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Research Updates

  • It Takes More Than Muscle to Lift Heavy

    Neural adaptations can be responsible for different strength gains, despite similar muscle mass from person to person. Building muscle can be different from case to case. Now, there is scientific data to support this theory. Brain cells can be responsible for this as there could be more electrical signals sent to the muscle with higher repetitions and lower weight compared to lower repetitions with higher weight.

    Neural adaptations study and findings

    A 2017 study[i] made by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln build on empirical data and showed how neural adaptations can be responsible for different strength gains. These gains can be similar, regardless of the weights, but with different repetitions.

    Researchers took 26 men and chose leg extensions as the base exercise for the study. Two groups were formed. The first group used a load of 80% of the maximum weight they could lift. The second group used 30% of their maximum handled weight. While the first group did fewer repetitions, the second group performed the exercises with higher repetitions, due to the lower weights. After three workouts each week for a total of six weeks, researchers concluded that the heavy-load group improved voluntary activation by 0.15% while the light-load group improved voluntary activation by 2.35 percent. So what caused these results?

    In simple terms, muscles are activated by the brain through electrical signals. These signals are triggered by the neuron motor cortex. This then leads to muscle excitation which is responsible for contractions. These signals could be activated to a larger degree for those performing a higher number of repetitions. It is why the study found better strength gains for this group. Researchers concluded that training with higher frequency repetitions leads to better strength adaptations. This is constant for amateurs, average lifters or athletes.

    Of course, the research has vast interpretations and it could be a great base for further investigation. One of the areas which are critical to assess comes with fatigue. Researchers believe that simply lifting lower weights every day is more practical on the long-term. This is due to possible delayed muscle fatigue.

    The study can also be the ground for new research when it comes to joint impact and the training of the elderly. But even if the results are similar with different loads, the researchers do not exclude the possibility of training with heavy loads based on a low number of repetitions. For those who have busy lifestyles, this method of training remains a good option. People with busy lifestyles can also consume an amino acid supplement, as 9 out of 20 amino acids cannot be produced by the human body and they need to come from foods.

    Neural adaptations are responsible for strength development in both low and high-intensity training and it goes to show that muscles are largely impacted by the brain and its electric signals. The research can be applied in different ways. For some people, it means that higher frequency with low weights can mean building muscle with reduced fatigue. But the traditional heavy loads with fewer repetitions should not be excluded. It is yet to be seen how these two types of training methods can be combined for more complex workouts.

    [i] N.M.D. Jenkins, A. Miramonti, E.C. Hill et al. (2017), Greater Neural Adaptations following High- vs. Low-Load Resistance Training, Frontiers of Physiology Journal.  Available at:

    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00331/full

  • Higher Plant Protein Diets may Attenuate PMS Related Performance Impairment, Study Finds

    Millions of women around the world experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS), characterized by physical and psychological symptoms such as irritability, anger, depressive mood swings, pain and bloating in the weeks leading up to the normal monthly menstrual cycle.

    Symptoms of PMS may be severe enough to result in athletic impairment, posing a huge hurdle for prospective female athletes that may be out of commission for an extended period of time each month.

    A study was devised to investigate the relationship between dietary protein consumption and occurrence of PMS.

    The Study

    Researchers at Kindai University in Japan recruited 135 female athletes between the ages of 18 and 23 years, who are members of authorized university clubs that consistently produce highly ranked Japanese athletes amongst university sports disciplines.

    Part of the study involved completion of self-administered questionnaires that ascertained normal dietary habits, demographics and if it was usual for that individual to experience PMS related athletic impairment of performance.

    Total protein from animal and plant sources was then calculated, along with the relative proportion of each in the diet. After which, participants were divided into two groups; one group that included 18 athletes with self-reported PMS related performance impairment, and 117 subjects that did not experience such impairment.

    Consideration was also given to the amount of time spent training daily, along with average caloric intake.

    The Results

    Overall, very small difference was observed in the total amount of protein consumed daily by the athletes. In particular, however, was the fact that the group that experienced performance impairment as a result of PMS had self-reported higher intake of animal-based proteins, relative to the amount of plant proteins consumed (average 50g vs 25g).

    The group whose performance was unaffected reported an average animal protein consumption of 35 g, versus 27 g of plant protein daily.

    Calculating the relative proportion of plant protein in both groups, the women that experienced PMS induced performance impairment consumed 39% of their protein from plant-based sources, while the unaffected group consumed an average 46% plant-based protein [1].

    Conclusion/Caveats

    Even though there was a clear correlation between the relative amount of plant protein consumed and occurrence of PMS related performance impairment, the sample size of the study is very small and not enough to make generalizations.

    For instance, Asians typically consume a greater amount of plant-based proteins than their Western counterparts, which would mandate inclusion of a wider cross-section of women in subsequent studies.

    In addition to this, analysis of the particular plant proteins consumed need to be considered, since soy proteins, for example, contain phytoestrogens [2] that may influence hormonal homeostasis at this time. Other protein sources such as pea protein are well-accepted, and warrant inclusion in additional studies too.

    In addition to this, the stress physical activity places on the body could have also contributed to differences within the two groups, as inflammatory processes that occur post training could contribute to greater pain (and prostaglandin synthesis).

    Regardless, this preliminary study has paved the way for subsequent studies of a similar nature to be conducted, using more variables and better controls.

    References

    Yamada K, Takeda T (2018). Low Proportion of Dietary Plant Protein among Athletes with Premenstrual Syndrome-Related Performance Impairment. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine 2018 Feb; 244(2):119-122. doi: 10.1620/tjem.244.119.

    Bryant M, Cassidy A, et al. Effect of consumption of soy isoflavones on behavioural, somatic and affective symptoms in women with premenstrual syndrome. The British Journal Of Nutrition 2005 May; 93(5):731-9.

  • Fitness-Branded Foods Can Lead to Eating More

    Fitness-branded foods can actually make people eat more. Attractive packaging can induce the idea that these foods are better. People tend to eat more of them and reduce the actual focus on physical exercises. Those looking to lose weight can be doing more harm by actually eating extra food, which takes them in the opposite direction of controlled caloric intake.

    Fitness foods and what researchers say about branding

    Those looking to lose weight are often targeted by fitness branding. Protein bars and weight loss supplements are just a few of the products consumed by those looking to lose weight. Made with attractive branding, they can sometimes be detrimental as people associate them with healthy foods and simply eat them in larger quantities.

    Research shows that this is not the sole problem of branding, as consumers tend to overlook physical activity. These foods can often be mistaken as a substitute for actual workouts.

    The methods of the research included observing a group of subjects told to act normally, as in everyday life, when it comes to snacking. In a controlled environment, the group was given a healthy snack which also had images of running shoes to imply the idea of health and fitness. After consuming one such product, they had the option to go train on a stationary bike or consume the snack. Unless they were strictly prohibited by their diets, the subjects of the study chose to consume another snack.

    Made with the purpose to investigate the effects of fitness branding, the study concluded that these healthy snacks can be a problem for those trying to keep their weight under control and that attractive branding had a major impact on this problem.

    Recommended alternatives

    The researchers also made a few recommendations. While the products were actually beneficial, they suggested that manufacturers would need to use other ways to promote a healthier way to lose weight, instead of implying it through pictures and branding. Gym vouchers or exercise tips were recommended as an alternative. These alternatives would be a more realistic solution which would not diminish the importance of physical training for those trying to manage body weight.

    Simply put, fitness branding can discourage physical activity, despite the fact that it promotes consuming more calories. This is counter-productive for those trying to lose weight. The research made by the American Marketing Association raises awareness of the issue of branding in the health and fitness space. Many products use different imagery to suggest the idea of exercising, without directly recommending physical activity.

    Researchers recommend an increased attention on marketing techniques in the fitness space. Of course, a healthy snack can be a better alternative when a quick caloric intake is needed. But it is often the misleading branding which makes people eat multiple snacks. However, those which have been on strict diets where they knew which foods were allowed and which foods were not recommended for consumption, made it clear they did not want to consume another healthy snack.

  • Combination DHA And EPA Supplementation from Fish Oil may Improve Physical Performance, Study Review Finds

    The benefits of fish oil consumption have been expounded upon for years; it is now well-established to promote heart health, cognitive function and support the wellness of your joints. However, studies that demonstrate clear benefit and exercise performance have been limited, and a mixed bag to say the least.

    Researchers in Japan who conducted a review of the simultaneous consumption of EPA and DHA from fish oil have stated that they do have a possible synergistic effect on physical performance, but more studies are needed to clarify findings.

    The Review

    Researchers from Japan’s Hosei University and Teikyo University reviewed studies that investigated the effects of simultaneous consumption on muscle mass and strength, as well as nerve and muscle damage amelioration.

    Their findings on the effects of supplementation on strength loss were determined to be somewhat incomplete, owing to the fact that studies have shown no noticeable difference in muscle strength decline attenuation after consuming DHA and EPA.

    The researchers indicated that previous studies had lasted durations of just 3 to 4 weeks, whereas supplementation of EPA and DHA typically require between 30 and 60 days to reduce the decline in muscle strength observed after eccentric training. This means that previous studies had ended too early, not giving enough time for effects to possibly manifest.

    Following eccentric contraction, levels of inflammatory markers such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-A) and interleukin six (IL-6) are elevated, but supplementation of the EPA and DHA combination were able to inhibit such elevations.

    Reviewing the effects of neuromuscular damage attenuation by EPA and DHA, they were only able to find one study that included rodents as test subjects, positing the need for further investigation.

    The fish oil combination consumed over the course of eight weeks resulted in a dose-dependent reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness, indicating the possibility of usage to manage post workout pain.

    Other reviewed studies included the effect of EPA and DHA intake on inhibiting decreases in muscle mass, which have been found to be of benefit in rodent studies, but further human studies are needed to confirm this.

    It is also found that persons between the ages of 60 and 85 that consumed a combination of EPA and DHA daily over the course of six months experienced growth of thigh muscle mass, while younger men (aged between 21 to 24) did not notice any such benefit.

    Conclusions/Caveats

    Even though a few studies have found preliminary positive results, there is still a very large gray area with respect to supplementation. For instance, it is generally agreed that the combination is very effective for improving the neuromuscular adaptation that occurs following your work out, but exact mechanisms for this are unclear.

    On another note, the exact dosage that is required to elicit the desired benefits also require further investigation. Considering that safety guidelines recommend a maximum consumption of 3 grams daily, and athletes routinely consume in excess of this amount, further variables such as training experience, age and gender to name a few need to be factored into subsequent studies in coming to positive conclusions.

    References

    Eisuke Ochi, Yosuke Tsuchiya. Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaneoic Acid (DHA) in Muscle Damage and Function Nutrients 2018, 10(5), 552; doi 10.3390/nu10050552

  • Athletic Performance is not Affected by Controlled Carb Intake

    A 2018 study published by the Nutrients scientific journal shows that a controlled and low carbohydrate intake combined with a high fat intake has a minimal effect on athletic performance. In order to understand this study and its findings, athletes need to comprehend that this idea of controlled macronutrients is not new. The ketogenic diet is seeing a strong rise in popularity, even if it has been strongly criticized when its ideas were first published in 1920. It was believed that the diet can have a positive effect on epilepsy sufferers and today, many people associate the diet with weight loss and in some cases, with improved physical performance.

    Research methods and findings

    The study was part of a project of Australia’s Centre for Sport and Research at Deakin University. It went on to investigate the blood composition of two groups of subjects. The first group followed a diet of low carbohydrates and high fats such as the keto diet while the second group followed a diet high in carbs. All subjects were elite level walkers.

    There is a clear indication that the controlled carbohydrate intake doesn’t influence peak performance. It is explained by the study which measured the acid-base status in these elite athletes. But what is acid-base status? Measured in pH, acid-base status is the natural balance between acidic and basic alkaline compounds in the blood. The kidneys and the lungs are responsible for the acid-base balance.

    Controlled carb intake does not affect the athletic performance of the two groups in the study either due to pre-existing training adaptations or due to the actions of the kidneys and the lungs which directly impact acid-base. Of course, the study found that the differences in the pH levels of the two groups were significant. However, this was not enough to change the acid-base.

    The innovation of the study

    The research comes to offer new information in an area which was not studied at all. While there are other studies which seek to answer similar questions, they were not focused on elite athletes. It is why the researchers chose top athletes who performed at the Olympic Games or at World Cup championships. Even more, the researchers went to great lengths to ensure all subjects had the supervision of qualified dietitians.

    In these conditions, the main conclusion of the study is that over a period of three weeks, the low carbohydrate and high fats diet of the athletes had no influence on acid-base status. This anomaly can be associated with the fact that elite athletes have a different training status than the subjects from previous studies, which were in a healthy state, but not at an athletic. However, it can also be explained by the higher capacity of the body to neutralize dietary acids simply by expulsion either through the respiratory system or through the renal pathways. In other words, changes in athletic performance while on the ketogenic diet are not likely to come from changes in acid-base status.

    Source: Nutrients 2018, 10(2), 236; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10020236

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