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Research Updates

  • Supplements Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for Millennia may Help Improve Running Times and Performance, According to Results of a Human Study

    Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has brought some effective remedies to the West over the past century, allowing millions to benefit from them.

    The results of a new study indicate that a combination of two herbs used in TCM can help significantly improve running times, and promote subsequent recovery.

    The Supplements In Question

    The study, undertaken by researchers from Kaohsiung Medical University in Thailand, used a combination of Astragalus membranaceus and Angelica sinesis in a 5 to 1 ratio and marketed as a product known as Danggua Buxue Tang (DBT).

    The Study

    The study analyzed the data obtained from 36 men that identified as recreationally active runners, who consumed the combination DBT supplement before beginning a 13 km run, or a placebo over the course of 11 days.

    The Results

    The men that consumed DBT displayed on average, 12 minutes earlier completion of the run, equating to approximately 14% faster time when compared to the men that were given placebo. By the time the study was in its eighth day, men assigned DBT were able to run the 13 km distance at maximum intensity, whereas at the inception of the trial, this was not possible.

    The Role of DBT in the Trial

    DBT has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for well over three millennia, where it was reported to improve physical activity significantly. However, this was all anecdotal evidence until this study was undertaken.

    In particular, DBT appears to play an important role in the regulation of serum iron levels. Many athletes fall victim to the development of iron deficiency anemia as a result of rigorous training [1], even though iron's its role in physical performance is typically underestimated.

    However, ensuring post exercise serum iron levels are maintained is critical to your overall recovery. In athletes, iron levels may be compromised as a result of:

    • Hemolysis as a results of exercise, owing to oxidative stress and mechanical force placed on muscles and joints.
    • Gastrointestinal and urinary tract blood loss as a result of compromised visceral blood circulation during exercise (causing microscopic tears).
    • Reduced iron absorption due to increased levels of hepcidin post-workout (brought on by acute inflammation), and also iron sequestration in macrophage cells.

    Following a workout, hepcidin levels are elevated [2], leading to decreased iron transport and a reduction in serum levels.

    Supplementation with DBT reduces the impact of hepcidin post workout [3], allowing for increased serum iron levels and accelerated recovery.

    Other Findings

    Subjects that supplemented with DBT during the trial also displayed lower levels of the oxidative marker malondialdehyde in blood 72 hours following exercise, along with an immediate 63% increase in serum iron levels post exercise, and an average 31% elevation after three days of rest.

    Conclusion

    Even though anecdotal evidence has been pointing to improved physical performance attributed to DBT supplements for millennia, this is the first study that confirmed these findings. What this indicates is that these supplements used in TCM may find a role as an ergogenic aid in your training program.

    References

    1. Chih-Wei Chang, Chao-Yen Chen et al. (2018) Repressed Exercise-Induced Hepcidin Levels after Danggui Buxue Tang Supplementation in Male Recreational Runners. Nutrients, 10(9), 1318
    2. Marjan Wouthuyzen-Bakker, Sander van Assen (2015) Exercise-induced anemia: a forgotten cause of iron deficiency anemia in young adults. British Journal of General Practice 65(634):268–269 doi: [10.3399/bjgp15X685069]

    3.Raúl Domínguez,  Antonio Jesús Sánchez-Oliver et al. (2018) Effects of an Acute Exercise Bout on Serum Hepcidin Levels. Nutrients. 2018 Feb; 10(2): 209 doi:  [10.3390/nu10020209]

  • Post-Workout Protein Synthesis is Reduced for Obese Adults

    Obese people face a range of health problems. They include cardiovascular problems and joint issues. But there is new evidence to show that their efforts to build more muscle can be blunted as well. The amount of exercise which could be performed is also reduced for obese adults when compared to those with a regular weight.

    A 2018 study shows slower protein synthesis for obese adults

    Protein synthesis is important after a workout. Those who train consistently know the role of protein and amino acids in muscle development. A 2018 study[i]

  • Older Adults Can Live Longer With Strength Training

    Older adults face a wide range of possible health problems. Strength training was believed to come with a series of benefits which were not necessarily associated with an increased life expectancy. But one of the largest US-based studies on aging adults showed just how beneficial strength training can be for those above 65.

    Physical activity and its possible benefits was studied before. Older adults were often subject to investigation. These investigations often included cardiovascular benefits, improved mobility or even benefits in the areas of diabetes and life expectancy. But studies have not been done on strength training alone.

    A large-scale study shows benefits of strength training

    Older adults were monitored in a period between 1997 and 2001. All the information gathered during this period by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center showed the true role of strength training, even with just two workouts every week.

    The study[i] collected data in all 50 US states and from over 30.000 adults aged 65 and over. It was in this group that the research found 9% of these adults were actually strength training twice per week. These respondents were then part of the research. Following their official data reports and the monitoring of registered death certificate in 2011, the study found that around a third of this group has died up to that point.

    In figures, the study concluded that those whom strength trained twice per week had 46% lower odds of death for any reason compared to those who did not strength train. Other health benefits were concluded as well. They include a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

    A profile of the average adult strength trainer was contoured as well. A person, with higher education and a normal body weight with reduced or no consumption of alcohol and tobacco products.

    The role of the research

    With this concluded information, the research shows the extended benefits of strength training. While this type of training was typically associated with strength gain and improved physical functions, the study comes to show that even life expectancy can be improved. The weight of the adults was also closer to healthy levels and this comes in contrast to the typical recommendations which were mainly targeting forms of aerobic exercise.

    Researchers also concluded that only a small percentage of the surveyed adults actually weight trained. But even in these conditions, the 9% group whom weight trained twice per week was slightly larger than what the researchers initially expected.

    But the study goes even further. It recommends more attention in getting older adults to strength train. Finding new methods to increase the 9% number who already do this can be the way to go from the researchers' perspective. The nationally-representative sample of the study goes to show the benefits of strength training can be recommended with aerobic training as well. Previous studies showed that physically active older adults have a better quality of life and current data shows that strength training also helps them live longer. Some of the most recommended products for strength training beyond 65 include a protein supplement

    [i] J. Kraschenwski, C. Sciamanna, J. Poget et al. (2016), Is strength training associated with mortality benefits? A 15 year cohort study of US older adults, Preventive Medicine Journal. Available at:

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743516300160?via%3Dihub

  • 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 acidamino 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]

  • 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

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