General Exercise

  • Nitric oxide supplements

    Nitric oxide (NO) supplements are very popular in the sports and bodybuilding community. The NO molecule has been found to play an important role in many functions in the human body including mitochondrial respiration (and hence energy metabolism), blood flow, vasodilation and implicated in my own research, neuronal functions and developments. Nitric oxide is synthesized via two physiological pathways, I won't bore you with the details, all you need to know here is that L-arginine acts as a main precursor of the first pathway whereas nitrate is the substrate used to produce NO by the second pathway. It was hypothesized that NO supplementation can enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery to active muscles and hence improve performance. Truth or myth, let's find out.

    L-arginine works on the first NO pathway and it has been proposed that taking L-arginine can increase NO levels and subsequently exercise performance. However, oral L-arginine supplementation has been found to unable to elevate NO levels in the test subjects and did not improve strength performance (Alveare et al 2012, Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism). Other studies further suggested that the supplementation of L-arginine had no effects on the hormone and NO levels in the body and had no effect on performance (da Silva et al 2014, Food and Nutrition Research; Zajac et al 2010, Journal of Strength and Conditioning). There are some contradicting reports showing L-arginine has a somewhat measurable effect on hormone levels and exercise performance. However, the general consensus of the scientific community is that there is a lack of concrete evidence to support the claim that oral L-arginine supplementation has a positive effect on NO levels in the body and exercise performance.

    Nitrate is converted into nitrite after ingestion and can be converted into nitric oxide when the body's oxygen availability is low. The supplementation of nitrate has been shown to lower oxygen demand during submaximal workout, and improves exercise efficiency (Larson et al 2007, Acta Physiologica). It was suggested by one study that nitrate should be consumed 2-3 hours prior to competition or training for maximum benefits (Jones et al 2012, Medicine and Sports Science).

    One of the common flaws of the studies involving NO supplements and exercise performance is that only young males were used as subjects. To my knowledge, the effects of NO supplements on exercise performance in older males or women have not been yet been explored as of today. The effect of oral L-arginine supplementation is debated and the outcome is not conclusive. The use of nitrate supplements has shown to improve exercise performance in some and may be used for their ergogenic potentials.

  • Exercise addiction

    We promote regular physical exercise because it is beneficial physically and psychologically. However, too much of anything is bad and excessive exercise can also have adverse physical and psychological effects. Exercise dependence, also known as exercise addiction, is a behavioural addiction, it is characterised by an excessive preoccupation with exercise. The prevalence of exercise addiction ranging from around 3% to over 40% of the population depends on the demographic of people tested. For instance, the prevalence of exercise addiction of people in a sports club is higher compared to that of in the entire population. Currently, there're still no universally recognised, distinct criteria separating exercise addiction to healthy habits or compulsory disorders. Researchers and medical professionals nevertheless constructed general guidelines to identify exercise addiction. Below is one of the more recognised ones as reviewed by Freimuth et al 2011 (International Journal for Environmental Research and Public Health).

    • Tolerance: increase the amount of exercise in order to feel the buzz and accomplishment;
    • Withdrawal: feeling anxious, irritable and sleepless in the absence of exercise;
    • Lack of control: unable to reduce the level or amount of exercise for a period of time;
    • Intention effects: exceeding the amount of time devoted to exercise beyond originally intended on a consistent basis;
    • Time: a great deal of time is spend on preparing, engaging in, and recovering from exercise;
    • Reduction in other activities: reduced or non-existent social, occupational and/or recreational activities as a direct result of exercise;
    • Continuance: continue to exercise despite knowing that it is exacerbating or creating physical, psychological and sociological problems.

    Remember, the purpose of this article is to raise awareness, it is not meant for self-diagnosis. See a health care professional if you feel that you might be addictive to exercise and it's affecting you negatively.

  • Best time to exercise

    There is really no best time to exercise. It depends largely on the individual and what do you want to achieve through exercise. I believe you should exercise whenever you can, it really doesn't matter what time you do it, as long as you do it. Unless of course you are an elite athlete who wants to achieve that extra 0.5% gain in your performance during training. Even that I don't think it really matters, as professional competition schedules are generally not based on peak performance timing but rather on broadcasting viewership and organisational convenience. There is also no concrete scientific evidence to suggest that calories are burnt more efficiently at certain times of the day. However, for those who want to exploit the subtle differences between different exercise timings in the hope of maximising benefits, please read on.

    Morning exercise:

    Pros

    • Can improve sleep at night and hence promote weight loss (see my article about weight loss and sleep).
    • Morning exercise promotes consistency. People are more likely to keep up with the exercise schedule. If you have trouble with consistency, exercise in the morning.
    • Fat burning if exercising on an empty stomach.
    • Can boost energy and mental alertness for the rest of the day hence creating better mood and moral compares to that of people exercise in late afternoon.

    Cons

    • More prone to injuries due to slow metabolism and cold muscles. Need to stretch properly before strenuous exercise.
    • A lack of energy hence a reduction in performance/endurance if exercised on an empty stomach.

    Noon/early afternoon exercise

    Pros

    • Body is warmer than in the morning, body temperature is better regulated in the afternoon.
    • Better energy and endurance compares to morning.
    • Increased blood flow to the brain, which could be beneficial to afternoon duties.

    Cons

    • Unlikely to have enough time to exercise and eat.

    Late afternoon and evening exercise

    Pros

    • Highest body temperature (metabolism) at around 6pm.
    • Less likely to have injuries compares to doing exercise in the morning.
    • Highest muscular strength of the day.
    • Highest anaerobic and aerobic performance levels.

    Cons

    • Late night exercise may affect sleep as metabolism is stimulated during a time the body is trying to slow it down.

    While subtle differences have been detected between different timings of exercise in controlled scientific studies, the effects of these differences may not be measurable in the real world. The above pros and cons listed correlate with an average person's circadian rhythm. Everyone's different. Therefore, the best time for a workout should be the time that allows you to exercise regularly in accordance with your schedules and makes you feel the best.

  • Creatine use, safe or not?

    Many of my articles intended to debunk common myths surrounding the perceived effectiveness of certain supplements in the world of fitness. On the other hand, although sometimes the effects can be inconsistent, creatine generally works, there's no question about that and with the currently available scientific data to back this up, I am in no position to criticize its efficacy. However, the increase in strength and energy comes at a cost, kidney damage, liver problems, muscle camping, diarrhea, impaired thermoregulation and death just for starters. Or is it really?

    The well-publicized side effects of creatine are generally hypothesised theories based on how the supplement works inside the body under extreme doses. Creatine is an organic acid that is synthesized by the kidney, pancreas and liver to help to supply energy to the body by increasing the formation of ATP. Theoretically, creatine uptake in muscle can result in an increase in fluid retention hence may affect the body's fluid balance and ability to dissipate heat. On the other hand, the body needs to get rid of and compensate for the extra creatine consumed, which puts extra strain on the kidneys and liver. The association between creatine use and liver and kidney damage was thus made based on a few case reports and small changes in organ function indicators.

    The theorized side effects have their scientific merits. However, if used properly, hardly any of the proposed side effects of creatine have been confirmed in well-controlled, randomized studies conducted on healthy subjects. Of course, you should not use creatine if you have an underlining health condition, especially kidney or liver problems, and you should not overdose, which may result in unwanted side effects. But if you are perfectly healthy, not allergic to any of the contents in the supplement that you ingest, and follow the proper guideline of oral creatine supplementation, it is very safe.

    How much creatine should I use then? One should always strive to achieve the best results with the lowest dose possible. According to the Mayo Clinic, a typical loading dose could be anywhere around 9-25 grams daily (depends on body weight) with good fluid intake for 4-7 days and a typical maintenance dose would be 2-20 grams daily for 5 days up to 12 weeks depends on body weight. This is just a general guideline and you should always tailor your regime based on your own circumstances. But remember, the effect of creatine can be inconsistent between different people and if you feel that the creatine you are taking does not give the expected result, it may not be the problem of dosage but the efficacy of the supplement itself.

    All in all creatine is safe supplement to use when taken properly.

  • Customer Spotlight: Steve is Tackling Kilimanjaro for Leukaemia Foundation

    Time to shine the spotlight on a customer of ours doing exceptional things! Steve Kelsall contacted us to let us know about a major fundraising event that he is undertaking to help support the Leukaemia Foundation. He has decided to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro with a goal of raising $20,000.

    We've asked Steve to share some insights into his background and his reasons for undertaking this challenge. Prepare to be moved and inspired!

    If you're interested in helping Steve by donating, please visit http://my.leukaemiafoundation.org.au/StevesKiliClimb2017

    1. Tell us a little about you, your story and what has compelled you to take on this challenge?

    I'm 47, a single father of a beautiful 17 year old daughter named Gemma. I have been working in Information Technology for over 27 years. I train in the gym regularly, enjoy obstacle racing, landscape photography and travelling. I'm always up for an adventure! I also fundraise for charity and community groups. I also share some of my time volunteering for Cancer Council Victoria, which includes Community Speaking and providing phone support to cancer patients and carers; as well as volunteering with a number of Star Wars costume groups, who provide character appearances free of charge for charity and community events.

    I was inspired to take in this challenge as a result of my experiences with cancer, blood cancer and the Leukaemia Foundation in particular.

    My wife, Anne, battled a rare blood cancer for 6 years before sadly loosing her battle in early 2012.

    A close friend of ours; Mark, who we met as a result of Anne's illness and who was also diagnosed with the same disease but fortunately survived it; was diagnosed with leukaemia in late 2015 and underwent a Stem Cell transplant earlier this year, which has been successful to date, given him a second chance at life.

    steve

    1. Why Kilimanjaro?

    As a result of previous fundraising for the Leukaemia Foundation, I was advised of a fundraising challenge happening in May 2017; the Kilimanjaro Challenge.

    The Leukaemia Foundation partnered with Inspired Adventures, organise various fundraising challenges each year. They vary in terms of the actual end challenge location. In this case it just happened to be Mount Kilimanjaro.

    Although I didn't have a dream to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but have always wanted to travel to Africa, when I saw an opportunity to combine fundraising for the Leukaemia Foundation and face a personal challenge as big as Kilimanjaro, I knew this was something I had to do.

    Conquering Kilimanjaro for me is I guess somewhat representative of some of the challenges I've had to face in life to date:

    • My wife being suddenly diagnosed with a life threatening illness (blood cancer) in 2006, resulting in her spending multiple lengths of time in hospital
    • Being the primary carer for Anne for 6 years while juggling raising a daughter and work
    • Anne unexpectedly loosing her battle in early 2012
    • Me being diagnosed with cancer in 2013
    • Close friend being diagnosed with Leukaemia in 2015.

    I'm dedicating my climb in memory of Anne and in celebration of Mark's second chance at life.

    1. Why the Leukaemia Foundation?

    Because of my wife having had blood cancer and friend leukaemia, who was supported by the Leukaemia Foundation for 6 months pre, during and post his Stem Cell transplant.

    1. Why $20,000?

    I have to raise a minimum of $4,000 by February 2017 in order to qualify to actually go to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, which I very thankfully have already exceeded. However when it came to setting a fundraising goal, I chose $20,000 as an ambitious stretch-target more than anything. I'd absolutely love to exceed it, but will be extremely proud to reach the goal I have set. It will also make my journey to summit Kilimanjaro even more special.

    1. Have you ever done anything like this before?

    I've fundraised before, but never anything near the target I've set, nor have I ever done anything like Kilimanjaro before. So a first in both respects making it a true challenge.

    1. Thinking about the trek ahead of you, what feelings come to mind?

    Based on the support I've received to date, and not just monetary, I feel inspired to give this my all, but I know it's going to challenge me both physically and mentally. Based on the reasons why I'm doing the challenge I'm saddened by the events that have happened to get me to where I am today, plus there's the unknowns, especially how my body will cope and reach to the increasing altitude and cold. So I also feel somewhat anxious. But at the opposite end of the scale, I'm also very excited about the whole experience and the lifelong memories it's going to create.

    1. What do you hope to achieve from completing this trek?

    I hope to inspire others that it's possible to overcome personal tragedy and adversity, to make a difference in the world; however small, and perhaps even inspire others to do the same, similar, or even just volunteer some of there time to help a charity and/or community group.

    1. Can you provide your training plan, and how it will adapt in the lead up to your trek?

    I am currently training 4 days (sessions) a week; three of those are with my Personal Trainer  with one of those sessions specifically focused on preparing me for Kilimanjaro. It's also that session my Trainer is providing free of charge as part of his sponsorship of me and the Challenge.

    For the next 3 months Brent will have me continuing to focus on building muscular strength through compound movements especially in the lower body and core. We will be working through a range of exercises and utilising movements relatable to what I will be experiencing on the trek.

    As we closer to departure Brent will have me focusing on muscular endurance and expanding my lung capacity and mental aptitude to handle the intensity of his trek.

    1. Can you provide your nutrition plan, and how it will adapt in the lead up to your trek?

    To assist me with my heavy weightlifting I am eating in surplus to maintain Muscle Building & Repair from the strenuous weight lifting that is being undertaken. As I get closer to departure for the trek my calorie intake will be progressively reduced to a deficit helping me ease in to a lower calorie diet that will be expected on the trek.

    1. What has been the biggest challenge you've faced so far?

    Definitely the fundraising. I'm training regularly to prepare for the physical and mental challenges I know I'm going to face, but finding ways to increase fundraising has certainly been a challenge.

    Sure family and friends have contributed, but there's only so much they can donate and when you set a fundraising goal like I have, it's an even greater ask.

    Sponsorship is one area that I've been working on, but aside from my Personal Trainer, I haven't been able to attract or secure any other sponsors to date.

    I know it's a big ask for a stranger or business to support someone they don't know and/or perhaps a charity they know little about, but I know from my first hand experience with the Leukaemia Foundation, that they are doing great things to support individuals and their families through what is a very stressful and difficult time.

    1. What do you anticipate to be the biggest challenge from now until the completion of your trek?

    Working on facing the mental challenges and training for the altitude.

    I know from having completed physical challenges in the past that your mind plays a big part in conquering the physical.

    Obviously living in Australia we don't have any mountains as high as Mount Kilimanjaro. So training and getting an opportunity to test my body for the altitude is going to be difficult, but fortunately not impossible.

    Fortunately I've managed to find two fitness clubs in Melbourne that have an Altitude Training Chamber, which can simulate up to 5,000 metres. I'll be trekking higher than that; almost 6,000, but training in such a chamber is better than none at all. The cost to use the Chamber isn't cheap, but one that I will try and raise some funds for, as I see it as a great benefit to preparing me for Kilimanjaro.

    1. Why did you ask us to support you with this challenge?

    Because your Vision and Values align with my challenge.

    Your Vision states that you want to help people in Australia (and around the world) with their fitness, health and nutrition.

    This challenge requires all of the above in order to succeed. Plus I, too, want to help people through fundraising for the Leukaemia Foundation.

    One of your core Values is Perseverance. I have no intentions of ever giving up!

    1. What has been your experience as a customer of Amino Z?

    I've had nothing but great service and great products from Amino Z.

    If you're interested in helping Steve by donating, please visit http://my.leukaemiafoundation.org.au/StevesKiliClimb2017

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