More Than Muscle


Five bodybuilding supplements that benefit more than your gym efforts
By Elizabeth R. Carey

You’ve been taking supplements such as arginine, carnitine, creatine, glutamine and 5-HTP for years. They’ve helped you get into fighting shape—a lean physique with powerful muscle and athletic prowess. But did you know that some of your favorite nutrition basics have better health implications too? Here’s what science is saying about what you’re probably taking already.

The supplement: Arginine
You take it now because:

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Recovery is important, without it your muscles are fatigued and don’t function optimally which effects your performance in the gym. A 2006 Journal of Nutrition study found that when arginine was combined with glutamine—specifically 6.6 – 7.2 grams of this combination daily for 30 days—training efficiency was improved because muscle integrity and the oxygen capacity of blood carried to the muscle increased.

But it also:
Prevents heart disease. As you already know, l-arginine helps make nitric oxide (NO) in the body, which is one of the reasons that it is able to help with muscle recovery as it increases blood flow. This action also helps keep your circulatory system healthy as it reduces blood vessel stiffness and improves blood vessel functioning, as shown by a French study in the June 2007 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

Improves performance in the bedroom. This is where nitric oxide really comes into (er…) play. NO relaxes the muscles surrounding the vessels that supply blood to your penis and as a result, your member’s blood vessels dilate, increase blood flow and, hello, he’s at attention.

Supports immune function. According to University of Pittsburgh researchers, arginine may help stimulate the body’s defense system; specifically, T-helper cells and cytokines that fight off disease. What’s more: low levels of arginine in the body have been documented in causes of trauma and cancer, which means not having enough in the body can help disease fester.

The supplement: Carnitine
You take it now because:

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That super-hard workout that made you feel oh-so good and taxed your body sent it into a cycle of stress and muscle damage. Granted, you need a bit of both to gain some muscle mass—just not too much. Recently, University of Connecticut (Storrs) researchers found that taking 1-2 grams of L-carnitine L-tartrate after exercise eases the stress and the muscle damage that occurs after exercise so you get just enough to sculpt a killer physique and not get a killer cold. In addition to helping with recovery, carnitine delivers fat to the mitochrondria—the workhorse of our body’s cells—and help the body use it as energy.

But it also:
Improves blood vessel function. Boston University researchers found that alpha lipoic acid and L-carnitine improve blood vessel function and blood pressure. In a double-blind crossover study, the scientists examined the effects of combined alpha-lipoic acid/acetyl-L-carnitine treatment and placebo (8 weeks per treatment) on blood vessel function and blood pressure in 36 subjects with coronary artery disease. The carnitine combination increased the diameter of arteries by 2.3 percent and decreased systolic blood pressure. While more studies like this one need to be done, it appears that carnitine does the heart good.

Beats fatigue. Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a chronic syndrome characterized by widespread pain, troubled sleep, disturbed mood, and fatigue. It has been recently suggested that FMS may be associated with metabolic alterations including a deficit of carnitine. In a clinical trial of 102 subjects, Italian researchers found that acetyl l-carnitine (LAC) did help alleviate the symptoms of FMS.

Their subjects took either of two capsules/day of 500 mg LAC or placebo plus one intramuscular injection of either 500 mg LAC or placebo for 2 weeks. Then, for the following eight weeks, subjects took three capsules daily containing either 500 mg LAC or placebo. Subjects were then tested four weeks after the study ended. What they found is that acetyl l-carnitine decreased pain as well as eased other general and mental health issues in the fibromyalgia patients.

Increases fertility. Leave it to the Italians to find a way to help sluggish sperm swim. In the journal of Fertility and Sterility, University of Padova researchers report that carnitine supplements might help rev up sperm movement. In a small clinical trial, 30 men who had been diagnosed with decreased sperm motility took 2 grams of L-carnitine supplements daily for three months. Then for another three months, the men didn’t take anything.

Researchers found that sperm motility improved while the carnitine supplements were being taken. Also, this improvement was temporary. Three months after treatment ended, sperm motility was still a bit better than before the study, but not by much. In addition, those who experienced the greatest improvement from the supplement had the sharpest drop in sperm motility after the treatment ended.

Regulates metabolism. Carnitine is a molecule that plays a unique role in cell energy metabolism; specifically, the major process by which fatty acids are oxidized. This function is ubiquitously dependent on carnitine, as the molecule adapts it to fulfill the needs of different tissues. In skeletal muscle, the importance of carnitine’s function to control and to regulate fuel not only relates to the metabolism of fatty acids and the capacity for fatty acid utilization, but also to fat balance and insulin resistance. Carnitine is a determinant in insulin regulation of fat and metabolic rate of glucose in skeletal muscle. As a result, it’s critical in determining body composition and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes, according to a 2003 report in Acta Diabetologie.

The supplement: Creatine
You take it now because:

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If you’re a low-carb devotee, creatine is a quick form of energy that is stored in your muscles. More specifically, creatine turns into ATP, which you need for your muscles to contract. Creatine supplementation also helps you get the muscular, lean physique you’re working so hard toward. According to a 2001 study published in the journal Metabolism, creatine may raise resting metabolic rate by more than 100 calories a day.

But it also:
Increases heat tolerance. Yes, we know that this is somewhat sports-related, but if you live in hot climates (and with global warming, don’t we all?), this use shouldn’t be overlooked. University of Glasgow researchers examined the effects of combined creatine and glycerol supplementation on responses to exercising in the heat. Subjects were given either 11.4 grams of creatine or 11.4 grams of glucose mixed with water and one gram of glycerol per kilogram of bodyweight. The results indicated that a combination of creatine and glycerol is an effective method of hyperhydration which reduces the body’s thermal and cardiovascular responses to exercising in the heat. This means that your workouts won’t feel as hard and your body won’t overheat as quickly as if you weren’t supplementing with the duo.

Prevents Sacropenia. Part of getting older is losing muscle mass, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Also known as sacropenia, the contributing factors of this loss are physical inactivity and under-nutrition. You can continue to strength train into your golden years and beyond; however, muscle loss is still observed in older adults who perform weight-bearing exercise, say Canadian researchers. As we already know, creatine supplementation has the potential to increase muscle accretion and hydration to cells, and to facilitate the up-regulation of muscle-specific genes such as myosin-heavy chains, possibly leading to muscle hypertrophy. For these reasons, creatine — in addition to continued weight workouts — may help prevent age-related muscle loss.

Fights Muscle Disorders. Progressive muscle weakness is a main symptom of most hereditary muscle diseases. Creatine might be helpful for treating them. German researchers evaluated the efficacy of oral creatine supplementation in muscle diseases by searching the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Register in May 2004 for randomized trials using the supplement. After reviewing 12 clinical trials, researchers found that short- and medium-term creatine use improves muscle strength in people with muscular dystrophies and is well-tolerated, but that it did not significantly improve muscle strength in those suffering from metabolic muscle diseases.

Develops Nervous System. As we develop in the womb, creatine plays an important role in developing our spinal cord during weeks 5 to 11.5, say Swedish researchers in the journal Brain Research. Specifically, they found that chronic creatine exposure resulted in significantly higher densities of immunoreactive neurons in the cultures suggesting a differentiation inducing mechanism of creatine supplementation.

Keeps Brain Healthy. When it comes to creatine’s influence on the brain, there are not many studies showing the supplement’s ability to improve its functioning. One recent study in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology examined creatine supplementation’s effects on the brain. What the Yale researchers found is that a healthy human brain is malleable and shifts with seven days of supplementation, with the regions of initially low levels of creatine showing the largest changes. Overall, supplementation appears to improve cellular turnover in healthy brains.

The supplement: Glutamine

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You take it now because: It converts glucose into energy when your body needs to get through a tough workout. And since it is involved in more metabolic processes than any other amino acid, it aids in recovery and release of growth hormone. This means more muscle growth.

But it also:
Strengthens immunity. Glutamine boosts levels of glutathione by prodding your liver to synthesize the antioxidant glutathione. Glutathione keeps oxidized fats in foods (think trans fats) from passing through your GI tract thus protecting your body from free radicals. This action makes glutamine an awesome immunity agent that cuts illness short and hastens recovery. That’s why you should take large doses of the amino acid during times of stress and illness. Many experts recommended taking 2,000 to 8,000 milligrams daily.

Heals wounds. When it comes to the relationship between nutrition and wound healing, there is no doubt that adequate carbohydrate, fat and protein intake needs to occur for proper curing. Research has suggested that other specific nutritional interventions can have beneficial effects on healing wounds; more specifically, glutamine.

The supplement: 5-HTP

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You take it now because: It stops carb cravings by regulating the brain chemical serotonin that tends to drop when you are dieting.

But it also:
Treats depression. 5 Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is considered a natural alternative to traditional antidepressants, used to treat depression. When Australian research wanted to see whether science backed this claim, they consulted databases looking for clinical trials. Only two of 108 trials met their criteria and suggested that it was better than placebo at alleviating depression.

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One Response to “More Than Muscle”

  1. Sports News and Resources Says:

    Sports News and Resources…

    Sorry, it just sounds like a crazy idea for me :)

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