Friday, June 20, 2014

Will baking soda help you train harder? By Jerry Brainum



Depending on which study that you look at, sodium bicarbonate (better known as baking soda) is either an efficient ergogenic aid, or just another way to induce nausea. Sodium bicarb acts to alkalinize or reduce acidity. It is made in the body, and used to help maintain a narrow range of acid/base levels in the blood. Either excessive alkaline or acidic blood is very harmful to health. Sodium bicarb is often administered to patients suffering from heart attacks, in which a lack of sufficient oxygen flow to cells results from a failure of the heart to sufficiently pump blood leading to increased blood acidity. From an athletic standpoint, while there are several causes of muscle fatigue, increased acidity is definitely one of them. Increased muscle acidity is the result of anaerobic metabolism, whereby waste products of muscle metabolism boost local acidity in muscles. This, in turn, interferes with the activity of certain energy-related enzymes, which cannot function in an acidic environment.
    While lactic acid has often been accused in the past of being the primary instigator of increased muscle acidity, in fact only the acid portion of lactic acid is the true culprit. Lactate itself is a reusable fuel, where it is released into the blood from exercised muscle, sent to the liver, and then reconverted into glucose in a process known as the Cori cycle. The actual process of converting lactate into glucose is known as gluconeogenesis. So the actual acidity from lactic acid are hydrogen ions. These hydrogen ions cause a drop in both muscle and blood pH levels, meaning higher acidity. In the muscle, this leads to lower rates of glycolysis, or use of glucose as a fuel; an interference with the activity of calcium ions required for muscular contraction; and an increased feeling of overall fatigue in the muscle.
     Although sodium bicarb doesn't work in the muscle itself, it does impart an alkalosis, or acid-lowering effect in the blood. This lowers levels of hydrogen ions in the blood. But the sodium bicarb also tends to promote exit of lactic acid out of the muscle and into the blood, and this is where the ergogenic effect comes into play. Since the increase of metabolic acid occurs mainly during higher intensity, short-term activity, the ergogenic effect of sodium bicarb is most evident for shorter duration events, such as sprints. But not all studies of sodium bicarb have found a definite improvement after its use. A recent analysis of prior studies that have involved sodium bicarb use in sports found that it was ergogenic in 38% of the studies.
   Since weight-training and bodybuilding exercise normally features a short period of high intensity, and since the major cause of fatigue appears to be increased muscle acidity (felt as a burning sensation in the trained muscle), it would initially appear that sodium bicarb would be an ideal ergogenic aid for use in bodybuilding and other weight-training activity. Several studies have examined whether sodium bicarb may be useful for those engaged in weight-training. The results have been mixed, with some studies showing increased repititions done, less feelings of fatigue after using sodium bicarb. Other studies, however, have not shown any improvements.
    One primary reason for the lack of response after ingesting sodium bicarb is that since it works by neutralizing excessive acidity, for it to work you need to impose a level of exercise intensity high enough to significantly boost muscle acidity levels. Several of the prior studies that showed no effects after using sodium bicarb did not provide sufficient  intensity levels for the bicarb to do anything. In actuality, you would need to use enough weight to stress the muscle, and do each exercise to failure as a means of producing an intensity level high enough to truly test the effects of bicarb.  
   This was precisely what was done in a new study that involved 8 men experienced in weight training. They ingested either 0.3 milligrams of sodium bicarb per kilogram of bodyweight, which is the standard dose for athletic purposes, or a placebo consisting of salt water. Both treatments were separated by 48 hours, and both drinks were mixed with 5 milliliters per kilogram of bodyweight  flavored, sweetened water provided in a opaque flask. The men then did 3 sets of bench press and back squat using 80% of one-rep max weight done to complete muscle failure. The results showed that when the men consumed the sodium bicarb solution, they were able to complete additional reps in the squat compared to the salt water placebo. But when they did the bench press five minutes after the squat exercise, no improvement was noted. The men did a similar number of reps on the first set of both the squat and bench press, but did more reps on the second and third set of the squat. The study authors suggest that the failure protocol used in the exercises explains the clear ergogenic effect of sodium bicarb. Why the bicarb didn't work for the bench press wasn't explained, but it may be related to the larger muscle mass of the legs compared to that used when doing a bench press. More muscle mass means more muscle acidity.
    Should you consider regular use of sodium bicarb to enhance workout performance? While baking soda is not expensive compared to high priced "pre-workout" supplements, routine use of sodium bicarb would not be a good idea because of the high sodium content of baking soda. In fact, it is the high sodium content of baking soda that has limited its use among athletes, since many have experienced gastrointestinal distress following the use of sodium bicarb. But there are ways around this. If you ingest a high carb meal, 120-150 minutes prior to exercise, and at that time consume a dose of 0.3 grams of sodium bicarb per kilogram of bodyweight mixed with 7 milliliters of water per kilogram of bodyweight, the risk of gastrointestinal distress drops significantly. Most of the problems that have occurred with ingestion of sodium bicarb have involved ingesting it too close to exercise or sports activity.
     Recent research suggests that sodium bicarb is synergistic with beta alanine, which works to boost levels of carnosine, an intramuscular buffer in muscle. Creatine also lowers muscle acidity, and the combination of sodium bicarb and creatine offers a potent weapon against premature training fatigue, and would likely allow you to train with an increased level of intensity, which translates into increased muscle and strength gains. Adding caffeine to the mixture would make it even more potent, with the amount of caffeine being 300-400 milligrams.






Duncan, M.J, et al. The effect of sodium bicarbonate ingestion on back squat and bench press exercise to failure. J Strength Cond Res 2013: in press.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Does fasting high intensity interval training burn more fat? by Jerry Brainum


There are two basic types of aerobic training, long-slow distance (LSD) and high intensity interval training (HIIT). With the long-slow distance, you exercise at a constant level of intensity, usually based on your age and fitness level, for a set amount of time. The HIIT training is characterized by short bursts of high intensity exercise, as shown by a higher pulse rate and exercise intensity, interspersed with brief recovery periods, where you slow down, and let your pulse drop down. The main advantage of doing HIIT training as opposed to the more conventional LSD type of aerobics, is that you get the same, or better results with far less investment of training time. Indeed, studies show that just 6 HIIT training sessions over a 2-week period resulted in the same changes in muscle oxidative capacity as doing continuous moderate intensity aerobics that required 3-fold as much training time, and 9-times more training volume. A recent study showed that doing HIIT of 10x 60 second intervals at 90% of maximum heart rate led to an immediate increase in insulin sensitivity as measured by a lower resting glucose level in diabetics.
    So it appears that you can get the same, or even superior benefits with HIIT compared to conventional LSD training. The notable advantage of HIIT is far less time in the gym. In addition, from a bodybuilding perspective, you also are less likely to slip into an overtraining state from doing HIIT compared to hours of conventional aerobics.
    A current issue of aerobic training is whether you should exercise in a fasted state, or eat something prior to training. Some believe that exercising in a fasted state permits more fat oxidation, especially when done first thing in the morning. The idea here is that glycogen levels are low in the when you awaken, and thus it's easier to tap into fat stores when you exercise at that time. One study found that 6 weeks of conventional aerobic exercise in the fasted state produced changes that resulted in greater muscle oxidative enzymes (required for fat oxidation or "burning."), and also increased glucose and fatty acid transport capacity. Young men who engaged in fasted aerobics didn't gain weight despite consuming a higher fat and calorie intake.
    Based on these findings, a new study had 16 overweight, obese women engage in HIIT for 6 weeks. They used the 10x 60 seconds HIIT protocol, during which they raised their heart beat levels to 90% of maximum for 60 seconds, followed by a recovery period in which they slowed down (they were on stationary bikes) for another 60 seconds. They did 10 bouts of this per session, three times a week for a total of 18 sessions. But eight of the women consumed a meal prior to the exercise session, while the other eight did the exercise in a fasted state. The women who ate consumed a meal an hour prior to exercise, while the fasted women ate their last meal before exercise the evening before, but did eat a meal an hour after the exercise. The meals consisted of 439 calories, with 74% of the calories derived from carbohydrates.
    The results showed that both groups showed similar beneficial changes, and that eating the meal prior to training had no effects on these changes.Specifically, the women showed reduced fat in their thighs and abdominal regions. And they got this from only 30 minutes of exercise a week. HIIT may be more efficient at lower body fat levels because of increased release of hormones that promote fat mobilization, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. HIIT also leads to a higher post-exercise oxygen consumption, which means a higher resting metabolic rate compared to conventional aerobics. One recent study also suggested that HIIT produces a greater decrease of appetite after training, which means less total food consumption.
   One change that didn't occur was an increase in insulin sensitivity. This effect more often happens in men, and is related to a greater depletion of existing glycogen stores. When women exercise, they are more efficient at preserving glycogen levels. In fact, they use up to 50% less glycogen then men during high intensity exercise. In addition, about 25% of people just don't get any change in insulin sensitivity following exercise, and another 15% show a decline in insulin sensitivity. But since abdominal fat, especially the deep-lying visceral fat, is related to insulin sensitivity, and since all the women in this study did lose significant amounts of abdominal fat, the odds are that their insulin sensitivity was improved, but the effect was more subtle.The women also showed lean mass gains in their legs, which never occurs with conventional aerobics.Gains in lean mass, or muscle, are known to boost insulin sensitivity.
    So for those who lack the time to engage in long aerobic sessions in an effort to reduce excess body fat levels, HIIT may be the best way to go.




Gillen, JB, et al. Interval training in the fed or fasted state improves body composition and muscle oxidative capacity in overweight women.Obesity 2013;21: 249-2255.

 ©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Minding your PQQs by Jerry Brainum



Odds are good that you've never heard of a supplement called "PQQ," which stands for pyrroloquinoline quinone. It was first discovered as a growth factor for bacteria in 1979. Later animal studies showed that it also played a role in the growth of animals, too. It may even do this in humans, since human breast milk is known to contain 15 percent PQQ. The human body produces about 100 to 400 nanograms of PQQ a day, which is a very small amount. It's also found in various foods, particularly soy-based foods, such as natto and tofu, as well as in spinach. However, the amount found in foods is also infinitesimal. Still, the fact that it exists in the human body, albeit in very small quantity,indicates that it must do something.
   The fact that it seems to be required for animal growth and reproduction suggested that it could be a new vitamin compound. While PQQ does affect the activity of various body enzymes, which is one requirement of a vitamin, it does not seem to satisfy the other vitamin requirement, in that there is no established deficiency condition associated with PQQ.  Still, it is capable of doing some significant things in the body. Among these are activation of PGC-1A, a substance that promotes the development of new mitochondria. Mitochondria are cigar-shaped structures in the cell where such vital processes as electron transport and beta-oxidation occurs, resulting in the production of the energy factor, ATP, and fat oxidation. A loss of function of mitochondria is thought to be  major cause of aging, since when mitochondria die out, the cell loses its energy source, and cannot function, so it too dies. A loss of mitochondria is also suspected of being a major cause of sarcopenia, the loss of muscle with age.
    While the effects of PQQ in animals are clear-cut and beneficial, the effects on human health are preliminary to say the least. In animals, PQQ lowers triglycerides (blood fat) more efficiently than fish oil, but in the one human study that has tested the effects of PQQ, it had no effect on triglycerides. Animal studies show that PQQ may modify the activity of NMDA brain receptors. These receptors are involved in memory and learning, but when overstimulated, can lead to loss of neurons, or brain cells. PQQ seems able to block such overstimulation. Much of the benefits of PQQ may be ascribed to an antioxidant activity. While antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamins C and E are quickly oxidized and thus no longer capable of exerting anti-oxidant activity, PQQ can be quickly converted back to antioxidant status, and go through thoussands of such cycles, known as redox cycling.
    Articles about PQQ have suggested that it can improve cognitive ability, or brain activity related to memory and intelligence. This could be related to both the increased mitochondria fostered by PQQ or the effect on NMDA brain receptors. However, most of the animal studies that have shown this effect involved PQQ being injected directly into the brain, a method of administration not likely to be popular with humans. Whether the current oral supplement of PQQ does likewise for human brains is not known or proven yet, although some studies did show slight improvements in memory in older adults after PQQ supplementation.
   As noted, there is a dearth of human studies related to PQQ supplementation. In one recent human study, however, a number of beneficial effects did occur.  The study only had 10 subjects, 5 women and 5 men, ages 21 to 34. In the first part of the study, the subjects were provided 0.2 milligrams of PQQ per kilogram of bodyweight in a fruit-flavored drink. This part of the study measured antioxidant effects of PQQ, and found only a slight effect.In the second part of the study, the subjects increased the dose of PQQ to 0.3 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. The subjects who ingested this dose showed a lowering of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, both indicative of decreased body inflammation. The subjects also showed lowered excretion  of TMAO, which was in the news recently because it was implicated as a promoter of atherosclerosis. TMAO is a byproduct of the metabolism of both choline and carnitine that have been acted upon by intestinal bacteria. PQQ also lowered the excretion of a few amino acids, suggesting that it may have a beneficial effect on nitrogen retention. Other indices did show definite beneficial effects on mitochondria.One other thing worth noting: the study was sponsored by the Mitsubishi Gas and Chemical Company--the major supplier of PQQ in supplement form.
   So, is PQQ worth taking as a supplement? Based on the current available human research, the answer would have to be no. On the other hand, for those seeking to maintain healthy mitochondria, PQQ might be useful, but you can get the same effect for free merely by engaging in high intensity aerobic exercise.The  suggested dose of PQQ is 10-20 milligrams a day.



                                                                       






Harris, CB, et al. Dietary pyrroquinoline quinone (PQQ) alters indicators of inflammation and mitochondrial-related metabolism in human subjects.J Nut Biochem 2013;24:2076-84.

 ©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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