[ Q ] Hi Clayton, I read your article on L-arginine and you mention people with heart or psychiatric conditions should consult with their doctors first. I've read this before on product labels, and was wondering what l-arginine can do to people with these conditions? Thanks! Ben.
[ A ] Thanks for your question.
L-arginine is a basic amino acid that is present in protein. For bodybuilding purposes, L-arginine and its related compounds are most commonly used to boost nitric oxide levels, the boosting of which has a tangible benefit for muscle building and exercise performance.
When the amino acid arginine is consumed as part of a protein structure (i.e. when eating meat), it is generally well tolerated by everyone - including people with heart conditions and psychiatric concerns.
Used as a stand-alone supplement however, arginine can present difficulties for everyone, but especially people with heart conditions and psychiatric concerns.
Amino Acids & BCAA's Articles:
While most users of arginine suffer no side effects, infrequent normal side effects can include stomach upset, bloating, diarrhea and cold sweats. These side effects occur only when taking high amounts of arginine and are generally not a cause for concern as the side effects rapidly disappear shortly after administration.
For people with heart conditions and psychiatric concerns, stand-alone arginine supplementation presents other risks.
Research shows that L-arginine increases nitric oxide production and that this induces vasodilation - increasing the diameter of blood vessels.1 For people with heart conditions, this presents a risk of hypotension as blood pressure can decrease rapidly as a result of increased blood vessel diameter.
Regarding psychiatric concerns, L-arginine increases nitric oxide, and both L-arginine and NO act centrally to increase and mediate dopamine levels. They also stimulate adrenalin release from the adrenal medulla.
Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter responsible for improved mood, heightened alertness and improved moods. Adrenalin is a "fight or flight" hormone that dramatically increases energy levels. Together, these two effects can trigger some people to experience episodes of acute mania, and may trigger cyclical mania episodes.
It is for these reasons that people with heart conditions and psychiatric concerns are encouraged to refrain from supplementation before seeking a professional medical opinion from their doctor.
[ Q ] Hi Clayton. I am a lean, hard gainer, female. I am trying very hard to put some muscle because my birthday is coming up and I'm going to Jamaica for vacation. My goal is to get some muscle by April. I am 50 years old, 5'6" and 115 lbs.
Currently, I Ballroom/Latin dance 3-4 nights a week, do a full workout three times per week; 3 sets with 12-15 reps per set, and I eat 5-6 times a day with my calorie count around 250-300 calories per meal.
Right now, I'm toning and firming up, but I'm not gaining any lean muscle, and I can't seem to get rid of my lower layer of abdominal fat - something I must do to fit into my bathing suit!
By April I want to gain some shape onto my muscles, especially my arms and legs. What's the missing formula? Thanks! Casey.
[ A ] Casey, April is several months away, so you still have time to get on the right path to reach your goals.
At first glance, it's obvious to me that while your diet looks OK, your exercise regimen is totally off the mark. You're not only doing too much activity, but your application of resistance training within the context of your high volume program is not appropriate for what you want to achieve.
You stated that you're toning and firming, but not gaining any lean muscle, and from the looks of it, this is as it should be. While volume training (dancing, high volume resistance training with light weights) will tone and firm your muscles, these activities are not likely to put on significant amounts of muscle. There are technical reasons for this, but I won't get into them here. Suffice it to say, you need a change of direction when it comes to lifting weights.
To get results from your resistance training program, you must decrease the number of repetitions you do per set, increase the amount of weight that you use for every exercise and start doing compound movements that involve multiple muscle groups. While isolation exercises are of benefit, you must incorporate compound movements while also increasing the poundages that you lift on your isolation exercises.
Regarding the lower abdominal fat, you need to be sure that it is, in fact, fat and not simply a case of water retention. Because you're exercising, and I presume eating well, it's less likely that this fat is visceral fatty tissue and more likely that it is subcutaneous fatty tissue. The best way to get rid of this fatty tissue is to do high-intensity cardiovascular work.
However, at your age, both subcutaneous fat and water retention are equiprobable scenarios, so a bit of investigation is needed. This is best accomplished by inducing
ketosis and increasing your
caffeine intake, provided that your kidneys are healthy, that your blood pressure levels are acceptable and you're not overly sensitive to stimulants.
Always check with your doctor before making drastic changes to your eating habits as this scenario may not be appropriate for you and can even be harmful depending on your circumstances.
In any case, don't do anything drastic, but do make some changes to your routine and consult with your doctor. I also recommend getting your body composition checked by a competent professional so you have the raw data you need to quantify your situation.
[ Q ] My question is about ZMA and drinking a protein shake before bed. I've read that ZMA is to be taken before bed on an empty stomach, but I take casein protein before bed to make my sleep more anabolic. So my question is: How would I supplement effectively with ZMA? Or, is this even possible? Thanks for your time! Calvin B.
[ A ] This is a great question.
When it comes to ZMA, there is and always has been a misconception that ZMA is anabolic - that it triggers growth. The rational behind this idea is that ZMA increases anabolic hormone levels. The marketers of ZMA use a university study that supposedly "proves" this claim. However, when you read the actual research, you find that the story is quite different.
I'll spare you a long and drawn out technical analysis of the study in question, and instead I'll get to the bottom line: while ZMA does boost anabolic hormone levels, it does so only in athletes who are deficient in zinc. Please read that again.
The study that was done on college athletes found that the study subjects were deficient in zinc - an important mineral for healthy hormone production. This should not be surprising, given that many college athletes know little about nutrition or supplementation, that they often drink alcohol, and because their coaches and trainers are forbidden by NCAA regulations from recommending supplements or designing nutrition plans.
Once the study subjects were given ZMA, their zinc deficiency was corrected and hormone production levels temporarily increased by up to 200% - UP TO 200%, meaning that 200% was the maximum value of increase seen in the minority of the subjects, and that most subjects had value increases far below this amount.
The bottom line is this: ZMA works if you're deficient in zinc, and no research shows that it is effective if you intake sufficient amounts of zinc alone. However, if you need something to help you get to sleep, stay asleep and awaken more refreshed, ZMA is a great supplement. And, you can take it on an empty or partially full stomach - the difference in absorption rate is insignificant.
So, on the whole, is it worth paying a premium for ZMA when you can supplement with standalone zinc and magnesium supplements? I don't think so.
And, one final point to clarify: casein protein is anti-catabolic because of its relatively slow amino acid release rate when compared to its peers. However, the overall anabolism of casein is indirect and limited.
So the bottom line is this: don't worry about trivial over-technical directions. Just make sure you supplement and eat the best that you can. It's the only way to get results.
[ Q ] I'm taking weight-gainer and a weight loss supplement, at the same time. I'm doing this because I want to build lean mass while working out at the same time. Will taking a fat loss product counteract the effects of the weight-gainer, or do you think it will actually work? I really appreciate your help. Steve.
[ A ] This is a question that I get all of the time, so here's the answer:
It won't work.
To lose weight effectively, you must restrict your caloric intake in a gradual and incremental fashion, adjusting your macronutrient ratios to induce specific body composition changes. To gain weight you must increase your calories in a gradual and incremental fashion, adjusting your macronutrient ratios to induce specific body composition changes.
Another approach is to keep calorie intake constant but to re-allocate your calorie sources to more heavily favor protein and complex carbohydrates.
I'm not going to open a can of worms about the superiority of calorie reduction over keeping your calories constant, but I will say that weight-gainers are incompatible with both muscle building and fat loss, in the vast majority of cases.
And the reasons are simple: First, most weight gainers are concerned only with jamming as many calories into you as possible regardless of their source. And secondly, formulated weight-gaining products eliminate your ability to modify your macronutrient intakes. In short, you end up taking them and just hoping for results.
In most cases, weight gainers trigger body fat gain because most of them use cheap simple sugars to increase calorie content. These sugars cause massive insulin spikes, and this crushes any hopes of fat loss, while simultaneously eliminating muscle growth potential.
Likewise, most so-called fat burners or weight loss supplements cause a number of unwanted effects and can actually stop fat loss altogether by causing dramatic changes in electrolyte levels, and this can interfere with efficient kidney function - and you need efficient and healthy kidneys to lose as much fat as possible.
These supplements also often make it difficult to eat enough of the good foods you need to both build muscle and lose fat efficiently.
So while weight gainers may give you extra calories, the most likely outcome will be that you'll gain visceral fat (internal organ fat), have insulin and blood sugar fluctuations and only get fatter, thereby decreasing your chances of muscle growth. And, while most weight loss supplements may help you burn a few insignificant calories, the effects may not be worth it.
The fact is, you can't build muscle or burn fat unless your body is already primed through exercise and nutrition. Your body must already be positioned to lose fat or build muscle before you take supplements.
So instead of throwing these things into your body, saying a prayer to the muscle growth God and hoping for a five-minute muscle growth miracle, get back to basics and start first by giving your body what it needs.
The simple fact remains that the easiest way to burn fat is to build muscle. So get to it. Eat clean, exercise intelligently, use good supplements and focus on the fundamentals - focus on what works. Just be patient, be clear about what you want to achieve, pick your single most important objective and work hard. You'll get there with a clear vision, good focus and a plan of attack.
[ Q ] I just had surgery to remove gynecomastia. It has been a week since my surgery. How long do I have to wait before I can lift again? Is anything out there that can help with the healing process? Thanks. Kirk.
[ A ] For those readers who don't know, gynecomastia is a condition whereby fat deposits form underneath one or more nipples. This leads to a "lumpy" appearance and increased nipple sensitivity. Gynecomastia can be embarrassing and has many causes, including anabolic steroid use.
Gynecomastia has been given the name "b!tch t!ts" by bodybuilders because gynecomastia looks somewhat like the nipples of nursing pregnant dogs.
Treatment options vary depending on severity, but they range from drug therapies to surgery. Gynecomastia can sometimes indicate the presence of serious cancers.
Given that you've had recent surgery, the best thing that you can do is to seek the counsel of your doctor and follow his/her advice strictly. I know that you want to get back to work as quickly as possible, but surgery is a big deal, and you need to respect it, and give your body a rest.
Regarding the healing process, it's best to encourage the healing process through nutrition, supplementation and whatever drug therapies your doctor has prescribed.
When it comes to nutrition, I think it's best to avoid saturated fats and processed foods. It's well known that saturated fats act to promote inflammation and can cause immune system difficulties.
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Likewise, processed foods are usually high in saturated fats and
sodium, and their high sodium counts can cause electrolyte problems. And, if they're high in sugars, this can trigger wild
insulin spikes, increasing estrogen and potentially triggering more gynecomastia buildup because of the estrogen receptors present in the nipples.
Regarding supplementation, first start by ensuring that you're covering your bases with a high-quality multivitamin. Then, move on to getting healthy amounts of antioxidants like vitamins C and E. B-vitamins are also very important for a healthy healing response, so be sure to get enough of these also.
Enzyme supplementation has come to the forefront as of late. As you know, inflammation control is central for rapid wound healing. If you want more information on enzymes, be sure to read my article titled "DOMS: Prevention and Treatment."
[ Q ] I love reading your articles. I happen to be a vegetarian and I'm lactose intolerant. My specific goal is to put on 10 pounds of lean muscle on my frame in the next 3 weeks. What is the best course of action for that? Cheers! Krishna.
[ A ] A miracle. No kidding!
I wish that I were able to tell you that it's possible to gain 10 lbs of lean muscle mass in three weeks, but I can't. And, if anyone has told you that it is possible, let me disabuse you of the notion.
Gaining 10 lbs of lean, fat-free muscle mass in six months is a great growth rate for natural trainers, but gaining 10 lbs of muscle mass in three weeks is simply impossible for anyone.
For you, as a vegetarian, it is - and please excuse the intentional over-exaggeration and somewhat confounding logic - even "more" impossible. I am of course being purposefully silly. Obviously, something is possible or it isn't, but I'm exaggerating to demonstrate the fact that since it's impossible for other trainers to accomplish a gain of 10 lbs of muscle mass in three weeks, the fact that you're a vegetarian bodybuilder who is also lactose intolerant makes the likelihood of making these kinds of gains even more remote.
Whereas it would take a phenomenal set of circumstances to produce a gain of 10 lbs of lean muscle mass in three weeks for even the rapid gainer, it would take divine intervention and a miracle to make it happen in your case. And since miracles don't happen - because every event can be traced to a cause or multiple causes, even if we haven't yet discovered those causes - don't bet on it. This expectation is simply unrealistic.
The fact is, muscle growth is a slow process that proceeds in incremental graduations, and only if stimulated correctly to do so. Muscle growth is more like an "arching crane" as opposed to a "sky hook." That is, progress is cumulative and gradual, as opposed to instant and monumental.
To make consistent gains your nutrition plan, supplement plan and exercise regimen must be perfected and finely tuned for YOUR individual body. The fact that you're a vegetarian puts you at risk for nutritional deficiencies, and the fact that you're lactose intolerant only compounds the risk.
You won't find the answer to this question anywhere, because it doesn't exist. You simply cannot gain 10 lbs of lean, fat-free muscle mass in three weeks - even if you use anabolic steroids. It's that simple.
- Nakaki T; Kato R. 1994. Beneficial circulatory effect of L-arginine. Japanese Journal of Pharmacology. Oct, 66:2, 167-71.
- Anthony R. West, Matthew P. Galloway, Anthony A. Grace. Regulation of Striatal Dopamine Neurotransmission by Nitric Oxide: Effector Pathways and Signaling Mechanisms.. Synapse 44:227??"245 (2002).
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