Sunday, May 1, 2011

TRAIN TO GAIN : Bodybuilding Pressure Cooker Is being overly muscular a blood pressure risk? by Jerry Brainum

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and the number-one risk factor for strokes. High blood pressure is often linked to excess weight, and is one reason that obesity is considered a risk factor for disease. But what about muscle? Some competitive bodybuilders roaming the professional posing dais today tip the scales at nearly 300 pounds, and they’re usually less than 6’ tall. Surely those men must also have blood pressure problems.

According to new research findings, that may not be so.1 The study examined the effects of stress on high blood pressure and featured 127 black and white youths. Measurements taken during the study included lean body mass, fat mass and total percentage of bodyfat. The stress procedure consisted of a two-hour baseline, or rest, period, followed by a one-hour high-stress video game, then a two-hour recovery period. Blood and urine samples were taken every hour, and blood pressure was measured at 15-minute intervals.

The primary finding of the study was that more muscle equals better regulation of blood pressure under stressful conditions. The converse occurs with higher bodyfat levels; that is, having a higher level of bodyfat produces problems with blood pressure under high-stress conditions. It all has to do with sodium.

Blood pressure is supposed to rise under stress conditions. Blood pressure health problems arise when the pressure doesn’t rapidly subside after the stressful stimulus ends. The stress response of the body demands higher blood pressure to deal with higher heart activity and blood flow, as occurs during exercise. Without the increase in blood pressure, the body couldn’t handle stress conditions. An example is shock—when blood pressure drops due to some kind of trauma. Shock can lead to heart and multiple organ failure, which in turn leads to death.

People with excessive bodyfat levels, especially in relation to their lean mass, or muscle, show aberrations in the secretion of chemicals that control blood pressure modulation. Excess fat leads to an overproduction of angiotensin-1, which is converted into angiotensin-2 by specific enzymes. Angiotensin-2 is a potent vasoconstrictor, the name given to a substance that induces a rapid tightening of blood vessels. Angiotensin secretion retains sodium and induces a release of aldosterone from the adrenal glands, which also leads to sodium retention and potassium excretion. But excess angiotensin production only occurs with high bodyfat levels, not muscle.

The lack of excess angiotensin in people who have more muscle means they can more rapidly excrete sodium. Sodium excretion, in turn, results in a rapid lowering of high blood pressure after stressful conditions. Many black people have a genetic enzyme deficiency that results in naturally higher levels of angiotensin and consequent higher blood pressure. Doctors treat that with drugs called angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, which limit conversion of angiotensin-1 to the vasoreactive angiotensin-2 and thus lead to lower blood pressure.

This study also has implications for bodybuilding. Having more muscle gives you more efficient and reliable sodium excretion and less water retention. The process can be speeded even more if you take in nutrients that promote sodium excretion, such as calcium and potassium. Magnesium also acts as a natural angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor, thus helping prevent the onset of high blood pressure.

1 Wilsona, M.E., et al. (2004). Relationship of body composition to stress-induced pressure natriuresis in youth. Am J Hypertension. 17:1023-1028.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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The Applied Ergogenics blog is a collection of articles written and published by Jerry Brainum over the past 20 years. These articles have appeared in Muscle and Fitness, Ironman, and other magazines. Many of the posts on the blog are original articles, having appeared here for the first time. For Jerry’s most recent articles, which are far more in depth than anything that appears on this blog site, please subscribe to his Applied Metabolics Newsletter, at This newsletter, which is more correctly referred to as a monthly e-book, since its average length is 35 to 40 pages, contains the latest findings about nutrition, exercise science, fat-loss, anti-aging, ergogenic aids, food supplements, and other topics. For 33 cents a day you get the benefit of Jerry’s 53 years of writing and intense study of all matters pertaining to fitness,health, bodybuilding, and disease prevention.


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