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.

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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.

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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.

Common adaptogens and athletic performance

Adaptogens are a class of herbs known for their ability to boost the body’s tolerance to stress, fatigue, and sickness.

For a more in depth look into what adaptogens are and how they work, check out one of my previous articles here.

The role adaptogens play in increasing athletic performance, however, is less well known. In this article, we’re going to examine the scientific evidence surrounding some common adaptogens and their ability to improve athletic performance.

Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea)

Roseroot increases time to exhaustion and VO2 max.

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. Generally, the better shape you’re in, the higher your VO2 max is going to be.

A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old male is about 42ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old female is about 32ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. To put these values in perspective, Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain’s VO2 max was reported at 88 mL of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A highly trained athlete is that much more efficient at using oxygen than the average Joe.

The time to exhaustion test is quite simple. To perform the test, the participant must maintain a certain work rate. The time to exhaustion is the time between the beginning of the test and the moment the participant can no longer maintain the required work rate.

A study consisting of 12 healthy but untrained male and female participants tested roseroot’s effect on VO2 max and time to exhaustion. Participants took either one 100 milligram dose right before VO2 max testing or took a lower dose for 4 weeks. Both dosing regimes increased VO2 max and time to exhaustion.

A second study measuring VO2 max alone, wasn’t as promising. Fourteen males took roseroot for 4 weeks prior to testing. All the men were between the ages of 18 and 29 and were well trained. In this group, the roseroot had no effect on VO2 max.

One study has measured the effects of roseroot on power output.

Power is the amount of work that can be done in a given period of time. Work is a measure of energy transfer on an object. If, for example, a person moves a block along the ground, it means that person is doing work on that block. Power would be calculated by dividing the work done on the block by time.

The study measuring VO2 max and time to exhaustion in healthy untrained males and females also measured power output. No significant changes were noted.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Eleuthero is Siberian ginseng. One study conducted in 1986 concluded that taking eleuthero can increase anaerobic running capacity. Anaerobic means in the absence of oxygen. It’s the type of running that would make you out of breath, like sprinting.

The study involved 6 trained men between the ages of 18-44. They each took 4 millilitres of a concentrated liquid eleuthero herbal extract for 8 days. Then, they performed a VO2 max test. The researchers also measured time to fatigue.

The men in the study who took eleuthero for 8 days before the test had a higher VO2 max and a longer time to fatigue.

While the study is well designed, the effect wasn’t robust, and it only involved 6 people. More researched is needed to make any definitive conclusions about eleuthero and athletic performance.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)

Schisandra is a plant whose berry extracts have been shown to increase circulating levels of nitric oxide in 71 male and female athletes. Nitric oxide is a molecule naturally produced by the body that increases vasodilation – blood vessels widen to increase blood flow.

The men and women involved in the study took Schisandra prior to competition and the authors measured circulating nitric oxide in the athlete’s saliva. Based on this measurement, nitric oxide increased as a result of the supplement.

Maral (Rhaponticum carthamoides) root

Rhaponticum carthamoides is a plant source of ecdysteroids and is commonly referred to as Maral Root or Russian Leuzea. Ecdysteroids are a type of steroid hormone widely marketed to athletes as a dietary supplement. They’re advertised as being able to increase strength and muscle mass as well as reduce fatigue and ease recovery.

Rats fed 50mg/kg of ecdysone over the course of 28 days had a grip strength that was 18% stronger than the group that was not given any ecdysone. Grip strength or power output after rhaptonticum carthamoides supplementation has not been assessed in humans.

Adaptogens have a long scientific history of reducing fatigue and helping the body adapt to stress. Research into adaptogens increasing athletic performance is less mature. Despite the relative infancy of the field, the documented safety of common adaptogens like roseroot, eleuthero, Schisandra, and Rhaponticum carthomoides make them a worthy candidate for the supplement stack of anyone trying to bust through a plateau or reach a new personal best.

Sources and further reading

Roseroot

Eleuthero

Schisandra

Rhaponticum carthamoides

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Taurine: Frequently Asked Questions

Taurine is an organic acid found in large amounts in the brain, retina, and blood. It is a “conditional amino acid”, meaning it can be manufactured by the body when insufficient amounts are ingested from the diet.

Taurine has many different functions throughout the body and several uses in modern medicine. For example, it acts as a stabilizer of cell membranes and helps out a few different anti-oxidant defense systems; it is used to treat congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and liver disease; it is used in seizure disorders, autism, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder; and supplementation has been shown to improve performance in athletes. Some are a direct result of the actions of taurine, others occur through taurine’s influence on other molecules.

With so many different effects and applications, it’s easy to get confused trying to sort out what taurine does, and what it doesn’t do.

With this article, I’m going to tackle some of the most frequently asked questions about taurine.

If you’re looking for some general information about taurine and taurine supplementation, check out this previous article of mine.

#1: Is taurine a stimulant?

A stimulant refers to a compound that increases the activity of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), that is pleasurable and invigorating, or stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.

On its own, taurine doesn’t seem to be a stimulant because it doesn’t fit these criteria.

While some studies have shown improvements in athletic performance and exercise capacity, this is likely occurring through taurine’s capacity as an antioxidant and membrane stabilizer, or through some function of taurine that hasn’t quite been identified yet.

Taurine is sometimes mistaken as a stimulant because a few studies have suggested taurine combined with caffeine improves mental performance. And because you’ll often find taurine listed as an ingredient in energy drinks.

#2: Is taurine a diuretic?

A diuretic is a compound that increases the production of urine.

It’s a little unclear as to whether taurine is a diuretic or not. I was able to find two studies saying it is, but one was done in hamsters and the other was super small.

The one study that was done in humans involved 8 patients with damage to their livers from liver disease. These patients had taurine added to their i.v. bag one day, had their urine volume measured, then had extra saline added to their i.v. bag the next day to serve as their own control.

A study with a sample size this small, which only included people with advanced liver disease, doesn’t allow you to draw too many conclusions. So, for now, the jury is still out on whether taurine is a diuretic.

#3: Is taurine a sleep aid?

In short, no.

Taurine is involved in the creation of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and it increases in the body with long periods of being awake. It also activates GABA(A) receptors in a region of the brain associated with sleep regulation.

These properties have led people to think that taurine is useful as a sleep aid.

However, the only study with good results suggesting taurine was useful for promoting sleep was done in fruit flies.

Studies done in rats showed minimal effects and the one study involving people didn’t show good results either.

#4: Can you take taurine before bed?

Taurine on its own is not a stimulant. So, yes, it can be taken before bed without any risk of disrupting your sleep.

Do be careful about other ingredients that might be appearing alongside taurine though. Often you’ll find taurine in energy drinks or pre-workout supplements, which contain caffeine and other stimulants that may make it difficult to fall asleep.

#5: Does taurine help with stress?

Taurine can be found in many different regions of the brain and can be taken in by neurons. In people, taurine levels found in the blood are related to depression.

One study examined the effect of taurine supplementation on chronically stressed rats.

The researchers supplemented rats with taurine before stress and measured changes in depression-like behavior, hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammatory factors, and neurotrophic factors.

The animals given taurine had decreased depression-like behaviors and displayed beneficial changes in many of the hormones and other factors measured. Based on the changes the researchers observed, they concluded that taurine may be involved in regulating the HPA axis (the master regulator of the stress response).

While these results have not been tested in humans, taurine does seem pretty promising in being able to help the brain cope with stress.

Conclusion

Taurine is found in many different parts of the body. Because it is so widespread, it plays many different roles in human physiology. Some science has discovered and characterized already, many remain active areas of research.

What do we know taurine does? Taurine is an antioxidant, it stabilizes cell membranes, it improves athletic performance and exercise capacity, it is beneficial for mental performance when combined with caffeine, it can safely be taken before bed, and it likely helps with stress management.

What doesn’t taurine do? Taurine is not a stimulant, it doesn’t seem to be a diuretic, and it is not a sleep aid.

Do you use taurine in your supplement stack? Have you had any personal experiences with it that don’t line up with what’s published about it in the science world? Let me know about it in the comments below. And please subscribe to the blog to get updates when new articles are posted!

Sources and further reading

Effect Of Taurine Supplementation On Exercise Capacity Of Patients With Heart Failure

The Effect Of Acute Taurine Ingestion On Endurance Performance And Metabolism In Well-trained Cyclists

A taurine and caffeine-containing drink stimulates cognitive performance and well-being

Taurine-induced diuresis and natriuresis in cirrhotic patients with ascites.

Effect of taurine and caffeine on sleep-wake activity in Drosophila melanogaster.

Effect of taurine on ethanol-induced sleep time in mice genetically bred for differences in ethanol sensitivity.

Effect of caffeine and taurine on simulated laparoscopy performed following sleep deprivation.

Antidepressant effect of taurine in chronic unpredictable mild stress-induced depressive rats.

Do you need carbohydrates? A nutritional panel weighs in.

We are all trying to find an edge, something that will take us and our performance to the next level.

That edge takes the form of supplements. It takes the form of new training regimes. It takes the form of sport psychology.

It also takes the form of diet.

We have become increasingly aware of the intimate link between the types of food ingested and its impact on performance.

Scientific studies on the ketogenic diet and low carb diets have exponentially increased in the past 10 years. While research has undoubtedly added to the growing body of knowledge regarding how the body metabolizes different sources of fuel and what the human body needs to function optimally, it has also muddied the waters.

Some scientists believe we’ve become so enamored with the next big thing in the diet world, that we’ve forgotten what we’ve already known for centuries: carbohydrates are essential for optimal physical performance.

Carbs are essential is a conclusion drawn by an expert panel who convened in 2018 to discuss the latest science on macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) needs for physical activity.

The panel consisted of Dr. Lawrence Spriet from the University of Guelph – a prolific researcher who studies the role of diet on exercise performance; Dr. Janet Rankin from Virginia Tech – a leader in the application of sports nutrition research and principles; Dr. Katherine Beals from the University of Utah – a certified specialist in sports dietetics; and Dr. Bob Murray – a former Gatorade Sports Science Institute director and researcher and lecturer in the area sports nutrition.

The panel agreed on the necessity of carbohydrates for physical performance, especially for high intensity exercise.

Do you do high intensity exercise? Then you need carbohydrates in your diet

More people than ever are doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and other forms of high intensity exercise. It cracked many published lists as one of the top fitness trends for 2019.

High intensity training allows you to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time, it increases your metabolic rate for hours after you’ve finished working out, it is associated with increased fat loss, and it can reduce heart rate and blood pressure. These are just a few of the known benefits.

High intensity exercise requires lots of energy.

Energy in the body is supplied in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

ATP is the biological molecule used by cells of your body as energy to do work. That work may be building new structures, breaking down old structures, and making your muscles move.

Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates can all be used to generate ATP to do work. How they get there is different for each macronutrient.

Proteins are used to generate ATP as a last resort.

The path to ATP from protein looks like this:

Protein –> Amino acids –> Keto acid –> Acetyl-CoA

Acetyl-CoA sugar is then used to generate ATP.

The path from fat to ATP looks something like this:

Fat –> Free fatty acid –> Acetyl-CoA

Finally, the path from carbohydrates to ATP:

Sugar –> Pyruvate –> Acetyl-CoA

High intensity exercise requires the use of fast-twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are capable of breaking down proteins and fats to generate ATP, but they prefer carbohydrates because it is the only macronutrient broken down fast enough to support high-intensity exercise.

If you work out at a high intensity regularly, you definitely need carbohydrates.

Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in the body. You can find it in the liver and in muscle.

Glycogen stores in fast-twitch muscles are the primary source of fuel during high-intensity exercise.

Data suggest that most athletes do not eat enough carbohydrates after they exercise to fully replenish glycogen stores.

If you don’t replenish glycogen stores, you end up with low glycogen in your muscle, your muscle has less fuel to generate ATP, and you cannot perform at your best.

The panel referred to a serious competitor who trained for four hours a day or more. They cited this competitor’s carbohydrate needs at a whopping 3,800 carbohydrate calories per day as required to maintain a high level of performance for an extended period of time.

Most of us don’t fall into this category of strenuous competition, but if you’re are an avid exerciser and doing high-intensity workouts on a regular basis, you are probably not fully replenishing your glycogen stores between workouts and your performance could be suffering as a result.

If you’re an avid exerciser doing high-intensity workouts on a regular basis and you’re on a low carb diet, your performance is definitely suffering during your workouts. You need carbohydrates to perform at your best.

How much carbohydrates do you need in your diet?

The panel of experts suggested 5-7 g/kg bodyweight for moderate exercisers and up to 8-12 g/kg bodyweight for very heavy exercisers.

Immediately before exercise and during exercise, high-carbohydrate foods and beverages are best. These are rapidly absorbed and provide muscles with the energy they need to maintain high-intensity performance.

Immediately after exercise, carbohydrate rich foods that can be quickly digested and absorbed can alter the hormonal environment in the body to support glycogen resynthesis.

Conclusion

The recent popularity of the ketogenic diet has led to many people avoiding carbohydrates in their diet. As more studies are conducted, research is synthesized, and critically evaluated the expert panel who convened in 2018 think we are going to relearn something about carbohydrates that we’ve known for decades: that they are essential for supporting high-intensity performance.

References and further reading

High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance