How to Calculate TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)

If you want to know how many calories you should eat to build muscle or lose fat, you’ll want to read this article.

“How many calories should I eat?”

This question is asked more often than you would believe, especially by those entering the fitness lifestyle for the first time.

The answer to that question is — it depends.

Do you want to build muscle? Do you want to lose body fat? Or, do are you satisfied with your current physique and you would like to maintain your weight where it is.

Different goals require different calorie intakes. And, to further complicate the matter every person is different. Even if two people are roughly the same age, sex, height, and weight, and they have a similar amount of lean body mass, the could still have very different calorie needs.

You see there isn’t a one size fits all solution to the common question of “how many calories should I eat?”

But, despair not, as we’re going to show you in this article how to calculate the number of calories you need for your body based on your goals.

No matter if your goal is muscle gain, fat loss, body recomposition, or performance, the information in the article can help you achieve the results you want.

And, it all starts with a little something called TDEE.

What is TDEE?

TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure. It is the total number of calories you burn in a given day. Your TDEE is determined by four key factors:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate
  • Thermic Effect of Food
  • Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
  • Thermic Effect of Activity (Exercise)

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Basal metabolic rate refers to the number of calories your body burns each day to keep you alive. BMR does not include physical activity, the process of digestion, or things like walking from one room to another.

Basically, BMR is the number of calories your body would expend in a 24 hour period if all you did was lay in bed all day long. This is the absolute bare minimum of calories it takes to ensure your survival.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

When we eat food, our body must expend energy to digest the food we eat. This energy expenditure is referred to as the Thermic Effect of Food, and it involves breaking down the protein, carbohydrates, and fat you consume into the individual amino acids, sugars, and fatty acids that are then absorbed and used to by the body to carry out all of its processes including (but not limited to) building new tissue, synthesizing hormones, producing neurotransmitters, etc.

Research notes that the Thermic Effect of Food generally accounts for 10% of your total daily energy expenditure, but can be slightly higher or lower based on the exact macronutrient composition of your diet.[1]

For example, protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates or fat. So, if you’re eating a high protein diet, you will burn more calories, slightly, than if you were to eat the same number of calories, but with a significantly lower amount of protein.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) constitutes the number of calories expended during daily movement that is not categorized as structured exercise. NEAT includes activities such as walking the dog, moving from one room to another, or taking the stairs to your office.

NEAT is highly variable from one person to another and can play a rather large or small role in your overall TDEE depending on how physically active your job or daily happenings are. For example, a waitress or construction worker will have a significantly greater NEAT than an office worker who sits at a desk for 8 hours of the day and spends 2 hours commuting to and from work.

Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)

Thermic Effect of Activity is the number of calories burned as a result of exercise (i.e. steady-state cardio, resistance training, HIIT, sprints, CrossFit, etc.). Similar to NEAT, thermic effect of exercise is highly variable from one person to another or even from one day to another for the same person, as the intensity of training, length of the workout, and training frequency all impact your weekly thermic effect of activity.

Your TDEE is the sum of these four factors, so to put the above parameters into a math equation for simplicity sake, calculating TDEE looks a little something like this:

TDEE = BMR + TEF + NEAT + TEA

When you add all of these numbers together, you get an estimate of the number of calories you need on a daily basis to maintain your current weight.

Now, let’s take a look at how you can calculate your individual TDEE.

How to Calculate TDEE

Figuring out your total daily energy expenditure begins with calculating your BMR. The reason we’re starting with BMR is that it contributes the biggest portion of your TDEE.

Now, there are a lot of handy calculators readily available on the internet for calculating BMR as well as TDEE. But, the way to truly understand how those fancy calculators work is by understanding the equations powering them.

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Calculating Basal Metabolic Rate

Researchers have developed a number of models for calculating BMR, and one of the most popular ones is the Harris-Benedict Equation, which takes into account age, height, and weight.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to calculate your BMR using the Harris-Benedict Equation:

  • Women BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in yrs)
  • Men BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)

As an example, let’s take a 30-year-old male named John who is 6 feet tall and weighs 185 lbs.

So, John’s stats converting from imperial units to metric yields:

Age: 30

Height: 6’0” = 72 inches = 182.88cm (to convert inches to centimeters, multiply your height in inches by 2.54)

Weight: 185 lbs = 84.09kg (to convert pounds to kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2)

Using the Harris-Benedict Equation for men, and plugging the above numbers into the equation gives you:

BMR = 66 + (13.7 x 84.09) + (5 x 182.88) – (6.8 x 30)

BMR = 66 + 1152.03 + 914.4 – 204

BMR = 1928.43

So, as a bare minimum to sustain life and ensure longevity, our example male John would need to consume roughly ~1930 calories.

The next step in figuring out TDEE would be to calculate the thermic effect of food as well as the non-exercise and exercise factors. However, these calculations are extremely tedious and the equations to model the caloric expenditure each requires isn’t the most reliable.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend hours performing more tedious calculations. You don’t even have to use a fitness monitor or rely on those erroneous “Calories Burned” readouts on cardio machines to figure out the rest of the components of your TDEE.

Researchers have determined a set of “activity multipliers, known as the Katch-McArdle multipliers.

To calculate your approximate TDEE, simply multiply these activity factors by your BMR:

  • Sedentary (little to no exercise + work a desk job) = 1.2
  • Lightly Active (light exercise 1-3 days / week) = 1.375
  • Moderately Active (moderate exercise 3-5 days / week) = 1.55
  • Very Active (heavy exercise 6-7 days / week) = 1.725
  • Extremely Active (very heavy exercise, hard labor job, training 2x / day) = 1.9

Going back to our example guy John, let’s assume he trains 3 days per week following a high-frequency full body training program with no additional steady-state cardio or HIIT training during the week. This puts John in the “Moderately Active” category.

To calculate John’s approximate TDEE, multiply his BMR by 1.55. This gives us:

TDEE = 1.55 x BMR

TDEE = 1.55 x 1928.43

TDEE = 2989.07

So, our example guy John needs to consume about 2990 calories each day just to maintain his current weight.

Now, at this point, it’s important we stress that these equations and activity multipliers provide AN ESTIMATE for your daily calorie requirements. That is, your actual TDEE could be a little higher or lower than the number you calculate when you use the formula. But, it should be fairly close, and at the very least, it gives you a rough idea of where to start when figuring out a meal plan and setting macronutrient goals.

Speaking of goals, now let’s look at how you can use your TDEE to enhance your body composition whether it be for muscle gain or fat loss.

Manipulating TDEE for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss

So, how does knowing your TDEE help you gain muscle or lose fat?

While there’s endless debate in the fitness world about the “optimal” way to go about reshaping your body, this much is true:

  • If you want to lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than your TDEE. Doing so forces your body to draw energy from its fat stores to compensate for the calories you’re not consuming each day. Do this long enough and you will lose weight and body fat
  • If you want to gain muscle mass, you need to eat more calories than your TDEE.To gain weight, you must be in a caloric surplus. Coupled with a rigorous training program following the principles of progressive overload, those extra calories will be put to building new muscle tissue.

Now, let’s see how to put this into practice

For Fat Loss

To lose fat, we typically recommend that using a caloric deficit of 20%. Once again using John as an example, if he wanted to cut fat, his caloric intake would be:

20% of TDEE = 0.20 x 2990 = 598

Daily calorie intake for weight loss: 2990 – 598 = 2,392 calories

At a 598 daily calorie deficit, John would lose a little over 1 pound per week, as 1 pound of fat equals approximately 3500 calories.

Now that we have the caloric intake needed for fat loss, we need to set John’s macros.

Protein: 1 gram per pound of bodyweight

Fat: 0.3 – 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight

Carbohydrates: The number of calories remaining after protein and fat requirements are met.

Going back to our example guy John his daily macros, while eating at a 20% caloric deficit, would be:

  • Protein: 1g / lb x 185 lbs = 185g (Calories = 185g x 4 calories / g of protein = 740)
  • Fat:5g / lb x 185 lbs = 92.5g (Calories = 92.5g x 9 calories / g of fat = 832.5)Note: Fat can range from 0.3-0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. Adjust up or down based on your own dietary preferences. If you enjoy eating a higher fat diet, use the 0.5g/lb multiplier, and if you enjoy a higher carb, lower fat diet use 0.3g/lb.
  • Carbs are determined by subtracting your protein and fat calories from the daily calorie total, then dividing by 4 to get the number of carbs you eat per day (as each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories). Calories left after removing protein and fat Calories = 2,392 – 740 – 832.5 Calories alloted for carbohydrate = 819.5 (which we’ll round up to 820 for simplicity)Now, divide 820 by 4 to get the total grams of carbohydrates John needs to consume each day:820 / 4 = 205g Carbohydrates

Therefore, John would consume the following macronutrient profile to lose fat while preserving lean muscle mass:

Protein: 185g
Fats: 92.5g
Carbohydrates: 205g

Eating at this calorie level should have John losing a little over one pound per week. Now, remember, the TDEE and BMR calculations are estimates. If you find, after performing your own calculations, that you’re not losing weight, then remove another 100 calories from your daily calorie intake and assess progress over the next 2 weeks.

If however, you find yourself losing more than 2 pounds per week, add 100 calories back into your diet. While it might seem great, losing too much weight too fast typically results in muscle loss as well, which is not what you want in the least.

Now, let’s look at how to manipulate TDEE for gaining muscle.

Muscle Gain

Gaining weight, and preferably muscle, requires consuming more calories than your body expends on a daily basis. When combined with a structured resistance training program, a caloric surplus provides the essential nutrients needed to optimize performance and build muscle.

For the longest time, it was preached that in order to get big, you had to eat big too. But, as sports nutrition has developed over the years, lifters and researchers alike have learned that the surplus needed to build lean muscle tissue isn’t a huge as we were once led to believe.

Simply put, the body can synthesize a finite amount of muscle tissue at any given time. That means that eating substantially more than what is required to build new muscle just leads to excess fat gain. Therefore, the trick to minimizing fat gain while trying to build muscle is to use a moderate calorie surplus, giving your body just enough to grow bigger, stronger, and faster, without getting fatter. This approach to muscle gain is known today as lean bulking.

To build muscle and limit fat gain, you need to consume roughly 200-300 calories above your TDEE.

So, using our example guy John again, whose TDEE was 2990. He would need to consume between 3190-3290 calories consistently day in and day out to gain muscle.

When undertaking a mass gaining phase, most coaches recommend that you get your surplus calories from carbohydrates, as they fuel performance in training, enhance recovery, and prevent muscle breakdown. They also help raise insulin levels, which is great for shuttling nutrients into your muscles cells needed for repair and growth.

But, if you find you enjoy more fat in your diet, you can feel free to get the extra 200-300 calories from fat or any mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. There’s no set in stone ideal ratio for gaining muscle once your minimums are taken care of.

Now, if you find that you are not gaining at least 0.25 lb/week, add another 100 calories to the daily caloric intake. If, however, you’re gaining over 1 lb per week, reduce your calorie intake by 100-200 calories. Gaining too much weight too fast usually means that you’re gaining a good bit of fat in addition to muscle, which means you’re eventually going to have to spend more time cutting later on in your fitness journey.

Takeaway

Total daily energy expenditure is the number of calories your body burns in a given day taking everything into account from sleep to digestion to exercise. TDEE calculators offer a way for you to figure out a close approximation to the actual number of calories you burn in a day, which you can then use to structure a diet for building muscle or burning fat.

Through proper manipulation and application of your TDEE, you have the power to reshape your body in your own ideal image and never ever have to settle for another cookie cutter meal plan or diet protocol. When knowing how many calories you need to eat for muscle gain or fat loss, you can eat the foods you enjoy while adhering to the calorie and macronutrient goals you set.

The saying goes “with knowledge comes power.” Well, we’ve now given you the knowledge and power to craft your ideal physique. It’s up to you to do the rest!

References

  1. Tappy, L. (1996). Thermic effect of food and sympathetic nervous system activity in humans. Reproduction, Nutrition, Development, 36(4), 391–397. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8878356/

How Whey Protein Builds Muscle

Whey protein powder is almost universally the very first supplement a person purchases. What’s not to like about it? Whey protein is:

  • Convenient
  • Effective
  • Affordable
  • Stores Easily
  • Absolutely Delicious

Whey protein powder makes perfect pancakes, whips up easily in a smoothie, and even works wonders when added to a bowl of steel cut oats. And, let’s not forget that whey protein is ideally suited to post-workout when your muscles are thirsting for some amino acids. Quite simply, whey protein is the anything and everything and athletes wants and needs.

But, have you ever given any thought to exactly how using whey protein can build muscle and improve recovery?

Let’s find out how whey protein builds muscle!

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is one of the two proteins naturally occurring in milk. In case you were wondering, casein makes up the vast majority (80%) of the protein content in milk. Casein can also be found in a powder, similar to whey protein.

Whey accounts for 20% of the protein in milk. It’s the liquid by-product remaining during the cheese-making process after the milk has curdled and been strained. The liquid whey is then processed and dehydrated, yielding a powder that is then sold to various protein powder manufacturers and supplement companies to flavor, mix, and package for consumers.

How Whey Builds Muscle

Yes, whey protein is far and away the most commonly used supplement (after multivitamins), and it’s recommended by virtually every coach, athlete, and trainer you see. But exactly how and why does whey build muscle?

Here’s a slew of reasons:

Whey complete protein

When discussing proteins, they can either be complete or incomplete. “Complete” proteins contain all of the essential amino acids (EAAs) the body needs to build and repair muscle tissue, grow cells, etc. Examples of complete proteins are animal-based proteins such as beef, chicken, pork, dairy (including whey and casein), and soy.

“Incomplete” proteins are deficient or lacking in one or more of the nine EAAs required to synthesize protein structures. Common examples of incomplete proteins are plant-proteins (beans, grains, vegetables, etc.).

Whey, in particular, is particularly high in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), the three amino acids that stimulate the mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) pathway in the body, which drives muscle protein synthesis, a.k.a. muscle growth.

One other thing in favor of whey is that it contains a higher ratio of the BCAAs (especially leucine) than casein does. [1] This is another reason whey protein is the post workout shake of choice recommended by coaches and trainers.

High Biological Value

The biological value (BV) of a protein is a measure of how efficiently the human body can utilize the amino acids in a particular protein. If a protein has a very high biological value, your body will better digest, absorb, and use the array of amino acids present in the protein, which means the food you eat is put towards recovery and growth rather than go to waste.

Whey protein has the highest BV of any protein, clocking in at an astounding 104. FYI, that’s even higher than egg protein (BV = 100), which is considered by many as the “ideal” protein for humans. [2]

Basically, whey protein needs to be at the top of your list if you’re looking to pack on mass fast!

Fast Digesting

One of the best qualities about whey protein that makes it ideal for muscle growth is its incredibly fast digestion rate. [3] Following a grueling workout, your muscles are starving for amino acids which they’re used to repair, recovery, and grow. Compared to a protein like casein, which can take up to 8 hours to digest, whey protein is processed, broken down, and absorbed by the body much more rapidly, meaning that the essential amino acids your muscles crave following exercise get there faster, yielding faster recovery, repair, and growth. The reason whey protein is so quickly digested by your body is that whey protein is considerably more soluble in the acidic environment of your stomach than casein and other various proteins, leading to quicker digestion and absorption. [4]

Increases Muscle Growth

Many people are under the belief that resistance-training builds muscle. Unfortunately, intense exercise, including weight lifting, actually breaks down muscle tissue, it doesn’t build it. Muscle repair, recovery, and growth actually occurs after your workout, when your resting and sleeping.

Immediately following training, and for a few hours following, your muscles are highly sensitized to rapidly absorb and utilize anything and everything you give it. This is why so many people go out for “epic cheat meals” full of burgers, fries, pizza, etc. After workouts, your metabolism is in overdrive trying to repair tissue that was broken down, and muscle insulin sensitivity is heightened, meaning they’re “primed” to absorb the food you eat, especially protein and carbohydrates.

Research has shown drinking whey protein in combination with resistance training enhanced muscle building. [5] Here’s the really interesting thing — no matter if subjects trained with lighter weights or heavier weights, both experienced the muscle-building benefits of whey protein, even if the whey protein wasn’t consumed until 24 hours after exercise!

Numerous other studies have clearly shown that consuming whey protein improves strength, performance, and overall body composition. [6,7,8]

Basically, if you want to build muscle, whey protein is a MUST!

Reduces Fat Gain

Whey protein shakes aren’t only for muscle growth, they’re also ideal for recomposing or dropping fat. Research from 2015 sought to examine the effects of whey protein with or without carbohydrates on training adaptations in 86 active men. [9]

Over the course of 12 weeks of resistance training, immediately following a total body workout men consumed either:

  • Whey Protein Alone
  • Whey Protein + Carbohydrates
  • Only Carbohydrates

While all three groups experienced increases in muscle size, strength, and fat-free mass, only the group supplementing with whey protein experienced abdominal fat loss. Based on the outcome of the study, researchers concluded:

“Whey proteins may increase abdominal fat loss and relative fat-free mass adaptations in response to resistance training when compared to fast-acting carbohydrates.” [9]

What Whey is for You?

While it might seem pretty easy to just stop by your local supplement shop and grab a tub of whey protein, it’s not that simple.

You see, there’s not just one type of whey protein. In fact, you’ll come across three different types of whey protein used in the various protein powders on the shelf. Each type is just a bit different than the other types, and which one you select will depend on how much budget you have to work with and how sensitive you are or aren’t to lactose, the milk sugar present in milk.

With all of that in mind, here are the differences between the different types of whey protein:

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) contains the most calories, fat, and carbohydrates of any form of whey. It can contain anywhere between 35-80% whey protein, with the remainder being made of carbohydrates and fat.

Whey protein concentrate is the most cost-effective option and is ideal for those who don’t have any digestion issues with dairy. This form of whey also offers the best taste, consistency, and “mouthfeel” of the different kind of whey proteins, due to the increased carb and fat count. If you’re not in contest prep and can afford more carbs and fats in your diet, whey concentrate is the whey to go.

Ideally, you’d like to find a whey concentrate with 80% protein content, as it offers the most protein per serving of the available concentrates. Unfortunately, most companies do not list the grade of whey protein, notated as WPC35, WPC60, WPC80, etc. Something to be on the lookout for. SteelFit® Steel Whey uses the highest form of whey protein concentrate, Micro-Filtered WPC80.

Whey Protein Isolate

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is a more refined and protein-heavy version of whey compared to whey concentrate. Isolates go through additional processing and filtration (cross-flow microfiltration (CFM) or ion-exchange chromatography) to remove more of the carbs, lactose, and fat present in concentrate. The resulting powder contains at least 90% protein with minimal lactose, fat, or carbs, making it a solid option for those with sensitive stomachs.

The “downside” to isolates compared to concentrate powders is that they tend to cost more money and don’t have the same consistency, texture, or “mouthfeel” as concentrates (due to the reduced carb/fat content). Additionally, due to the increased processing, isolates are lacking some of the beneficial micronutrients and immunoglobulins found in concentrates.

Whey Protein Hydrolysate

Also known as hydrolyzed whey, whey protein hydrolysate is the most refined form of whey protein. This is the most expensive form of whey and lacks the flavor, texture, and consistency of concentrates or isolates.

Hydrolyzed whey is made by reacting the whey protein powder with a variety of enzymes and chemicals that pre-digest (hydrolyze) the protein structures in whey. Hydrolysis breaks apart the long chains of protein in whey into smaller, faster-digesting proteins that digesting incredibly fast. The catch here is that the hydrolysis process often leaves the powder tasting somewhat chemically or “off”.

Unless you’re extremely lactose intolerant, there’s really no added benefit to using hydrolyzed whey over concentrate or isolate.

Whey Protein Blends

In addition to finding each kind of powder sold separately at the store, you’ll also encounter whey protein blends that use a mixture of two or even all three forms of whey protein and may also use other forms of protein in there as well, such as egg protein, casein, milk protein, soy protein, brown rice, or quinoa.

Using a mix of proteins allows for a mix of digestion rates, which helps keep you fuller longer, as well as a steady and constant release of amino acids into the bloodstream, supporting recovery and growth. Plus, using a mix of proteins allows you to maximize protein content per scoop while also retaining the taste, texture, and consistency achieved with concentrates.

Protein blends are a great balance of cost, protein content, taste, and texture.

Build More Muscle with Whey Protein

Whey protein is a staple supplement for just about every athlete, and for good reason, it works! Not only is it effective, but it also tastes great and is incredibly affordable. It requires no refrigeration, which means you can buy a tub and leave it in your car, so you always have the perfect post-workout recovery shake ready and raring to go!

Building muscle, burning fat, or craving a healthy, delicious snack, whey protein is the way to go!

References

  1. Witard OC, Wardle SL, Macnaughton LS, Hodgson AB, Tipton KD. Protein Considerations for Optimising Skeletal Muscle Mass in Healthy Young and Older Adults. Nutrients. 2016;8(4):181. doi:10.3390/nu8040181.
  2. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best? Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2004;3(3):118-130.
  3. Jäger R, Dudeck JE, Joy JM, et al. Comparison of rice and whey protein isolate digestion rate and amino acid absorption. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10(Suppl 1):P12. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-S1-P12.
  4. Boirie Y, Dangin M, Gachon P, Vasson M-P, Maubois J-L, Beaufrère B. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1997;94(26):14930-14935.
  5. Nicholas A. Burd, Daniel W. D. West, Daniel R. Moore, Philip J. Atherton, Aaron W. Staples, Todd Prior, Jason E. Tang, Michael J. Rennie, Steven K. Baker, Stuart M. Phillips; Enhanced Amino Acid Sensitivity of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Persists for up to 24 h after Resistance Exercise in Young Men, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 141, Issue 4, 1 April 2011, Pages 568–573, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.110.135038
  6. Miller PE, Alexander DD, Perez V. Effects of whey protein and resistance exercise on body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(2):163-175. doi:10.1080/07315724.2013.875365.
  7. Bell KE, Snijders T, Zulyniak M, et al. A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randomized controlled trial. Fisher G, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(7):e0181387. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0181387.
  8. Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Carey MF, Hayes A. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006;16(5):494-509.
  9. Hulmi JJ, Laakso M, Mero AA, Häkkinen K, Ahtiainen JP, Peltonen H. The effects of whey protein with or without carbohydrates on resistance training adaptations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1):48. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0109-4.

Creatine 101: What It Is and What It Does

Creatine is the undisputed king of sports nutrition supplements, but how does it work and what are the benefits of this best-selling pre-workout ingredient?

Over the past 20 years, sports nutrition has escalated by leaps and bounds, and in that time, athletes, bodybuilders, and casual gym rats have been inundated by all sorts of shiny new herbal extracts, synthetic ergogenics, and isolated amino acids that promise to deliver life-changing results. Yet, few of these compounds have ever delivered on the hype.

There has been a compound, however, that’s been a staple of lifters and athletes for decades prior to the explosion in popularity of sports nutrition supplements. That ingredient is none other than creatine monohydrate.

Most of you reading this have heard of creatine, and you’ve probably even experienced some of the benefits of creatine supplementation for yourself, such as enhances lean mass gains or better athletic performance.

But, how does creatine work? Is creatine safe for women? And, how much creatine should I take?

We’ve got all these questions answered and a whole lot more in store as we take an in-depth look at creatine — the king of sports supplements.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a substance naturally produced in the body from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. [1,2] Chemically, creatine is known by the name α-methyl guanidine-acetic acid, but seeing as this isn’t a biochemistry course, we’ll leave it at just plain old creatine.

Creatine is primarily stored (~95%) in your skeletal muscles in the form of phosphocreatine, and the remaining 5% is stored in the kidneys, liver, and brain. [1] It’s also found in a number of other foods in our diet, especially red meat.

Now, the amount of creatine each of us stores in our body is going to depend on a few factors, including:

  • Exercise
  • Amount of Lean Muscle Mass
  • Levels of Anabolic Hormones such as IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) and Testosterone
  • Meat Consumption

What Does Creatine Do?

Following ingestion, creatine binds to a molecule of phosphate to form phosphocreatine or creatine phosphate.

Why is this important?

Whenever you ingest nutrients (whole foods, protein powder, BCAAs, etc.), your digestive system breaks down these nutrients to get energy so that it can power all of the other chemical and physiological processes that go on in the body.

These processes require energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP also serves as the primary fuel for your muscles during high-intensity exercise like resistance training or sprinting.

The way ATP provides energy is by donating one of its three phosphate groups (remember ATP stands for adenosine TRI-phosphate, meaning it has three phosphates attached to one molecule of adenosine).

After donating its phosphate group, ATP now becomes ADP (adenosine DI-phosphate), meaning it has two phosphates instead of three.[1] Now, the body can readily use ATP for energy production, but it’s not so fond of ADP for generating energy. So, your body reserves this ADP molecule and saves it until another phosphate is freed up and it can be recycled into ATP.

Now, here’s where creatine enters the picture.

As we mentioned above, creatine is stored in the body as phospho-creatine, meaning it has an extra phosphate molecule to donate. Creatine, being the noble fellow that it is, sacrifices its phosphate group for the good of your body, donating it to ADP and transforming the seemingly useless ADP into the energy-producing powerhouse that is ATP.

Therefore, the primary benefit of creatine resides in its ability to rapidly regenerate ATP, which translates to a number of performance and physique benefits that we’ll discuss in more detail now!

Benefits of Creatine

Improves ATP Production

As we just mentioned, the primary benefit of ATP comes from its ability to rapidly replenish ATP stores in the body.

ATP serves as the “cellular currency” of energy production in the body, meaning that once your ATP stores are empty, your body has to start breaking down glycogen or pulling in glucose and fats from the bloodstream to power your muscles during training. So, the more ATP you have, the longer you can train before succumbing to fatigue, which leads to greater gains in size, strength, and performance. [1,2] 

Muscle Builder

Creatine has been extensive studies and shown time after time to improve lean body mass (a.k.a. Muscle mass) as well as performance during intense training. [4,5] Studies note that supplementing with creatine monohydrate while performance resistance training increase muscle cell nuclei concentration, which promotes the greater growth of lean muscle. [6]

Other research notes that when creatine and weight lifting are combined, it increases fat-free mass (i.e. muscle), muscle morphology, and physical performance. [7]

Part of this is due to creatine’s ability to help you grind out more reps (due to better energy production), but creatine also helps stunt myostatin production. [8] In case you weren’t aware, myostatin is a devious little protein that puts the brakes on muscle growth in the body. By inhibiting it, creatine helps promote greater muscle cell growth and differentiation.

Strength Booster

One of the truly exceptional things about creatine is that not only does it help muscles to grow bigger, it also helps them become stronger, too. Research has shown that weightlifters using creatine increased their one-rep max on bench press of 43%, compared to those who did not use creatine while training. [9,10]

Hydration Support

We’ve spent the majority of this article discussing the primary function of creatine, in regards to its ability to enhance ATP regeneration in the body, but it also serves another very important role in regards to health and performance.

Creatine monohydrate also functions as a natural osmolyte, that helps increase the water content within muscle cells. [15] Because of this cell-hydrating effect, creatine increases cell volume, which has a multitude of benefits including better stamina, bigger “water” pumps, and muscle growth.

Brain Booster

Up top, we mentioned that the majority of creatine is stored in the brain, but a small percentage is also stored in your brain. As it turns out, creatine supplementation also imparts some brain gains as well, especially for vegans and vegetarians.

Research notes that when adult vegetarians supplemented with creatine, they experienced better working memory and intelligence. The reason vegetarians were used for the study was that they tend to have low levels of endogenous creatine due to their low meat intake. [12,13]

But that’s not all…

Creatine has also been shown to improve mental performance following 36 hours of sleep deprivation [14], making this a great supplement to use if you’re one who doesn’t get adequate amounts of sleep each night.

Neuroprotector

Creatine not only helps our brains to function at a higher level, but it may also protect us from certain neurological diseases as well. Supplemental creatine can act as a substrate for creatine kinase, which may increase phosphocreatine and protect against ATP depletion, which has been documented to exert neuroprotective benefits. [17]

Other studies note that supplementing with creatine can improve quality of life and reduce symptoms in individuals with cognitive dysfunction. [16] Furthermore, creatine supplementation has been documented to prevent up to 90% of the decline in dopamine levels in animals. [17]

You may be asking, “why is that important?”

Well, chronically falling levels of dopamine production are a tell-tale sign of Parkinson’s disease.

Additional research has noted that when patients with Parkinson’s were given creatine it reduced their decline in cognitive function and increased their strength. [18,19]

Improves Symptoms of Depression

Consuming creatine daily has been noted to lessen symptoms of depression in women, including ones who didn’t respond to SSRI prescriptions (the “standard” treatment for depression). [20]

Additional studies have documented that creatine supplementation is beneficial for the treatment of a number of other diseases including [21,22,23]: 

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Ischemic Stroke
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Brain or Spinal Cord Injuries

Combats Fatigue

We’ve mentioned previously that creatine improves stamina and endurance via improve ATP production, but it also helps you last longer during your workouts due to its unique ability to reduce neuromuscular fatigue and perceived fatigue when training.[24,25]

Creatine also has been shown to boost mood following sleep deprivation or psychologically-intensive tasks. [26]

Improves Injury Recovery Rate

Not only does creatine improve your performance on the field, it also helps you get back there following an injury. Research conducted in healthy subjects has shown that creatine supplementation significantly improves recovery of knee extensor muscle function after injury. [33]

Heart Helper

In addition to its role in muscle building, creatine also helps fortify your cardiovascular system as well, protecting the heart against stress and improving its ability to repair. [29]

Creatine production also helps reduce homocysteine levels, which if you weren’t aware, elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Further research has shown that when creatine is supplemented at a dose of 20 grams per day, it lowers cholesterol. [30]

Supports Skeletal System

Creatine enhances osteoblast formation, which increases bone formation and bone repair. [31] Additional research in older women with osteoarthritis has noted that creatine supplementation helps reduce pain associated with the disorder. [32]

Steadies Blood Sugar

We’re still not done with the benefits of creatine yet!

As you well know, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome are two of the most common chronic diseases affecting our population these days. At the core of these two diseases is a combination of chronically elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

As it turns out, creatine might be an unsung hero of sorts for diabetics. Research notes that supplementing with creatine can significantly reduce blood sugar measurements during a glucose tolerance test in healthy men performing aerobic exercise. [27]

A 2016 systematic review also confirmed these findings when it concluded that creatine is useful for controlling blood glucose when combined with exercise. [28]

Beneficial for Expectant Mothers

Studies involving pregnant women have noted that supplementing with creatine can benefit baby development in the instances of oxygen deprivation or premature birth. [34]

Potential Testosterone Booster

The final benefit of creatine is more of an “outlier” of sorts, as it’s never really been thoroughly investigated, but still, warrant mentioning.

In addition to all of the muscle and performance benefits mentioned prior, creatine may also boost the most anabolic hormone of all — testosterone.

Research using very high doses of creatine (100mg/kg) noted that it successfully increased testosterone levels. [11]

How much is that for the average man?

For the average 175lb male, you’d need around 8 grams of creatine to get the potential testosterone boosting benefits of this all-time muscle builder.

Speaking of dosing…

How Much Creatine Should I Take?

All sorts of dosing and loading protocols have been used with creatine studies over the years.

Some protocols call for loading up to 20 grams per day (divided into 4-5 doses) for 3-4 days to accelerate the rate of saturation, but for the average lifter looking to experience all that creatine has to offer, a standard dose of 5 grams per day every day of creatine monohydrate is recommended.

When to Take Creatine

The great thing about creatine, unlike other supplements, is that you really can take it any time of day. You see, you start to experience the benefits of creatine once your muscles are saturated with it. It doesn’t offer an acute benefit, like what caffeine or citrulline malate does.

Therefore, you can take your creatine pre-workout, post workout, intra-workout, or any other time of day. It doesn’t really matter so long as you get your 5 grams in every day.

However, there can be an argument made for an “optimal” time to take creatine is the post-workout period, when insulin sensitivity is highest, meaning it will be rapidly taken up and stored in your muscles. But again, so long as you’re taking in your 5 grams of creatine monohydrate every day, you will be fine.

Takeaway

Creatine monohydrate has stood the test of time as the de facto king of the supplement world. It’s proven time and time again to enhance lean mass, strength, power, and performance. Creatine also comes with a drove of other benefits for your brain and heart, too.

When you add it all together, creatine supplementation is really a no-brainer and should be a part of every fitness enthusiasts stack, young or old, male or female.

References

  1. Persky AM, Brazeau GA. Clinical Pharmacology of the Dietary Supplement Creatine Monohydrate. Pharmacol Rev. 2001;53(2):161 LP-176.
  2. Bird SP. Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: A Brief Review. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2003;2(4):123-132.
  3. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2016, August 19). Adenosine triphosphate. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from
  4. Branch JD. Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003;13(2):198-226.
  5. Parise G, Mihic S, MacLennan D, Yarasheski KE, Tarnopolsky MA. Effects of acute creatine monohydrate supplementation on leucine kinetics and mixed-muscle protein synthesis. J Appl Physiol. 2001;91(3):1041-1047. doi:10.1152/jappl.2001.91.3.1041.
  6. Olsen S, Aagaard P, Kadi F, et al. Creatine supplementation augments the increase in satellite cell and myonuclei number in human skeletal muscle induced by strength training. The Journal of Physiology. 2006;573(Pt 2):525-534. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2006.107359.
  7. Volek JS, Duncan ND, Mazzetti SA, et al. Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999;31(8):1147-1156.
  8. Saremi A, Gharakhanloo R, Sharghi S, Gharaati MR, Larijani B, Omidfar K. Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on serum myostatin and GASP-1. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2010;317(1-2):25-30. doi:10.1016/j.mce.2009.12.019.
  9. Earnest CP, Snell PG, Rodriguez R, Almada AL, Mitchell TL. The effect of creatine monohydrate ingestion on anaerobic power indices, muscular strength and body composition. Acta Physiol Scand. 1995;153(2):207-209. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1995.tb09854.x.
  10. 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.
  11. Cook CJ, Crewther BT, Kilduff LP, Drawer S, Gaviglio CM. Skill execution and sleep deprivation: effects of acute caffeine or creatine supplementation – a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2011;8:2. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-8-2.
  12. Rae C, Digney AL, McEwan SR, Bates TC. Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2003;270(1529):2147-2150. doi:10.1098/rspb.2003.2492.
  13. Benton D, Donohoe R. The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores. Br J Nutr. 2011;105(7):1100-1105. doi:10.1017/S0007114510004733.
  14. McMorris T, Harris RC, Howard AN, et al. Creatine supplementation, sleep deprivation, cortisol, melatonin and behavior. Physiol Behav. 2007;90(1):21-28. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.08.024.
  15. Burg MB, Ferraris JD. Intracellular Organic Osmolytes: Function and Regulation. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2008;283(12):7309-7313. doi:10.1074/jbc.R700042200.
  16. Rawson ES, Venezia AC. Use of creatine in the elderly and evidence for effects on cognitive function in  young and old. Amino Acids. 2011;40(5):1349-1362. doi:10.1007/s00726-011-0855-9.
  17. Matthews RT, Ferrante RJ, Klivenyi P, et al. Creatine and cyclocreatine attenuate MPTP neurotoxicity. Exp Neurol. 1999;157(1):142-149. doi:10.1006/exnr.1999.7049.
  18. Li Z, Wang P, Yu Z, et al. The effect of creatine and coenzyme q10 combination therapy on mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease. Eur Neurol. 2015;73(3-4):205-211. doi:10.1159/000377676.
  19. Hass CJ, Collins MA, Juncos JL. Resistance training with creatine monohydrate improves upper-body strength in patients with Parkinson disease: a randomized trial. Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2007;21(2):107-115. doi:10.1177/1545968306293449.
  20. Kondo DG, Sung Y-H, Hellem TL, et al. Open-label adjunctive creatine for female adolescents with SSRI-resistant major depressive disorder: A 31-phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy study. Journal of affective disorders. 2011;135(0):354-361. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2011.07.010.
  21. Bürklen TS, Schlattner U, Homayouni R, et al. The Creatine Kinase/Creatine Connection to Alzheimer’s Disease: CK Inactivation, APP-CK Complexes, and Focal Creatine Deposits. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2006;2006:35936. doi:10.1155/JBB/2006/35936.
  22. Prass K, Royl G, Lindauer U, et al. Improved reperfusion and neuroprotection by creatine in a mouse model of stroke. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2007;27(3):452-459. doi:10.1038/sj.jcbfm.9600351.
  23. Rambo LM, Ribeiro LR, Oliveira MS, et al. Additive anticonvulsant effects of creatine supplementation and physical exercise against pentylenetetrazol-induced seizures. Neurochem Int. 2009;55(5):333-340. doi:10.1016/j.neuint.2009.04.007.
  24. Smith AE, Walter AA, Herda TJ, et al. Effects of creatine loading on electromyographic fatigue threshold during cycle ergometry in college-aged women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007;4:20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-20.
  25. Hadjicharalambous M, Kilduff LP, Pitsiladis YP. Brain serotonin and dopamine modulators, perceptual responses and endurance performance during exercise in the heat following creatine supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2008;5:14. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-14.
  26. McMorris T, Harris RC, Swain J, et al. Effect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on  cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2006;185(1):93-103. doi:10.1007/s00213-005-0269-z.
  27. Gualano B, Novaes RB, Artioli GG, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity  in sedentary healthy males undergoing aerobic training. Amino Acids. 2008;34(2):245-250. doi:10.1007/s00726-007-0508-1.
  28. Pinto CL, Botelho PB, Pimentel GD, Campos-Ferraz PL, Mota JF. Creatine supplementation and glycemic control: a systematic review. Amino Acids. 2016;48(9):2103-2129. doi:10.1007/s00726-016-2277-1.
  29. Spindler M, Meyer K, Stromer H, et al. Creatine kinase-deficient hearts exhibit increased susceptibility to ischemia-reperfusion injury and impaired calcium homeostasis. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2004;287(3):H1039-45. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.01016.2003.
  30. Earnest CP, Almada AL, Mitchell TL. High-performance capillary electrophoresis-pure creatine monohydrate reduces blood lipids in men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). 1996;91(1):113-118.
  31. Gerber I, ap Gwynn I, Alini M, Wallimann T. Stimulatory effects of creatine on metabolic activity, differentiation and mineralization of primary osteoblast-like cells in monolayer and micromass cell cultures. Eur Cell Mater. 2005;10:8-22.
  32. Neves MJ, Gualano B, Roschel H, et al. Beneficial effect of creatine supplementation in knee osteoarthritis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(8):1538-1543. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182118592.
  33. Cooke MB, Rybalka E, Williams AD, Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Creatine supplementation enhances muscle force recovery after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2009;6:13. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-6-13.
  34. Dickinson H, Ellery S, Ireland Z, LaRosa D, Snow R, Walker DW. Creatine supplementation during pregnancy: summary of experimental studies suggesting a treatment to improve fetal and neonatal morbidity and reduce mortality in high-risk human pregnancy. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2014;14:150. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-150.
  35. Jäger, Ralf; Analysis of the Efficacy, Safety, and Regulatory Status of Novel Forms of Creatine. Amino Acids 40.5 (2011): 1369-383.
  36. Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007;4:6. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-6.

How Nutrients Get Absorbed into Muscles

Building muscle requires a few important things:

  • Resistance-Training
  • Progressive Overload
  • High Protein Intake
  • Caloric Surplus
  • Plenty of Sleep

While each of these is important in their own right, all the sleeping, resistance training, and progressive overloading you do won’t do a lick of good if you’re not consuming a sufficient number of calories.

The way your body utilizes all of those calories is via the gastrointestinal (GI) system. It’s the foundation of muscle building, cognitive function, and overall health. The organs comprising your GI system work together to convert food into energy and the other essential nutrients required by the body.

But, how exactly do those nutrients make their way from your stomach to your muscles?

Let’s find out!

How is Food Digested

In order to understand how nutrients, get absorbed into your muscles, we first need to explain how food is digested in the body. The GI system includes your:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Stomach
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Small Intestine
  • Large Intestine
  • Anus

Though we typically think of food being digested in the stomach, the process of digestion actually begins in the mouth. In fact, the mouth is responsible for mechanical and chemical digestion. Mechanical digestion is accomplished through the act of chewing, while chemical digestion is caused by the enzymes secreted by the salivary glands in saliva. But, saliva isn’t just for breaking down food, it also moistens food so it can work its way down your esophagus and into your stomach.

Upon entering the stomach, a mish-mash of enzymes and acids (hydrochloric acid) continue to break down food in addition to the stomach muscles that mix the food with these digestive juices. Not to be forgotten during digestion is the important role the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder serve. These three organs secrete the bile, digestive juices, and other important enzymes required to break down the wide variety of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins contained in the food you just ate.

After spending time in the stomach, the digested food is transported to your intestines, and it’s here where we start to see how nutrients get absorbed into your muscles.

From the GI System to Everywhere Else

Digestion is still occurring when your “food” (if you can still call it that by this point in the digestive process) reaches the small intestine. In fact, a large portion of the breakdown of complex carbohydrates (maltose, isomaltose, trisaccharides, larger oligosaccharides, etc.) still needs to be broken down into monosaccharides (simple sugars) so that they can be taken up. This brings us to the critical aspect of muscle-building — nutrient absorption.

The majority of nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestines and then directs them to your circulatory system for transportation to all the various parts of the body. Your blood is responsible for carrying simple sugars (monosaccharides like glucose), amino acids (the building blocks of protein), glycerol, and certain vitamins and salts to your liver. The liver either stores or processes and delivers the required nutrients where they are needed.

One of the most important component of nutrient absorption is the main anabolic hormone of the body — insulin. When glucose enters the blood, it stimulates the release of insulin — the primary nutrient shuttling in the body. Insulin picks up nutrients from your blood and drives them into your cells, your muscle cells in particular. Insulin is also tasked with shuttling amino acids and fatty acids into your cells as well. Upon entering the cell, glucose is converted to glycogen (the stored form of energy your muscles use for high-intensity exercise) while the amino acids get to work repairing damaged muscle tissue and building new muscle tissue.

Improving Nutrient Absorption

Consuming the right amounts of essential nutrients is crucial, but it won’t do much good if your body isn’t properly absorbing the nutrient you’re ingesting. You see, widespread use of antibiotics coupled with overconsumption of hyper-processed foods (i.e. chicken nuggets) has led to the decimation of good gut bacteria which is tasked with digestion and absorption of the essential nutrients your body requires for survival.

Fortunately, there are some ways you can enhance the number of good gut bacteria in your body and your body’s absorption of the nutrients you put into it on a daily basis.

  • Eat Plenty of Fiber

    Dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides the necessary “fuel” your gut bacteria need to keep functioning. Without this food, gut bacteria leach what they need from the lining of your GI tract which can lead to “leaky gut” and further nutrient absorption issues.

  • Chew Food Thoroughly

    Chewing plays a critical, and often underestimated, role in digestion. The more you chew, the more your food is broken down, which means there’s less work that needs to be done by the rest of your digestive system later on in the process. As an added bonus, chewing your food more thoroughly slows down how fast you’re eating, which gives your brain time to receive the signal that you are full, thereby preventing overheating.

  • Drink plenty of water

    Consuming enough water aids in the digestion and dissolution of fats and soluble fiber you eat, making for better nutrient absorption.

  • Exercise

    Exercise increases blood flow to your muscles (including those of the GI tract), but it also enhances blood flow to your organs. This is important because the walls of your colon need to contract when eliminated waste from the body, and exercise helps keep those muscles stimulated and active.

  • Drink less alcohol

    Whenever you consume alcohol, it disrupts acid secretion and digestion, leading to poor nutrient absorption. If you’re serious about losing fat and building muscle, you need to prioritize those essential muscle-building nutrients, which means passing on the alcohol, lest you not best use what you’re putting into your body.

  • Try probiotics

    Remember when we discussed the “good” gut bacteria above? Probiotics are one of the “good” bacteria in your gut that support immune system function. Probiotics compete for space in your gut with bad bacteria and can even help reduce the number of bad bacteria in your gut. Unfortunately, due to years of poor diets, most people are sadly lacking in probiotics.

    The remedy for this is to invest in some probiotic supplements or eat probiotic-rich foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, etc.). This promotes the growth of more good gut bacteria, which can help ease IBS as well as combat allergies and the common cold.

References

  1. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The Digestive System and How It Works
  2. Mourad FH, Saade NE. Neural regulation of intestinal nutrient absorption. Prog Neurobiol. 2011;95(2):149-162. doi:10.1016/j.pneurobio.2011.07.010.
  3. Goodman BE. Insights into digestion and absorption of major nutrients in humans. Adv Physiol Educ. 2010;34(2):44-53. doi:10.1152/advan.00094.2009.
  4. Desai MS, Seekatz AM, Koropatkin NM, et al. A Dietary Fiber-Deprived Gut Microbiota Degrades the Colonic Mucus Barrier and Enhances Pathogen Susceptibility. Cell. 2018;167(5):1339-1353.e21. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2016.10.043.
  5. Tracey J. Smith, Diane Rigassio-Radler, Robert Denmark, Timothy Haley, Riva Touger-Decker. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG® and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis BB-12® on health-related quality of life in college students affected by upper respiratory infections. British Journal of Nutrition, 2012; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0007114512004138

Why Carbohydrates are Ideal Post-Workout

So often in the fitness community, we’re told to avoid cheap carbs and simple sugars like white bread, candy, cookies, cake, and soda for a couple of reasons.

  • They’re calorically dense and nutrient-poor
  • They spike insulin levels
  • They raise blood sugar levels
  • They promote fat storage
  • They lead to energy crashes
  • They are easy to overeat and derail your diet

It’s easy to see why so many coaches, trainers, and nutritionists steer athletes away from high carb/high sugar foods, and while it’s true that the vast majority of the time you want to avoid these foods, there is a time when it’s more or less “ok” to have some of the quintessential “dirty” foods like candy, pizza, Chinese takeout or fried food — post-workout.

The post-workout window is those select few hours immediately following your workout where your muscles are starving for energy, desperately seeking nutrients to repair, rebuild, and grow the muscle tissue that you just worked so hard to train in your workout.

That’s why the post-workout time period is so often called the anabolic window. Your body is primed to take whatever you throw at it and use it for recovery and growth. But, what is it about the anabolic window that makes your body work differently than other times of the day. Why is this brief window of opportunity the ideal time to consume high carb/high sugar foods?

It has to do with the most anabolic hormone in your body — insulin.

What is Insulin?

No doubt you were thrown for a loop when we said that the most anabolic hormone in the body is insulin. You were probably thinking it was something along the lines of testosterone, human growth hormone, or insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Make no mistake, those hormones are incredibly anabolic, but it’s insulin that’s the real star of muscle growth and fat loss.

Insulin is “peptide hormone” that is secreted by the β cells of the pancreatic islets of Langerhans, which is a fancy way of stating that insulin is a protein made in the pancreas.[1] The primary function of insulin, as you probably know, is to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels in the body by transporting glucose from the bloodstream and into muscle cells or fat cells for storage. But that’s not insulin does, it also is primarily known for regulating blood glucose levels by facilitating glucose uptake into your cells, but insulin also [2]:

  • Regulates carbohydrate, protein, and lipid metabolism
  • Increases the rate of amino acid delivery into tissues (including muscles)
  • Reduces glycogen breakdown
  • Decreases lipolysis (breakdown of stored fat) in adipose tissue
  • Encourages cell division and growth (via mitogenesis)
  • Reduces the rate of fatty acid oxidation (fat burning) in muscle and liver
  • Increases protein synthesis in muscle (i.e. builds muscle), as well as adipose tissue and many others
  • Decreases the rate of protein breakdown in muscle (stops catabolism)

As you can see, insulin plays a vital role not only in muscle growth and repair but also fat burning and fat storage.

And therein lies the quagmire with insulin — it stores nutrients, period. It does not discriminate between where it stores those nutrients. Insulin is just as likely to store excess blood glucose in muscles as it is adipose tissue (fat cells). Insulin doesn’t really care where it stores the glucose, it’s job is to regulate blood sugar levels and keep them at a safe level. Just because you’d prefer insulin to store all those carbs in your muscles doesn’t mean it’s going to comply. Its job is to keep blood sugar levels from reaching critical status.

Now, some individuals have better genetics than others, and their body’s will preferentially stores more of those sugars in muscle than they will fat. Aside from winning the genetic lottery, this individuals also have superb insulin sensitivity.  

What is Insulin Sensitivity?

Insulin sensitivity essentially describes how “efficient” your body is when it’s faced with an increase in blood glucose. In an otherwise healthy, lean individual, they secrete small amounts of insulin to deal with the rise in blood sugar. However, if you have poor insulin sensitivity, also known as insulin resistant, your body secretes large amounts of insulin to deal with the increased blood glucose levels.

With insulin resistance also comes less fat burning, brain and pancreatic cells are exposed to higher levels of blood sugar for longer periods of time (which can be toxic), and muscle protein synthesis falls off dramatically. Suffice it to say, you do not want to be insulin resistant, especially if you’re looking to maintain a lean, muscular physique.

What causes insulin resistance?

A few things, including lack of exercise, excess consumption of simple sugars, as well as several other things. Insulin resistance is a tell-tale warning sign of health complications in the future including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, and even cancer.

Having poor insulin sensitivity also means you’re more likely to store fat when trying to gain size and strength, as opposed to those excess calories going to pure muscle building. Basically, you want to avoid being insulin resistant at all costs and want to do everything in your power to maximize insulin sensitivity.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do right now to improve insulin sensitivity. Just because you were born with poor genetics doesn’t mean you’re forever stuck with poor insulin sensitivity. By manipulating insulin and taking advantage of it, we can ensure that those tasty carbs we consume post workout go towards muscle growth, not fat storage

How to Improve Insulin Sensitivity

As we noted up top, when insulin levels rise, fat burning stops and energy storage starts. Right here, you can see one of the first “hacks” to improving insulin sensitivity — what you eat and when you eat it.

By consuming the majority of your carbohydrates before, during, and after training, you’ll force your body to use them for energy production during training and for glycogen replenishment and muscle repair and growth following training. No other time is your body more primed to deal with a surge of carb and sugar-laden food than post workout.

During training, glycogen stores become depleted and insulin sensitivity skyrockets. This improves carbohydrate storage via two different means. Intense exercise, such as weightlifting, not only heightens insulin-dependent glucose uptake into skeletal muscle but also non-insulin dependent glucose uptake, meaning glucose absorption by your muscles without the actions of insulin! [3]

In other words, if there ever was a time for you to crush some serious carbs, it’s definitely post workout. Your muscles have been broken, bloodied, and beaten from the workout, glycogen levels are low, and they’re hungry…

That means you need to feed them carbohydrates. They’re begging for them. Carbohydrates are the preferred form of energy for the body during high-intensity exercise, and the quickest way to replenish those depleted glycogen stores is by eating carbs, the simpler the better. This ensures faster digestion, which leads to faster uptake by your muscles, and ultimately quicker glycogen storage and recovery (and less soreness).

Now, that means for the rest of the day, when insulin sensitivity isn’t as high and muscles are not depleted of glycogen, you want to avoid huge spikes in insulin, as well as high carb-low fiber meals. Meals farther away from exercise should be full of fiber (i.e. vegetables), higher in fat and protein. These factors help reduce the glycemic load of your meal, which limits the amount of insulin the body has to release to deal with rising glucose levels in the blood, thereby allowing for more fat burning and less fat storage.

Aside from exercise, here are a few other “hacks” you can use in your daily life to improve insulin sensitivity, so if you do have the occasional cheat meal outside of the post-workout window, you’re not going to store (as much) fat:

  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

    A muscle cell that is full of glycogen is technically insulin resistant as it has no more “room” to store glucose (as glycogen), which means the glucose-insulin is carrying is probably going to be stored as fat.

    However, performing an exercise that burns glycogen, leaves your muscles empty and increases their insulin sensitivity. There’s no better way to burn through glycogen than with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). [4]

    Options for HIIT training include sprints, prowler pushes, bodyweight circuits, or concept2 rower. These forms of exercise burn through glycogen like you wouldn’t believe and if you know you’re going to be having a carb-heavy meal later in the day, but it’s technically an “off day” from lifting, do a quick HIIT session to burn off some glycogen and get the body primed to put those tasty carbs to work.

  • Sleep

    If you already get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, you’re already doing one of the best things possible for optimizing insulin sensitivity. Getting even more sleep isn’t going to significantly enhance your insulin sensitivity. However, if you’re not getting adequate sleep each night, you might want to start doing so. Research shows that even a single night of disrupted sleep can impair insulin sensitivity! [5]

    Aside from insulin, disrupted sleep also raises cortisol levels and decreases testosterone levels, which further hurts muscle growth and encourages fat storage. Basically, if you’re not getting enough quality sleep each night, start doing so…NOW!

  • Reduce stress levels

    Similar to sleep disruption, stress can also wreak havoc on your hormone levels, particularly cortisol and insulin. Stress increases cortisol levels and lowers insulin sensitivity, [6] which is a double whammy for increased fat storage and less muscle growth.

  • Train fasted

    Training in a fasted state can improve insulin sensitivity, as your body is forced to run on its energy stores rather than food you may have ingested as part of your pre-workout nutrition. Research notes that training while fasted increased insulin sensitivity more so than the group consuming a high carb meal prior to exercise. What’s really interesting is that these effects also occurred even though subjects at a “standard American diet” (i.e. high fat, high carb) the rest of the day. [7]

  • Sprinkle Cinnamon on your Food

    Cinnamon is a delicious spice that adds warmth and excitement to any dish, including baked sugary treats like cookies and cakes. It’s also effective for combating insulin resistance induced from sleep loss. [8]

    Other pungent spices, such as garlic and ginger, also improve insulin sensitivity, so don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes and cuisines to enhance glucose disposal in the body and broaden your culinary horizons.

  • Add Vinegar

    Sprinkling a dash of vinegar on your appetizer prior to a high carb meal, say on a salad prior to a dinner full of pasta, might be an easy way to improve insulin sensitivity, as research documents better glucose tolerance in type 2 diabetics following consumption of vinegar prior to high-carb meals. [9]

  • Lose Fat

    Insulin resistance is often the result of excess energy consumption (i.e. overeating). Losing fat increases energy removal from the body, which improves insulin sensitivity, especially if the fat loss comes from belly fat. [10]

  • Drink Tea

    Consuming tea, whether it be green tea, black tea, or Pu-Erh tea, has been shown to improve insulin resistance. [11,12] If you are going to consume tea, make sure to not load it up with a bunch of sugar though, as that will negate the insulin-sensitizing benefits of tea consumption.

Now, this is by no means a complete list of ways to improve insulin sensitivity, but they are some of the most convenient ones you can easily work into your daily life.

The bottom line is that carbohydrates aren’t always the enemy, and they’re certainly not bad for you. As with everything in life, “timing is everything.”

If you’re craving some sugary, fast-digesting carbs, just make sure to get in a tough workout beforehand, and that way, you can put those tasty carbs towards building muscle and not storing fat. To help you make the most of your workout and really burn through that muscle glycogen, there’s Steel Pump™.

Steel Pump™ is a scientifically-formulated pre-workout specifically designed to enhance your performance during training. With Steel Pump, you’ll have greater energy, focus, and stamina to push harder in your workouts, burning more glycogen and calories than ever before. After your workout, you’ll be ready to tackle those sugary carbs head on and get the most benefit from them!

References

  1. Wilcox G. Insulin and Insulin Resistance. Clinical Biochemist Reviews. 2005;26(2):19-39.
  2. Dimitriadis, G., Mitrou, P., Lambadiari, V., Maratou, E., & Raptis, S. A. (2011). Insulin effects in muscle and adipose tissue. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 93 Suppl 1, S52-9. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-8227(11)70014-6
  3. Hayashi T, Wojtaszewski JF, Goodyear LJ. Exercise regulation of glucose transport in skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol. 1997;273(6 Pt 1):E1039-51.
  4. Boutcher SH. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011:868305. doi:10.1155/2011/868305.
  5. Donga E, van Dijk M, van Dijk JG, et al. A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;95(6):2963-2968. doi:10.1210/jc.2009-2430
  6. Li L, Li X, Zhou W, Messina JL. Acute Psychological Stress Results in the Rapid Development of Insulin Resistance. The Journal of endocrinology. 2013;217(2):175-184. doi:10.1530/JOE-12-0559.
  7. Van Proeyen K, Szlufcik K, Nielens H, et al. Training in the fasted state improves glucose tolerance during fat-rich diet. The Journal of Physiology. 2010;588(Pt 21):4289-4302. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2010.196493.
  8. Jitomir J, Willoughby DS. Cassia cinnamon for the attenuation of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance resulting from sleep loss. J Med Food. 2009;12(3):467-472. doi:10.1089/jmf.2008.0128
  9. Johnston CS, Kim CM, Buller AJ. Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects With Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2004;27(1):281 LP-282.
  10. Goodpaster BH, Kelley DE, Wing RR, Meier A, Thaete FL. Effects of weight loss on regional fat distribution and insulin sensitivity in obesity. Diabetes. 1999;48(4):839-847.
  11. Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Ahadi Z, Fallah Tafti M. The Effect of Green Tea versus Sour Tea on Insulin Resistance, Lipids Profiles and Oxidative Stress in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences. 2014;39(5):424-432.
  12. Du W, Peng S-M, Liu Z, Shi L, Tan L-F, Zou X-Q. Hypoglycemic effect of the water extract of Pu-erh tea. J Agric Food Chem. 2012;60(40):10126-10132. doi:10.1021/jf302426w

What Are Feeder Workouts?

Typical resistance-training recommendations are as follows:

  • Train a group of muscle intensely and don’t train it again for another 48-72 hoursOR
  • Assault one muscle group with everything you have and don’t train it again for another 5-7 days, or until you’re not sore.

No doubt you’ve heard these same recommendations, or something very similar to them, at one point or another in your lifting career. The reality is, neither of these recommendations hold much water and these “rules of lifting” may actually be holding you back from bigger and better muscle gains.

What if you could actually work the same muscle group(s) on consecutive days and have it not inhibit recovery, but actually promote growth?!

You’d probably think we were crazy.

Well, there’s a little something called feeder workouts, and it may be just what you need to bring up those lagging body parts once and for all!

What are Feeder Workouts?

Feeder workouts are “mini” workouts completed completely separate from your regular workout. In other words, the day after a heavy lifting day, you do a separate workout later that day or, ideally, the following day targeting those exact same muscles you hit on the previous day but for only 3 sets using very light weight and lots and lots of reps.

For example, let’s say on Monday you trained your pushing muscles (i.e. chest, shoulders, and triceps). Then, on Tuesday, before or after your normal training routine you do your feeder workout for chest, shoulder, and triceps. This feeder workout would contain primarily isolation exercises that allow you to really concentrate on the target muscle using very strict form and high reps.

An example feeder workout for your push muscles would be:

  • Pec Dec = 3 sets, 50-100 reps
  • Lateral Raise = 3 sets, 50-100 reps
  • Dumbbell Skull-Crushers = 3 sets, 50-100 reps

Now, jumping right out of the gate performing 50-100 reps in a single set, even using very light weight is incredibly taxing both mentally and physically — the burning sensation that sets in during feeder workouts is unlike anything you’ve experienced before!

The goal of these feeder workouts isn’t to pulverize the muscle and blast it into oblivion. These mini workouts should be looked at low intensity pump work, with the goal being to drive as much nutrient-rich blood into the muscles you trained the previous day. Remember muscle grows when stimulated, not annihilated, no matter what the gym bros tell you!

Why Feeder Workouts work?

  • Extended Protein Synthesis

    Feeder workouts prolong, or extend, the amount of time increased muscle protein synthesis occurs in a muscle group. Normally, when a muscle group is trained, protein synthesis is elevated for roughly 24 hours and returns to normal levels around the 36-hour post training mark.

    By performing another mini workout 24 hours after the first one, you prolong the increased protein synthesis occurring in your muscle by another 12-24 hours.

    The catch here, is that growth will only occur if you’re fueling properly. You’re only going to grow and promote repair and recovery if you’re consuming ample protein and eating at a caloric surplus.

  • Improved Mind-Muscle Connection

    Simply put, the human body gets better at things it does frequently. If you want to get better at pull ups, you need to start doing pull ups more often. The reason for this is that you’re increasing training volume, which your muscles adapt to by growing bigger and stronger, but in addition to getting stronger, you also establish a stronger mind-muscle connection, or an increased “awareness” of which muscle should be working during a given exercise.

    Feeder workouts are especially great if you struggle feel certain muscle groups firing during a lift. For example, don’t feel your lats working while doing pull ups (along with the other muscles of the back), performing a feeder workout the following day of straight-arm lat pulldowns may strengthen your mind-muscle connection to your lats, which translates to better lat recruitment during your subsequent pull up workouts leading to better workouts and bigger gains!

  • Shoring up Weaknesses

    Following your heavy lifting day, the trained muscles are incredibly responsive to less intense or traumatic training methods, i.e. light weights, high reps. This is great for bringing up lagging muscle groups that may be holding back your heavier compound movements.

    For example, if you struggle with the lockout portion of a bench press or overhead press, performing lighter weight, higher rep tricep work the day after your heavy presses, using very strict form while focusing on the contraction, will bring strengthen your triceps and translate to better performance in your heavier compound lifts.

Feed to Grow!

Feeder workouts are rarely discussed when discussing muscle growth. However, they represent an incredibly effective way to increase training volume without overtaxing your central nervous system (CNS) or muscles the way that high volume, high frequency heavy lifting programs can. Remember to keep the feeder workouts light and high rep but limit each exercise to 3 sets and only ONE exercise per muscle group. Coupled with a proper muscle-building diet, you’ll be astounded at how quickly your weak points become your best assets, all thanks to feeder workouts!

Muscle Pumps – More than Just Aesthetics

The Pump is the stuff of legend. Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger first mentioned its existence, the pump has been the goal of any individual who embraces a life spent with the iron.

While there’s no denying the pleasure and appeal of the pump, a debate has erupted between bros and science buffs as to whether or not getting a pump rolling during your workout actually has any benefit aside from inflating your ego.

So, does a pump help build muscle, or is it all show, no go? Let’s discuss!

Vasodilation

When pursuing the ever-elusive pump, lifters are ultimately concerned with enhancing vasodilation, the widening and relaxing of blood vessels. This widening or enlarging of blood vessels expands the diameter of the blood vessel and leads to some pretty incredible things. All of which are important for muscle building!

  • Increased Blood Flow

    A wider, more dilated blood vessel allows for greater blood to flow through it, which means more nutrient rich blood is transported to your muscles, delivering the essentials it needs to repair and grow.

  • Improve Nutrient Delivery

    Compounding off the previous point, blood carries with it essential nutrients used by your muscles to function, repair, and grow. With more blood reaching your muscle, more of these critical nutrients are supplied at a faster rate, leading to greater performance, endurance, and recovery.

  • Greater Oxygen Delivery

    Oxygen is one of the critical nutrients carried in the blood and used by your muscles to break down glucose and create the energy source for your muscles to perform known as ATP. More blood flow, leads to more oxygen delivery, supporting increased energy production during training for superior performance.

  • Massive Muscle Pumps

    The pump is a result of increased blood flow to muscle cells, which increases intracellular pressure. The result of this increased pressure is muscle cell enlargement manifested as sleeve-busting muscle pumps.

  • Improved Waste Clearance

    In addition to delivering oxygen and nutrients to working muscles, blood is also tasked with the duty of removing metabolic waste products (carbon dioxide, urea, lactic acid) that accumulate as a result of physical exercise. Increased blood flow helps clear these byproducts more effectively, leading to better endurance and decreased recovery times while training.

  • Enhanced Hormone Transport

    Blood also delivers important muscle-building hormones like IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), Growth Hormone, and testosterone to skeletal muscle cells during and after exercise. If you’re keen on making gains, you want more of these hormones delivered to your muscles!

  • Core Temperature Regulation

    Last, but certainly not least, blood flow also improves core temperature regulation. This helps prevent you from becoming overheated or dehydrated while training, ultimately enabling you to perform better for longer periods of time and make more gains!

Pumps and Hypertrophy

Building muscle (i.e. hypertrophy) is extremely dependent upon the net protein balance in the body, meaning, protein gain must be greater than protein loss in order for muscle growth to take place.

Remember that getting a pump increases blood flow, oxygen transport, and nutrient delivery to working muscles, which supports and enhances the natural anabolic processes of the body. Therefore, it stands to reason that increasing blood flow (getting a pump) may enhance protein synthesis and combat muscle breakdown, resulting in superior muscle growth.
But there’s more.

The body sees muscle cell expansion (increase in size) as a threat to the cell’s survival. The body responds by reinforcing the structure of the cell, which leads to increased size and strength.

As you can see, getting a massive pump while lifting is far more than purely aesthetics…it’s helping to grow too! In fact, research confirms this: “In summary, the results of our study demonstrate that net protein synthesis during amino acid administration can be doubled by previous performance of heavy resistance exercise. Moreover, the data suggest a link between the stimulation of protein synthesis after exercise and an acceleration in amino acid transport. The greater rate of transport after exercise may be due to the increase in blood flow.” [1]

What the researchers concluded is that physical activity (such as weight lifting) improves delivery of amino acids to your muscles, enhancing repair and growth. It stands to reason that further increasing blood flow, as a result of getting a pump, you can increase that amino acid delivery even more, leading to bigger and better gains that you would had you not gotten a pump.

Last but not least, getting a pump increases your mood, self-confidence, and motivation. There’s no denying the pleasure you feel from getting a pump rolling during your workout, don’t kid yourself. In your effort to maintain and increase your pump even more, you may find yourself grinding extra hard during your workout, which could lead to moving more weight or doing more reps, which leads to muscle growth!

Ways to Achieve a Pump

Yes, the pump is truly awesome, and for a number of reasons. There’s a number of things you can do heading into the gym to ensure that you’re guaranteed one monster pump while training.

  • Pre-Workout Supplement

    Heading into your workout, you need to be focused on making every rep count, squeezing the muscle as hard as you gain to drive as much blood as possible into the muscle and creating a powerful muscle pump. It’s not always easy to train this hard and with this much intensity day after day. That’s where pre-workouts come in. They provide everything you need to get focused and have a terrific workout. There’s no better option than SteelFit® Steel Pump™.

    Steel Pump™ includes a potent trifecta of ingredients to help you achieve and sustain a raging muscle pump all workout long. Utilizing proven pump-powering compounds including citrulline malate, glutathione, and grape seed extract, Steel Pump™ turbocharges nitric oxide production, blows open blood vessels, and gorges your muscles with blood making for some of the largest pumps you’ve ever experienced!

  • Carbs are you friend

    Carbs are often demonized in today’s nutrition landscape, but for hard-training athletes, they’re absolutely essential. Your body uses carbs to generate glycogen, which is the stored form of energy your muscles use during high intensity activities, such as weight lifting or running. When your body stores glycogen, it also stores some water along with it, which enhances muscle fullness and gives you more shapely and rounded muscles.

  • Don’t skimp on the salt

    Much like carbs, salt (sodium) is heavily criticized these days for all sorts of reasons. But, it’s one of the most critical minerals in the body. Sodium affects everything from nerve function to hydration and even muscle contractions. As such, it plays a vital role in getting a sleeve-busting pump.

    Having a salty snack pre-workout helps your body hold onto more water, which drives more fluid into your blood system, yielding bigger, better, and badder pumps!

  • High Rep Training

    Low rep training is great for increasing pure strength, and can even benefit hypertrophy, but when it comes to getting your pump on, high rep training is what your focus should be. Training in the higher rep ranges (8-20 reps) keeps the muscle under tension for longer periods of time, driving more and more blood into the muscle (along with extra nutrients), creating a towering pump.

Get you Pump on with Steel Pump!

The Pump isn’t just for looks, it’s a valuable weapon in the quest for gains! The only way to ensure you get a pump each and every time you step foot under the bar is with Steel Pump™.

It’s an essential pre-training fuel the provides everything the mind and body needs to perform at its best no matter what the circumstances may be. One scoop of Steel Pump and your muscles will have everything they need to blow up and create a massive pump that will have you looking swole and making those epic gains you’ve always wanted!

References

  1. Biolo G, Tipton KD, Klein S, Wolfe RR. An abundant supply of amino acids enhances the metabolic effect of exercise on muscle protein. Am J Physiol. 1997;273(1 Pt 1):E122-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9252488

Nitric Oxide and Its Role in Training

Every lifter has heard of, chased after, and, at one time or another, attained a raging muscle pump. First popularized by the great Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Pumping Iron”, the pump is a phenomenon sought by many and achieved by only the most deserving.

One of the foundational components to achieving a massive muscle pump during training is ample amounts of nitric oxide (N.O.). This molecule is much more than a pump enhancer though, it carries with it a number of benefits that enhance training, overall function, and even health!

Read on to see what this all-important molecule is and how it can benefit all aspects of your life.

What is Nitric Oxide?

Not to be confused with nitrous oxide (“laughing” gas), nitric oxide is an essential signaling molecule composed of nitrogen (N) and oxygen (O) present in numerous tissues throughout your body. It’s plays a role in all facets of life, including:

  • Regulating cell life & death
  • Neurotransmission
  • Nutrient transport
  • Immune system response

Benefits of Nitric Oxide

As a key regulator of blood flow (via vasodilation), nitric oxide plays a critical role in nutrient and oxygen delivery, glucose uptake, power output and velocity. Due to the range of actions N.O. performs, it’s no surprise that it offers a slew of benefits:

  • Increased Vasodilation:

    Nitric oxide’s most well-known benefit is in its role as a powerful vasodilator, which causes blood vessels to dilate (“relax”), promoting greater blood flow throughout the body, especially working muscles. [1] Greater blood flow to your muscles increases vascularity, fullness, and some monster-sized pumps.

  • Enhanced Oxygen and Nutrient Transport:

    Compounding on the increased blood flow comes increased delivery of oxygen and other essential nutrients (such as amino acids) which enhances performance, recovery, and muscle growth.

  • Decreased Fatigue:

    Nitric oxide also helps avoid premature fatigue, enabling you to train for longer, and reap more gains from your workout. During high-intensity exercise, such as weightlifting or sprinting, oxygen is depleted, leading to an accumulation of lactic acid, often felt as a “burning” sensation in your muscles, forcing to end your set.

    Nitric oxide boosting supplements, such as citrulline malate, can offset this fatigue and improve “athletic performance in high-intensity anaerobic exercises with short rest times and to relieve post exercise muscle soreness.”[3,4]

  • Quicker Recovery:

    One of the most crucial factors in accelerating recovery is flooding your muscles with the essential nutrients it needs to repair the damage done by your intense workout. How freely and easily blood flows throughout your body is the determining factor in how quickly those nutrients get to where they need to be.

    Nitric oxide increases blood flow to the muscles and their surrounding tissues[4], which means more blood gets to your muscles quicker, supplying your muscles with the valuable muscle-building nutrients they need to GROW!

    Faster recovery also comes with the added benefit of allowing you to train more frequently, leading to bigger and better gains in strength and size.

  • Enhanced Glucose Utilization:

    Arginine is the amino acid that fuels nitric oxide production in the body. Research has shown that L-Arginine supplementation significantly improved the rate of glucose appearance, disappearance, and[5] Researchers conducting the experiment attributed this improved glucose utilization to increased nitric oxide production.

    As you’re probably aware, L-Arginine isn’t the most beneficial nitric oxide elevating compound in supplements; it offers terrible bioavailability. That’s why SteelFit includes Citrulline Malate along with Grape Seed Extract and Glutathione, three incredibly bioavailable compounds that support and enhance nitric oxide production.

  • Improved Cognitive Functioning:

    Over the past few years, nitric oxide has received greater attention for its role in enhancing cognitive function. More specifically, scientists are investigating N.O’s impact on neurotransmitter production. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that relay signals between nerve cells in the brain to the muscles in our body.

    Research published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research concluded that nitric oxide has a direct impact on the brain’s computational abilities of the brain. And, it also had an effect on memory formation and learning. [6] Basically, greater levels of nitric oxide resulted in heightened cognitive function and faster reaction times when performing mental tasks.

    It’s also been suggested that increased nitric oxide production could play a contributing role in the prevention of cognitive decline, as well as Type II Diabetes. More research is needed to confirm these suspicions though.

  • Cardio Protection:

    Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest, and most concerning, health problems facing adults, both young and old, today. In addition to nitric oxide relaxing blood vessels, it also relaxes the smooth muscles of the heart, which causes a reduction in blood pressure, thereby supporting cardiovascular health and function. [7]

    Having a healthy heart is also vital to exercise, as the healthier your heart is, the harder you can push yourself while training, leading to better performance and results in the gym.

Maximize Your Nitric Oxide Output

It’s clear that nitric oxide is a powerful ally for all aspects of your life — health, performance, recovery, and cognitive function. To make the most of your workouts, you must maximize your body’s natural nitric oxide production, and the best way to do that is with Steel Pump™.

Each serving of Steel Pump™ delivers proven nitric oxide boosting compounds, including Citrulline Malate, Grape Seed extract, and L-Glutathione, to improve blood flow, enhance performance, and generate some massive pumps. Don’t fall for another gimmicky NO-booster that’s laden with ineffective arginine. Invest in Steep Pump™ for the most epic pumps and performance you’ve ever witnessed!

References

  1. Harris MB, Mitchell BM, Sood SG, Webb RC, Venema RC. Increased nitric oxide synthase activity and Hsp90 association in skeletal muscle following chronic exercise. European journal of applied physiology. 2008;104(5):10.1007/s00421-008-0833-4. doi:10.1007/s00421-008-0833-4.
  2. Bailey SJ, Winyard PG, Vanhatalo A, et al. Acute L-arginine supplementation reduces the O2 cost of moderate-intensity exercise and enhances high-intensity exercise tolerance. J Appl Physiol. 2010;109(5):1394-1403. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00503.2010.
  3. Perez-Guisado J, Jakeman PM. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J strength Cond Res. 2010;24(5):1215-1222. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cb28e0.
  4. Alvares TS, Conte CA, Paschoalin VMF, et al. Acute l-arginine supplementation increases muscle blood volume but not strength performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab = Physiol Appl Nutr  Metab. 2012;37(1):115-126. doi:10.1139/h11-144.
  5. McConell GK, Huynh NN, Lee-Young RS, Canny BJ, Wadley GD. l-Arginine infusion increases glucose clearance during prolonged exercise in humans. Am J Physiol Metab. 2006;290(1):E60-E66. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00263.2005.
  6. Paul V, Ekambaram P. Involvement of nitric oxide in learning & memory processes. The Indian Journal of Medical Research. 2011;133(5):471-478.
  7. Lewis SJ, Bhopatkar MY, Walton TM, Bates JN. Role of voltage-sensitive calcium-channels in nitric oxide-mediated vasodilation  in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Eur J Pharmacol. 2005;528(1-3):144-149. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2005.10.056.

Simple BCAA Gummy Recipe

It’s Halloween Time! Stay on track with your fitness goals with this simple BCAA gummy recipe to curb your sweet tooth without the extra calories.

Not just for Halloween, BCAA gummies are also a great pre, intra, or post workout snack year-round to prevent muscle loss and enhance muscle repair and growth. Each serving contains 24 grams of protein and a full serving of BCAAs.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Scoop of your favorite Steel Fuel BCAAs
  • 3 Packets of Knox Unflavored Gelatin
  • ½ Cup Hot Water
    • Tip: Use a coffee machine such as a Keurig to dispense hot water quickly without having to heat it on a stove.
  • Candy Mold or Ice-Cube Tray
  • Make Them Sour:
    • ½ Cup Superfine Sugar
    • 5 TSP Citric Acid Powder

Directions:

  1. Mix together 3 packets of gelatin, Steel Fuel BCAA, and hot water together until powered is fully dissolved.
  2. Pour mixture into either a candy mold or ice cube tray.
  3. Freeze for 20 minutes or until gummies can be removed easily.
  4. Carefully pop your gummies out of their mold and enjoy.
  5. To Make Them Sour: Combine ½ a cup superfine sugar with 5 tsp citric acid powder. Lightly sprinkle over BCAA gummies.

What Are BCAAs and Why Are They Important?

Spend any time talking to trainers at the gym or browsing the aisles of your local supplement shop, and you’ll hear recommendations from numerous people stating how vital BCAAs are to your training. The problem is, you have no clue what a BCAA is, or what it really does.

Sit back and take a deep breath, you haven’t missed out on any gains or gained any fat by not using them during your workout, but you could be missing out on some key muscle-building and recovery benefits by not using them while training. That’s where this no-nonsense guide to BCAAs comes in handy.

After reading this, you’ll know all the ins and outs of BCAAs and what they can do for you!

What are BCAA’s?

In the body, there are 20 amino acids used to synthesize proteins. String enough of these proteins together and you build muscle. The 20 amino acids can be grouped into two categories: essential or non-essential. Essential amino acids (EAAs) are the nine amino acids must be consumed through the diet, since the body cannot produce them. Non-essential amino acids are ones which the body can synthesize.

BCAAs, short for branched-chain amino acids, are a special subgroup of essential amino acid comprised of leucine, isoleucine and valine. The BCAAs get their name from the unique “branch”-like structure they possess. Together, the three BCAAs account for roughly 35% of your muscle mass, which is part of the reason why they’re so important!

BCAAs can be found in whole foods, particularly animal protein, of which dairy and meat are the most plentiful.

What do BCAAs do?

Due to their unique structure, the BCAAs can perform a rather neat “trick” in the body. Basically, rather than get sent to the liver for processing, the BCAAs are sent directly to your muscles where they are oxidized (“broken down”) for use as energy during ATP production. The BCAAs are converted into glucose, pyruvate, and various other intermediates required by the body, where they increase the availability of carbohydrates and protect muscles against exercise-induced catabolism (muscle breakdown).

Perhaps even more important than providing energy to your muscles, is the fact that BCAAs stimulate muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth). So, not only are these three mighty amino acids great for preserving your muscles while dieting and training, they also help your muscles to grow bigger and stronger!

You’re probably thinking that you should be consuming BCAAs all the time, well, that’s not ideal either, as your body needs all 9 essential amino acids in order to build proteins, and consuming only the three BCAAs would mean you’re lacking in 6 other important amino acids. Plus, the other EAAs compete for the same receptors in your body as the BCAAs, so if you’re overloading on the BCAAs, you’re essentially bottlenecking your muscle building abilities.

It is important to maintain a steady stream of amino acids before, during, and after training though, as this provides the energy your muscles need to perform as well as prevent muscle loss and enhance muscle repair and growth.

When to use BCAAs?

BCAAs are most important to use for hard-training athletes who may be at risk for catabolism due to the intense nature of their workouts or those following a very low calorie diet. This essentially breaks down to three classes:

  • Resistance-Training (Weightlifters): Resistance training is the key to getting bigger and stronger, but to do so requires you to breakdown your muscles so that they repair and grow. Using BCAAs before, during, and after your training provides the energy your muscles need to perform as well as stave off excessive catabolism, which could lead to significant muscle breakdown, i.e. lost gains.
  • Endurance Athletes: Endurance athletes train for hours on end without getting in any form of nutrition, setting them up massive muscle loss. But, consuming some form of BCAA supplement while training prevents this breakdown and helps preserve lean muscle mass.
  • Dieters: During periods of reduced calorie intake, your body is at an increased risk for muscle loss. In an effort to make up for the lack of calories you’re consuming, the body will cannibalize itself to get the required energy it needs to keep functioning. Consuming BCAAs (and ample protein) while dieting staves off catabolism, and ensures that you’re only losing fat and not muscle.

BCAA Benefits

  • Stimulates muscle protein synthesis
  • Increases lean mass
  • Prevents catabolism
  • Improves endurance
  • Enhances mental performance
  • Accelerates recovery
  • Reduces soreness

Wrap Up

BCAAs are absolutely essential for optimal performance and muscle growth. Without these three amino acids, your ability to build muscle will be severely limited. But, with BCAAs by your side, your performance, growth, and recovery will be better than ever before.

References

  1. Md. Monirujjaman and Afroza Ferdouse, “Metabolic and Physiological Roles of Branched-Chain Amino Acids,” Advances in Molecular Biology, vol. 2014, Article ID 364976, 6 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/364976
  2. Blomstrand E, Ek S, Newsholme EA. Influence of ingesting a solution of branched-chain amino acids on plasma and muscle concentrations of amino acids during prolonged submaximal exercise. Nutrition. 1996;12(7-8):485-490.
  3. Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent J, Bell PG, French DN. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012;9:20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-20.
  4. Blomstrand, P. et.al. “Administration of Branched-Chain Amino Acids During Sustained Exercise – Effects on Performance and On Plasma Concentration of Some Amino Acids.” European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology (1991), 83-88, Accessed November 20, 2014, doi: 10.1007/BF00235174

What is Blood Flow Restriction / Occlusion Training?

The field of sports science is a constantly evolving one, with new discoveries made everyday in our quest to understand the inner workings of the ultimate machine — the human body. For the longest time, it was thought that the only way to get bigger and stronger was by lifting heavier and heavier weights.

While it is true that you can get incredibly big and strong lifting progressively heavier weights, every natural athlete has a ceiling they hit. At some point, you’ll simply reach a plateau and any further gains will be minimal at best.

Does this mean that you’re forever stuck at a certain size and strength level?

Not even close, as modern research has unveiled a new method of weight training that allows you to get bigger and stronger using lighter weights than you’re used to.

It’s called BFR training, and if you’re not familiar with it, stick around to learn a thing or two!

What is BFR / Occlusion Training?

Blood flow restriction (BFR) training, also known as occlusion training, is a newer training methodology using cuffs or wraps placed around a limb during weight training. These wraps allow for arterial inflow of blood into the working muscle with inhibiting venous return. BFR training forces blood to stay inside your muscles longer than normal, which influences muscle physiology in several ways.

During weight training, metabolic waste products accumulate in your working muscles. Blood is responsible for clearing these metabolic byproducts from your working muscles and supplying them with oxygen and nutrients to allow them to continue functioning at a high level. BFR training slows the rate at which these waste products are cleared from your muscles, allowing them to stay around longer, thereby eliciting a more greater anabolic effect in your body.[1] In other words, by restricting blood flow, you’re amplifying the effects of metabolic stress in your muscle cells, which results in better growth after training.

Research has shown that BFR training increases mTOR and lowers myostatin levels in the body which creates an environment that is ideal for muscle growth.[2,3] In case you weren’t aware, myostatin is a protein that inhibits muscle cell growth and differentiation. By rendering myostatin inert, you’re removing another impediment on the pathway for making gains in size and strength.

Resistance training also forces cells to swell and expand with nutrients and fluid, which also happens to be another signal for muscle growth in your body. Occlusion training increases this “cellular swelling” and lengthens the amount of time your cells stay swollen, which tells the body the muscles need to grow bigger to adapt to the increased metabolic stress.

BFR Training How-To

BFR training can be done with weight lifting, walking, jogging, or really any other training modality. Simply take a some form of pressure cuff, wrap or ace bandage that can be used to wrapped around your limbs. SteelFit® offers our own Blood Flow Restriction Training Sleeves that also retain heat while stimulating growth and aiding in recovery. Tighten the bandage (or SteelFit® BFR Training Sleeves) so that it’s at a 7 out of 10 tightness (10 being as tight as possible). Make sure to wrap the bandage/cuff/ BFR Training Sleeves around the top of the muscle. If the wraps are placed too low, venous occlusion isn’t optimal and you won’t get the full intended training effect from blood flow restriction.

Don’t wrap the bandage so tight as to induce tingling or numbness — the bandage is too tight then. Wrapping the bandage too tight cuts off blood flow to the muscles, which defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to accomplish with BFR training. When starting out, it’s better to err on the side of a bit too loose than too tight until you get the hang of things.

BFR Training Benefits

  • Train with Lighter Loads (20-30% of 1RM)
  • Increased Muscle Size and Strength
  • Good for Rehabbing Athletes
  • MASSIVE Pumps
  • Great for Muscle Gain

References

  1. Gentil P, Oliveira E, Bottaro M. Time under tension and blood lactate response during four different resistance training methods. J Physiol Anthropol. 2006;25(5):339-344.
  2. Fry CS, Glynn EL, Drummond MJ, et al. Blood flow restriction exercise stimulates mTORC1 signaling and muscle protein synthesis in older men. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2010;108(5):1199-1209. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01266.2009.
  3. Laurentino GC, Ugrinowitsch C, Roschel H, et al. Strength training with blood flow restriction diminishes myostatin gene expression. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(3):406-412. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318233b4bc.

Top 10 Foods to Increase Testosterone Levels

Testosterone is the ultimate anabolic hormone. It’s what helps you build muscle, lose fat, and feel vibrant each and every day. Essentially, testosterone is what makes a man, a MAN!

Sadly, while your T-levels might be raging through teenage and young adult life as you cross the 30 year old threshold, you testosterone levels begin a slow and steady decline that continues until you take your final rest.

Does this mean you’re doomed to a dull life, one lacking in muscle and sex drive?

It very well could if you’re not eating the right foods! That’s where we come in with this list of the top 10 foods that work to enhance testosterone production and inhibit excess estrogen production.

Grab your knife and fork and let’s dive into this man-making meal plan!

Top 10 Test-Boosting Foods

1. Cruciferous Vegetables

You should have listened to your mom when she told you to eat your veggies, they’re vital to limiting estrogen proliferation and supporting testosterone productions. Vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are packed with indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a phytochemical that prevents “bad” estrogens from building up in the body.

Next time you’re at dinner, grab an extra serving of one of these tasty greens!

2. Oysters

Oysters are slippery, slimy, and utterly delicious little bivalves. They’re packed with protein and tons of micronutrients, including zinc, an essential mineral. Zinc plays a critical role in testosterone production and also functions as a natural aromatase inhibitor (AI), which blocks the estrogen receptor site.

Zinc optimizes the crucial testosterone:estrogen and helps ensure your precious T isn’t converted to unwanted E.

3. Brazil Nuts

Selenium is another essential mineral required by the body for all sorts of processes, none the least of which is testosterone production. It’s vital to male fertility and plays a key role in the production of testosterone. Unfortunately, most men don’t get enough selenium through their diets.

Including a serving of Brazil Nuts each day provides you with ample selenium to make certain your testosterone production is never hindered.

4. Salmon

Cortisol is a hormone that the body produces in response to stress. It activates your “fight or flight” response, and at certain times, can be incredibly useful. However, when it’s chronically elevated, your body will sacrifice other hormones (i.e. testosterone) to support your stress response, and continue producing cortisol.

Salmon, and other fatty fish, are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids which help combat inflammation and stress. Just make sure to get the wild species of salmon found in the Pacific Ocean, and not the omega-6 laden farm-raised type of the Atlantic.

5. Spinach

More veggies? You better believe it!

Spinach is rich in magnesium, which has been shown to improve testosterone levels when supplemented. It’s also rich in nitrates which improve blood flow to ALL areas of the body, including the ones you’ll be using during your late night romps in the bed!

6. Vitamin D3

One of the biggest deficiecies among adults these days is Vitamin D. This is mostly attributed to adults spending more and more time commuting, working indoors, or watching tv and less time outdoors (the body produces Vitamin D when exposed to direct sunlight).

The biggest concern to men deficient in Vitamin D3 Decreased T levels.

Fortunately, supplementing Vitamin D3 can correct this deficiency, increase testosterone levels, and regulate aromatase activity in the body.

7. Oats

A staple of any gym-goers meal plan, oats not only help power your performance in the gym, they also power your testosterone production too! Oats contain steroidal saponins, which stimulate the production of luteinizing hormone (LH), directly influencing the production of testosterone. They also reduce sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) which increases free testosterone levels in the blood.

Oats are also high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, which is why they’re always on our menu!

8. Pineapple

Ready for a tropical treat? In addition to being a tasty dessert or side dish at any meal, pineapples also can enhance your testosterone levels. The tropical fruit is loaded with an enzyme called bromelain. Research has shown that bromelain maintains testosterone levels after intense training.

So, if you’re training especially hard lately, and feeling more rundown than ever. Start adding more pineapple to your diet. Your recovery will substantially improve and you’ll prevent your T levels from falling off a cliff due to the constant hard training.

9. Eggs

Another staple of a proper muscle-building diet. Eggs aren’t only rich in protein and brain-boosting choline, they’re also packed with cholesterol. Unfairly demonized for decades, dietary cholesterol is the cardiac killer you might believe it to be. In fact, it’s absolutely crucial to testosterone production, as cholesterol is the precursor for testosterone.

You can have your three eggs per day, and rest at ease, as research shows that subjects consuming three whole eggs per day did so without adversely affecting serum cholesterol levels.

10. Red Meat

Much like eggs, red meat has been put through the wringer for years and years for fear that the saturated fats contained in it would clog your arteries and send you to an early grave. Well, not only are saturated fats good for you, they’re essential to the synthesis of testosterone.

Men following low-fat diets have been shown to have significantly lower testosterone levels than men eating higher fat diets. In particular, saturated fats are documented to have a strong correlation to higher resting levels of testosterone.

So, feel free to order the filet mignon next time you’re out at the restaurant and save the chicken for another meal.