Saturday, July 30, 2011

TRAIN TO GAIN : Fishy Fat-Burning Effects by Jerry Brainum

Several studies have shown that taking omega-3 fatty acids, especially fish oil supplements, increases the rate of fat oxidation. Since the only form of exercise known to do that is aerobics, what would happen if you combined fish oil with aerobics?

A study presented at the 2006 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) meeting looked at the effects of combining aerobic exercise with fish oil supplementation on the size of lipoprotein particles in the blood. Low-density and high-density lipoproteins consist of protein combined with cholesterol. LDL carries cholesterol to cells in the blood and, when oxidized, is considered a root cause of cardiovascular disease. HDL carries cholesterol out of the blood to the liver, where the excess cholesterol is degraded into bile and eventually excreted. The reverse transport of cholesterol, as it’s called, is the only way the body can rid itself of excess cholesterol.

In addition to its cholesterol-clearing ability, HDL helps prevent the oxidation of LDL by providing a potent built-in antioxidant called peroxanase. In recent years scientists have realized that the size of the various lipoprotein particles in the blood is highly significant. Small, dense LDL particles are considered far more dangerous than larger, more buoyant ones. LDL is more prone to oxidation, which turns it deadly from a cardiovascular-disease perspective. Similarly, some forms of HDL are more protective than others. Alcohol intake increases one type of HDL, while exercise raises another. The type increased by exercise is considered more protective than that increased by alcohol.

In the new study 11 active men, average age 30, performed four randomized trials: 1) rest with no supplement, 2) exercise with no supplement, 3) rest and supplement, 4) exercise and supplement.

The subjects did three days of treadmill exercise at a moderate-intensity level of 70 percent maximum oxygen intake for 60 minutes, with the rest consisting of three consecutive days of no exercise. The supplement used was fish oil, taken at a dose of 4.55 grams a day for 42 days.

The exercise promoted a significant increase in the size of LDL particles in the blood but not in HDL size. Adding fish oil to the exercise produced a shift in HDL distribution to the more protective form. Thus, omega-3 fatty acids appear to work with exercise to lower risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. 

Wooten, J.S., et al. (2006). Response of lipoprotein diameters and distributions following aerobic exercise and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S46.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

EAT TO GROW : HMB Gets an F..New study gives the supplement a failing grade by Jerry Brainum

Beta-hydroxy-Beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) may work better on paper than it does in the real world. HMB is a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine, and several studies show that it should provide impressive benefits to anyone engaged in weight training. In fact, a recent meta-analysis, or analysis of many previous studies, examined the accumulated evidence of efficacy for about 250 popular bodybuilding supplements and found acceptable scientific evidence for only two: creatine and HMB. Unfortunately, the primary author of that review is also the same person who discovered HMB.

HMB is found in several foods, such as catfish and grapefruit. The body synthesizes it from leucine; the higher the leucine intake, the greater the synthesis of HMB. A 150-pound man would synthesize about 200 to 400 milligrams a day, depending on leucine intake. Several studies have shown that HMB appears to promote lean-mass gains while speeding fat loss, an ideal combination for bodybuilding purposes.

But not all studies have found such beneficial effects. A study of HMB use among more experienced weight trainers found no evidence of any gains in lean mass whatsoever. The latest study focused on HMB’s effects in hard-training college football players.1

Thirty-five athletes worked out an average of 20 hours a week doing weight training and aerobics, as well as skill exercises. During the first part of the study, 16 of the subjects took three grams of HMB a day, while 19 took a placebo. After a week long washout period, during which no supplements were taken, the groups switched, with those who had taken the placebo going on genuine HMB, three grams a day, and vice versa.

After nine weeks those who took HMB showed no gains in strength or any loss of bodyfat, compared to the placebo group. A curious aspect of this study, however, was the athletes’ unusually low calorie intake. They averaged only 2,600 calories a day, not a huge amount for hard-training football players. The authors also suggest that the athletes may well have overtrained, which may have obscured any benefits from HMB.

Judging by this study, HMB doesn’t offer much benefit to those engaged in intensive training. On the other hand, results obtained from previous studies of HMB show that it’s most efficiently used either at the beginning of a weight program or when you’ve significantly increased the workload.There is also some emerging evidence that HMB may be of use to prevent excessive muscle loss in older people, a condition known as sarcopenia. HMB does appear to blunt an established pathway of muscle catabolism.

1 Ransone, J.R., et al. (2003). The effect of B-hydroxy-B-methylbutyrate on muscular strength and body composition in collegiate football players. J Strength Cond Res. 17:34-39.

©,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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Monday, July 25, 2011

EAT TO GROW : Got Protein? New studies underscore superiority of a high-protein diet by Jerry Brainum

Evidence continues to mount supporting the benefits of eating more protein and less carbohydrate. Not only can a higher-protein/lower-carb diet produce greater fat losses, but it also helps retain lean mass in a manner far superior to conventional low-calorie or high-carb/lowfat diets. In addition, most of the long-held concerns about the so-called dangers of higher-protein diets are turning out to be groundless.

Two recent studies compared the effects of both diets on groups of obese women. The first one looked at the effects of high-protein and high-carb diets on blood glucose and insulin levels during dieting conditions.1

Twenty-four adult women, all of whom were at least 15 percent above ideal bodyweight, were divided into two groups: a high-protein group that ate 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, with 40 percent of total calories derived from carbs; and a high-carb group that ate half as much protein (0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight), with 55 percent of calories coming from carbs. Both diets contained the same number of total calories and fat (50 grams per day), and the study lasted 10 weeks.

While the high-protein group lost slightly more weight than the carb group, the real advantage emerged when the groups ate test meals at the end of the study. Those in the carb group had lower blood glucose levels and an elevated insulin response to meals. Lower blood glucose levels set the stage for increased hunger, which generally leads people to have trouble following a diet consistently and to indulge in high-calorie binges that defeat the purpose of dieting.

The authors explain that a higher-protein intake promotes a more stable blood glucose level through the actions of the amino acids in the protein. With more amino acids available, the body produces glucose precursors that it uses to maintain stable blood glucose levels while avoiding the excess insulin output that occurs with increased carb intake. As blood glucose levels decline, appetite increases, making dieting more onerous.

The second study compared high-protein and higher-carb intakes and their effects on body composition and blood lipids.2 Like the first study, this one featured overweight female subjects who followed either a high-protein or high-carb diet for 10 weeks. Once again, both diets contained the same number of total daily calories and fat, differing only in their protein and carb contents.

Those in the high-protein group showed body-composition changes, pointing to retention of lean mass coupled with loss of fat that was greater than what the high-carb group experienced. Both groups showed a 10 percent average drop in blood cholesterol, but only the high-protein group showed a 21 percent drop in blood triglyceride (fat) levels and a superior ratio of triglycerides to high-density lipoprotein, a pattern that favors cardiovascular health. The women in the high-carb group had higher insulin responses to meals, with a tendency toward decreased blood glucose (hypoglycemia) following meals. Those in the high-protein group reported greater satiety after meals, likely due to better insulin responses.

The researchers note that a higher-protein intake maintains thyroid hormone levels while reducing insulin responses to meals, a pattern that would favor more bodyfat losses. The higher protein intake also blunts or prevents the loss of muscle that otherwise would accompany a reduced-calorie diet. The branched-chain amino acids isoleucine, leucine and valine are particularly potent in the anticatabolic effect, as are other aminos, including glutamine.

Another interesting aspect of this study is the lack of adverse cardiovascular effects in the higher-protein group. If anything, the changes conferred cardiovascular protection. That’s notable in light of the frequent admonitions about cardiovascular “dangers” linked to higher-protein diets.

The same held true for that old bugaboo about high protein and kidney disease. The theory behind this idea is that waste products of protein metabolism, such as urea, impose increased stress on kidneys, eventually leading to renal failure. The notion was originally derived from observations of patients with existing kidney disease—hardly applicable to healthy people.

In this study the subjects showed rapid adaptation to the higher-protein intake, with urea values similar in both groups. That suggests the body can easily upregulate renal function to deal with the additional metabolic waste products. Although not discussed in the study, the best way to protect your kidneys during a high-protein diet is simply to drink enough water to help flush out nitrogen waste products efficiently.


1 Layman, D.K., et al. (2003). Increased dietary protein modifies glucose and insulin homeostasis in adult women during weight loss. J Nutr. 133:405-410.

2 Layman, D.K., et al. (2003). A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in women. J Nutr. 133:411-417.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Balancing Act: Popular Diets Fall Flat by Jerry Brainum

Balancing Act: Popular Diets Fall Flat

  By Jerry Brainum
A recent study analyzed three days of meal plans for four popular diets.

Statistics show that more than 34 percent of Americans are obese, and both the figures and the waistlines are constantly expanding. That’s the reason more than 65 million Americans are constantly on some kind of fat-loss diet. Various diets are recommended to combat rampant obesity, ranging from old-style calorie-cutting plans to low-carb diets to lowfat, high-carb regimens. One pertinent question related to all popular diets: Do they contain enough nutrients? That’s an important consideration because a lack of essential nutrients not only makes losing bodyfat more difficult but also increases the likelihood of becoming obese by more than 80 percent.
     A recent study analyzed three days of meal plans for four popular diets: Atkins for Life, the South Beach Diet, the DASH Diet and the Best Life Diet. The Atkins is a low-carb diet, as is the South Beach plan. The DASH Diet contains more carbs, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables. The Best Life Diet is based on a book written by Bob Greene, Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer, and emphasizes the need for exercise and reduced calorie intake as a path to bodyfat loss.
    The researchers analyzed the diets for 27 essential nutrients to see if they met 100 percent of the minimum daily requirements established by the United States Food and Drug Administration. All four plans failed to deliver 100 percent of the recommended daily allowances of the 27 nutrients analyzed. The Atkins diet met 44.44 percent of RDA but failed to deliver 12 out of 27 essential nutrients on daily intake averaging 1,786 calories. To meet the RDA of all 27 required nutrients without taking any supplements would require a daily intake of 37,500 calories—no, that is not a misprint. The Best Life Diet was 55.56 percent sufficient and delivered the RDAs for 15 out of 27 nutrients, with an average daily intake of 1,793 calories. To deliver all 27 nutrients on that diet would require 20,500 calories a day. The DASH Diet was 51.85 percent nutrient sufficient, delivering 14 out of 27 essentials based on a daily intake of 2,217 calories. You’d need to gulp down 33,500 calories to obtain all 27 essential nutrients from food alone. The South Beach Diet was only 22.22 percent sufficient in essential nutrients, delivering only six out of 27 essential nutrients while averaging 1,197 daily calories. On the other hand, you’d need to eat “only” 18,800 daily calories to obtain all 27 essential nutrients from food alone.
     The nutrients most lacking on all of these diets were biotin, vitamin D, vitamin E, chromium, iodine and molybdenum. Interestingly, all four plans are touted as being “sound, healthy, and balanced.” They suggest eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, but all were woefully lacking in essential nutrients. Ironically, that would hamper dieting efforts and even encourage rapid regain of bodyfat. The calories needed to get those missing nutrients from food alone would be so extreme that nobody would lose weight; you’d gain it. Yet only two of the suggested plans, Atkins and Greene’s Best Life Diet, suggest any type of nutritional supplementation.
     The fact is, you can’t obtain all required nutrients from any type of eating plan, whether the purpose is to lose fat or something else. The advice to obtain all your nutrients from food sources alone is not just wrong but nonsensical. Yet that’s what you hear from most doctors. Their advice blatantly illustrates that most of them know little or nothing about what constitutes good nutrition or even a so-called balanced diet. The bottom line is that if you depend on food sources alone for all essential nutrients, you’ll be in trouble sooner or later.
Jerry Brainum

Calton, J. (2010). Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 7:24.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good Vibrations : Almost-Effortless Muscle and Strength Gains: Old Movers and Shakers of Exercise Vindicated by New Vibration Technology by Jerry Brainum

For the less motivated, the search for an easy way to get fit, lose bodyfat and even gain muscle never seems to end. How else to explain the apparent success of late-night infomercials that promise to deliver all the goals of exercise with minimal effort? Those who refuse to exert the necessary effort to achieve physical goals, whether building muscle, losing fat or both, are easy prey to inflated claims. Never mind that the muscular and fit models shown using worthless contraptions got that way through regular and frequent gym sessions and a clean diet. That part of the equation is never revealed.

The quest for a magic machine that will make exercise as easy as possible isn’t new. Back in the 1940s, a machine was introduced that purportedly enabled you to spot reduce stubborn fat deposits on the waist and lower-back areas. You’d stand on a platform, and then slip into a belt that would encircle your waist. Turning on the machine caused the belt to vibrate intensely. The idea was to shake the recalcitrant superfluous fat off your body. All you had to do was stand still and let the machine do the work.

Passive exercise, as it was called, was quickly condemned by scientists and exercise experts. Authorities noted that the calorie burn was negligible and no actual muscle was involved. Without a suitable level of muscular involvement, fitness simply could not be attained. Eventually, the vibrating-belt machines were relegated to the Dumpster, no longer seen but fondly remembered as symbolic of an era when you could get a tank of gas for less than a buck.

Even so, vibration as a means of obtaining fitness and health was in vogue long before the appearance of the vibrating belt. The ancient Greeks treated injuries by wrapping a saw in cotton fabric, vibrating the saw, then applying the vibrating padded saw to a wound with the idea that the vibrations that resulted had healing properties.

In 1857 a Swedish doctor named Gustav Zander built 70 different steam-powered exercise machines, some of which transmitted vibrations, for use in physical training. They were introduced at world exhibitions in 1876 and 1878, leading to the development of Zander Institutes, an early form of health clubs that featured Zander’s machines and proved so popular that they were opened in various cities around the world. The Netherlands alone had nine Zander Institutes.

The eccentric health educator and cornflakes co-inventor Dr. John Harvey Kellogg also invented a whole-body vibration machine at his Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan in 1895. A special chair violently shook but also allegedly cured such ailments as constipation, headaches and back pain. The machine was touted as a way of increasing tissue oxygenation. Kellogg also had a standing vibrating platform that was used to stimulate the inner organs.

In 1912 Arnold Snow published the book Mechanical Vibration, which talked mostly about the benefits of massage but also noted the many benefits of vibration for health. Fast-forward to 1960, when East German scientist Beirman developed a technique called rhythmic neuromuscular stimulation, which was the forerunner of today’s vibration-exercise techniques.

Vibration was further developed by the Russians, who observed that cosmonauts often returned to Earth after extended space missions in a debilitated physical condition. Many were so weak that they needed assistance in walking after emerging from their spacecraft. Lack of gravitational force led to muscle weakness and loss, along with considerable bone loss. Russian scientists reasoned that providing a form of therapy that featured a hypergravitational force could effectively treat and possibly prevent space-related side effects. The solution turned out to be the application of vibration.

Vibration at its most elemental level involves a recurrent change of position, with the oscillation being either up and down or side to side. Vibration involves several specific physical factors: amplitude, frequency and time. When applied to muscles, it imposes a hypergravity effect because it affects the muscle spindle, which promotes rapid changes in muscle length. You normally activate muscle spindles, which are embedded in the connective tissue that lines muscle fibers, during stretching movements. Muscle responds to vibration by contracting to offset the stress it imposes.

The total effect is called the tonic vibration reflex. Vibration at a certain frequency stimulates the muscle spindle structures to contract reflexively, a compensation that increases muscle tone and strength. Many studies show that muscle electrical activity recorded on an electromyograph machine is much higher when vibration is applied to a muscle than can be achieved with a normal voluntary muscle contraction using weights. The implication is that applying vibration to a muscle makes it contract more powerfully.

Much of the level of force in a muscle contraction is based on greater synchronization of motor units, or how hard the muscle is stimulated by neural input. Vibration increases the synchronization while also inhibiting antagonist muscle activity that would otherwise limit the muscle contraction. If you think about it, lifting weights also increases gravitational force on muscles, but other factors, like the antagonist activity, limit the extent of contraction possible with weights.

Several studies have shown considerable improvement following vibration training. One experiment used a special vibrating cable for biceps curls. Subjects included both elite and amateur athletes, who trained on the vibrating-cable device at 44 hertz intensity; hertz is a measure of vibration. The elite athletes experienced a 10.4 percent increase in muscle power, the amateurs a 7.9 percent increase. In a similar study maximal force increased by 49.8 percent and flexibility by 43.6 percent.

A study of six female volleyball players tested the effects of vibration on a leg press machine using various loads. The presses were done one leg at a time, with one leg being exposed to vibration. There was a significant enhancement of velocity, force and power. Since the athletes performed presses in their usual workouts and weren’t new to the exercise, the improvement was attributed to an enhancement of neural factors from the vibration stimulus.

An interesting effect of vibration exercise is enhanced blood flow to muscles. One study showed that whole-body-vibration exercise increased muscle blood volume by 100 percent.2 That not only results in greater muscle pump but also promotes lymphatic drainage. Promoting blood and lymph circulation provides optimal nutrient and energy exchange at the metabolic level, along with enhanced waste and toxin removal.

But can training on a vibration device aid bodybuilding progress? Several studies suggest mechanisms through which vibration training can offer benefits. A five-week trial featured subjects who did squats using a Smith machine either in the conventional style or on a vibration platform.3 While both groups showed strength increases, the vibration group tended to make greater gains.

Another study sought to determine the optimal vibration frequency for stimulating muscle. Vibration frequencies of 30, 40 and 50 hertz were applied to the vastus lateralis of the front thigh. The greatest muscle involvement occurred at a frequency of 30 hertz.4

In a direct comparison whole-body-vibration training proved slightly superior to conventional leg extensions and leg presses in promoting increased muscle strength.5 Researchers noted that vibration training leads to a more rapid activation of high-threshold motor units, which means that it may activate the fast-twitch fibers most amenable to growth more rapidly than conventional training, and it may also be useful for increasing muscle power. Studies done with rats show that vibration training does lead to significant growth in both slow- and fast-twitch fibers. The muscle contraction induced by vibration is involuntary, unlike that of weight training.

Another study compared training on a vibration platform to doing low squats, high squats and one-legged squats.6 The researchers found that vibration exercise led to a higher level of muscle activity, especially during the one-legged squat. Leg muscles closer to the vibrating platform were affected more. For example, calf muscles were more strongly affected than thigh muscles.

If you have access to a vibration apparatus, however, it may serve as a useful adjunct to weight training. It may also be useful on days when you just don’t feel like training hard but still want a good workout. Looks like we haven’t come that far from the old vibration belt after all.


1 Bosco, C., et al. (1999). Adaptive responses of human skeletal muscle to vibration exposure. Clin Physiol.19:183-87.

2 Kershan-Schindl, K., et al. (2001). Whole-body-vibration exercise leads to alterations in muscle blood volume. Clin Physiol. 21:377-82.

3 Ronnestad, B.R. (2004). Comparing the performance-enhancing effects of squats on a vibration platform with conventional squats in recreationally resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 18:839-45.

4 Cardinale, M., et al. (2003). Electromyography activity of vastus lateralis muscle during whole-body vibrations of different frequencies. J Strength Cond Res. 17:621-24.

5 Delecluse, C., et al. (2003). Strength increase after whole body vibration compared with resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exer. 35:1033-41.

6 Roelants, M., et al. (2006). Whole-body-vibration-induced increase in leg muscle activity during different squat exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 20:124-29.

7 Cormie, P., et al. (2006). Acute effects of whole-body vibration on muscle activity, strength, and power. J Strength Cond Res. 20:257-61.

8 Van den Tillaar, R. (2006). Will whole-body-vibration training help increase the range of motion of the hamstrings? J Strength Cond Res. 20:192-96.

9 Rittweger, J., et al. (2000). Acute physiological effects of exhaustive whole-body-vibration exercise in man. Clin Physiol. 20:134-42.

10 Roelants, M., et al. (2004). Effects of 24 weeks of whole-body-vibration training on body composition and muscle strength in untrained females. Int J Sports Med. 25:1-5.

11 Bosco, C., et al. (2000). Hormonal responses to whole-body vibration in men. Eur J Appl Physiol. 81:449-54.

12 Kvorning, T., et al. (2006). Effects of vibration and resistance training on neuromuscular and hormonal measures. Eur J Appl Physiol. 96:615-25.

13 Di Loreto, C., et al. (2004). Effects of whole-body-vibration exercise on the endocrine system of healthy men. J Endocrin Invest. 27:323-27.

14 Luo, J., et al. (2005). The use of vibration training to enhance muscle strength and power. Sports Med. 35:24-41.

Moving Conclusions

These research conclusions are from the Zenergy Vibes literature. Zenergy Vibes is the most popular vibrating-platform equipment. For more information visit

1) Mitochondrial and lysosomal volumes were significantly increased in vibrated cells. These ultrastructural changes, generated by a physiologically valid vibration stimulus, provide an anatomic link between the clinical observation of increased back pain and the biochemical alterations involving pain-related neuropeptides. (Spine. 19(13):1455-61; 2005)

2) Squats performed on a vibration platform have an apparent superiority to squats done without vibrations in terms of maximal strength and explosive power as long as the external load was similar in recreationally resistance-trained men. (J Strength Cond Res. 18(4):839-45; 2004)

3) Whole-body vibration is reported to increase muscle performance and bone mineral density and stimulate the secretion of lipolytic and protein anabolic hormones, such as GH and testosterone. (J Endocrinol Invest. 27(4):323-7; 2004)

4) Whole-body-vibration’s reflexive muscle contraction has the potential to induce strength gain in knee extensors of previously untrained females to the same extent as resistance training at moderate intensity. (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 35(6):1033-41; 2003)

5) Applying 26 hertz vibration during exercise on vibration platforms appears to elicit an alteration in neuromuscular-recruitment patterns, which apparently enhances neuromuscular excitability. (Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 23(2):81-6; 2003)

6) Vibration exercise enhances specific oxygen uptake and subsequently muscular metabolic power and muscle activity. (Int J Sports Med. 23(6):428-32: 2002)

7) A 12-week study found that strength gains from vibration exercise (maximum of 20 minutes, three times a week) were equivalent to one hour of conventional exercise. (Med Sci Sports Exer. 35(6): 1033-1041; 2003)

8) Knee rehabilitation patients gained nearly twice as much strength (+ 126 percent) after vibration training than those using regular rehabilitation exercises (+ 78 percent). (Clinical Physiology. 21(3): 377-382; 2001)

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Friday, July 8, 2011

EAT TO GROW : Full-of-Bull Diet Don’t ..Is red meat a no-no when you’re trying to get ripped? by Jerry Brainum

The adage, Old myths die hard, could have been invented for bodybuilding. Bodybuilders continue to blindly follow erroneous advice relating to training, nutrition, food supplements and even drugs. Most athletes never bother to check the accuracy of alleged expert opinions, simply following often incorrect advice with a fervor similar to that of lemmings jumping into oceanic oblivion.

   Examples of such widely believed yet erroneous statements are that you can absorb no more than 30 grams of protein per meal; all types of dietary fat promote bodyfat; you must never eat after 6 p.m., since calories consumed at night “stay with you”; fruits and vegetables are all fattening and should be eliminated from a bodybuilding diet; and so on.

   One long-held axiom—routinely adhered to during contest preparation by many bodybuilders—is that red meat should be replaced by white meats, such as skinless chicken breasts and turkey, and lowfat fish, such as tuna or orange roughy. The thinking is that since red meat has a higher fat content than chicken, fish or turkey and since fat is the densest source of calories at nine per gram (compared to four per gram for protein and carbs), the higher calorie content of red meat mandates its elimination from a calorie-controlled diet—despite the zero carbohydrate content of all-natural red meat.

   But that doesn’t apply to lowfat or lean red meat. In fact, if you do a side-by-side caloric comparison of lean red meat and chicken, you’ll find that the differences are insignificant.

   How eating meat during a diet affects weight loss under real world conditions was the focus of several recent studies. The first one involved 61 obese women with an age range of 21 to 59 who for 12 weeks ate low-calorie diets featuring either lean beef or chicken1 and who participated in fitness walking. Both diets were designed to produce a daily deficit of 500 calories, which would lead to a bodyfat loss of one pound per week. Because a frequent criticism of red-meat consumption is that it adversely affects blood lipid, or fat, levels, the subjects’ lipids were also monitored.

   All of the red meat was the leanest available—sirloin, top round and 94 percent lean ground beef. The women in the chicken group ate skinless chicken (a bodybuilding staple) and ground chicken (made without skin). On days when the fat content of the meat and chicken differed, the chicken group got added vegetable oil to approximate the same level of fat eaten by the beef group.

   After 12 weeks both groups had lost similar amounts of bodyfat and showed similar improvements in blood lipid levels. Those improvements may have accrued from oleic acid, a type of fatty acid found in meat, and from conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which exists naturally in beef, particularly grass-fed beef.

   Another recent study confirmed that beef-, poultry- and fish-based diets all produce similar beneficial changes in blood lipid levels.2 In that study, however, fish produced the highest elevation of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), a protein-based cholesterol transporter in blood that provides protection against cardiovascular disease. That effect may be related to the higher omega-3 fatty-acid content or to the protein structure of fish.

   In a study of men on reduced-calorie diets, the surprise finding was that eating 600 calories a day was no more effective for long-term weight loss than eating 1,500 calories a day.3 That’s because it’s easier to stay on a diet that contains a greater number of calories, and you can still lose considerable levels of bodyfat if your total calorie intake is less than your daily energy expenditure. The study also noted that including red meat in any type of diet does not in any way hinder fat-loss efforts—and the men in this study ate red meat five times a week.

   Besides being the richest natural source of creatine, red meat is a good source of other vital nutrients, including iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Beef contains excellent-quality protein, and the lean cuts are relatively low in saturated fat. It has a high proportion of a fatty acid called stearic acid, which doesn’t affect blood lipids or cholesterol levels. Beef also has high levels of conjugated linoleic acid, which may have beneficial effects on fat loss, along with arginine, an amino acid that’s a direct precursor of nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator that lowers blood pressure and is involved in anabolic hormone release; i.e., growth hormone.

   So as for the beef with beef: Those who continue to condemn eating red meat while dieting, are, to coin a phrase, just full of bull.


1 Melanson, K., et al. (2003). Weight-loss and total lipid profile changes in overweight women consuming beef or chicken as the primary protein source. Nutrition. 19:409-14.

2 Beauchesene-Rondeau, E., et al. (2003). Plasma lipids and lipoproteins in hypercholesterolemic men fed a lipid-lowering diet containing lean beef, lean fish or poultry. Am J Clin Nutr. 77:587-93.

3 Leslie, W.S., et al. (2002). Weight management: a comparison of existing dietary approaches in a work-site setting. Int J Obesity. 26:1469-75.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

BODYBUILDING PHARMACOLOGY : Fat-to-Muscle Insulin Shuffle by Jerry Brainum

In the July ’03 IRONMAN (Eat to Grow, “Hormone From Hell”) I discussed a study in which rats specially bred to lack insulin receptors on their fat cells had 70 percent less bodyfat than their normal littermates but ate just as much food. The insulin-knockout rats also lived an average of 18 percent longer, which was attributed to their leaner physiques. Obesity and longevity aren’t compatible in most animal species. Observant readers may look at that finding and note that since it’s an animal study, the results may not apply to human beings. That’s true of many animal studies.

Although rats handle insulin in a manner similar to humans, a study of human subjects would likely add more weight to the theory that insulin does indeed promote fat accretion. As we don’t breed humans without insulin fat-cell receptors, the best way to test the effects of insulin on bodyfat would involve a drug that modulates or inhibits insulin release in response to food.

Determining whether such a drug exists was the objective of a study that did involve human subjects.1 For 24 weeks, 44 severely obese adults were injected with octreotide-LAR, a drug that works by inhibiting the early secretion of insulin from the pancreas, as would normally occur in response to a meal. The subjects ate whatever they wanted, and their physical activity was unrestricted. They also took a drug to prevent gallstone formation, a common side effect when very fat people lose fat rapidly.

Eighteen percent of the subjects experienced marked fat loss, while another 57 percent dropped more modest but still significant amounts of fat. None of the subjects had any side effects. More important, they also experienced both a significant reduction in appetite and a reduced craving for carbohydrates. Those subjects showing the greatest reduction in insulin release also dropped daily carb consumption by 40.7 percent. That suggests that excess insulin perpetuates obesity by promoting hunger and craving for carbs, a vicious cycle that leads to further insulin release and even more fat synthesis in the body.

Most obese people do oversecrete insulin in response to a meal, a process called hyperinsulinemia. The debate in medicine is whether the excess insulin is a cause or effect of obesity. Losing bodyfat appears to curb excess insulin secretion, but insulin resistance could be caused by a failure of cells to properly use the hormone, with the body compensating by secreting even more insulin.

In a study that compared lean to obese people, insulin inhibited its own release in the lean people but was secreted excessively in the obese group.2 So the fatter you get, the more insulin insensitive you become. The body compensates by secreting even more insulin, which, ironically, only perpetuates obesity.

Insulin is the body’s primary storage hormone. It stores carbs as glycogen and promotes activity in muscle that leads to a type of protein storage referred to as increased amino acid uptake. Insulin works in fat tissue by increasing the activity of enzymes that promote fat synthesis while simultaneously inhibiting other enzymes that stimulate fat release and mobilization and possible oxidation.

Increased bodyfat, particularly in the body’s trunk, feeds aberrant metabolic and hormonal behavior that helps insulin maintain bodyfat. An example is increased cortisol, which not only promotes muscle loss but also works with insulin to perpetuate further fat increases in the central portion of the body, especially the gut area. Increased insulin and cortisol, in turn, inhibit the activity of hormones like growth hormone and testosterone, which promote fat losses in the area. The net effect: Insulin promotes a negative hormonal cascade that makes obesity hard to deal with.

While some researchers deny the insulin/bodyfat effect, still chanting the old mantra that only calories count, emerging studies appear to confirm the effects of excess insulin on fat synthesis. The latest such studies were recently reported in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. They compared low-carb diets, which lower insulin output, with the usually suggested lowfat diets. Subjects on lower-carb diets not only lost twice as much fat as those on lowfat diets but also showed more beneficial changes in cardiovascular risk factors.

Since insulin does show potent fat-promoting effects, how does that jibe with the experience of bodybuilders who inject insulin for anabolic purposes?

Injecting insulin alone is a good way to get fat as a pig, unless you eat practically nothing. That doesn’t apply to diabetics, who inject insulin because either their bodies don’t make the hormone (type I) or they can’t properly use the insulin their bodies do make (type II). Bodybuilders inject insulin in concert with other anabolic drugs, such as growth hormone and testosterone, both of which modulate insulin’s fat-producing effects. In fact, insulin is the yang to the yin of growth hormone; each tends to cancel out the major side effects of the other. Without the presence of insulin, growth hormone shows zero anabolic activity. Taking larger doses of GH, as some bodybuilders and other athletes do, may necessitate an increase in insulin for purposes of promoting maximum anabolic activity.

Insulin itself shows little or no protein-synthesizing effects in the blood unless accompanied by a higher-than-usual level of amino acids. In that case it makes no difference whether the dose of insulin is large or small: no aminos, no protein synthesis. That explains why taking a protein-and-carb drink following a workout is so effective—it maximizes insulin release at the most opportune time, during the so-called anabolic window, when muscle is most conducive to anabolic activity.

While insulin is a potent anabolic hormone, the drug form is associated with serious potential problems. If carb intake isn’t balanced with insulin injections, hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose, can rapidly ensue. As the brain is deprived of glucose, that can lead to anything from fainting to coma.

Insulin injections are a necessary and healthful evil for diabetics, though insulin is known to cause arterial lesions that can eventually result in cardiovascular complications. More recent studies show a direct relationship between higher insulin levels and the onset of colon cancer. Insulin also initiates a cascade that results in both sodium and water retention and high blood pressure. What’s more, insulin is thought to be partially responsible for the now-familiar bloated-gut appearance of some pro bodybuilders (GH and IGF-1 are also involved).

Shedding Light on Testosterone

Bodybuilders are always on the lookout for anything that can increase the body’s testosterone levels. That makes sense, since testosterone is a primary anabolic hormone, and anabolic steroids, recognized inducers of muscle growth, are merely synthetic versions of testosterone altered to prevent rapid breakdown in the liver (if they’re taken orally) or manipulated to extend useful therapeutic peak times (if they’re injected).

Several natural methods for increasing testosterone levels have been suggested. Examples are the various pro-hormone supplements, which are precursors to testosterone that exist naturally in the body or in natural sources. Occasionally, potential testosterone-increasing methods or substances turn up unexpectedly. That’s what happened in a study involving high-intensity light exposure.3

The researchers began with the premise that light controls sexual cycles in types of animals described as photoperiodic. Studies of human subjects have found that during the summer, when the sun is brighter, luteinizing hormone (LH), a pituitary hormone that controls testosterone synthesis in the body, increases. In a disease called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, people become depressed during the winter months, when sunlight decreases. Normal light has an illumination intensity of 200 to 500 LUX, or lumens per square meter; SAD is treated with a minimum of 2,500 LUX.

Based on those observations, researchers exposed 11 healthy young men, ages 19 to 30, to either bright light, at an intensity of 1,000 LUX, or a placebo light between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. for five days. The LH levels of the young men exposed to genuine bright light rose by 69.5 percent. That’s significant because when LH rises, so does testosterone, and bright light is thought to decrease levels of melatonin, a hormone produced in the pineal gland from the amino acid precursor tryptophan. Higher melatonin levels are thought to play a role in SAD, but in this study melatonin didn’t affect the way bright light increased LH release.

Another study did find an intriguing effect of melatonin in human male subjects, however.4 Past studies with animals show that melatonin controls animals’ sexual cycles by altering the level of sex hormones, such as testosterone. Studies of human subjects have failed to show similar effects, but melatonin exists naturally in human semen, and this six-month study tried to determine what happens when you provide supplemental melatonin to healthy men.

Eight male subjects in a double-blind, crossover protocol took a three-milligram dose of either melatonin (commonly used by consumers as a sleep aid) or a placebo. In six of the men no changes occurred in either hormone levels or sperm concentration or motility (movement). In two subjects, however, sperm levels declined significantly, and motility decreased by about 30 percent, an index of decreased fertility. Both men also showed a drop in estrogen and an increase in testosterone levels. After six months of getting off melatonin, one of the men’s sperm levels and hormone levels returned to normal, but the other man still showed abnormalities.

How did melatonin do it? It turns out that the hormone may inhibit local production of estrogen in the testes by inhibiting the activity of aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. Few people realize that estrogen is necessary for full maturation and sperm activity. This study shows that while estrogen has garnered a bad reputation among bodybuilders, men still need it for specific reactions in the body.


1 Mieyer-Velasquez, P.A., et al. (2003). Suppression of insulin secretion is associated with weight loss and altered macronutrient intake and preference in a subset of obese adults. Int J Obesity. 27:219-26.

2 Muscelli, E., et al. (2001). Lack of insulin inhibition on insulin secretion in non-diabetic morbidly obese patients. Int J Obesity. 25:798-804.

3 Yoon, I.Y., et al. (2003). Luteinizing hormone following light exposure in healthy young men. Neuroscience Letters. 341:25-28.

4 Luboshitzky, R., et al. (2002). Melatonin administration alters semen quality in healthy men. J Andrology. 23:572078.

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EAT TO GROW : Fat-Melting Mineral Magic? Does chromium promote weight loss in healthy adults? by Jerry Brainum

Chromium is an essential trace mineral that has several functions in the human body, many involving activation of various enzymes. Chromium participates in reactions produced by at least one enzyme needed for protein use in the body. Its most familiar property is its effect on insulin. Chromium seems to increase the effectiveness of insulin through tighter or more effective binding to the cellular receptors that interact with insulin. Unless insulin can form a bond with those receptors, it cannot work effectively. A loss of insulin receptors is thought to play a role in both diabetes and insulin-insensitivity problems.

Insulin is a hormone synthesized in the beta cells of the pancreas. It acts primarily as a storage hormone for both carbohydrates and fat. In fact, it’s a primary promoter of fat synthesis, stimulating fat-cell enzymes that produce fat. Insulin also helps the body convert carbohydrates into glycogen, the storage form of carbs in liver and muscle. As an anabolic hormone, insulin promotes amino acid entry into muscle and may be anticatabolic in that it may help prevent excess muscle breakdown.

Since insulin is involved in the synthesis of bodyfat, the reasoning is that chromium supplements would help insulin work better, decreasing insulin output and thereby promoting fat loss. For that reason chromium is an ingredient in many fat-loss food supplements.

A new study did a meta-analysis of 10 randomized, double-blind controlled studies regarding chromium’s effect on weight loss.1 Careful analysis of those studies showed that chromium picolinate supplements did produce a modest increase in weight loss. The effect was so modest, however, that the authors think that it’s of “dubious clinical relevance.” In simple English they’re saying that the results are too ambiguous to make any definite conclusions about the effectiveness of chromium for weight-loss purposes.

Chromium supplements are available in various forms, primarily as chromium picolinate and chromium polynicotinate, each of which has vociferous proponents. Proponents of the polynicotinate form point to research showing possible toxicity problems related to the picolinate form. On the other hand, polynicotinate advocates claim that their form of chromium is more natural and less likely to promote toxicity.

A recently published case history suggests that one woman who used the polynicotinate form of chromium developed toxic hepatitis, a liver inflammation usually caused by ingesting a substance toxic to the liver.2 Oral anabolic steroids can cause that type of hepatitis, as can many other drugs. The 33-year-old woman discussed in the case study showed such symptoms as nausea, fatigue, itchy skin, dark urine and jaundice, which she had for a week before showing up at a clinic.

For five months the woman had followed a weight-loss regimen that included chromium polynicotinate and various herbal extracts. The herbal extracts were ruled out as a possible cause of her liver problem, but a biopsy of her liver showed chromium levels 10 times higher than normal, pointing to her chromium intake as the primary cause.

What’s curious about the case is that the dose of chromium she took for five months was only 200 micrograms. The suggested dietary range is 50 to 200 micrograms daily, so she was well within the safety margin for chromium. In addition, the body only absorbs 1 to 25 percent of any form of chromium taken by mouth, so it’s hard to understand how so much of the mineral could build up in her liver.

Further obfuscating the issue is the fact that countless other people take the same amount of chromium each day for longer than five months yet show no signs of hepatitis. This woman likely had what physicians call an idiosyncratic, or rare, reaction. The case does not in any way implicate chromium in liver problems—or any other problems, for that matter.

The authors of this toxicity case study apparently were not aware of animal studies showing that at least one of the herbs this woman took in conjunction with the chromium does, in fact, have the potential to cause toxic effects in the liver. As for the buildup of chromium in her liver, that was also predictable. Studies done with animals show that liver stores of the mineral increase to levels 10 times above normal after six weeks of continuous supplementation. A study of humans taking chromium supplements likewise showed that after three months’ supplementation chromium stores increased considerably in the liver but caused no apparent problems.

One way to assess any effect of chromium on the liver is to see if the liver stores of chromium drop rapidly following the discontinuation of chromium supplements, but that wasn’t reported in the toxicity study. What it all adds up to is the likelihood that chromium was unjustly blamed as the cause of the subject’s liver problems.


1 Pittier, M.H., et al. (2003). Chromium picolinate for reducing bodyweight: meta-analysis of randomized trials. Int J Obesity. 27:522-29.

2 Lanca, S., et al. (2002). Chromium-induced toxic hepatitis. Eur J Internal Med. 13:518-520.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

EAT TO GROW : Drink On More Muscle How older bodybuilders can sip for size during workouts by Jerry Brainum

One frequent lament of over-35 bodybuilders is that it seems harder to build muscle as you age. Various physiological mechanisms have been offered to explain that, such as changes in anabolic hormone levels and a decreased communication between muscles and the central nervous system. An overlooked factor that likely plays a major role is cortisol control.

The hormone cortisol is synthesized in the adrenal cortex. Frequently called a stress hormone because it’s released rapidly into the blood during any type of acute stress, cortisol is nevertheless essential to life. It also has a dark side: It’s the most catabolic hormone in the body and is the most potent hormonal stimulus to muscle breakdown. In fact, anabolic steroid drugs build muscle in significant part through their cortisol-opposing properties.

Studies show that in younger men the body adjusts to continued exercise by blunting cortisol release. Since the body is in a constant battle between catabolic and anabolic reactions, anything that controls excess cortisol release during exercise should tip the metabolic balance in favor of anabolic hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone, thus favoring muscular gains.

Age blunts the cortisol-adjusting feature of exercise. Because older men produce higher levels of cortisol when they train, it’s harder for them to make muscular gains.

A recent study suggests a solution to this age-related cortisol problem.1 Five older men, average age 62, trained using a nine-exercise-station protocol on two different occasions. During one session they drank a placebo, and during the other they downed a drink containing carbohydrates. With the carb drink the men showed higher blood glucose levels, but, more important, their levels of cortisol release during exercise were significantly blunted.

One problem with drinking carbs during training is that they completely blunt fat release, though that’s a moot point during weight training because bodybuilding workouts are typically anaerobic, relying on stored muscle glycogen and blood glucose instead of stored fat as major energy sources. Considering that blunting cortisol may remove the brakes on muscle gains in older men, it may be more prudent for that age group to drink some carbs during the workout. Such drinks should never contain more than 7 percent carbs, though. Any more may lead to inhibition of fluid uptake and possible nausea during the workout—which, ironically, may lead to a rise in cortisol.

1 Tarpenning, K.M., et al. (2003). CHO-induced blunting of cortisol response to weightlifting exercise in resistance-trained older men. Eur J Sports Sci. 3(2).

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TRAIN TO GAIN : Dead Weight ..Weight-training fatalities on the rise by Jerry Brainum

   Lifting weights doesn’t seem to involve any type of death risk, yet statistics show that some people do die during a workout—a result of accidents that occur while actually lifting. A group of sportsmedicine.
researchers presented some findings regarding weight-training fatalities at the 2002 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

  Weight training accounted for 60,039 reported injuries in 1998, 65,347 in 1999, 68,054 in 2000, and 74,656 in 2001. In 1998 there were nine deaths in 304 days, or an average of one death every 34 days. All were males. Most deaths occurred in home gyms (78 percent), and 67 percent involved the bench press.

What’s likely happening is that some people are using more weight than they can handle without a spotter, and the weight is crashing down on their neck, choking them. Clearly a gruesome way to die, since the weight on the victim’s neck prevents him or her from screaming for help.

The lesson here is simple: If you train alone, don’t attempt to lift weights that you cannot safely handle. Or train with a partner who can spot you and remove the weight if you should fail during an exercise such as the bench press.

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