Category Archives: Health

Boost Metabolic Rate And Help Burn Fat

Sports supplementation is a vast market with countless numbers of products that claim to help you burn fat, build muscle, and achieve your performance goals. While there are certainly a number of supplements out there that actually do live up to their claims, some of them are as bunk as sugar pills.

One of the most flooded niches in the supplement world is the fat-burning category. It seems like every company has their own unique, patented blend of magic ingredients that are the secret to get that shredded six pack you’ve always wanted. Ultimately, many of these supplements just give the user a short-lived burst of energy (likely from caffeine) but do little else to assist the fat loss process.

Therefore I found it prudent to construct a brief guide on some proven, research-backed supplement ingredients/compounds that actually have some positive effects on metabolic rate and help individuals trim off some fat. The good thing about these ingredients is that they are readily available from a variety a supplement companies and won’t break the bank. I will provide some specific products to consider from the Muscle & Strength storetowards the end of this guide.

Lastly, bear in mind that these supplements assist the fat loss process due to the fact that they increase metabolic rate. This means that if you take these supplements and still overeat (based on your caloric expenditure) that you’ve essentially negated the purpose of taking these supplements in the first place.

However, some people who are not looking to lose fat can still benefit from these supplements as it will give you the freedom increase food intake a bit since you’re burning more calories throughout the day. With that in mind, let’s move on to the meat and potatoes of this guide.

Source of cheese that the whey was derived from

From time to time, a client will question why their whey protein seems “different.”  This has to do with source of cheese that the whey was derived from, and the associated method utilized in cheese production. Another reason they whey can be “different” has to do with the diet of the cows during lactation.

The science behind transforming milk to cheese is a complex chemical process. Cow’s milk is rich in a wide range of chemical compounds that can be processed into various dairy products such as cheese, butter, and yogurt.

Specifically, the milk component involved in cheese production is a soluble protein called casein. The enzyme rennet can be used to catalyze the conversion of casein in milk to para-casein by removing a glycopeptide from the soluble casein. Para-casein further coagulates, in the presence of calcium ions to form white, creamy lumps called the curd, leaving behind the supernatant called the whey.

There is no standard method of cheese making; limitless variations exist for all stages of the process: pre-ripening, curdling, addition of artificial ingredients and salt for flavor, and aging. This variation in processing accounts for the wide range of cheeses commercially available, differing in texture and flavor. The curd can also be processed with other techniques to make a variety of desserts. However, all processes have one thing in common: the separation of the curd from the whey.

Commercially, there are two main approaches for preparing milk for curdling:

  1.  Curdling via microorganisms or…
  2.  Using a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid.

The differences in these methods affects the resulting quality of the final cheese. The variations and different types of starting cultures, amount, and process time are what leads to more sophisticated types of gourmet cheeses. The efficiency related with using a strong acid will generate a commercial grade cheese without much complexity.

Regardless of the process utilized to prepare cheese curds, whether it is high end or economy cheese, the resulting supernatant, or phase separated liquid, is where we derive whey protein that is ultra-filtered several times and spray dried before becoming the rich, high quality protein supplement known for its benefits in the bodybuilding and general health industries.

Since whey is the byproduct of an organic raw material-aka cheese (I use the word organic meaning “natural” not certifying a commercial farming method), there are times that whey protein will be “different” from batch to batch regardless if it made using the same exact formulation.  In addition to the cheese curling method, the diet of the cows will affect the whey protein color as well.

Sometimes whey has a more yellow/orange hue, as opposed to a light cream/white color. Cheese manufacturers compensate for this variation by adding a food grade titanium dioxide pigment (very common with mozzarella cheese production).

Cheeses, and whey for that matter, that have a more yellow/orange color have the same protein quality. The cows were fed a diet that contained small amounts of beta carotene, which contain annatto pigment. This is the same natural pigment that gives carrots it orange color.

Pasture fed cows that consume fresh grass produce whey with a higher beta carotene content. During the winter, a cow’s diet consists primary of hay. Hay contains less beta carotene, which results in a “whiter” whey.

Popular supplemental powder forms of protein

The two most popular supplemental powder forms of protein, whey and casein, are both milk proteins, but is one better or worse than the other? Well, frankly, they both have some merit and application in many instances, especially when we are concerned about performance and physique enhancement.

Given this, we will take a look at what the pros and cons are to both whey and casein protein powders, what the research shows about each, which instances are best suited to each, and who should consider using them.

 

Whey and casein: Difference in digestive rates

Most people generally refer to whey and casein proteins as the “fast” and “slow” digesting proteins, respectively.

When we talk about the slow digestion rate of casein, we are essentially saying that it will raise blood amino acid levels slowly and for an extended period of time versus whey protein, which does the inverse. Therefore, many people find that ingesting a whey proteinpromptly after exercise is best since it provides an acute, intense elevation of blood amino acids and thus muscle protein synthesis.

Casein, on the other hand, is generally reserved for periods of time when people know they won’t be able to eat for a lengthy period of time and need a protein that is slowly releasing amino acids into the blood stream.

That being said, studies seem to suggest that mixing protein sources may provide advantage over relying on one, single source repeatedly. The delayed gastric emptying rate of casein and high leucine content of whey can provide a sustained elevation of protein synthesis for several hours after ingestion, an effect not observed with solely whey protein ingestion since it is digested rather rapidly. [2] This is why dairy milk is a popular beverage of choice for many individuals who are looking for whey and casein proteins.

While the digestion rates do differ between whey and casein, there are several other factors to consider when it comes to these proteins.

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).

The Best Performance Boosting Supplements

People are really jumping on the “brain enhancer” supplement band-wagon lately.

These brain enhancers are known as nootropics, a word coined by a Romanian dude supposedly for their ability to bend the mind.

Now to be completely honest I am incredibly intrigued by the possibility of improving my mental performance.

As someone who makes their living and builds a career based on their brain power not their muscle power, the idea of getting a little bit of a mental boost from a supplement would be legit.

Interestingly, what a lot of people who are interested in nootropics fail to realize is that, in addition to their cognitive boosting capacity, some of them may increase physical performance.

I mean being smart is great and all but just being smart probably won’t get you strong or jacked.

I know we joke around about being jacked but it’s actually super important. More muscle means less risk of disease and better quality of life as you age.

Ok, so some nootropics actually fulfill the old adage of “two birds, one stone”. Anything that can double dip is worth investigating in my mind. So let’s investigate these intriguing double hitters.

It appears that Alpha-GPC may do more than just get you one step close to Bradley Cooper from Limitless, because there is some evidence it can increase power. In a small, pilot study demonstrated that Alpha-GPC increased power output 14% over placebo2.

In addition to increasing power, there is one other really interesting aspect of Alpha-GPC as it relates to performance, its ability to enhance production of growth hormone. One study showed that consuming 1 gram of Alpha-GPC acutely increased growth hormone levels 60 and 120 minutes after consumed3.

This has been repeated in another study, where 600 mg of Alpha-GPC drastically increased growth hormone compared to placebo2.

Now we have to be responsible do the whole “science” thing, which means remaining objective and letting the data guide our decisions. We still have one important question to ask about this whole Alpha-GPC growth hormone connection. Does that acute response in growth hormone results in anything meaningful in terms of getting jacked?

A Potent Fat Loss Supplement

The phytochemical capsaicin is the substance found in chili peppers that contributes to the hot and spicy flavor of the chili pepper.

This miraculous compound has the unique capacity to promote a wide range of positive effects on human health, including reduced body fat, powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and improved cardiovascular health.

In fact, a recent epidemiological study investigating almost half a million people showed that the habitual consumption of chili-rich foods, loaded with capsaicin, reduced the likelihood of death from certain chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, relative to those who did not consume chili-rich, spicy foods.1

In addition to capsaicin activating the TRPV1 receptor in certain neurons found within thegastrointestinal tract, triggering a process known as thermogenesis that burns body fat, capsaicin also produces many additional health benefits by activating the same TRPV1 receptor, yet in other tissues throughout the body.

Activation of TRPV1 within these tissues triggers the function of different protein molecules, resulting in unique effects that are tissue-specific.

In addition to the fact that most of the “mobilized” fat is simply recycled, caffeine loses its efficacy over time. Much like alcohol or drugs, your body habituates to caffeine and eventually it loses its ability to be stimulated by caffeine. At some point it becomes a “return to normal function” supplement.

If you take a second to think about this you realize how true it is. Think about the first time you had a cup of coffee in the morning and how alert and ready to go you felt. Now fast forward 15 years and think about how you feel like one of those zombies in The Walking Dead until that first cup of coffee kicks in and you feel a little more human.