Nitric Oxide and Its Role in Training

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

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

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

What is Nitric Oxide?

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

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

Benefits of Nitric Oxide

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

  • Increased Vasodilation:

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

  • Enhanced Oxygen and Nutrient Transport:

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

  • Decreased Fatigue:

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

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

  • Quicker Recovery:

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

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

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

  • Enhanced Glucose Utilization:

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

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

  • Improved Cognitive Functioning:

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

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

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

  • Cardio Protection:

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

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

Maximize Your Nitric Oxide Output

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

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

References

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

Must Have Pre-Workout Ingredients

It’s a situation all gym goers have encountered before and will inevitably face it again. You’ve just finished up another tub of pre-workout, and it’s time to get a new one. Now, you could keep using the same old, worn out tired brand of pre-workout you’ve been using for the past few months, but you’ve soured on its taste, and it doesn’t seem to have the same “pop” it used to.

So, rather than force yourself to double or triple scoop that same product to get any noticeable effect from it, why not spend a few minutes doing some searching for a superior option?

Sounds easy enough doesn’t it, just head down to your local supplement shop or pull up your favorite internet retailer and pick one out. The problem is, there are literally thousands of options for you to choose from when selecting a pre-workout, and no shortage of poorly formulated, overpriced ones waiting to steal your hard-earned money.

That’s where this article comes in. Ahead, you’ll find out why most other products on the market fail to do what a pre-workout should do (enhance your performance) and what are some “must have” ingredients you should be looking for the next time you go to drop some dough on a new performance enhancer.

Where Most Pre-Workouts Fail

There’s no shortage of reasons why certain pre-workout supplements seemingly have little to no effect whatsoever on your mood, focus, energy, or performance. Those reasons include:

  • Under-dosed ingredients
  • Ineffective ingredients (i.e. ingredients that don’t belong in pre-workouts)
  • Too many stimulants (i.e. feeling “cracked out”)
  • Not enough stimulants (no “kick in the pants” factor)
  • Clumpy powder due to poor shelf stability of ingredients
  • Terrible flavor (yes, how products taste does matter these days! There’s far too many great-tasting pre-workout that are equally effective for you to have to choke down some nasty powder.)
  • Overpriced

There’s a slew of other reasons why 99% of all pre-workouts you see on store shelves are downright terrible, and note worth the plastic they’re packaged in. But while we could go on forever about what’s wrong with the majority of pre-workouts, let’s get refocused on why you are here — to find out which ingredient you absolutely should have in your pre-workout!

Including these ingredients will have an immediate and noticeable impact on your workout, so without further ado, let’s dive into the essential pre-workout ingredients you MUST HAVE before hitting the gym!

Essential Pre-Workout Ingredients

Caffeine:

Any pre-workout worth its salt must have caffeine. It provides the foundation from which all the other components of a pre-workout expand upon. Caffeine has stood the test of time and is renowned for its ability to increase energy, focus, mood, and motivation. But caffeine is much more than an effective central nervous stimulant, it’s also a valuable performance enhancer. Numerous trials have shown that caffeine improves endurance, stamina, time to exhaustion, strength, power, and pain tolerance. [1,2,3]

The key to caffeine is in finding the right dose for you. Pre-workout doses can range anywhere from 150mg all the way up to 600mg in a single scoop! The “sweet spot” for caffeine for most trainees tends to fall in the 250-300mg range. Find a pre-workout in that range, and you’ve taken your first step towards finding a great pre-workout. Steel Pump™ packs 300 mg Caffeine Per Serving.

Citrulline Malate:

Nitric oxide is a highly important signaling molecule that improves blood flow via vasodilation (widening of blood vessels). With greater blood flow comes increased nutrient delivery, improved waste removal, better performance, and bigger pumps!

The premier nitric oxide boosting compound on the market is citrulline malate. Formed from a combination of l-citrulline and malic acid, citrulline malate is a proven nitric oxide boosting ingredient. It’s even more effective than the old “go to” NO-booster L-Arginine. [4]

Citrulline malate has been heavily studied and shown to boost athletic performance, energy production, and endurance all while reducing fatigue. [5,6]

Peak ATP:

A vastly underutilized ingredient, Peak ATP is an exogenous form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) developed by TSI USA, Inc. that’s been shown to actually enhance cellular levels of ATP! Now, supplemental ATP is nothing new to pre-workouts, but the vast majority of these forms offer poor bioavailability, rendering them essentially ineffective. Peak ATP, however, has been shown research trials to be incredibly bioavailable and increase ATP levels. [7]

Studies demonstrate that Peak ATP provides a readily usable fuel source for muscles, improving their ability to contract with less fatigue. [8] Additional studies note improved body composition and lean mass as well as increased vasodilation (a.k.a. PUMPS). [9,10] Steel Pump™ contains 450 mg Per Serving, the clinically proven dosage.

Alpha GPC:

To get the most out of every rep of your workout, you need to be focused. Without focus, you’re mindlessly going through the motions, never really get the most bang for your exercise buck. Alpha GPC solves your focus follies by providing the body with a highly bioavailable source of choline.

Choline is an essential nutrient that’s used in a number of way by the body, but none is more important than supporting acetylcholine (the “learning” neurotransmitter). With more acetylcholine, you’ll have that dialed in feeling while training and a much stronger mind-muscle connection. [11]

Your Pre-Workout Solution

There’s a lot that goes into formulating an effective pre-workout. Don’t get duped into buying a product merely for the cartoon label or bargain bin price. Select a pre-workout supplement formulated by researchers who know the ingredient you need (and the doses needed) to produce results.

Steel Pump™ supplies the ingredients you must have in your pre-workout to enhance performance and set the stage for a PR-shattering pre-workout.

References

  1. TREXLER ET, SMITH-RYAN AE, ROELOFS EJ, HIRSCH KR, MOCK MG. Effects of coffee and caffeine anhydrous on strength and sprint performance. European journal of sport science. 2016;16(6):702-710. doi:10.1080/17461391.2015.1085097.
  2. Graham TE. Caffeine and exercise: metabolism, endurance and performance. Sports Med. 2001;31(11):785-807.
  3. Richardson DL, Clarke ND. Effect Of Coffee And Caffeine Ingestion On Resistance Exercise Performance. J strength Cond Res / Natl Strength Cond  Assoc. February 2016. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001382.
  4. Curis E., et. al; “Citrulline and the gut;”; Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care; September 2007
  5. Bailey SJ, Blackwell JR, Lord T, Vanhatalo A, Winyard PG, Jones AM. l-Citrulline supplementation improves O2 uptake kinetics and high-intensity exercise performance in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2015 Aug 15;119(4):385-95
  6. Pérez-Guisado J, Jakeman PM. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 May;24(5):1215-22.
  7. Lu N, Wang B, Deng X, Zhao H, Wang Y, Li D. Autophagy occurs within an hour of adenosine triphosphate treatment after nerve cell damage: the neuroprotective effects of adenosine triphosphate against apoptosis. Neural Regeneration Research. 2014;9(17):1599-1605. doi:10.4103/1673-5374.141811.
  8. Rathmacher JA, et al. Adenosine-5’-triphosphate (ATP) supplementation improves low peak muscle torque and torque fatigue during repeated high intensity exercise sets. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012, 9:48.
  9. Wilson JM, et al. Effects of oral adenosine-5’-triphosphate supplementation on athletic performance, skeletal muscle hypertrophy and recovery in resistance-trained men. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2013, 10:57.
  10. Lowery RP, et al. Oral ATP administration improves blood flow responses to exercise in both animal and human training models. Presented at 10th Annual ISSN Conference. Colorado Springs, CO. June 2013.
  11. Marcus L, Soileau J, Judge LW, Bellar D. Evaluation of the effects of two doses of alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine on physical and psychomotor performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017;14:39. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0196-5.

What is Carbohydrate Partitioning?

In an ideal world, all the calories you eat on a daily basis would go to purely building muscle. Unfortunately for most people the calories you do eat each day lead to some muscle gain, and some fat gain too.

On the flip side when it comes to dieting, you’d preserve all of your lean muscle mass and lose only fat. Again, this isn’t an ideal world, and you’re bound to lose a bit of muscle when you diet, though there are certain things you can do (such as eating a high protein diet) that can mitigate the muscle loses while dieting.

The calories you do eat, or more specifically, the carbohydrates, you’re consuming aren’t going all towards building muscle, some are being used to increase your fat stores as well.

We’ve got some tips and tricks on how to manipulate your body’s partitioning of carbohydrates and other important macronutrients so that next time bulking season hits, you can maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gains.

Carbohydrate Partitioning 101

Carbohydrate partitioning is the physiological process by which the body decides what to do with the energy you obtain from the carbs you eat. Basically, where does your body “put” the carbs you’re eating following meal time.

When you eat (fats, proteins, carbs), the calories from those foods are either immediately used for energy or stored for later use. Ideally, you’d prefer those nutrients be used to fuel performance and / or muscle growth rather than build up fat reserves. Genetics play a large role in how your body partitions nutrients, as well the interactions between the brain, CNS, liver, gut, and muscles. These interactions are governed by the various hormones in your body and the associated signals they send to each part of the body. The most important of all these hormones is insulin.

Going back to our ideal world, we’d prefer to have high insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle and low (or poor) insulin sensitivity in fat cells, which would drive more calories into muscle and less towards fat. This is especially important when trying to bulk or gain muscle. Conversely when dieting, we’d want to be a little insulin resistant.

Several factors go into controlling insulin sensitivity, and a large part of that is genetics, for better or worse. While there’s nothing you can really do about your genetics, there are a few other tricks you can utilize to enhance your body’s insulin sensitivity, setting the stage for maximum muscle gain and fat loss.

Ways to Enhance Carbohydrate Partitioning

  • Exercise

    Intense exercise is by far one of the best ways you can enhance insulin sensitivity. Muscular contractions improve insulin sensitivity, as does being glycogen depleted, which occurs as a result of exhaustive exercise. For this reason, timing the bulk of your carbohydrate intake around your training window (pre, intra, and post workout) can do wonders for your natural carb partitioning abilities. Muscular contraction itself improves insulin sensitivity, facilitating glucose uptake into the cell.

    Just be sure the rest of the day to limit your starchy / sugary carb intake and focus more of fats, proteins, and fibrous veggies so you still hit your macros.

  • Optimize your Fat Intake

    Inflammation negatively impacts insulin sensitivity, and is a key indicator of obesity and type 2 diabetes. The average person’s diet overly emphasizes omega-6 fatty acids and lacks omega-3 fatty acids (found primarily in fish). Such a gross imbalance of these essential fatty acids leads to a chronic inflammatory state, which torpedoes your insulin sensitivity and leading to a host of other health issues, mentioned previously. In fact, it’s believed that the average person has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20:1, when ideally it should be 1:1.

    To start restoring some balance to your life invest in a high quality fish oil supplement and start eating cold water fish like Wild Alaskan Salmon, Albacore Tuna or Mackerel more frequently.

  • Relax

    Being stressed all the time elevates cortisol levels and wreaks havoc on your autonomic nervous systems (ANS). Without getting into the nitty gritty, when your ANS is out of whack, there is an imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which leads to fatigue, high blood pressure, disrupted sleep, increased protein breakdown, and insulin resistance. None of these are good for optimizing insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle.

    By chilling out and de-stressing, you promote optimal function of the ANS and promote a healthier insulin response across your body.

Supplement Ingredients to Enhance Carbohydrate Partitioning

After you’ve put the other tips from this list into action, you can invest in a nutrient-partitioning supplement that enhances your body’s nutrient intake and protein turnover, such as Steel Core™.

Ingredients such as Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) helps shift glucose into muscles and away from fat cells, increasing energy and reducing stored fat. ALA, when consumed with Carbohydrates, will partition those carbohydrates to muscle tissue and away from fat tissue. The distribution of nutrients towards muscle and away from fat either maintains or increases lean muscle and decreases body fat.

Proper Hydration and Performance

You’ve been told throughout your life how important it is to drink enough water and stay properly hydrated, but have you ever stopped and really considered how much water you actually drink on a daily basis or why you need to drink so much water each day?

We’ve all been told at one time or another to drink at least eight 8 oz. glasses of water per day, but is this number backed by any science or is it just an old wives’ tale? What if you’re consuming water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables? Do those count towards your daily water intake totals?

Chances are you’ve pondered these questions and several others in regards to drinking water and maintaining your hydration levels. Ahead, we’ve got the basics on hydration and how (and why!) proper hydration is essential for optimal performance.

Grab your favorite sipping glass and let’s get going!

Hydration 101

Before covering why hydration is important to performance, we first need to answer the question of how much water you need on a daily basis.

The answer isn’t eight, 8 oz. glasses of water (if things were only that simple). The truth is, every individual is different. An ultra-marathoner’s water needs are very different from the sedentary grandma knitting in her cottage. Moreover, each individual’s water needs are impacted by their age, gender, environment, activity level, and any previous/current health issues.

The human body is composed of approximately 60% water.[1] So, you know that water is pretty crucial based off that alone. The human body can survive for a few of days without water, but not much beyond that. Simply put, without water your body shuts down — metabolic processes cease, core temperature increases, cognitive function decline, muscles don’t fire as they should, and that’s not even the worst of it!

Here’s all the different ways your body uses (and loses) water each day:

Water Loss

  • Sweat
  • Urination / excretion
  • Evaporation from the lungs and skin and lungs (respiration and perspiration)

Water Gain

  • Beverages (water, coffee, tea, milk, etc.)
  • Food (vegetables, fruit, etc.)
  • Metabolic processes (oxidation of carbohydrates, protein, and fats)

Water’s Roles in the Body

Water is absolutely essential, if you haven’t figured that out by now, here’s a list of several different bodily processes requiring water:

  • Regulation of core temperature
  • Production of neurotransmitters
  • Oxygen delivery for the body
  • Shock absorber for brain and spinal cord
  • Joint lubrication

The list is much more extensive than this, but the previous topics serve to highly just how crucial water is for just about everything that goes on in your body.

Now, let’s see water’s role on performance!

Hydration and Performance

Water is critical to overall health, but it’s even more important to your performance as an athlete. In fact, even as little as a 2% drop in hydration can severely hinder performance.[2] Your performance isn’t all that suffers when running low on water, being dehydrated also reduces your focus, concentration, strength, and power![3,4] Some research even shows that losing larger amounts of water (~ 5% of body weight) can decrease work capacity by as much as 30%!

There’s several reasons dehydration adversely affects performance:

  • Elevated core temperature.[5,6]
  • Decreased blood flow to skin (reducing sweating and heat dissipation)
  • Reduced plasma blood volume (leading to lower stroke volume and increased heart rate)

There’s more though — dehydration also hinders cognitive function by decreasing focus, coordination, memory, attention and response time. You’ll also become fatigued that much faster and more sensitive to pain.[6]

In other words, dehydration is the last thing a high-performing athlete wants while training or in the midst of competition.

Proper Hydration for Athletes

We still haven’t answered the question of how much water you need on a daily basis, and that’s because there is no “set in stone”, one size fits all answer for every individual. However, the American College of Sports Medicine’s has created a set of Fluid Replacement Guidelines for those involved in intense training:

  • Pre Workout = 14 – 22oz of water 2 hours prior to exercise
  • Intra Workout = 6 – 12oz every 15 – 20 mins of exercise
  • Post Workout = 16 – 24oz of water / sports drink for every pound of weight lost during exercise

Environment

The last factor to account for when assessing hydration needs is what climate you’re training in. Water needs are very different for an athlete training in an air-conditioned environment versus one training in the mid-July heat.

Exercising outdoors in the heat increases sweat production and evaporation, which means you’ll need even more water (as well as some electrolytes) to replace what was lost via sweating. The same holds true for training outdoor in very cold environments.

Even though you’re not sweating as much as when in the heat, your body is still going through its water reserves like crazy trying to maintain your core temperature and power your mind and muscles through training. Plus, training in the cold might increase urine output and increase the respiratory loss of fluids.

Bottom line, even if you’re not that thirsty, make sure you’re getting enough water if you want to perform at your best!

Takeaway

Water is absolutely essential to all areas of daily life, including your performance. Make sure to drink enough pre, during, and post workout so that you’re not bonking during your workouts or dehydrated for the next day’s intense bout of exercise. Use the guidelines here as a starting point to assessing your hydration needs and feel free to increase based on your training volume and conditions!

Have a hard time drinking all that water? Put some Steel Fuel™ All-In-One BCAA + Hydration Formula in your water to sip on throughout the day as a fantastic alternative to sugary sports drinks or juices. Steel Fuel™ also features a Hydration Matrix to keep you preforming your best! This matrix includes: Taurine, Magnesium Glycinate Glutamine Chelate, Raw Coconut Water Powder, Sodium Chloride and potassium Citrate.

References

  1. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html
  2. Barr SI. Effects of dehydration on exercise performance. Can J Appl Physiol. 1999;24(2):164-172.
  3. Judelson DA, Maresh CM, Farrell MJ, et al. Effect of hydration state on strength, power, and resistance exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(10):1817-1824. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e3180de5f22.
  4. Judelson DA, Maresh CM, Anderson JM, et al. Hydration and muscular performance: does fluid balance affect strength, power and high-intensity endurance? Sports Med. 2007;37(10):907-921.
  5. José G-A, Mora-Rodríguez R, Below PR, Coyle EF. Dehydration markedly impairs cardiovascular function in hyperthermic endurance athletes during exercise. J Appl Physiol. 1997;82(4):1229 LP-1236.
  6. Ogino Y, Kakeda T, Nakamura K, Saito S. Dehydration Enhances Pain-Evoked Activation in the Human Brain Compared with Rehydration. Anesth Analg. 2014;118(6).

What Are BCAAs and Why Are They Important?

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

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

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

What are BCAA’s?

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

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

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

What do BCAAs do?

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

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

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

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

When to use BCAAs?

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

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

BCAA Benefits

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

Wrap Up

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

References

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

Top 10 Foods to Fight Cellulite

Cottage cheese, booty dents, dimple thighs.

You’ve heard these names, and many others like it no doubt in reference to cellulite, the “bumpy” fat that resides underneath your skin. Try as you might, no amount of dieting or intense exercising can seem to scrub away those unsightly bumps and lumps from your thunder thighs.

Cellulite is caused by a number of factors, but in general, cellulite occurs when underlying fat deposits begin to “push through” layers of connective tissue (collagen) beneath the skin. While it might seem next-to impossible to eliminate cellulite, using a combination of exercise, diet, and Buns of Steel® you can help rid your body of cellulite for good.

To get you started, we’ve come up with a list of the top 10 foods you can incorporate into your daily diet to help banish cellulite forever!

Cellulite Combatting Foods

1. Green Tea

Green Tea has been consumed around the world for thousands of years for its plethora of health benefits, primarily in regards to heart health. But, it’s also a proven fat-fighter and metabolism booster thanks to the polyphenols contained in it, such as EGCG. Green Tea is also packed with theobromine, a relative of caffeine, which stimulates lipolysis (release of stored fats). Consuming three to five cups per day of green tea has been shown to increase metabolism, decrease fat absorption, reduce appetite, and enhance glucose regulation.

2. Broccoli

As far as powerhouse foods go, broccoli is about as good as it gets. Each floret of the tasty veggie is bursting with vitamins and minerals, and it’s low in calories. In addition to the truckload of antioxidants included in broccoli, there’s also Alpha lipoic acid — a naturally-occurring substance that inhibits collagen from hardening, thereby preventing cellulite. Be generous when adding broccoli to your meal, there’s simply too many benefits to not make it a staple of your diet!

3. Water

Time and again you’ve heard doctors, nutritionists, and personal trainers strongly recommend the consumption of water each and every day. While it’s true the water is essential to just about every process in the human body, it also enhances your body’s naturally detox processes and flush away all the nasties that accumulate in the body on a daily basis.

Proper hydration is crucial to optimal performance, overall health, and fat loss. Drinking plenty of water hydrates the skin, improves its elasticity, and gives you the smooth, supple look you always should have. Bottom line — DRINK YOUR WATER people!

4. Salmon

Fatty fish like salmon are high in protein, antioxidants and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. On top of that, the omega-3 fats found in oily fish help reduce inflammation, decrease appetite, and strengthen connective tissue and skin, all of which helps reduce cellulite. And, since salmon is high in protein, it’ll keep you full and provide the crucial raw materials your body needs to repair and build muscle. Remember, the more lean mass you have, the higher your metabolism is, and the more calories (i.e. fat) you burn each day!

5. Chili Peppers

Chili peppers are potent flavor bombs that seriously amp up the taste and heat level of cooked dishes. Peppers such as jalapeño, serrano, or cayenne are packed with Vitamin B6, which restores and strengthens connective tissue, helping you avoid that unsightly dimpling in your buns.

Furthermore, chili peppers are also loaded with capsaicin, which has been shown to increase metabolism and reduce appetite, enhancing fat loss. It’s also worth mentioning that consuming hot peppers also enhances blood flow. As you might know, poor circulation is thought to be one of the primary contributing factors to cellulite development.

6. Dark Berries

Dark berries such as blueberries or blackberries contain compounds shown to enhance collagen production, which promotes the creation of new skin tissue, thereby improving its tone and texture. These berries also are chock-full of powerful antioxidants and polyphenols that help break down stored fat and restrict the formation of new fat cells. Consider adding a serving of berries to your morning oatmeal (another fat-fighting food!) for a delicious, satisfying, fat-fighting breakfast!

7. Olive Oil

Many of today’s foods are prepared with unhealthy, and artery-clogging, fats. While you want to avoid these types of fats at all costs, you still need to consume some fat in order to maintain optimal hormone production and health.

Olive Oil provides an incredibly healthy source of monounsaturated fats as well as polyphenols that enhance thyroid function. Better thyroid function means a higher metabolic rate, greater fat burning, and energized skin-building cells, all of which supports reduced cellulite and smoother skin.

8. Dark Chocolate

Cocoa powder is full of antioxidants used by the body to break down the fat in cellulite, and allow it to be burned for energy. The trace amounts of caffeine contained in natural coca also help dehydrate fat cells under the skin, creating a more even outer look. When shopping for chocolate, go for the dark varieties containing at least 70-80% cocoa as these varieties are the most nutrient packed. Plus, they taste a whole lot better than cheaper milk chocolates.

9. Turmeric

Widely used in Indian cooking, turmeric is a spice that helps combat inflammation and swelling due to the high levels of antioxidants contained in it. In case you weren’t aware, inflammation can cause loosening of the skin, which further exacerbates the cellulite deposition in certain areas of your body. The antioxidant compounds present in turmeric reduce inflammation and promote skin health, tone, clarity, and overall appearance.

 10. Asparagus

Asparagus is the pointy, spear-like looking vegetable that’s great grilled, broiled, or baked. It goes great alongside a piece of seared salmon and is another great cellulite-fighting food. The veggie is rich in folic acid, which reduces cortisol levels and boost mood. High cortisol levels promote fat storage in the body, so keeping cortisol in check is a must for avoiding cellulite. Plus, asparagus also enhances circulation, providing yet another means to keep cellulite at bay.

What is Blood Flow Restriction / Occlusion Training?

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

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

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

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

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

What is BFR / Occlusion Training?

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

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

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

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

BFR Training How-To

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

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

BFR Training Benefits

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

References

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

Top 10 Foods to Increase Testosterone Levels

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Test-Boosting Foods

1. Cruciferous Vegetables

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

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

2. Oysters

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

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

3. Brazil Nuts

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

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

4. Salmon

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

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

5. Spinach

More veggies? You better believe it!

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

6. Vitamin D3

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

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

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

7. Oats

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

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

8. Pineapple

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

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

9. Eggs

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

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

10. Red Meat

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

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

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

Top 10 Foods for Fat Loss

We’ve all heard the saying a calorie is a calorie. While that might be true, you can make foods work for your body instead of against it, by choosing the right ones. Paired with a proper muscle-building training program, the following 10 foods will help reduce your appetite, break down stored fat, prevent fat storage, and enhance your body’s ability to burn fat for fuel.

Grab your bag of popcorn, sit back, relax and take a look at these top 10 foods that fight fat and get you lean and mean!

Top 10 Foods

1. Oatmeal

What?! A carbohydrate at the top of the list?!

You bet! We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again — carbs are NOT the enemy. Aside from being downright tasty, carbs can also help you lose weight. In fact, research shows that consuming three or more servings per day of whole grains (i.e. oats) led subjects to have 10% less belly fat than another group who consumed the same amount of calories from processed white carbs.

2. Cayenne Pepper

Ready to really burn your taste buds and belly fat?

Cayenne pepper is loaded with capsaicin, the spicy compound that gives chiles their tongue-numbing qualities. Studies show that daily consumption of capsaicin increases abdominal fat loss, boost metabolism, and decreases appetite. So pile on the red pepper if you’re looking to blast fat for good!

3. Avocado

Avocados are packed full of belly-filling fiber and stress-combatting Vitamin B6. It’s also loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats, which prevent your body from storing fat around your belly and down-regulate the activity of certain fat genes.

Combine avocado with jalapenos (which are packed with capsaicin) and a squeeze of fresh lime to make guacamole and have the perfect fat loss snack!

4. Salmon

It’s pretty well understood that protein builds muscle. The more muscle you have on your body, the higher your metabolism, and the greater ability your body has to burn fat fast.

Wild salmon is one of the healthiest sources of muscle-building protein. It’s also loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which combat inflammation, support healthy joints, and fuel fat burning.

5. Tea

Consumed around the world for thousands of years, tea isn’t just a delicious, satisfying, and tasty beverage; it can also be a powerful ally in the war on fat. Tea is packed with polyphenols that stimulate lipolysis (the breakdown of fat) and inhibit adipogenesis (creation of new fat). Some research even points to tea’s ability to reduce appetite via increasing levels of the hormone CCK (cholecystokinin).

6. Berries

Berries are nature’s wonder-fruit; they’re packed with polyphenols, antioxidant, and fiber. Berries improve blood flow, and aid fat burning due to an antioxidant, known as resveratrol, that’s been shown to convert harmful white fat cells into brown fat, which can be burned for energy.

7. Eggs

Eggs are loaded with choline, a prominent fat-burning compound that deactivates genes responsible for belly fat storage They’re also packed full of protein and make the foundation of any great muscle-building breakfast.

Eating eggs also lowers ghrelin response, which makes you less hungry in the hours after a meal, and supports your fat loss diet efforts to consume fewer calories each day!

8. Beans

High in protein and belly-filling fiber, beans are another great slow carb that not only taste great, but also help maintain a slim waistline. Beans are packed full of insoluble and soluble fiber which promote good bacteria growth and enhance your ability to burn fat for fuel. Research notes that for every additional 10g of fiber eaten per day, subjects carried considerably less belly fat.

9. Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is convenient and tasty muscle-building snack offering over 20g of protein per 80z serving. It’s also packed with calcium and vitamin D, which reduce cortisol, a stress hormone that promotes fat storage. Mix Greek yogurt with a serving of berries to make the perfect pre or post workout snack to enhance muscle growth, blunt cortisol, and torch belly fat.

10. Dark Chocolate

Can chocolate really help you lose weight? According to research conducted at Louisiana State University, YES!

Dark chocolate is fermented in our gut leading to increased production of butyrate, a fatty acid that promotes fat burning and inhibits inflammation. Adding chocolate to fruit can boost butyrate production and release, leading to even greater fat burning. Just make sure to get a chocolate with at least 70% cacao content, these varieties are highest the in important fat-fighting polyphenols.

Takeaway

Losing weight isn’t easy, and sometimes it can seem downright impossible. But it doesn’t have to be. It might take a little (or a lot) of work on your part to start eating a little better or exercising a little harder. But in the end, the small sacrifices you make on the front end will pay HUGE dividends on the back end.