Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Just thinking about contracting a muscle can make you stronger by Jerry Brainum

   An often overlooked factor in promoting gains in muscular size and strength is the power of the mind. A clear indication of that power is the way beginners’ initial gains nearly always involve a greater connection between the brain and the muscular system. What happens is that as people begin to lift, they develop a higher level of brain and muscle coordination, resulting in greater neural input to trained muscles. That leads to strength increases. As they get stronger, their muscles begin to grow.

   All initial muscle gains result from the power of the mind, but that process is automatic. You don’t have to think about it; the brain and muscles go into an instinctive mode, one not requiring any increased focus. If you want continued, consistent gains, however, the mind must be brought into play.

   One way to do that is through mental imagery. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a firm believer in mental imagery during his competition days. When he trained his biceps, he pictured mountain peaks in his mind. The technique apparently worked, judging by the way Arnold’s biceps looked at that time.

   But what if you don’t actually train—can mental imagery still improve such aspects of training as increased strength? A new study examined that issue and came up with some surprising results.1

   Thirty young subjects were divided into three groups. The first did mental contractions of their little fingers; that is, they visualized exercising without actually moving. That particular group of muscles was chosen because it isn’t ordinarily directly exercised. The next group did mental contractions of their biceps muscles, again with no actual movement. The final group did nothing and served as a control group.

   Each mental contraction lasted for five seconds, followed by a five-second rest, with 50 “sets” performed. Subjects were instructed to imagine that they were maximally contracting the little finger or biceps, even though they weren’t doing any actual movement. All exercise occurred only in their brains. They did the workouts five days per week, with each lasting 15 minutes.

   Those in the little-finger group showed strength increases of 35 percent, while the biceps group showed an average strength gain of 13.5 percent. So that researchers could compare mental-only training to actual physical exercise, some subjects in the little-finger group did direct exercise for the finger, which resulted in a 53 percent gain in strength. The actual exercisers did experience some increase in muscle size, although the authors didn’t explain how that was determined.

   They did suggest that the mental-imagery training increased the neural input to muscle, resulting in increased strength. An interesting aspect of the study was that strength didn’t return to starting levels in the mental-imagery groups for more than 10 weeks after the study ended. Those in the little-finger group retained their strength gains for 18 weeks following the study. The authors say that neural tracing on the brain established new, long-lasting brain connections. In other words the mental-imagery training imprinted a hardy degree of muscle memory.

   The same effect occurs in many bodybuilders who take extended layoffs, then return to training and not only replicate their previous gains but also make additional ones.

   The differences in strength gains shown by the little-finger and biceps groups occurred because the little-finger muscles weren’t accustomed to exercise and were thus more amenable to gains. The effect is similar to the often rapid gains made by beginning bodybuilders, as opposed to the slower gains made by their more experienced counterparts.

   Another practical aspect of the study was that when the little-finger group did actual exercise, they not only retained the strength gains made through mental imagery but also produced additional gains through an 8.3 percent increase in muscle hypertrophy. The implications for normal bodybuilding workouts are clear: If you want maximum gains, you must involve not only your muscles but your mind as well. You must picture in your mind how you want a muscle to look. The rest is up to the brain and your muscles.

1 Ranganathan, V.K., et al. (2004). From mental power to muscle power—gaining strength by using the mind. Neuropsychologia. 42:944-956.

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

Have you been ripped off  by supplement makers whose products don’t work as advertised? Want to know the truth about them? Check out Jerry Brainum's book Natural Anabolics, available at


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.


See Jerry's book at


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Monday, February 20, 2012

Milk may be an acne accelerator by Jerry Brainum

   In years past diet was thought to be a significant factor in the onset of acne, particularly in teenagers. As research continued, however, dietary factors were largely discounted. That was based on the discovery that acne formation involved two primary mechanisms: an excess level of sebum, a fatty secretion that both moisturizes the skin and clogs skin follicles, and a type of bacteria called P. acnes that feeds on the excess sebum. Sebum formation is promoted by androgens, such as dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and DHEA. The bacteria produce irritating by-products that lead to inflammation and subsequent blocking of the skin follicles.

   A recent study suggests that diet may be a factor in acne flare-ups after all.1 A longitudinal study of 47,355 nurses begun in 1989 looked at female health and diet habits. The women answered questions about their diets during their high school years, and the effects of various foods on the incidence of acne was examined in that population. The foods included typical teen favorites, such as french fries, pizza and chocolate.

   Skim, or fat-free, milk showed the highest relationship to acne, as did instant-breakfast drinks, cream cheese and cottage cheese, as well as saturated fat and trans fat. Supplemental vitamin D showed a relationship to acne, yet the natural form of the vitamin found in food did not.

   What is it about milk that may lead to breakout? The authors suggest that the culprit is the hormonal content of milk—estrogens, progesterone, androstenedione, 5-alpha-androstenedione and DHT. Milk also contains glucocorticoids, insulinlike growth factor 1 and other active peptide hormones. The big controversy is whether those substances survive the digestive process. Some studies show that native milk proteins, including casein, appear to promote hormone uptake by protecting them from the usual enzymatic digestive process.

   Milk also contains testosterone in amounts that vary from 0.02 to 0.15 micrograms per liter. The average young girl produces about 32 micrograms a day of testosterone in her body. Testosterone, however, would not be a likely factor in acne because all oral testosterone undergoes rapid first-pass metabolism in the liver. Indeed, the behavior of oral-dose testosterone led to the development of oral anabolic steroids, which are forms of the hormone structurally altered to resist initial liver breakdown.

   Milk’s content may be a more significant problem. Studies show that IGF-1 can be absorbed orally by newborns, but there is scant evidence to show that adults can absorb it orally. As a long string of amino acids in a specific sequence, IGF-1 should degrade like any other protein supplement. On the other hand, some studies show that native milk proteins shield IGF-1 from digestion, and what’s absorbed drives the effects of other hormones, such as glucocorticoids and androgens, that are linked to acne incidence.

   High serum levels of IGF-1 and androgens show up in adults who have acne. In teens the primary hormonal culprit is DHEA, an adrenal androgen secreted by both sexes. Many formerly acne-free women who use DHEA food supplements report developing it.

   The finding that skim milk shows a greater relationship to acne than whole milk leads the authors to suggest that its metabolism may somehow increase the bioavailability of factors in milk that promote acne. Whole milk may be a lesser factor because of its higher estrogen content, but it’s hard to understand how skim milk could have more active hormones, since so many are removed with the fat content of milk. If anything, the processing of skim milk would tend to inactivate hormones.

   The study raises some interesting questions. The authors contend that milk products contain active hormonal factors that survive digestion, though that’s never been shown to occur in adults. If milk did contain active hormones, such as androgens and IGF-1, it would affect diseases related to them. For example, breast and prostate cancers are accelerated by IGF-1, which promotes rapid cell division, and cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell division and mutation.

   And another thing: If milk does contain active pro-hormones, shouldn’t it fall under the ban on pro-hormone food supplements? A good argument against the ban is that those hormones exist naturally in milk and aren’t added. That, however, was the same rationale that enabled pro-hormone supplements to be sold in the first place: They, too, occurred in natural forms in many foods.

   The dairy industry has thus far remained silent on the issue of milk and acne. Doubtless they are reluctant to change the advertising slogan from “Milk is for every body” to “Milk is for every pimple.”

1 Adebamowo, C.A., et al. (2005). High school dietary diary intake and teenage acne. J Am Acad Dermatol. 52:207-14.

©,2012, Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

From building a better brain to reducing joint pain, curcumin’s got potential by Jerry Brainum

   Various spices contain active ingredients that have potent effects on health and well-being. Ginger, for instance, not only prevents morning sickness in pregnant women but also provides potent antioxidant and anticancer effects through its active ingredient, gingerol. Capsaicin, the active factor in hot peppers, stimulates metabolism and provides anti-inflammatory effects. Cinnamon not only tastes good but also increases insulin sensitivity. Perhaps the most versatile of all is turmeric.

   Turmeric is cultivated in India, China and other Asian countries, and its active factor is curcumin. Ayurvedic medicine, the traditional medicine of India, suggests that it’s an effective treatment for maladies as diverse as arthritis, inflammation, skin diseases, fever, infections and jaundice. Traditional Chinese medicine uses turmeric to treat liver and gallbladder disorders, to control bleeding and to treat chest congestion.

   Modern Western medicine has confirmed the effectiveness of curcumin’s many traditional uses. Studies show that it’s a potent natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and has anticancer and antibiotic effects. It also helps treat peptic ulcers.

   Curcumin helps prevent the spread of cancer by blocking substances that tumors use to produce new blood vessels. Without new blood vessels tumors shrivel up and die. Research shows that curcumin appears to work against breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. Its effects in preventing new blood vessel formation also make curcumin useful against diabetic retinopathy, the major cause of blindness in diabetics.

   Other studies show that curcumin helps protect the liver from toxic substances that would otherwise destroy liver cells. Whether that effect would be useful to those who take oral anabolic steroids, which can be toxic to liver cells, isn’t known. One property that has been established, however, is its ability to increase the flow of bile in the liver. That’s important because excessive use of oral anabolic steroids causes swelling in the liver, which impedes normal bile flow, and curcumin’s naturally occurring anti-inflammatory behavior may help counteract that.

   One way that curcumin provides anti-inflammatory, as well as anticancer, effects is by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase type-2, or COX-2. Drugs that inhibit the enzyme are used to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. They recently attained notoriety from reports that they promoted cardiovascular disease.

   The COX-2 enzyme works by promoting the synthesis of prostaglandins, hormonelike substances made from dietary fat. When COX-2 activity is blocked, inflammatory properties of some prostaglandins are reduced, resulting in an analgesic, or pain-killing, action. COX-2 drugs replaced COX-1 inhibitors, which caused problems because they attacked the mucosal barrier that protects the gastrointestinal lining. COX-2 drugs were supposed to prevent that side effect.

   As it turned out, however, COX-2 drugs inhibited synthesis of a protective prostaglandin in blood vessels called prostacyclin, which prevents clotting in blood vessels, a major cause of heart attacks and strokes. Even worse, COX-2 drugs didn’t oppose the synthesis of thromboxane, a prostaglandin that promotes blood clotting. That meant COX-2 drugs could promote heart attacks and strokes in some people.

   Curcumin is a natural COX-2 inhibitor but doesn’t appear to adversely affect prostacyclin. It follows that curcumin helps prevent cancer and inflammation throughout the body.

   Alzheimer’s disease has an inflammatory component, and related studies of curcumin are the most interesting of all. The major cause of Alzheimer’s is thought to be an increase of beta-amyloid protein in the brain. In excess it potently causes inflammation in the brain, resulting in the destruction of neurons, especially in the portions of the brain that govern intellectual activity. Recently published studies show that curcumin appears to not only prevent the buildup of toxic beta-amyloid in the brain but also remove excess already present. Although the finding is preliminary, anyone concerned about developing Alzheimer’s might well consider taking some form of curcumin, which is nontoxic, before the disease manifests itself—in short, as a preventive.

As an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin has some exercise-related benefits. A recent study involving mice showed that giving them curcumin led to a decrease in markers of muscle damage, such as creatine kinase and various inflammatory cytokines.1 The mice got curcumin three days before they were put on a regimen of downhill running, which, as a largely eccentric exercise, causes extensive muscle damage. Those mice recovered more rapidly than a group that didn’t get curcumin.

   Curcumin may prove useful for treating any condition associated with inflammation, such as joint pain and muscle aches. In combination with other natural joint remedies, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, it makes sense and should provide synergistic benefits. While all the supplements aid in reducing inflammation (the major cause of joint pain), glucosamine helps heal injured joints, and curcumin reduces the inflammation that delays the long-term healing process in connective tissue.

   The only problem with curcumin is that it’s hard for the body to absorb it. That said, judging from the numerous studies attesting to its benefits, some of it must get absorbed. A few studies show that taking curcumin with piperine, a substance extracted from black peppers (sold as Bioperine), significantly increases the absorption of curcumin and other nutrients, such as coenzyme-Q10 and beta-carotene.

   You can use curcumin as a spice or take it in supplemental form. Some curcumin supplements also contain piperine to enhance absorption (by 2,000 percent!). A good dose for both protective and anti-inflammatory effects is 2,000 milligrams daily in divided doses. That will also extend the activity of other antioxidants you take, such as vitamins E and C.

1 Davis, J.M., et al. (2005). Curcumin enhances performance recovery after exercise-induced muscle damage. Med Sci Sports Exer. 37:S128.

©,2012 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited

Have you been ripped off  by supplement makers whose products don’t work as advertised? Want to know the truth about them? Check out Jerry Brainum's book Natural Anabolics, available at


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.


See Jerry's book at


Want more evidence-based information on exercise science, nutrition and food supplements, ergogenic aids, and anti-aging research? Check out Applied Metabolics Newsletter at


Friday, February 10, 2012

Taking the She Out of the He by Jerry Brainum

   Estrogen is often referred to as a “female hormone.” While women produce far more estrogen than men, men also produce it—just as women also produce smaller amounts of testosterone, the dominant sex steroid in men. Testosterone promotes libido, or sex drive, in both sexes, but what is the purpose of estrogen in men?

   A folk medicine adage is that nature always has a purpose. If men produce estrogen, they do so for some specific purpose. Most scientists think estrogen has something to do with the maturation of sperm cells. Others suggest that it may offer some cardiovascular benefits. Indeed, one reason that younger women, who produce the highest levels of estrogen, rarely show significant signs of cardiovascular disease, may be the protection that their higher estrogen levels provide. A recent study traced that to the promotion of COX-2 enzymes, which produce prostacyclin, a prostaglandin that inhibits internal blood clotting linked to heart attacks and strokes.1 The study implies that women who use COX-2 inhibitor drugs to treat joint pain or arthritis are especially vulnerable to cardiovascular complications, possibly even heart attacks or strokes. The same scenario may also occur in men who stay on aromatase-inhibiting drugs too long, but more on that later.

   Estrogen boosts levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in women. It also maintains vascular flexibility, along with higher rates of nitric oxide synthesis, which helps control blood pressure. Those protective benefits are apparent, however, only with natural estrogen. Synthetic estrogens—specifically, those given to older women for hormone-replacement therapy—increase the incidence of cardiovascular disease in women who are already at risk of cardiovascular disease because of their declining estrogen levels. That explains why cardiovascular disease shows up mainly in postmenopausal women.

   In men synthetic estrogen promotes the internal blood clotting that’s the cornerstone of most heart attacks and strokes. Natural estrogen, however, as produced in a man’s body or in food such as soy, appears to offer protective effects against cardiovascular disease, likely because of the COX-2 effect, along with higher HDL levels and antioxidant effects that estrogen promotes.

   From a bodybuilding standpoint, estrogens are considered undesirable. Several types of anabolic steroid drugs, including testosterone, convert to estrogen through the actions of the enzyme aromatase, which converts the normal output of testosterone to estrogen at a rate of about 20 percent daily. It’s found in various parts of the body, including the brain, liver, muscles and particularly in bodyfat, especially peripheral bodyfat stores in legs and arms.

   Excess estrogen leads to a number of side effects, including gynecomastia, or male breast development, water retention and increased subcutaneous fat stores, meaning the fat that’s stored just under the skin. Estrogen is even more potent than testosterone in signaling the brain to inhibit gonadotropins, or hormones that control the production of testosterone in the body, mainly luteinizing hormone (LH). The lack of endogenous testosterone production can result in such conditions as lower sperm counts and shrunken testicles.

   Bodybuilders who use anabolic steroids are aware of the estrogen problem. In years past they used a drug called tamoxifen citrate, or Nolvadex, which was designed to treat estrogen-responsive breast cancer in older women. Similar in structure to estrogen, Nolvadex could displace estrogen at cellular estrogen receptors. Since Nolvadex exerted weak or no estrogenic activity, by displacing estrogen, it blocked the effects of estrogen at the cellular level.

   Many bodybuilders didn’t realize that Nolvadex could either work against estrogen (antagonist) or work like it (agonist). The latter occurred if they used too high a dose or if they took the drug for too long. In addition, Nolvadex blocked two enzymes the testes required for generating testosterone—which led to a further reduction in testosterone.

   Not long after Nolvadex became popular, another drug that could be used to block estrogen’s effects was introduced. Called testolactone (Testlac), it worked differently from Nolvadex. Testlac went beyond just blocking the effects of estrogen; it inhibited aromatase. But Testlac was expensive and hard to obtain. Like other aromatase-inhibiting drugs, it also seemed to promote fatigue and lethargy.

   Since then far more effective aromatase inhibitors have been introduced, chiefly to treat breast cancer in older women. A few studies, however, show that those drugs can also dramatically increase testosterone levels in men who are clinically low in the hormone. Block aromatase, and you get an automatic boost of testosterone. An added bonus is that the testosterone affected is usually the free, or active, form, the one not bound to blood proteins. Only the free form is biologically available to interact with cellular androgen receptors.

   The newest aromatase-inhibiting drugs have trade names such as Arimidex, Aromasin and Femara. They’ve largely displaced such older drugs as Nolvadex, Testlac, Clomid and Cytadren. They’re extremely effective—and very expensive. Arimidex sells for about $10 for a single one-milligram pill.

   Cheaper alternatives are available without a prescription. Like the prescription versions, over-the-counter estrogen-blocking supplements block the effects of aromatase. Estrogen-blocking supplements are legal because the main ingredients occur naturally in some foods, and they don’t directly convert into testosterone or other hormones.

   On the other hand, if you look at the advertisements for those products, you’ll note that the main benefit touted for them is their ability to increase natural testosterone levels. The health benefits of controlling estrogen are rarely mentioned. The question is whether such supplements work as advertised.

   The initial answer to that pertinent question is provided by two recently published studies. The first examined the effects of two unnamed but naturally occurring aromatase inhibitors in 15 men over a 28-day period.2 The ages of the men in the study ranged from 21 to 71, for an average age of 39. None of the subjects had taken any type of testosterone-boosting supplements or medications in the three months prior to the study. The aromatase inhibitors were combined in one capsule, taken as three single caps once daily.

   After 10 days total and free testosterone increased by 244 percent and 358 percent from baseline levels. At the 28-day mark total levels had jumped to 314 percent above baseline, while free levels increased to 492 percent. Estrogen, meanwhile, was undetectable in 10 out of 15 subjects by the 10th day. By the 28th day it was undetectable in 13 out of 15 subjects. No significant alterations in lipid, liver or other blood chemistry values occurred in the men while they were using the supplement.

   The second study was sponsored by a company that advertises and sells products in the magazines.3 Normally, that sponsorship would raise some degree of skepticism, since the company has something to gain from favorable study results. The study’s scientific protocols, however, were up to par, and there’s no reason to suspect any rigging. Besides, someone has to pay for such studies, and no drug company would, since it’s a natural product; it does have a use patent.

   The study featured five men, average age 31, who took four capsules of the aromatase-inhibiting supplement before bed for 28 days. As in the first study, using the supplement significantly increased both total and free testosterone levels. Total test increased 145 percent, 183 percent, 232 percent and 240 percent over the first four weeks of the study. Free test likewise increased from baseline levels, 300 percent, 402 percent, 511 percent and 528 percent during that time. Even so, no significant conversion to estrogen occurred. Blood chemistry tests showed no adverse changes, nor were any other side effects observed.

   Some might complain that the small experimental sample—only five subjects—calls the study’s validity into question. On the other hand, it was just a look-see trial to determine whether OTC estrogen inhibitors might be effective. The dramatic results would tempt many to use the supplement year-round, but even the manufacturer advises using it for no longer than eight weeks, then stopping use altogether.

   Advice like that makes sense from a health-and-performance perspective because estrogen may have cardiovascular benefits for men, such as helping maintain vital HDL levels. It may also help maintain the androgen receptors without which testosterone is worthless. Plus it has a relationship with growth hormone and insulinlike growth factor 1 (IGF-1); women release greater levels of growth hormone during exercise because of their higher estrogen levels. Indeed, some studies suggest that estrogen protects against excessive muscle breakdown during exercise.

   If that doesn’t convince you that estrogen offers men some benefits, consider recent research suggesting that it may play a role in male sexual response. Male mice and rats absolutely need a certain level of estrogen to have normal sexual relations. For humans the picture is less clear, but recent studies of men whose bodies can’t produce aromatase show that they have better sexual response when they get both testosterone and estrogen onboard.4

   My Ironman feature on the top 10 food supplements [August ’05], included aromatase-inhibiting supplements on the list. My reasoning was that they appeared to work exactly as advertised. They appear to be a safe way to significantly increase testosterone and, more important, increase free test—the active, true anabolic version of the hormone. OTC aromatase inhibitors offer a good alternative for those who want to increase their testosterone levels while reducing estrogen.

   That scenario would appeal to a man of any age, but especially to men 40 or over who are showing lower testosterone and higher estrogen levels. Guys who have higher levels of bodyfat would also likely benefit. That’s because of the link between lots of bodyfat and increased aromatase activity, which equals more conversion of testosterone into estrogen, which in turn signals the brain’s hypothalamus to release less gonadotropin—and even less testosterone. Although it’s still a subject of debate in medicine, the weight of evidence shows that maintaining higher levels of testosterone as they age brings men numerous health benefits, such as maintaining muscle and brain functions.
    One other thing to consider about men and estrogen: a recently published study found that stimulating estrogen receptor-B (there are two known estrogen receptors) appears to promote muscular hypertrophy. Stimulating this same estrogen receptor also protects against the onset of prostate cancer by interfering with the "bad" estrogen receptor (estrogen receptor-A) known to promote prostate cancer. Soy works by selectively binding to estrogen B receptors.I would interpret this new research as suggesting that the notion of blocking all estrogen activity in men may not be good for men who seek added muscle and strength. 


1 Shah, B.H. (2005). Estrogen stimulation of COX-2-derived PGI-2 confers atheroprotection. Trends in Endocrin Metab. 5:199-201.

2 Trimmer, R., et al. (2005). Effects of two naturally occurring aromatase inhibitors on male hormonal and blood chemistry profiles. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2:14.

3 Ziegenfuss, T., et al. (2005). Safety and efficacy of a commercially available, naturally occurring, aromatase inhibitor in healthy men. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2:28.

4 Carani, C., et al. (2005). Sex steroids and sexual desire in a man with a novel mutation of aromatase gene and hypogonadism. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 30:413-17.

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

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Monday, February 6, 2012

How exercise volume affects your testosterone by Jerry Brainum

   Studies show that manipulating the volume of exercise has a transient effect on plasma testosterone levels. What isn’t known is how exercise affects the 24-hour secretion of testosterone. To correct that deficiency, a study followed eight men who completed three training sessions separated by at least a month.1 The groups consisted of a nonexercising control group, a moderate-volume group doing 25 sets total and a high-volume group doing 50 sets per workout. The actual workout consisted of squats, bench presses, leg presses and lat pulldowns. Subjects rested 90 to 120 seconds between sets. Rep range was five to 10 per set. The men had their testosterone levels measured every hour for 24 hours after each session.

   The high-volume group showed a marked suppression of testosterone levels over a 24-hour period. They trained for an average of two hours per session. The moderate-volume group trained for one hour and showed no adverse effects on testosterone over the course of 24 hours. The results indicate that there’s a threshold of training beyond which testosterone levels drop precipitously. In practical terms, they mean that those who advocate marathon workouts are probably wasting their time.

1 Alemany, J.A., et al. (2004). Twenty-four hour serum testosterone concentrations following acute moderate and high-volume resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 36:S238.

©,2012, Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Acupuncture for better gains? by Jerry Brainum

   Athletes and bodybuilders are always searching for something that can increase athletic proficiency or muscle. One technique that may prove useful, according to a recent study, is acupuncture.1 In acupuncture the skin is punctured with stainless-steel needles in specific zones. Studies show that it can alleviate muscle tension, improve local blood flow, increase pain threshold and moderate the autonomic nervous system.

   In a new study two groups of female soccer players were either given acupuncture treatment or not after intense competition. Those in the acupuncture group did not experience the drop in salivary immunoglobulin A that usually results from intense exercise. Immunoglobulin A is an antibody that is thought to help prevent various upper-respiratory infections.

   Instead, those in the acupuncture group showed decreased levels of salivary cortisol after exercise. Cortisol is the primary catabolic hormone in the body, meaning that it promotes the breakdown of muscle. Anything that blunts cortisol increase after exercise would favor a stronger response of anabolic hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone. Cortisol also suppresses the immune response, leading to a greater chance of illness.

   The acupuncture subjects had less muscle fatigue and tension than the control athletes. They also reported feeling better and generally were in better moods, experiencing less depression and fatigue.

   Precisely how acupuncture produces those effects remains a matter of conjecture. Practitioners frequently say that stimulating certain parts of the body through acupuncture positively affects the body’s autonomic and endocrine systems, which has overlapping effects on other systems, such as immune response.

   Acupuncture isn’t suitable for self-treatment. Anyone contemplating trying it needs to consult with an experienced practitioner.

Get the point?

1 Akimoto, T., et al. (2003). Acupuncture and responses of immunologic and endocrine markers during competition. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 35:1296-1302.

©,2012, Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Specificity Is More Than Just a Difficult Word to Pronounce : It’s the reason strength training and aerobics are said to be mutually exclusive—but are they? by Jerry Brainum

   According to the specificity-of-training principle, if you want to improve endurance, do endurance or aerobic exercise. If you want to improve muscle size and strength, do weight training. Different exercise produces different effects in muscle. Normal weight training, even with minimal rest between sets, doesn’t have much effect on aerobic capacity. It does, however, increase muscle force, glycolytic enzyme activity (the ability of muscles to use glycogen as a fuel source) and muscle creatine content, which also aids energy production. The net effect of weight training, if all goes well, is increased muscular size and strength.

   Endurance training produces different effects. When you do aerobics, you increase the number of mitochondria in muscle, because that’s where fat is oxidized during aerobic training. The body also increases capillary density to deliver more oxygen to muscles, since oxygen is required to burn fat as fuel. Myoglobin, the oxygen-containing pigment in muscle, is also upgraded for increased oxygen delivery. Along with those changes, muscle size is often reduced, since endurance training blunts muscle protein synthesis.

   About 25 years ago studies began to indicate that doing aerobic exercise concurrently with weight work interfered with muscle gains. Since then other studies have found either the same result or no negative effects of doing both weight training and endurance training. It’s obviously an important issue, since many bodybuilders do aerobics as a means of controlling body composition or losing fat before a contest.

   One study on the subject examined untrained men assigned to one of three groups: endurance training (ET), resistance training (RT) and concurrent training (CT). The study lasted 12 weeks and featured before and after measurements of body composition, peak oxygen intake and other values affected by aerobic and resistance training.

   Weight and lean body mass significantly increased in the RT and CT groups. Bodyfat losses occurred in the CT and ET group but not the RT-alone group. Maximal oxygen intake improved only in the ET group. The gains in muscle size and strength were similar in both the RT and CT groups, indicating that no adverse effects resulted from combining weight training and aerobic exercise.

   One surprising effect was the lack of improvement in maximal oxygen intake in the men who were doing both types of exercise—since they were doing aerobic exercise. The researchers suggested that the muscle size and strength those subjects gained may have diluted the gains in mitochondrial density, thereby preventing any significant improvement in oxygen intake.

   So the study shows that using a training system that features both weights and aerobics doesn’t adversely affect strength and muscle gains but does hinder improvement in endurance. Doing aerobics alone does improve maximum oxygen intake, so trainees who are concerned about that may want to separate aerobic from weight workouts. Doing weight training alone does increase muscle power more efficiently than, say, doing aerobics right after a weight workout.

©,2012, Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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