Editorial: Summer Dreaming
Locked in my bedroom, staring at a computer screen, it seems to be all I do in the extremely little spare time I have left these days. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm starting to long for summer. It's really itching to start my diet, and I'm clenching my teeth to hold out just another 3 or 4 weeks, maybe get an extra pound or two if I can.
As winter will pass, I know the feeling will only get stronger. It's one thing to have a little muscle, but for most of us, especially if you don't really go all out, like me, and are natural, like me, we will always be confronted with people who are bigger. That somewhat tempers my focus on size. But in the end, if there is one thing you can always outclass anyone else with, its superior cuts and definition.
Add your pounds, but pay attention to symmetry, and when summer rolls around, you can stand next to a guy twice your size and still look better. I find that a somewhat comforting aspect of our sport. It's so multi-faceted.
But it seems I'm never content with the run of the season anymore. Winter makes me long for summer, because I feel too fat. Summer makes me long for winter, because I feel too skinny. That sort of mentality really defines us as a group. We are never content with what we have. We'd starve ourselves to lose one tenth of a percentage body-fat, we go to extreme lengths for half an ounce of muscle.
We are driven by a desire that is bigger than life and no matter how well we succeed; we never seem to be content. Nor should we ever be content of course. Our mentality is defined by these extremes. We set the standards for the next generation. We demand of our champions that they are bigger, more symmetrical and leaner than those that came before them. It is our aspiration, our goal. Each and every year, we seek to surpass our achievements of the year before that.
That got me to thinking. The sport doesn't make us this way, not really. We are drawn to this sport because we are this way, because we can make the sacrifice. And isn't it really this trait, of never being content, that makes us so good at what we do. Makes us more efficient at achieving a fantastic physique, more so than 99% of the world's population and definitely more so than the ever growing percentage of people who suffer from obesity and type 2 obesity because they do not have this unique ability?
I don't know how anyone else feels, but the fact that I am not content in the winter, feel somewhat uncomfortable and insecure over a body-fat percentage 60% of Americans and 40% of Europeans would die for, is exactly what makes me so anxious to start dieting. Imagine that, I'm eager to start denying myself the pleasures of food, looking forward to several weeks of mood swings, weakness and worst of all, cardiovascular training.
It sounds crazy, even to me, as I'm writing this. But I know it's true. I would sooner starve myself, faint a few times, than to have to fail in comparison. I'm proud of what I am, of what I do. And though my choice of life-style will never permit me to be the biggest, and that is entirely my choice, I can be the leanest. And whether its about being big, lean or symmetrical, it's this that sets us apart, isn't it? The will to be better. The fact that we would do anything.
We used to joke about the misinformation in the bodybuilding community, how some old schoolers persistently held on to debunked theories, that are by today's standards absolutely ludicrous. We used to say 'had someone told these people eating their own feces and washing it down with gasoline would have made them gain a quarter inch on their arms, they would have done it, no questions asked'.
While the majority of us are luckily much more critical, I'm not so sure that was so far fetched. It's incredible what we do. It's even incredible what I do, considering we are such a minority, and that only makes me respect my athletes more, because I could never do what they do. So meticulous, so methodical. As strictly as I write it down, they carry it out. The drive, the passion that it takes to do that.
It never ceases to astound me what magnificent creatures bodybuilders are. And every day I look upon our little subculture with more respect and approval. Every day, more and more, I begin to think we are the evolutionary winners. Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong, but I can't imagine myself doing anything else; not knowing what I know.
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that plays a crucial role in our metabolism. Most of us are familiar with its actions on bone mineral content and density, but few people seem to understand the relative importance of Vitamin D status for our sport. Vitamin D is a crucial element in proper muscle development, making it a necessary element for a good bulking regimen. But it is also quite adipogenic, making a reduction in Vitamin D a valid approach for fat loss supplementation.
The role of Vitamin D in muscle growth
Vitamin D has been shown to act in both genomic (mediated by the nuclear Vitamin D receptor) and non-genomic pathways in the process of muscle growth (1). The genomic pathways involve gene transcription mRNA and subsequent protein synthesis, while the non-genomic effect, which may be modulated by a membrane bound receptor, occur at a faster rate, potentially through effects on ion-channels in the membrane.
Low levels of Vitamin D have been associated with a great many deficiencies in several tissue, including nerve (Multiple scleroses) and bone (rickets), but also reduced muscle strength, increase in muscle pain and general myopathy (2). Experimental deletion of the Vitamin D receptor in mice resulted in abnormal skeletal muscle development (3). Vitamin D also exerts protective effects on muscle as well, by reducing the effects of corticosteroids on muscle catabolism.
Vitamin D has been shown to increase cortisosteroid binding protein (4) which would reduce the availability of the catabolic hormone cortisol. All these findings together demonstrate a clear role for Vitamin D in muscle growth and maintenance of health, and therefore adequate Vitamin D should be a consideration of any diet looking to maximize these benefits in athletes.
Buitrago C, Vazquez G, De Boland AR, Boland R. The vitamin D receptor mediates rapid changes in muscle protein tyrosine phosphorylation induced by 1,25(OH)(2)D(3). Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2001 Dec 21;289(5):1150-6.
Pfeifer M, Begerow B, Minne HW. Vitamin D and muscle function. Osteoporos Int. 2002 Mar;13(3):187-94. Review
Endo I, Inoue D, Mitsui T, Umaki Y, Akaike M, Yoshizawa T, Kato S, Matsumoto T. Deletion of vitamin D receptor gene in mice results in abnormal skeletal muscle development with deregulated expression of myoregulatory transcription factors. Endocrinology. 2003 Dec;144(12):5138-44. Epub 2003 Aug 13
Elfahime E, Felix JM, Koch B. Regulation of corticosteroid-binding globulin synthesis by 1alpha,25-dihyroxy-vitamin D3 (calcitriol), 9-cis-retinoic acid and triiodothyronine in cultured rat fetal hepatocytes. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1996 Jan;57(1-2):109-15.
The role of Vitamin D in fat gain : a role for calcium in fat loss.
This particular pieces does not so much concern Vitamin D, as much as it does inhibiting Vitamin D. Here the use of inhibitors, that block the conversion of dietary vitamin D to active Vitamin D, will be of key importance. Of special relevance here is one easy to find, well-known nutrient, namely calcium.
Increasing calcium intake will lower levels of active vitamin D. Since this concerns the fat gain potential of Vitamin D, it concerns the fat loss potential of calcium. Possibly one of the reasons why milk has been such a potent aid in fat loss in the past.
Genomically, Vitamin D inhibits uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) in human fat cells (1). Uncoupling proteins are proteins that regulate mitochondrial uncoupling, a process that makes energy production less efficient, and in turn increases metabolism since a larger amount of calories is needed for the same effect on energy. This would boil down to the fact that you are using more calories in rest and allow you to lose fat more effectively.
By using calcium to reduce Vitamin D, we can up-regulate UCP2 and increases thermogenisis (fat burning) in fat cells. Closely related may be vitamin D's inhibitory effect on T3 (2). During bulking stages this would play in our favour, since it inhibits differentiation of pre-adipocytes, preventing fat mass accrual.
But during cutting it would reduce our metabolic rate and slow down our fat loss. Here too reducing vitamin D would produce an increase in the amount of calories burned. Especially since T3 regulates UCP1 and 3 as well.
Non-genomically Vitamin D increases the inhibitory calcium flux in adipocytes, possibly via a membrane bound receptor. This resulted in a 50-100% increase in Fatty acid Synthase, a 61% increase in Glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase and reduced isoproterenol induced lipolysis by 80% (3). All factors that would notably increase fat gain and prevent fat loss. Isoproterenol is a beta-adrenergic agonist, so we can extrapolate that Vitamin D has a profoundly negative effect on our current line of fatburners.
Shi H, Norman AW, Okamura WH, Sen A, Zemel MB. 1alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 inhibits uncoupling protein 2 expression in human adipocytes. FASEB J. 2002 Nov;16(13):1808-10. Epub 2002 Sep 05.
Lenoir C, Dace A, Martin C, Bonne J, Teboul M, Planells R, Torresani J. Calcitriol down-modulates the 3,5,3' triiodothyronine (T3) receptors and affects, in a biphasic manner, the T3-dependent adipose differentiation of Ob 17 preadipocytes. Endocrinology. 1996 Oct;137(10):4268-76
Shi H, Norman AW, Okamura WH, Sen A, Zemel MB. 1alpha,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 modulates human adipocyte metabolism via nongenomic action. FASEB J. 2001 Dec;15(14):2751-3. Epub 2001 Oct 15.
Vitamin D status is essential too our health, both deficiency and overdose may cause problems with bone health, and influence a number of other factors. But this evidence suggests that for bodybuilders, during a mass building phase, supplementation with additional Vitamin D, or the intake of Vitamin D rich foods and perhaps a lowered calcium intake are advisable, as well as the increase in calcium intake and stopping supplementary vitamin D intake during dieting, are factors that may influence success in either regard drastically.
These means of augmenting our nutrition via supplementation should likewise be taken into consideration when drawing up a supplementation plan.
Creatine, to me, is still the single greatest find in supplement history. No supplement, prior or since, has such a record of both efficiency and safety as creatine. And today it still remains a favourite subject for research. Although I'm sure many will find creatine a boring subject by now, and I can't entirely disagree.
Over the past 5 or 6 years I have had to answer so many questions about it over and over again, it sometimes seems creatine is more of a curse than a blessing. But that doesn't change the fact that a few thousand money hungry supplement pioneers haven't managed to improve on this find. Sure, we now have prohormones, which are the first supplements to actually show notable increases in muscle mass in just a few weeks.
But their safety is very questionable, especially long term with regards to fertility and cardiovascular risk. And many have tried to cash in with the so-called second and third generation strategy, by claiming they have either augmented creatine delivery, or found a superior creatine analog.
The former only to jack up the price more than the increase in efficiency (adding sugar to creatine really doesn't cost an arm and a leg) and the latter only to see the error of their ways reflected in many disappointed customers. Creatine remains a safe and effective ergogenic supplement, with many benefits and above all, extremely affordable.
Creatine's effects on energy balance
I'm not going to stick a lot of studies beneath this subject, as I assume these features of creatine are already well-documented and I trust no one will dispute what is said here. Creatine's main use stems from its effect on rapidly repleting ATP stores. ATP is the energy currency in the body. Food is broken down to macronutrients, and macronutrients are oxidized in the mitochondria to create ATP, or adenosine tri-phosphate.
ATP releases its energy by breaking one of its high-energy phosphate bonds, and what remains is ADP or Adenosine Di-phosphate. ATP stores are depleted in a matter of seconds, after which we generally have to rely on other energy mechanisms to supply more, usually oxidative ones (via the Krebs cycle).
Creatine intake however increases the level of creatine phosphate, which can donate a phosphate to ADP and regenerate ATP. This increases our anaerobic ATP level by several seconds. The benefit being obvious to athletes that work predominantly anaerobic, such as powerlifters and bodybuilders.
However, creatine has also proven its benefits for other athletes as well. This may be, at least in part, due to the fact that it makes ATP generation more efficient by increasing citrate synthase activity, resulting in an almost 40% reduction in lactate output. Creatine supplementation also resulted in an increase in AMPK phosphorylation, which PPARgamma and Fatty acid synthase, potentially leaving more substrates available for long term oxidative energy production.
Ceddia R, Sweeney G. Creatine increases glucose oxidation and AMPK phosphorylation and reduces lactate production in L6 rat skeletal muscle cells. J Physiol. 2004 Jan 14
Creatine's effects on muscle growth
The most often discussed effect of creatine on muscle growth is the effect it has on cell swelling. Cell swelling has been demonstrated to be anabolic, leading to an increase in protein synthesis, independent of other factors. Creatine has been shown to increase the osmotic value of a cell, much like glycogen and glycerol, and therefore increase the water content of the cell, making it swell. Cell swelling by creatine has been shown to increase by as much as 2 or 3% (1).
But creatine may be much more versatile than that. It has been shown to affect the mitotic action of satellite cells. Satellite cells can be looked at as baby muscle cells. Under the influence of anabolic growth factors they can be incorporated into a muscle cell and donate a nucleus. Muscle cells are multi-nuclear, and the more nuclei the cell has, the more androgen receptors it has.
That means its more succeptible to muscle growth mediated by androgens, like testosterone. One such factor that melts satellite cells with muscle cells is IGF-1. Mitosis is the process of multiplication by division. Increased creatine content has been shown to enhance the multiplication of satellite cells (2).
In and of itself that means nothing, but more recent research (3) has uncovered a more active role for creatine in muscle growth, namely the increasing of IGF-1 and MRF mRNA levels in muscle cells, leading to hypertrophy of the myotubes. Combined with the previous study that means not only does creatine increase the number of satellite cells, it can ACTIVELY promote their incorporation in muscle cells making them more responsive to hypertrophy.
That makes creatine a much more versatile and useful compound for muscle growth than we previously imagined. That makes the biggest find in supplement history, an even bigger find.
Ziegenfuss T, Lowery L, Lemon P. Acute Volume changes in men during three days of creatine supplementation. JEPonline Vol1 nr3, 1998
Dangott B, Schultz E, Mozdziak PE. Dietary creatine monohydrate supplementation increases satellite cell mitotic activity during compensatory hypertrophy. Int J Sports Med. 2000 Jan;21(1):13-6.
Louis M, Van Beneden R, Dehoux M, Thissen JP, Francaux M. Creatine increases IGF-I and myogenic regulatory factor mRNA in C(2)C(12) cells. FEBS Lett. 2004 Jan 16;557(1-3):243-7.
Other uses for creatine
For those interested, I suggest you check out some other uses of creatine pertaining to health. It has been implicated in the treatment of chronic fatigue, depression, fybromyalgia, etc. Supplementation seems to enhance brain phosphocreatine content (1), which leads to increases in mood and possibly cognition. So I expect the current list of valid treatment uses for creatine will no doubt become longer in the future, as we start to uncover the implications of this.
Some students even claim the increase in cognitive function helps them study, so creatine may be a powerful study aid as well for some of you younger iron enthusiasts. Creatine may even be a good anti-oxidant as well, since it seems to reduce homocysteine levels as well.
Lyoo IK, Kong SW, Sung SM, Hirashima F, Parow A, Hennen J, Cohen BM, Renshaw PF. Multinuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of high-energy phosphate metabolites in human brain following oral supplementation of creatine-monohydrate. Psychiatry Res. 2003 Jun 30;123(2):87-100.
Not only does creatine increase energy balance and muscle growth, its effective treatment in several health problems. But to totally understand how remarkable creatine is, we also have to look at the fact that creatine has no known side-effects. One of the leading creatine researchers, Prof Poortmans has demonstrated in a study lasting up to 5 years with doses almost 4 times what the normal bodybuilder would use, that creatine has absolutely no adverse effects.
Not on the heart, not on the liver, not on the kidneys. Any claims made by anyone that state otherwise are completely and utterly fictitious, and proven utterly wrong by a multitude of studies. Creatine, besides being one of the most effective dietary supplements used by athletes, is most likely also the safest.
This makes it continually harder to understand the stance some people, and in some cases even authorities take towards creatine. In France, creatine is banned by several athletic federations. The complete and utter stupidity of this continues to baffle me.
Poortmans JR, Francaux M. Adverse effects of creatine supplementation: fact or fiction? Sports Med. 2000 Sep;30(3):155-70.