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Research Update: Do Supplements Help Performance?

Supplements are ever present in the fitness industry. We’ve covered some of them in other articles, but the question is always out there – do they help with performance?

In October, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released the results of a 12-week exercise regimen study conducted on 148 active duty Air Force airmen. The exercise regimen combined strength training and high-intensity interval aerobic fitness challenges. Additionally, half of the participants received a twice-daily nutrient beverage that included protein; the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA; lutein; phospholipids; vitamin D; B vitamins, and other micronutrients; along with a muscle-promoting compound known as HMB. The other half a placebo. Neither the participants nor researchers knew who received the supplement or the placebo.

In short, half of the group were given supplements during the study.

The Findings…

For both groups, the exercise regimen alone alone “improved strength and endurance, mobility and stability, and participants also saw increases in several measures of cognitive function. They had better episodic memory and processed information more efficiently at the end of the 12 weeks.” The participants’ body fat percentage was reduced and they showed an increase in the oxygen-uptake efficiency (VO2 max). They also showed signs of increases in the accuracy of their responses to problems designed to measure fluid intelligence.

In short (again), exercise is good for you – the whole group saw benefits, both physically and mentally, from performing a regular fitness routine.

Researchers found that those who also consumed the nutritional supplement “saw all of these improvements and more.”

Those that took the supplement drink displayed an improved resting heart rate and greater improvements in their ability to retain and process information. Additionally, their reaction time on fluid intelligence tests was better than the placebo group.

Some Questions…

While the study saw improvements in the supplement shake group, it did not fully ascertain why this occurred.

  • How did the shake affect the macronutrient, micronutrient, and vitamin profile of the test subjects?
  • How did the shake affect daily caloric intake?
  • How was the shake timed with optimal intake windows for the participants?

Matt Kuchan, a co-author of the study, stated “it is possible the active supplement closed nutrient gaps,” since the average American diet that the airmen were on is well-documented to have nutrient gaps. He believes, though, the positive effects “resulted from the combination of muscle and brain nutrients,” and that the nutrients in the shake, which are found in healthy foods, would be difficult to replicate in a natural diet.

Bottom Line…

The study showed that those on the supplements obtained more results in physical and mental performance. While there are questions as to the “why” – the result is that the supplements helped close some gap for the participants’ that supported achieving higher performance levels.

As the term itself states, supplements are to supplement – not replace – dietary needs. But with many individuals, even athletes, trying to balance access to quality nutrients and daily responsibilities, supplements offer a mechanism to help people achieve their fitness performance goals.

– Train Hard!

optimize protein drink consumption

Optimizing Protein Shake Consumption

Protein shakes can be a great tool to help improve your fitness performance by helping meet your macronutrient needs. Optimizing protein shake consumption is an important aspect of your training regimen. The online fitness industry has thoroughly covered the benefits of protein supplementation – We’ve even done it here.

However, maximizing the benefit requires you to know when are the best times to add the supplement to your diet. What we offer below is based on studies, and represents what the general population should follow.

How you consume a protein supplement depends on your goals. We will keep it simple here – are you trying to lose weight and preserve lean mass, or gain weight?

Protein Intake for Losing Weight

This section is not really about shakes – but rather protein consumption to lose weight. You can take shakes, but here we intend to help you understand the benefits of protein snacks in your efforts to burn fat.

Protein is a key macronutrient for fat loss. Its consumption increases metabolic activity, and reduces your appetite through the reduction of the hormone ghrelin. Thus, a steady intake of protein throughout the day will help your calorie management efforts – a key element to both losing and gaining weight.

A study published in 2014 examined whether a high-protein afternoon yogurt snack improves appetite control, satiety, and reduces subsequent food intake compared to other commonly-consumed, energy-dense, high-fat snacks. The findings demonstrate that when compared to high-fat snacks, eating less energy-dense, high-protein snacks like yogurt improves appetite control.

The summary is that consuming protein-rich snacks throughout the day, whether food or shakes, will help control your appetite and support your ability to eat less. Combined with effective calorie-burning resistance training, this method will directly support your efforts to burn fat.

Protein Shakes for Weight Gain

To build muscle, the science is simple – you need to consume more protein than your body uses during resistance training. But with that, we begin a tale of two proteins – whey and casein. Both support your efforts to build muscle tissue, but their make up varies:

Whey

One of two major milk proteins. It is the liquid remaining after the milk has been curdled and strained. There are three varieties of whey – protein powder, protein concentrate, and protein isolate. All provide high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine).

Casein

Casein gives milk its white color and accounts for 70 – 80 percent of milk protein. The casein protein exists in a micelle – that has a hydrophobic inside and a hydrophilic outside. During digestion, casein is released as the micelle breaks down. The casein released from multiple micelles then aggregates and is digested via proteolysis. This is the process by which proteins break down into simpler, soluble compounds. Digestion is slow due to the aggregation of casein. This allows the protein to provide a sustained release of amino acids – sometimes lasting for hours.

There are other forms of protein, but as this is focusing on protein shakes – we’ll keep it to the most popular products as of this article’s publication.

When to shake, and when no to shake…

Optimizing protein shake consumption is not an exact science, although several studies demonstrate consistent data. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2017:

“…The timing of energy intake and the ratio of certain ingested macronutrients may enhance recovery and tissue repair, augment muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and improve mood states following high-volume or intense exercise…”

Here are highlights from the assessment:

  • Consuming carbohydrate solely or in combination with protein during resistance exercise increases muscle glycogen stores, ameliorates muscle damage, and facilitates greater acute and chronic training adaptations
  • Ingestion of essential amino acids (EAA; approximately 10 g) either in free form or as part of a protein bolus of approximately 20-40 g has been shown to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS)
  • Post-exercise ingestion (immediately to 2-h post) of high-quality protein sources stimulates robust increases in MPS
  • Ingesting a 20-40 g protein dose (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass/dose) of a high-quality source every 3 to 4 hours appears to most favorably affect MPS rates when compared to other dietary patterns and is associated with improved body composition and performance outcomes
  • Consuming casein protein (~ 30-40 g) prior to sleep can acutely increase MPS and metabolic rate throughout the night without influencing lipolysis

A 2002 study also suggested that consuming a small meal of mixed macronutrient composition (or perhaps even a very small quantity of a few indispensable amino acids) immediately before or following strength exercise bouts can alter significantly net protein balance, resulting in greater gains in both muscle mass and strength than observed with training alone. This suggests there is a window right before and after training that optimizes your protein intake.

What this means is you should be consuming protein throughout the day. How much depends on the macronutrient requirement for your fitness objectives. Ideally, you should consume as much protein as possible from lean, non-processed food sources. You can use the above findings in the study to help you understand when to assist and maximize your protein intake with a shake.

Now, why are we not saying explicitly to take X at the following times? Simple – your training plan, combined with your metabolism and diet requirements will create an “optimal window” unique to you. But you want to be following four rules in general:

  1. Consume most of your protein from whole, unprocessed food sources
  2. Target a good source of protein 2-3 hours prior to your workout (snacks right before the workout should be more carb-focused)
  3. Consuming a good quality, high-protein shake within two hours of resistance training is likely within your “optimal” window
  4. Casein protein shakes will work best before sleep, as it takes longer to digest and your body’s recovery will benefit from the sustained amino acid release.

And finally, remember – protein shakes are a supplement. They should be taken to supplement your whole food consumption – not as a replacement. If you use them, be sure to select ones with quality ingredients, without fillers and other non-essential ingredients.

-Train Hard!

Yohimbine itself can potentially induce fat loss

Yohimbine Benefits and Uses

Yohimbe has been a hot topic in weight management for performance sports. The claim is simple: Yohimbine supports fat loss. Let’s break that down…

The herb Yohimbe, technically dubbed Corynanthe Yohimbe, comes from the bark of the Yohimbe tree that grows in Cameroon, Zaire, and Gabon. Yohimbine is the major active constituent of the bark, with the active ingredient being yohimbine hydrochloride.

Researchers have studied Yohimbine for some time and it is one of the few supplement components with laboratory backed results. It’s not a silver bullet, but in the world of supplementation, it has demonstrated results.

How Yohimbine Works

Yohimbine acts on the adrenergic receptor system in fat cells and regulates thermogenesis. It works against the alpha-subunits of the adrenergic system – the units that work against fat burning. Yohimbine inhibits the alpha-subunit’s ability to suppress fat burning.

Yohimbine itself can potentially induce fat loss vicariously through the release of adrenaline; adrenaline itself is an activator of beta-adrenergic receptors. Beta-adrenergic receptors increase the activity of the enzyme adenyl cyclase – which further supports fat burning. However, the effect of Yohimbine on adrenaline appears to fade after two weeks of supplementation.

Research Results

Studies suggest a fasted state improves the effect of Yohimbine supplementation. The working theory is that later in the day, the impact of food on insulin levels lowers Yohimbine’s effectiveness. In one study, two groups exercised for 21 days and consumed the same diet; one group received 10mg x2 day of Yohimbine supplementation, and the other a placebo. At the end of the 21 day period, the Yohimbine group showed an average of 2% body fat loss, compared to the placebo group. Further, a 2002 study suggested a pre-workout is the most effective supplementation for Yohimbine. The conclusion is that consuming Yohimbine supplementation in a fasted state prior to exercise appears to have the greatest effect on fat burning.

Suggested Use

Dosages of 0.2mg/kg bodyweight have been successfully used to increase fat burning without significant implications on cardiovascular parameters like heart rate and blood pressure. This results in a dosage of:

  • 14 mg for a 150lb person
  • 18 mg for a 200lb person
  • 22 mg for a 250lb person

Individuals with a higher body weight should exercise caution, since yohimbine may over stimulate an unprepared cardiovascular system. While yohimbine supports fat loss, when supplementing yohimbine for the first time, always start with a half-dose and assess tolerance before proceeding.

As a note of caution, research has also shown:

  • Yohimbine can cause extreme anxiety in individuals predisposed to anxiety. The supplement may trigger manic psychosis or suicidal episodes in people with bipolar disorder
  • Yohimbine can interact with a large amount of neurological medications and should not be used in conjunction with these medications without consultation with a doctor
  • The actual vs labeled dose of yohimbine in many supplements can range from 25-150%

Always check with your medical provider before incorporating supplementation into your diet.

– Train Hard!

 

protein benefits whey casein soy

Protein Explained

Protein, along with fat and carbohydrates is a macronutrient required by your body. Specifically, it is key to building bone, muscle, cartilage, skin, and blood. For anyone looking to add mass, notably lean mass to their physique, understanding the benefits of protein for muscle development is critical to success.

The science of protein

Proteins are composed of long chains of amino acids linked by peptide bonds. This macronutrient serves as the transport mechanism for iron, vitamins, minerals, fats, and oxygen within the body, and is the key to acid-base and fluid balance.

Essential amino acid composition, digestibility, and bioavailability determine a specific food’s protein quality. Combinations of amino acids make up all proteins. There are nine essential amino acids – those that cannot be made by the body itself. Additionally, there are another eleven nonessential amino acids – ones that the human body can make on its own. Generally, animal products contain all of the essential amino acids.

Muscles and tissues require protein to undergo the beneficial process of repairing and rebuilding, to overcome the muscular and structural damage caused by resistance training. Protein repairs this damage, in turn enabling muscle development and growth.

Protein types

Whey

One of two major milk proteins. It is the liquid remaining after the milk has been curdled and strained. There are three varieties of whey – protein powder, protein concentrate, and protein isolate. All provide high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine).

  • Whey powder is 11 – 15% protein
  • Whey concentrate is 25 – 89% protein
  • Whey isolate is 90+% protein

Whey is rapidly digested and absorbed and has a remarkable ability to stimulate muscle growth. its high levels of amino leucine play a key role in muscle hypertrophy (excessive growth).

Casein

Casein gives milk its white color and accounts for 70 – 80 percent of milk protein. Casein exists in a micelle – that has a hydrophobic inside and a hydrophilic outside. During digestion, casein is released as the micelle breaks down. The casein released from multiple micelles then aggregates and is digested via proteolysis, the process by which proteins are broken down into simpler, soluble compounds. Digestion is slow due to the aggregation of casein, allowing the protein to provide a sustained release of amino acids – sometimes lasting for hours.

During resistance training, a workout that produces microtears in the muscle tissue will benefit from a ready supply of amino acids delivered from protein.

Soy

The most widely used vegetable protein is soy. It is one of the only vegetable proteins that contains all of the essential amino acids. Similar to whey, soy proteins can be consumed in three types:

Flour is 50% protein (baked goods)

Concentrate is 70% protein (nutrition bars, cereals, and yogurts)

Isolate is 90% protein (sports drinks, health beverages)

Although early studies suggested that soy might decrease LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, later research failed to confirm these hypotheses.

Recommended protein intake

The recommended dietary allowance is 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day. However, individuals in active training programs that incorporate resistance training should consider consuming 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight per day. In general, 10-35% of daily calories should come from protein. Those training in specialized programs, with consultation from nutritionists and registered dieticians, may find it necessary to increase.

If you use intermittent fasting, protein should be a key nutrient for your first meal of the day.

-Train Hard!

Vitamin D Benefits: Science or Hype?

First, what is Vitamin D exactly?

Vitamin D is required for the regulation of the minerals, calcium, and phosphorus found in the body. And in addition to calcium, it is an important aspect of maintaining proper bone structure.

Natural sunlight exposure is the easiest and most reliable way for most people to get vitamin D. Normal exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for 10-30 minutes is sufficient time to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and other factors. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in your body fat and then released when sunlight is gone.

Vitamin D’s ability to help build strong bones by increasing the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous is long known. However, recent years have seen it associated as a defense against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mood swings, and depression. But current studies are now altering our understanding of this vitamin, and while not diminishing its importance to our body’s health, may be challenging some decades-old hype.

In 2014, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers recruited and studied the vitamin D effects in over 25,000 healthy U.S. adults over 50 for an average of almost 5 1/2 years. The study concluded that vitamin D supplements did not lower the risk of cancer, stroke, or heart attack.

And in early 2019, researchers published an analysis of prior studies on the link between vitamin D supplements, cancer risk, and survival. The analysis found no link between supplementation and reduced cancer risk; however, studies suggested that taking vitamin D supplements may lower the risk of dying from cancer by 13%. The study did not determine if the potential vitamin D supplement effect actually caused the body’s own immune system to improve and fight cancer, or if the supplement was directly responsible. In contrast to these possible positive results, a recently published Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL) noted that in a large study of more than 25,000 participants that those taking a vitamin D supplement did not lower rates of heart attack, stroke, or cancer. However, among people who later developed cancer, those who took vitamin D supplements for at least two years had a 25% lower chance of dying from their cancer compared with those who received a placebo.

Possible Assistance in Weight Loss

There is limited evidence vitamin D levels may affect one’s ability to lose weight.

In a 2009 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, some participants taking daily calcium and vitamin D supplement were able to lose more weight than subjects taking a placebo supplement.

Possible Evidence that Vitamin D Supplementation Could Reduce Respiratory Inflammation Risks

An April 2020 article in the periodical Nutrients, suggests vitamin D can reduce risk of infections.

According to the article’s researchers, vitamin D supports mechanisms that can lower viral replication rates and reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce lung inflammation that typically leads to pneumonia, as well as boosting concentrations of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Again, there are mixed results on this too, as several observational studies and clinical trials did not observe any effect from vitamin D in reducing the risk of influenza.

Foods highest in vitamin D on wooden background.

Natural Sources of Vitamin D

Foods that provide vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

Depositphotos_45202029_xl-2015

Vitamin D Supplements

While research is ongoing, there are benefits from taking vitamin D supplements to promote bone health; however, large amounts of vitamin D are not required to get the benefit.  Notably, a 2010 study published in JAMA showed that intake of very high doses of vitamin D in older women was associated with more falls and fractures.

But too much vitamin D (or any supplment) can create risks. Taking a supplement that contains too much vitamin D can be toxic in rare cases. It can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries or soft tissues. It may also predispose women to painful kidney stones.

Vitamin D2 and D3

The most important forms of Vitamin D for the human body are D3 and (to a lesser extent) D2. If you select to take vitamin D supplements, choose a quality supplement and eating some foods fortified with D3.

Creatine Supplements: Effects on Muscle Performance

There are a lot of articles out in the fitness world that talk about the wonders of creatine supplements. Many supplement companies not only have creatine as a standalone product, but include it in pre-workout mixes.

So this stuff must be great, right? As we did with our Pre-Workout article, we’re going to try to give you simple, yet science based take on creatine to help guide you in your health and fitness decisions.

So what is creatine, and how does it work?

Let’s start with the science – adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the most basic form of energy in your body’s cells. It plays a fundamental role in metabolism and muscle function.

Biochemically, ATP is a nucleoside triphosphate, which indicates that it consists of three components: a nitrogenous base (adenine), the sugar ribose, and the triphosphate.

In muscle performance, ATP acts in the following manner with myosin, which is a motor protein best known for its role in muscle contraction:

  • ATP prepares myosin for binding with actin by moving it to a higher- energy state and a “cocked” position.
  • ATP must bind to myosin to break the cross-bridge and enable the myosin to rebind to actin at the next muscle contraction.

Mechanism of muscle contraction.

For training, or any intense muscle activity, your muscles typically store only enough ATP for 8–10 seconds of high-intensity exercise. After this, your body must produce new ATP to match the demands of your physical activity.

Simply put, this is why you can burst few short periods of energy and muscle movement, but cannot sustain those levels.

We’re getting to the part about the creatine…

A study by the Centre for Human Sciences in 2000 showed that fatigue sustained during short-term, high-intensity exercise is associated with the inability of skeletal muscle to maintain a high rate of anaerobic ATP production from phosphocreatine hydrolysis – and that the ingestion of creatine monohydrate at a rate of 20 g/d for 5-6 d was shown to increase the total creatine concentration of human skeletal muscle by approximately 25 mmol/kg dry mass, some 30% of this in phosphorylated form as phosphocreatine.

Moreover, the study showed that a loss of ATP during heavy anaerobic exercise was found to decline after creatine ingestion, despite an increase in work production. These results suggest that improvements in performance are due to parallel improvements in ATP resynthesis during exercise as a consequence of increased phosphocreatine availability.

Short version – Creatine supplements increase your body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which in turn helps support your body’s ability to create ATP and replenish the depleted supply to continue fueling muscle activity.

Other Creatine Benefits

Increase in the water content of your muscle cells.

Increase in repetitions and weight loads of training sessions.

May reduce muscle breakdown and assist in post work out recovery.

Lastly, a study in 2010 from the Department of Sport Science was conducted to determine the effect of resistance training for 8 weeks in conjunction with creatine supplementation on muscle strength, lean body mass, and serum levels of myostatin and growth. The researchers found that creatine increased muscle mass when added to an exercise regimen and resulted in a “significant decrease in serum levels of myostatin,” which is a protein that inhibits muscle cell growth.

So that’s it – creatine helps your body maintain its ATP levels, which in turn help muscle output, recovery, and growth.

Does that mean you should take it?

That is a discussion between you, your health provider, and if available, registered dietician. But hopefully, with our comments, you are now better informed about one of the more prolific supplements on the market.

As always

-Train Hard!

 

The Pre-Workout Drink Dilemma

We have all heard it, either from your buddy at the gym, fitness crazy co-worker, or countless online videos – you should have a pre-workout drink before you work out. So if you are hearing it this much, it must be true, right? I mean you want gains and improvement, so this is what you do, or don’t you?

As a gym-guy, and certified trainer, I’ve heard this all too, and been asked by clients. So let me give you the answer up front – NO, you do not.

But wait, you say, I want to see results from the gym, don’t I need this? Again, I offer a simple answer – NO.

Humans have been exercising long before science and fitness companies came up with pre-workout drinks, and we seem to have produced plenty of well trained and in shape athletes. So if that is the case, why the hype around this mythical wonder drink, and should you take them?

Let’s start with the science:

Most pre-workout formulas contain some level of caffeine or a caffeine-like stimulant. There is a reason for that. Several studies have shown that taking caffeine can provide a physical boost before a workout. A 2012 study in the Journal of Strength Conditioning and Resistance found that men who took caffeine supplements could lift greater weights compared with those using a placebo. Other studies indicate those that rely on increased cardio output can increase their aerobic capacity with a dose of caffeine. However, studies have also shown the benefits of caffeine decrease as an individual develops a tolerance.

Pre-workout drinks and supplements also likely contain creatine, which assists in energy production in muscle cells. It does this by creating a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides the energy for muscle contractions. According to a 2003 study, creatine supplementation during training has been reported to promote significantly greater gains in strength, fat free mass, and performance primarily of high intensity exercise tasks.

Other common pre-workout ingredients include the B vitamin niacin, which can cause sweatiness and blood flow to the skin, and vasodilators, such as citrulline, which widen blood vessels. Although studies don’t show that these ingredients increase muscle mass per se, the increased blood flow to the muscles may provide the user with that “pumped” feeling and look.

The Bottom Line:

Your body, on a healthy, macronutrient balanced diet, will have the energy it needs to power you through a workout. That said, today we try and push ourselves harder, both at work and at the gym. Getting extra fuel into our muscles to get in those extra reps, heavier lifts, and longer cardio sessions can make the difference on how you see results. If you want to always be able to push your workout to its limits, to go further, then I recommend a pre-workout drink. We also need to be honest with ourselves, in that today’s busy world, that an energy booster before the gym after a long day at work can also make the difference in how well we feel about our workouts too. And one thing I have learned working with clients, is staying focused on fitness is mostly based on the positive feeling one has towards it.

So what should you take? Before I get to that, let me start with what to avoid. Keep these out of your system prior to working out:

  1. Milk based drinks
  2. Sugar-based fruit drinks
  3. Alcobol
  4. Carbonated beverages
  5. Sports drinks

None of these offer anything that is going to fuel your body for a workout, and can have other issues for your health.

As for what to take, I get asked this too. It is usually, “hey, what will work for me?” The answer is surprising to most – all of them, and none of them. Yes, I said all of them, and none of them. While there are many common ingredients to each drink, the specific formulas vary – as does our physiology. So I recommend you try samples of different brands to see how you feel. You should feel energetic, not jittery. If you feel jittery, try another brand, as it is a sign there is too much stimulant for your body. Lastly, what works for you right now, at your age and health may not work at other times. So do not get stuck on one brand over the years – you will need to adjust as your body changes.

I’ve used a few over the years, and offer them as ones that I personally would recommend:

  1. Mr. Hyde Nitro X Pre Workout
  2. N.O.-Xplode
  3. Pre JYM
  4. Organifi Red Juice

The last one is a bit of a twist to this. It has 500mg of B12, which helps the body produce glucose – a key energy element for your body, and an endurance blend. Red Juice works for my body, and has other health benefits. I also sip an Xtend BCAA amino acid drink while working out to keep my muscles nourished.

Above all – pre-workout drink or not – stay hydrated with regular old water! It works wonders, and is essential for maintaining overall health and is critical for essential fluid replacement when exercising. Second, read the label of your supplement – most require 30-45 minutes to reach effect. If you drink your supplement walking in the door of the gym, you will be over half way done with your workout before it kicks in – and you’ll wonder why it did not seem to help.

 

 

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