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 diet that make it easier (Part 2)

Losing weight is tough. Add a slowing metabolism, lean muscle loss, and a changing hormonal landscape to the equation and it gets even tougher. Last week, in Part 1 of this series, we went into why weight loss gets more difficult with age.

This week in Part 2, we’re going to discuss how the obstacles associated with age can be overcome with simple changes to your diet.

1) Become a weight loss marathoner

When you’re young, you approach weight loss as a series of sprints. Summer is coming, you lose ten pounds. Your best friend is getting married, you lose ten pounds. But winter rolls around and the shoes come off after the final dance and the weight goes right back on.

Your young body – being the well-oiled, high performance machine that is – responds to this kind of treatment because it can. So, you go through your twenties and most of your thirties learning the bad habits of yoyo dieting.

When you reach the tail end of your thirties, you begin to notice your tried and true diet strategies aren’t working as well as they used to. When you hit 40, they stop working all together.

You can’t be a diet sprinter anymore. After 40, your mindset has to change to that of a marathoner. When you’re older, it’s about doing the little things right day after day. It’s about baby steps. It’s about lifestyle change for the long haul.

2) No more late meals

People used to think that a calorie was a calorie no matter when you consumed it. And that the only thing that mattered for weight loss was calories in versus calories out. Research is changing people’s minds.

In 2013, researchers tested the effect of meal timing on weight loss. 420 people all at the same amount, they slept the same amount, and they exercised the same. The only thing that was different between the two groups in the study was the timing of their major meal of the day. One group ate it before 3 p.m. and the other ate it after 3 p.m. The group eating their major meal before 3 p.m. lost more weight than the group that ate their major meal after 3 p.m.

Another study looked at the effects of meal timing in healthy women. The participants in the study who ate lunch after 4:30 p.m. had a lower basal metabolic rate and glucose tolerance compared to the women in the study who ate their lunch at 1 p.m.

When you eat late – anywhere between dinner and bedtime – food consumed is more likely to be stored as fat.

Why this happens could have something to do with evolution. For our primal ancestors, food was scarce. Those who were able to store energy more efficiently would better be able to survive when food wasn’t available. Storing energy as fat is the most efficient way to store energy. One gram of fat holds 9 kcal of energy. Comparatively, one gram of protein or carbohydrates only holds 4 kcal of energy. These ancestors likely also ate in the evening under the cover and safety of darkness.

Those among our ancestors that ate in the evening and stored most of the food they consumed as fat had an evolutionary advantage, which means they survived to have offspring. We are descended from those offspring and have acquired the traits that made it possible for them to survive.

Another reason why eating late meals is associated with weight gain and difficulty losing weight has to do with the types of food eaten. People tend to crave sweet and salty in the evening, which tend to be higher in calories.

3) Meal quantities should change with age

With increasing age, eat less more frequently.

Large meals overwhelm the digestive system. You feel bloated as your body struggles to process what you just crammed into your stomach and blood sugar goes up and down like a roller coaster, dragging your energy levels and your mood along behind it. The bigger the meal, the bigger the crash afterwards. The bigger the crash, the more you’re going to crave sugary snacks to get you through the day.

As your body ages, the effects of large meals on the body is compounded.

Small meals less often stabilizes your blood sugar – indirectly your mood and energy as well – and maintains fatty acids in the blood at a constant level.

It also makes it easier to get all the nutrients you need in a day. One study conducted at the Queen Margaret’s University College of Edinbugh showed people who ate small meals more frequently on a regular basis ate healthier. The people in the study ate more fruits and vegetables and had higher levels of vitamin C and other nutrients than the participants who stuck to eating the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

4) What you eat matters

As you age, focus on consuming more protein and plants and less saturated fats.

Losing lean muscle is a problem with age, which makes adequate protein consumption to facilitate protein synthesis incredibly important.

Most animal fats are saturated and are solid at room temperature because they have a higher melting point than unsaturated fats. Foods high in saturated fats that should be avoided are products such as cream, cheese, butter, whole milk dairy products, and fatty meats. Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are two plant products that are high in saturated fats.

Fats from plants and fish tend to be unsaturated and better for you. These are the ones you want in your diet as you age.

Sources and further reading

Why eating late at night may be particularly bad for you and your diet

Why eating little and often is best

“Weight Loss After 40” – Isagenix podcast

 

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

 

 

 

 

6 things you need in your diet for better brain health

The brain is the most important organ in the body. Without it, we can’t eat, breath, keep our heart beating, think, or experience the things in the world that make life worth living.

Despite how important it is, it’s often forgotten when it comes to nutrition.

Until recently, no one even realized what we eat could have any effect on brain function and health. Research in the last decade has completely changed how we think about diet and the brain.

Here are 6 scientifically backed things you need in your diet if you want to promote optimal brain health and prevent cognitive decline with aging.

1) Green Tea

Green tea comes from a type of small tree called Camelia Senensis. When its leaves and leaf buds are steeped in hot water, catechins dissolve from the plant into the water. Catechins are biologically active and are responsible for medicinal effects associated with green tea. There are four main types: EGCG, EGC, ECG, and EC.

EGCG: (-)-Epigallocatechin-3-gallate

EGC: (-)-Epigallocatechin

ECG: (-)-Epicatechin-3-gallate

EC: (-)-Epicatechin

EGCG is the most abundant and the most well researched. It makes up 60% of total catechins. EGC is the second most abundant and makes up 20%, followed by ECG (14%) and EC (6%).

Studies suggest brain activity increases for up to 2 hours after it is ingested, and rats injected with EGCG have lower anxiety and perform better at learning and memory tasks.

Catechins has three described molecular targets: COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase), NADPH oxidase, and 67-kDa laminin receptor. It’s unclear whether the effects on brain activity, anxiety, learning, and memory are linked to these molecules.

COMT is an enzyme that generally prevents excessive elevation of other molecules. Catechins inhibit and facilitate COMT, which means the action of catechins on COMT likely relies on the conditions at the specific time.

NADPH oxidase is an enzyme that produces free radicals. Catechins inhibit NADPH oxidase, which could reduce oxidative stress.

67-kda laminin receptor is highly expressed on cancer cells. Scientists have yet to learn if the association between EGCG and this protein is activating or inhibitory.

2) Gingko Biloba

Gingko biloba is a large tree originally found in China. Its leaves contain phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, flavonoid glycosides, terpene trilactones, biflavones, and alkylphenols. All of these phytochemicals can be found in gingko leaf extracts.

Gingko biloba is the most commonly ingested herb for brain health. It can prevent neurons from dying and being damaged by the protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease (β-amyloid protein); it reduces anxiety, stress, and depression; improves attention; and it improves memory and cognitive performance in older adults with cognitive impairment or decline.

Gingko biloba activates the pregnane X receptor (PXR).

PXR senses the presence of toxic substances and responds by increasing the expression of proteins that can detoxify and clear toxic substances from the body. Supplements with gingko could promote detox.

3) Turmeric

Turmeric is a flowering plant. Its roots are commonly used as a spice in curry, but the yellow pigment, called curcumin, found throughout the plant has medicinal properties.

Turmeric and curcumin are both packaged as supplements.

Curcumin is associated with increased BDNF, which may be beneficial for nerve growth. It also reduces the negative effect of stress on memory, reduces anxiety in some people, and improves depression.

Curcumin has many targets. It influences the function AP-1 and inhibits mTOR, DNA polymerase λ, focal adhesion kinase, Src, p300, thioredoxin reductase, lipoxygenase, tubulin, 17beta-HSD3, 5-α reductase, and glycogen synthase kinase-3β.

4) L-carnosine

L-carnosine is a building block of protein naturally produced in the body. It helps maintain the proper function and development of muscle tissue, the heart, the brain, and many other parts of the body.

In the brain, L-carnosine performs several different functions: it protects against free radical damage, helps maintain normal brain function, and plays regulatory roles. Researchers think the role this molecule adopts depends on the area of the brain, the brain cell type, and the biochemical mechanisms controlling it.

While it’s unclear how L-carnosine works in the brain, it is clear that it works. L-carnosine prevents damage that occurs as a result of stroke; it prevents symptom development in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and epilepsy; and it aids learning and cognition.

5) Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid is a mitochondrial compound. Mitochondria are organelles found within all cells of the body. An organelle to a cell is what the heart is to the body. The heart is an organ that helps the whole body function. An organelle helps the cell function.

Mitochondria produce the majority of the energy the cell needs. Lipoic acid is highly involved in the production of this energy.

As a supplement, lipoic acid protects against neurological decline that comes with aging. It is thought to do this mainly by preventing free radical damage, which increases as the body ages.

6) Citicoline

Citicoline is a nucleotide found naturally in the body. A nucleotide is one of the building blocks of DNA and RNA, but in this case the nucleotide citicoline is acting as an intermediate in the biological pathway that produces phospholipids (the structures that make up the lipid membrane of cells).

Scientists have been testing citicoline as a treatment for several neurological conditions. These include traumatic brain injuries, stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and brain aging. Results have been quite promising.

The molecule is likely working by stabilizing cell membranes of cells in the brain, reducing free radical damage with its antioxidant capabilities, and stimulating the release of beneficial neurotransmitters.

Sources and further reading

Green Tea – Examine

Gingko Biloba – Examine

Turmeric – Examine

L-carnosine

Lipoic Acid

Citicoline

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 protein can help you bust through weight loss plateaus

Weight loss is difficult, no one is going to deny that.

It can be going well, everything is on track, then out of the blue you can’t lose another pound no matter how hard you try.

You’ve hit a weight loss plateau.

From here, there are two ways you can go. You can give up and regain all the weight you’ve worked so hard to get rid of in the first place.

Or, you can make some adjustments and keep moving towards your goal.

In this article, I want to talk about how protein is your secret weapon for busting through plateaus. We’ll spend some time talking about why it works for this purpose, then go into protein timing, and wrap up with the types of protein you use – cause that’s incredibly important also.

Why protein is effective for weight loss

  • Protein makes you feel fuller for longer

The only thing that matters when you’re trying to lose weight is a negative calorie balance.

A negative calorie balance means you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in. It is a simple idea in theory, but it can be quite difficult because of your body’s reaction to suddenly consuming less food.

Eating less often can make you feel like you’re constantly hungry. And what’s worse, you feel unsatisfied when you finally do eat because you just don’t feel full with the portions of food you have.

Transforming your diet so that a greater proportion of your food comes from protein can help counteract this nasty side-effect of maintaining a negative calorie balance.

This works because protein increases feelings of fullness – otherwise known as satiety. More satiety means that 100 calories of protein is going to make you feel fuller for longer than 100 calories of carbohydrates would.

This property of protein is best exemplified scientifically in a 2016 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The meta-analysis, led by Jaapna Dhillon, screened thousands of scientific studies to determine the evidence supporting or refuting the idea that protein increases satiety. Of the many paper they considered, 5 passed their stringent inclusion criteria and were used for further analysis.

The 5 studies all had a similar experimental design: the participants would fast for a predetermined period, they would come into the lab and be given food with various amounts of protein in it, then they were monitored for how full they felt over time.

Based on the primary analysis of these 5 papers and a secondary analysis of 28 papers, which were also included in the publication, the authors were able to conclude that diets higher in protein led to greater feelings of fullness (i.e. protein is associated with greater satiety).

  • Protein takes more energy to break down than other macronutrients 

Protein can help you maintain a calorie deficit because of increased satiety. If you’re not as hungry you’re going to eat less. If you eat less, you consume fewer calories. Fewer calories in relation to the energy you’re burning = weight loss.

Another reason protein is the macronutrient of choice for calorie deficits is because it takes more energy to digest it than fats or carbohydrates.

The energy used to break down ingested molecules is called the thermic effect of food. For protein, 20-35% of calories are burned during digestion. That’s a pretty substantial portion compared to the 5-15% of calories burned used when digesting carbohydrates and the 0-5% of calories burned when digesting fat.

The thermic effect of food is one component of metabolism. It, alongside resting metabolic rate (the calories required to keep you going in a completely rested state) and the exercise component (the calories you expend performing various activities throughout the day) determine your overall caloric expenditure. Increase any one of these factors and you increase the number of calories burned in a day and increase your chances of creating or maintaining a deficit.

The increased thermic effect of protein is beneficial for weight loss for 2 reasons: 1) More calories required for digestion adds to your daily caloric expenditure, tipping the scales in the direction of expenditure and increasing the deficit. 2) Subtracting the calories required to digest protein ingested decreases the total calories ingested, again tipping the scales in the favor of an increased deficit.

The thermic effect of protein is the property of protein which contributes to it boosting your metabolism.

How to incorporate more protein into your diet and what kind you should use

  • Protein timing for weight loss

The typical American or Canadian tends to consume most of our daily intake of protein later on in the day. Most people have a little bit at breakfast, a little bit at lunch, and then, proportionally, the most at dinner.

This eating strategy is a gross under utilization of the most important macronutrient for weight loss.

The increased satiety and the boost in metabolism experienced with increased protein intake are most effective when they are used as often as possible, and evenly, throughout the day.

That means if you’re trying to lose weight, spread your protein intake out evenly throughout the day. Timing your protein intake in this way will help you eat fewer calories and maintain that essential negative calorie balance.

  • The type of protein matters

There are many different options out there when it comes to protein supplements. Not only do you have to choose from a plethora of brands, you also have to pick what type protein you want.

There’s whey protein, casein protein, egg protein, pea protein, and the list goes on and on and on.

I’m going to make things as simple as possible for you. Pick whey protein.

Whey protein is the best because:

Essential amino acids are amino acids that must be ingested in the diet. The body cannot create them on its own.

BCAAs are essential amino acids. They make up 3 of the 9. “Branched chain” refers to the chemical structure of the amino acid itself.

BCAAs have proven abilities to promote muscle growth, decrease muscle soreness, reduce exercise fatigue, prevent muscle wasting, and benefit people with liver disease. The more of these bad boys you can pack into your diet, the better.

Leucine, in particular, is especially proficient in promoting muscle synthesis.

  • Whey protein has an incredibly high biological value

The biological value is a measure of the absorbed protein from a food that becomes incorporated into the proteins of the body.

Basically, if one protein is ingested and 90% of the amino acids making up that protein become part of protein in your body, it’s going to have a higher biological value than a protein where only 80% of the amino acids making it up are ingested.

Whey protein has the best biological value of proteins available out there in supplements. The whey protein you ingest is all going to be incorporated in your growing muscles.

Conclusion 

Protein is an incredibly effective way to help keep things on track in terms of your weight loss goals. It increases satiety and boosts metabolism, which are two factors that will help you maintain a negative calorie deficit that will result in weight loss.

If you find yourself stuck at a plateau (where you don’t see any movement on the scale for at least 2-3 weeks) try upping the amount of protein you consume in the day. It has worked for many people before and could be the answer to all of your weight loss problems.

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve used protein to break through a weight loss plateau, I’d love to hear about it!