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Nutrition Supplements Strength + Muscle Building

  • What are the most prominent supplements touted to increase muscle strength and development?
  • Can creatine supplementation enhance muscle and strength development?
  • How much creatine is recommended for supplementation?
  • Is creatine supplementation safe?
  • Can BCAAs help with muscle size and strength gains?
  • Can arginine and lysine increase growth hormone levels?
  • Can HMB (hydroxy-methylbutyrate) improve muscle development?
  • Can β-alanine improve performance?
  • Can carnitine help people burn more fat to become leaner and more muscular?
  • Can arginine increase nitric oxide and enhance blood delivery to working muscle?
  • Can ornitine or OKG enhance muscle mass?
  • Can glutamine slow muscle breakdown?
  • Can chromium and chromium picolinate cause muscle development?
  • Can vanadium and vanadyl sulfate led to muscle mass gains?
  • Can boron raise testosterone levels?

What are the most prominent supplements touted to increase muscle strength and development?
Sport supplements have evolved into a multibillion dollar industry, yet their evolutionary process really has not been that long. Today there are numerous supplements available to people looking to improve their muscle mass or leanness. While many of them are well known, not all are known to really make a difference. Among the more efficacious supplements are protein (level and timing), creatine, HMB, carnitine and beta-alanine.

Can creatine supplementation enhance muscle and strength development?
Creatine is naturally made by the human body and has become one of the most studied sport supplements. As discussed, in muscle and other tissue, ATP is used to transfer energy and a phosphate group to creatine, forming creatine phosphate. This substance then becomes a readily available means of regenerating ATP when it is in demand. For muscle, this would be during the early stage of an exercise. In the brain, it can help to maintain ATP levels during brief periods of poor O2 supply. The brain relies on aerobic ATP production so periods of decreased O2 availability are extremely critical. ATP can be regenerated from creatine phosphate in a single chemical reaction, which does not require O2.


Creatine is made in the body using three amino acids (methionine, glycine, and arginine) and two organs (liver and kidneys). Creatine is also found in animal foods, primarily the muscle part of animals. Therefore, meat eaters tend to consume one to two grams of creatine in their diets. The practice of supplementing creatine became extremely popular in the 1990s as several scientific studies showed that muscle creatine levels could be increased with supple­mentation. This change was often associated with increases in total body mass, lean body mass, strength, and power. Creatine is mostly supplemented as creatine monohydrate, but other forms do exist such as PEG, ethyl ester, fumarate, malate, etc, however none have been proven more effective gram for gram than creatine monohydrate.


How much creatine is recommended for supplementation?
A few years ago it was more popular for individuals to begin creatine supplementation by way of a “loading” phase. In this phase, roughly 20 to 25 g of creatine may have been ingested for 5 to 7 days, followed by a longer “maintenance” phase involving about 3 to 5 g daily. What researchers soon found was that when young men were provided 20 g of creatine monohydrate daily for about a week they developed a 20 percent increase in muscle creatine levels. Furthermore, this increased muscle content of creatine could be maintained for thirty days when the loading phase was followed by a maintenance dose of only 2 g daily.


Interestingly, the same researchers also found that you could get to the same level of muscle creatine after four weeks by starting off and maintaining a supplement dose of 3 g daily, which offers a more economically and practical alternative. General non-loading recommendations for creatine are 0.06g/kg targeted performance body weight. So a 80kg male  


Is creatine supplementation safe?
Creatine supplementation is generally safe when users follow the recommended levels. After 2+ decades of research and general use the earlier concerns about safety have been disproven.  Furthermore, many researchers and practitioners recommend supplemental creatine especially during aging.


Can BCAAs help with muscle size and strength gains?
Branched Chain Amino Acids include leucine, isoleucine and valine and are a special subset of the essential amino acids (EAA). What's really unique about the BCAAs is that they are taken up most aggressively by skeletal muscle and leucine seems to play a role in MPS by activating mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) signally system hub which in turn leads to the production of muscle proteins. This is one way that food proteins can increase MPS as well as have an incremental effect to resistance training. Usually a minimal level of 1.75-2 grams of leucine will ensure a significant trigger of MPS. If you are taking BCAAs then 4-5 grams with a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine is best. This is the ratio stated to be found in muscle.   

Can arginine and lysine increase growth hormone levels?
Growth hormone is linked to muscle protein production. Interest in possible athletic benefits from supplementing with individual amino acids was raised after researchers realized that when certain amino acids, such as arginine, are infused directly into the bloodstream of hospital patients suffering from burns, there was a corresponding rise in growth hormone levels in their blood. Some researchers have found that taking arginine and lysine supplements can increase growth hormone levels in healthy young men as well. However other research studies did not show this and some research has suggested that even if arginine does transiently increase growth hormone levels, the raise is not greater than what normally happen in response to resistance exercise. So from a practical standpoint arginine supplementation for growth hormone, arginine would need to be taken several hours before or after exercise. Moreover, in the research studies suggesting efficacy, it takes several grams of arginine to produce a growth hormone response and it is not known if it really supports better gains in muscle strength and size over time.


Can HMB (hydroxy-methylbutyrate) improve muscle development?
HMB is the abbreviation for hydroxyl-methylbutyrate, which is a derivative of the essential amino acid leucine. HMB is a popular supplement with weight trainers at this time and it also added to some sport bars. HMB may also be found in limited amounts in citrus and catfish. At this time there a several research articles that suggest that HMB supplementation (1.5 or 3 g of HMB daily) for a couple weeks improved the strength and lean body mass of previously untrained men. Furthermore, there is a newer form of HMB call HMB-Free Acid allowing for more HMB options based on form and timing of use.


Can ß-alanine improve performance?
Beta-alanine is naturally found in meats and is a little different structurally from alanine and the other amino acids that can be used to make proteins. However ß-alanine can be combined with histidine to make Carnosine. Carnosine is an important acid buffer in muscle cells, especially Type II. However, ingested sarcosine is broken down in the blood and thus supplementation of carnosine does not effectively increase muscle carnosine levels. Meanwhile ß-alanine can enter muscle cells and be used to make carnosine.


Researchers have determined that supplemental ß-alanine (3.2-6.4 g/day) is indeed effective in raising muscle carnosine levels as well as improving the muscle acid buffering abilities during high intensity activities such as sprinting and weight training. This in turn is related to improvements in performance over the period of a few weeks. Furthermore, supplementing as little as 1.6 grams daily can also yield benefit over time, however the lower the intake the longer the period of development and potentially degree benefit.


One interesting experiential effect of beta alanine is a pins-and-needle effect that can occur when intake exceeds 800-1000 mg (1 g) in a single dose. This is called parastesia and some users like it and others don't, however over a couple weeks of use this effect lessens. However, first time users of beta alanine are cautioned to start with 800-1600 mg to gauge the effect and help determine daily strategy. 


Can carnitine help people burn more fat to become leaner and more muscular?
The role of carnitine in fat burning has been known for decades. Basically, carnitine helps shuttle the principle fatty acids used for energy into mitochondria, the part of cells that breaks them down for energy. Despite this vital role in burning fat, supplementation of carnitine has generally failed to demonstrate increased fat burning as generally used by people. However, there does seem to be truth the mechanism and potential supplementation benefit as researchers have shown that carnitine combined with a special form of carbohydrate is able to enhance carnitine uptake into muscle and potentially increase fat burning.

Meanwhile 1-2 grams of carnitine has been shown to support perceived recovery from tough training by helping to reduce muscle soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS). Furthermore, for people with slightly higher blood glucose and lipids, 2 grams of carnitine might help support bringing those down as well. At this time it is generally recommended that people take 1-2 grams of carnitine with the highest carbohydrate meal which should be post-workout.


Can arginine increase nitric oxide and enhance blood delivery to working muscle?
Nitric oxide (NO) is a powerful vasodilator. It is produced by cells lining blood vessels and arginine is used by the enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS) to make NO. The idea is that arginine supplementation is able to increase NO production and increase blood delivery and thus amino acids and other nutrients to muscle cells during and after exercise. This could then strengthen the processes that build muscle in response to resistance exercise. Despite the true mechanism of action and positive results reported in some research, other research failed to prove this benefit or only if larger gram levels were supplement (e.g. 9 grams). One reason is that a lot the arginine that is consumed is metabolized by arginase in the intestinal bacteria and the small intestine wall and liver and never makes it to the blood vessels of muscle.


In response to the potential issues arginine supplementation to reliably increase NO production, researchers have also indicated that citrulline might be beneficial as a stable arginine precursor. Some research suggest that gram levels of citulline (>3g) or 8 grams of citrulline malate might yield benefit. In addition, polyphenolic compounds in pomegranate and grape extract as well as nitrates in beet root might serve to optimize NOS activity.


Can ornitine or OKG enhance muscle mass?
Ornithine and its derivative ornithine-alpha-ketoglutarate (OKG) have received considerable interest from weight-training athletes more son in the past. Ornithine is an amino acid not found in our proteins. However, it does exist independently in our body and is fundamentally involved in the formation of urea. Like arginine, supplemental ornithine was popularized after scientists reported that when ornithine was infused into blood there was a corresponding increase in growth hormone. Some researchers have also reported that oral supplementation of ornithine also increases circulating growth hormone in a respectable percentage of participants. However, the needed dose translates to as much as 170 mg of ornithine per kilogram body weight, which amounts to 14 g of supplemental ornithine daily for a 180 lb male. Ornithine dosages of this size are usually associated with intestinal discomfort and diarrhea; again, it has not been determined whether the potentially induced increase in growth hormone leads to increased muscle gain. On the other hand, other researchers have not found that OKG raises growth hormone levels, and no one has found increases in muscle mass with supplementation.


Can glutamine slow muscle breakdown?
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid that is becoming a popular supplement for weight lifters and bodybuilders. It has been touted as a substance that results in a net gain of muscle protein and thus muscle mass. In response to a weight lifting session there will be an increase in the breakdown of muscle proteins as well as production (synthesis) of muscle proteins. Together these seemingly counteractive processes drive muscle repair and adaptation and can endure for several hours to a day or more. Glutamine is often touted as a means to help reduce muscle protein breakdown when provided at gram levels. While there might be some truth to this effect the details of levels and relationship with other amino acids and intact protein still remains to be clearly determined.


Can chromium and chromium picolinate cause muscle development?
Chromium, especially in the form of chromium picolinate, has drawn the attention of some athletes. Because chromium appears to potentiate insulin activity, it has been theorized that supplemental chromium may increase amino acid uptake in skeletal muscle and promote muscle protein synthesis. This could lead to the building of more muscle. Picolinate is simply a molecule that, when bound to chromium, is touted to enhance the efficiency of chromium absorption.


Earlier reports by some researchers stated that participants taking chromium picolinate for forty days in conjunction with weight-training programs increased their body weight. Furthermore, most of the increase in weight was attributed to lean body mass. Another research study described a slight weight reduction in chromium-picolinate supplemented football players. It was reported that these athletes became leaner as a result of a decrease in their body fat. However, other scientists challenged these studies because the methods used in these studies suffered from flaws that easily cast doubt upon the credibility of the results. More recent and better designed studies, ­including those published in the highly reputable research journals, failed to show beneficial effects of chromium supplementation. Furthermore, studies exploring the potential toxic effects of long-term chromium supplementation have not been completed. Some scientists also speculate that picolinate itself may unfavorably alter brain neurotransmitter levels. So at this time chromium supplementation is generally not recommended for muscle mass development in otherwise healthy and well-nourished athletes.


Can vanadium and vanadyl sulfate led to muscle mass gains?
Like chromium, vanadium as vanadyl sulfate has also received a fair amount of attention from weight-training individuals. However, contrary to the attention, there has been very little research performed regarding the possibility of vanadium as a mass-enhancing supplement. Like chromium, the potentially toxic effects of vanadium sup­plementation are not known, and many nutritionists caution against supplementation until more research is completed in this area.


Can boron raise testosterone levels?
When boron supplements led to elevated levels of testosterone in postmenopausal women, boron supplements became somewhat popular for weight trainers and bodybuilders, as it was believed that boron could increase testosterone levels. However, researchers have not been able to prove that boron supplementation increases testosterone levels, strength, and muscle mass in weight trainers. At this time, boron supplementation does not appear to be beneficial for weight-training athletes.








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