Friday, June 18, 2010

Rethinking BCAAs

I've never recommended BCAAs to anyone who's asked me about them.  I generally tell them that they get a sufficient amount in their whey and that to supplement with the necessary dosages to get a beneficial advantage requires an extremely large dose -- which is extremely expensive.

But a new study funded by Scivation on their BCAA + Citrulline product, Xtend, had some interesting results.  In their study, thirty six men were given either 14g of BCAAs, or 28g of whey, or 28g of carbohydrate in the form of a sports drink (like Gatorade), or a placebo.  The group consuming the 14g of BCAAs had a decrease in body fat, increase in lean mass, and increase in strength after only 8 weeks.

That is a pretty interesting result considering the small amount of BCAAs ingested.  The general recommendation for BCAA consumption has generally been around 30g per day taken during the workout, but there has always been contention and a great deal of broscience around what the proper ratios should be for leucine, isoleucine and valine, with leucine being the most important of the three.  Over the years, there have been some interesting leucine supplements sold, but they have never really panned out in real life even though the studies are intriguing.  The most interesting of these being HMB (beta-Hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid).  An old forum post I made answering a question about whether or not HMB was worthwhile includes some details on this supplement.

You'd really need to take closer to 10gm+ (probably closer to 30) per day [of HMB] for it to be effective. However, [...], there are more studies indicating little to no effect of supplementing with HMB than there are studies showing that it's effective, and most of those were done by the patent holder, Dr. Steve Nissen. Nissen patented it for multiple usages - originally to increase lean muscle mass in domestic farm animals, as well as mood elevation, lowering cholesterol, and of course - "anabolic" effects (nitrogen retention). You can view his patents for HMB here:

Unfortunately, HMB never panned out in the real world for many reasons. The first was because the cost was so high, most manufacturers put it in formulas with minuscule dosages, such as 500mg per serving. It was also introduced after creatine, which proved to be so successful that people were thinking anything was possible - and another amino acid metabolite sounded especially promising. So, when Bill Phillips, founder and former CEO of EAS, said that taking HMB made him "...feel like I'm on Deca [Deca-Durabolin]!" people believed him and bought HMB en masse and were all dissapointed with the results. The quote has since become the de facto joke of the supplement industry.

The other problem when you start supplementing with individual amino acids is that it can have an effect of throwing off the balance of the other EAAs that you want to have and would expect in a normal diet, which is why better results have been shown when using them in a combination (such as with BCAAs, or as I recommend, just using whole protein sources like whey or a full meal). Layne Norton (str8flexed) probably knows a whole lot more about leucine, since he co-authored a study of the effects of it when used during PW - Leucine Regulates Translation Initiation of Protein Synthesis in Skeletal Muscle after Exercise.

The other thing about HMB that was discussed early on was it's conversion to ketoisocaproate aka KIC (see HMB - Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate by Bryan Haycock) which is now available on it's own, patented and sold by Muscletech as GAKIC (Glycine-l-arginine-alpha-ketoisocaproic acid calcium) and Leukic (L-Leucine-ketoisocaproic acid calcium). There are also generic versions of this available [none I could find are still sold, if you find any, let me know] There appear to be more supplements with ketoisocaproate modified amino acids available. So, those might be better alternatives to HMB itself, since they are the compounds HMB would convert to anyway - although there have only been a few studies on them (see the last supplement the blog article I wrote that includes the study and the patents here).

Still, I have seen the very cheap version of HMB that you're referring to [this was HMB bound to calcium], so being so affordable now might make it worthwhile but it's hard to say. Previously, BSL sold a cheap HMB derivative that was modified in such a way as to avoid paying licensing fees to the patent holder, but I don't remember hearing much, if any, positive feedback on that. Maybe some company will come along and start selling HMB ethyl ester or HMB malate to try and make it more bioavailable (there are already companies selling leucine ethyl ester and I don't know if that is any better than the plain jane version). 
The Search for the Ultimate Post-Exercise Anabolic Supplement by Anssi Manninen, M.H.S.
 So, would I recommend BCAAs now?  Maybe, if you can afford them it comes out to about $1 a day and appears to have some good effects, at least during the eight week range.  The true test will to be if someone can duplicate this study.  There is a link to the study (in PDF) you can download below:

Consuming Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplement During a Resistance Training Program Increases Lean Mass, Muscle Strength and Fat Loss

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Low Testosterone or Marketing Hype?

You may have seen advertisements on TV for a site called which report many signs and symptoms of low testosterone such as low energy, weight gain, depression, etc. is owned and operated by Solvay Pharmaceuticals (now owned by Abbott), makers of AndroGel, a rub on cream used for TRT or testosterone replacement therapy.  You'll notice if you go on there site and visit the "What you can do section" testosterone cream is the first recommendation they make.  AndroGel is testosterone base, without any modification to the molecule, in a transdermal carrier.  It can cross through the skin and into the blood stream, but it is generally an expensive option and blood levels aren't maintained as they are with injectable testosterone.  The gel also only comes in packets of 5mg dosage for a one day application.  Since the average male produces between 2-11mg of testosterone per day naturally, an additional 5mg is not going to account for much - and it is definitely not going to assist in the area of muscle building or body composition.  However, blood levels of testosterone from AndroGel throughout the day are maintained over a 24 hour period. This is also an improvement over previous testosterone patches which had to be placed exclusively on the scrotum.  AndroGel can be rubbed in pretty much anywhere.

Below is a copy of my misaligned scan from William Llewellyn's Anabolics 2005 book showing steady state testosterone concentrations in the blood from 30 days of using 10g AndroGel daily.  As you can see, blood levels of testosterone stay stable throughout the day, but as we will see below, it far under performs when looked at side by side with injectable testosterone with added esters.

TRT is a very popular treatment amongst athletes and bodybuilders, because it essentially gives them a legal means to get testosterone.  One of the more popular TRT therapies advocated is American made Upjohn testosterone cypionate at 200mg/week.  An average steroid "cycle" when used by a bodybuilder will be on the scale of anywhere from 500mg to 1000mg of testosterone per week, combined with other AAS (anabolic androgenic steroid) in a "stack" to add synergistic effects from the other compounds and promote whatever goal the athlete has in mind.  Some of these products can be from dubious sources, since all AAS are scheduled in the US, the athlete has to find them on the black market.  These will come from veterinary labs, where the products are legitimately made for animals (there is no biological difference between animal and human steroids, they both work the exact same way and can be switched from mammal to mammal).  Or some where the products are claimed to be made for animals, but it is actually produced to be sold to underground steroid suppliers claiming to be affiliated with vets as a cover.  There are also many home brew steroid "underground labs" that buy bulk raw pharmaceutical AAS material from China and then package it themselves for redistribution.  Both of these methods can come across problems with quality control and lack the common safety that USP grade drugs available with a prescription do.  So, when a bodybuilder has the prospect of being able to take steroids safely, under a doctors guidance, in a legal setting, and maybe even let insurance cover it, the choice is obvious.

The most commonly prescribed form of injectable testosterone for TRT is testosterone cypionate, as mentioned above, at 200mg per week.  When looking at concentrations of blood levels using testosterone cypionate, we can clearly see the benefit of once a week dosing, but that it is a much higher level of testosterone in the body.  Cypionate is an ester that is bound to unmodified testosterone and added to an oil solution.  Once injected it forms a deposit site under the muscle where it is slowly moved out of the oil and the ester groups begin to cleave off at varying rates (in this example, generally over a period of 2 weeks).  Here is  another diagram from Anabolics 2005 showing the pattern of testosterone release after the first injection on day 0 and how it tapers after about 10 days.

Benefits of TRT

As men age their bodies do slowly start to produce less and less testosterone.  But there are other reasons too, such as poor diet, weight issues, depression, and certain medications.  We are also becoming more and more aware of compounds know as xenobiotics, phylates, and endocrine disrupters that could be potentially causing our male populations gonads to dry up.  Although this is a subject for another article.

Increasing testosterone within a supraphysiological dosage can have many positive benefits, including reduction in fat storage tissue, energy, focus and concentration from increased DHT in the brain, increased libido, sexual drive and stamina (obviously the main functions of these sex hormones) and more.

Determining whether or not you qualify to be considered for TRT is based on your current testosterone levels and your age in some cases.  The first step is to take a full panel male blood test to see where your testosterone levels are at, and make sure you don't have risk factors for prostate cancers or other issues that can come up when using supplemental testosterone.

But it's not all good news

Doctors and scientists who recently reviewed the IsItLowT site for Reuters came to some alternative conclusions.

Iheanacho and Matsumoto said separately that the symptoms described in the [IsItLowT marketing] campaign are "nonspecific," and could be linked to diabetes, circulation problems, or depression, as well as aging. The Low T site does say that the problem is more common in diabetics and the overweight.
"If someone is low in energy and is 65, that might be entirely compatible with his general life and -- let's face it -- decline," Iheanacho said. "It would be entirely normal."
The endocrine group's guidelines, which appear in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, say doctors should only make a diagnosis of low testosterone "in men with consistent symptoms and signs and unequivocally low serum testosterone levels."
The treatment isn't without peril. The Endocrine Society said it's not recommended for men with prostate cancer or for African-American men with fathers, brothers, or children with prostate cancer. In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration required that testosterone gels be labeled with a prominent warning after repeated reports that young children showed signs of early puberty after being exposed to it, typically through skin contact with their fathers. (italics added)

So, yes, many of the symptoms described by the IsItLowT campaign could be attributed to other illnesses, diseases and problems.  It is also important to note, a fact of which I myself was not aware, was that getting the testosterone creams and gels in contact with children can cause early onset of puberty!

But, a full panel male blood test will always help determine whether or not you have low testosterone and could potentially be a candidate for TRT.  It also helps identify potential risk factors that could be going on at the same time, making a blood test a win/win either way.  The one thing you can be sure of though, is you don't need to waste your money on any of the over the counter testosterone boosting supplements.

UPDATE 8/6/2010: Almost as soon as this article went up, Reuters posted a new article shedding some doubt on the entire hypothesis of "male menopause"

For many middle-aged and elderly men, low libido, depressed mood and a lack of energy may just be the signs of normal aging -- and not low testosterone levels.
That's the conclusion of a new study that found only about 2 percent of men between 40 and 79 would qualify for a strict diagnosis of so-called late-onset hypogonadism, sometimes called "male menopause."
Earlier studies had indicated the diagnosis was much more common, and millions of prescriptions are written every year in the U.S. to help men with "Low T," as one drugmaker refers to the controversial condition. (See Reuters Health story June 8, 2010.)
Based on a random sample of more than 3,000 European men, British researchers found that only three symptoms -- fewer morning erections, fewer sexual thoughts, and erectile dysfunction -- were consistently related to low levels of the male sex hormone.
Read the full article: Doubts cast on "male menopause" criteria (Reuters)

1.  Llewellyn, William. Anabolics 2005. Body of Science Publishing, Jupiter, FL.  2005
2. Dillion, John.  Do you have 'Low T?' Or is it just hype?  Reuters, New York, New York.  6/8/10
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