Over the last few years we’ve seen some real advances in the field of bodybuilding nutrition. In particular, there are now sev-eral new products which can dramatically improve the results you get from weight training. We’re constantly experimenting here with ways to produce even better re-sults and to extend those results to a wider range of athletes. The quality of the natural (drug-free) bodybuilder has exploded in the last few years, due at least in part to some very effective supplements. If you showed pictures of today’s top natural bodybuilders around a gym 10 years ago, no one would have believed that such re-sults could be achieved without steroids. It is quite possible these days to attain an amazing physique with simple nutrition, hard training and a few core supplements. In this bulletin I want to talk about the sci-ence behind some of these supplements and how to use them for best results.
One of the most amazing and effective bodybuilding supplements ever has to be creatine monohydrate (1-5). Creatine is actually an energy supplement first and foremost, providing high energy phos-phate groups to replenish the ATP which is consumed during muscular contractions . (See our Technical Nutrition Summary on creatine at our website, www.parrillo.com, for a review on creatine and energy metabolism.) Creatine is nontoxic even in large amounts, is well-absorbed orally, and is readily taken up by muscles. There it is converted into creatine phosphate, which then serves as a donor of phosphate groups to ADP to re-generate ATP. ATP, as you know, is the immediate energy source used by muscles. So if we increase creatine levels inside muscles this will increase energy production, which translates into longer and harder workouts (1-5). Athletes using creatine report a significant increase in strength. This has been confirmed by objective trials (1-5). Creatine seems to work in two ways to increase muscle size .
First, the creatine molecule is osmotically active, which means when it is stored inside cells it at-tracts water along with it. This fills out the muscle making it bigger and harder. This effect is rather dramatic and is no-ticeable within a week or two of creatine use . Our athletes usually report a 4 to 14 pound weight gain after their first month of creatine use (depending mainly on their initial skeletal muscle mass and level of creatine stores before supplementation), which is confirmed to be lean body mass by body composition analysis. Second, creatine is effective at increasing strength and endurance during weight training (1-5). It is not unusual for an experienced lifter to improve his or her maximum lift by 5-15% or to notice an increase of 2 or 3 more reps with a 10 rep-maximum load after creatine supplementation. This places a more severe stress on the muscle which ultimately stimulates greater hypertrophy . The standard protocol for using creatine is to “load” the muscles for 5-7 days with 20 grams per day, taken as four servings of 5 grams each.
This saturates the muscles with as much creatine as they can hold . This is followed by the “maintenance” phase, which usually consists of 5 grams per day, although some of our larger bodybuilders use 10 grams per day. Creatine uptake by muscles seems to be stimulated by insulin, so it makes sense to mix creatine with a car-bohydrate. Probably your best bet is to mix it with some Pro-Carb or Optimized Whey Protein (which also is a good stimulus for insulin release) and take it after your work-out. Some people advocate taking creatine before a workout, but this doesn’t make much sense physiologically since exercise suppresses insulin. There seems to be no advantage to cycling creatine. When you stop taking creatine you simply begin to deplete your existing stores, which takes 4-8 weeks. In summary, creatine is one of the few supplements which has been proven in placebo controlled clinical trials to improve strength and exercise performance (1-5).
It also increases lean body mass. Creatine is not converted to fat or stored in fat depots, so any weight gain you experience from creatine will be lean mass. We have found the combination of Op-timized Whey Protein and creatine to be a very powerful supplement tool. This is probably a more effective supplement com-bination than anything that was available even just a few years ago. To understand why, it is important to know a few things about whey protein and amino acid me-tabolism. It turns out that the amino acid profile of whey protein is very well suited to the needs of growing muscles. Gluta-mine occupies a central position in amino acid metabolism, since it is able to donate an amino group to a variety of keto-acids to form other amino acids. As you know, proteins are long chain-like molecules and the links of the chains are the amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids found in human proteins. Twelve of these your body can make itself, and these are called “nonessential” amino acids.
The other eight are not able to be made by the body and are called “essential” amino acids because it is essential they be obtained from the diet. As a protein molecule is being built the amino acids are linked end-to-end one at a time to form a growing chain. The subcellular organelles upon which proteins are assembled are called ribosomes. If the cellular supply of one of the amino acids is depleted, then the ribosome won’t be able to find the next “link” to add to the chain and protein synthesis will stop. If the miss-ing amino acid is an essential amino acid, there’s nothing to be done. Protein synthe-sis will halt until the depleted amino acid is replenished by the diet. If however the next amino acid to be added to the chain is one which the body can manufacture itself, then protein synthesis can proceed . One of the important things about glutamine is that it serves as the donor of amino groups during the synthesis of many non-essential amino acids. Therefore it helps make sure that adequate levels of the non-essential amino acids are available for protein syn-thesis. This may explain one reason why glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in the circulation (6).
Glutamine also plays a pivotal role in energy metabolism, believe it or not. Gluta-mine serves as the preferred fuel source for several cell types including immune cells and cells lining the intestines . During in-jury, burns, illness or other severe stresses (such as surgery), sometimes the body has to rob muscle tissue of its glutamine to serve as fuel for the intestine and the immune system. This depletes the body’s glutamine reserve which can ultimately compromise immune function. This is one of the reasons why these conditions are highly catabolic and are associated with rapid loss of lean body mass. The fasci-nating thing is that this parallels in many respects what we see in the over-training syndrome . Since your body can make glutamine from other amino acids it has traditionally been classified as a non-essential amino acid. However, during the last few years glutamine has been reclassified as a “con-ditionally essential” amino acid. This is because during times of severe stress your ability to make glutamine is unable to keep up with the demand. In these situations you need to supply additional glutamine in the diet to prevent a catabolic state.
Experi-ments in animal models have demonstrated that glutamine supplementation can result in better nitrogen balance and conservation of skeletal muscle (6). During times of severe stress, including intense exercise, glutamine reserves, particularly in skeletal muscle, are depleted (7). It is thought that intense exercise may be considered a form of stress similar to other catabolic stressors such as illness, infection, and surgery. Dur-ing both acute (short term) high intensity exercise and prolonged exercise plasma glutamine levels transiently increase (as glutamine is released from skeletal muscle) then decrease during the post-workout re-covery period. If recovery between exercise bouts is inadequate then the effects may be cumulative, and over-training has been associated with prolonged low glutamine levels which recover slowly (7). In athletes suffering from the over-training syndrome plasma glutamine levels are depressed for months or even years (7). In fact, exercise physiology scientists have been looking for a blood test to help them define some objective measure of the over-trained state.
So far the only reliable measure which has been found is the plasma glutamine level, which is depressed during over-training (8). In addition to glutamine’s central role in protein synthesis is the interesting prospect that it may also help promote glycogen storage in muscle (9). It would seem that glutamine helps preserve muscle mass during times of stress by several mechanisms . If this isn’t enough to stimulate your interest in glutamine, it has also been proven that glutamine administered orally can increase growth hormone release (10). Most interesting was that the effective dose was only two grams (10). Actually, if you think about it, we don’t care about growth hormone release per se. And it’s at this level of skepticism and questioning that you get to be a real thinker about bodybuilding nutrition. What we care about is muscle mass. The real bottom line is that glutamine increases skeletal muscle protein synthesis. Glutamine increases skeletal muscle pro-tein synthesis, and it’s effects are greater in the presence of insulin (11). Why all this talk about glutamine?
Because glutamine is probably the single most important amino acid in supporting muscular growth. It not only helps block catabolism of muscle tissue during stress but also provides an important anabolic stimulus for muscle growth. But there’s more to the story . We’re not home yet . The scientific understanding of muscle metabolism and exercise performance is probably the richest when it comes to the BCAAs – the branched chain amino acids . These are the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. While glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the bloodstream and free inside muscle cells, the BCAAs are the most abundant amino acids incorporated into muscle proteins. Just when you thought it was all becoming simple, it gets more complicated. The branched chains have been a favorite supplement of hard core bodybuilders for years. And finally science is ready to agree . For decades, and still even today, many people think of muscle as a structural – functional type of tissue with really no role in energy production. Well, I have news for you.
During times of stress, including severe exercise, muscle tissue can be broken down to serve as a fuel substrate, just like any other tissue of the body. Hopefully you will burn mostly fat as fuel, but you must also rely on gly-cogen, the storage form of carbohydrate. Eventually your body will also turn to protein, particularly the BCAAs, as a fuel source (the good, the bad, and the ugly). The muscle proteins are a rich source of branched chain amino acids. The problem is that muscles can actually use the BCAAs directly as fuel, so in a pinch they will can-nibalize themselves and oxidize their own proteins as a fuel source. Supplemental BCAAs are not only incor-porated into muscle proteins but can also reduce catabolism of pre-existent muscle tissue . Supplemental BCAAs are highly incorporated into muscle. The liver does not have significant amounts of the enzyme “branched chain amino transferase,” so is unable to significantly degrade the BCAAs. Muscle cells do however possess branched chain aminotransferase and are able to utilize these amino acids as fuel. (Please refer to our Technical Supplement Bulletins on our website for details and references.)
I have extensively reviewed branched chain amino acid metabolism in the past, and encourage you to review our past articles for previous information. Now I just want to add some new findings. High altitude climbing is a well known catabolic paradigm, and recent evidence demonstrates that BCAA supplementa-tion can improve protein balance under this catabolic stress (12). Although both groups of climbers, those supplemented with BCAAs and those without, showed loss of overall body weight, the BCAA group showed a surprising increase in lean body mass while simultaneously losing fat. The group without BCAAs lost both muscle and fat. Also of note, the BCAA group showed an increase in arm girth during the climb while the group without experienced a decrease in arm size. It was concluded that BCAA supplementation helped prevent muscle catabolism (12). Another new trial demonstrated a benefit from BCAA supplementation. In this study men were studied with and without BCAA supplementation dur-ing leg extension exercises (13).
It was found that supplemental BCAA helped reduce breakdown of endogenous pro-teins, at least in part by being used as fuel themselves. So the branched chains reduce catabolism of muscle protein dur-ing exercise (12). Another recent study demonstrated that BCAA supplementation increased growth hormone and testosterone levels in long distance runners (14). It is well know that the branched chains stimulate insulin secretion. Some of the newer studies also indicate an increase in growth hormone and testosterone fol-lowing BCAA administration. Also, they suppress the use of muscle proteins as fuel. In part this seems to be because they “sac-rifice” themselves for use as fuel, thereby sparing the breakdown of endogenous protein. The insulin effect probably also has something to do with this. Importantly, the BCAAs which are not oxidized as fuel are very prone to be retained by muscle and incorporated into muscle proteins . Thus they are both a powerful anabolic as well as an anti-catabolic stimulus. (Keep in mind this in not meant to be a comprehen-sive review of BCAA metabolism. This is just an update from our previous reports. Please refer to the website for more detailed information.) Well, why all this talk about glutamine and branched chain amino acids? Because whey protein is comprised of around 30% BCAAs and is also high in glutamine .
But, as usual, we’ve taken it a step further at Par-rillo. In our formulation of Optimized Whey Protein we’ve added additional branched chain aminos plus more glutamine. Plus more glycine- another anabolic amino acid which can sometimes be limiting during growth. So with Optimized Whey Protein you get an excellent base providing an exquisite amino acid profile, already rich in the branched chains and glutamine. Plus fortified with extra BCAAs and glutamine, plus glycine. It’s probably the most ana-bolic amino acid mixture available on the planet – that was our intention when we designed it. Add creatine and you’ve got a simple recipe for amazing results. So how do you sort out exactly the right supplement profile for you? Recently we unveiled 50-50 Plus, arguably the most effective post-workout supplement ever. Now we have Optimized Whey Protein. Which is right for you? Here are some simple guidelines . If you have a hard time gaining weight you probably need more carbohydrates. Carbs stimulate insulin release and nutrient storage. I have yet to meet a “hard gainer” I couldn’t cure with more calories. Carbs are the most effective nutrient for gaining lean mass, when combined with adequate protein of course. If it is difficult for you to consume enough calories to support weight gain, you should first add 50-50 Plus and creatine. If you’re still having trouble add CapTri.
CapTri is a very concentrated source of calories which has virtually no tendency to be stored as fat. Work up to two tablespoons with each meal. If you don’t like CapTri, or if you find your body type gets better results from carbs, then use Pro-Carb. Endurance athletes who are having a hard time gaining muscle or improving per-formance usually do best with Pro-Carb. They need the extra carbs because they burn so much during training. If you gain easily, and find you’re struggling to keep fat off, then you should try Optimized Whey Protein and creatine. We find that the whey protein has very little tendency to contribute to fat stores, even when consumed in large amounts. As I have discussed at length in the past, certain food types are more eas-ily converted to body fat than others. The whey protein seems to be preferentially retained as muscle with little spillage into fat stores. So during weight gain, rely on whey protein and creatine. During a fat loss cycle stick to the whey and creatine, but substitute CapTri for starchy carbs. Sounds simple, but it works. Two simple supplement programs that will put muscle on anybody who trains hard. In closing I have to emphasize the importance of intense training. It just doesn’t work without that. We’ll supply the nutrition, you supply the work.
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