This is the first issued of a new column called Science and Performance in which I will discuss clinical studies and trials as they relate to exercise performance and supplementation. Some studies dating way back, others published very recently. I plan on writing a new issue every time I find enough interesting and relevant studies to fill an article. In this issue I have some interesting data regarding Niacin, and new facts on how ECA's work, what exactly the effect of HCA is and whether or not pursuing the fountain of GH is really worthwhile.
I remember a while back I received some questions of whether or not one should supplement with Niacin, which has been touted as a performance enhancer for two and a half decades now. My usual reply, and I stick to that, is that its better to supplement with a total B-vitamin complex of 50-100 mg potency once or twice a day. Now just recently I received an email from someone asking me about a study a friend of him referred to on the use of Vitamin B3 (Niacin or Nicotinic acid) as a workout enhancer. I went and looked up the study, and here are my conclusions.
The purpose of this study was to assess how selected physiological and performance responses are affected when the normal increase in plasma free fatty acid concentration during exercise is blunted by ingesting nicotinic acid. It did so by using four randomly selected groups in a double-blind study. One group used a placebo drink (water), the second used water with 280 mg of Niacin added , the third group consumed a 6% carbohydrate and electrolyte drink and the last group used the same but again with Niacin added to it. The results clearly showed that both groups using the Niacin blunted a rise in Free Fatty acid (FFA) concentration. The low FFA levels corresponded with a 300 to 600% increase in the release of Human growth Hormone. And this was what the email I got was raving about.
However if we examine the study further, it also showed some other interesting details. The Niacin only group showed a significant decrease in exercise performance compared to the placebo group, a decrease of about 8% and an even greater decrease (21%) compared to the carb/electrolyte only group. The group that used the carbs and electrolytes plus the Niacin did improve on the placebo group, but had decreased peak performances compared to the carb and electrolyte only group. This could have correlated with the lower free fatty acid levels as high FFA levels are usually associated with exercise induced stress. Because of the high correlation it may be that FFA levels are a response to lower energy resources in the body, and consequently a drop in performance is noted when this response is decreased.
Now to the supposed GH benefits. First of all, to those who believe in GH supplements, I urge you to read on and carefully examine the next section of this article. But lets say we still believe in the benefits of hGH. The study used 280 mg of Niacin and it was administered every 15 minutes starting 15 minutes before the exercise and ending 15 minutes after the exercise. First of all the risk of toxicity would be high. Now toxic levels are in the neighborhood of 1500 mg. This is usually not a problem because common doses are usually 50 mg once a day to 500 mg twice a day and B3 is readily excreted in urine. So toxical effects are unlikely, but he we are talking a minimum of 6 doses of 280 over a short period of time which would definitely take you over the 1500 mark in no time. So not too healthy. On top of that Niacin supplementation can cause severe discomfort in high doses and as shown it decreases exercise performance when taken so close to a workout, so it would negatively impact your training. As a result, even if the GH increase was of any real benefit, it would have been negated by poor training.
What this does teach us, in the positive sense however, is that supplementing with carb/electrolyte drinks every 15 minutes during a workout can increase performance, recovery and glycogen replenishment. This is not surprising since the study was sponsored by Gatorade.
Also to put the notion out that B3 is somehow a magical supplement, I added in another study done on Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) that shows it too has a result on increasing growth hormone release, albeit smaller. This one also shows it may reduce prolactin and speed up recovery. I guess the point I'm making here is that B-vitamins are very alike in action and also very synergistic. Therefore there is more benefit to be had from supplementing with a complete B-complex vitamin that supplies 50-100 mg of each, and preferably after or during a meal and not around exercise time since B-vitamins aid in digestive processes and comport themselves as enzymes in a great deal of body functions.
- Murray R, Bartoli WP, Eddy DE, Horn MK, Med Sci Sports Exerc 1995 Jul;27(7):1057-62
- Moretti C, Fabbri A, Gnessi L, Bonifacio V, Fraioli F, Isidori A., N Engl J Med 1982 Aug 12;307(7):444-5
Growth Hormone and the Athlete
Lately it seems questions about Growth Hormone are rolling in again. The supplement industry is hyping it as the best thing since sliced bread and suddenly everybody wants high GH levels and wants to know what to do to get them. From illustrious and not very well-thought out plans on getting around the FDA minimum concentration to teenagers wanting prescription medication. But lets have a little closer look at GH shall we? What is really the point of it? Well most of the industry's top dogs and most economically sound bodybuilders will tell you that GH is a total waste in terms of muscle growth. Two studies surfaced (courtesy of fitforlife) proving that point very well. Both clearly NO BENEFICIAL EFFECTS ON MUSCLE OR PERFORMANCE. And these weren't your average rat tests either, these were actual human studies.
Moreover it makes me wonder why all the fuss. I mean legal GH comes in a concentration considerably lower than effective, is administered sublingually which interferes with your eating schedule and has to be administered more than once a day. Natural ways of stimulating GH release are very limited, often no more than an 800% increase. Now I know a few other things that increase GH between 300 and 1200% : Eating high-protein meals, which bodybuilders do 6-8 times a day, sleeping (75% of GH release occurs during sleep), which bodybuilders do 8-10 hours every night and working out which bodybuilders do 3-8 times per week. All these considerably raise GH levels, often more so than these supplements. So what exactly is the purpose of GH supplements? And even if they do raise those levels, you won't notice it. I mean when you sleep your GH levels are at their highest. Do you feel a longer and better pump during sleep? More lean mass accrual? Cause I don't.
So is there a point to GH at all? Well obviously not for boosting levels naturally, except perhaps when you grow older. After the age of 30 levels of GH decline rapidly. And there are studies that show that MAINTAINING optimal levels thoughout your life is beneficial in promoting length and quality of life for older citizens, no doubt about it. But leave the home-made brews until you turn 50. On another note, optimal levels of GH are beneficial to the endurance athlete getting on in age as well. Athletes that are actually deficient in growth hormone, usually 45 plus athletes, show a decrease in endurance performance. This, at least according to one studyÂ³, is accredited to the beneficial effect GH has on erythropoeisis, the manufacture of red blood cells. RBC are the main transport organ of oxygen in the body and reduced red blood cell counts lead to reduced aerobic capacity. Of course something can be said here too, as GH replacement therapy is very costly, and it is probably better to use treatment involving the hormone EPO, which is directly responsible for the manufacture of RBC. What the study does show is that optimal aerobic performance, at least naturally, is not possible with declining GH levels.
What are the conclusions of this paragraph ? Whether or not we will ever harness the power of GH naturally is irrelevant, as at least for the body-builder it has no application in the accrual of lean body mass whatsoever. GH increasing supplements are not needed for optimal growth as long as you get enough sleep and eat a high-protein (1 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight) diet.
- Effect of growth hormone treatment on hormonal parameters, body composition and strength in athletes. Deyssig R, Frisch H, Blum WF, Waldhor T., Acta Endocrinol (Copenh) 1993 Apr;128(4):313-8
- Growth hormone effects on metabolism, body composition, muscle mass, and strength. Yarasheski KE., Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1994;22:285-312
- The importance of growth hormone in the regulation of erythropoiesis, red cell mass, and plasma volume in adults with growth hormone deficiency. Christ ER, Cummings MH, Westwood NB, Sawyer BM, Pearson TC, Sonksen PH, Russell-Jones DL., J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1997 Sep;82(9):2985-90
One study I came across I found particularly relevant. Not only because of the content but also because it seems it's a rare thing to be able to present studies performed on highly trained athletes. It's a welcome refreshment from companies claiming fat loss through tests done on the average Western fat-ass (obesis occidentalis), or claiming muscular hypertrophy while holding a trial performed on rats. This study examined the effects of an anti-oxidant mix containing 600 mg Vitamin E (alpha-tocepherol), 1000 mg Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and 32 mg of beta-carotene (Vitamin A) and was performed on basketball players of the Spanish premier league (ACB). The mix showed a clear reduction in free radicals (In this case lipoperoxides) compared to the placebo group and an increase or maintenance of total anti-oxidant Status (TAS). Plasma concentrations of Vitamins E nor A were affected to any serious degree, but plasma concentrations of Vitamin C remained level for the group with the anti-oxidant supplement as opposed to severe drop in the placebo group. Vitamin C, as opposed to Vitamins E and A, is water-soluble and therefore its plasma concentrations are more easily affected during stressful conditions. The average plasma concentration in basketball players in the midst of training season was found to be marginal and thus Vitamin C supplementation is heavily advised in athletes. The odd thing was that Vitamin D levels did not decrease drastically despite the high dose of supplementation. It might have something to do with the frequency of sunlight in Spain, I think. But in any case the main conclusions here are that supplementation with Vitamins A and E , but especially C decreased free radicals and maintained anti-oxidant status, and that especially the use of Vitamin C is highly recommended for athletes. In this case a single dose of 1000 mg, but I would advise three evenly spread doses of 500-1000 mg daily as being optimal.
Another study I found had some interesting data on the trace mineral zinc. It showed how certain diets, especially those that had undergone an increase in carbohydrates, can decrease levels of zinc in the body. 90% of athletes were found to be highly deficient in this mineral. Especially endurance athletes preparing for competition by carb-loading underwent a severe drop in zinc levels. This leads us to believe that a keto diet, higher in fat and protein and lower in carbs, is better at maintaining optimal zinc status and that the traditional high carb bulking diet is best accompanied by zinc supplementation of some sort. A minimal zinc deficiency is easy to get but hard to detect. Deficiency can lead to fatigue, decreased endurance, osteoporosis, loss of the quality of sleep and loss of bodyweight, sometimes to the point of anorexia. Especially in endurance athletes, but valid for over 90% of ALL athletes, this is very relevant information. Supplementation with a chelated zinc formula or ZMA is therefore advised for most if not all athletes, even when already consuming a multi-vitamin. It's important that the product does not contain calcium which will inhibit the absorption of zinc. Also, when bulking red meat is a very good source of zinc and should be implemented as part of the diet.
The best sources for Zinc are meat, poultry and fish, trace amounts can be found in eggs, seeds and yeast and in grain, but grain contains phytic acid which binds zinc prior to ingestion making it absolutely unabsorbable. That's why animal sources are the better choice. If you are a vegetarian, a good ZMA supplement might be a wise decision.
- Schroder H, Navarro E, Tramullas A, Mora J, Galiano D., Int J Sports Med 2000 Feb;21(2):146-50
- Micheletti A, Rossi R, Rufini S., Sports Med 2001;31(8):577-82
Consider this common interest. A Norwegian study examined the effect of physical fitness on life-style and quality of life. The conclusion of the study is that gross physical inactivity is possibly one of the greater factors in the declining health of the world population. We aren't talking something minor either, the study used the words "AS DETRIMENTAL AS SMOKING". Decreased physical activity has been linked to obesity, a whole series of cardiac problems, diabetes mellitus and non-fatal cardiac diseases. A world-wide tendency over the past 50 or so years have shown a drastic decline in the physical fitness of the world population and a striking correlation between high cardiovascular conditions and total mortality within that population. Obvious conclusion: Less time spent exercising = less time spent alive. Not to mention a decrease in the quality of your life. It has been shown that people who do not exercise on a frequent basis are more likely to spend the last years of their lives in wasting conditions such as Alzheimers or a whole host of disabling conditions.
- Erikssen G., Sports Med 2001;31(8):571-6
Tribulus and Testosterone
A lot of people have asked my why I'm such a fan of prohormones and why I absolutely abhor stacked products that include other products like tribulus. Well, prohormones are as anabolic as they get because they are the only supplements currently available that can raise hormonal levels to super-physiological heights. To maintain those levels you need to take them in several doses spread thoughout the day. By using sub par doses, bad stacks and a whole host of other products like chrysin (which inhibits the actions of prohormones) and tribulus make it hard to use these products more than once or twice a day.
I simply don't believe its right to stack a cap full of useless materials and sell it for the same price when you can get better results just by filling the cap with the prohormone only for the same price. Most companies just add this stuff to show off their superior ingredient list instead of trying to show of the superior gains their product would have if they had used only one or two of those products in the right dose. For this part I limit myself to Tribulus. Why add tribulus ? Well supposedly it raises testosterone levels by stimulating LH release. Trib has been used for centuries, as have other steroidal saponins, as libido boosters. In other words they can give you and erection. Since testosterone is a sex hormone most people associate getting a boner with high test levels. But does tribulus really raise testosterone? According to the clinical evidence, the answer is a resounding NO.
In one study, tribulus did not elevate serum testosterone. In another study tribulus supplementation had no effect on body composition or muscular strengthÂ². As for the studies supporting the use of steroidal saponins, only two came up. Both were conducted on rats (both of these are done on trained athletes) and one of them was in Russian. I have to admit defeat here as my Russian is not that good and no summary was available. So from this we can draw the conclusion that if you are a bit older and have trouble "getting it up", then tribulus may be for you, but for the athletes looking for real gains from his supplementation, it's a useless cap filler.
- Effects of anabolic precursors on serum testosterone concentrations and adaptations to resistance training in young men Brown GA, Vukovich MD, Reifenrath TA, Uhl NL, Parsons KA, Sharp RL, King DS, Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2000 Sep;10(3):340-59
- The effects of Tribulus terrestris on body composition and exercise performance in resistance-trained males Antonio J, Uelmen J, Rodriguez R, Earnest C., Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2000 Jun;10(2):208-15
E/C Stacks as Pre-workout Energy Boosters
Then there is this study, which documents the ways through which the famed E/C stack of ephedrine and caffeine operates as a pre-workout energizer rather than its well-documented effects as a fat-loss agent. Though I don't condone the use of E/C stacks as such because of the high dependency factor involved with ephedrine, and the side-effects including fatigue and severe depression when coming off, as well as insomnia and high blood pressure while taking it. I usually only advise these products when used in short cycles for fat loss. But fact remains that these products are often included in products to boost neuromuscular response, sometimes even in low-dose prohormone supplements to give the impression that the prohormones are stimulating the neural system when in effect it is the E/C.
The study examined a group of 24 males, 16 of which doing one form of exercise, 8 performing another. Randomly, and under double-blind conditions, E/C , E, C or a placebo was administered roughly 90 minutes before commencement of the respective bouts of exercise. The results showed that ephedrine caused increased power output, caffeine increased time to exhaustion and oxygen deficit and that the combination increased cathecholamine (epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine) levels and raised blood lactate and glucose levels. From this we conclude that E/C exhibits its effects on energy stimulation through stimulation of the neuromuscular pathway by way of ephedrine and stimulation of skeletal muscle by way of caffeine. That was the conclusion of this study, but we can draw several others from the results. By the raise of catchecholamines glycogen use for energy is inhibited and turned back to glucose, which would explain the rise in serum glucose levels. Consequently that means even though you get an increase in energy while on the stuff, your glycogen levels would be massively depleted resulting in an amazing crash when coming off. This explains fatigue and sever depression as a side-effect. Moreover the stack increased blood lactate, a waste product of muscular damage. That would point towards a catabolic state. This could be the result of the body switching to fat and protein as alternate fuel to make up for the lack of glycogen. Protein is consequently robbed from the muscle, making for a very catabolic state. And finally caffeine increase oxygen deficit, making this a no-no for endurance athletes that require large oxygen capacity.
What is the bottom line here for athletes? Well E/C does increase energy, but at what cost? Decreased natural energy and possible depression when coming off, muscular atrophy due to the loss of protein sparing abilities and a drop in aerobic capacity. Therefore I stick to my point and only advise the use of E/C stacks as a fat loss supplements. As a result of the rise in cathecholamines, it has been proven that they have a beneficial effect on fat-loss, but must be augmented with a muscle-preserving product like glutamine or HMB to prevent muscular atrophy.
- Bell DG, JACOBS And I, Ellerington K., Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001 Aug;33(8):1399-403
Hydroxy-citric Acid as a Fat-Loss Supplement
This is one I've been fussing back and forth about for a while with several people because I believe it to be a worthwhile supplement and others are convinced it is an absolute waste. The results I came up with were mixed, and would you expect any less? The first study showed that there was a significant increase in fat-weight lost between a placebo group and a group that was administered HCA, both in conjunction with a low-cal diet (5020 kJ). Both groups lost weight, but the HCA group lost more (50% approx.). The study also examined its use as an appetite suppressant and came to the conclusion that it did not exert its effects through appetite suppression. It did not say how they measured this, but I would like to know since I personally did experience appetite suppression. However in light of this evidence I can no longer recommend its use as such. They proffered a theory that the resulting increase in weight loss was the result of a decrease in hepatic lipogenesis.
Now two other studies conducted similar tests with HCA and came to the conclusion that it did not affect weight loss to a significant level. The reasons for this are obvious, unlike the previous studies they used a normal to high calorie diet. As a result we can conclude that there is no reason for taking HCA when bulking up or trying to add body-weight while limiting fat. It's simply is not effective on a high-cal diet. The first study was on sedentary male subjects on a standard Western diet (the aforementioned homo obesis occidentalis) which is high in fat (30-35%) and probably, although not mentioned, in saturated fat. It would have to be or it wouldn't be a standard Western diet. It came to the conclusion that the trial did not support the hypothesis that Garcinia Cambogia (the fruit from which HCA is made) has an effect on weight loss. The second study used largely obese subjects also consuming a hefty diet. Again the result was that it did not increase fat loss significantly enough over the placebo to warrant its use as a fat loss supplement.
Now the obvious question here is how can one study prove a 50% greater capacity using only 400 mg where two studies showed no effect at 3000 and 1500 mg respectively? Well several reasons. First of all the diet. In the first study there was the use of a low-cal diet, which is a prerequisite to losing body-mass and the other two were standard Western diets high in saturated fats which would no doubt increase lipogenesis further. The latter two studies also used obese individuals. Its obvious that the decreases noted in the first study would be significant there, but may not have been such a significant reduction in individuals that weighed twice as much. This would vouch for the consistency of HCA because it causes the same amount of weight-loss in obese and trained individuals. The last reason could be the purity and standardization of the respective supplements. In all three studies garcinia cambogia was used, but to what percentage was it standardized for HCA? None of these can account for the differential alone, but all three together they could explain why the results differed the way they did.
A last study I found on HCA was an indirect study. It went on to show that the inhibition of the citrate lyase enzyme could increase aerobic endurance. One of the main benefits, at least proven benefits, of HCA is that it can inhibit this enzyme and may therefore, when administered prior to an aerobic event may boost endurance drastically because it would promote gluconeogenesis (the making of new blood sugar and consequently glycogen). It was also shown that it exerted this effect to the greatest extent when combined with a low-cal, fat-loss type diet and that supplementation with L-carnitine and a bio-available chromium supplement may increase its effects further. (One has to wonder, with that last conclusion, whether or not this was sponsored by a supplement company that owns the patent to a product containing these exact ingredients, which would flaw these results to a large extent.)
- Mattes RD, Bormann L., Physiol Behav 2000 Oct 1-15;71(1-2):87-94
- Kriketos AD, Thompson HR, Greene H, Hill JO, Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1999 Aug;23(8):867-73
- Heymsfield SB, Allison DB, Vasselli JR, Pietrobelli A, Greenfield D, Nunez C., JAMA 1998 Nov 11;280(18):1596-600
- McCarty MF., Med Hypotheses 1995 Sep;45(3):247-54
That's all for this time, but you can count on me being back if I find enough interesting and relevant studies to share with you. I hope the information was enlightening and may help to settle some disputes about the efficacy and function of these supplements for you as well as help you make conscious decisions when putting together your own supplementation regimen.