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Supplement Savvy: More Questions, MOHR Answers - 3-11-05!

This article looks at recent studies concerning weight loss and weight gain.

Weight Loss Study

The evidence of benefit for omega-3 fats is quickly mounting. Well, here's a recent study with a fairly new finding for these "super fats;" omega-3 fats may lead to a higher body weight loss in conjunction with a weight loss program. There have been a few other studies pointing to this connection, so this just adds some more evidence to this research question.

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Twenty obese women were randomly assigned to a very low calorie diet (VLCD) with added omega-3's or a VLCD with placebo. VLCD's are sometimes used with severely obese individuals to bring their weight down rather quickly since they are at a very high risk for various comorbidities. It was determined in this short 3-week study that those in the omega-3 supplemented group lost approximately 3 pounds more, which was significant.

Keep in mind this was only a 3-week study, so 3 additional pounds in 3 weeks is a lot (looks like 3's a charm). Furthermore, there was a significantly greater decrease in hip circumferences in the omega-3 supplemented group and a great decrease of fibrinogen in the omega-3 group. Fibrinogen is a marker of inflammation, which from all we know about omega-3's, makes sense.

This short abstract didn't list the dosage of omega-3 fats consumed by the group, but most recommendations for otherwise healthy individuals are in the 1-2 g/day range. Although this study was conducted on obese women, there has also been evidence that this same effect occurs in leaner individuals.

More Weight Loss...

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study putting the heavy hitter diet books head to head. Atkins (high fat), Ornish (high carb), Weight Watchers (calorie controlled), and Zone (moderate carb, higher protein) were measured against one another in this one-year weight loss trial.

160 overweight or obese participants were randomly assigned to one of the 4 diets and researchers measured adherence rate and weight loss. It was found that subjects in the Atkins group lost approximately 4.5 pounds, the Zone and Weight Watchers groups lost approximately 7 pounds, and the Ornish group lost just a bit over 7 pounds.

None of the weight losses were considered statistically significant between diets. The Zone and Weight Watchers groups had a 65% retention rate and both Atkins and Ornish reported approximately a 50% retention rate. The moral of the story: extreme diets (very high fat or very low fat) were the hardest to follow. The more moderate plans, like Weight Watchers and the Zone had better rates of retention, all with similar weight loss outcomes.

Weight Gain Study

Packing on slabs of muscle is easier for novice lifters than experienced ones. Finding the optimal "mass building" routine for experienced folks is like searching for the Holy Grail. Therefore, to help solve this dilemma, researchers recently published a review of the literature in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise looking at 140 studies to determine the dose response for strength development.

Through the available literature, the researchers determined that in trained individuals, 80% of 1 rep max or 8 reps/set elicits the greatest strength increase. On the contrary, untrained individuals experience maximal gains at just 60% of their 1 rep max or 12 reps/set.


Calculate Your One-Rep Max (1RM)

Weight Lifted
Reps Done

= One-Rep Max

95% 1 RM
90% 1 RM
85% 1 RM
80% 1 RM
75% 1 RM
70% 1 RM
65% 1 RM
60% 1 RM
55% 1 RM
50% 1 RM


Enter the amount of weight you lifted (Lbs/Kg) and the number of reps you completed. Your One Rep Max (1 RM) will appear at the bottom left, and your various percentages of 1 RM will appear on the right side.

The researchers also found that experienced lifters respond best when their muscles are trained 2 days/week (e.g., chest on Monday and Thursday). Untrained individuals saw the best results when training each muscle group up to 3 days/week!

Finally, both trained and untrained individuals showed the greatest growth with 4 sets/body part. Of course individuals should regularly vary their workouts to achieve the optimal strength and size gains over time as this is a guideline, not something etched in stone.

More Weight Gain...

Shifting the focus off of diet, here's yet another study demonstrating how important post-workout nutrition is. Eating the right recovery meals can help pack on muscle overtime.

The goal of this investigation was to determine the individual and combined effects of amino acids (AA), the building blocks of protein, and carbohydrate (CHO) on muscle protein synthesis.

Subjects completed a 40-minute resistance training bout. One hour post-exercise, subjects ingested a CHO-only drink (0.5g CHO/kg bodyweight), a CHO-AA drink (0.5g CHO + 0.087 g/kg AA), or an AA-only drink (0.087g/kg AA). For a 150-pound individual, this is the equivalent of approximately 35g of CHO and 6 g of AA.

It was found that CHO alone positively affected moderate anabolism, but did not affect muscle protein synthesis, which should be a goal of post-recovery nutrition. When the AA was taken alone there was an increase in protein synthesis. However, when the AAs were combined with CHO, there was an interactive effect between the two nutrients. In simple terms, when taken together, the insulin from the CHO facilitated the action of the AA to cause a greater muscle protein response and thus better recovery.

Solving The Post Workout Puzzle.
In this article, the profound physiological effects of intense exercise are discussed, including glycogen depletion and alterations in protein status...
[ Click here to learn more. ]

Take-home message: Carbohydrates and protein, together, are ideal for optimizing recovery, which will ultimately lead to enhanced performance. Some suggestions? Fat-free chocolate milk makes a wonderful post-exercise recovery drink, as it contains approximately 35g of CHO and approximately 10g of protein.

The exact serving size needs to be determined on an individual basis according to the athlete's bodyweight. Some other good options are Surge by Biotest, Endurox and Countdown, both by Pacific Health Labs.

What Did We Learn Today?

  • Omega-3 fats may enhance weight loss (in addition to all their other benefits). Of course eating fish, like salmon, is a great option when on a cutting or weight loss phase of a diet. It's not only a great source of omega-3's, but is high in protein and full of beneficial nutrients.

  • A more moderate diet appears to be better in terms of adherence rates; forget the super low carbs and the super low fat plans, try eating everything in moderation.

  • Experienced lifters saw the best strength gains when lifting at 80% of their 1 rep max. If you're a newbie, try 60% of your 1 rep max for great gains. Of course it's important to note that not anyone program is best; the best program is actually the one you haven't tried, so keep up that variety.

  • Finally, don't forget about recovery nutrition. Look for products that provide approximately a 3 or 4:1 carb to protein ratio.

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