Adelfo Cerame - Road to Wheelchair Championships: What Sitting in a Chair Teaches You About Isolation Exercises

Image 1: "Hey Dude! Those arms come from rolling around in the chair, right?
The time is flying by, it's almost June (just a few couple of hours left in May) and for Adelfo his next big day is approaching fast. After last weeks brief panic attack (see "Don't Let Red Flags and Banana Skins Stop You!), he is back on track this week and that despite the fact that he has a hell lot of work to do that is not related to working out or dieting... or writing his weekly blogposts on the SuppVersity, of course. Usually you would think that sitting in a wheelchair does make all that more complicated and troublesome, but as you will see in this week's installment of Adelfo Cerame's Road to the Wheelchair Championships, sitting in a wheelchair can also have certain advantages, even when it comes to building a better physique!

The overlooked advantages of training in a wheelchair

I don’t get approached much, but when I do, the majority speculates that I have attained and maintain my physique from pushing my wheelchair around. I assume many people will think that I would expend more energy than the average able body person, and get my fair share of low intensity cardio on a daily basis, due to being and moving in a chair throughout the day, but I am neither sure that this is actually the case (assuming that the aforementioned person is not the average obese couch-potato), nor do I believe that the actual act of moving around in the chair has much of anything to do with my ability to achieve and maintain the physique I have.

In a wheelchair or not, it takes dedication, consistency and balance to be able to achieve the physique you want. I’m no exception to the rule; I still have to diet and train just like everyone else. There’s no magic pill or in my case magic wheelchair, that will get you your results.

With that being said; it was brought to my attention the other day by one of my training partners, that I must really get a good isolation when I do my exercises, just for the fact that I cannot use my legs as a leverage.  I paused and thought about it... and yeah, being in a wheelchair does have some training advantages. At least, as far as upper body development and strength are concerned. I think some of the more or less involuntary, since obligatory isolation movements, I do for certain body parts did and still do contribute to my size and strength gains; and what's more, I believe able persons, like you probably are, could benefit from some of them, as well!.
Image 2: Let's face it guys, THIS can't be the result from rolling around in a wheelchair all day, right?
Due to being paralyzed from the waist down, the isolation may come more "naturally" (whatever that may mean in this context), but there is nothing that would hinder you from emulating it and grasping similar benefits from
  • not planting your feet/ legs on the floor and thusly having less leverage and a less solid base, when doing exercises like bench presses
  • not curling or pushing (down) from your legs, when you do biceps curls or triceps push-downs
  • not being able to bend over like crazy and compensate with your legs, when you did actually sit down to counter exactly those compensatory movements that will hinder you to isolate a certain muscle group as for example during single-arm DB side laterals
Don't get me wrong I am not even accusing you of "cheating", it is totally normal for your body to try to make it as easy as possible for you - or in this case, the "target muscle" - to lift the weight. When an object is too heavy to lift with your lats alone, that little extra kick with your legs will help you the inertia and allow you to complete the rest of the lift.

The unstable bench is probably not ideal for maximal leverage, but a means to isolate the pecs

Simlarly, on a bench press, people will start arching their backs like crazy (something that obviously will require leg involvement), whenever the load gets to heavy to be lifted properly. In some cases this may be the conscious application of a lifting technique, for 99% of the average gymrats, however, it is simply an instinctive reaction of your body to a load it feels your chest, front delts and triceps (the major muscle groups the flat bench press should activate) won't be able to lift, without a little help from your legs that would put them in a favorable position.
Image 3: This is how I feel every time I get under a flat press bench *lol* As you can see, able people must lift their legs, so they can isolate the chest, and when you isolate a muscle, you stimulate and target the area much more efficiently - at least on a pound per rep base.
Now, it goes without saying that, in my case, this mechanism, or rather its practical realization are no longer operating, since most of the connection between my brain and legs is out of whack. When I do a flat bench exercise – it’s not that my chest, my delts and my tris are unable to make things easier for themselves by signaling my brain to use the legs to position my body differently, I will also have to accommodate for the lack of stability (to the left and right) able people derive from planing their legs firmly on the ground. If you still don't get where this is headed to, check out the image 3.

To isolate or not to isolate? Is that a question, at all?

Image 4: For your isolation movements, you want to pick muscles that are lagging and exercises that work for you. For me a lagging body part are my rear delts and the rear delt cable fly is the exercise, of which I feel that I get the best contraction in this part of my body.
While some people will tell you that "isolation does not even exist" and that all your efforts to train a certain muscle group in isolation were futile, my take on it is slightly different. Allegedly, when you do compound exercises, heavy pulling and pushing, this will always involve a whole host of muscles / muscle groups. Take my EDT training split for example; there’s not a single of those "fancy isolation exercises", as critics like to refer to them, involved - just basic compound movements: Hard, heavy and intense!

Still, there are benefits in some isolation movements, in my opinion and I think Dr. Andro would have to agree on the fact that the addition of a couple of well-chosen isolation exercises (keep in mind, well-chosen implies that you pick those exercises that work for you, not for Adelfo Cerame, Dr. Andro, or Jay Cutler), when executed with proper form and intensity can provide advanced trainees with the additional accentuated training stimuli neither a "compounds only"- nor the average muscle mag "do every biceps isolation exercise known to man in one single session and repeat that ten times"-workout

Muscle groups and exercises for isolation

As I have already stated before, your exercise choice will be based mainly on on your personal preferences and goals - with the latter having priority before the former: You would, for example not do tons of hammer DB hammer curls on a preacher bench, if your brachialis was already bigger than your biceps. On the other hand, you would maybe chose standing calf raises on one of those funky machines over doing them freely, if you feel that you are getting a better contraction on the machine.
Video 1 (click to watch): Here’s a clip of me training rear delts. I don’t really do much for my rear delts, since they are constantly getting hit when I do chins, DB rows, and seated back rows (Adelfo Cerame. 2012).
As a rule of thumb, the smaller muscle groups usually benefit most from isolation work. For me, those are the side and rear delts, so so much my front, though; for one, my front delts are already in pretty decent shape and for two, they get hammered with almost every pressing movement you do. It would therefore not make sense for me to do additional isolation work for them. For the side and the rear delts this is, as I said, differently, and with the usual trial & error (no, you cannot avoid that completely ;-), I have found that for me also due to being in my chair, two exercises work particularly well:
  1. DB side laterals – Gripping one side of my chair, I lean towards the other, so that I can balance the weight of the dumbbell in my hand, then I grip the wheel and do the raises, probably similar to the way you do them. While you could possibly use other muscles than your delts to help yourself out and cheat the DB up, though, the rest of my body is pretty much occupied with keeping me stable so that I get a very decent contraction in my delts - and only in my delts ;-)
  2. Bent over reverse cable fly’s – I've been through basically every rear delt exercise you can possibly do, I believe, and it was by no means easy to find one that works for me. Either I cannot do them at all, or they don't really isolate the muscle, the way I want them to. What I did find works pretty well, though are the bent over reverse cable fly's (see video 1). And again, not being able to rock to the left or to the side from the legs, must not necessarily be a disadvantage here.
Now, as you can see, this are two, I repeat, TWO, isolation movements for muscles you can actually isolate. Many of the intitially mentioned guys who speculate that it must be my wheelchair due to which I build those "great arms", on the other hand, will be "hitting" their chest, their biceps and some also their triceps "from every angle" in hope for "full development" - I am using quotationmarks here, because I've heard that time and again and usually the laughable results speak for themselves... in other words, isolate where it makes sense, but stick to one exercise per muscle and max. two exercises per muscle group; do only a couple of sets and focus on form and contraction - everything else is just a waste of time.

Will Sex Before a Competition Hamper Your Performance? And How Estrogen, Cortisol, Quail and Muhammad Ali Could Help Us Answer This Existential Question

Image 1: At least in his later life, Muhammad Ali could hardly be considered a "bro". Notwithstanding, he was 100% convinced that having sex the night before a fight was a total no-go.
I you are a bro, or frequent one or many of the pertinent boards, the question whether or not sexual intercourse with yourself or your partner will have beneficial, neutral or negative effects on your performance in the gym, and more importantly your gains and endocrine system probably is not news to you. Even in case you do not belong to either of the former categories, I am sure you will have heard about Olympians or other athletes refraining from the previously mentioned exchange of bodily fluids on the day, if not during the whole week, let alone weeks before a competition. Now, as chance would have it, I stumbled across an interesting study that was conducted by a group of researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium (it goes without saying that Liege is in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, right? ;-) that may not be able to provide direct evidence for or against pre-competition sex, but could at least help us to shed some allegedly dim light on the hormonal changes that occur in your brain, when birds and bees finally meet (Dickens. 2012).

Of the birds and the bees and how stressing the best things in life can become

To study the effects of stress and sexual intercourse on neural aromatase (remember: the enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen) and circulating stress hormones Molly J. Dickens and her colleagues from the Research Group in Behavioural Neuroendocrinology picked a very exotic model: The common quail. Now, despite the undeniable differences that (hopefully) exist between your sexual partner of choice and these shrunken chickens, birds, in general, and quails in particular have a long history as a supposedly accurate model for systemic effects of hormonal changes at the cerebral level and have been used, among other things to elucidate hormonal effects on appetite and food intake (Balthazard. 1998).
Significant other advisory: Don't take today's news so serious that you ruin your partnership. This is one of the SuppVersity posts with at least as much entertainment as informative value ;-)
The researches tested the nuclei-specific aromatase activity changes, the corresponding observable behavior, subsequent fertilisation rates and corticosterone (cortisol) concentrations of quail in a relaxed, non-stressed or an acutely stressed (15 min restraint) immediately prior to sexual interaction (5 min) with stressed or non-stressed partners. Quite a complex undertaking, and in all honesty nothing I want to think about for longer than by any means necessary, so let's get straight down to the nitty gritty ;-)
Figure 1: Cortisol levels in stressed and non-stressed male and female quail before (baseline) and after intercourse with a stressed or non-stressed partner (data adapted from Dickens. 2012)
As you can see in figure 1 the cortisol response of birds and bees, ah... pardon, male and female quail in stressed + non-stressed, stressed + stressed, non-stressed + non-stressed and non-stressed + stressed pairings was very differential. let's briefly go through some very realistic *rofl* scenarios, say you are a...
  • Male weight lifter right before competition - In this case your baseline cortisol would be high (stressed), what would you do to keep that in check? Right you would have sexual intercourse with your hopefully totally relaxed girlfriend / wife. The stress reduction would be meager, but alas... there are different reasons to engage in this utterly human act (and did I mention that it is 100% paleo?)
  • Male student who trains just for fun - Assuming that you are one of the slackers whose parents finance their studies (don't deny it, I know you, guys!) and who spend most of their time in the gym hitting on the girls, you better stick to just hitting on them, if you don't want to quintuple your stress levels. Although, let's be honest, the reasons you are not seeing any gains are probably not related to high cortisol levels, anyways ;-)
  • Female 200m runner right before competition - With the big day right ahead your cortisol levels are skyrocketing, the worst thing you could do now, is make out with one of your male colleagues who is likewise totally stressed out. You better go home to your loving boyfriend or husband and spend some cozy hours with him to reduce your stress levels by -44% and decrease your not chance to jump the gun.
  • Female leisure time gymrat: You are calm, you know you are sexy and have no reason to be stressed out other than your boring, non-stressed boyfriend or husband at home. And  while you would be way better off with the hectic postman (obviously only in terms of stress increases ;-), I am not sure if that could not have very enervating and thus stressing consequences *rofl*
I see, you are questioning the value of the practical advice I am putting out here? Well, let's see what others have to say on the issue, let's take Samantha McGlone and Ian Shrier, for example, in their review of the literature they explicitly mention that despite the fact that (McGlone. 2000):
[...] the results of these studies [there were obviously only three scientific ones published between 1975 and 1989], one might conclude that sexual activity the night before competition would not affect performance. However, each of the above-mentioned studies focused on the physiological effects of precompetition sex, which would only be expected to decrease performance if the activity led to exhaustion. Considering that normal sexual intercourse between married partners expends only 25-50 calories (the energy equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs), it is doubtful that sex the previous night would affect laboratory physiological performance tests. Remembering that the original hypothesis suggested that performance would only be affected through a change in aggression, researchers really should have measured variables that are affected by aggression (e.g., motivation, alertness, and attitude toward competition).
Now this is where brain aromatase activities come into play of which Trainor et al. report in a detailed review of the pertinent literature that "in most cases estrogen [in the brain!] increases the probability and intensity that males will engage in aggressive behavior" (Trainor. 2006) - surprised, right?

Brain aromatase, estrogen and the crunch question: "Sex or no sex before a competition?"

Now, what does that mean in view of the finding that the stress induced increase in aromatase activity was immediately reversed in the male quail (the changes in the female quail were less consistent)? I guess, it means Muhammad Ali who always insisted that sexual abstinence before an event was an absolute must was right - at least in a sport such as boxing which certainly depends on a decent level of aggression you do not want to compromise that by dumping down brain aromatase activity, would you? What? Oh, you would? Well, I guess me, too ;-)

  1. Balthazart J, Ball GF. The Japanese quail as a model system for the investigation of steroid-catecholamine interactions mediating appetitive and consummatory aspects of male sexual behavior. Annu Rev Sex Res. 1998;9:96-176.
  2. Dickens MJ, Balthazart J, Cornil CA. Brain aromatase and circulating corticosterone are rapidly regulated by combined acute stress and sexual interaction in a sex specific manner. Journal of Neuroendocrinology. 2012. [Epub ahead of print] DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2012.02340.x
  3. McGlone S, Shrier I. Does sex the night before competition decrease performance? Clin J Sport Med. 2000 Oct;10(4):233-4.
  4. Trainor BC, Kyomen HH, Marler CA. Estrogenic encounters: how interactions between aromatase and the environment modulate aggression. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2006 Jul;27(2):170-9. Epub 2006 Jan 10.

More Muscles For Old Chaps, Less Fat for Baby Boomers: The Age Specific Anabolic Anti-Obesity Effect of HMB

Image 1: Nutrition, exercise and most importantly the right mindset will always be the foundation of leading a long, strong and healthy life - irrespective of how many supplements you take - you cannot out-supplement a bad diet, laziness and a lack of motivation and determination.
The hype was, as usual, huge, when back in the day Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methl-Butyrate (HMB), marketed as the natural alternative to Deca (Nandrolone; update: thx to anonymous for the heads-up that it was not just Anavar, as I original thought ;-), hit the market. What was yet even bigger than the hype, though, was the disappointment of customers who felt ripped off; and that not without reason, because the early HMB supplements were not only touted to be as effective as the previously mentioned anabolic steroid, they were also sold at similarly high prices and low doses, of which every scientists could easily have told you that the one thing that would grow were the purses of the manufacturers.When the marketing bubble eventually burst, the (at that time) pretty expensive and incredibly disgustingly tasting (no way you put a working amount of that stuff into a tasty pre- or postworkout amount without ruining the taste!) supplement disappeared from the market, literally overnight. Today, HMB is, if at all, sold as a standalone in 250mg-500mg capsule form or 250-1,000g pouches from bulk suppliers and leads an overall miserable existence being perceived as a probably useful, but simply unnecessary metabolite of the contemporary "natural Deca", leucine.

HMB - More than expensive leucine for old folks!?

The astonishing results of a recently published study from Jacob M Wilson's lab at the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at The Florida State University in Tallahassee do yet suggest that at least the best-agers among the SuppVersity students, beta-hydroxy-beta-methl-butyrate could derive  undeniable advantages from the almost forgotten leucine metabolite (5% of a normal dietary leucine intake from food sources are metabolized into HMB; cf. Van Koevering et al.1993, according to Wilson. 2012). In what was allegedly "only another rodent study" (before you start complaining, please acknowledge that as long as you don't have your rodents "work out", those studies usually elicit pretty accurate results), the scientists enriched the diets of twelve young (44 wk.), 6 middle-aged (60 wk.), 10 old (86 wk.), and 5 very old (102 wk.) male rats with ~500mg/kg body weight HMB per day, which, using the standard conversion chart (cf. "Ask Dr. Andro: What Are Human Equivalent Doses "), yields a human equivalent of ~81mg/kg or 6.5g for a person who weighs 80kg.
Figure 1: Changes in body composition (left) and strength (right) during 16-week transition from young to middle age and old to very old age with and without supplementation in male Fisher rats (data adapted from Wilson. 2012)
As the data in figure 1 clearly shows this supplementation protocol (16 weeks, transition from young to middle aged and from old to very old) did not only prevent the decline in muscle strength, it had also pretty profound effects on the body composition of the aging animals. In case of the very old rodents, those effects were so profound (-56% body fat!) that it is questionable whether they were actually able to eat or rather metabolize enough food (food intake was not different) to accommodate for the +10% increase in lean mass.

HMB shuts down atrophic and ramps up myogenic factors, but why does it burn fat?

The late, but profound increase in lean mass in the very old animals (102wk) was brought about by a totally blunted increase in the "catabolic" Atrogin-1 signaling, the expression of which is so characteristic of aging skeletal muscle, and (and this is actually surprising) an increase of the "anabolic" myogenin expression that yielded myogenin levels which exceed those of the young (44 week) control group by +40%!

Although these changes in Atrogin-1 and myogenin expression can explain the anti-sarcopenic (=working against the age-induced decline in muscle mass) effects of HMB and would even suggest tat it is a very useful "muscle builder" in the elderly population, where similar amounts of leucine (7.5g) have hitherto not yielded not the desired results (Verhoeven. 2009), they do not explain the unquestionably profound effect on the total fat mass of the animals, which reached statistical significance during both, the transition from young to a middle age (HMB body fat change not significant vs. +49% body fat mass in control) and the transition from the old to the very old age (HMB body fat -56%, control -8% n.s.) and of which Wilson et al. say (Wilson. 2012):
To date, the underlying mechanisms that HMB exerts its effects on adipose remain to be elucidated. It may be that HMB directly increases oxidative capacity in myofibers, as exposure of cultured myotubes to the leucine metabolite increased palmitate oxidation by 30%.
If the latter, i.e. the increase in palmitate oxidation transfers to human studies, Skelton et al. observed in their in-vitro studies (Skelton. 1994, according to Wilson. 2012), was dose dependent, I would be interested to see studies on the effect of twice the amount of the 3.0g/day HMB per day that did already produce greater increases in lean and decreases in fat mass over the course of a four week resistance training program in a twelve-year-old study in young (Panton. 2000), as well as an eleven-year-old study in 70-year old individuals (Vukovic. 2001), in younger and older trainees, and sedentary individuals.

Something to think about

Also, what if HMB was in fact one of the rare cases, where "more" actually yields "more". I mean, wouldn't it be remotely possible that our body's ability to convert leucine to HMB is not just rate limited, but that the rate decreases with age (this would explain why leucine works much better in younger folks) and saturates, when a certain concentration of HMB is achieved (if that was the case even the 5% conversion could be questionable, because you could have an upper limit of say 500mg, which would be 5% of 10g leucine and just 1% of 50g)? The latter would mean that you could not produce more than x grams of HMB total per day and would imply that the "old natural Deca" could in fact turn out to be superior to the "new natural Deca" for trainees (and maybe even non-trainees) from all age groups - as long as the dosage was appropriate, i.e. beyond what your body would produce from dietary leucine.

  1. Panton LB, Rathmacher JA, Baier S, Nissen S. Nutritional supplementation of the leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (hmb) during resistance training.Nutrition 2000,16(9):734-739.
  2. Skelton DA, Greig CA, Davies JM, Young A. Strength, power and related functional ability of healthy people aged 65-89 years. Age Ageing 1994, 23(5):371-377
  3. Van Koevering M, Gill DR, Smith RA, Owens F, Nissen S, Ball R. Effect of β-hydroxy-β-methyl butyrate on the health and performance of shipping-stressed calves.Oklahoma State Univ Res Rep; 1993, 312-331.
  4. Vukovich MD, Stubbs NB, Bohlken RM. Body composition in 70-year-old adults responds to dietary beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate similarly to that of young adults. J Nutr. 2001 Jul;131(7):2049-52.
  5. Wilson JM, Grant SC, Lee SR, Masad IS, Park YM, Henning PC, Stout JR, Loenneke JP, Arjmandi BH, Panton LB, Kim JS. Beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl-butyrate blunts negative age-related changes in body composition, functionality and myofiber dimensions in rats. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Apr 18;9(1):18.

Why are you living????

Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat??? Not much of a difference? Think again because the difference is from one extreme to the other.

According to Jewish law, one should avoid eating before his morning prayers. The reason is, so that the first thing, when we get up, we give our attention to G-d. If we first read the paper, watch the news, we have a hearty breakfast, do a couple of errands, and then pray, it is almost like G-d is an afterthought, way down on the list of priorities, and that’s disrespectful.

When Rebbetzin Rivkah (wife of Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) was eighteen, she fell ill and the physician ordered her to eat immediately upon awakening. She, however, did not wish to eat before praying, so she woke up even earlier and prayed—so that she could eat breakfast at the time she had been used to waking up beforehand. Understandably, her new schedule, with now reduced sleep time, did not cause her health condition to improve.

When her father-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) learned of his daughter-in-law's behavior, he said to her:

“We must be healthy and strong…… one should bring vitality and liveliness into the performance of his good deeds - mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful."

He concluded: "You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of praying, than to pray for the sake of eating..."

When we eat for the sake of praying, we have taken a course, animalistic, natural behavior, and elevated it to a sublime spiritual act. Eating, now becomes an element and part of the equation of praying.

When a person prays and can’t wait until he has finished, so he can run to the ball game and have a cold beer or some other recreation to enjoy himself, the reverse of the previous scenario takes place. He has turned on its face, what should be an opportunity to reach the greatest of heights, and dragged it in the reverse direction, towards the mundane and materialistic.

A great Rabbi, on the subject of elevating the day and infusing it with spirituality, urged his community to think words of the Bible during business, to say words from the book of Psalms more often, whenever possible. They give strength to the day, and to what is otherwise a dull day. One of the members was indignant, “Rabbi, how is it possible to mix spirituality and business together,” he asked.

The Rabbi answered, “ If it’s possible to think of business in the synagogue while praying, why shouldn’t it be possible to think of praying while in business?” Clearly the two, don’t have a problem with each other.

Once, two students who where smokers, where talking between themselves. One said, he was very disappointed that his teacher said, praying and smoking doesn’t go together. He felt he needed the smoke. The other student laughed, “ funny you should mention that,” he said, ”Just today, I asked my teacher if I can pray while smoking, and he said, absolutely why not. You see, the two do go together, you just have to know how to ask.”

Our focus in life must be all the time, to elevate all that we do for a higher purpose. Then, we are always going heavenly. We must eat, we must sleep, we need vacations every so often, and when all this is done with the intention to make the world a better place, our lives take on, all the time, a blessed existence.

Towing a buffalo (SEQMTB #2)

Last Sunday team Cyclinic (Aido, Glenny and myself, with Ben Forbes an honorary member as he sometimes listens to our training and wears Cyclinic socks ;P ) ventured out to Mt Cotton for round 2 of the SEQMTB Series. Basically the new state racing thingamajig.

This time we were prepared and we took a glowing Ella out as our babysitter. She confided to us en route that she hadn't had much sleep as she has a new boyfriend (very exciting, we've been telling her to get one for years!) but that she would do a fabulous job nonetheless. As long as Baby Pea remained alive and safe we would be pretty happy, no need for fancy Playschool songs or educational games today; after all we didn't want our babysitter to out-parent us. Not a difficult task i'm sure.

Anyway, after getting ready and feeding her, I had about 20 minutes of riding up a boring old fireroad in some lame attempt to warm up. I hadn't ridden the course but was told it was the same old Karingal loop.

Think it was a waste of time as nothings going to make my legs feel good at the moment!

The gun, or horn, whatever, went off and I smashed my foot into my pedal and missed. Great start! Jodie takes off up the road with DH behind her and somehow I manage to slip between them on the fireroad climb. Far out—hills hurt and i'm only 200 metres past the start line, breathing like a buffalo! Kylie's tight on my wheel through the first part of singletrack and comes around me on the fireroad, so I stick on her like glue.

Through the next singletrack, Kylie is pinning it like the super diva she is, even pedalling on the downward-ish bits. Meanwhile, am using the downward-ish bits to suck in masses of air but still manage to stick behind her (granted, not quite like glue) until the U19's come flying past. That was about 2/3rds through the first lap, and then i'm in no man's land until...well...the end.

(Thanks to Ken Laws for all the photo's)
The course that I once loved as it was so punch and power orientated, was so much harder when you lack punch and power. Despite me riding the D's better than ever just trail riding at the moment, when you add in redlining for over an hour, I just suck.

To be honest, it wasn't as bad as punching out a kid, and maybe next race i'll think that to myself. "Hey Anna, you think this shit hurts? Well, remember the time you punched out that kid??" Though I can't expect it to be easy on newborn training hours in addition to newborn sleep hours (though to be fair she's getting a lot better). Plus I hate that as an excuse. People are like "wow, you're racing and you just had a kid!" I'm like "that was so ten weeks ago, can't I be race fit already? Without actually training?".

Managed to hold third for the rest of the race, though I was pretty much seeing stars by the end! Thank goodness for pre-packaged stodgy pancakes. Only 2g fat each and oh so tasty. Best pre and post-race food ever.

Rolled over the line, dump my bike and find Ella and Elva both having a cry. Well, maybe just Elva is, but Ella looks a little bewildered. A lady who I don't know is giving Ella feeding instructions with a bottle of expressed milk. She gets the technique right and suddenly Elva thinks Ella is amazing once again. I think they're both pretty good really.

I'm feeling pretty good that the race is over, but beating myself up about being slow. Well, my rational brain knows why and is ok with it, but my athlete brain likes to dismiss rational brain and punch me in the stomach (or maybe that was the post-race hunger flat sensation?) for it.

Thats me on the little step, with the Baby Bjorn. Looking far more interested in keeping sun out of little pea's eyes than in checking out my sweet swag (26" tire, Torq bar, some cash...well two out of three aint bad!)
It was such a beautiful day, Aido, Ben and Glenn managed to secure first, second and fourth respectively, and it was 26" tires and cheers all around! I did even snaffled some prize money, crazy times. I spent it yesterday on new boots as my ten year-old ones literally fell apart on race day (Frugal? Yes.)

Ella was stoked that I was back and that the Baby Pea had stopped crying, plus she got out in the bush which is pretty far removed from her apartment in New Farm. I was stoked to finish pedalling, and to have a pretty good race back (all in all). Aiden was stoked to win, considering his lack of training, and Ben was super stoked to pass coworker and fellow competitor Michael Illing to take the middle step on the podium.

All in all a good day.

On the way home Ella said she enjoyed the race atmosphere and was amazed "everyone is really nice!". Good on you SEQ mountainbikers, keep spreading the love!

Keep posted for a new blog segment which is a bit like this, and a bit not like this.

2003 Changtai from Su

Su, being so awesome, mailed me two samples of tea to try from her stash in Malaysia: a 2003 Changtai factory sheng and a 2006 sheng brick by Pingxiwangfu. Today, we drink the 2003 Changtai.

03 Changtai from Su - dry leaf

The brown-gray-green leaves with leaves distinctly separate from one another show the tea aged in a drier environment. The dry leaves carry a strong, sweet fragrance.

Once rinsed, the steaming leaves smell like suede, then like raisins. The first infusion is biscuity and sweet: carob, Darjeeling, fresh cut wood. It lingers on the soft palate and the back of mouth with an evaporative effect. Tasty, but the liquor is a bit thin.

The bitter flavors in the next infusions reminds my guest of the smell of dried pine needles. The Darjeeling muscatel flavor continues, very pleasant, and with cacao chalkiness underneath. In terms of flavor and aroma, Changtai has done well by these initial infusions.

03 Changtai from Su - brewed

But then, something changes. The sweetness disappears, replaced by the kind of bile-tinged flavors so strongly associated with leaves from Lincang. For a few infusions, its musky and alkaline flavors show some Lincang leaves are in the mix, and they thankfully bring a stronger mouthfeel and aftertaste to the tea, softening eventually into savory, bready flavors and more chalky sweetness.

I enjoyed the tea for its flavor and aroma, although the Lincang elements surprised me. I wish it had a thicker body and more aftertaste early in the infusions, but these features improve in later infusions. The still-present bitterness implies that the tea has room to grow as it ages, I think.

The blend is a mix of many larger leaves and some broken smaller leaves, most leaves having thick veins and a healthy tensile strength. No bud sets in the blend raise a suspicion that none of the leaves were harvested by hand, or they were handled very roughly in transport and manufacture.

My gratitude, as always, to Su for providing me these little treats!

03 Changtai from Su - brewed leaf

Essential Amino Acids Stimulate Muscle Glucose Uptake by Exponentiating Insulin's Effect on GLUT4 Expression

Image 1: High EAA smoothies are a good, high sugar one a very bad idea
Scientists from the Exercise Physiology and Metabolism Laboratory at the Department of Kinesiology and Health of the University of University of Texas at Austin, the Abbott Laboratories in Columbus, Ohio, and the Taipei Sports University in Taipaie, Taiwan, report in one of their latest papers that the administration of an amino acid enriched perfusate, a solution that is administered by the means of a canula, into the hindlimb (from the right iliac artery and vein to the tip of the femoral artery of the rat) of 9-week old Sprague Dawley rats stimulates glucose uptake in the presence of insulin, but not by increasing insulin and/or p-Akt (Bernard. 2012).

EAAs stimulate insulin induced GLUT-4 translocation

This is interesting, as we have hitherto assumed that many of the beneficial effects of additional protein or amino acids on glucose clearance were related to BCAA or EAA induced increases in insulin. The data, Jeffrey R. Bernard and his colleagues produced, do now suggest that this process, despite its dependence on the presence of insulin, is not the result of increases in insulin, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinases (PI 3K) or p-Akt levels (cf. figure 1), but rather a consequence of an increasd expression of AS160 a relatively unknown substrate of p-Akt that mediates the effects of the former on GLUT-4 (glucose receptor) translocation to the cell membrane and subsequent glucose uptake into the muscle (and unfortunately fat cells):
Figure 1: Simplified schematic illustration of the insulin > PI3K > p-Akt > AS160 induced increase in GLUT-4 glucose transporter expression and the effects of increased serum amino acids
Practically speaking this would mean that any increase in serum EAA levels should be able to increase the insulin-mediated glucose uptake, without increasing insulin even further. This observation would, at least in part, explain the beneficial effects individual EAAs or EAA rich protein sources have been shown to have on insulin stimulated glucose uptake (Frid. 2005; Kalogeropoulou. 2008, Morifuji. 2009).
EAA solutions, perfused rat hindlimbs and the real world: I guess it is about time to put some things into perspective here. While the locally mediated increase in glucose uptake, as it occurs in a study like this, is not mediated by increases in circulating insulin (would be hard to imagine, I mean, when the pancreas in not "connected" to the "test system" ;-), the real world effect of EAA rich protein sources, above all whey protein isolates and hydrosolates on pancreatic insulin production is very pronounced.

Figure 2: Insulin levels in 16 healthy male subjects after 0-180min after the ingestion of 45g whey protein isolate (white triangle) or hydrosolate (black squares) after an overnight fast (Power. 2009)
Power, Hallihan and Jakeman, for example, observed a peak increase of +100% and +150% in plasma insulin in sixteen healthy men after the ingestion of 45g of whey isolate or whey hydrosolate after an overnight fast (Power. 2009). Now, before you get scared, think about it this way: Through its systemic effect on pancreatic insulin release, whey - you may remember originally a constituent of milk (click here to read all about milk, colostrum & co.) - does thusly facilitate the uptake of the milk sugar via two distinct mechanism: Firstly it ramps up pancreatic insulin production, which in and out of itself would have increased GLUT4 translocation and subsequent glucose uptake. And secondly, its amino acid content will exponentiate this effect via AS160, or, put simply by increasing the insulins ability to stimulate GLUT4 translocation at the tissue level.

That other EAA rich protein sources will have similar beneficial effects on glucose clearance and that those are obviously not restricted to milk sugar, but would apply for every other source of glucose in your diets should be as obvious as the unfortunate fact that  these effect are not muscle specific :-(

Faster glucose clearance, no increase in insulin, no decrease in AMPK-alpha2

In their study, the scientists had used a solution that was particularly high isoleucine and contained 5.28 mg cysteine, 3.36 mg methionine, 6.68 mg valine, 944.8 mg isoleucine and 6.68  128 mg leucine per 50 ml solution. Whether another mixture would have elicited similar, if not superior results is questionable, what can be said, however, is that this mix is already superior to isoleucine, alone (Bernard. 2011).
Figure 3: Glucose uptake, AS160 and GLUT4 expression expressed relative to baseline (no insulin, no amino acids) in the presence and absence of insulin, and an essential amino acid mixture (AA); data calculated based on Bernard. 2012
As you can see in figure 3 these changes, in particular the increase in GLUT4 receptor density, were pretty profound (+800%!), but occurred only, if 200 μU/ml insulin were added to the perfusion solution (according to Bernard, this results in high, but still physiological insulin concentrations).

The expression of AMPK-alpha2, as you remember from the Intermittent Thoughts the "good" isoform of AMPK that is expressed in response to exercise and won't hinder your gains, on the other hand, did not differ between treatments. This would have been a surprise, anyways, but I guess the scientists wanted to check, whether amino acids could induce GLUT4 translocation via AMPK activation and thus by the same mechanism as your workouts do. That the latter is not the case, makes them even more interesting to promote the already improved ability of skeletal muscle glucose uptake after a workout.

Bottom line: Take advantage of the GLUT4 amplifying effects of amino acids...

... not just after your workouts, but with every meal, by making sure that it contains an ample amount of high quality protein (~10g+ EAA content, e.g. ), or, if nothing that falls into this category is available, by adding additional BCAAs, better EAAs in capsule(=more convenient) or powder (=cheaper and in some cases even palatable ;-) to your ready-to-eat-low-protein-whatever.

And in case you are still doubting the real-world significance of this in most people's eyes probably maddish practice, let me briefly quote the results of a study by Loenecke et al. who investigated the relationship between the amount of quality protein, carbohydrate, and dietary fat consumed and the amount of times the ~10 g essential amino acid (EAA) threshold was reached at a meal, with percent central abdominal fat in 27 young and healthy men and women (Loenecke. 2012; my emphases):
Quality protein consumed in a 24-hour period was inversely related with percent CAF (r = -.420, p = 0.041). No associations were found with carbohydrate (r = -.198, p = 0.354) or dietary fat (r = -.196, p = 0.359) with percent CAF. The amount of times reaching the EAA threshold for a meal throughout the day was also inversely related with percent CAF (r = -.547, p = 0.006).
I would say this means you either buy a new fridge for all the eggs, meats, fish, crustaceans, dairy & co. or head over to the supplement vendor of your choice and get yourself a bag of whey, casein or milk protein. And if your digestive tract doesn't like those (try using isolates, first, those should be 100% lactose free), pick egg, pea or beef protein isolates - mostly they don't taste as well, but their essential amino acid content is high and at least pea is also "kosher" for vegans ;-)

  1. Bernard JR, Liao YH, Hara D, Ding Z, Chen CY, Nelson JL, Ivy JL. An amino acid mixture improves glucose tolerance and insulin signaling in Sprague-Dawley rats. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Apr;300(4):E752-60. Epub 2011 Feb 8.
  2. Bernard JR, Liao YH, Doerner PG 3rd, Ding Z, Hsieh M, Wang W, Nelson JL, Ivy JL. An amino acid mixture is essential to optimize insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and GLUT4 translocation in perfused rodent hindlimb muscle. J Appl Physiol. 2012 May 17.
  3. Frid AH, Nilsson M, Holst JJ, Björck IM. Effect of whey on blood glucose and insulin responses to composite breakfast and lunch meals in type 2 diabetic subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jul;82(1):69-75
  4. Kalogeropoulou D, Lafave L, Schweim K, Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ. Leucine, when ingested with glucose, synergistically stimulates insulin secretion and lowers blood glucose. Metabolism. 2008 Dec;57(12):1747-52.
  5. Loenneke JP, Wilson JM, Manninen AH, Wray ME, Barnes JT, Pujol TJ. Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jan 27;9(1):5.
  6. Morifuji M, Koga J, Kawanaka K, Higuchi M. Branched-chain amino acid-containing dipeptides, identified from whey protein hydrolysates, stimulate glucose uptake rate in L6 myotubes and isolated skeletal muscles. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009 Feb;55(1):81-6.
  7. Power O, Hallihan A, Jakeman P. Human insulinotropic response to oral ingestion of native and hydrolysed whey protein. Amino Acids. 2009 Jul;37(2):333-9.

Sunlight, L-Tryptophan & Vitamin B6 With Breakfast Increase Serotonin and Wakefulness During the Day and Melatonin and Restful Sleep at Night

Image 1: For these kids the high tryptophan + B6 breakfast would be useless unless they already got their 10min+ of direct sun exposure this morning
A recently published study that was conducted by a team of international researchers led by Miyo Nakade from the Gakuen University in Nagoya, Japan (Nakade. 2012), concludes that sunlight exposure and vitamin B6 and l-tryptophan intake with breakfast could be profound modulators of circadian rhytmicity in young children (N=816, age = 2-6 years). The results the researchers published in the latest issue of the Journal of Physiological Anthropology clearly suggest that the increased production of serotonin from l-tryptophan and the vitamin B6 metabolite pyridoxal 5’-phosphate (also known as PLP or p5p) exerts beneficial effects on the morningness-eveningness (M-E) score - a measure for the natural and highly desirable difference in wakefulness in the morning and sleepiness in the evening, the disturbance of which is among the emerging correlates of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and abnormal lipid metabolism.
[C]hildren showed a tendency to be more morning-typed if they ate breakfast with
a high estimated Trp content. This study also confirmed a similar trend with estimated Vi-B6
content. Among essential amino acids, the Trp content in food is quite small, and thus it is
necessary to make a special effort to consume a sufficient amount in one’s diet.
That those foods with specifically high tryptophan content are, as so often, eggs, meats, and fish is something I probably don't have to tell you - just as I don't have to tell you that soybeans, and other soy products, which also contain significant amounts of tryptophan should not constitute a major part of your diet; regardless of whether you are a man or a woman.

Sunlight must not be hidden behind curtains or seen just through the windows your car

Interestingly, all the vitamin B6 and tryptophan in the world appears to be of little use, if you get too little sun-exposure (Rosenthal. 1997). And, now listen up!, they can become disturbed when you sleep with black out curtains and use an alarm clock to wake you up (Harada. 2003) - in how far these effects are mitigated, or even reversed (i.e. using black-out curtains = beneficial) in people who would otherwise be constantly exposed to unnatural light-exposure (e.g. a street lantern right before your window) would require further investigation, though.
Figure 1: Distribution of early birds (low M-E score on the x-axes) and late risers (high M-E score) among the study population (data calculated based on Nakade. 2012).
Anyways, as you can see in figure 1 the effect of the curtains was statistically significant, but not as pronounced as the scientists' emphasis in their report would have it. There are tendencies for more morning types (lower M-E scores) in the children sleeping without blackout curtains, yes. And there are no real evening types in the children sleeping without blackout curtains, but the broad majority falls into the same 18-23 M-E score range on the 7-28 early bird to long sleeper scale Nakade et al. employed.
Vitamin B6 and inflammation: Although this is only indirectly related to the topic of circadian rythmicity and wake-sleep patterns, it is quite intriguing that vitamin B6 is still touted as an anti-inflammatory agent. And though even very recent population based studies confirm that there is in fact an inverse relation of low plasma vitamin B6 and its active metabolite pyridoxal-5-phosphate (PLP) are inversely associated with the "overall inflammation" score in the US population (Sakakeeny. 2012), another recent study by Ulvik et al. clearly suggests that these associations are corollary, at best (Ulvik. 2012). In their trial, the results of which have been published in the May issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Ulvik et al. administered 40 mg pyridoxine hydrochloride per day to patients with stable angina pectoris. Contrary to their expectations, this practice did neither replete the low vitamin B6 levels, nor sooth the inflammation. On the contrary, the rapidly metabolized vitamin B6 appeared to preserve or even increased the expression of inflammatory markers.

What's good in the morning won't hurt at night

With tryptophan being a serotonine precursor and vitamin B6 a necessary co-factor in its synthesis, it may come as a surprise that both, and the sunlight induced serotonin synthesis boost can boost "morningness" and make you more alert. After all, you will probably have read on the label of various dietary supplements that tryptophan is supposed to make you sleepy, right? What those labels don't tell you is that the exposure to sunlight and not the shear availability of precursors and co-factors, let alone the position of the hands on your clock modulate its destiny. And determine whether the tryptophan will get you going, as it obviously does in the children with the highest breakfast intake of tryptophan and vitamin B6 (cf. figure 2), or helps you fall and stay asleep at night.
Figure 2: M-E index relative to group mean in high / low tryptophan & vitamin B6 breakfast intake groups (data calculated based on Nakade. 2012)
That both is possible and obviously works quite fine, is thus the main message of this study, the results of which Nakade et al. interpret as direct evidence for the potential usefulness of
[...] a higher Trp and Vi-B6 intake [to] promote the synthesis of serotonin via light stimulation in the morning and have a natural sleep-inducing effect when converted to melatonin at night [and thus] help prevent a phase delay in young children’s circadian clocks and promote their morningness against the effects of the 24-h commercialization of society.
Against the background, that similar improvements have been observed in 35 middle-aged/elderly (aged 55-75 year) volunteers who consumed a tryptophan enriched  (+30mg per serving) cereal at breakfast and dinner for three weeks by Bravo et al. (Bravo. 2012). And since there is no effect without "side effects", I guess I better mention that the Spanish researchers also observed significant increases in
Table 1: Tryptophan content of various foods (in g per 100g, 2nd column), ordered by tryptophan per protein content (3rd column; data based on Wikipedia)
  • sleeping time,
  • sleep efficiency, and
  • immobile time
as well as concomitant decreases in
  • sleep latency (almost 25%!),
  • wake bouts,
  • total activity, and
  • sleep fragmentation index
If you take into consideration that their subjects' total antioxidant capacity levels and mood improved, as well and that the treatment elicited a -50% decrease in state anxiety and a significant drop on Beck's Depression Inventory Index, both of which returned to their initial value, when the treatment was seized, it should be obvious that you better make get out in the sun, immediately after you made the right food choices (and no, I am not talking about tryptophan-enriched breakfast cerals, here) at breakfast and watch the sunset after dinner ;-)

  1. Bravo R, Matito S, Cubero J, Paredes SD, Franco L, Rivero M, Rodríguez AB, Barriga C. Tryptophan-enriched cereal intake improves nocturnal sleep, melatonin, serotonin, and total antioxidant capacity levels and mood in elderly humans. Age (Dordr). 2012 May 24.
  2. Harada T, Matsumura A, Takeuchi H: Effects of the usage of a blacked-out curtain on the sleep-wake rhythm of Japanese University students. Sleep Biol Rhythms 2003, 1:179–181
  3. Nakade M, Takeuchi H, Taniwaki N, Noji T, Harada T. An integrated effect of protein intake at breakfast and morning exposure to sunlight on the circadian typology in Japanese infants aged 2-6 years. J Physiol Anthropol. 2009 Sep;28(5):239-45. 
  4. Nakade M, et al. Can breakfast Tryptophan and Vitamin B6 intake and morning exposure to
    sunlight promote morning-typology in young children aged 2-6 years? Journal of Physiological Anthropology 2012, 31:11
  5. Sakakeeny L, Roubenoff R, Obin M, Fontes JD, Benjamin EJ, Bujanover Y, Jacques  PF, Selhub J. Plasma Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate Is Inversely Associated with Systemic Markers of Inflammation in a Population of U.S. Adults. J Nutr. 2012 May 23.
  6. Rosenthal N, Schwartz P, Tumer E, Nalm S, Matthews J, Hardin T, Barnett R, Wehr T:
    The psychobiology of SAD and the mechanism of action of light therapy. Biol Psychiatry
    1997, 42:57S.
  7. Ulvik A, Midttun O, Ringdal Pedersen E, Nygård O, Ueland PM. Association of plasma B-6 vitamers with systemic markers of inflammation before and after pyridoxine treatment in patients with stable angina pectoris. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 May;95(5):1072-8. 
  8. Wikipedia contributors. Tryptophan. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2012 May 26, 00:42 UTC [cited 2012 May 27]

Old School Supplements - Choline: Stronger, Faster, Leaner & More Muscular, or Just Another Dumb-and-Barbell Story?

Image 1: You really get a hefty dose of the history of physical culture with volume 1 + 2 of Randy Roach's Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors; I must forewarn you, though: These books have addictive potential, so don't buy them, when you have other important things (beside training ;-) on your schedule.
If you are among my facebook friends, you will probably remember that I have received an amazing gift from my friend Carl Lanore, a few weeks ago: The first two books of Randy Roach's Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors (soon-to-be) Trilogy (Roach. 2008-2011). I am not a fan of muscle gossip, but these books are a really amazing resource for everyone with a vested interest in physical culture - just as Super Human Radio the "first radio station dedicated to promote physical culture is, by the way ;-)

My personal favorite in the first two volumes of Muscle Smoke & Mirrors is yet clearly the last third of the second volume about the history of dietary supplements. Aside from the notorious liver tabs and all sorts of "pro-diarrheal" protein supplements, stories about Joe Weider being willing to sell elephant shit, if only someone convinced him that it would further protein anabolism, and a lot of other informative and entertaining stuff, there was one supplement that has been largely forgotten by now that caught my interest - choline!

Choline is present in every human cell!

Although it does not carry the term "vitamin" in its name, choline is an essential water-soluble nutrient that is abundant in some of the typical old-school bodybuilding foods, such as calf liver, beef, eggs, chicken, turkey, sardines, cod, milk and a lot of those green vegetables, many people today believe they must have been invented by the vegans and vegetarians.
Are vitamin supplements bad for me? I have addressed the question in some detail in two previous blogposts in response to the ever resurfacing horror stories about vitamin E, selenium and prostate cancer (Part I), and the media hype around the results of the Iowa Women's Health Study (Part II). So before you bombard me with further questions, go and check out these and a couple of posts on hormesis, here at the SuppVersity ;-)
At first sight it may thus seem that the supplemental choline some of the pros took with each and every meal was at best a waste of time and money, if not a potential health hazard; after all, we are seeing all those horror news about potential negative side-effects from the overconsumption of all sorts of allegedly harmless vitamins pop up in the media in ever shorter time intervals, as of late.

Choline - essential, but already (over-)abundant?

To answer this question we will initially have to identify what choline does in our bodies. As the name that has been derived from the greek word for bile ("chole") implies, choline has been initially identified as a major component of the juices and cells of the pancreas and liver. Scientists realized only later that it is an absolutely essential constituent of each and every cell of our body, where choline with its fat-modifying properties increases the flexibility of the cell membranes and handles the in- and outflux of fat-based nutrients and waste products, respectively.

If we take into consideration that choline is also one of the rare trimethylated molecules in our diets and acts as an important methyl donor that is required for both, the proper activation and deactivation of genes, and as precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, it is hardly surprising that the list of mostly neurological and cardiological pathologies stemming from marginal or full-blown choline deficiency is endless:
Image 2: The purportedly dangerous cholesterol bombs, aka eggs, are among the #1 sources of dietary choline
  • high homocysteine levels, cardiovascular disease, 
  • high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels
  • fatigue, insomnia, 
  • memory and nerve problems,
  • liver dysfunction, kidney failure
    (probably subsequent to a lack of phosphatidylcholine),
  • impaired growth and failure to thrive,
  • abnormalities in bone and red blood cell formation,
  • infertility
If you take a look at your "scientifically formulated high potency B-vitamin supplement" *rofl* you may notice that despite getting 1000%-3000% of all sorts of B-Vitamins, chances are that it contains "only" 100% of the recommended daily allowance of choline (USDA recommendations):
Figure 1: The daily choline intake of most Americans is below the respective RDA, of which some scientists already speculate that it may already be too low. (USDA. 2011)
  • 0-6 months: 125 mg
  • 6-12 months: 150 mg
  • 1-3 years: 200 mg
  • 4-8 years: 250 mg
  • males 9-13 years: 375 mg
  • males 14 years and older: 550 mg
  • females 9-13 years: 375 mg
  • females 14-18 years: 400 mg
  • females 19 years and older: 425 mg
  • Pregnant females of any age: 450 mg
  • Lactating females of any age: 550 mg
And though the "average" American today is working his way up towards a similar "weight class" as the heavy weight bodybuilders in Arnold's days, the disproportionally higher muscle mass of a bodybuilder as well as the 8,000-10,000kcal diets those big guys were consuming in the off season would suggest that they needed at least twice, maybe even thrice the amount of choline an average individual would consume. The "OSBDA", as in old-school bodybuilding daily allowance would thus have been roughly 1.5g of dietary choline, as it is contained in
  • 15 eggs
  • 10-11 eggs and 1lbs of chicken
  • 1 cup of almonds, three cups of rice, 5 eggs, 1lbs of chicken and five ounces of liver
And while many of the pros probably got way more than those 1.5g of choline from their glutenous and ridiculously frequent meals, the increased oxidative damage due to the arduous workouts and use of certain "supplements" may well have exacerbated their need for a nutrient of which various epidemiological studies report a significant correlation with reduced levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and the tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha); the usual suspects, all of which  have been implicated as confounding, if not causative factors in almost every modern (e.g. Detoupolo. 2008, Rajaie. 2011).

Bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, ... what the pros said

For most, yet by probably not all competitive bodybuilders back in the day, improvements in heart and overall health were yet probably not the major incentive to ramp up their choline intake to levels, where the fishy smell your sweat, urine and other bodily fluids will develop when you ingest way too much choline eventually drowned out the foul protein farts, they got from the hardly digestible protein powders of the late 1970s. What they were looking for was the competitive edge:
  1. Performing more reps and training at an even higher volume - With dietary / supplemental choline being a necessary precursor to acetylcholine, which in turn facilitates skeletal muscle contraction, it was only reasonable to assume that the 2-3x per day 2-3h marathon workouts some of the guys were performing, would increase the risk to deplete your choline levels so that the acetylcholine production would come to a standstill and your muscles would simply refuse to contract.
  2. Greater protection and faster repair of muscle damage - Due to its established anti-oxidant effects and its status as an essential and functional constituent of the cell wall, it appears logical that adequate levels of choline would be necessary to both protect and repair skeletal muscle.
  3. Increased leanness and vascularity - In view of the fact that it has been known since the early 1950s that choline's role in the oxidation of fatty acid goes well beyond serving as a source for the phospholipids that would carry them out of the liver and to the mitochondria of skeletal muscle and other metabolically active tissue (Artom. 1953). Even the assumption that choline supplementation will propel the oxidation of fatty acids, promote lower body fat levels and lead either directly (fat loss) or indirectly (reduced inflammation = reduced subcutaneous water) to a more vascular look, was far from being a bro-scientific 'dumb-and-barbell story'.
As you as an educated SuppVersity student know all too well, though, not everything that appears to make sense works and not everything that that works must necessarily have scientific research to back its efficiacy up - after all, the brocebo effect alone (cf. "Add 10kg to Your Bench With Brocebos") could have been responsible for a subjective decrease in fatigue (1), a decrease in muscle soreness (2) and a perceived increase in leanness and vascularity (3).

... what exercise and nutrition science says

Despite the last-named restraints and the unlikeliness that we will find a study on choline supplementation on 200lbs+ bodybuilders on a 8,000kcal/day+ diet, I guess, you will not mind, if we take a brief look at whether or not those "logical" benefits (#1-3, above) have actually been observed in peer-reviewed studies.
  1. Potential effects of supplemental choline on training load / volume Van Allwörden et al. weer among the first scientists who tried to establish a connection between the long-established exercise induced decreases choline, exercise performance and fatigue (Van Allwörden. 1993). Just like Buchman et al. who report similar results in marathon runners (Buchman. 2000), Allwörden et al. had yet to acknowledge that the 0.2g/kg lecithin (a choline source) induced compensation of the 17% decrease in serum choline levels compared to the control group did not lead to increase the performance of the adolescent triathletes in their study. And though these results stand in contrast to a 1992 study by Sandage et al. which found a minimal increase in 10k running times in response to the ingestion of 2.8g of choline 1h prior to the run, most authors of pertinent reviews do acknowledge the theoretical merit of the hypothesis, but speculate that the decline in choline is rarely ever pronounced enough to for choline supplements to illicit immediate ergogenic benefits (e.g. Jäger. 2007; Penry. 2008). Long-term studies on potential downstream effects of decreased oxidative stress, improved cellular regeneration and utilization of fat soluble nutrients, on the other hand, are missing so that the preliminary answer to the question whether choline supplementation would allow you to train longer, or at an overall higher volume must be: Very unlikely!
  2. Potential effects of supplemental choline on muscle damage, repair and growth While Michel et al. observed in isolated muscle cells that choline deficiency induced a cascade of changes in both the oxidative metabolism (downregulated), as well as the fatty acid composition of the cell membranes (Michel. 2011), which was characterized by a shift towards mono- and away from saturated fatty acids, it is somewhat far-fetched to use this as "evidence" for a potential beneficial effect of choline supplementation; after all, we are dealing with isolated, choline depleted muscle cells in a petri dish and cannot even say for sure whether a potentially hightened susceptibility of the monounsaturated fats in the cell wall will lead to an increase in skeletal muscle damage in response to strenuous exercise. Against the background that there is no other convincing scientific evidence that would suggest that supplemental choline - in the absence of dietary choline deficiency (or pathologies related to the latter, such as liver cirrhosis) - would make your muscle bullet proof, this is the 2nd purported benefit the real-world significance of which turns out to be more than questionable.
  3. Potential effects of supplemental choline on fat loss and vascularity Interestingly enough, the "fat loss" hypothesis, appears to be the one with the most convincing scientific evidence to support it. In 2002, for example, Hongu and Sachan observed a shift towards increased fatty acid oxidation in 19 healthy women who participated in a combined carnitine + choline + exercise trial. Moreover, these substrate repartitioning effects were "sustained until wk 2 after cessation of choline plus carnitine supplementation and exercise" (Hongu. 2002). In a previous rodent trial a similar stack that included caffeine, carnitine and choline had lead to body fat reductions "similar to those due to mild exercise" (Hongu. 2000), an observation that would support a previous hypothesis of the authors stating that the combination of carnitine and choline favors an "incomplete oxidation of fatty acids and disposal of their carbons in urine as acylcarnitines in humans" and could thusly help to increase the absolute and relative amount fat loss on a diet. In view of the well-established lipolytic effects of caffeine a "CCC stack", i.e. caffeine + carnitine + choline, could thus in fact make a valuable addition to a sound exercise and diet regimen. Whether it would really make a visible difference, remains yet questionable.
What is the take away message from this article then? I guess, the best answer to this question would be eat your eggs, (organ-)meats, fish, nuts and veggies (and to avoid soy lecithin in supplemental or any other form) to satisfy your choline requirements naturally, in order to remain the "metabolically healthy, fat burning, muscle building machine" you should by now be with all those daily tips on health, exercise, nutrition and supplementation, here at the SuppVersity ;-)

  • von Allwörden HN, Horn S, Kahl J, Feldheim W. The influence of lecithin on plasma choline concentrations in triathletes and adolescent runners during exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1993;67(1):87-91.
  • Artom, Camillo. Role of Choline in the Oxidation of Fatty Acids by the Liver. J. Biol. Chem. 1953 205: 101-111. 
  • Buchman AL, Awal M, Jenden D, Roch M, Kang SH. The effect of lecithin supplementation on plasma choline concentrations during a marathon. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Nov-Dec;19(6):768-70.
  • Detopoulou P, Panagiotakos DB, Antonopoulou S, Pitsavos C, Stefanadis C. Dietary choline and betaine intakes in relation to concentrations of inflammatory markers in healthy adults: the ATTICA study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):424-30. 
  • Hongu N, Sachan DS. Caffeine, carnitine and choline supplementation of rats decreases body fat and serum leptin concentration as does exercise. J Nutr. 2000 Feb;130(2):152-7.
  • Hongu N, Sachan DS. Carnitine and choline supplementation with exercise alter carnitine profiles, biochemical markers of fat metabolism and serum leptin concentration in healthy women. J Nutr. 2003 Jan;133(1):84-9.
  • Jäger R, Purpura M, Kingsley M. Phospholipids and sports performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Jul 25;4:5. 
  • Penry JT, Manore MM. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2008, 18(2):191-203
  • Rajaie S, Esmaillzadeh A. Dietary choline and betaine intakes and risk of cardiovascular diseases: review of epidemiological evidence. ARYA Atheroscler. 2011 Summer;7(2):78-86.
  • Roach, Randy. Muscle Smoke & Mirrors. Volume 1-2. AuthorHouse. 2008-2011.
  • Sachan DS, Hongu N. Increases in VO2max and metabolic markers of fat oxidation by caffeine, carnitine, and choline supplementation in rats. J Nutr Biochem. 2000 Oct;11(10):521-6. 
  • Sandage BW, Sabounjian RN, White R, Wurtman RJ: Choline citrate may enhance athletic performance. Physiologist 1992, 35(4):236. 
  • USDA. FSRG Dietary Data Brief -- No. 9 –Dietary Intakes of Choline. 2011

DHEA Blunts Muscle Damage During 5 Days of Combined Endurance, Strength and HIIT Training in Young Men

Image 1: Who would have thought that? Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a demystified anti-aging agent, turns out to be a potent muscle protectant in young men
In the past couple of days you have learned all those "boring" things about regeneration. Taking a hot bath, training lightly, posing, isometric contractions, ... and what about supplements? The basics, which are. protein, creatine and baking soda *rofl*, are probably already part of your regimen, but would you have thought that dehydroepiandrosterone, short DHEA (not to be confused with DHA in fish oil), the touted vitality and longevity hormone, of which the medical establishment has long concluded that there is, as in the case of most antioxidants "little evidence to suggest that DHEA replacement or supplementation prolongs life or prevents disease" (Kamel. 2008) could make a valuable addition to the supplement regimen of young athletes who constantly train at the narrow margin between over-reaching and overtraining? No? Then you will be interested in the results of a recently published study from William J. Kraemer's group at the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin (Liao. 2012).

5 days of successive "mixed-type exercise" + 100mg/day DHEA

Figure 1: Graphical illustration of the 5-day exercise regimen
The 16 healthy male college students (age 19.2; BMI 22.5 kg/m²) who volunteered for the study had unfortunately not performed "any types of exercise training for at least 3 months before the experiment" (which is a pitty, because it obviously reduces the significance of the results for you, someone who would never take 3 months off ;-), in the course of which they had to complete a 5-day exercise training regimen (cf. figure 1).

While the subjects in the control group received 2x50mg caps with flour, the participants in the active arm of the study supplemented  2x50mg of DHEA at breakfast and dinner. Serum insulin, DHEA-S, and testosterone levels, as well as creatine kinase and delayed-onset muscle soreness were measured every 24h.

300% less creatine kinase (=muscle damage) with DHEA

As you can see in figure 1 the supplemental DHEA lead to a rapid yet not fully sustained increase in DHEA-S levels which was accompanied by a statistically significant increase in total testosterone only within the first 2 days of treatment.
Figure 2: Changes in DHEA-S serum levels and exercise induced elevations of creatine kinase in 16 healthy untrained college aged subjects receiving 100mg/day DHEA or placebo during a 5-day "mixed-type exercise" regimen (data adapted from Liao. 2012)
And while I leave it up to you to decide how likely it is that the drop in DHEA-S on day 3 was a consequence of the additional shuttle run, of which Liao et al. state that it was incorporated to "increase the magnitude of muscle damage" (Liao. 2012), it should be obvious that the blunted increase in blood creatine kinase levels on day 4, i.e. ~48h after the HIIT-esque 5000m shuttle run on day 2, must be related to the DHEA supplement. On the other hand, the ...
[f]asting glucose levels were unaffected by Placebo and DHEA supplementation. [...] The [exercise induced] improvement of glucose tolerance following exercise training did not differ between the Placebo and DHEA groups
and neither the fasting insulin levels, nor the insulin response during the oral glucose tolerance test were affected.

Practical implications & limitations

Figure 3: DHEA levels peak during puberty and begin to decline in your late twenties (Labrie. 2005). Against that background it would be interesting to see the very same study in a group of say "best-agers" or "baby-boomers", who could potentially derive much greater benefits from a boost in DHEA levels - although studies without exercise intervention yielded very conflicting and mostly disappointing results.
Earlier this week, I have argued that you have to limit (not necessarily minimize) muscle damage to maximize the exercise induced net skeletal muscle protein accrual in the immediate vicinity (48h) of a workout (cf. "48h to Your Next Workout? Time to Take a Bath"). What I did not mention before is that the corresponding decrease in exercise induced inflammation should actually lead to an increase (or rather the absence of a decrease) in whole body insulin action, as it has been observed in response to eccentric muscle damage in previous studies (Costill. 1990; Asp. 1997). That this was not the case, here, could simply be a consequence of the timepoint at which the oral glucose tolerance test (OGGT) was conducted. After all, the data in figure 2 indicates that on day 6, the day of the second OGGT the CK levels had already returned to baseline. It is thus still likely that we would have seen a pronounced difference in insulin induced glucose clearance in the DHEA group on day 3 (post workout), day 4 and probably even day 5.
A note on performance and estrogenic side-effects: An 8-week exercise intervention by Brown et al. which used only 50mg supplemental DHEA per day and a significantly lower workload, as well as longer recovery periods (3x total body workouts per week) did not produce significant changes in any of the study parameters. Neither beneficial ones, such as greater strength increases or hypertrophy, nor negative ones such as increases in estrogen or deteriorations of the lipid profile (Brown. 1999). In 2010, on the other hand, Ostojic et al. report in the Chinese Journal of Physiology that 4 weeks of 100mg supplemental DHEA, despite having no effects on the body composition of the 19-21 year-old soccer players who participated in the study, led to statistically significant increases in total testosterone (+37%), DHEA-S (+197%) and estradiol (+21% compared to the subjects in the placebo group; Ostojic. 2010). The overall significance of these results is yet questionable, since both studies were pretty underpowered (N=10 and N=20 for Brown and Ostojic, respectively) and employed comparatively low-volume / low-intensity exercise protocols with sufficient rest between workouts. It should still be mentioned that the DHEA induced "estrogen dominance", which is one of the most frequent arguments against DHEA supplementation you will hear on pertinent bulletin boards, was not observed in either of the two.
Whether long-term (e.g. year-long) supplementation with DHEA at a dosage of 100mg+ per day is a safe undertaking, does yet likewise remain to be determined as the real-world impact and effect size of the reduced muscle damage and the purported improvements / absence of impairments of glucose tolerance during periods of intense training (more intense than the 3x per week whole body workouts in the Brown study, see red box). That all these effects could help you to train more frequently, gain more strength, build more muscle (less damage) and stay leaner on a bulk (insulin sensitivity), should be obvious. If they don't produce real world results and come at a probably overrated yet certainly existent risk of hormonal imbalances, it is probably safer to stick to what you have learned earlier this week and resort to the 42°C hot tub and some posing (=max. isometric contractions) on your off days, to keep the muscle damage during the next workout at bay.

  1. Asp S, Rohde T, Richter EA. Impaired muscle glycogen resynthesis after a marathon is not caused by decreased muscle GLUT-4 content. J Appl Physiol. 1997 Nov;83(5):1482-5. 
  2. Brown GA, Vukovich MD, Sharp RL, Reifenrath TA, Parsons KA, King DS. Effect of oral DHEA on serum testosterone and adaptations to resistance training in young men. J Appl Physiol. 1999 Dec;87(6):2274-83.
  3. Costill DL, Pascoe DD, Fink WJ, Robergs RA, Barr SI, Pearson D. Impaired muscle glycogen resynthesis after eccentric exercise. J Appl Physiol. 1990 Jul;69(1):46-50.
  4. Kamel NS, Gammack J, Cepeda O, Flaherty JH. Antioxidants and hormones as antiaging therapies: high hopes, disappointing results. Cleve Clin J Med. 2006 Dec;73(12):1049-56, 1058.
  5. Labrie F, Luu-The V, Bélanger A, Lin SX, Simard J, Pelletier G, Labrie C. Is dehydroepiandrosterone a hormone? J Endocrinol. 2005 Nov;187(2):169-96. Review. 
  6. Ostojic SM, Calleja J, Jourkesh M. Effects of short-term dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation on body composition in young athletes. Chin J Physiol. 2010 Feb 28;53(1):19-25.
  7. Liao YH, Liao KF, Kao CL, Chen CY, Huang CY, Chang WH, Ivy JL, Bernard JR, Lee SD, Kuo CH. Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone administration on recovery from mix-type exercise training-induced muscle damage. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 May 16. [Epub ahead of print]