Creatine: Its many benefits beyond strength and power (Part 2)

Creatine has been a staple supplement in the gym bags of bodybuilding and weight training aficionados for decades. That’s because creatine acts as a storage vessel for phosphate in muscle cells, which makes ATP regeneration more efficient and gives muscles that extra bit of energy they need to push harder for longer.

For a refresher on creatine biology, check out Part 1.

Increased energy production means an increase in maximal strength and resistance training volume, leading to bigger gains and bigger muscle size.

Continued research into this wonder supplement has revealed a multitude of other health benefits. In this article (Part 2 of our series on creatine) we’re discussing the many health benefits of creatine supplementation.

  1. Creatine helps with hydration and thermoregulation

Creatine is osmotically active, which means it attracts water. And, since creatine is predominantly stored in muscle cells, water is drawn and retained there. Increased water within muscle cells means increased hydration status.

That alone is good for performance. But it also has another benefit: thermoregulation.

Your body has an optimal temperature. It lies between 37 and 37.8 degrees Celsius – a pretty narrow window. If your core temperature drifts beyond this range, it cannot function properly. Thermoregulation is the process that allows your body to maintain core temperature between 37 and 37.8 degrees.

Increased water retention in muscle cells can improve thermoregulation. The more hydrated your muscles, the better you can control body temperature.

  1. Creatine improves sprinting ability

Creatine supplementation can increase sprint performance.

Eighteen well-trained sprinters consumed 20 grams of creatine (or no creatine as a control) and their sprinting ability was tested in two ways: a 100-meter sprint and six intermittent 60-meter sprints.

Creatine supplementation increased sprint velocity in the 100-meter sprint test and reduced the total time of the six intermittent 60-meter sprints.

  1. Creatine improves endurance and speed

Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in the body. Increased glycogen storage means more potential energy in case it is needed during exercise. Recent research suggests creatine can improve glycogen synthesis. Because of this ability, creatine has attracted the attention of scientists studying endurance.

A group at Australia Catholic University sought to test the effect of creatine on endurance performance. The researchers gave 18 male cyclists and triathletes creatine, or placebo, combined with a diet either moderately high in carbohydrates or high in carbohydrates.

The athletes in the study were then subjected to long distance performance trials interspersed with short sprints.

The authors of the study were able to conclude that creatine leads to greater power in both moderate and carb-loaded groups. Creatine with a moderate carbohydrate diet increased muscle glycogen stores by 53%.

  1. Creatine enhances recovery and prevents injury

Studies show creatine supplementation leads to faster glycogen re-synthesis after workouts, less muscle cramping, and fewer incidences of muscle tightness or strain.

Fourteen healthy, male volunteers participated in a study testing the effect creatine supplementation has on glycogen re-synthesis after exercise. The men participating cycled to exhaustion. Then they took a creatine supplement or a placebo.

The group taking the creatine supplement had increased muscle glycogen in the 24 hours following the exhaustive exercise. Improved glycogen re-synthesis following exhaustive exercise could mean improved exercise performance during repeated exercise and an overall increase in training volume. Both of which could lead to enhanced physical gain.

Researchers at Baylor University looked at the incidence of cramping in NCAA Division IA football players over the course of a 4-month season. The athletes took 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of bodyweight once a day for 5 days. Then 0.03 grams per kilogram after workouts, practices, and games.

The athletes taking creatine experienced less cramping, muscle tightness, muscle strains, and total injuries compared to the players not taking creatine.

  1. Creatine leads to better bones and brains

In older women, creatine supplementation aids bone health.

Thirty-three women with an average age of 57 participated in a 12-month study. All women in the study took 0.1 grams of creatine per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Half of the women partook in a resistance training program 3 days per week while the other half did not.

After 1 year, the women who exercised and took the creatine supplement had a higher bone mineral density and had a better measurement on an indicator of bone strength.

How creatine is inducing these changes in bone isn’t definitive, but it likely is an indirect effect to creatine’s ability to stimulate muscle growth and development.

Creatine improves brain health in young and older populations. A systematic review of six studies looking at creatine and its effects on cognitive function suggested creatine can improve short-term memory and intelligence/reasoning in healthy people. Short term memory is your capacity for holding a small amount of information for a short period of time. The systematic review was not able to draw any conclusions on the effect of creatine on other aspects of cognitive function.

Low creatine levels in the brain has also been linked to mental fatigue. Creatine supplementation can increase mental stamina.

In a task involving repeatedly performing a mathematical calculation, participants who took 8 grams of creatine per day for 5 days leading up to the trial experienced less mental fatigue as a result of the test. After taking the supplement, they also had increased cerebral oxygenated hemoglobin, which suggests increased oxygen usage in the brain.

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Do you take creatine? Let me know about your experiences with it in the comments below. Follow the blog and follow Healthy Wheys on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for notifications when new articles are posted.

Check in next week for Part 3 of the creatine series.

Sources and further reading

Why creatine could help you beat the heat

Not just for muscle building: Count the reasons you should take creatine

Creatine plus carbs gives endurance athletes breakaway speed

Creatine supplementation improves sprint performance in male sprinters

Creatine ingestion augments dietary carbohydrate mediated muscle glycogen supercompensation during the initial 24 h of recovery following prolonged exhaustive exercise in humans

Cramping and Injury Incidence in Collegiate Football Players Are Reduced by Creatine Supplementation

Effects of Creatine and Resistance Training on Bone Health in Postmenopausal Women

Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.

Effects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenation

 

 

 

Creatine: The basics (Part 1)

Next to protein powder, creatine is one of the most used and trusted supplements available. It’s trusted because it has a mountain of scientific research backing up its safety and its efficacy. It was first identified and named in 1832 when a scientist by the name of Michel Eugene Chevreul isolated it. That was over 100 years ago.

More than one hundred years of research has taught us a lot about what creatine can do. One hundred years is also a lot of time for misconceptions and misguided opinions about creatine to develop.

In this series of articles, we’re going to dive deep into creatine supplementation. In Part 1 (this article) we’re going to delve into what creatine is and what its function is biologically. Part 2 will cover the many benefits of creatine supplementation – it does more than just increase muscle mass and performance in the gym, and Part 3 will cover supplementation guidelines. We’ll talk about how much you need and when you need it.

This is a perfect series of articles if you’re new to creatine supplementation or if you’ve already been taking creatine and want to know more about it.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring organic compound. Naturally occurring means it exists by nature without any artificial aid and organic means it is characteristic of living things. This means you already have creatine stored within your body, even if you’re not taking a creatine supplement.

creatine

Creatine is mainly stored in muscle cells. We know this because that’s where Michel Eugene Chevreul isolated it from when he first identified it – the word creatine is based on the Greek word kreas, which means meat – and because scientists since then have used more sophisticated means to locate it in the body. Based on their results, it has been concluded that 95% of creatine is stored in muscle cells, and the other 5% is in the brain, kidneys, and liver.

What does creatine do?

Creatine was first discovered in 1832. It wasn’t until the 1920’s, however, that scientists understood its function. That nut was cracked open when researchers discovered creatine phosphate and determined creatine supported energy production in working muscle.

To understand the role creatine plays in energy production, we first have to understand adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.

** For a more in depth look at ATP and the different ways the body produces it, check out some other articles on Healthy Wheys: The essential guide to your body’s energy systems **

ATP is a complex organic chemical. Its basic chemical structure is an adenosine nucleotide bound to three phosphates. The chemical bonds between the phosphates in ATP is where the energy cells need to function is stored. Breaking the bond between the second and third phosphate releases that stored energy for use. When that bond is broken, ATP becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate).

In muscle cells, the energy produced from the breakdown of ATP is used for muscle contraction. Without ATP and those bonds between the phosphates breaking, muscles can not work.

To produce more energy, ADP has to become ATP again. This is where creatine phosphate comes in. Creatine can bind and hold a phosphate in muscle cells. It then transfers the phosphate to ADP to make it ATP again. The more creatine you have stored in muscle cells, the more creatine phosphate and the more phosphate available for ATP recycling. More ATP recycling means more energy is available for muscles to use.

When you take a creatine supplement, more creatine finds its way into muscle cells. That means that more phosphate can be stored and the energy potential of the muscle increases.

***

Let me know about your experiences with creatine supplementation in the comments. And give the blog a follow for updates when new articles are posted. Next week, in Part 2 of this series on creatine, we’re going to talk about the many health benefits of creatine on health and on performance in the gym.

Weight loss and aging: Changes to your exercise routine that make it easier (Part 3)

This is the final part of a 3-part series on weight loss and aging. Part 1 talked about why weight loss is more difficult beyond 40 – metabolism slows down 5% per decade, lean muscle is lost, the hormonal landscape within the body is completely different, and all of the bad eating habits you picked up in your 20’s and 30’s start to catch up with you.

Part 2 discussed a few simple changes to your eating habits that can help overcome weight loss barriers. This article, Part 3, is about your exercise routine.

What follows are some general guidelines about how much you should be exercising, the kind of exercise you should be doing, and the exercise intensity you should strive for.

How much exercise do you need?

With age, exercise needs to compensate for decreased activity levels and a slower metabolism. Considering these two factors, a good goal is to exercise every day for a total of 2-5 hours per week, depending on your current fitness level. If you’re relatively inactive at the moment, start by walking 20 minutes per day and work your way upwards to an hour of exercise per day.

What kind of exercise should you be doing?

Sarcopenia – lean muscle loss with age – is a primary contributor to a slowing metabolism as you get older. Resistance exercise is your best weapon to combat sarcopenia and preserve lean muscle mass as you age.

Resistance exercise is the type of exercise that requires you to move your limbs against resistance. That resistance can take the form of your bodyweight (push ups), elastic bands (bicep curls), weighted bars (barbell bench press), or dumbbells (shoulder press). Resistance exercise should account for 50% of your total exercise.

Here are some good examples of resistance exercises to target your core (muscles in the area of the belly and the mid and lower back), your lower body, and your upper body:

Core exercises

  1. The plank

The plank is an exercise that activates the muscles of your deep inner core: the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor. These are the muscles that support and control your spine and pelvis.

To do a proper plank, start with your hands and knees on the floor. Then lower your elbows to the floor and step your feet back one at a time. Your elbows should be at 90 degrees and shoulder width apart. Your heels all the way up to the top of your head should be a straight line.

  1. The roll out

The roll out targets your entire core, including the ones in your lower back. It can be done with a dedicated roller, round dumbbells, a barbell, or a gym ball.

Kneel on the ground with the roller directly in front of you. Lean forward until the roller is directly beneath your shoulders. Engage your core. Roll forwards as far as you can without your upper body sagging. Then, roll back to the starting position.

Lower body exercises

  1. Body weight squat

The bodyweight squat utilizes the quads, the glutes, the calf muscles, and several muscles of the core.

Start standing straight up with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward. Slowly bend at the knees and hips to lower your body. Throughout the entire movement your heels should be flat on the floor. Keep moving downwards until your thighs are parallel to the floor.

  1. Stability ball hamstring bridge

The stability ball hamstring bridge primarily targets the glutes and the hamstrings.

Start lying flat on your back with your feet together, resting on the top center of a stability ball. Your knees and hips are bent at about 90 degrees in the resting position. The arms lie flat at your side pointing towards your feet. Keeping your arms on the floor and your back straight, squeeze your glutes to raise your hips off the floor. The aim is to create a straight line from your shoulder down to your knees. The knees stay bent 90 degrees throughout the exercise.

Upper body exercises

  1. The push up

A classic for a good reason. The push up is a multi-joint exercise that encourages core stability. A push up uses the abdominal muscles, the deltoids, the chest muscles, stabilizing muscles in the lower and mid back, the triceps, the forearms, and the biceps.

Start with your feet together and your hands shoulder width apart right beneath the shoulder joint. Your heels to the top of your head should form a straight line. Keeping your core engaged, bend at the elbows to lower your body down towards the ground. Keep going lower until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and return to the top.

  1. The bent over row

The main muscles used during the bent over row are in the back, the latissimus dorsi, and the rhomboids.

A bent over row can be done with dumbbells, a barbell, or elastic bands. Holding the dumbbells with your palms facing down (pronated grip), bend your knees slightly and move your torso forward by bending at the waist. Keep going until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor and your arms hang perpendicular. The back should be completely flat throughout the entire exercise. Keeping the torso and the lower body stationary, lift the dumbbells toward your chest, bending the arms at the elbow. Hold at the top for a brief moment, then slowly lower the weights back towards the floor.

All resistance exercise should be light with a goal of 10-15 repetitions per movement.

***

This concludes our series on weight loss and aging. I hope you found it informational and useful. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below or contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you and help you out.

Weight loss and aging: Why it’s more difficult to lose weight with age (Part 1)

Maintaining an ideal weight is hard. It takes discipline. It takes dedication. It takes a lot of hard work. And that’s when you’re young.

Unfortunately, it gets even harder with age. By the time you’re blowing out 40 candles on your birthday, biology begins working against your weight loss efforts.

In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the features of aging that make weight loss more difficult. This is Part 1 of a 2 part series that will tell you why weight loss gets harder with age. Part 2 will cover some simple tweaks you can make to your diet and exercise routine that make weight loss over forty possible.

1) The older you are, the slower your metabolism gets

Your metabolism is the sum of all the life-sustaining chemical reactions that occur inside your body. These include the reactions that convert food to energy or building blocks for macromolecules (proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids) and those that lead to the elimination of nitrogenous wastes, which is vital for survival.

In ever day language, the word metabolism is often used as a synonym for metabolic rate, which is the amount of energy used in a given period of time. A day, for example. Metabolic rate is measured in calories. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body uses at rest.

Basal metabolic rate decreases with age by approximately 5% every ten years after 40. If your resting metabolic rate is 1,200 calories per day when you are 40, your resting metabolic rate when your 50 would be about 1,140 calories per day. At 60, your resting metabolic rate would be approximately 1,000 calories per day.

A decreasing basal metabolic rate with age means you could start eating a surplus of calories on a daily basis without any change in your eating habits or activity levels. This could lead to unwanted weight gain. For example, if your average daily intake of calories from your diet was 1,700 calories when you’re 40, you would have a 500 calorie surplus to be used as energy to fuel bodily functions and activities. Eating the same number of daily calories when you’re 50, results in a 560 calorie surplus. When you’re 60, that’s a calorie surplus of 700.

Age Basal Metabolic Rate Calorie Surplus
40 1,200 500
50 1,140 560
60 1,000 700
70 950 750
80 900 800

Based on a daily intake of 1700 calories and a basal metabolic rate of 1,200 at age 40.

2) You lose lean muscle mass with age.

As you get older, muscles decrease in size, muscle fibers begin getting replaced by fat, muscle tissue becomes more fibrotic, muscle metabolism changes, oxidative stress increases, and the neuromuscular junction degenerates. The medical term to describe these changes is sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia occurs at a rate of approximately 0.5-1% per year after the age of 50. Sarcopenia has a significant impact on weight loss with age because lean muscle drives metabolism. The more lean muscle you have the higher your resting metabolic rate is going to be. The higher your resting metabolic rate is, the more calories you’re going to burn and the easier it’s going to be to lose weight.

Sarcopenia is just one of the factors contributing to a slowing metabolism with age.

3) Hormones change with age

For men, testosterone drops as you age. Testosterone is a steroid hormone. When you’re young it plays a key role in the development of the male reproductive organs and promotes secondary sexual characteristics like increased bone and muscle mass and the growth of body hair. After puberty and into adulthood, testosterone is necessary for sperm development, it regulates the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, and it enhances muscle growth.

Decreasing testosterone levels with age in men contribute to decreasing lean muscle mass – which impacts metabolism – and less of a drive be active. Both of these factors can make weight loss more difficult for men in the later decades of life.

For women, with age comes menopause. With menopause comes changes in three hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.

Estrogen falls to a very low level after menopause. Low levels of this hormone are associated with hot flashes, night sweats, palpitations, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, bone loss, and vaginal dryness – many of the symptoms generally thought of during menopause.

Progesterone production stops after menopause and testosterone levels fall.

Changes in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have profound effects on the rest of the endocrine system. After the menopause the entire hormone environment is changed. These changes affect metabolism, sleep, and activity, which all impact the ability to lose weight.

4) The consequences of bad eating habits are more pronounced

Life tends to be busier and more active when you’re young. Think about everything you did in high school: gym class during the day, extracurricular sports in the evening, walk home, walk around the mall. You were always moving.

Your twenties weren’t much different. You chase a career to a big city where walking or biking is easier than driving, you take a low paying job that requires you to run around like a chicken on cocaine, and you spend the weekends “out.” Kids may have even appeared in this decade, which makes you reconsider ever having thought you were busy before.

A busy lifestyle when you’re young and have a fresh off the car lot, new car metabolism allows you to get away with a lot. You can eat an entire pizza at 2:00 a.m. You can eat ice cream whenever you crave it. A carb heavy pasta dish isn’t going to affect you at all. And, when you want to lose weight, just about any diet works.

When middle age begins to appear on the horizon, you start slowing down. Weekends are spent with a martini on the porch visiting with your neighbour; you get promoted to a desk job where people are doing the running around for you, and you can afford that nice car and the parking spot downtown that allows you to drive to work.

Because of decreased activity, slower metabolism, sarcopenia, and hormone changes with age, little things in your diet that could be overcome when you were young start to matter once you hit 40. In middle-age, everything – good and bad – starts to count.

**

A slower metabolism, lean muscle loss, hormonal changes, and bad eating habits are the main reasons losing weight after 40 is difficult. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Next week, we’re going to cover exercise and dietary changes you can use to lose weight at any age.

Sources and further reading

“Fighting 40s Flab” – WebMD

“Weight Loss After 40” – Isagenix podcast

7 things you absolutely need to know about training your core if you want to do it right

Core means “the central or most important part of something.”

With a definition like that, you know it’s something you should be paying attention to.

And you’re likely already aware of it. If you’ve spent any time in a gym, talked to a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach, or ever read anything about fitness, you’ve undoubtedly come across the word.

To the uninitiated, having a strong core means a sleek six pack. To the initiated, your core is a complex structure vital to efficient and powerful movement, proper balance and posture, and protection from undue wear and tear on the joints and muscles that make us prematurely age.

The core is made up of the pelvic girdle (a bony structure consisting of the hip bones, the sacrum, and the coccyx), the trunk (your torso), and the scapular region (muscles extending from the trunk and attaching to the shoulder blades).

Here are 7 things you absolutely need to know about core training if you want to do it right.

1) There are local and global muscles in the core region

Your core region has 29 pairs of muscles. They can broadly be grouped based on where they are located, what they look like, the type of muscle fibers they are made up of, and by how they function.

Based on these features, the muscles of the core region can be separated into local muscles and global muscles.

Local muscles are the ones that are deep and right next to the spine. If you’re a muscle anatomy nerd, these are the: multifidi, transversus abdominus, internal oblique, medial fibers of external oblique, quadratus lumborum, diaphgragm, pelvic floor muscles, and iliocostalis and lognissimus (lumbar portions).

The global muscles are superficial and mainly function to generate torque and joint movement. These are the: rectus abdominus, lateral fibers of external oblique, psoas major, erector spinae, ilicostalis (thoracic portion), and gluteus.

The stability of the spine relies on the coordination of the muscles in both groups.

Therefore, training programs should include exercises that engage local and global muscles.

Core exercises that engage the local core muscles are things like planks. Core exercises that will encourage local and global muscle groups to work together are moving into a push up position from standing (the whole time keeping the spine neutral and supported).

2) The spine has a neutral zone

The neutral zone of the spine is a position where movements can be performed without any tension being generated in non-contractile tissues (joints, ligaments, nerves, or cartilages).

An important goal of core training is to improve the body’s ability to maintain the neutral zone of the spine. Since the neutral zone involves less tension in non-contractile tissues, it means less unwanted wear and tear on these tissues while you move about doing activities.

Improving core stability to better maintain the neutral zone of the spine can be done by incorporating exercises that train local and global core muscle groups.

3) The order of muscle activation

The ideal pattern of activation is local muscles first, then global muscles.

Activation of local muscles first stabilizes the spine so that the limbs can move more efficiently. This pattern of activation is beneficial from a power generation standpoint and from a “this isn’t going to cause me a lot of pain at some point in the future” standpoint.

When spine stability doesn’t come first (i.e. global muscles are activated before local muscles) you make yourself a prime candidate for lower back pain.

If you’re reading this and you can feel that dull ache in your lower back, there is hope. Focus on exercises that incorporate:

  • unilateral resistance (one arm or one leg at a time – shoulder press, bicep curl, calf raise, and squats)
  • training on unstable bases
  • eyes closed (this helps train your muscle proprioceptors to make them more responsive)
  • hops, bounces, and jumps

4) Stability comes first

In order for stability to come first, local muscles must be able to stabilize.

Unfortunately, stability is often overlooked simply because core exercises that involve a lot of movement are much more popular than the static ones – probably because they look a lot cooler to do.

Research suggests, however, that static exercises are going to do a lot more for you in terms of improving spine stiffness and posture during athletic activities and during daily life.

For this reason, and because of what we talked about in the previous section about activating local muscles before global muscles, static core moves (planks and all their variations) should be done and mastered before moving on to the sexier dynamic exercises you see going on all around you.

5) The world is three-dimensional, your core training should be too

As you move around in this world, there are many different forces acting on you: there’s gravity, there’s the movement of the body, there’s lifting or supporting external loads, and there is the force created by muscular contractions.

Because we live in a three dimensional world, these forces push and pull on our body in three dimensions.

To prepare your body for the stresses and strains of everyday life, a proper core training program should include movements in all three dimensions.

6) The core is more than just the lower abs

The core has more muscles than most conventional training programs tend to utilize. It has muscles making up its floor, wall, and ceiling.

Because so many people in the world suffer from lower back pain, the muscles in close association with the lumbar spine tend to receive the most attention. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the strong relationship between lower trunk instability and lower back pain. But, a complete core training program should include all the core muscles.

The most often forgotten components of core training are the pelvic floor, the transverse abdominus, and the diaphragm.

7) Train your core’s reaction time

As we mentioned before, maintaining a neutral spine is important for life and sport. Ideally, we want muscles involved to spring into action quickly and efficiently when they are needed so they can function optimally.

Train your core muscles’ reaction time by using unstable bases.

Incorporating tools like Swiss balls, a BOSU, wobble boards, or foam pads causes disturbances in the body’s center of gravity.

Disturbing the center of gravity suddenly changes the position and length of muscles. Sensors within muscles (proprioceptors) sense these changes and generate reflexive action. The more sensitive proprioceptors are to changes in muscle tension and position, the better they will be at maintaining the stability of the spine.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve been able to convince you that core training is more than just doing exercises that will give you a six pack.

Your core is central and important to good spine health and efficient, pain-free movement. It’s role is to ensure the integrity of the spine and vital organs during movement, maintain body balance while we perform tasks, and transfer forces between lower and upper limbs.

The better and holistically the core is trained, the better able the core will be able to perform these tasks. Properly training the core means training local and global components, training to maintain a neutral spine, training proper muscular recruitment patterns, training to prepare for the demands of life and sport, and training all of the core.

Sources

Ten important facts about core training – American College of Sports Medicine

 

 

How much protein do you need before bed to increase muscle size and strength?

Resistance exercise – like lifting free weights, using a weight machine, or doing bodyweight exercises – breaks down muscle. And, at the same time, stimulates it to get stronger and bigger.

The balance between muscle degradation and the stimulus to get bigger and stronger is delicate and can be modified by things like your diet.

It has been known for a long time that eating or drinking protein immediately after exercise tips the balance in favor of getting bigger and stronger.

A new area of research is looking at the effect ingesting protein before sleep has on lean muscle gains.

Lots of muscle recovery and adaptation happens while you are asleep. Pre-sleep protein is a strategic time to increase overall protein intake and prime your body for maximal strength and size gains.

The effect pre-sleep protein has on overnight muscle protein synthesis

The rate of muscle protein synthesis tends to be lower at night compared to in the morning. Taking a protein supplement right before bed increases overnight muscle protein synthesis, which may be a good way to boost your net muscle protein synthesis rate.

Especially if you do some resistance exercise in the evening too.

Two studies, both coming out of the laboratory of Dr. Luc van Loon at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, tell us what we really need to know to take advantage of this concept.

The first study was done in 2012. The researchers took sixteen healthy young males, got them to do a single session of resistance-type exercise (i.e. lifting weights), gave them proper post-workout nutrition (20g of protein and 60g of carbohydrates), and then split the participants into two groups.

One group got 40g of protein 30 minutes before bed and the other was given a placebo.

The group that took protein before bed had higher rates of muscle protein synthesis.

The second study came along in 2017. This time more participants were used and a different amount of pre-sleep protein was given to the participants.

The structure of the study was the exact same: single session of resistance-type exercise, post-workout nutrition, and split into two groups, one getting protein before bed and the other getting placebo.

The difference: 30g of protein this time around.

This time the researchers did not see an increase in muscle protein synthesis rates in the group given a protein supplement 30 minutes before bed.

The long-term effects of pre-sleep protein on muscle mass and strength gains

Increasing muscle protein synthesis overnight is good, but, if you’re anything like me, maybe your curious what the long-term consequences would be.

Dr. van Loon covered this too.

In his 2015 study he put 44 young men on a 12-week resistance exercise training program. One group got protein before bed and the other got a placebo.

The group that ingested protein before bed experienced greater improvements in muscle strength and greater increases in muscle size compared to the group that got the placebo.

How much protein do you need and when?

When figuring out how much protein you need before bed to increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis, we really only have these three studies to rely on.

In the first study (2012) looking at muscle protein synthesis overnight, 40g of protein did the trick.

In the second study (2017), 30g of protein was not enough to increase muscle protein synthesis.

The long-term study used 27.5g of protein before bed and saw increased muscle strength and size.

What’s going on here?

The discrepancy between the 2017 study and the long-term study is a little confusing. Based on what we know, you can’t have an increase in muscle strength and size without having an increase in muscle protein synthesis.

However, the 2017 study and the long-term study seem to be suggesting just that. On the surface.

What may actually be happening here might just be due to math. Researchers must rely on something called statistical significance, which allows a person to attach a probability to the chances of them being right or wrong about something.

Just because the researchers in the 2017 study didn’t observe a statistically significant difference between the pre-sleep protein group and the placebo group doesn’t mean nothing was happening. The difference in muscle protein synthesis rate just might not have been large enough to reach that magic number.

If we choose to believe that pre-sleep protein before bed increases muscle protein synthesis rate, the results of the long-term study allow us to conclude that small increases over a long period of time will result in increased muscle strength and size.

Based on these studies, I would say you need at least 30g of protein 30 minutes before bed to experience muscle strength and muscle size gains.

30g of protein is about 4 ounces of lean ground beef or chicken breast. 5 ounces of salmon. Eight large egg whites. Or, a scoop and a half of a good protein supplement.

Conclusion

These studies conducted by Dr. van Loon in the Netherlands suggest that taking protein 30 minutes before you sleep will increase muscle protein synthesis and lead to increased muscle strength and size after at least 12 weeks of resistance training.

Based on these studies, I would say you need at least 30g of protein within 30 minutes of bedtime to experience these benefits.

What we still don’t know is the effectiveness of different types of protein (supplement versus food, for example) and how critical of a rule 30 minutes before bedtime is. Would an hour be better? Worse? The same?

As researchers look into this more and more we will get these answers one day. Until then, this is what we have to go on.

Have you tried protein before you go to sleep? Notice any changes in strength or muscle size? Let me know in the comments below.

Sources

Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery.

Presleep dietary protein-derived amino acids are incorporated in myofibrillar protein during postexercise overnight recovery

Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men.

An update on nitric oxide supplements: a direct link to lean muscle gain

If you’ve spent any time in a supplement store, you’ve undoubtedly come across nitric oxide (NO) supplements. They are part of every gym monkey’s pre-workout stack and are easily one of the most popular supplement categories out there.

For years manufacturers and scientists have touted NO’s ability to boost exercise performance and increase energy. These two benefits have largely been thought to be the reason for the link between NO and lean muscle gains.

Scientists are now discovering a more direct link between NO and hypertrophy (i.e. muscle growth).

How increased blood flow stimulates muscle growth

Skeletal muscle, the type of muscle you use when you exercise, is made up of many bundles of muscle fibers.

Muscle fibers, in turn, are bundles of myofibrils.

Oxygen is supplied to muscles by arteries. When you exercise, blood flow to the active muscle increases because the muscle needs more oxygen.

More blood flow causes fluid to pool in active muscles. This fluid pooling is what you probably recognize as a good swell when you’re working out.

When fluid builds up, it strains a structure within muscle cells called the sarcolemma. The strain then stimulates protein synthesis and hypertrophy. AKA your muscles get bigger over time.

Fluid build up is linked to hypertrophy through another mechanism too. Fluid build up threatens the structure of the whole muscle cell. To adapt and preserve its structure, the muscle cell will expand (get bigger).

How NO supplements work

NO is a small molecule. Its primary purpose in the body is to increase blood flow.

You can’t take NO directly. It’s a gas and it degrades into nitrogen and oxygen in about 5 seconds. NO supplements don’t actually contain NO. Instead, they contain ingredients that promote NO production from cells in the body.

These are things like L-arginine and L-citrulline.

Ingestion of L-arginine and L-citrulline promote the synthesis of NO, which increases blood flow.

How NO increases lean muscle gain

NO supplements increase lean muscle gain by increasing blood flow to working muscles. The increase in blood flow results in more fluid pooling, which strains the sarcolemma and threatens the structural integrity of the muscle cell. The muscle responds by getting bigger.

Sources and further reading

Effects of dietary sports supplements on metabolite accumulation, vasodilation, and cellular swelling in relation to muscle hypertrophy: A focus on “secondary” physiological determinants.