only lowering HDL, but increasing LDL as well [3]. 

Ironically, experimental research exists on healthy humans showing the least fat was oxidized on the MUFA fat dietary treatment, and the most fat oxidized on a trans fat diet [4]. This result echoes what has been seen in rats as well. It appears that the tighter the control of the study, the less “superior” unsaturated fats turn out to be for any presumed effect on body composition compared to SFA. Throw in the fact that a reducing SFA intake and increasing the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids in the diet reduces testosterone levels [5], and then you have yet another wrinkle in the mix.

Then you have medium-chain triacylglycerols (MCT), which are SFAs that exhibit physiological behavior that is closer to carbohydrate than fat. MCT has been hyped to death by those who sell it. But the point is that they are a type of SFA that may potentially have minor benefits on body composition. I personally wouldn’t spend a dime on them, but they nevertheless illustrate the fact that SFAs are a complex and highly varied group of compounds in terms of physiological effect. As always, the effects of each type of fat undoubtedly vary with the population in question, as well as individual response.

Finally, with the black and white fallacy of saturated versus unsaturated fats out of the way, we can now shift the focus on fish oils, which happen to be a rich source of a particular class of fatty acids under intense study, the omega 3’s. 

Enter the Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are 20-carbon compounds essential for normal growth and development, and are noted specifically for their powerful influence over multiple physiological processes. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the two essential fatty acids (EFA) that the body cannot biosynthesize and must get from the diet, is an omega-3. Here’s a structure for those of you who miss your days in the classroom:

EFA are precursors to a class of biologically significant compounds called eicosanoids, which include prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes. Eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) can be derived from fish oil, and to a lesser degree, flaxseed oil. Consumption of EPA and DHA has an appreciable number of positive health effects, including decreases in blood platelet aggregation, lowered blood pressure, enhancement of smooth muscle function, decreased inflammation, alleviation of dyslipidema, and treatment of mood disorders [6-9]. There is also emerging evidence pointing to the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on bone health [10].

Archaeological research postulates that humans were biologically designed to thrive on a diet whose ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was approximately 1:1, and unlikely greater than 4:1. Today, consumption of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids is estimated at roughly 25:1 [11]. This is due in part to a predominance of omega-6 oils available commercially in our food supply (corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, refined packaged grain products & pastries) and a relative minority of omega-3 sources (fatty marine fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and flaxseed oil, walnuts, & small amounts in canola oil). Industrial production of omega-6-rich animal feeds has also resulted in animal tissues (livestock, eggs, and cultured fish) rich in omega-6 and poor in omega-3 fatty acids. This disproportionately high intake of omega 6’s biases our physiology towards thrombosis, hyperlipidemia, and vasoconstriction. The reverse of those effects occurs simply by increasing the proportion of omega-3 fats.

Is Fish Oil a Fat Loss Supplement?

So far, the resume of fish oil’s health effects is very extensive. But can it add fat loss to the list as well? The buzz in the supplement industry would certainly want consumers to believe so. But as always, the answer can only begin to reveal itself in the research. Human studies examining the effect of fish oil supplementation on body composition are scarce, but that makes it easy to pick them apart.

A decade ago, Couet and colleagues investigated the effect of replacing 6g of visible dietary fat with 6g of fish oil in healthy adults over a 3-week period, done 12 weeks after a 3-week control diet period [12]. Bodyfat mass and respiratory quotient decreased in the fish oil phase. It’s important to note that the flaws in this study’s design are grave enough to almost completely invalidate it. Extremely small sample size (6 subjects total), short trial period (3 weeks), and a complete absence of randomization or treatment balance (opening the distinct possibility for seasonal variation, among other errors) are the main fatal knocks that render this data nearly useless.

In contrast, 2 more recent studies conducted within the past 3 years looking at weight-loss diets supplemented with omega-3’s have not observed any significant effects on body composition beyond what was caused by dietary restriction alone [13,14]. But it’s never that simple, since things may differ according to the population and protocol. In contrast to the previous two trials, Kunesova’s team examined the effects of omega-3 supplementation on severely obese female inpatients undergoing a 3-week very low calorie (525 kcal) in-patient weight reduction treatment [15]. Calories were controlled to accommodate the supplemental omega-3, which was 2.8g/day. Result? The omega-3 supplemented group lost 1.5 kg bodyweight and 2.2 cm more off the waist than the control group.

How about more relevant populations? As of this writing, there are only three trials in existence examining the effect of omega-3 supplementation combined with a structured aerobic exercise program on body composition. Let’s dig in.

In 1989, Warner and colleagues looked at the effect of walking or jogging 3 days/week for 45–50 minutes at 75-80% maximal heart rate in hyperlipidemic subjects randomly assigned to 1 of 4 groups: fish oil + exercise, fish oil alone, corn oil, or control [16]. Body fat was reduced only in the fish oil + exercise group. These data are severely limited by the absence of an exercise-only control group, leaving a huge question mark open regarding the relative contribution of exercise to the bottom line result. A year later, Brilla and Landerholm conducted a well-designed study on healthy, previously sedentary men [17]. This trial did contain an exercise-only control group, and no effect of fish oil on body fat was observed.

In the most recent fish oil + exercise study to date, Hill’s team examined the effect of fish oil supplementation (6g) on overweight hypertensive/hyperlipidemic subjects (24 men and 41 women) over a 12 week period [18]. Exercise was 3 days/week walking at 75% predicted maximal heart rate for 45 minutes. Body composition was assessed by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Predictably, fish oil supplementation improved blood lipids and arterial vasodilation. As for body composition, fish oil by itself didn’t cause any bodyfat reduction from baseline levels, whereas the sunflower oil control gained body fat, but to an insignificant degree. However, fish oil + exercise caused a 1.1% greater bodyfat reduction compared to the sunflower oil + exercise control (1.2% reduction versus a 0.1% reduction in the sunflower oil group). If you re-read those body composition results, they’re nothing to get too excited over, especially considering small amount of fat lost in the 12 week duration.

The Dark Side of Over-doing Fish Oil Supplementation

Yes, Luke, there is always a dark side. In the world of unchecked marketing hype, fish oil has definitely gotten the “more is better” stamp. The problem is EPA and DHA have a well-documented ability to suppress the body’s immune response. Although not as consistent as the immune effects, data also exist on the ability of EPA and DHA to increase bleeding time and oxidation. Let’s take a look at a couple of the published peer-reviewed research that no one in the fitness industry talks about.

Thies and colleagues examined the 12-week effect of various fatty acid supplement mixes on healthy subjects [19]. Various blends of placebo oil and oils rich in ALA, GLA, AA, DHA, or EPA (720mg) + DHA (280mg) were compared. Total fat intake from the 9-capsule dose was 4 g/d. The EPA/DHA treatment was the only one that had a negative effect on immunity, significantly decreasing natural killer cell activity by 48%. This effect was reversed after 4 weeks of ceasing intake of the supplement.

Rees and colleagues investigated the effects of various amounts of EPA on immune markers in young and older men [20]. In a 12-week study, EPA was incorporated into plasma and mononuclear cell phospholipids. Supplemental EPA in amounts of 1.35, 2.7, and 4.05g/day caused a dose-dependent decrease in neutrophil respiratory burst, indicating the suppression of a cellular defense against immunity threats. This effect was seen in the older, but not the younger men. Based on these and the previous data, if you’re not a spring chicken, and immunity is an issue, you might not want to go hog-wild on the fish oil dosing.

Suggested Use & Take-Home Tips

The cardio-protective benefits of increasing the dietary proportion of omega-3 fatty acids is seen consistently in trials involving various populations and protocols. Fish oil is one of the few supplements that actually have a substantial body of scientific evidence backing it up. However, it’s easy to think in terms of pills instead of food. Those who love fish (and have the time or resources to prepare or order it) can simply increase or maintain their intake of fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, albacore tuna, and sardines.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least two servings of fish per week for the general population. Think of a palm-sized piece as a serving. For those with high triacylglycerol levels, a supplemental 2-4g of combined EPA/DHA is their suggested therapeutic dose. However, note that the AHA cautions against supplementing more than 3g outside of a physician’s care [21]. I recommend maxing out your whole food options first before going the supplemental route. There’s always more complete and synergistic nutrition contained within whole foods. For those who can’t or won’t eat fish, there’s always fish oil capsules, which thankfully are inexpensive, and more convenient than getting your omega-3’s through fish.

The amount of EPA/DHA per capsule may vary with the brand. Capsules can contain anywhere from 250-500mg. Most healthy folks don’t need more than 3-6 capsules per day to meet or exceed the amounts that show benefits. There are no definitive conclusions about optimal proportion of EPA:DHA, so to error on the side of safety, I recommend finding roughly an even mix. It’s common and perfectly acceptable for products to contain slightly more EPA than DHA. If at all possible, make sure your supplement is verified by the USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) for the peace of mind that you’re getting what the label is claiming. I would also error on the side of safety and keep them refrigerated. As a side note, there’s a widespread belief that ALA from flaxseed is worthless for increasing EPA/DHA since the conversion is inefficient. However, Harper’s team recently observed 3g ALA/day (from 5.2g flaxseed oil) raise plasma EPA levels by 60% at the end of a 12-week trial [22].

Looking at the body of evidence as a whole, fish oil (or increased fish consumption) has great potential for improving cardiovascular health. But for reducing body fat, the effects are minor to nonexistent. Let’s not forget that fish oil isn’t some magical negative-calorie food. It still contains 9 calories per gram, and no matter how much of those calories are used in its processing within the body, it’s still a net gain in calories after consumption. To sum everything up, fish oil has health benefits, as well as potential risks. It’s certainly not a matter of more-is-better. It might have minor fat loss effects in the obese and overweight population, but their fat loss effect in general is far from conclusively established. Get a variety of fats in your diet, and get them from whole foods whenever possible. Fish oil is merely one of many agents that can contribute to optimal health within the context of well-balanced nutrition. Keep it in perspective, and keep your eye on the facts.

Written by Alan Aragon

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Fish Oil – Just The Facts discussion thread.

References

1. Centers for Disease Control: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. 1990-2002 trends data, nationwide.

2. Thijssen MA, et al. Stearic, oleic, and linoleic acids have comparable effects on markers of thrombotic tendency in healthy human subjects. J Nutr. 2005 Dec;135(12):2805-11.

3. Mozaffarian, et al. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N. Engl. J. Med. 2006;354: 1601-1613.

4. Lovejoy JC, et al. Effects of diets enriched in saturated (palmitic), monounsaturated (oleic), or trans (elaidic) fatty acids on insulin sensitivity and substrate oxidation in healthy adults. Diabetes Care. 2002 Aug;25(8):1283-8.

5. Haalaininen E, et al. Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men.
J Steroid Biochem. 1984 Jan;20(1):459-64.

6. Schwalfenberg G. Omega-3 fatty acids: their beneficial role in cardiovascular health.
Can Fam Physician. 2006 Jun;52:734-40.

7. Psota TL, et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid intake and cardiovascular risk.
Am J Cardiol. 2006 Aug 21;98(4A):3i-18i.

8. Ismail HM. The role of omega-3 fatty acids in cardiac protection: an overview.
Front Biosci. 2005 May 1;10:1079-88.

9. Parker G, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders.
Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Jun;163(6):969-78. Review. Erratum in: Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Oct;163(10):1842.

10. Griel AE, et al. An increase in dietary n-3 fatty acids decreases a marker of bone resorption in humans. Nutr J. 2007 Jan 16;6:2.

11. Simopolous AP. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505.

12. Couet C, et al. Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997 Aug;21(8):637-43.

13. Fontani G, Corradeschi F, Felici A, et al. Blood profiles, body fat and mood state in healthy subjects on different diets supplemented with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Eur J Clin Invest 2005;35:499–507.

14. Krebs JD, et al. Additive benefits of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and weight-loss in the management of cardiovascular disease risk in overweight hyperinsulinaemic women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 Oct;30(10):1535-44.

15. Kunesova , et al. The influence of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and very low calorie diet during a short-term weight reducing regimen on weight loss and serum fatty acid composition in severely obese women. Physiol Res. 2006;55(1):63-72

16. Warner JG, et al. Combined effects of aerobic exercise and omega-3 fatty acids in hyperlipidemic persons. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1989;21:498–505.

17. Brilla LR, Landerholm TE. Effect of fish oil supplementation and exercise on serum lipids and aerobic fitness. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 1990;30:173–80.

18. Hill AM, et al. Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 May;85(5):1267-74.

19. Thies F, et al. Dietary supplementation with eicosapentaenoic acid, but not with other longchain n-3 or n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, decreases natural killer cell activity in healthy subjects aged >55 y. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Mar;73(3):539-48.

20. Rees D, et al. Dose-related effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on innate immune function in healthy humans: a comparison of young and older men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):187-8.

21. American Heart Association. New guidelines focus on fish, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids. 2002.

22. Harper CR, et al. Flaxseed oil increases the plasma concentrations of cardioprotective (n-3) fatty acids in humans. J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1):83-7.

The Optimal Creatine Dosing Schedule

Most people just don’t know how to take creatine in the most efficient and cost effective manner. You can take creatine just about however way you like, but it is most likely not the most efficient way. This dosing schedule concentrates on efficiency, most people take far too much creatine, and a lot of it ends up in the toilet. Now, lets get started…

The typical creatine supplementation protocol begins with a loading dose of 20 g per day for 5 days. This is completely unnecessary. 5 days is over doing it, Although a 5-day loading period is most common, 2 days of loading has been shown to yield similar muscle creatine concentration and performance results.

Again, efficiency. Also, “A study by Green et al found that the addition of a carbohydrate solution (90 g four times daily during the loading phase) further enhanced the increase in muscle creatine concentration relative to taking creatine alone.”

This is usually followed by a “maintenance” dose of 5-10g per day, which is excessive, 2g per day is all that is needed.

“Muscle concentrations of creatine and PCr return to baseline levels approximately 28 days after discontinuing creatine supplementation.”

For those of you that oppose loading (for whatever reason, many people feel it’s dangerous, which has never been shown to be true), 3 g per day for 28 days results in muscle creatine concentrations similar to 2-5 days of loading.

“It is important to note, however, that skeletal muscle has a creatine storage capacity of 150 to 160 mmol/kg (normal is 125 mmol/kg), which makes over supplementation futile. This is important information for those who think that more is better. Any excess creatine ingestion will not further increase muscle creatine but will simply increase urinary creatine and creatinine excretion.”

Excretion of creatine by the kidneys at a rate of 1 to 2 g per day is via irreversible conversion to creatinine in skeletal muscle.

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So, now to wrap this article up…

The Optimal Creatine Dosing Schedule:

First 2 days of creatine supplementation – Load with 10g, 2 times a day (20g per day)

After the loading phase of 20 g daily for 2 days, maintenance should be 2 g per day, Any extra is simply urinated out.

Only repeat the loading phase if you discontinue use for more than 28 days.

Written by Justin Frank

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Optimal Creatine Dosing Schedule discussion thread.

References

1. Harris RC, Soderlund K, Hultman E: Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clin Sci (Colch) 1992;83(3):367-374

2.Casey A, Constantin-Teodosiu D, Howell S, et al: Creatine ingestion favorably affects performance and muscle metabolism during maximal exercise in humans. Am J Physiol 1996;271(1 pt 1):E31-E37

3.Hultman E, Soderlund K, Timmons JA, et al: Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol 1996;81(1):232-237

4.Vandenberghe K, Goris M, Van Hecke P, et al: Long-term creatine intake is beneficial to muscle performance during resistance training. J Appl Physiol 1997;83(6):2055-2063

5.Vandenberghe K, Van Hecke P, Van Leemputte M, et al: Phosphocreatine resynthesis is not affected by creatine loading. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999;31(2):236-242

6.Juhn MS, O’Kane JW, Vinci DM: Oral creatine supplementation in male collegiate athletes: a survey of dosing habits and side effects. J Am Diet Assoc 1999;99(5):593-595

7.Green AL, Hultman E, Macdonald IA, et al: Carbohydrate ingestion augments skeletal muscle creatine accumulation during creatine supplementation in humans. Am J Physiol 1996;271(5 pt 1):E821-E826

8.Febbraio MA, Flanagan TR, Snow RJ, et al: Effect of creatine supplementation on intramuscular TCr, metabolism and performance during intermittent, supramaximal exercise in humans. Acta Physiol Scand 1995;155(4):387-395

Sports Supplement Review

The past decade has seen a boom in the supplement industry, with new products cropping up on a regular basis. The majority of these products eventually fade, making way for “the next big thing.” In this article we will cover what just might be that next thing and one of the most exciting supplements to come along in quite a while. We will also explore a few of the more popular supplements currently on the market and weigh the potential benefits against the potential risks of these products. Additionally, I’ll provide an Anabolic Index rating for each supplement, which quantifies exactly how much each product will help you achieve your goals.

Covered in this Article:

  • The newest rock solid performance enhancing supplement
  • Potentially harmful supplement ingredients
  • Arginine (aka Nitric Oxide stimulators)

Beta Alanine:

Beta alanine (BA) is a naturally occurring amino acid in our bodies, and is fairly unexciting. The interesting part happens when BA combines with another amino acid called histidine forming a dipeptide known as Carnosine. Carnosine normally exists in our muscles, acting primarily as a buffer to resist changes in pH. Over the past few years, research has shown additional benefits of Carnosine, which makes it so intriguing for us. Much like creatine, we can “load” our muscles with Carnosine by supplementing with BA, thus reaping even greater benefits (12, 13). 

The buffering of lactic acid by Carnosine doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance. In fact, some may dismiss the true benefits by assuming that this simply means less of a burning sensation will occur when training. But, increasing buffering capacity cannot only improve performance; it has the potential to increase muscle growth and strength gains. 

As far as training, the ability to push harder means a greater stimulus for adaptation for strength and muscle growth. This is especially true for the high threshold fast fibers, because these are the fibers that have the greatest capacity for Carnosine storage. Intra-muscular Carnosine levels are largely fiber type dependent, in that; the faster the muscle, the more Carnosine it has (24). Taking this one step further, Carnosine itself contributes some of the contractile properties responsible for fiber typing. In other words, fast muscles may have specific contractile properties because they have a lot of Carnosine; and it is Carnosine that helps make them fast. This is supported by several studies showing that Carnosine enhances maximum contraction speed of fibers, meaning that our muscles can contract more quickly (2, 26). From this, it stands to reason that fast athletes like sprinters are known to have more muscle Carnosine than endurance athletes (20). 

BA and Fast Twitch Fibres:

The proper application of this concept is of critical importance, so let’s look at it in another way. It is often cited that humans have three main fiber types, which are (slowest to fastest): “Type I”, “Type IIA”, and “Type IIB” (21). Unfortunately, this is a bit of a misrepresentation, because humans do not actually have the lightning fast and powerful IIB fibers. Instead, our fastest type is a slower version called “IIX” (21).

Due to its ability to enhance contraction speed, increasing muscle Carnosine levels could conceivably move us closer to that IIB ideal! You can imagine the implications of this in everything from football to Olympic Weightlifting. 

Neural Recovery:

If Carnosine levels are elevated, they may protect against damage to our nerves, allowing them to fire at a faster rate than if damaged. Practically speaking, instead of performing at 90% the day after exercise, Carnosine may help you perform closer to optimum level. This is particularly useful for athletes who are repeatedly using the same muscles, without the ability to simply rest and recover for a few days. 

By protecting nerve cells against oxidative damage, Carnosine may lead to synchronous muscle and nervous system recovery, and ultimately facilitate training while each tissue is optimized. This could not only provide a more powerful training stimulus (12, 23), but the advantages of being able to train more frequently are clear. 

In terms of direct practical application, strength athletes and powerlifters are most concerned with neural recovery. This makes BA supplementation perfect for these athletes who want to keep the nervous system running quickly and efficiently. One of the greatest benefits of BA is that its use as a supplement is widely applicable, by both athletes and those interested in changing their physique. The people who benefit most from BA supplementation are the same as those who benefit from creatine. These athletes play sports including: football, hockey, wrestling/MMA, track etc. The ability of BA supplementation to enhance contraction speed even makes it useful for sports like table tennis, where quickness and agility are paramount. 

Of course, BA is perfect for people looking to gain muscle and strength – just like creatine. Finally, due to the potential of enhancing neural recovery, beta alanine supplementation works well for strength athletes and powerlifters. 

In summary, the following effects are noted due to Beta Alanine supplementation: 

  • Faster muscle contraction 
  • Resistance to anaerobic fatigue 
  • Increased stimulus for strength/muscle growth 
  • Enhanced neural protection and recovery

There are few supplements around these days that we can actually trust, so it’s pretty exciting when something like Beta Alanine comes around. With the numerous benefits to the human body, coupled with the observed increase in athletic performance, Beta Alanine is sure to be around for years to come!

Although BA is not directly anabolic, its ability to enhance gym performance yields the following score.

  • Anabolic Index rating: 1

Glycocyamine 

A number of supplements currently on the market contain a completely unnecessary and potentially dangerous substance called Glycocyamine. 

Glycocyamine is a substance known to increase our blood levels of homocysteine, which is believed to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This means that we’re potentially more likely to have heart disease/atherosclerosis when our homocysteine levels are high. Lest we forget, cardiovascular disease is still the #1 killer in the Western world.

Some have attempted to justify their consumption of glycocyamine based upon recent research suggesting that the correlation between cardiovascular disease and homocysteine levels isn’t as strong as once thought. In other words, a weaker correlation means that you have a slightly lesser chance of dying as once thought, should you consume this substance. Awesome! 

Glycocyamine = Nervous System Damage?

As potentially dangerous as the correlation to cardiovascular disease is, it gets worse. Glycocyamine has also been described as “neurotoxic action” (17).

Glycocyamine has an inhibitory effect on a brain enzyme called the sodium pump (27, 28). This isn’t just any enzyme; the sodium pump is responsible for all nerve signals that happen in our body. So important is this enzyme, it exists not only in nerve cells, but also in every single cell in the body. This means that although only the brain has been studied (so far), glycocyamine has the potential to disrupt the proper functioning of every cell.

This is BAD.

For those concerned with performance (and if you’re reading this, you very likely are), our muscles have a high concentration of the sodium pump. After studying it in the lab for 7 years, I can tell you that this enzyme is critical for proper muscle contraction and optimal performance. Based on this, it’s no surprise to learn that high glycocyamine levels have been implicated in reducing muscle strength (15). 

Generally, I would be the first to call for studies that are more specific to strength athletes, but in this case we’re talking about health. When it comes to a supplement having potentially harmful effects, even in vitro and animal studies should give us cause for concern.

What’s the Point?

Realistically speaking, the idea of consuming glycocyamine is simply absurd, but there has to be a reason why it’s in there. The primary theory behind its use is that it is converted to creatine by our bodies, so taking in more glycocyamine results in higher creatine and homocysteine levels.

Glycocyamine is intended as a creatine substitute, however, the absurdity lies in the fact that it does not elevate creatine levels to any greater extent than simply supplementing with creatine. And until glycocyamine is converted, the “neurotoxic action” is still a problem. Perhaps when creatine was close to a dollar per serving, glycocyamine’s use as a creatine booster might have had relevance. However, creatine monohydrate is now one of the least expensive (and most effective) supplements available rendering substitutes completely unnecessary, especially a substitute far more expensive with the potential for harmful side effects.

Due to its potential ability to impair the nervous system, and subsequently muscle contraction (irrespective of health issues), glycocyamine earns the following.

  • Anabolic Index Rating: -1 (with a potential for harming health)

Guadininopropionic Acid:

A certain creatine like supplement on the market (as well as several copycat products), contain a potentially dangerous compound that is ergolytic; i.e. something that decreases athletic performance.

This chemical is Guanidinopropionic Acid (GPA). GPA binds the creatine transporter thus preventing creatine transport into various tissues. The problem lies in the fact that most of our tissues can’t generate creatine so it has to be transported in. And obstructed transporters means cellular creatine levels are reduced.

It bears repeating that creatine isn’t just a supplement, but a naturally occurring substance in our bodies that we need to survive! You are familiar with the positive impact of a 20% creatine increase – imagine an 80% reduction! Just seven days of GPA induced creatine depletion can not only reduce muscle strength (11), but has also been shown to convert fast-twitch muscle to slow-twitch! So this substance could make you weaker and slower!

Your Brain on GPA:

These effects alone should be plenty to make you avoid supplements containing GPA, but wait! There’s more! There’s also a potentially dangerous side to consider as both our hearts and brains have creatine transporters!!! Messing around with your two most vital organs is never a great idea. While the brain seems to compensate for decreases in energy supply caused by GPA (19), your body must still adapt to reduced energy levels and who wants that! Additionally, three separate studies have shown that creatine levels in the heart dropped by 80-87% with GPA consumption in rats (6, 18,14). Now you can see why it’s nearly impossible to perform human studies using this substance. One has to wonder what manufacturers were thinking when they approved production of GPA containing supplements. 

One particular supplement (“NO-Xplode”) combines GPA with our old friend Glycocyamine. Sadly, glycocyamine (also known as guanidinoacetate) has been picked up by a number of different supplement companies. Unfortunately, these substances aren’t just isolated to a single product — they’re popping up in all kinds of different supplements (including some protein powders)! 

It’s my opinion that products containing either of these substances should be pulled off the market and the formulas changed, but the FDA is powerless until harm has already been done. So, before you supplement with something, do your research and KNOW WHAT YOU’RE CONSUMING!

Because of the powerful effect of blocking creatine uptake into all cells (irrespective of potential health problems), including muscle, GPA has the resulting score.

  • Anabolic Index rating: -3 (with a potential for harming health)

Arginine AKG (Nitric Oxide Stimulators):

Arginine supplements (aka NO stimulators, aka Nitric Oxide supplements) have arguably become the most the most hyped up products of the past couple of years. The theory behind the supplement is that taking high amounts of the amino acid arginine will result in its conversion to the molecule called nitric oxide (NO). Because NO is largely responsible for increasing the size of blood vessels, the idea is that greater levels of NO will stimulate blood flow. Finally, if we can stimulate more blood flow to working muscles we can have:

  1. Greater removal of metabolic by products that can shut down muscle contraction. This could result in greater muscular endurance and overall performance. 
  2. Increased nutrient delivery. If our muscles require energy to work or amino acids to grow, an elevated blood flow could increase the supply. This could result increased performance and muscle growth.

Show Me the Money:

Now that we know the theory behind the supplements, let’s take a look at the supporting evidence. Fortunately for us, there is quite a bit of data on the subject.

  • Study 1(25) -Dose: 21 grams. Measured Result: No effect on glycogen storage following exercise
  • Study 2 (5) -Dose: 6g either IV or orally. Measured Result: No effect on blood flow
  • Study 3 (1) -Dose: 7g for 3 days. Measured Result: No effect on blood flow
  • Study 4 (9) -Dose: 20g a day for 20 days Measured Result: No effect on blood flow
  • Study 5 (10) -Dose: 20g a day for 20 days Measured Result: No effect on blood flow
  • Study 6 (22) -Dose: 10g +70g carbohydrates Measured Result: No effect on blood flow or nutrient uptake

Collectively it appears as though the theory behind arginine and NO is bunk, but there may be an explanation. NO is a very powerful molecule that can not only induce oxidaftive damage and regulate blood flow, but also acts as a signal between communicating nerve cells. As a result, NO levels are tightly regulated. In fact, our body’s natural arginine levels are already far higher than should be required to stimulate NO production.

Taking this one step further, even an arginine-free diet for nearly a week had no effect on NO synthesis (8). Once again, this shows how important control of NO is to our normal body functioning, and how little the impact of arginine consumption can be.

Arginine Alphaketoglutarate:

Some people will scoff at the above findings because they used regular arginine, while the current arginine supplements have an AKG molecule attached to them. Will the AKG suddenly override the body’s desperate need to regulate NO levels? Even the question itself seems a little at this point.

Fortunately, one group decided to specifically look at arginine AKG (AAKG) taken at 12g a day for 8 weeks (Campbell). This study is of particular interest not only due to the specificity of the supplement used, but also because the subjects were people who regularly resistance trained. Unfortunately, blood flow was no examined.

At the end of the 8 week supplementation and training routine, there was no effect of AAKG on muscle mass or fat loss (7). Considering the lack of impact of other arginine supplements, this should not be surprising. What is surprising however is the incredible amount of strength the AAKG group added to their bench press 19lbs compared to a 6lb increase in the placebo group!

With unbelievable results like this, why haven’t you already ordered your arginine supplements? Well, for some it may be because the results are a little too good to be true. Looking at it critically, adding nearly 20lbs to a max bench in 8 weeks borders on “steroidlike” effects. What makes this even more interesting is that no changes in muscle were seen, which means that this strength gain was strictly a result of improvements in the nervous system. This is strange, particularly because these neural adaptations come far more slowly to trained subjects (which these were).

Although I find the data hard to believe as they stand, there is one more place to look for evidence: the web. Although I’m reluctant to point to this subjective and largely unreliable source, it can be very helpful in situations like this.

It seems as though some people perceive an effect from these supplements, but the strange thing is that no one can agree on exactly how the results manifest themselves. Most importantly, no one is claiming to feel steroid like effects from these supplements. Now you’d have to think that a group that really wants to believe the advertising would have the perception of the greatest results. So when even this group doesn’t agree, you have to wonder what’s going on.

As a final point on the study in question, it is important to note that an increase in cycling power was achieved through AAKG supplementation. This is often represented simply as “power” in advertisements, which although clinically correct, is meant to conjure up images of POWERful men, POWERlifting, and explosive POWER (as in Olympic weightlifting). Of course the reality is that this measure relates to none of these things. Sadly, it is theorized that the only reason for this increase in cycling power is due to an increase in muscle creatine content any benefit from which would pale in comparison to direct creatine supplementation.

Saving Grace:

So far it looks as though arginine and AAKG supplements don’t do a whole lot for blood flow, nutrient uptake, or muscle growth, but there may be a bright spot to all this. It is well know that arginine is a powerful stimulator of insulin secretion and in turn (4), insulin stimulates blood flow (3)! So although arginine can’t directly increase NO levels, it at least has the possibility to do so through insulin. Now looking at the collective data, it appears as though any such effect in negligible, and the resulting changes in muscle growth are nil, but it’s nice to know that the theory has at least some connection to reality – no matter how small.

Arginine Conclusions:

In direct contrast the theory, all data to date indicate that arginine ingestion cannot stimulate either NO production or blood flow. Muscle mass is not affected by AAKG supplementation, although the question of effects on muscle strength remain open. Whatever the case, we need to stop calling them “nitric oxide supplements”. Perhaps “insulin supplements” would be more appropriate. For its complete lack of ability to affect muscle mass, arginine AKG receives the following…

  • Anabolic Index Rating: 0

Overall Conclusions

Clearly the popularity of supplements has more to do with marketing hype than actual efficacy. By understanding what we’re putting in our body, we’ll not only be able to optimize our results, but do it safely as well. The Anabolic Index was designed to show people exactly what the effects of supplementation are, such that the best overall combinations can be used.

Written by David Barr

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Sports Supplement Review discussion thread.

References

1. Adams MR, Forsyth CJ, Jessup W, Robinson J, Celermajer DS. Oral arginine inhibits platelet aggregation but does not enhance endothelium – dependent dilation in healthy young men. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 26 (1995), pp. 1054—1061

2. Avena RM, Bowen WJ. Effects of carnosine and anserine on muscle adenosine triphosphatases. J Biol Chem. 1969 Mar 25;244(6):1600-4. 66% increase in activity

3. Baron AD. Hemodynamic actions of insulin. Am J Physiol. 1994 Aug;267(2 Pt 1):E187-202

4. Beaumier L, Castillo L, Ajami AM, Young VR. Urea cycle intermediate kinetics and nitrate excretion at normal and “therapeutic” intakes of arginine in humans. Am J Physiol. 1995 Nov;269(5 Pt 1):E884-96

5. Bode-Boger SM, Boger RH, Galland A, Tsikas D, Frolich JC. L-arginine-induced vasodilation in healthy humans: pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic relationship. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1998 Nov;46(5):489-97

6. Boehm E, Chan S, Monfared M, Wallimann T, Clarke K, Neubauer S. Creatine transporter activity and content in the rat heart supplemented by and depleted of creatine. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Feb;284(2):E399-406.

7. Campbell B, Roberts M, Kerksick C, Wilborn C, Marcello B, Taylor L, Nassar E, Leutholtz B, Bowden R, Rasmussen C, Greenwood M, Kreider R.Pharmacokinetics, safety, and effects on exercise performance of l-arginine alpha-ketoglutarate in trained adult men. Nutrition. 2006 Sep;22(9):872-81. 

8. Castillo L, Sanchez M, Vogt J, Chapman TE, DeRojas-Walker TC, Tannenbaum SR, Ajami AM, Young VR. Plasma arginine, citrulline, and ornithine kinetics in adults, with observations on nitric oxide synthesis. Am J Physiol. 1995 Feb;268(2 Pt 1):E360-7

9. Chin-Dusting JP, Alexander CT, Arnold PJ, Hodgson WC, Lux AS, Jennings GL. Effects of in vivo and in vitro -arginine supplementation on healthy human vessels. J. Cardiovasc. Pharma-col. 28 (1996), pp. 158—166

10. Chin-Dusting JP, Kaye DM, Lefkovits J, Wong J, Bergin P, Jennings GL. Dietary supple-mentation with -arginine fails to restore endothelial function in forearm resistance arteries in pa-tients with severe heart failure. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 27 (1996), pp. 1207—1213

11. Gagnon M, Maguire M, MacDermott M, Bradford A. Effects of creatine loading and deple-tion on rat skeletal muscle contraction. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2002 Oct;29(10):885-90.

12. Harris RC, Hill C, Wise JA. Effect of Combined ß-alanine and creatine monohydrate sup-plementation on exercise performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 35(5) Sup-plement 1:S218, May 2003.

13. Harris RC, CA Hill, HJ Kim, L Boobis, C Sale, DB Harris, JA Wise,. Beta alanine supple-mentation for 10 weeks significantly increased muscle carnosine levels. FASEB J. 19(5) II 566.8 2005

14. Horn M, Remkes H, Stromer H, Dienesch C, Neubauer S. Chronic phosphocreatine deple-tion by the creatine analogue beta-guanidinopropionate is associated with increased mortality and loss of ATP in rats after myocardial infarction. Circulation. 2001 Oct 9;104(15):1844-9.

15. Kan HE, Buse-Pot TE, Peco R, Isbrandt D, Heerschap A, de Haan A. Lower force and im-paired performance during high-intensity electrical stimulation in skeletal muscle of GAMT-deficient knockout mice. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2005 Jul;289(1):C113-9.

16. Kurz S, Harrison DG. Insulin and the arginine paradox. J Clin Invest. 1997 Feb 1;99(3):369-70

17. Neu A, Neuhoff H, Trube G, Fehr S, Ullrich K, Roeper J, Isbrandt D. Activation of GABA(A) receptors by guanidinoacetate: a novel pathophysiological mechanism. Neurobiol Dis. 2002 Nov;11(2):298-307.

18. Neubauer S, Hu K, Horn M, Remkes H, Hoffmann KD, Schmidt C, Schmidt TJ, Schnackerz K, Ertl G. Functional and energetic consequences of chronic myocardial creatine depletion by beta-guanidinopropionate in perfused hearts and in intact rats. J Mol Cell Cardiol. 1999 Oct;31(10):1845-55.

19. O’Gorman E, Beutner G, Wallimann T, Brdiczka D. Biochim Biophys Acta. Differential ef-fects of creatine depletion on the regulation of enzyme activities and on creatine-stimulated mi-tochondrial respiration in skeletal muscle, heart, and brain. 1996 Sep 12;1276(2):161-70

20. Parkhouse WS, McKenzie DC, Hochachka PW, Ovalle WK. Buffering capacity of depro-teinized human vastus lateralis muscle. J Appl Physiol. 1985 Jan;58(1):14-7.

21. Pette D, Staron RS.Transitions of muscle fiber phenotypic profiles. Histochem Cell Biol. 2001 May;115(5):359-72.

22. Robinson TM, Sewell DA, Greenhaff PL. L-arginine ingestion after rest and exercise: effects on glucose disposal. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Aug;35(8):1309-15

23. Suzuki Y, Ito O, Mukai N, Takahashi H, Takamatsu K. High level of skeletal muscle car-nosine contributes to the latter half of exercise performance during 30-s maximal cycle ergome-ter sprinting. Jpn J Physiol. 2002 Apr;52(2):199-205.

24. Turinsky J, Long CL Free amino acids in muscle: effect of muscle fiber population and den-ervation. Am J Physiol. 1990 Mar;258(3 Pt 1):E485-91.

25. Yaspelkis, BB, III, and Ivy JL. The effect of a carbohydrate-arginine supplement on post-exercise carbohydrate metabolism. Int J Sport Nutr 9: 241-250, 1999

26. Yun J, Parker CJ Jr. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1965 Oct 25;110(1):212-4. The effect of car-nosine on myofibrillar ATPase activity. 60% increase in activity

27. Zugno AI, Stefanello FM, Streck EL, Calcagnotto T, Wannmacher CM, Wajner M, Wyse AT. Inhibition of Na+, K+-ATPase activity in rat striatum by guanidinoacetate. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2003 Jun;21(4):183-9.

28. Zugno AI, Franzon R, Chiarani F, Bavaresco CS, Wannmacher CM, Wajner M, Wyse AT. Evaluation of the mechanism underlying the inhibitory effect of guanidinoacetate on brain Na+, K+-ATPase activity. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2004 Jun;22(4):191-6.

29. Zugno AI, Scherer EB, Schuck PF, Oliveira DL, Wofchuk S, Wannmacher CM, Wajner M, Wyse AT. Intrastriatal administration of guanidinoacetate inhibits Na+, K+-ATPase and creatine kinase activities in rat striatum. Metab Brain Dis. 2006 Mar;21(1):41-50.”Oxidative damage” 

The Importance of Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation

Modern society has been a boon to the human population, but it has a dark side as well. Today, western civilization enjoys some of the highest standards of living in the history of mankind.

There is an abundance of food that is unprecedented in human history. The poor of today don’t starve to death; it is much more common for them to be obese. The problem today is not a lack of food in sheer quantity; it is a lack of nutritious foods to fuel our bodies to optimal health and performance.

It isn’t only the poor that are suffering; in excess of 60% of our society is overweight. Diet related ailments such as cancer and diabetes are more prevalent today than at any other time in our history.

What is causing these problems? The same mass production technology which has given everyone enough to eat has robbed our foods of the health benefits that were once derived from our diet. Modern food preparation and processing techniques have stripped our foods of their natural vitamin and mineral content and it has been replaced by sodium, altered fats, and refined sugars. Of course, even in relatively unprocessed foods the levels of vitamins and minerals are dangerously low due to the fact our soil has been stripped by modern farming methods. It is a silent crisis of unparalleled proportions.

The healthiest people in the world are those who consume natural foods which are rich in vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, it is impractical in our fast moving society for most individuals to be able to consume the necessary quantities of health promoting, truly natural foods. This is where supplemental vitamins and minerals come into play. I will not claim that supplemental vitamins and minerals are as healthy or effective (on a dose for dose basis) as those naturally occurring in foods, but their inclusion in your diet is paramount to your ability to reclaim the vibrant health which is your right! We should not settle for ill health and shortened lives when we can do something which will greatly enhance our likelihood of obtaining optimal health.

In my opinion, there are certain vitamins and minerals which stand out as being essential for both good health and the best results possible from your training in the gym. They are as follows:

Vitamin A: is a fat soluble vitamin which helps to protect you against pollution and infection by maintaining the health and integrity of the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs; builds strong bones, teeth, and rich blood. (1)

Vitamin C: is a water soluble vitamin whose importance cannot be overstated; is a natural antihistamine; (1) aids in the formation of collagen which is integral to the connective tissues; is thought to help lessen the effects of the common cold. (2)

Vitamin D: is integrally tied to our absorption of calcium; can play a role in the reduction of risk for some common cancers.

Vitamin E: supplies oxygen to the muscles; can act as a natural anticoagulant; can act to prevent wasting and weakness of muscle tissue. (1)

The B-Complex of vitamins (Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, B6, Folic Acid, B12, Biotin, and Pantothenic Acid): are water soluble vitamins which are best consumed together; help to support the endocrine glands and ward off the exhaustive effects of stress; may help to reduce cholesterol; are required for the metabolism of the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. (1)

Magnesium: has been shown in studies to support strength training; can act as an antacid; (1) in a deficiency state has been implicated with adverse cardiac events; (3) is central to a variety of cellular mechanisms which control activity of muscle and nerve cells. (3)

Zinc: has been shown in studies to support increased strength when combined with resistance training; helps to heal wounds at an increased rate; (1)

The correct dose for each of the above vitamins and minerals can vary individually, but you should be fine with the following daily supplemental recommendations:

  • Vitamin A – 5000 IU
  • Vitamin C – 500 mg
  • Vitamin D – 400 IU
  • Vitamin E – 400 IU
  • Thiamin – 100 mg
  • Riboflavin – 100 mg
  • Niacin – 100 mg
  • B6 – 100 mg
  • Folic Acid – 400 mcg
  • B12 – 100 mcg
  • Biotin – 100 mcg
  • Pantothenic Acid – 100mg
  • Magnesium – 350 mg
  • Zinc – 30 mg

My recommendation for a good Multi-Vitamin supplement is Multi-Plus by AtLarge Nutrition.

So, get on the road to better health and vitality and start supplementing your diet with the right kinds of vitamins and minerals!

Written by Chris Mason

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Importance of Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation discussion thread.

References:

1. Linda Clark. Know Your Nutrition. Paperback Edition. Connecticut: Keats Publishing, 1973.

2. Dr. Franco Columbu. The Bodybuilder’s Nutrition Book. Contemporary Books, 1985.

3. Klevay L, Milne D. Low dietary magnesium increases supraventricular ectopy. Am J of Clin Nutr 2002; 75: 550-554.

Whey Protein VS Casein Protein – The Battle Continues

Trying to decide on which proteins to use at what times and for what reasons can be a mind numbing process. There are basically two major proteins in the bodybuilder’s arsenal. Those being casein and whey. They are also sometimes referred to as slow and fast acting proteins respectively. The purpose of this article series is to give you an in-depth look at the properties of each of these proteins, explain what it all means and why it is important to you. And, Finally, to provide a systematic way to apply it all.

So you’ve got a choice. Casein or whey? fast or slow? Some people swear by one or the other and would have you believe that one of them is in fact superior.

Well, I am sorry to say that those people are wrong. They either do not understand the literature, have a poor sense of critical application or just want to make an impact by taking a stand. Which ever it may be, these people have misled you. And I can assure you that their path is nothing but a downward spiral to minimal results. To truly get the most from your protein supplementation you will need to utilize both types of protein in your repertoire of supplements

Editors note: At Large Nutrition’s Nitrean, contains a proprietary protein matrix which contains whey, casein, and egg fractions) Let’s expand on whey a little bit first. I like to start with whey because it is better known and many have some background understanding of it.

Whey is a by-product of cheese production. When cheese is made, a thin liquid is left over. That liquid is whey and it is less than 1% protein. It is concentrated and dried, and you have a protein powder. Whey protein is considered a “Fast Acting” protein. But what, exactly, is meant by ‘Fast’? Fast refers to the amount of time it takes to be fully metabolized. More specifically, the time it takes for it to be digested(if needed), absorbed into the blood, taken up by a bodily tissue and complete one of many metabolic fates. The two dominant pathways here are the creation of a new protein from the individual amino acids or oxidation into urea and possibly glucose. Urea is the major component of urine, while glucose is the humans basic unit of carbohydrate. With whey protein, it will take only 20 minutes before almost all of what you have consumed is coursing through your veins. Somewhere between 20-40 minutes, the level of amino acids in your blood has reached its high point. With in the hour it will have gone through the various metabolic processes, either protein synthesis, or oxidation (11, 12,13,14). This is a good thing! Muscle growth is dependant on the balance between protein synthesis and breakdown (18). If the synthesis of new muscle protein is greater than the breakdown of muscle protein, net gains in muscle mass are seen. So with whey protein, it will take only 40 minutes for blood levels of amino acids and protein synthesis to reach a peak, and in about an hour they will come back to normal after a single feeding of protein (5,14). This is amazingly fast in comparison to its counter part casein or even whole food.

Casein is considered a “Slow” protein. When you consume casein, you will reach a peak in blood amino acids and protein synthesis between 3 to 4 hours (5,12). However, This ‘peak’ does not even come close to that of whey. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest or fastest, Whey would be a 10. Casein would come in with a meager rating of 2. But, here is the kicker. That is not a bad thing! This, too, is a good thing. Casein dramatically slows the rate of protein breakdown. Remember, Muscle growth is dependant on the balance of protein synthesis and breakdown. So as we can see here, relying on one or the other, and debating which is superior is futile in the hopes to gain the most benefits from them. To tip the scale in your favor, you need to increase protein synthesis and slow down muscle breakdown. You would be a fool to write one off.

I know what you are thinking, “Why not just mix them together and get the best of both worlds?” Well, I am one step ahead of you. Casein has a unique property, in that is coagulates in the stomach (12). This causes other proteins to be digested and absorbed much more slowly. Have you ever tried to run through a vat of tar? It isn’t easy by any means. You would be moving very slowly. Casein does the same thing to whey, and other proteins for that matter. Think of it as a sort of binding gel. This simple little fact would nullify the biggest and most important attribute of whey. That is its ability to flood your system quickly with amino acid and stimulate protein synthesis.

Now before you ask, let me stop you. I already know what you are thinking. Perhaps it would be best to just slam whey protein drinks all day to keep your system swimming in amino acids, right? Wrong! It may seem counter intuitive, but it would not keep protein synthesis rates up. (2) Just having constantly high levels of amino acids or merely having a positive protein balance doesn’t stimulate protein synthesis (2, 5, 11) and doesn’t lead to increases in muscle mass. (18)  Then what does, you ask? All evidence point to the same thing time and time again. It is the acute and large increase in the amount of amino acids in the blood that causes protein synthesis rates to increase (2, 5, 11, 20,15, 13). If you were to tap a vein with an IV to crank blood levels of amino acids up and keep them there, we would see a dramatic increase in protein synthesis as well as a decrease in protein breakdown (11, 2). However, right around two hours, synthesis rates will level off and return to normal despite the abnormally high levels of amino acids (2). What is even more interesting is that even if amino acid levels are already very high and protein synthesis is dropping, I can consume more amino acids and further stimulate an increase in synthesis rates (11).

So here is the take how message. It is not about just shoveling down 4,000 calories7 or X-amount of protein to keep your blood saturated with amino acids at all times. It is the about presenting your body with sudden change and increase of amino acids that stimulates protein synthesis rates (2, 5, 11, 20, 15, 13, 9). This is why it is important to understand the differences between the various types of protein supplements. When products start totting how much of a certain amino acid they have added or that they have a better amino acid profile, just skip it. It doesn’t matter (5). The amino acid profile becomes important when you are comparing different protein sources. And since both casein and whey are derived from milk, they have essentially the same amino acid profile. You should be concerned with the main source of protein so that you know what that product will do for you. Will it stimulate protein synthesis? Or will it slow protein breakdown?

Make no mistake about it, high protein diet are a requirement for packing on high quality muscle mass (1,9,13,15,16,19). But you need to find that middle ground. As we have covered, if you consume so much that you have chronically high levels of amino acids in your blood, much of the protein you consume will go straight down the toilet. Literally (1,2, 5,11,17)! But don’t let people sell you on the myth that your body can only handle so many grams of protein at one time. Firstly, this is a very vague statement. What is meant by “Handle” or “At one time”? About 50% of what you consume is incorporated in to muscle tissue one way or another. 20% is incorporated into other body proteins and the remaining is oxidized (11, 5, 1). A large majority of the 30% is a class of amino acids called Non-Essential Amino Acids (17). And this breakdown of metabolic fates is ay just about any protein intake at any “one time”. On the other hand, if you play it too safe, you will short circuit the muscle building mechanisms and the balance will shift towards muscle breakdown (4,11, 18, 16, 19). So the next time that someone tells you that they won’t be happy until they can walk around with an IV drip of amino acids tapped into their arm, you can tell them they are just wasting their time. Not only that, but you will understand why!

Alright, so we now have all of this information swimming around in our heads. What do we do with it?

Let’s put it together into a plan. We know that wee need to increase protein synthesis and reduce protein breakdown. We know that whey is the most effective product to stimulate protein synthesis, and we know that casein is the most effective product to reduce protein breakdown. We can’t use them together because casein will nullify whey’s primary mode of action. However, we have one more weapon in the arsenal that we can use. And that is our good friend, food. In general, whole food proteins are digested very slowly. That means they will cause a mild and constant stream of amino acids into the blood, much like casein. However, most whole foods do not coagulate in the stomach and do not slow the digestion of other proteins. So the first step in the plan is to forget what you think you know about supplement “Timing”. It is ok to consume whey protein at times during the day other than before or after a work out. And honestly, you should.

Step #1: Consume a whey protein drink shortly after a whole food meal.

By doing so, you will have created an environment very conductive to muscle growth. By consuming that whole food meal you will have suppressed the rate of muscle breakdown. Firstly, by starting a slow cascade of amino acids through your system. Secondly, provided your meal had some kind of carbohydrates, you will have stimulated the release of insulin which in it self can slow the rate of muscle breakdown (11,5,3, 8, 14). Insulin is also the hormone that governs protein synthesis rate. By elevating the release of insulin before the consumption of a whey protein drink, you have effectively set the stage for a serious anabolic reaction (14, 10, 11).

There is a slight delay from the time you digest carbohydrates and the time that insulin levels peak. Because of the fact that whey is absorbed so quickly, it is possible that the peaks between amino acids and insulin with not coincide resulting in a less than optimal response (11, 14). Once the whey protein has been completely assimilated, amino acid levels will drop. However, they will not return to normal, because the “Amino Acid Cascade” that you stared with the whole food meal is still streaming. It’s a beautiful sight, isn’t it? This little step has effectively stimulated protein synthesis as well as slowing protein breakdown.

Step #2: Consume casein based meal with in the next 3 hours.

That means before three hours has elapsed. Two hours would be an even safer bet. We want the levels of amino acids in our blood to drop a bit so we can create a dramatic increase again. The degree of protein synthesis is directly related to the degree of change in the levels of amino acids. By consuming a casein based meal here we will allow for that drop while keeping amino acid levels above normal. This keeps the rate of protein breakdown to a minimum. Do you feel the scales tipping yet?

Step #3 Repeat! That’s all there is to it.

Alternate between a whole food meal with a whey protein chaser, and follow that up with a casein based meal. Now I know this sounds expensive so you can modify it. You may want to reduce the size of the whey protein drink. But remember, the degree of protein synthesis is dependant on the degree of the increase in the levels of amino acids in the blood (2, 5, 11, 20,15, 13). So take caution when you are feeling cheap. It would not make sense to cut your servings and not have a very good response from it. You could also have just a whole food meal instead of a casein based one. You would essentially get the same effect. However, many meal replacement products on the market today have a far better nutritional profile than anyone of us could every pull off in the kitchen. I highly recommend two a day, making sure to have one just prior to bed.

Well there you have it, a three pronged attack. Precision Protein Supplementation. You know have the tools and knowledge to strategically create an environment that is highly conductive to not only increasing lean muscle mass, but preserving it as well. You will be surprised how effective this little strategy is during times of low calorie dieting. So, in summary, casein is a “slow” protein that is classified as anti-catabolic. That means that it prevent excessive protein breakdown. Whey protein is a “fast” protein that is classified as anabolic. Meaning that is stimulates protein synthesis, but does not inhibit catabolism (5, 12, 2). We can’t do both at the same time, but we can mimic the effect by manipulating our dietary intake. And finally, it is the rapid increase of amino acids that results in increases in protein synthesis.

Hopefully I have shed some light on the subject. There is no “Best” type of protein, only a “Best” approach or mix. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. If they are convinced that there is a best, they are only joking themselves. Just smile, nod and realize that you are bigger than that guy!

Written by Eric Satterwhite

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Whey Protein VS Casein Protein – The Battle Continues discussion thread.

References

1. Anders H. Forslund, Leif Hamraeus, Roger M. Olsson, Antoine E. El-Khoury, Young-Ming Yu, and Vernon R. Young (1998). The 24-h whole body lecine and urea kinetics at normal and high protein intakes with exercise in healthy adults. Am. J. Physiol Endocrinol. Metab. 38, E310-E320.

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