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  • Ingredient Explained: Theobromine

    Over the last decade caffeine has become known as the most effective pre-workout and thermogenic ingredient on the planet -- a reputation that is well supported by the research.

    However, we have seen numerous other compounds emerge as suitable alternatives for those that are intolerant to caffeine, or that work synergistically with caffeine to improve results.

    And theobromine is one of these.

    Step 1: What is it?

    Theobromine is a unique compound found naturally occurring in highest concentrations in the cacao plant (latin name theobroma cacao) and tea leaves.

    This particular compound was commonly used by ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations during weddings and various other religious ceremonies due to the euphoric effect it can cause. It is also what gives dark chocolate its bitter taste.

    Theobromine is a type of compound known as an “xanthine alkaloid,” and it has a very similar structure to caffeine., which is where it derives most of its benefits.

    Step 2: What does it do?

    When ingested, theobromine works by blocking adenosine receptors in the body.

    Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that is produced by the human body. Broadly speaking, neurotransmitters are what your body uses to transmit information to cells, with adenosine being responsible for creating feelings of fatigue and tiredness, preparing your body for sleep.

    However, by blocking your body’s adenosine receptors, theobromine stops adenosine from acting on your body. This leads to increased sensations of wakefulness and alertness, improved mood, and heightened energy levels.

    Taking this into consideration, the supplementation of theobromine can have some unique benefits.

    Firstly, it has been shown to improve mental performance and cognitive function, while simultaneously reducing mental fatigue and lethargy [1]. Secondly, it has been shown to improve sensations of alertness, and enhance the ability to perform demanding tasks [2]. 

    Collectively these two factors highlight why it has become increasingly common as a pre-workout ingredient. Additionally, some of this research [2] has indicated that it provides these effects via slightly different means than caffeine, suggesting they could complement one another nicely.

    Thirdly, there is also some evidence indicating that theobromine can reduce blood pressure [3]. While this is unlikely to affect your exercise performance in the gym, it may improve long term health -- which is never a bad thing.

    Lastly, it has also been shown to increase blood flow and the secretion of key hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine. As these hormones increase both heart and metabolic rate [4], theobromine may make maintaining an energy deficit (and long term weight loss) easier.

    This is why theobromine is often found in thermogenic supplements, as well as pre-workouts.

    Step 3: How do I take it?

    The most common recommendations for theobromine supplementation is between 80 and 500 milligrams per day. This seems to be the sweet spot where you can maximize the positive benefits without any notable side effects.

    It is important to note that some research has explored higher dosages (up to 1000 milligrams per day), but this has shown negative effects on sensations of wellbeing, and has even caused decreases in alertness (similar to what occurs when you have too much coffee).

    With this in mind, we would suggest starting on the lower end of these recommendations to assess tolerance. You can then increase slightly over time as needed.

    Step 4: What are the top products?

    As we have already discussed, Theobromine is rarely sold in isolation, largely due to the synergistic effect it has with other compounds like caffeine. As such, you are most likely to find it in either pre-workout or thermogenic supplements.

    And this is what you need to look out for when you buy it.

    Firstly, make sure the ingredient list is clear.

    Because theobromine is sold in a mix of larger compounds, it is often underdosed. As a result you should try and find something that clearly describes how much theobromine contains, and it should be close to 100 milligrams. 

    Secondly, check the quality.

    If you are purchasing online, you want to make sure that the theobromine is at least 95% purity. Any decent company will provide regular lab tests on their website, so you should be able to check these for clarification.

    Lastly, don't pay too much. 

    Most pre-workouts and thermogenics are overpriced. Look for those that have minimal marketing, simple packaging, and a small amount of select, evidence-based, ingredients. And if they have a proprietary blend, ignore it.

    And that is how you find the best Theobromine containing supplement today.

    References:

    1. Scholey, Andrew B., et al. "Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort." Journal of Psychopharmacology 24.10 (2010): 1505-1514.
    2. Cova, Ilaria, et al. "Exploring cocoa properties: is theobromine a cognitive modulator?." Psychopharmacology 236.2 (2019): 561-572.
    3. Mitchell, E. S., et al. "Differential contributions of theobromine and caffeine on mood, psychomotor performance and blood pressure." Physiology & behavior 104.5 (2011): 816-822.
    4. Baggott, Matthew J., et al. "Psychopharmacology of theobromine in healthy volunteers." Psychopharmacology 228.1 (2013): 109-118.
  • Ingredient Explained: Huperzine-A

    Every few months a new ingredient finds its way into the market, makes a bit of a splash, and then quickly disappears into the sunset, never to be seen again.

    Which is why we take notice when a slightly newer supplement not only sticks around for a good chunk of time, but also gets some quality evidence to support its use.

    Supplements like Huperzine-A, for example.

    Step 1: What is it?

    Huperzine-A is a naturally forming compound that is found in two types of moss, being:

    1. Chinese club moss (latin name Huperzia serrata) and;
    2. Fir club moss (latin name Huperzia selago).

    The reason I have indicated that Huperzine-A is relatively new to the supplement game is because it was first identified for medical use by scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the early nineteen-eighties.

    With this in mind, it is much younger than many of the other Chinese herbs commonly used in supplements today. 

    Step 2: What does it do?

    Huperzine-A is classified as an “acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.” 

    Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme found in the body that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine into smaller components (that are then used in the production of other compounds). 

    As such, the consumption of Huperzine-A can stop the breakdown of acetylcholine, leading to higher concentrations of acetylcholine in the body. This is important, because acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that delivers messages throughout the brain, while also impacting your neuromuscular system.

    In the brain it plays a key role in the maintenance of motivation, increasing arousal and attention, enhancing learning and memory retention, and is even involved in facilitating deep sleep states.

    Conversely, within the neuromuscular system, acetylcholine plays an important role in facilitating the contraction of muscles, as well as the dilation of blood vessels, by acting on neurons throughout the body.

    With this in mind, the supplementation of Huperzine-A appears to have some unique benefits.

    Firstly, there is evidence to suggest that its regular supplementation can reduce some of the more severe symptoms associated with Alzhimers and dementia, including memory loss and cognitive function [1].

    Secondly, research has shown that supplementing with Huperzine-A for as little as 4 weeks can improve learning outcomes, as well as improve measures of memory and general mental function [2], suggesting it may have benefits for skill learning.

    Lastly, Huperzine-A has also been shown to increase the power of muscular contractions [3]. This may have the potential to improve training performance in the gym, increasing long-term training outcomes.

    Collectively, these results suggest that this unique supplement may have merit when taken before your workout. 

    Improvements in cognition may improve workout quality, increases in learning capabilities may improve technique efficiency (via enhanced skill development), and boosts in muscular contraction may improve gym performance -- all of which could mean more gains.

    Step 3: How do I take it?

    In the research, Huperzine-A supplementation can range from 50 to 500 micrograms per day. As such, if you are interested in trying it out for yourself, we would suggest starting with a conservative dose of 100-200 micrograms per day and adjusting as needed.

    Research thus far indicates that Huperzine-A does not require food to be taken with food, and can be taken in a fasted state without any issues.

    Lastly, anecdotal reports suggest that there may be merit in cycling Huperzine-A, where it is taken for 4-5 weeks at time, and then broken up with 1-2 week periods where it is not taken at all. This is suggested to maintain tolerance to the compound, ensuring it does not become less effective over time. 

    Step 4: What are the top products?

    If you are keen on purchasing Huperzine-A, there are a couple of things you should look out for. 

    Firstly, check the dosage. Although Huperzine-A is commonly found in pre-workout supplements, it is typically underdosed. As such, you should make sure that your pre-workout contains 100-200 micrograms of Huperzine-A per serve.

    Secondly, stick with reputable brands. Although you might find an amazing deal on Huperzine-A on ebay, there is a genuine risk that it is heavily underdosed, or even contains a completely different (and undisclosed) compound. Stick with brands that provide regular lab tests on their website so you can be sure you are purchasing exactly what you should be.

    Lastly, have a look at online reviews. Make sure that other people have had a good experience with the supplement -- because that means you probably will too.

    And that is how you find the best Huperzine-A containing supplement on the market.

    References:

    1. Li, Jun, et al. "Huperzine A for Alzheimer's disease." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2 (2008).
    2. Sun, Qing-Qi, et al. "Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students." Zhongguo yao li xue bao= Acta pharmacologica Sinica 20.7 (1999): 601-603.
    3. Tang, Xi Can, and Yi Fan Han. "Pharmacological profile of huperzine A, a novel acetylcholinesterase inhibitor from Chinese herb." CNS Drug Reviews 5.3 (1999): 281-300.
  • Top 4 Pre-Workout Ingredients You MUST Have

    Pre-workout supplements are no longer a rare option. Any time you walk into the gym, you're sure to see someone downing a shaker full of pink or blue liquid. Not too long after, that person has a fierce look of determination on their face. Pre-workouts dominate the fitness market but not all of these supplements are made the same. Let's take a look at the top 4 pre-workout supplement ingredients that you need to have in your shaker.

     

    1. Alpha GPC

     

    The first ingredient that you should be looking for is Alpha GPC. As a pre-cursor to the neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, it can help to increase your focus and put you in the zone during the workout. More importantly, Alpha GPC has been shown to increase your growth hormone levels. Why is that important? Growth hormone assists with muscle recovery and growth, which will promote your gains. (1)

     

    1. Betaine Anhydrous

     

    More commonly known as Betaine, this is more than just an amino acid. Betaine has been proven in several studies to be an effective way to improve your performance during workouts. In a study of cyclists supplementing with Betaine, it was only those who were taking the ingredient that saw marked improvements in overall power and athletic performance. (2)

     

    This ingredient is usually only found in supplements with a slightly higher price tag but we can assure you those few extra dollars make it worth it.

     

    1. Bioperine®

     

    As soon as the results of this ingredient's study were released, you saw it showing up in a variety of different supplements. The most notable type of supplement you find it in is pre-workouts. Bioperine® is the commercial name for black pepper extract. Does it have a direct influence on improving performance? No, BUT what it does do is amplify the bioavailability of the other ingredients.

     

    Your body won't always absorb and utilize ingredients like you want it to. That's where Bioperine® comes in. It's been shown to enhance the assimilation of other ingredients, ensuring your body does utilize those ingredients to the fullest extent. This is a great way to improve a cheap, low quality protein supplement as well. (3)

     

    1. Caffeine

     

    This shouldn't be a surprise as the primary reason people drink coffee is for the caffeine. This stimulant is one of the best ways to get focused and get serious during your workouts. Moderate caffeine use (in other words: don't overdo it) has been linked to a number of health benefits including the prevention of Alzheimer's but when it comes to fitness, it can't be beat.

     

    Caffeine has been tested time and time again and has always come on top as the best way to get energized for your workout. With that said, be wary of mega doses of caffeine in some of the new pre-workouts. (4)

     

    Conclusion

     

    Next time you're shopping for that pre-workout supplement, be sure to carefully scan the label for Alpha GPC, Betaine Anhydrous, Bioperine®, and Caffeine. It's these four ingredients that will help put you in the zone to crush your workout and see results.

     

    REFERENCES

     

    1. Tim Ziegenfuss, Jamie Landis, and Jennifer Hofheins. Acute supplementation with alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008; 5(Suppl 1): P15. Published online 2008 Sep 17. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-5-S1-P15.

     

    1. Pryor JL, Craig SA, Swensen T. Effect of betaine supplementation on cycling sprint performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Apr 3;9(1):12. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-12.

     

    1. Vladimir Badmaev, MD, PhD, Muhammed Majeed, PhD, Edward P. Norkus, PhD. Piperine, an alkaloid derived from black pepper increases serum response of beta-carotene during 14-days of oral beta-carotene supplementation. Nutrition Research. March 1999. Volume 19, Issue 3, Pages 381–388.

     

    1. Hogervorst E, Bandelow S, Schmitt J, Jentjens R, Oliveira M, Allgrove J, Carter T, Gleeson M. Caffeine improves physical and cognitive performance during exhaustive exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Oct;40(10):1841-51. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31817bb8b7.
  • The Power of Pre-Workout

    At some point in your fitness journey, you've probably considered taking pre-workout supplements. After all, they are some of the most well-known supplements in the industry today, and the benefits are continuing to grow.

    While some may fear the ingestion of any unknown chemicals or foreign substances, it is important to know what pre-workouts can provide you before going to any conclusions. Keep in mind, there are also supplement companies that create 'natural' pre-workout supplements, which contain only natural ingredients. You can even create your own!

    Let's take a look at what taking pre-workouts contain, as well as the benefits they provide for you.

    Pre-Workouts: What's In Them?

    Many are concerned with these supplements, since they hear stories of people having cases of rapid heart rate, 'jitters,' not being able to sleep at night, or crashing from exhaustion a few hours after ingestion.

    While these all have occurred, it is important to understand that user error needs to be considered as well. Most of the problems that people fear, such as a very high heart rate, is due to the consumer taking more than the recommended intake that is on the label. You should also take some time to build up to the recommended serving sizes, such as starting off with a half a scoop, instead of a full scoop.

    The main ingredients in pre-workout supplements are caffeine, beta-alanine, BCAAs, and (usually) creatine. The beta-alanine is what gives you the 'jitters,' and the rest are normal supplements that you would otherwise have to stack on top of your pre-workout.

    Now let's take a look at a few of the benefits these powerful supplements bring to the table.

    Pre-Workout For Increased Performance

    This is the #1 reason that people order these supplements. Pre-workouts come with a beautiful combination of supplements that have a high impact (BCAAs, creatine), and combines them with caffeine to provide an excellent energy boost.

    But now, on top of just having an energy boost, you have increased strength, endurance, and focus. One study showed the positive impacts that NO-Shotgun® has on performance, muscle mass, and body composition1.

    Increased Metabolism

    Because of the thermogenic effects pre-workouts have, they give you increased endurance, as well as using fatty acids for fuel. When this is done, you are helping to fight off any excess fat mass gain, due to your pre-workout supplement speeding up your metabolism.

    The side effects of these supplements is another reason your metabolism is boosted. This includes having more stamina, which allows you to train for longer durations during your training sessions. On top of this, you also have increased intensity, which allows you to exert more energy, and thus burn more calories.

    Pre-Workout for Improved Recovery?

    Remember when I said that BCAAs were included in most pre-workout supplements?

    Yeah, those things have a massive benefit on a number of variables.

    One of these variables includes muscle recovery post-exercise. After you finish working out, it is important to replenish and fuel your muscles, to help them recover and grow from the stress that was accumulated. But with the inclusion of BCAAs, you already have a head start on this.

    That is because BCAAs are responsible for protein synthesis, the process that is responsible for starting the recovery and growth of your muscles. When these are ingested prior to working out, they are already helping your muscles to repair and recover, since they are readily available in the body.

    Conclusion

    It is my opinion that everyone should try pre-workout supplements at least once. They are loaded with beneficial ingredients, provide an unbelievable improvement to your training sessions, and make you feel much more fulfilled and satisfied with your workout. Without them, you greatly reduce the chance of a bad training session.

    Don't train fatigued and hinder your growth and progress. Instead, grab a quality pre-workout supplement, and watch the performance improve, and the muscle gains come piling on.

    1. Shelmadine, B., Cooke, M., Buford, T., Hudson, G., Redd, L., Leutholtz, B., & Willoughby, D. (2009). Effects of 28 days of resistance exercise and consuming a commercially available pre-workout supplement, NO-Shotgun®, on body composition, muscle strength and mass, markers of satellite cell activation, and clinical safety markers in males. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
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