Monthly Archives: April 2017

Phosphatidic Acid Hype or Help

Let’s face it, the times are changing in the fitness and nutrition industry. Broscience, pseudoscience, and anecdotal lore are giving way to the white lab coats and data driven decisions.

So to search for new, effective supplements, we should turn to the scientists.

Related: Are BCAAs Effective? See What the Science Says

The mammalian target of rapamyocin (mTOR) is what all skeletal muscle scientists dream about. Why? It’s one of the key components of turning training into lean muscle tissue. If we boil it down to the basics, mTOR activation = muscle growth* and there is a newer supplement being utilized because it is a known activator of mTOR.

*Yes, this is a vast oversimplification but it is generally the right picture.

 

PHOSPHATIDIC ACID

Phosphatidic Acid, which we will lovingly call PA for this article, is one cool molecule. It does a lot of really important things in the body, but the one I care about is that it is a well-known activator of mTOR. This means PA has some serious potential for aiding in muscle growth.

PA is actually a type of lipid (aka fat) that is often derived from lecithin (which is also used to make other supplements like phosphatidylserine).

One of the important aspects of PA as a supplement is it is actually really well absorbed. When you take it, it actually shows up in your blood. The same can’t be said for a lot of supplements1.

 

THE RESEARCH ON PHOSPHATIDIC ACID

Anytime you start looking at new supplements, you can actually use muscle cells, grow them in a lab, and give them the supplement and see how they respond. One of the first studies done on PA showed that giving muscle cells did increase the “grow” signal for muscles.2

Every Hardgainer Should Know About Protein

The term “Hardgainer” is frequently used in the bodybuilding community and around local gyms.

It implies some terrible abnormal condition that prevents an unlucky few from being able to build muscle.

But just look around any gym and you’ll notice that most of the population fall into the “hardgainer” category. It would be more appropriate to call them “normal gainers,” because for most people, gaining a lot of noticeable lean muscle is hard. Real hard.

The minority of “genetic freaks” out there, sometimes referred to as the 1%, are the few who are blessed with extremely growth responsive muscle tissue.

For the majority of us, though, building muscle is hard. For the true “hardgainers” amongst us, it seems damn near impossible.

Of course, any effort to gain muscle, regardless of your genetic disposition, takes great physical exertion, mental focus, willpower, and consistency. Unfortunately, not everyone is rewarded equally for their efforts. There are those who seem to gain muscle by just looking at a set of dumbbells, and those who, despite hard, consistent training at the gym, can scarcely put on a few pounds of lean mass.

The real “hardgainers” fall into the latter category. While there are exceptions to the rule, a typical hardgainer has an “ectomorphic” body type (a term coined in the 1940s by William Sheldon, an American psychologist), encompassing some or all of the following traits:

  • Fine bone structure
  • Small joints
  • Thin neck
  • Narrow shoulders
  • Flat chest
  • Small buttocks
  • Long, narrow frame
  • Low testosterone
  • Low body fat
  • Rapid metabolism

While most ectomorphic traits don’t bode well for easy muscle gains, the latter – a rapid metabolism – can be advantageous. Unlike “endomorphs” (on the opposite end of the body type scale), ectomorphs seldom need fear gaining unwanted body fat in their pursuit of increased muscle mass.

 

WHY HARDGAINERS STRUGGLE

There are many reasons why hardgainers find it so challenging to make significant progress, including a combination of the following:

  • Genetics
  • Skeletal structure
  • Metabolism
  • Hormonal balance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Ratio of Type I vs Type II muscle fibre
  • Sleep quality and recoverability
  • Neuromuscular inefficiency

The harder a gainer you are, the more closely you have to pay attention to training, nutrition, and rest.

The good news is that some of the above factors can be positively affected by one simple thing. I’m talking about protein. That marvellous, muscle-building macronutrient is the crucial key to muscle growth.

Here are five facts about protein that every hardgainer needs to know.

 

1. PROTEIN INCREASES MUSCLE PROTEIN SYNTHESIS

To maximize muscle growth in response to weight training, hardgainers need to optimize their protein intake.

Imagine muscle growth as a set of scales. On one side you have muscle protein synthesis and on the other side you have muscle protein breakdown.

The only way to achieve muscle growth is to tip the scales in favour of muscle protein synthesis. In other words, you must be synthesising more proteins than you’re breaking down to gain lean muscle mass.

Most people with a basic understanding of training and nutrition know that protein is an essential requirement for building muscle. Quite simply, eating protein stimulates the muscle building effect of protein synthesis.

But knowing the optimal amount of daily protein to consume is another thing.

In an effort to overcome the unfortunate fate of being a hardgainer, and to increase muscle size, a lot of people will turn to consuming excessively high quantities of protein. I think we’ve all been guilty of the “more equals more” mentality.

But is a 100g protein shake really going to produce greater results than a 40g protein shake?

Not according to scientific research.

Scientific studies have been conducted to find out how different doses of protein affect muscle protein synthesis levels post workout.

Two studies, one by the Exercise Metabolism Research Group, Department of Kinesiology, of McMaster University in Canada and another by the Health and Exercise Science Research Group, at the University of Stirling both found that 40g of protein was enough to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis after resistance exercise.

In fact, their findings concluded that the difference between 20g – 40g of protein on muscle protein synthesis post exercise was minimal.

So there you have it. These studies show that excessive protein consumption is largely a waste of time and money. As a hardgainer, I recommend you shoot for at least 40g of protein with every meal.

 

2. PROTEIN AFFECTS HORMONAL BALANCE

Your hormonal profile can dramatically impact the results you get (or don’t get) from working out. There are approximately 50 hormones in the human body, affecting – among other things – mood, energy, gender characteristics, autonomic nervous system response and musculature.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s take a look at just two of those dozens of hormones: Testosterone and cortisol.

Testosterone is an anabolic hormone found in both genders, but at considerably higher levels in men. It plays many roles in the human body, but of special significance to hardgainers are testosterone’s effects on mood, self-esteem, energy, concentration, motivation – and of course, muscle growth.

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone. Though it plays a number of important roles, an excess of cortisol can increase abdominal fat while reducing protein synthesis, facilitate the conversion of protein to glucose, and slow the growth of new tissue – like the muscles you work so hard for.

A properly balanced ratio of macronutrients is necessary to promote protein synthesis and prevent catabolism. Protein plays a key role in sustaining an anabolic state.

Supplements You Need to Be Taking

A long time ago, in a gym far, far away, someone made the statement, “Man, you don’t need supplements, just eat a good diet and you get everything you need to be jacked”.

Saying you don’t “need” supplements to get jacked is kind of like saying you don’t “need” to deadlift to get strong.

Sure, you might be able to do it. But if you ignore a tool that can help your training, then you are leaving a lot of gains on the table.

Now, the world of supplements can be a bit of a quagmire. It is hard to know exactly what supplements work, how they work, when to take them, etc.

When it comes to building muscle and getting more out of your training, there are 5 supplements that most people would benefit from.

 

1. CREATINE

Creatine supplementation appears to be the most effective legal nutritional supplement currently available for getting you jacked (i.e. enhancing your training and lean body mass). Long story short, creatine works by improving your body’s capacity to produce ATP during short, intense training.1

Related: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Bodybuilding Supplements

The research surrounding the ergogenic effect of creatine supplementation is pretty mind-blowing. There are easily over 500 peer-reviewed papers on the topic and approximately 70% of the research has reported an increase in exercise capacity.2,3,4

In both the short term and long-term, creatine supplementation appears to enhance the overall quality of training. This often leads to a 5 to 15% greater gains in strength and performance.

If you are trying to get bigger, faster, and stronger, but you’re not taking creatine, you are missing out on some serious gains.

 

2. BETA-ALANINE

Muscle fatigue kills your training.

Remember the last time you were doing weighted dips and you hit the wall and just couldn’t hammer out another rep even if your life depended on it? Beta-Alanine may help you get that extra rep in as it has been shown to reduce muscular fatigue and increase work capacity.

Several studies on beta-alanine have that supplementation can increase your work capacity by a few reps when training in moderate rep ranges (8-15).5,6,7 That means more dips for you!

As a result of being able train harder and longer, beta-alanine is effective for muscle hypertrophy, greater fat loss, and improved recovery between sets. Just think about it, if you can train harder and longer you accumulate more volume. More volume = more muscle. Training harder and longer also creates a larger calorie deficit, leading to greater fat loss.

There is also evidence that beta alanine can augment fat loss. However, the most likely reason for this is not due to beta-alanine directly, but the fact that it increases work capacity.8

Beta alanine is also often marketed as a pre-workout ingredient. It is likely marketed that way because the feeling that beta alanine can give you in high doses (the itchy face) makes it seem efficacious.  Don’t let the marketing itchy face and “I’m flying feeling” hype cloud your science. It isn’t really a pre-workout.

Protein That You Need to Stop Believing

Protein is my favorite macro.

Why?

Because steak is awesome, protein shakes are the greatest invention of the 20th century, and I like building muscle.

So naturally, I get a little frustrated when people spread falsehoods about my favorite macro.

Related: 43 Easy High Protein Recipes!

Now, seeing that I am a scientist and I value the truth, I think I should stand in on behalf of protein and defend it against some of the popular myths about it.

 

1. PROTEIN WREAKS HAVOC ON YOUR KIDNEYS

“Go easy on the protein shakes bro, you are going to wreck your kidneys.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read that protein was going to hurt my kidneys…. well… I would probably be retired and blogging full time.

Recently, Dr. Jose Antonio did a study to answer the following question, “Basically, if we stuff you full of protein (like 4g/kg a day) what happens to your kidneys and your blood tests?”

Well it turns out that if you take healthy young men and cram them full of protein and have them lift weights, their kidneys are just fine and it had no effect on their blood work1.

These people ate about 270 grams of protein a day for 8 weeks and their kidneys and blood were just fine.

This myth really, really needs to die.

 

2. PROTEIN MAKES YOUR BONES BRITTLE

For some reason some doctors and scientists got some nonsense in their heads about protein making your blood acidic and that it caused calcium to be “leached” from your bones to buffer out your blood, effectively making your bones brittle and weak.  Turns out, that is entirely untrue, the hypothesis has been refuted by several lines of evidence.

First, a study directly addressing this question found that a diet high in protein had no change in biomarkers of bone resorption or formation, indicating that a high protein diet has no adverse effects on bone health2. This evidence supports the notion that high-protein diets are not detrimental to bone health.

Second, we know that high-protein diets actually increase calcium absorption in the digestive tract, and increased blood calcium elicits calcitonin release from the thyroid and promotes calcium deposition in bone tissue. To this point, there have been several studies supporting the idea that increased intestinal calcium absorption due to high-protein diets may actually improve bone health3,4,5.

 

3. HIGH PROTEIN DIETS MAKE YOU GAIN WEIGHT

I thought of a lot of clever ways to put this, but to quote one of the most prolific high protein diet researchers in the field (Dr. Jose Antonio):

“You gain weight. No shit. If you lift weights and eat a bucketful of protein, you will likely gain lean body mass. But here’s the kicker. If all you did was overeat on protein (i.e., in our study, subjects overfed on whey protein), you would likely lose weight. And not muscle mass my friend. You’d lose fat”.

No joke, in 2 separate studies where they overfed people protein6,7, those who took in extra calories from protein lost weight. Don’t believe me? Here is the data (data is adopted from reference 6.)

The Right Supplements According To Science

People often forget that the supplement industry is just like any other, where product quality and consumer value can vary drastically from company to company.

While some companies actively strive to create the best possible product for the consumer, there will always be some that try to make a quick profit.

This article is going to help you separate the good from the bad and teach you the tricks of the trade that some companies may take to fool you into purchasing their less than reputable products.

Now, this isn’t to say all supplements are a waste of time. The key is to stay with the research backed products or ingredients.

It’s not all doom and gloom either.

Some supplements can help to improve acquisition of lean mass, boost sports performance, and help you drop considerable amounts of body fat, all while drastically reducing markers of disease such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.

Again, the key takeaway is to purchase the right ones, supported by well-designed research!

One common strategy companies may use is listing numerous ingredients in one product, such as a pre-workout. While these are often great at saving you money and time from having to make your own, it’s important to understand that most ingredients have a “minimum threshold”.

In other words, unless you ingest a specific or minimum amount, you will receive little or no benefit. For this reason, making sure your product is adequately dosed should be a top priority.

Furthermore, a half dose does not always mean you still get some benefit like you might logically think. When it comes to a lot of ingredients “it’s all or nothing”.  For example, studies show if you consume 15g of whey protein you fail to muscle protein synthesis (key biological process behind building muscle).