[ Q ] When I read your articles I feel that you really know your stuff and that I'm always getting a straight and accurate answer.
My question is regarding creatine use. I had used creatine for well over a year and while I saw results I felt that I mostly gained water weight. I've since stopped using creatine for three months. My question about creatine has to do with the heart.
Since creatine makes the body retain water in muscle tissue, and since the heart is a muscle, will creatine also cause your heart to hold extra water? If so will this cause any problems?
Thanks for your help.
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[ A ] This is a great question.
As you know, creatine monohydrate is a fantastic dietary supplement that produces outstanding results relatively quickly. It is arguably the most studied and researched dietary supplement of all time.
While creatine monohydrate is hydrophilic (highly attracted to water) and creates an intramuscular anabolic environment by dramatically increasing intramuscular hydration, it doesn't just contribute to muscle building by virtue of the fact that it increases the water content of your muscles.
While a big deal has been made over the years about most of the results of creatine being due only to water retention, the science doesn't back up these claims. Research shows that in addition to increasing intramuscular hydration, creatine monohydrate builds muscle tissue by increasing protein synthesis1, increasing total body mass2, and increasing Type I and Type II muscle fiber diameter.3
With regards to the effects of creatine monohydrate supplementation on heart health and heart function, it is important to understand that skeletal muscle tissues are not the same as cardiac muscle tissues. Whereas skeletal muscle tissues are highly concentrated with creatine in the form creatine phosphate and have the highest creatine concentration potential of any muscle tissue class - up to 95% of total creatine concentrations are in skeletal muscle tissue - creatine concentrations in cardiac tissue account for less than 1% of total body creatine concentrations.
Therefore, whereas we see profound changes in intramuscular skeletal muscle tissue hydration levels resulting from creatine supplementation, there is currently no human research suggesting that creatine alters intramuscular cardiac muscle tissue hydration levels. Consequently, this means that there is no evidence that creatine monohydrate alters heart function or heart health in humans.
The take home point on creatine monohydrate, then, is this:
Is Perfectly Safe To Use As Directed.
[ Q ] First off, I'd like say that I love your articles and they've helped me quite a bit. I have an odd question.
I lift regularly and I do aerobics, but I'm still not making great gains because I eat very badly - my whole life I've pretty much eaten only pizza or Burger King. I'm 20 years old now, and I can't seem to stop craving fast food or pizza.
How would you suggest that someone goes about getting away from a food problem like this?
- Nick Z
[ A ] Over the course of my career in health and fitness industry I've served as a nutritional counselor to countless competitive athletes preparing for competition, and as a counselor to noncompetitive athletes who work out and exercise for health and leisure.
Consistently, nutritional concerns remain the most significant barrier to success. And, most nutritional concerns manifest because of ignorance - a lack of knowledge - or behavioral conditioning.
While the first problem - ignorance - can be overcome by basic educational training regarding nutritional matters, conditioning is more difficult to overcome simply because it deals with long-standing and highly reinforced psychological and physiological behavioral patterns.
And, when it comes to food, these behavioral patterns - the sum of which constitute your general approach to eating and your relationship with food - encompass your thoughts and feelings about food, how you relate to food and the place of food in your life.
|RELATED TOPIC OF THE WEEK|
It's important understand that, because your conditioning is long-standing and because your negative eating habits have been reinforced during your formative years, you're dealing not only with your feelings about food, how you relate to it and its place in your life, but you're also doing with your biology - your physical constitution that has formed and has grown around these poor eating habits.
Because food is the fuel that we use to build our bodies, adjusting our eating habits and eliminating bad food items is especially difficult - it is, quite literally, the act of changing our physical makeup.
During your formative years, your poor eating habits created an internal chemical environment that became "normal" because it was established and maintained for years. As a result, this environment and the foods that create it came to be deemed "normal" and expected by your body. Today, then, your anatomy and hormones all function around this long-established environment.
Understanding this will help to give you some perspective on what you are fighting and will give you the perspective that you need to move forward with any reasonable chance of success.
It's simple: the reason you can't seem to stop craving fast food and pizza is because your body has built itself around these foods and the internal chemical environment they created and sustained from long ago until now.
Change, therefore, is very difficult and any change in your eating habits will cause an internal disruption of this environment, causing your neurons to seek the stimulation these foods provide. The craving is nothing more than an indication that your body is disrupted because the behavior of avoiding these foods has caused a shortage of them and a change in your internal chemical environment.
To start change, do the following:
- Remove these foods from your house.
- Tear out the pages for fast food and pizza restaurants from your telephone book.
- Whenever possible, do your best to avoid driving or walking past pizza and fast-food restaurants when leaving the house. If needed, plan your traveling route prior to leaving the house so that you can avoid the temptation they trigger.
- Seek professional help and talk about your cravings and difficulties.
While the first three points are critical containment strategies, so is the last. It's important to understand that while you want to stop eating these foods, a part of you - small or large - fears change and fears the sense of loss that you'll experience by turning your back on the foods you love to eat - the foods that you seek to give you comfort when cravings arise. This fear of loss is itself a great barrier to change.
Talking to an experienced professional, therefore, can help you to deal with all of the emotional issues and changes that occur during times of change.
Let me be clear: You're addicted to food. You're no longer in control. For you, food has become a drug that you can't get away from - and is the only thing that works to alter your moods and to take away your anxious body/mind states (craving) so you can feel "normal" and calm.
While food addiction is difficult to treat, seeking experienced professional help is the best solution to regaining control and changing your health.
Institute the steps I outline and become educated about food addiction. You'll learn a lot and begin to see your own behaviors in new ways. And, it's this process that will give you options and ways to escape the brutal cravings that keep tugging at you.
[ Q ] Hi Clayton. I'm a 23 year old and am serving in the United States Marine Corps. For years I've been trying to gain mass and have tried many different types of proteins, and I've also tried creatine monohydrate. So far, nothing has worked. While I get stronger, I don't see much of an increase in size. What can I do to remedy this problem?
LCpl Andrew R. T., USMC
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[ A ] While it is common to hear the argument that a stronger muscle is a larger muscle, this is not necessarily so. While strength is an important factor in the muscle growth process because of the principle of progressive overload, your experience and the experience of countless other bodybuilders shows that increases in strength do not necessarily translate into muscle growth.
And, while it is common to hear the argument that supplements are "the" key to getting larger muscles, your experience and the experience of countless other bodybuilders shows that you can use dietary supplements without gaining any muscular size.
Muscle growth is a dynamic process that depends on nutrition, supplementation and physical exercise. Nutrition and supplementation are critical because they create an internal environment that allows for "growth potential" - if exercise stimulus is correctly applied.
Mass Gain Diets:
In your situation, it is critical that your nutrition program is adequate to meet your basic needs and that you use dietary supplements correctly. Regarding nutrition, it is of paramount importance that you create the internal environment that is needed for muscle growth to occur. To this end, you should be concerned with three things:
- Giving your body enough caloric energy.
- Creating a positive and sustained nitrogen balance.
- Eating high quality calories in the appropriate ratios.
It is beyond the scope of this column to go into significant detail on these points, so I will say only a few words about each and encourage you to do your own research for further information.
Regarding calories, it is important that your body has enough calories to meet basic energy requirements and to allow for potential muscle growth. While you do not need to eat a massive amount of food to supply your body with the extra calories that it needs to build muscle, moderately increasing your calorie intake is beneficial.
When it comes to creating a positive nitrogen balance, dietary supplements are critical. Not all protein types are suitable for every occasion and so you must use them with skill and intelligence. For example, while I use a whey protein powder before and after my workouts, I will use a protein powder blend formula over the course of the day and in between meals.
The rationale for this approach is clear: whey protein is fast acting and releases its amino acids rapidly, facilitating rapid exercise recovery. By contrast, a protein powder blend formula contains multiple protein types that satisfy immediate, intermediate and long-term protein amino acid requirements.
Having long-term amino acid availability is key for establishing a consistent and extended nitrogen balance that is required for muscle growth to occur. By meeting your immediate, intermediate and long-term protein amino acid requirements, a protein blend supplement prevents muscle loss and allows for muscle growth to occur.
Finally, when it comes to physical activity it is critical to train correctly and to avoid doing too much. As a Marine, you are obviously very physically active because of your job. During your extra workouts in the gym, be sure that you are training your muscle fibers (and the kind of muscle fiber that you want to train - i.e. fast twitch vs. slow twitch) instead of your central nervous system. Further to this, ensure that you are getting adequate rest and recovery time between training sessions.
1 of 3: The Central Nervous System (CNS):
The human central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. These lie in the midline of the body and are protected by the skull and vertebrae respectively.
This collection of billions of neurons is arguably the most complex object known.
The central nervous system along with the peripheral nervous system comprise a primary division of controls that command all physical activities of a human.
Neurons of the central nervous system affect consciousness and mental activity while spinal extensions of central nervous system neuron pathways affect skeletal muscles and organs in the body.
I encourage you to do more research on the characteristics and behaviors of different protein types, and the characteristics and properties of different kinds of muscle fiber types. It will also be helpful if you research the different training methodologies employed for strength (CNS) training versus training designed to stimulate muscle growth.
[ Q ] If I wanted just to build pure strength without gaining much size or weight, how many times a week could I work the same body parts? Also, if more then one day a week, what should my set/rep ratio for each part?
[ A ] Whereas building new muscle tissue is a function of applying stimulus designed to induce micro-damage in skeletal muscle fibers, strength training is an entirely different sort of animal and requires a completely different approach to training.
Strength building is primarily a function of central nervous system (CNS) efficiency and power generation. While fast twitch muscle skeletal muscle fibers are obviously involved, it's the neurotransmitters that play a critical role in generating the nerve firing cascade needed to lift heavy amounts of weight explosively.
To train your CNS for strength gains and to increase the amount of force your body can produce, it's ideal to work your main muscle groups twice a week. And, base the amount of weight that you lift on your 1RM - your 1 repetition maximum - for the big three compound movements - squats, deadlifts and bench press. The first step is determining your 1RM on these exercises.
|1 REP MAX CALCULATOR|
Here is an example of what your workout should look like:
Your entire workout should consist of one exercise movement per session only - i.e. squats, or deadlifts, or bench press. Because each of these exercises is compound, you get the benefit of working many muscle groups simultaneously. And, as an added benefit, compound movements are more functional than isolationary exercises and, as a result, develop more even strength.
Your workouts should last no longer than 30 minutes, and you shouldn't feel burned out when you leave the gym, unlike the feeling you get when doing multiple sets of isolation movements.
Do this routine and focus on increasing your total 1RM by five pounds each week - and adjust your lifts accordingly. If, by chance, you need to take an extra week to complete the proscribed repetition scheme at a certain poundage level, do so. The most important thing is being able to do the proscribed poundages at the rep schemes indicated.
And here's the good news: This program WILL make you stronger EVERY WEEK. I know for an absolute fact that this program works wonders - it did for me during my powerlifting days. It's the most efficient strength building program I've ever used.
Give the program a try and let me know of your results!
[ Q ] I've read your articles and they're extremely informative. I hope you can help me out too.
I'm 17 years old, and suffer from gynocomastia. I've read about surgery and medications, but since both options are unavailable to me, I'd like to know if there's an alternative.
Can the visible effects be reduced through exercise? I stopped working my pectorals about three months ago when I realized it'll probably make matters worse. Should I resume? Will it only add muscle to the fat tissue and enlarge the area even more?
I'd greatly appreciate your help.
[ A ] I have good news and bad news for you Fahad.
First, the bad news: exercise can't eliminate gyno.
Now, here is the good news: exercise won't make gyno worse and, in fact, might make it better. Let me explain.
Exercise is great for improving your hormone profile. And, since gyno is primarily a hormonal problem to do with estrogens (in rare cases gyno can indicate serious and often fatal testicular cancer), exercising to keep your androgens high is advisable. Exercise is also great because it burns fat, and this is important because gyno often occurs as body fat levels increase. Keeping your body fat levels low, therefore, can prove beneficial.
At your age, no doctor in his or her right mind would consider treating your gynocomastia unless it was due to testicular cancer. Why? It's simple: you're a young man, and your hormones are in a state of constant flux. As a result, any treatment might not make a difference as the gyno might reappear until your hormones normalize.
Another piece of good news: Gyno is common for men your age. And, even better, it usually goes away on its own when you're around 19 or 20.
The best thing you can do in the mean time is avoid high fat foods, avoid marijuana, alcohol and other substances that tilt your hormone profile in favor of estrogen, avoid anabolic steroids and prohormones, and continue to exercise and focus on keeping your body fat levels low.
Intake plenty of protein - limiting soy protein whenever possible - and drink plenty of water. You should also consider eating plenty of red cabbage as this helps estrogens pass from your body very efficiently and rapidly.
For now, focus on the basic, avoid the pitfalls and you should be fine in a couple of years.
Do YOU have a question that you want answered? Do you have an opinion you want to share about the column? If so simply send an e-mail to email@example.com and be heard! Say your peace!
- Balsom PD, Harridge SD, Soderlund K, Sjodin B and Ekblom B (1993) Creatine supplementation per se does not enhance endurance exercise performance. Acta Physiol Scand 149:529-523.
- Ziegenfuss T, Lemon P, Rogers M, Ross R, Yarasheski K. Acute creatine ingestion: effects on muscle volume, anaerobic power, fluid volumes, and protein turnover. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1997;29:S127.
- Volek JS, Duncan ND, Mazzetti SA, Staron RS, Putukian M, Gomer AL, Pearson DR, Fink WJ and Kraemer WJ (1999) Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistence training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 31:1147-1156.
The information provided in this publication is for educational and informational purposes only and does not serve as a replacement to care provided by your own personal health care team or physician. The author does not render or provide medical advice, and no individual should make any medical decisions or change their health behavior based on information provided here. Readers are encouraged to confirm the information contained herein with other sources. Readers and consumers should review the information in this publication carefully with their professional health care provider.
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