Monday, April 30, 2012

Does lean mass preserve resting metabolic rate? By Jerry Brainum

One of the major hazards of dieting, or more specifically,greatly reducing caloric intake, is a loss of lean mass.Since lean mass, mainly muscle, is the primary arbiter of resting metabolic rate, losing muscle from too stringent a diet can result in a lowered resting metabolic rate (RMR). Having a lower RMR, in turn, makes it more likley that the lost weight, and body fat will return when the diet ends. It's no wonder then, that figures show a 97% recidivism rate of people who have lost weight through dieting. In simple terms, the majority of people who lose weight from dieting alone usually regain all the lost weight, and often gain more fat than they had at the start of the diet because of the lowered resting metabolic rate that results from dieting alone.
   The obvious answer to this dilemma is to do something that will help you to retain muscle while dieting. The simple solution is to exercise while on a diet. Since weight-training is the best way to develop lean mass, lifting weights would appear to be a mandatory part of any weight-loss program. Yet, a new study suggests that even rigorous exercise will not offset the effect of dieting on the RMR. But there are a few caveats that need to be explained about this finding.
     The subjects of the study, seven men and nine women, ages 20 to 56, were all contestants on the popular TV show, The Biggest Loser. This show revolves around a competition to lose weight over a  30-week period, with those who lose the most weight being the victors in the competition. Contestants on the program are trained by professional trainers, and they workout an average of 90 minutes a day, 6 days a week. The exercise programs consist of combinations of weight-training and aerobics, with the weight-training usually being a form of circuit training, or doing several exercises in a sequence with minimal rest.  The contestants on the show, however, are encouraged to exercise an additional three hours each day. While their diets are not monitored, they are advised to consume a calorie-restricted diet containing 70% of their estimated baseline daily caloric requirements.
    In the new study, most of the weight loss in the contestants consisted of fat, with 17% coming from lean mass stores.But that lean mass also includes water and bone, so it's unclear just how much muscle the contestants lost on this regime. The contestants, despite the exercise, still showed metabolic adaptations that showed up by the sixth week, and this effect doubled by the end of the competition.Those who lost the most weight also showed the greatest level of metabolic adaptation.
     Specifically, levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) increased by 67%, while levels of the active form of thyroid hormone, T3, dropped by 49%. T4 levels, which function as a storage form of thyroid hormone, weren't affected.These changes in active thyroid hormone accounted for the significant drop in RMR shown by the contestants. While it was previously believed that exercise would prevent this effect, it apparently did not in this group of people. The ramifications of this are that with the resultant lower RMR., the contestants, despite a large loss of bodyweight and fat, are far more likely to regain all the lost weight, and then some. In fact, this is precisely what has happened to most of the past contestants on The Biggest Loser. The salient question that arises here is: why didn't the extensive exercise prevent the drop in RMR, especially since the contestants didn't seem to lose much muscle?
    This aspect wasn't discussed by the study authors. However, I suspect that it was the speed of body composition changes that led to the significant drop in RMR shown by these people. Although they appeared to maintain lean mass through exercise, the body still may have construed the rapid loss of weight as a stress effect. This could have led to a resultant body response of lowering metabolism via the thyroid axis as means of dealing with the perceived rapid weight loss. Consider that the contestants were all obese at the start, and lost nearly half or more of their bodyfat stores. Doing so too rapidly is not a natural effect, so the body responds by turning on mechanisms to slow the weight loss.I suspect that if these people had taken longer to lose the weight, the RMR drop would not have occurred. Also, if the 17% loss of lean mass were mostly muscle, this would also account for the drop in RMR. Circuit weight-training is a good way to change body composition, but not the best way to maintain or build muscle mass.So the style of training may also have affected the outcome. The contestants may have been doing too much exercise, which is construed by the body as a stressor, leading to reduced metabolism as a way of dealing with the stress.The final aspect to consider is that rates of weight-loss on the Biggest Loser do not reflect a modest reduction in daily caloric intake. Some contestants, in their zeal to win, are probably starving themselves. This alone could result in a significant drop in RMR, and in fact, is the likley cause of what happened here, since the diets are not closely monitored.

Johannsen DL, et al. Metabolic slowing with massive weight loss despite preservation of fat-free mass.J Clin Endocrin Metab 2012: in press.

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

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Where does sucked out fat go?

Liposuction is a surgical procedure that involves the local removal of relatively small volumes of fat.When the procedure was first initiated, overenthusiastic surgeons tended to remove too much fat, resulting in a few severe side effects, including death.But over the years, liposuction, also known as "lipoplasty," has been perfected so that in the hands of a competent surgeon, it's a safe procedure.The most common areas worked on are the thighs, abdomen, and buttocks.Removing too much fat is not only dangerous, but can often lead to an unsightly dimpled look that makes you appear to have developed a new case of cellulite.In the past, some people have had as much as 50 pounds of fat removed. One of the early pioneers of liposuction, a French surgeon, screwed up the procedure on a French model, resulting in the model getting gangrene.The modern version of liposuction was also developed by a French surgeon in 1982.Today, liposuction is the most common plastic surgery procedure.
     Contrary to popular belief,liposuction is not a substitute for exercise and diet.In fact, it's suggested that obese people are not candidates for liposuction.Instead, it's more of a contouring procedure to help get rid of stubborn  fat  deposits that are said to be resistant to diet and exercise. In fact, it's still an easy way out, since exercise and diet is capable of reducing all excess fat if patience is part of the equation.
      People who are considering liposuction are often told by doctors that fat removed will not return, at least not in the area "sucked." But a recent study of women who had the procedure found that upper body fat returned within six months of the surgery. Some speculate that the sudden removal of fat triggers a compensatory effect in the body, triggering feedback mechanisms that result in a regain of lost fat. Indeed, in animals, fat that is surgically removed does return within a short time.What happens here is that fat stores in other areas of the body enlarge to compensate for the fat removed in another area.
     A recent study examined what happens to women who have had abdominal liposuction. The subjects consisted of 36 women, who two months after the surgery were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a group that did not exercise. Those in the exercise group worked out for four months on a program that included three times a week of weight-training, followed by 30-40 minutes of aerobics done on a treadmill at an intensity level of 75% of maximum oxygen intake.The food intake didn't differ between the two groups.The study lasted six months. During that time, genes in the thighs that are related to fat regain decreased 50% only in the exercise group.Those who didn't exercise showed a compensatory gain of fat in the visceral or deep-lying fat stores in the abdomen. The subcutaneous or just under the skin fat stores, which were removed during the liposuction, didn't change. Visceral fat is considered the most dangerous of all bodyfat stores because it's linked to the onset of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.Those in the non-exercise group didn't show any compensatory fat gains in their thighs or pelvis. Note that this occurred  six months after the liposuction. Since the study authors didn't measure upper body fat, whether the women gained fat in their upper bodies wasn't known.
    The study authors think that the increase in bodyfat that happens after liposuction may be the result of a decreased energy expenditure triggered by the loss of fat. They base this on the findings of no changes in the amount of food consumed, lean mass, or leptin levels in the untrained women. The story was different in the women who exercised. The exercise totally prevented any apparent fat regain, including in the visceral fat area. Other studies have illustrated that exercise is particularly effective in reducing visceral fat stores. The exercise clearly eliminated the decreased energy expenditure that normally occurs after liposuction.The lean mass gain alone from lifting weights is enough to counter this problem.Those in the exercise group also showed beneficial changes in insulin sensitivity, as well as strength and aerobic conditioning.
     This study involved women who were not  obese, so the findings are not applicable to obese women.But obesity is considered a contraindication of liposuction, anyway. Based on these findings, it would seem to be e prudent idea for women--and men--to ensure that they engage in regular exercise that features both strength and aerobic components following liposuction procedures.


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

Benatti, F,et al. Liposuction induces a compensatory increase of visceral fat which is effectively counteracted by physical activity: A randomized trial.J Clin Endocrin Metab 2012: in press.
©,2012, Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

All Men—and Women—Are Not Created Equal by Jerry Brainum

You see it all the time: Two people begin training at the same time, yet one of them seems to make gains in size and strength far more rapidly than the other. There are various explanations for the differences between hard and easy gainers. Men make faster initial muscle gains than women because men are usually larger and stronger than women. In addition, men secrete more of the anabolic hormones known to favor gains in muscular size and strength, such as testosterone. Age plays a role in how rapidly gains occur. Younger people make faster gains than older people for various reasons, especially a higher anabolic hormone level and greater recovery ability.

Back in 1954 physiologist Herbert Sheldon attempted to document the various human body-type variations. He came up with three basic types: 1) ectomorph, or thin; 2) endomorph, or fat; and 3) mesomorph, or muscular. Sheldon pointed out that humans are rarely any one exclusive type but usually are mixed, such as endo-mesomorph, or fat-muscular. The majority of bodybuilding champions are ecto-meso, or thin-muscular. Such people often start out thin, then gain muscle with training experience. When they stop training for an extended time, they revert to their dominant form. With age and metabolism changes, however, many formerly thin athletes get fat if they don’t maintain a strict diet and training schedule.

A recent study examined whether variations in gains occur in a large sample.1 The subjects included 585 people, 243 men and 342 women, ages 18 to 40. The cutoff age of 40 was set because the researchers felt that after that age the anabolic hormones needed to support muscular gains drop precipitously. In addition, none of the subjects took any drugs that might influence gains in size and strength, such as corticosteroids, which are catabolic and tend to produce losses in muscle size and strength. The subjects weren’t allowed any type of food supplement touted to boost gains, such as protein powders, creatine or pro-hormones.

The exercise consisted of one-arm preacher curls, done with the nondominant arm, for 12 weeks. Muscle gains were determined by magnetic resonance imaging, an expensive but accurate method. Strength gains were determined by baseline tests that used both isometric and dynamic exercise.
After 12 weeks individual variations in gains in muscular size and strength proved significant. Of the 585 subjects, 232 showed a 15-to-25-percent increase in cross-sectional area of muscle. Another 10 showed a gain of 40 percent, while 36 subjects gained only 5 percent muscle size. While the expected finding was that men would make greater size gains than women because of higher levels of testosterone, when relative size differences were taken into account, the women proved just as liable to gain muscle size as the men.

Nor did age affect the rate of muscle gains, since the older subjects made gains similar to those of their younger counterparts. The authors attributed that to a fairly stable level of testosterone secretion in the older subjects, noting that the hormone doesn’t drop enough to blunt muscle gains until about age 60; some would disagree.

As for strength, 232 subjects increased their one-rep maximum by 40 to 60 percent. That means their ability to lift a weight for one rep improved by 40 to 60 percent. Another 36 subjects made gains of 100 percent in one-rep max, while 12 subjects gained less than 5 percent. Similar figures held for gains in isometric strength, although one subject made gains of 150 percent in that area.
Women showed greater variability in dynamic strength, or the type of lifting most often done in bodybuilding workouts—eccentric and concentric muscle contractions. The greater variability could be explained by women’s naturally greater joint flexibility. In addition, the women were less skilled on average than the men in performing preacher curls at the start of the study, and with continued skill acquisition some might have made better gains than others. In total, the women made better strength gains than the men. Thus, the men made better gains in muscle size, while the women proved superior in strength gains, likely because they were much weaker at the start of the study.

The study shows that most people make significant gains in muscle size and strength when they begin regular training. Men show faster muscle size gains on average, while women may get stronger faster than men. The unanswered question of the study is why the variations in the gains occurred. Why did one trainee show a 40 percent muscle-size gain after 12 weeks of training, while another had only a 5 percent gain?

Factors not discussed in the study could explain the wide variations: diet, how intensely you train, how much rest you get, and so on. Also, genetic factors certainly play a dominant role in who makes the fastest gains. Perhaps some people have genes that favor muscle gains that are activated when they begin training. Somebody else may not produce as much myostatin, a protein that inhibits muscular growth, or may produce other proteins that block the activity of myostatin, which would favor rapid gains in size and strength. Although the study suggested that testosterone didn’t play a major role in the gains made by the male subjects, other studies show that higher initial levels of testosterone and other anabolic hormones favor more rapid muscle gains.

1 Hubal, M.J., et al. (2005). Variability in muscle size and strength gain after unilateral resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exer. 37:964-72.

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

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Age-related Changes In muscle protein synthesis by Jerry Brainum

Several studies have shown that older people experience a decreased rate of muscle protein synthesis. A study presented at the ’06 ACSM meeting compared the changes in plasma amino acid concentrations and muscle protein synthesis rates in healthy young and older subjects following a meal that included four ounces of lean beef.1

The younger subjects’ average age was 28; the older subjects, 69. The authors calculated the rate of muscle protein synthesis immediately following and for five hours after the beef meal. Eating beef increased MPS rates in both the young (27.9 percent) and older (29.1 percent) subjects. The plasma amino acid levels peaked about 100 minutes after the meal in both groups. The magnitude of increase in blood amino acid levels was higher in the older group because of smaller blood volume and lower lean mass.

The study shows the fate of ingested food protein in both young and older people, which proved to be similar. Another useful observation involved the peak amino acid level, which occurred about 1 1/2 hours after subjects in both groups ate the meal.

Another study presented at the meeting involved providing carbohydrate with or without protein and free leucine (a branched-chain amino acid) to young and older groups, again to compare rates of protein balance and muscle protein synthesis.2 As expected, insulin levels rose higher in both groups when they got a carb-protein-and-leucine supplement. Carbs alone provided no increases in MPS. The researchers’ conclusion was that combining carbs, protein and leucine brought about similar rates of upgraded MPS in both the young and old.


1 Paddon-Jones, D., et al. (2006). Age specific changes in protein synthesis and plasma amino acid profiles following intact protein ingestion. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S113.

2 Koopman, R.,et al. (2006). Co-ingestion of protein and leucine stimulates muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly men. Med Sci Sports Exer. 38:S113.

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

Lose Muscle With Aerobics? by Jerry Brainum

In bodybuilding, it’s axiomatic that doing aerobics promotes loss of muscle. The theory is that aerobic exercise depresses muscle protein synthesis—or maybe it lowers anabolic hormones, such as testosterone. Like a lot of bodybuilding axioms, however, it ain’t necessarily so.

In fact, one study found that subjects who did strenuous aerobics for an hour over the course of three days had levels of muscle protein synthesis similar to those that occur after weight training. Based on that unexpected finding, a new study was designed to measure skeletal muscle breakdown in the thighs after an hour of strenuous one-legged aerobic exercise.

The study, which featured five healthy young men, was reported at the 2006 ACSM meeting. The muscle protein breakdown was measured at rest, and at six, 24, 48 and 72 hours after the exercise. Muscle protein breakdown was determined by the excretion of 3-methylhistidine, a substance produced only in contractile muscle proteins.

      The results revealed no difference in muscle protein breakdown at any point after the exercise. On the other hand, as in past studies, muscle protein synthesis increased, just as it does after weight training. The authors think that happened to offset the breakdown that would normally occur after strenuous exercise.
    A practical application of those findings is that doing higher intensity aerobics, such as interval training, characterized by alternating periods of high and low intensity, may not only produce greater cardiovascular benefits than the usual steady-state aerobics but also blunt muscle protein loss.

1 Haus, J.M., et al. (2006). The effect of strenuous aerobic exercise on skeletal muscle myofibrillar proteolysis in humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S549

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

Aerobics: Before or After Weight Training? by Jerry Brainum

Should you do aerobics before or after your weight workout? Many prefer to do their aerobics before lifting to get it out of the way and as a general warmup. A recent study, however, suggests that the best time to do aerobics is after a weight workout and that how long you rest between the two can make a difference in both hormone release and fat oxidation.
Presented at the 2006 ACSM meeting, the study featured 10 healthy men who did three types of exercise regimens on different days:
  1. Endurance exercise only (EE)
  2. Endurance exercise after weight training and a 20-minute rest (RE20)
  3. Endurance exercise after weight training and a 120-minute rest (RE120)
The weight workout consisted of six exercises, each done for three to four sets of 10 reps. The endurance exercise consisted of stationary cycling for an hour at low intensity (50 percent of maximum heart rate).
Doing the weight workout before aerobics led to marked increases in lactate, norepinephrine and growth hormone levels. Before the endurance exercise those in the RE120 group showed the highest levels of free fatty acids in the blood, while those in the RE20 group showed higher levels of norepinephrine and growth hormone. During the endurance and weight exercise, blood levels of free fatty acids and glycerol were higher in both weight groups than in the endurance-only group, meaning that those in both weight groups were burning more fat during the exercise.
The study clearly shows that doing a weight workout before aerobics leads to hormonal changes that favor increased fat oxidation during the subsequent aerobic workout.
Goto, K., et al. (2006). The effects of prior resistance exercise on lipolysis and fat oxidation during subsequent endurance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exer. 38:S545.

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Carnosine: Intensity Kerosene? By Jerry Brainum

L-carnosine (not to be confused with L-carnitine) is a dipeptide, or combination of two bonded amino acids. Carnosine has earned a reputation as a nutracuetical because of its potent antioxidant and anti-aging properties. Some research shows that it may blunt glycation, a process that deposits sugar in protein structures, which renders them stiff and weak. Glycation is considered a major cause of the aging process.
Carnosine acts as an intramuscular buffer. That means it can reduce the acidity, or burning sensation, that occurs during and after an intense exercise set, enabling you to train harder. The increased acidity typical of intense weight training leads to a blunting activity of the enzymes required for energy production, the result being fatigue.
      As you might expect, regular intense exercise upregulates the muscle content of carnosine. It’s the body’s way of compensating for the hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, characteristic of anaerobic exercise. The lack of oxygen causes the buildup of excess hydrogen ions and fatigue.
      Carnosine supplements are now available, but just how much can be absorbed into muscle is questionable. An enzyme called carnosinase degrades carnosine into its constituent amino acids, histidine and beta-alanine. On the other hand, a few studies have recovered carnosine in the urine following oral intake, pointing to absorption. Others say that larger doses, such as 1,000 milligrams or more, bypass the carnosinase barrier to some extent—although smaller doses are rapidly degraded by the enzyme.
     Carnosine concentrates in type 2 muscle fibers, which makes sense, since type 2 fibers are employed in intense anaerobic exercise and thus require extra buffering capacity. While carnosine supplements should offer considerable benefits, such as decreased fatigue and the ability to train harder, they may not be the most effective way to increase muscle carnosine.
     You could also take the two amino acids that constitute carnosine, but muscles are already saturated with histidine, and taking it does nothing to increase muscle carnosine content. Beta-alanine, however, is another story. One study showed that providing human subjects with four grams of beta-alanine for one week, followed by an increase to 6.6 grams daily for a month, led to a 60 percent increase in muscle carnosine content. Clearly, beta-alanine is the limiting factor for increasing muscle carnosine levels.
      According to another recent study, however, there is another way to increase muscle carnosine content: Become a bodybuilder.1 The study compared the muscle carnosine content of six competitive-level bodybuilders to six untrained men and found that the bodybuilders had twice as much carnosine as the untrained men.The bodybuilders’ levels of carnosine were estimated to promote a 40 percent increase in muscle-buffering capacity. Exactly why the bodybuilders showed the higher level wasn’t clear. One reason could be the exercise itself, since typical bodybuilding workouts are anaerobic and result in excess acid production. The increased carnosine may be an adaptation to compensate for the higher acid levels that regularly occur with training.
       Other possibilities include dietary supplements. The bodybuilders in the study all used whey, glutamine, casein and branched-chain amino acid supplements. They also used various herbs; however, none of those supplements is linked to an increase of carnosine in the body.
      The bodybuilders also freely admitted to using anabolic steroids. In a recent animal study, providing a dose of testosterone every other day for two weeks resulted in a 268 percent increase in muscle carnosine levels. How steroids do that isn’t clear. It may be just a result of increased muscle mass from steroid use or an increase in the activity of the enzyme that synthesizes carnosine in muscle. Another explanation is increased muscle amino acid uptake, thus providing the precursor building blocks of carnosine.
In the same study the bodybuilders showed 38 percent less taurine than the untrained men. Taurine concentrates in type 1, or slow-twitch, aerobic muscle fibers. As I noted recently in
IRON MAN taurine offers many possible benefits.
      Why the bodybuilders were low on taurine wasn’t clear, although taurine is known to be excreted more rapidly after exercise. In addition, since bodybuilding focuses primarily on type 2 fibers, it may simply reflect an adaptive need of the body, because type 2 muscles need more carnosine.
     Some have suggested that workout efficiency can be greatly improved by taking large oral doses of carnosine. That may indeed work, but carnosine isn’t cheap, and the suggested doses would cost about $5 each. Carnosine can also be injected, but that’s not a likely option for most of us. The best carnosine-loading method appears to use an oral beta-alanine supplement. Interestingly, some preliminary research shows that combining beta-alanine with creatine significantly increases the intensity level of bodybuilding training.
    Don’t take  beta alanine at the same time as taurine supplements. They use the same uptake carrier, and ingesting them simultaneously will cancel out the effects of taurine.

 Tallon, M.J., et al. (2005). The carnosine content of vastus lateralis is elevated in resistance-trained bodybuilders.J Strength Cond Res. 19:725-729.

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

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Is Your Protein Supplement Damaged? By Jerry Brainum

Most quality protein supplements on the market consist of milk-derived proteins, such as casein and whey. While some include both proteins, others contain only whey and mixtures of other proteins, such as soy. There are various grades of whey, depending on how it’s processed. Overcooking food proteins leads to denaturization—heat damages the amino acids that make up proteins. Overprocessed proteins are far less digestible and may interfere with the absorption of other food proteins.
     The less heat applied, the better for protein quality. Another factor is how much sugar the supplement contains. When protein and sugar are heated, the Maillard reaction occurs—a chemical version of caramelization, which breaks food down during cooking even as the cooking adds flavor—and the amino acids are damaged. One of the more reactive amino acids under those conditions is the essential amino lysine. When the Maillard reaction damages lysine, it produces a chemical called furosine, and high levels of furosine in a supplement indicate damaged protein. That can lead to reduced protein value and digestibility.
      A recent study looked at what happens when various commercial milk-based protein supplements commonly used by athletes are processed. Nineteen ingredients and 13 sports supplements from around the world were analyzed, and the researchers looked at the amount of furosine in each product.
     Soy contained the least, mainly because soy isn’t a rich source of lysine. Of the milk proteins tested, casein had the least furosine because casein is processed less than whey. That’s especially true of micellar casein, which is naturally derived and the highest quality available. Whey protein isolate (WPI), which is higher in protein and lower in sugar than whey protein concentrate, had less furosine than WPC. That’s because WPC contains more lactose (6 to 8 percent) than WPI (less than 1 percent). The lactose content makes the protein more subject to the Maillard reaction, leading to amino acid damage.
      What does all of that mean for you, the consumer? Stick with higher-quality protein that features whey protein isolates as the primary whey ingredient. WPI contains an average 86.8 percent protein (higher quality forms are over 90% protein due to the lack of lactose and fat content) compared to the 29 to 89 percent found in WPC, although most WPC used in protein supplements average 70-80% protein..The higher lactose and fat content of WPC makes it a filler protein, which saves the manufacturer money but may result in the premature degradation of the product. Note that a high level of furosine reduces the availability of the other proteins, leading to poorer nutritional effect.You should also be aware that because of the recent wholesale cost rise in whey proteins, many companies are substituting WPC instead of the higher quality WPI. But they are not indicating this on the label, and have not reduced the cost of the products, despite paying less for raw material. Isn't that nice?

Henares-Rufian, J.A., et al. (2006). Assessing nutritional quality of milk-based sport supplements as determined by furosine. Food Chemistry. 101:573-78.

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

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