Tag Archives: training

5 gym ‘facts’ debunked

The gym is full of shit science. Also known as bro-science. Also known as bullshit. As funny as it is to hear, it ultimately signals ignorance of basic biology and training which isn’t all that funny. These sort of ideas seem to stick around and really spread their way through the gym community – especially young lifters. I’ve even heard popular trainers falling foul to these. It seems easier to spread bullshit then actual facts and science these days so in my never ending battle against pseudoscience and false facts I’ve put this article together so YOU, dear reader, can stand head and shoulders above everyone else with your vast, newly-acquired knowledge.

Don’t fall for this crap when you hear it in the gym. You are better than that. If you are feeling brave you may even want to challenge the gym-goon that spouts nonsense but that doesn’t always end well…

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So here it is. A quick run through of some of the most commonly heard gym ‘facts’ which are either only true to some extent or completely made up.

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#1 Perform sit ups and crunches to target tummy fat

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This one is ALWAYS over-heard in my gym and almost certainly yours as well. I commend people smashing out ab work when they are perhaps a bit overweight but all that does is DEVELOP YOUR ABDOMINALS. It will have almost no bearing on the visibility of ‘abs’. Obtaining a sweet set of herculean abs all comes down to your body fat percentage. The simple truth is that you MUST HAVE a low body fat percentage to see definition in the abdominals and obliques. Abs are visible at a range of body fat percentages, usually from about 15% downwards – obviously the lower your percentage the tighter and more visible your abs become. If you are overweight or oven just holding a little extra, no amount of abdominal work alone will lead you to a washboard stomach.

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The second important point here is that targeted fat loss through exercise isn’t really a thing. No single exercise burns fat from one particular area. Lots of shitty online fat-loss products will say something like ‘…burns through stubborn belly fat!’. They always go on about belly fat. The truth again, as always, is harder than what these arses would have you believe. In order to target belly fat you need to target ALL your fat reserves. That’s the only way – to reduce your overall body fat percentage. The best way to do this is frequent well rounded exercise involving cardio and weight training plus tighter control of your diet. Take a look at my big lift guide which can help you develop greater all-round strength as well as a really solid core. Alternatively check out this body-weight exercise guide – great for a quick and challenging workout.

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So if you are spending ages ab crunching away you would be much better off hitting some big tiring lifts like squatting or dead-lifting (both of which help build a great core and burn way more calories than crunches and sit ups) or getting going with some Interval Training on the bike or treadmill.

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#2 Creatine is a steroid

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This is simple to refute. As someone who has studied endocrinology for years – creatine isn’t a steroid!

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Who wouldn’t trust that face?

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I’ve written a complete guide to creatine, what it is, what it does to your body and how it can positively effect your training. There is a HUGE amount of false information online regarding creatine (and all supplements for that matter). As a scientist, I cite and support any claims with solid peer-reviewed research and this linked article is no different.

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Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid. It’s main role is to recycle ATP – the universal energy currency of our cells. I won’t go into the details (all can be found in the article above) but put briefly, supplementing with creatine slightly increases the stores of available ATP in muscle cells, allowing you to train harder and longer. Due to this – people often think creatine is a steroid. After all the main training benefit of steroid is that you can train harder and longer with less recovery in between training sessions. Creatine can certainly help you in training and has been shown to primarily benefit anaerobic and repetitive work i.e. weight lifting. However, creatine will provide you with no where near the benefit that steroids will. Creatine use provides your muscles with a bit more usable energy, steroids can alter major aspects of you entire physiology – hence the inherent risk with using them.

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Creatine is not a steroid but can certainly benefit your training.

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#3 You need specific protein for specific body parts

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This is definitely one of the more silly ‘facts’ I’ve over heard but unfortunately I’ve heard similar things more than once. The basic summary of what I heard was that if you train multiple muscles in one session and then drink a protein shake, either the protein gets ‘confused’ and doesn’t know where to go, or you are using the wrong protein for the muscles that you have trained. As stupid as this sounds it’s actually surprisingly hard to debunk directly with the literature as no studies (that I can find) have thought to explore this!

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So, just by using common sense and a very basic understanding of biology we can debunk this fact. In regards to the idea that every muscle has specific protein – that doesn’t make sense. It is true that we possess different kinds of muscles. For example, cardiac muscle cells do differ to skeletal muscle cells in both form and function, smooth muscle differs even further. However we are primarily training skeletal muscle when we weight train. Skeletal muscles are made from the same components and this does not differ from muscle to muscle, so any protein you ingest can just as easily go towards building your legs as it does your back. The idea of a protein for each muscle also falls flat on it’s face when you consider that the human body has 640 muscles and that it is also, practically speaking, impossible to train a single muscle. Even when doing isolation bicep curls we are really utilising many muscles at once. Any protein you ingest will be broken down into amino acids and ultimately used to synthesis new muscle tissue at the required site.

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The notion that protein gets confused about where it’s going throws up a number of red flags and I truly wonder what it must be like to live on this planet and genuinely believe things like that. Protein doesn’t have a memory, it isn’t alive and it doesn’t rely on chemo-attraction or some other sort of homing beacon to tell it where to go. It is perfectly fine to train multiple body parts in one training session and you will get stronger and bigger if you train hard and eat well. Protein will be transported to where your body needs it most. It won’t get lost on the way!

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#4 Steroids shrink your dick and gives you ‘ROID RAGE’

 

This one is an absolute classic. Roid rage is usually the first thing people discuss when bringing up recreational steroid use. Specifically, the term roid rage is applied to muscle building, anabolic steroids. Those used by competitive body builders for example (and an increasing number of average gym goers). Now, on the surface the concept of roid rage is plausible. Many anabolic steroids are based on or mimic the functions of natural testosterone. Testosterone is a powerful anabolic hormone which is essentially  what makes men ‘manly’ and goes towards explaining why men, on average are bigger, stronger and more aggressive than women.

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All natural baby!

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Women do posses testosterone but at no where near the same level as men. Testosterone is a fantastic muscle builder hence the use of steroids in the gym. The term roid rage began to gain popularity following high profile crimes involving sports and wrestling personalities who were heavily muscled individuals and known to take steroids. Perhaps the most famous of these was the tragic case of the pro wrestler Chris Benoit. 

Whether or not roid rage exists as it is popularly portrayed i.e. an unstoppable, violent,  muscle-bound goon, remains up for debate. Studies have linked testosterone with increased aggression however studies looking directly at the use of anabolic steroids and random fits of rage are not conclusive and show conflicting results. Anecdotal evidence from heavy users does show that a number of them suffer from increased aggression – some report becoming angry at minor things that, before steroid use, they would have just shrugged off. If true, violent and dangerous roid rage exists it is very rare and probably restricted to heavy and long term steroid users. However, even mild users might develop ‘shorter fuses’ and be more easily wound up than prior to use – this is something you will see discussed a lot online. A common theory is that steroid use will amplify the disposition of the user. If a user was intolerant and easily riled before use, this will likely get worse with steroid use.

Ultimately, the jury is still out on this. Although roid rage isn’t a complete myth it is no where near as common as many believe and doesn’t always manifest as violent fits of anger.

Regarding the idea that steroid use shrinks your dick specifically. This is incorrect and probably came about for two reasons.

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  • Professional body builders, in their tiny posing pants, do look like they have  minuscule nobs – this is because they are absolutely enormous human beings. Their legs are like that of a race horse so proportionally the penis looks like that of a pixie. In reality the size will not have changed with steroid use.

 

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#5 Training legs ‘spikes’  testosterone and makes you bigger all over 

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Similar to the concept of roid rage (above), studies have shown conflicting results regarding testosterone spiking during leg training and whether or not this makes you bigger and stronger overall. I hear trainers in my gym saying this a lot to their new clients – perhaps in an effort to get them in the habit of training their legs hard and well.

We know that testosterone is a major driver of muscle growth and that any natural way to increase testosterone production for weight lifters would offer a large advantage in the gym in both muscle mass and ultimately strength development.

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So the question is really two smaller questions…

  1. If I train my legs will I have increased testosterone production?
  2. If so, does this lead to increased muscle mass in other body areas?

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A number of factors influence your testosterone levels – your weight, age and also the time of day. In regards to question 1, it has been established that testosterone levels do increase following exercise but only briefly. Short, intense bouts of exercise and compound lifts such as the squat and dead lift appear to promote the greater release. What is harder to determine is if this actually leads to growth or gains elsewhere…

Two of the most relevant studies looking to answer this question directly show almost completely opposing results

One study performed by West et al in 2009 showed that if some male participants engaged in a high volume leg workout after a bicep workout and others just did the bicep workout without the leg exercises, there was NO DIFFERENCE in bicep size or strength between the groups by the end of the 12 week study…the theory was that the testosterone boost afforded by leg exercises would lead to a greater increase in bicep mass in the group that trained legs. This was shown to not be the case. 

Another study, with a similar design, undertaken by Ronnestad, B.R. et al in 2011, showed the exact opposite. They DID see an increase in bicep mass in the group that had trained legs. An important distinction between the studies is that in the West 2009 study, participants trained legs after their biceps, in this 2011 study, they trained legs before biceps.

So what to make of all this…

Both of these were well designed studies yet they demonstrate opposite outcomes. Perhaps the order of exercises is very important? However physiology is hugely complicated and increasing testosterone in the blood doesn’t necessarily lead to a direct increase in muscle mass.

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  • Large compound lifts such as the squat and dead lift do lead to increased circulating testosterone but this is short lived and does not lead to increased overall muscle mass

 

  • There is no doubt that big lower body lifts leads to the development of greater lower body mass – as we expect, train a muscle well and that muscle gets bigger and stronger – simple.

Whether or not training legs ultimately makes you get bigger all over should be less important than the fact that training your lower body is very important regardless. You are only as strong as your weakest part and having a balanced and developed physique all over will translate into much greater functional strength and better lifting numbers. You also wont get laughed at for your baby legs.

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Check out this big ass-lifting guide for mass monster in you!

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Thanks for reading! Hit me up in the comments

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-ScienceGuy

The Best Workout Supplements

A collection of the very best workout supplements that can take your training to the next level. Supplements can be great for an extra edge in the gym whether your focus is weightlifting and muscle building or functional training and cardio.

Supplementation can also be fantastic for the seasoned athlete trying to break through a a plateau. Whether you need an energy boost or extra protein and calorie this is the ultimate list for you. Keep checking this page for future supplement additions with real scientific evidence supporting their use.

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Whey Protein

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Whey protein comes in multiple forms and is perhaps the single most widely sold fitness supplement today. Protein is essential for building muscle so if your goal is to hit the weights and get bigger and stronger, frequent use of whey protein can give you a much needed protein injection. I have written and extensive guide on whey protein so don’t forget to check it out! 

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Great for:

-Muscle building

-Workout recovery

-General weight gain

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The Top of the Pile:

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MyProtein Impact Whey is a firm favourite of mine and has been for years. This is a ‘whey isolate’ and has very high protein per serving with comparatively low fat and carbs

When I can afford it (!), I’ll treat myself to a tub of Optimum Nutrition Whey. This is ‘whey hydrosylate’ and the pinnacle of protein supplements. The idea with hydrosylates is that they have been pre-digested to help protein absorption. Go on, treat yourself.

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Mass-Gainers

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Mass gainers are all about high calorie intake. If you are serious about putting on general size then mass gainer shakes pack an absolute ton of calories. If you are already big and want to get bigger than you calorie demands will already be high. For some, eating 6,000 calories a day is difficult and requires careful meal preperation. If calories are missed for whatever reason, a mass gainer shake can pick up the slack. Using mass gainers can easily add over 1000 calories to you daily diet.

Evidence suggests that once our protein needs are met, increasing calories from non-protein sources is the best way to maximise muscle growth. Simply taking on more protein doesn’t seem to work. Mass gainers can therefore give you the edge.

Unlike whey isolates, mass gainers are full of carbs and fats as well as protein. If you are looking to stay lean and gain weight slowly then mass gainers probably aren’t for you. For anyone competing or training in strong men events or wanting to pack on general size, mass gainers are ideal.

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Great for:

-Fast weight gain

-Strongman or strength training

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The Top of the Pile:

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Both are great products. MyProtein Hard Gainer has more calories per serving than Serious Gainz but is noticeably more expensive. Both products contain high levels of protein, with a good level of carbohydrates and fats as well. Perfect for gaining weight which ever brand you choose.

 


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Creatine

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Essentially acting as an extra store of skeletal muscle energy, (phospho) creatine is especially useful for weight lifters. Creatine has been shown to increase maximal lifts as well as total rep number before muscle fatigue so is great for breaking through plateaus. Couple creatine with whey protein for a powerful weight and power building supplements. Check out my extensive creatine article for everything you could possibly want to know about this super popular supplement. 

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Great for:

-Muscle building

-Breaking training plateaus

-Strength training

-Increasing maximum lifts

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The Top of the Pile:

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MyProtein creatine monohydrate is a great all round creatine product. It’s cheap and does exactly what it says on the tin. One 500g bag only sets you back 7 pounds but can last you for months depending on usage. Especially during your first few uses, creatine has a very clear positive impact on your training and the strength increases are noticeable if used correctly with good training technique.

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is more expensive than other brands but for some this is completely worth it. As this creatine is ‘micro-ionsied’ it dissolves much better in any liquid so is much more pleasant to drink. Some brands don’t really dissolve at all so it can feel like you are drinking sand. If that sounds like an issue then grab a tub of Optimum Nutrition Creatine. Remember, aside from these small dissolving difference, the core supplement, and it’s benefits, are identical.

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Pre-Workouts

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Pre-workout supplements provide their major benefit through caffeine . Caffeine is a well known stimulant, boosting mental clarity as well as physical endurance. If you are feeling sluggish after a long days work and struggle to bring energy to the gym, pre workout supplements can remedy this and provide a powerful boost to all sorts of workouts from cardio to weight lifting. I’ve written an article telling you everything you need to know about caffeine, how it effects your physiology and how it can benefit you in training and exercise.

Of all supplements, ‘pre workouts’ are in theory the most dangerous due to their high caffeine content. Always avoid these supplements if you are highly sensitive to caffeine. Never exceed the recommended dose stated by the manufacture.  As with creatine, I’d recommend cycling pre-workout use to give yourself a break every now and then. Be warned, that these supplements are POWERFUL. My own advice is to try half the recommended dose the first time you try it and adjust accordingly there after.

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Great for:

-Smashing the weights: setting a new personal best lift

-Temporary endurance increase: good for cardio

-Fighting tiredness if training in the evening

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The Top of the Pile:

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Both of these pre-workout supplements are great products from reputable brands. Of all the supplements on this page, pre-workouts will give you the most obvious boost in the gym due to the acute effects of caffeine stimulation.  Caffeine improves focus, endurance, co-ordination and performance in both anaerobic and aerobic exercises. A supplement for use in all fitness situations.

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Don’t forget, these lists are frequently updated so check back for more approved products that actually work. If you have any specific questions, head to the comments section or alternatively feel free to reach me at ed@scienceguysupplements.com

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-ScienceGuy

 

A guide to whey protein: Do you need it?

Whey protein supplements are the most popular and most widely sold of all fitness products. Gym-bros (and other users) pounding down the protein shakes have helped grow the value of the whey protein industry to a whopping 7 billion pounds. This is projected to exceed 10 billion GBP by 2020. So why are whey protein supplements so popular? As almost anyone can tell you, muscle is primarily composed of proteins. If your goal is to increase or maintain your weight and muscle mass then good levels of protein in your diet are absolutely essential. Whether or not you decide to obtain this protein from whey products is entirely up to you and I’ve written this guide to give you the general run down on what whey protein is and if it can ultimately help with your training.

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Despite the widespread availability and growing popularity of whey protein, a good amount of misinformation still persists on the internet and especially in the gym. This article aims to explain the importance of proteins for muscle growth, delve into how whey is made, address concerns regarding whey protein side effects and finally determine if you even need whey protein at all.

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Protein and muscle growth

 

Proteins are an essential nutrient of the human body. They are formed by chaining amino acids together with peptide bonds. When consumed, proteins are broken down into smaller ‘chunks’ or chains by the actions of acid in the stomach as well as various protease enzymes. This protein break down is important for obtaining the essential amino acids (phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine) which we cannot synthesise ourselves (1)

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Proteins are both a major building block for tissue and also a fuel source, providing as much energy as carbohydrates (fats are about double this, yay fat!) at around 4 kcal (17 kJ) per gram. Protein is only used as anaerobic fuel when carbohydrates are low, or as aerobic fuel when lipid resources are also low (2). Alongside their role in muscle building, proteins can be found in practically all cells of the body where they act as major structural components (3). When broken down into their amino acids, proteins are used as precursors to nucleic acids (essential for all forms of life…so pretty bloody important), co-enzymes and a variety of hormones to name just a few (4). Basically, without proteins you’d be a pool of slightly salty water.

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Not so big now are you puddle face
Not so big now are you puddle face

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.Protein is essential to develop and repair muscle tissue (5) and there is good evidence that athletes and active individuals require greater protein consumption, than the average person,  to power this growth and repair (6). However there appears to be a fairly clear upper-limit on protein requirements. Once protein needs are met (which will be higher if you are training), additional protein will not increase muscle synthesis and will instead be excreted as waste . This holds true for almost all biological nutrients and molecules including things like vitamins:

http://scienceguysupplements.com/the-multivitamin-hoax.

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So whats the ideal amount of protein to be consuming? It depends on your goals and your body type but the generally agreed ‘standard’ amount is roughly 0.7-0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. 

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For an average 72 kg man wanting to gain some muscle that would be about 128 g of protein a day. You may want to take 1 gram per pound for ‘safety’ but any more than that seems to have no positive effect on muscle growth (7,8,9)

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Surprisingly, research has shown that as long as you are meeting your protein requirements you are better off obtaining additional  calories from non-protein sources to increase your muscle growth even further (11,12,13).  Eating a very high protein but low carbohydrate diet isn’t all that great for muscle growth.

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Ah good old non-protein calorie sources
Ah good old non-protein calorie sources

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The best diet for muscle growth, as in most cases, involves balance. You want to be consuming 0.8-1 g/lb of body weight per day whilst also obtaining a good amount of your calories from carbohydrates and unsaturated fat. This will really help you power through heavier lifts. I’ve noticed very obvious drops in my maximal lifts when cutting down on my carbohydrates even when actively increasing my protein intake.

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Whey protein production 

 

I’ve summarised the process (very simply) in a little diagram:

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Producing whey protein is very cheap. Whey is essentially a by-product of cheese manufacturing. Initially, whey protein was, and still is, sprayed onto hay to act as a  cheap, protein rich supplement feed for live stock. Now that the supplement market has boomed companies now target the greatest prey of all…the human cow. Whey protein isn’t very expensive but it certainly isn’t cheap either. Considering it is manufactured in huge quantities for a small cost the mark-up we pay as consumers is in the thousands of percents.

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The diagram above is a very general outline of whey production but multiple forms of whey can be produced by changing steps in the process. Most of these forms are available as bodybuilding supplements:

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  • Concentrates have typically  low levels of fat and cholesterol but, in general, compared to the other forms of whey protein, have higher levels of carbohydrates in the form of lactose — they are 29%–89% protein by weight. This is the cheapest form of whey protein.

 

  • Isolates are processed to remove the fat and lactose. They are 90%+ protein by weight. Like whey protein concentrates, whey protein isolates are mild to slightly milky in taste. This type of whey protein is especially popular as a supplement probably due to the fat removal.

 

  • Hydrosylates are whey proteins that are predigested and partially hydrolysed for the purpose of easier metabolising, but their cost is generally higher because of additional processing (14). Highly hydrolysed whey may be less allergenic than other forms of whey. Allergies are more commonly against the casein (a phosphoprotein) rather than the other proteins in milk.

 

I’ve always gone for ‘isolate‘ whey proteins as my goal is to take on as much protein per scoop of supplement as possible. I prefer to obtain my carbohydrates and fats from cooked food. However, if you are actively trying to ‘bulk’ and increase your weight or improve your maximal lifts then concentration whey protein might be more appropriate for your goals.

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The ‘anabolic window’: fact or fiction

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.The term ‘anabolic window‘ is thrown around the gym all the time if you mention protein shakes and other whey protein supplements. A lot of ‘gym bros’ frantically down a massive protein shake following a weight lifting session claiming that the protein is needed straight after a work out if you want to grow. The idea is that following a workout there is a small window of opportunity to intake protein which your body will use immediately to start synthesising muscle. If you miss this window, some will claim, you will either not grow as much or not grow at all depending on who you talk to. This protein doesn’t have to come from whey but it’s easier, faster and cheaper to have a protein shake with you than a chicken breast and a few eggs…

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anabolic-window-meme

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I myself am guilty of this. I always take a protein shake straight after a workout but I do this more out of habit and to have something in my stomach before I can get hold of real food. I’ve had periods at the gym on and off protein shakes and some of my most marked strength gains have occurred when NOT taking  protein supplements. Sometimes I would wait as long as 90 minutes after a work out to consume food suggesting immediate protein intake might not be necessary. However this is all anecdotal evidence. As always lets look to the science for answers…

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What does the science say about protein intake timing and the so called ‘anabolic window’?

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I’m not sure where this ‘myth’ first started but the idea of an anabolic window is pretty much entirely false and here’s why:

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In most situations, muscles don’t break down following training 

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When we lift weights our goal is to stimulate muscle growth. Following a workout, muscles show signs of tension damage (and low grade inflammation) and the goal is to repair them to a bigger and stronger state than before. However, your muscles won’t ‘break down’ if you don’t intake protein immediately. Insulin release plays an important role in preventing muscle break down and ingesting carbs and protein will raise your circulating insulin levels. In theory this should reduce muscle break down but the ‘breakdown’ is so minimal to begin with that the impact of insulin spiking is negligible (15). The only situation in which you should make sure to intake protein and calories as soon as possible is if you are training in a fasted state (16). I personally never do this as not eating at all before lifting weights makes me feel lethargic and weak.

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No good evidence supports the claim that post-workout protein increases muscle growth

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On the surface it seems to make sense that if you take on protein immediately after hammering your muscles then they will grow and repair at a faster rate than if you didn’t. However an in-depth meta-study (a study pooling data from multiple similar studies) found that this simply isn’t the case (17). So it seems as if the major touted benefit of post-workout supplementation i.e. faster and bigger muscle growth, probably isn’t true.

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Having looked more closely at the data, most of the cohorts in the studies are comprised of either obese or elderly people (as muscle maintenance is very important)  or those who don’t train frequently. Some studies do look at more active individuals and while a small benefit is seen in one or two (18), the most benefit is actually attributed to a full post-workout meal within a few hours of training.

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One study conducted in 2012, that does include exercise was conducted on a number of young men (19). In this study, 33 men with no previous weight lifting experience were put on a 3 week resistance training programme (enough time to see early signs of muscle growth). Half the men were assigned protein immediately before and after their workout and the other half received a placebo (in this case a similar powder but no protein content). After 3 weeks, the size,  one rep maximum and maximum voluntary force were all measured in the bicep and no differences between the PROTEIN or PLACEBO groups were observed.

 

The evidence suggests that there is no reason to ingest whey protein (or any protein for that matter) immediately in the post workout period. However, that is not to say that increased protein in general will not benefit your training and muscle gains overall.

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Whey protein side effects

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I wanted to briefly look at any side effects that may be associated with whey protein consumption.

The general consensus is that whey protein, when taken by mouth (how else?!) is safe for both adults and children (20,21).

The issues arise when excessive amounts of whey protein are ingested and this can be said for very high protein diets in general.

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Side effects include:

  • Gastrointestinal distress: bloating, increased bowel movements, cramps
  • Nausea
  • Increased thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches (maybe due to ‘hidden’ MSG in some cheaper whey supplements
  • Ketosis if coupled with little to no carbohydrates in the diet (22)
  • Increased risk of kidney stones (23)
  • Potentially carcinogenic (high chronic consumption) (24)

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These complications are fairly rare. When I first started taking whey protein years ago I did suffer mild gastrointestinal distress but this resolved quickly and hasn’t returned. Most of these complications results from excessive protein consumption or only result when other dietary changes are also made such as ketosis.

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.For the average person using whey to reach around the 1 g per pound of body weight value (discussed earlier), long term whey protein intake is safe. For those who are lactose intolerant you can chose supplements that have almost all lactose removed such as whey isolates.

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Will whey protein benefit me?

 

This does depend entirely on your goals. Whey protein isn’t a magic powder that will turn you into a Greek god but it is a great way to increase your protein intake if you feel your diet isn’t providing enough or if you just want to be taking slightly more. Some people suggest using whey protein to promote weight loss but I would avoid this. In most cases whey protein or similar shakes are suggested as meal replacements. When losing weight I don’t think supplements are necessary at all – meal replacement isn’t a good idea as it doesn’t encourage a healthy relationship with your food.

When bulking up (during the winter months like a big bear) whey concentrate powders, which have a good amount of carbohydrates and fats remaining in the product, are a good way of getting extra calories into your diet alongside protein.

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.Take home message: Nothing beats real food but whey protein is a fast and cheap ‘protein fix’.

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I say this in a lot of my articles because it’s very important. A lot of people starting out at the gym especially younger and smaller individuals  will spend a fortune on whey protein, creatine, BCAAs and everything else in the hope of packing on muscle fast but they neglect real nutrition. This simply doesn’t work. The bulk of your calories should be coming from real, nutritious food. Supplements should be used as a convenient way to squeeze in a bit more on top of everything else to give you an edge. This is especially true of whey protein.

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As an added note – whey protein is frequently used in a non-fitness capacity if you suffer from illnesses that are associated with muscle atrophy or that massively reduce appetite. These include established HIV and forms of cancer. Whey protein can also be taken simply if you have trouble  maintaining weight in general and doesn’t have to be associated with fitness or weight lifting.

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Top picks

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The choice of whey protein is staggering. The first thing to do is to look at if the product is a whey ‘concentrate’, ‘isolate’, or ‘hydroyslate’.

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Concentrates are great for general weight gain as they contain more calories per gram due to increased levels of carbohydrates and fats

Isolates are good if you’re looking for a high protein but low carbohydrate and fat product. Per serving you will obtain greater levels of protein but lower overall calories

Hydrosylates are the most heavily processed and expensive of the whey products. They have been designed in theory to be more easily digested.

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The products above are examples of ones I have used in the past and are some of the top choices in their category. Currently I have been using both My Protein Isolate Impact Whey and Olmpus Health Whey Concentrate.

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As always, thanks for reading and feel free to drop me an email at ed@scienceguysupplements.com for any further information,

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ScienceGuy

 


 

References

I recommend using Google Scholar for quick access to these studies.

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1) Genton, Laurence; Melzer, Katarina; Pichard, Claude (2010). “Energy and macronutrient requirements for physical fitness in exercising subjects”. Clinical Nutrition. 29 (4): 413–423

2) Nutrition Working Group of the International Olympic Committee (2003). “Nutrition for Athletes”. IOC Consensus Conference on Nutrition for Sport. Lausanne.

3) Van Holden and Mathews. ‘Biochemistry’.  Third Edition (1999)

4) Branden and Tooze ‘An introduction to Protein Structure’. Second Edition (1998)

5) Hermann, Janice R. ‘Protein and the Body‘. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources • Oklahoma State University: T–3163–1 – T–3163–4.

6) Lemon, Peter (2000). “Beyond the Zone: Protein Needs of Active Individuals”. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 19 (5): 513–521

7) Lemon PW, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDougall JD, Atkinson SA. ‘Protein requirements and muscle mass/strength changes during intensive training in novice bodybuilders’. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1992 Aug;73(2):767-75.

8) Lemon PW. ‘Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals’. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Oct;19(5 Suppl):513S-521S.

9) Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. ‘Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation’. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-38. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.619204.

10) Rodriguez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S; American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Mar;109(3):509-27.

11) Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, La Bounty P, Roberts M, Burke D, Landis J, Lopez H, Antonio J. ‘International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise’. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Sep 26;4:8.

12) Tipton KD, Wolfe RR.‘Protein and amino acids for athletes.’ J Sports Sci. 2004 Jan;22(1):65-79. 

13) Rozenek R, Ward P, Long S, Garhammer J.’Effects of high-calorie supplements on body composition and muscular strength following resistance training’. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2002 Sep;42(3):340-7.

14)  Foegeding, EA; Davis, JP; Doucet, D; McGuffey, MK (2002). “Advances in modifying and understanding whey protein functionality’‘ Trends in Food Science & Technology. 13 (5)
15) Kumar V, Atherton P, Smith K, Rennie MJ: Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise. J Appl Physiol 2009, 106(6):2026-39.

16)  Pitkanen HT, Nykanen T, Knuutinen J, Lahti K, Keinanen O, Alen M, Komi PV, Mero AA: Free amino acid pool and muscle protein balance after resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003, 35(5):784-92.

17) Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 10.1 (2013): 5.
18) Phillips SM (February 2011). “The science of muscle hypertrophy: making dietary protein count”. Proc Nutr Soc(Review). 70 (1): 100–3.
19) Erskine RM, Fletcher G, Hanson B, Folland JP: Whey protein does not enhance the adaptations to elbow flexor resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012, 44(9):1791-800.
22) Smith, Jack L.; Gropper, Sareen Annora Stepnick; Groff, James L. (2009). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
23)  Food and Nutrition Board (2005). A Report of the Panel on Macronutrients, Subcommittees on Upper Reference Levels of Nutrients and Interpretation and Uses of Dietary Reference Intakes, and the Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS, Washington, D.C.

24)  Levine et al. ‘Low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1, cancer and overall mortality in he 65 and younger but not older population’ Cell Metabolism. March 2014. 19 (3) p407–417.

 

The Science of Creatine

 

During my time in the gym I’ve overhead numerous talk of creatine being illegal, a steroid, a protein, an ab-specific weight loss aid (eh??)…The list is endless and almost everything I’ve overheard is incorrect. I thought it would be useful to provide a clear piece of information that tells you what creatine actually is, how it impacts you on a physiological level, exaggerated side effects and if it can aid in your training.

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Creatine is perhaps the most well researched supplement on the market today.  Initially, fairly ‘low-dose’ creatine supplements where the norm but specific creatine supplements designed specially for strength training where not developed until the mid 1990s. The first such product was named Phosphagen by a company called EAS (1). Since then creatine supplements have exploded in popularity.

 

 


 

WHAT IS CREATINE?

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Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that aids in generating energy for cells, the most immportant being muscle cells. Creatine is not an essential nutrient and is produced naturally by the body from the amino acids glycine and arginine (2). The biosynthesis reaction is pretty tastey:

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Nothing boring about that...
Nothing boring about that…

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Almost all of this reaction occurs in the kidneys and liver. The produced creatine is then transported to skeletal muscle where the vast majority of it remains (3). Studies suggest as much as 50% of stored creatine in the muscles comes from dietary sources, mainly red meats, and that vegetarians possess significantly less natural creatine in their muscles than meat eaters (4) but levels are equal when both groups supplement (Get supplementing you veggies!)

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PHYSIOLOGICAL ROLE

 

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The importance of creatine in the body is highlighted by genetic disorders which disrupt the biosynthetic pathway pictured above. The major genetic disorders are associated with the synthesis enzymes or disruption of creatine transport into the brain (5,6). The end result of any of these genetic abnormalities is severe neurological defects suggesting creatine plays an important role in normal brain function (7). Additionally, research has shown that creatine supplementation provides not only physical enhancement but also cognitive improvements as well (8).

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Now for the important part: What does creatine actually do when it is sitting in the skeletal muscle? First we need to understand the power of ATP.

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All cells in our body utilise an ‘energy currency’ called ATP (Adenosine TriPhosphate) which we ultimately produce from the food we eat in the form of glucose (9). When energy is required in a cell a phosphate ion is split from the ATP molecule which then becomes ADP (Adenosine DiPhosphate). The breakdown of the last covelant link between phosphate and ATP liberates energy which can be utilised by the cell for a number of processes including movement, growth or protein synthesis (10)(In our case we want that cell to grow some big-ass biceps).

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Creatine itself can be phosphorylated into phosphocreatine with the addition of a phopshate ion take from ATP (12). Phosphocreatine comes into play by essentially acting as a phosphate store for when energy demands are high. At some point during exercise ATP is being reduced to ADP faster than ADP is restored to ATP. Our total ATP concentration is falling and thus so is our available energy. In the muscle, phosphocreatine is stripped of its precious phosphate which is then attached to a wandering ADP molecule. This provides a fresh new ATP molecule to power a cellular process.

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That is how creatine works as a supplement in a nut shell. It acts as a store of potential energy. The idea behind supplementing with large amounts of creatine is that we increase the creatine concentration in our muscles thus providing a larger store of energy which should allow for greater numbers of muscle contractions before we fatigue.

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Phopshate + Creatine (requires ATP) = Phosphocreatine

Phosphocreatine + ADP = Creatine + ATP       

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HOW WILL THIS AID MY TRAINING – WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SHOW?

 

Creatine supplementation, in theory, provides a greater store of utilisable energy to skeletal muscle. This allows greater use of that muscle before the onset of muscle fatigue. In reality creatine supplementation is great for some types of exercise and fairly poor or non beneficial for others. Creatine will be of most use in high intensity anaerobic repetitive work (13). This would include something like weightlifting in which a number of repetitions are performed and then a break is taken. This can also include high intensity workouts involving rapid sprinting/cycling (14). Modest improvements have also been seen in ‘single effort work’ for example, a one rep max on a very heavy weight (15). In this area creatine has been shown to increase general performance with a focus on maximum power.

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Areas where creatine will not help at all are mainly endurance based sports, for example, long distance running (16). Presumably this is due to the fact that muscle activity is maintained for a long period of time and a lack of rest reduces ATP replenishment rates (ADP–>ATP) even when high levels of creatine are present in the muscle.

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'Is this how you do a bench press?'
‘Is this how you do a bench press?’

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To briefly summarise a number of other studies…It has been demonstrated that subjects receiving creatine supplementation along with resistance training lead to decreased serum myostatin concentrations compared to subjects that trained with no creatine or subjects which didn’t train and also didn’t receive any creatine (17). (Really we should have another group here that took creatine without doing resistance training but hey ho). Myostatin is important for INHIBITING muscle growth so a lack of it should allow for greater muscle development. Ever seen a Belgian Blue cow? These guys have been selectively bred to lack functional myostatin….

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Look at dat ass...
MOO BITCH

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Additional studies performed on young college footballers have also shown modest increases in circulating dihydro testosterone as well as testosterone itself following creatine supplementation (18.19) (please follow the references for greater detail). Creatine may therefore enhance your training in multiple ways, not just providing additional ATP for muscle contractions.

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Take home message: Creatine has no significant effect on aerobic endurance. However, it will increase power during short, repetition-based exercises including weight lifting and high intensity cardio training.

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COMMERCIAL FORMS

 

drugs

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Creatine can be purchased as a powder or as a tablet. I have always personally gone with a non-flavoured powder as it is easy to add to a protein shake. Tablets may be more convenient for people who want to take their creatine at a specific time when not at home. In terms of performance, both forms contain the same product but powdered creatine may provide faster absorption into the system. Make sure to read the manufacturers instruction when switching to a new creatine and always stay within the recommended dose.

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Something of additional importance to point out is that the supplement industry in general is always looking for ‘the next big thing’ to sell you. Very often ‘new and improved’ versions of creatine will make their way onto the market with loudly advertised improvements such as malate or citrate. These newer products offer no advantages over standard creatine but usually cost considerably more. Stick with standard creatine monohydrate (the form on which most research is based) for the same functional product at a lower cost.

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HOW AND WHEN TO TAKE CREATINE

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Most users of creatine, and most creatine product labels, suggest a loading phase followed by a maintenance phase of creatine dosing. The idea here is to saturate yourself (mainly your muscles!) with high levels of creatine in the first week followed by a lower dosing from then on. This is what I personally do whenever I have taken a break from creatine i.e. when going abroad for a week or two with limited weight training.

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It is common to see a cycle suggested on the product label. for example

Week 1: LOADING 5g x 4 times daily

Week 2-8 MAINTENANCE 5g daily

BREAK (usually 1-4 weeks)

REPEAT PROCESS

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It is not necessary to cycle creatine at all as it can be taken for a long period of time with no ill effect to health. However, most people throughout the year have commitments that may reduce or entirely remove their ability to train and this can be an opportunity to take a break from creatine and re-load when returning to the gym.

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SIDE EFFECTS AND HEALTH ISSUES

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One of the major things you may hear about creatine is in regards to it safety as a long-term supplement. Modern creatine-based supplements have only been around for two decades. Research can therefore only address this far back. Some studies looking into the health impacts of long term creatine use have lasted as long as five years. In most cases this is ample time to uncover any safety-related issues.

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Commonly cited 'side-effects' of creatine use such as kidney and liver damage, muscle cramps and dehydration have been thoroughly debunked in the literature

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Kidneys: Common statements seem to be that long term creatine use may lead to kidney and/or liver damage. Kidney damage is the most widely cited issue. This is probably due to research being portrayed in a misleading manner. When additional creatine is taken into the body, creatine breakdown products, namely creatinine, will also increase in the blood as well as in the urine. Serum creatinine levels are commonly used as an indicator but not direct measure of kidney function. Therefore, when supplementing with creatine, do not be alarmed by a rise in creatinine levels. Multiple human studies have confirmed that longer term creatine use is not damaging to the renal or hepatic systems in any way (20, 21, 22).

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kidneys

 

 

 

Gastro-intestinal Tract: GIT disruption CAN occur with larger doses of creatine, especially when taken on an empty stomach. This is sometimes referred to as ‘Mud Butt’ in some gyms. GIT disturbances are very rare, short lasting and self-resolving. These mild GIT issues can be avoided by taking smaller doses more frequently or eating something before hand. If you decide to cycle creatine and are starting the ‘load phase’ avoid taking your daily creatine all at once. Instead try to split dosing across the day.

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Heat tolerance and muscle cramping: Internet rumours suggesting creatine messes with thermoregulation, induces dangerous dehydration and/or muscle cramps have now been thoroughly debunked in two systematic reviews on the topic (23, 24)

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Weight gain: This is something that I actually found to be true but the weight gain I observed was probably due to water being pulled into the skeletal muscles. A number of studies have shown an acute increase in water retention in muscles following creatine loading but this subsides and has no negative effects on your training or health. Ultimately creatine has been shown more than once to promote FAT LOSS and lean MUSCLE MASS GAIN due to higher training intensities and volume (25,26).

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To date, research has found no negative impact to kidney, liver, intestinal function or any other major organ for that matter.In fact, in rodent studies, creatine improved the life span of mice (27) but whether this translates to humans remains to be seen. If you are a healthy individual then creatine is perfectly safe to take over the  long term. However,  it is important to point out that if you have a PRE-EXISTING KIDNEY DISORDER then it is probably best to avoid creatine-based supplements in general unless your doctor says otherwise.

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Take home message: Creatine can provide a real benefit to your workouts if you lift weights or perform high intensity cardio workouts. The supplement is cheap and safe to to take over a long period of time. Creatine comes in multiple forms but the standard powdered creatine monohydrate is the most popular for a reason.

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TOP PICKS

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I’ve tried a few different creatine manufacturers before. It can be an overwhelming choice as there are quite literally hundreds of different brands. However, on the inside of the tub its all essentially the same. My Protein Creatine monohydrate is very cheap and does a good job. It doesn’t dissolve well but I add it to my whey protein so don’t notice when drinking it. This is the stuff I’m currently using. The ‘micro-ionised’ powder by Optimum Nutrition dissolves much better so may be a good choice if you plan on taking the creatine by itself with water or juice. Creatine monohydrate can also come ‘flavoured’ which makes the experience of drinking it much more pleasant if just using water. My Protein offers a number of flavours and is a good place to start.

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Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment about your experiences with creatine whether good or bad. You can also reach me at ed@scienceguysupplements.com

-ScienceGuy

 


 

REFERENCES

I recommend using Google Scholar for quick access to these studies.

 

(1) Stoppani, Jim (May 2004). Creatine new and improved: recent high-tech advances have made creatine even more powerful. Here’s how you can take full advantage of this super supplement. Muscle & Fitness.

(2) “Supplement muscles in on the market”. National Review of Medicine. 2004-07-30

(3) Passwater, Richard A. (2005). Creatine. p. 9

(4) Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Parise G, Candow DG, Mahoney D, Tarnopolsky M; Chilibeck; Parise; Candow; Mahoney; Tarnopolsky (2003). “Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians”. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 35(11): 1946–55.

(5) “L-Arginine:Glycine Amidinotransferase” http://omim.org/entry/602360

(6) Braissant, O; Henry, H; Béard, E; Uldry, J (May 2011). “Creatine deficiency syndromes and the importance of creatine synthesis in the brain.”. Amino Acids. 40 (5): 1315–24.

(7) Hemmer; W, Wallimann, T (1993) ”Functional aspects of creatine kinase in brain” Developmental Neuroscience. 15 (3-5): 249-260

(8) Rae, C; Digney A.L; McEwan S.R (June 2003). ”Oral creatin supplementation improves brain performance: a double blind, placebo controlled, cross-over trial”. Royal Society Publishing. 270, 2147–2150

(9) Knowles, J. R. (1980). “Enzyme-catalyzed phosphoryl transfer reactions”. Annu. Rev. Biochem. 49: 877–919.

(10) Campbell, Neil A.; Williamson, Brad; Heyden, Robin J. (2006). Biology: Exploring Life. Boston, MA: Pearson Prentice Hall.

(11) Di Carlo, S. E.; Collins, H. L. (June 1, 2001). “Submitting illuminations for review”. Adv. Physiol. Educ. 25 (2): 70–71

(12) Saks, Valdur (2007). Molecular system bioenergetics: energy for life. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH. p. 2.

(13) Bird, S. P. (2003). “Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: A Brief Review” (PDF). Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2 (4): 123–132.

(14)  Graham, AS; Hatton, RC (1999). “Creatine: A review of efficacy and safety”. Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association. 39 (6): 803–10; quiz 875–7.

(15)  Engelhardt, Martin; Neumann, Georg; Berbalk, Anneliese; Reuter, Iris (1998). “Creatine supplementation in endurance sports”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 30 (7): 1123–1129

(16) Kreider R, Rasmussen C, Ransom J, Almada AL (1998). “Effects of creatine supplementation during training on the incidence of muscle cramping, injuries and GI distress”. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. 12 (275).

(17)  Saremi, A.; Gharakhanloo, R.; Sharghi, S.; Gharaati, M.R.; Larijani, B.; Omidfar, K. (2010). “Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on serum myostatin and GASP-1”. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. 317 (1–2): 25–30

(18)  Van Der Merwe, Johann; Brooks, Naomi E; Myburgh, Kathryn H (2009). “Three Weeks of Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation Affects Dihydrotestosterone to Testosterone Ratio in College-Aged Rugby Players”. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 19 (5): 399–404.

(19) Hoffman, J; Ratamess, N; Kang, J; Mangine, G; Faigenbaum, A; Stout, J (2006). “Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes”. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 16 (4): 430–46.

(20) Kreider, Richard B.; Melton, Charles; Rasmussen, Christopher J.; Greenwood, Michael; Lancaster, Stacy; Cantler, Edward C.; Milnor, Pervis; Almada, Anthony L. (2003). “Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes”. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. 244 (1–2): 95–104.

(21) Mayhew, DL; Mayhew, JL; Ware, JS (2002). “Effects of long-term creatine supplementation on liver and kidney functions in American college football players”. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 12 (4): 453–60

(22) Gualano, Bruno; Ugrinowitsch, Carlos; Novaes, Rafael Batista; Artioli, Guilherme Gianini; Shimizu, Maria Heloisa; Seguro, Antonio Carlos; Harris, Roger Charles; Lancha, Antonio Herbert (2008). “Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial”. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 103 (1): 33–40.

(23) Lopez RM, Casa DJ, McDermott BP, Ganio MS, Armstrong LE, Maresh CM; Casa; McDermott; Ganio; Armstrong; Maresh (2009). “Does Creatine Supplementation Hinder Exercise Heat Tolerance or Hydration Status? A Systematic Review With Meta-Analyses”. Journal of Athletic Training. 44 (2): 215–23.

(24) Dalbo VJ, Roberts MD, Stout JR, Kerksick CM; Roberts; Stout; Kerksick (July 2008). “Putting to rest the myth of creatine supplementation leading to muscle cramps and dehydration”. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 42 (7): 567–73

(25) Antonio J, Ciccone V. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10(1):36.

(26) Becque MD, Lochmann JD, Melrose DR. Effects of oral creatine supplementation on muscular strength and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;32(3):654-658.

(27) Bender, A.; Beckers, J.; Schneider, I.; Hölter, S.M.; Haack, T.; Ruthsatz, T.; Vogt-Weisenhorn, D.M.; Becker, L.; et al. (2008). “Creatine improves health and survival of mice”. Neurobiology of Aging. 29 (9): 1404–11