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Supplements

  • Astragalus Supplements: All You Need to Know

    If you are looking to boost health and function, then sometimes looking backwards will take you forwards -- especially when it comes to supplements.

    Despite new supplements hitting the market every other day, some of the most effective options have been around for centuries. In fact, most of the supplements that you find on the shelf of your local supermarket have actually been a staple in eastern medicinal practices since the dawn of time.

    And Astragalus is no different.

    What is Astragalus?

    Astragalus (also known as “Huang Qi” in certain parts of the world) describes a species of about 3000 closely related plants that can be categorised as a type of legume.

    However, when we are talking about astragalus, we are really talking about one of two types:

    • Astragalus membranaceus
    • Astragalus mongholicus

    The roots of these two Astragalus variants are broken down and consumed in supplement form around the world. These supplements can come in the form of a liquid, a capsule, a powder, or even a tea.

    The reason the root of the plant is used to create Astragalus supplements is because it is full to the brim with potent bioactive compounds known as “Astragalosides”, which are thought to lower cholesterol and enhance immune system function.

    Moreover, it also contains an abundance of “flavonoids”, which are potent antioxidants that have been linked to reductions in inflammation, as well as improvements in heart and cardiovascular system health.

    All of which would suggest that supplementing with Astragalus might have some potent benefits…

    The Benefits of Astragalus Supplements

    As I alluded to above, Astragalus is full of health boosting compounds -- which means that it offers a host of unique benefits to anyone interested in this whole “health and fitness” thing.

    1.    Improved Immune Response

    There is a growing body of research demonstrating that Astragalus supplements can have a potent effect on the immune cells of the human body. More specifically, it has been shown to increase the production of both white blood cells and natural killer cells [1].

    These specific cells are responsible for reacting to invading pathogens and eradicating them from your body.

    As a result, there is reason to believe that Astragalus supplements will enhance your immune response by improving the global function of your immune system. This is obviously going to keep you healthy and training hard without any hiccups.

    2.    Better Heart Health

    Some of the bioactive compounds found in Astragalus can reduce inflammation throughout the body, while simultaneously promoting better vasodilation (the ‘widening’ of your arteries) and blood flow.

    As a result, it can improve heart function.

    In fact, research has shown that people with heart failure who supplement with around 4 grams of astragalus per day for as little as two weeks will observe greater improvements in heart health than those people who only receive normal hospital care [2].

    Moreover, research in rats has shown that Astragalus can reduce the levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol found in the blood, while concurrently increasing the amount of HDL (or “good”) cholesterol in the blood [3], which is also known to significantly improve heart health.

    These findings would indicate that Astragalus offers a potent way to help improve the health of your heart, and may even prevent things like cardiovascular disease as you get older -- all of which is key if you want to keep lifting for a long time (and really, who doesn't…).

    3.    Treat Viral Infections

    In conjunction with boosting your immune system and making sure you get sick less, there is also some evidence to suggest that taking Astragalus when you get a viral infection can speed up your recovery time.

    Research has demonstrated that the supplementation of Astragalus can boost the immune cells of children with chronic tonsillitis (a disease typified by severe tonsil inflammation) [4]. This, in turn, facilitated recovery in a big way.

    Moreover, there are a myriad of cell based studies demonstrating that Astragalus can help fight against viral infections of the reproductive and respiratory systems, as well as things like the flu [5].

    While more research in humans is needed, there is enough evidence to suggest that taking Astragalus can help you overcome viral infections faster. So if you feel a cold coming on and don't want to stop training, this could be your answer.

    4.    Enhanced Blood Sugar Control

    Lastly, many of the active compounds found in Astragalus supplements have been shown to help manage blood sugar levels. In fact, in eastern countries, it is often prescribed alongside traditional diabetes medication to better manage blood sugar levels [6].

    This means that it may have the ability to help prevent the development of diabetes, which is one of the most prevalent diseases in the western world.

    Does Astragalus Have Any Side Effects?

    Many people will tell you that because Astragalus has been consumed by people for centuries without any notable issues occurring, you have no reason to worry -- and to be honest, this is not far from the truth.

    Research indicates that it is very well tolerated for the vast majority of people who take it, although in a small subset of the population side effects may occur.

    These can include:

    • The development of a red rash
    • Itchy sections of skin
    • The onset of a runny nose
    • Feelings of nausea
    • Stomach discomfort and diarrhea

    It is also important to note that while Astragalus appears to be very safe in most people, you should avoid taking it if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, currently have an autoimmune disorder, are taking immunosuppressant medications, or have diagnose blood pressure issues.

    While it may not pose any issues in these situations, there is currently no research to demonstrate this with real certainty -- so it is probably best to avoid it for now.

    And finally, even if you do not fall into one of the categories above, we would encourage you to seek advice from your GP before supplementing with Astragalus.

    Astragalus Dosing

    When it comes to the Astragalus research, there is some conflicting information regarding dosage because some researches have supplied it via an intravenous drip -- which means that the dosage is lower than what would be taken orally.

    So just keep in mind that the recommendations we are providing here strictly relate to oral Astragalus supplements.

    Research suggests that taking 2-30mg of Astragalus twice daily (so 4-60 milligrams per day) is enough to improve heart health, boost immune system function, and help manage blood sugar in most individuals.

    Obviously this is quite a large range, which means that you should always start conservatively.

    We would suggest that you start by taking 4mg per day, spread out into two 2mg doses (taken morning and night). If this is well tolerated, then you can slowly increase your daily dosage towards the 15-40mg range.

    At the moment there does not appear to be any real benefit to going above 40mg per day, despite some research studies using 60mg per day.

    Main Points

    Astragalus offers an excellent way to improve the function of your immune system, fight off viral infections, enhance heart health, and even promote better blood sugar control -- all of which will allow you to keep at the top of your game indefinitely.

    If you are someone who is interested in staying swole well into your nineties, then Astragalus could be your answer.

     

    References

    1. Block, Keith I., and Mark N. Mead. "Immune system effects of echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus: a review." Integrative cancer therapies 2.3 (2003): 247-267.
    2. Yang, QingYou, Shu Lu, and HuiRu Sun. "Effects of astragalus on cardiac function and serum tumor necrosis factor-alpha level in patients with chronic heart failure." Zhongguo Zhong xi yi jie he za zhi Zhongguo Zhongxiyi jiehe zazhi= Chinese journal of integrated traditional and Western medicine 30.7 (2010): 699-701.
    3. Jiangwei, M. A., Qiao Zengyong, and Xiang Xia. "Aqueous extract of Astragalus mongholicus ameliorates high cholesterol diet induced oxidative injury in experimental rats models." Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 5.5 (2011): 855-858.
    4. Yang, Yong, Li-Dong Wang, and Zong-Bo Chen. "Effects of Astragalus membranaceus on TH cell subset function in children with recurrent tonsillitis." Zhongguo Dang dai er ke za zhi= Chinese Journal of Contemporary Pediatrics 8.5 (2006): 376-378.
    5. Zhuge, Zeng-Yu, et al. "Effects of Astragalus polysaccharide on immune responses of porcine PBMC stimulated with PRRSV or CSFV." PloS one 7.1 (2012): e29320.
    6. Agyemang, Kojo, et al. "Recent advances in Astragalus membranaceus anti-diabetic research: pharmacological effects of its phytochemical constituents." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 (2013).
  • The Amazing Benefits of Vitamin D

    Your body requires a number of essential nutrients to function effectively on a daily basis -- and none are more important than Vitamin D. This potent vitamin plays a myriad of roles in the human body, ultimately making sure that you are at the top of your game all the time.

    More importantly, supplementing with larger amounts of Vitamin D can also have some serious effects on your health and function -- which is what I want to talk about today.

    What is Vitamin D?

    Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that your body needs to survive.

    It is most commonly considered for its role in the production of new bone tissue. In this manner, it helps you absorb calcium from the food you eat (which is used to build new bone), while also assisting in the layering of new bone.

    As a result, if you don't eat enough Vitamin D, then your bones can become brittle and prone to fracture.

    This unique vitamin also supports immune system function, and is involved in numerous physiological processes throughout the human body -- which is why some researchers actually consider it to be a type of hormone.

    Although Vitamin D can be found in foods like fish and seafood, your body also makes it when it is exposed to light from the sun. As a result, getting regular sun exposure offers a suitable way to keep vitamin D levels in normal ranges for most of the population.

    I should also note that there is reason to believe that the majority of the population are actually deficient in Vitamin D, which makes supplementation imperative. Furthermore, there is some evidence suggesting that supplementing with higher doses of vitamin D can offer additional benefits -- which is what we cover in this next section.

    What are the benefits of Vitamin D?

    Vitamin D is arguably the most important nutrient in the human body -- which is why its supplementation can offer so much benefit.

    1.    Stronger Bones

    As I indicated above, Vitamin D is important for bone health. More specifically, it ensures you have adequate levels of calcium and phosphorus in your body by facilitating their absorption in your digestive tract.

    As you may already know, these two compounds are used in the production of new bony tissue, as well as in the repair of damaged bone. Very simply, supplementing with Vitamin D improves the availability of these compounds, which increases bone growth.

    This can increase bone mineral density, helps prevent the onset of osteoporosis, and may even reduce the risk of bone injuries from occurring [1].

    2.    Boosts Weight Loss

    One of the more surprising benefits of Vitamin D supplements relates to weight loss -- or more specifically, fat loss.

    A recent study explored the effect of Vitamin D on fat loss by putting a bunch of overweight men and women on a weight loss regime. While they both underwent the same program, half also received a Vitamin D supplement, while the other half did not.

    As you may have guessed, the group receiving the Vitamin D supplement lost more fat mass than the group who did not, even though they were following the same diet and exercise regime [2].

    3.    Enhances Mood

    Early on in this article I alluded to the fact that some researchers consider Vitamin D to be a hormone. Well, this is because it impacts numerous areas of the human body -- even areas related to mood and emotional control.

    In fact, research has shown that the supplementation of Vitamin D can improve emotional wellbeing, while simultaneously reducing feelings of depression and anxiety [3].

    While I would argue that having an improved mood will help you get more out of your training, more important is the fact that feeling happier in your day to day life is never a bad thing -- and Vitamin D can help.

    4.    Increase Muscle Strength

    Amazingly, Vitamin D supplements have even been shown to improve strength and power.

    A systematic review of over 30 studies found that the supplementation of Vitamin D can cause acute increases in muscle strength and power [4]. This ultimately means more reps per set, or more weight on the bar.

    While this is unquestionably cool in the short term (I mean, instant strength, right?), over the duration of a longer term training block this is likely to lead to greater improvements in strength and size -- which is pretty amazing if you ask me.

    5.    Faster Recovery

    In conjunction with its ability to promote muscle strength and power, Vitamin D is also important for recovery.

    See, after a strenuous bout of exercise your body uses Vitamin D to increase the activity of muscle cells. Within this, it also downregulates something called myostatin, a unique protein molecule that blunts muscle protein synthesis.

    With this in mind, taking Vitamin D supplements has been shown to increase recovery after heavy resistance exercise [5] -- and as you know, when it comes to growing muscle, recovery is arguably the most important factor.

    In short, when you train in the gym you place your body under stress and break down your muscle tissue. This is what tells your body that it needs to grow bigger and stronger -- a process that can only occur if you are recovering effectively.

    All of which means that Vitamin D can increase your ability to recover, all  while enhancing the results of your training.

    6.    More Testosterone

    Incredibly, Vitamin D also plays a role in the production and secretion of testosterone.

    While the exact mechanism remains somewhat unclear, a recent research study demonstrated that supplementing with Vitamin D for a 12 month period can cause vast improvement in free testosterone levels [6].

    Given that testosterone is the most anabolic hormone in your body, this has obvious implications for muscle growth.

    7.    Improved Sleep

    Lastly, taking Vitamin D has also been shown to have a profound impact on sleep.

    Taking a high dose Vitamin D supplement for as little as 8 weeks has been shown to cause significant improvements in sleep quality. With this also comes the ability to fall asleep faster, combined with longer sleep durations [7].

    Given that sleep is your body's most important recovery mechanism, this can have a marked improvement on the results of your training.

    Optimal Vitamin D Dosage

    Now, this is where things get a little bit tricky. See, it is well known that Vitamin D is important for health and function -- and as a result, there are already guidelines in place regarding its recommended intake.

    These guidelines suggest that consuming up to 800 IU of vitamin D per day will meet the needs of 97% of the population, while ensuring they do not develop a deficiency. However, several of the studies discussed above used doses of up to 4000 IU.

    Moreover, research exploring the health benefits of Vitamin D supplements have shown that taking between 1000 and 4000 IU per day leads to better health outcomes than the recommended 800 IU per day [8].

    This would suggest that if you want to get the most out of your Vitamin D supplementation, opting for a dosage of between 2000 and 4000 IU is probably going to be your best bet. But, as this is above the recommended daily intake, you should seek advice from a medical professional before taking.

    Take Home Message

    Vitamin D is arguably the most bang-for-your-buck supplement on the planet.

    With the ability to improve strength and power, enhance post exercise recovery and sleep quality, boost mood and fat loss, and increase testosterone levels and bone density, it literally does everything.

    So, if you are after a complete and utter game changer, then look no further.

     

    References

    1. Reid, Ian R., Mark J. Bolland, and Andrew Grey. "Effects of vitamin D supplements on bone mineral density: a systematic review and meta-analysis." The Lancet 383.9912 (2014): 146-155.
    2. Major, Genevieve C., et al. "Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and fat mass loss in female very low-calcium consumers: potential link with a calcium-specific appetite control." British journal of nutrition 101.5 (2008): 659-663.
    3. Jorde, R., et al. "Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial." Journal of internal medicine 264.6 (2008): 599-609.
    4. Beaudart, Charlotte, et al. "The effects of vitamin D on skeletal muscle strength, muscle mass, and muscle power: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 99.11 (2014): 4336-4345.
    5. Barker, Tyler, et al. "Supplemental vitamin D enhances the recovery in peak isometric force shortly after intense exercise." Nutrition & metabolism 10.1 (2013): 1-10.
    6. Pilz, S., et al. "Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men." Hormone and Metabolic Research 43.3 (2011): 223.
    7. Majid, Mohammad Shahi, et al. "The effect of vitamin D supplement on the score and quality of sleep in 20–50 year-old people with sleep disorders compared with control group." Nutritional neuroscience 21.7 (2018): 511-519.
    8. Wang, Lu, et al. "Systematic review: vitamin D and calcium supplementation in prevention of cardiovascular events." Annals of internal medicine 152.5 (2010): 315-323.
  • The Power of Tribulus Terrestris

    While many different supplements are being developed on a near daily basis, some of the most popular have been around for centuries -- of which Tribulus Terrestris may be the most interesting.

    What is Tribulus Terrestris?

    Tribulus terrestris is a small leafy plant, also known colloquially as puncture vine, devil's thorn, and goat’s head. This unique plant is found growing naturally throughout the Mediterranean, as well as India, Vietnam, China, Spain, and Mexico.

    Traditionally Tribulus Terrestris was used in eastern and Ayurvedic medical practices where it was said to boost libido, enhance longevity, promote wound healing, and keep the urinary tract healthy [1].

    In modern day, Tribulus has become a common health supplement among the general fitness crowd, while also becoming a staple in the supplement regime of many bodybuilders due to its suggested ability to increase testosterone.

    What are the Benefits of Tribulus Terrestris?

    Tribulus is full to the brim with bioactive plant compounds known as “saponins” and “flavonoids”, which are thought to provide unique benefits to the human body.

    As a result, the supplementation of Tribulus Terrestris has been shown to have some pretty interesting effects.

    1.    Tribulus Enhances Libido

    Arguably the most potent effect of Tribulus on the human body relates to its impact on libido.

    Research has shown time and time again that that the daily supplementation of Tribulus can increase sex drive significantly in both men and women. This can also come with an improvement in sexual function in individuals suffering from erectile dysfunction [2].

    It is important to note that these effects do appear to be somewhat dose dependent, with dosages of around 1500mg per day generally being more effective than dosages of 800mg or less.

    2.    Tribulus Lowers Blood Sugar

    There is reason to believe that many of the bioactive compounds in Tribulus can enhance cell function and reduce systemic inflammation. As a result, its supplementation has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels [3].

    Although lower resting blood sugar has been linked to improvements in metabolic health and a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, the benefits don't stop there.

    Good blood sugar control is integral to enhancing post exercise recovery -- indicating that Tribulus is going to be a good option for both health conscious individuals, and those who are heavily into the gym lifestyle that we all know and love.

    3.    Tribulus Reduces Blood Pressure

    In addition to improvements in blood sugar levels, reductions in inflammation are also thought to contribute to improved arterial function and a reduction in blood pressure -- which is exactly what you see with Tribulus supplements.

    In fact, one study in people with high blood pressure saw vast improvements in their blood pressure levels after as little as one weeks supplementation when dosing with 3000mg per day [4].

    While it is unlikely that these effects will be as profound in people with normal blood pressure levels, it does suggest that Tribulus supplements will be a good way to maintain your health as you get older.

    Does Tribulus Terrestris Increase Testosterone?

    In the introduction I alluded to the fact that Tribulus has become so popular among the lifting community because it is said to boost testosterone levels -- but research would indicate that this may not be entirely true.

    A recent systematic review of 14 studies in men and women aged between 14 and 60 years found that the regular supplementation of Tribulus Terrestris does not increase free testosterone in people with normal testosterone levels [5].

    While there is some reason to believe that it may boost testosterone in people with low testosterone levels, more research is needed to prove this is the case.

    Now, this is not to say Tribulus does not offer any benefits -- because it obviously does -- just that its benefits do not lie within the realm of increasing testosterone.

    How Much Tribulus Terrestris Should I Take?

    Research would suggest that taking around 1000 mg per day is sufficient to lower blood sugar and blood pressure, while increasing to around 1500mg may be more effective enhancing libido and sex drive.

    There does not appear to be any reason to exceed this dosage, despite some studies using higher than these levels.

    Does Tribulus Terrestris Have any Side Effects?

    For the most part, Tribulus Terrestris appears to be very well tolerated by most people, with no reports of “serious” side effects being in the scientific literature.

    However, it is important to note that some people do report experiencing minor stomach cramps or reflux after long term supplementation. Moreover, research in rats has indicated that extremely large dosages may lead to kidney damage [6] -- which would lead us to recommend avoiding supplementation if you have a known issue with your kidneys, or a history of kidney stones.

    With all this in mind, it appears that Tribulus is an extremely safe supplement in most circumstances -- although we would still encourage you to seek advice from a medical professional before supplementation.

    After all, better to be safe than sorry.

    Take Home Message

    Although Tribulus Terrestris does not have the capacity to boost testosterone, it has demonstrated the ability to increase libido, lower blood sugar, and even reduce blood glucose -- all of which can improve health and function in a big way.

    If you are interested in supplementing with Tribulus, dosages between 1000 and 1500mg per day should do the trick.

     

    References:

    1. Chhatre, Saurabh, et al. "Phytopharmacological overview of Tribulus terrestris." Pharmacognosy reviews 8.15 (2014): 45.
    2. Akram, M., et al. "Tribulus terrestris Linn.: A review article." J Med Plants Res 5.16 (2011): 3601-3605.
    3. Samani, Nasrin Babadai, et al. "Efficacy of Tribulus terrestris extract on the serum glucose and lipids of women with diabetes mellitus." Iranian journal of medical sciences 41.3 Suppl (2016): S5.
    4. Murthy, A. R., S. D. Dubey, and K. Tripathi. "Anti-hypertensive effect of Gokshura (Tribulus terrestris Linn.)-A clinical study." Ancient science of life 19.3-4 (2000): 139.
    5. Neychev, Vladimir, and Vanyo Mitev. "Pro-sexual and androgen enhancing effects of Tribulus terrestris L.: fact or fiction." Journal of ethnopharmacology 179 (2016): 345-355.
    6. Gandhi, Sonia, B. P. Srinivasan, and Atul S. Akarte. "Potential nephrotoxic effects produced by steroidal saponins from hydro alcoholic extract of Tribulus terrestris in STZ-induced diabetic rats." Toxicology mechanisms and methods 23.7 (2013): 548-557.
  • Creatine VS Beta-Alanine

    There are literally thousands of supplements out there suggesting to do much of the same thing -- get you strong, muscular, and lean as hell.

    And two of the most common are Creatine and Beta-Alanine.

    In fact, both of these compounds appear in a multitude of different pre-workout supplements because research indicates that they are both effective.

    Which begs the question -- do you really need them both, or is one better than the other?

    Creatine and Beta-alanine: What are they?

    To work out whether one of these common supplements is better than the other, it is first important to gain an understanding of what they actually are.

    And first up is creatine.

    Creatine is a compound found naturally occurring in the human body, where it is synthesised from small protein molecules called “amino acids”. Most of the creatine found in your body is stored within your muscle tissue. It is then released during exercise to produce energy during short, explosive efforts.

    One thing to note is that the amount of energy you can produce via creatine is limited, because it is dictated by the amount of creatine you have stored in your muscle tissue -- which is exactly where creatine supplements enter the equation.

    By increasing the amount of creatine you have stored in your muscle, they increase the amount of energy you can produce during intense exercise. This can lead to a couple of extra reps per set at a given weight, which has obvious benefits in the gym environment.

    Pretty cool, right?

    Next up we have beta-alanine.

    Beta-alanine is a unique amino acid that is naturally found in your muscles and brain. Under normal circumstances, it combines with another amino acid called “histidine” to form a compound called carnosine.

    And this is important, because carnosine helps reduce the accumulation of lactic acid in your muscles during exercise, which staves off fatigue.

    But much like creatine, the amount of beta-alanine stored in your muscle tissue is relatively small compared to the amount of histidine. This limits the production of carnosine, and puts a ceiling on your ability to buffer lactic acid during exercise.

    As a result, supplementing with beta-alanine can cause an immediate increase in carnosine production, which improves your fatigue resistance during exercise.

    Creatine and Beta-alanine: What are their benefits?

    So, we have two very different compounds that impact your body in two very different ways. Which really makes you wonder -- what are their benefits when it comes to boosting the results of your training?

    The Benefits of Creatine

    I mentioned above that creatine supplements ultimately saturate your muscle cells with creatine, which improves your energy production capabilities. I also went on to suggest that this could improve your gym performance acutely by allowing you to list more weight.

    Well, the research indicates that this is completely true.

    Evidence has repeatedly shown that supplementing with creatine can cause vast improvements in strength during your gym sessions [1] -- and while lifting more weight is cool itself, this has further benefits when taking a longer term perspective.

    Over the duration of a long term training program, lifting more weight every single session will place your muscular and nervous systems under more mechanical load. This stimulates greater training adaptations, leading to improvements in strength.

    In fact, in one study, individuals who supplement with creatine saw improvements in strength that were 8% greater than people not taking creatine -- despite performing the exact same training program [2].

    Moreover, this was just a short term study. When we extrapolate these effects over years of training, the results become astronomically larger.

    But wait, there's more.

    Because creatine allows you to lift more weight, it causes an immediate increase in the amount of total volume you lift per session (think of volume as sets x reps x load). This is important, because training volume has been shown to be one of the largest predictors of muscle growth.

    As a result (and much like strength), combining creatine supplementation with a longer term training program has been shown to cause larger improvements in muscle size than simply training alone [3].

    The Benefits of Beta-alanine

    Now, as discussed above, beta-alanine works in a very different manner to creatine, where it increases the production of carnosine within your muscle tissue. This, in turn, directly limits the build of lactic acid during exercise.

    As a result, it has been shown to improve muscular and aerobic endurance, while limiting fatigue during training [4].While having more energy during training is unquestionably a good thing, you should understand that the implications of this are quite large.

    Let's say that you can normally perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions on the bench press at 80kgs -- but, when you supplement with beta-alanine, you can do 3 sets of 10 reps.

    This can also cause large increases in volume load across the duration of a training session. In fact, it is for this reason that beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to enhance muscle growth and fat loss significantly when combined with training [5].

    Do Creatine and Beta-alanine Have any Side Effects?

    OK, so they both offer some pretty positive benefits -- but do they have any side effects?

    To keep consistent with the theme of this article, we will kick off creatine.

    If you have been around the traps for a while then it is highly likely that you have heard some anecdotal reports that creatine can cause some nasty side effects, including kidney damage, muscle cramps, dehydration, and even diarrhea.

    However, evidence would suggest that this is not really the case [6].

    A previous study in athletes has shown that up to 5 years of creatine supplementation does not have any adverse effects on renal function. Now, I must admit that while we do not have any idea what happens after 5 years of supplementation, it is likely to be pretty safe. Nonetheless, we encourage you to check with your medical practitioner before supplementing with creatine.

    Moreover, while some people may experience some symptoms of dry mouth and increased thirst during the first week or so, that tends to disappear pretty quickly.

    In short, creatine is one of the safest supplements on the planet.

    And beta-alanine?

    Well, much like creatine it appears to be very well tolerated in humans.

    In fact, the only notable side effect that people experience is something called “paraesthesia”, which describes the “tingling” sensation that occurs on the face, neck and back of the hands after taking beta-alanine [7].

    While this may be slightly odd, it is something that normally disappears pretty quickly, and only occurs with higher dosages.

    Creatine VS Beta-Alanine: Who Wins?

    And the winner is.... *drumroll please*... both and neither.

    Evidence has shown time and time again that both of these compounds have the ability to improve the results of your training. However, because they work through very different mechanisms, they are hard to compare directly.

    I mean, creatine helps you lift more weight, and beta-alanine helps you perform more reps -- both of which will improve muscle growth and strength development in a big way.

    In fact, because they do improve gym performance by two very different mechanisms, I would argue that they both complement each other perfectly. As a result, it is probably in your best interest to take both of them if you want to optimise the results of your training.

    And look, no one is saying that you can only have one -- so why not take both?

    Key Points

    Both creatine and beta-alanine are some of the safest supplements that you can get your hands on. And given that they have both been shown to help improve muscle strength and size, they both deserve a place in your supplement regime.

    So what are you waiting for? Give them a go and let us know what you think.

     

    References

    1. Mills S, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Neary JP, Ormsbee MJ, Antonio J. Effects of Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training Sessions in Physically Active Young Adults. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1880.
    2. Rawson ES, Volek JS. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(4):822-831.
    3. Cooper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, Jimenez A. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):33.
    4. Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids, 43(1), 25-37.
    5. Kern, B. D., & Robinson, T. L. (2011). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1804-1815.
    6. Poortmans, Jacques R., and Marc Francaux. "Adverse effects of creatine supplementation." Sports Medicine 30.3 (2000): 155-170.
    7. Trexler, Eric T., et al. "International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 12.1 (2015): 1-14.
  • Do You Need Dextrose Post-Workout?

    When it comes to optimising your training, actually getting in the gym and exercising is only half the battle.

    And the other half?

    Nutrition.

    In short, you want to be sure that you are providing your body with everything it needs to perform maximally in the gym, while also recovering optimally after. This is key when it comes to maximizing the results of your training.

    Now, a common suggestion around this is to make sure you consume an abundance of easily digested carbohydrates (such as dextrose) after you train -- but is this really required?

    What is Dextrose?

    As I alluded to above, dextrose is a type of carbohydrate.

    It is what many would consider a “simple sugar” because it is very easily digested. It is generally made from corn, and is chemically identical to glucose (which is the same type of sugar that is found in your blood).

    While dextrose is commonly used in medical scenarios to increase blood sugar rapidly, it has become increasingly popular in body building circles as an addition to the all-important post workout shake -- but why is this the case?

    Taking Dextrose Post-Workout

    During a weight training session, you are working at a high intensity the whole time. This means that you are using carbohydrates for energy.

    Most of the carbohydrates in your body are stored in your muscle tissue in the form of glycogen. During exercise, this is broken down into glucose, which is then used to produce the energy required to support muscle contractions.

    All of which leads to a reduction in muscle glycogen after training.

    As a result, after exercise your muscle tissue is primed to receive carbohydrates to replenish these glycogen stores . From this perspective, the benefits of taking an easily digested carbohydrate like dextrose after training is apparent.

    See, as dextrose is digested and absorbed so rapidly, it makes its way into your muscle tissue immediately after training. This quickly increases your glycogen stores, and better facilitates recovery.

    Dextrose and Muscle Growth?

    OK, so dextrose can speed up recovery after training -- but how does it impact the results of your training.

    Well, it all comes down to insulin.

    Because dextrose is so rapidly absorbed, it causes a rise in blood sugar immediately after consumption. This causes a subsequent increase in the secretion of the hormone “insulin” which drives the glucose from your blood into your muscle cells.

    It is this hormone that is almost entirely responsible for replacing your muscle glycogen stores -- but that's not all it does.

    Insulin also promotes the movement of amino acids (i.e. protein molecules) from your blood into your muscle tissue. Because these compounds are used to repair and grow muscle, this could conceivably promote additional muscle growth.

    And research would indicate that there is some truth behind this.

    Does Dextrose Increase Muscle Growth?

    The growth of new muscle tissue comes down to maximising the accumulation of muscle protein -- which is driven by a process known as “muscle protein synthesis” which simply describes the production of new muscle tissue.

    Interestingly, simply consuming a simple carbohydrate like dextrose after training has been shown to cause a substantial increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to not taking any carbohydrates at all [1].

    Now, it is important to note that this effect is further magnified when dextrose is combined with a fast absorbing protein powder like whey [2].

    So, while dextrose itself is not used to develop muscle tissue, it can facilitate the movement of protein into your muscle cells after exercise. This leads to an increase in muscle protein synthesis, which can lead to improved muscle growth.

    As a side effect of this, it can also lead to enhanced recovery after training. This could enhance the quality of your next training session, leading to further improvements in muscle strength and size over the course of a training block.

    When Should I Take Dextrose?

    Now, a lot of people will suggest that you need to smash down your post-workout shake of whey and dextrose within 30 minutes of finishing your session, or it will all go to waste.

    But this is not entirely accurate.

    When it comes to maximizing muscle growth, you first want to ensure that you are consuming enough protein on a daily basis (around 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight is a good place to start).

    Then the next most important thing is to try and spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day across 4-5 meals.

    Which means that if you are ticking these town major boxes, you don't actually need to consume your post-workout dextrose straight after training. In fact, as long as you consume it somewhere within the first 2-3 hours after your workout, you will be maximizing all of its benefits [3].

    Closing Comments

    Dextrose is one of the fastest absorbing carbohydrates on the market. As a result, it has the potential to promote recovery and improve muscle protein synthesis after training -- especially when combined with a fast absorbing protein like whey.

    While it is not the most important part of your nutrition, when added to a solid diet that contains adequate protein, it should offer a little boost in muscle growth -- which over time, will result in some serious gains.

     

    References

    1. Roy, B. D., et al. "Effect of glucose supplement timing on protein metabolism after resistance training." Journal of applied physiology (1997).
    2. Tang, Jason E., et al. "Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise in trained young men." Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism 32.6 (2007): 1132-1138.
    3. Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. "Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?." Journal of the international society of sports nutrition 10.1 (2013): 5.
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