No2 (nitric oxide) Supplements Review

May 24th, 2008 by Paul Johnson | Comments(13)

Nitric Oxide is one of the most popular muscle building supplements on the market now. Can it actually help muscle gains or is it hype? What I’m about to say may surprise you.

What are NO (nitric Oxide) supplements?

NO supplements are supposed to increase Nitric Oxide in the blood. NO Supplements contain arginine, with most in the form of Arginine-alpha-keto-glutarate. Nitric Oxide has hundreds of functions in the body, especially with blood flow, nerves, and cell communication. It acts as a vasodilator(increasing blood flow) in the body by relaxing the smooth muscles. Nitric Oxide (NO) is formed when the amino acid arginine, is broken down by an enzyme into citruline.

Why do bodybuilders take NO supplements?

To get better muscle pumps, increased strength and muscle gains, and for sexual health. It is thought that nitric oxide plays a crucial role in muscle building based on some indirect studies and theory.

NO supplement studies:

It sounds like NO supplementation is a important supplement, but there is no legitimate scientific studies showing NO supplements increased strength and muscle gains. Most of the NO advocates are using indirect reasoning to support the use of NO as a muscle builder. For example, they believe that since NO could help muscle gains because of the increased blood flow to the muscles. Other studies such as published in Am J Hypertens. 2007 Aug;20(8):825-30, showed an increase in NO production after resistance excercise. This has then led some to assume, that NO may then be involved in causing increased protein synthesis post-workout.

The problem with all these assumptions is that arginine doesn’t seem to convert to Nitric Oxide at the recommended dosages. If you go through all the studies done on high doses of arginine, you will see no increase in vasodilation (increased blood flow). It increases vasodilation only at high doses when injected. The reason why we can’t get to those levels orally, is because it is much higher than the level that causes stomach upset. So arginine will convert to nitric oxide, just not at the dosages someone could withstand orally, without getting really sick. I suppose someone could start injecting it, but NO supplements aren’t THAT good to warrant it! No legitimate scientific study I could find has been able to show a difference, in either muscle gains or strength.

Final thoughts:

NO supplements seem to be nothing more than junk. The vasodilationeffects some people “experience”, seems to be nothing more than placebo effect. Therefore it’s not going to be a Viagra alternative either, for those who seeked arginine for helping impotence. Many reputable experts, who aren’t affiliated with supplement companies, also believe NO is a waste of money.

MSG (Glutamates) in Protein Powders Dangerous?

March 2nd, 2008 by Paul Johnson | Comments(0)

Before we discuss the controversy, we have to understand what exactly is Glutamates and MSG. MSG stands for Monosodium Glutamate and is a common taste enhancer added to foods. MSG is just a free form salt form of the amino acid glutamic acid. Glutamates are free form, whereas Glutamic acid is the regular natural bound protein form. Don’t confuse Glutamates with another amino acid Glutamine, which is commonly supplemented by many bodybuilders. The only connection between these amino acids, is that inside the body Glutamine can convert to Glutamic acid and both are utilized by the intestine cells.

Protein found naturally in food, has most of the amino acids bound up in many long amino acid chains. It requires the stomach to break the amino acid chains down into smaller chains, in order to properly digest it. When natural protein is processed commercially to make protein powders, especially with hydrolyzed protein (”digested”), they result in a large amount of free form glutamates. This creation of free form of glutamates, is the source of controversy.

I’ve come across many websites and experts, claiming that MSG (and the other free glutamate forms) found in protein powders and other processed foods is highly dangerous. They claim it leads to cancers, neuro-degernative diseases, and other illnesses. Dr. Russell Blaylock the author of the book Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills in 1995, first mentioned the dangers of MSG along with aspartame and calls them excitotoxins. He believes that these unatural processed free forms of Glutamates like MSG, overstimulate the neurotransmiters of the brain and cause disease. Although natural forms of protein already contain bound up glutamines, he theorizes that during commercial processing of protein powders and other foods, it releases the glutamates into free forms of Glutamates. He then believes this allows the liver to easily absorb many more times glutamate than normal, leading to a overstimulation of the glutamate receptors in the body. This overstimulation then causes a toxic effect all over the organs in the body which have glutamate receptors.

The problem with his argument that free forms of glutamates are dangerous, is that the intestines absorb almost all free glutamates and use them directly for energy. (Journal of Neuroscience 27 (1): 111-123) , (J. Nutr. 137:2384-2390) , and (Pediatric Research. 62(4):468-473). The intestine metabolizes these glutamates for cellular functions, before it can even get into the blood stream to affect the rest of the body. Glutamates also have trouble getting through the blood-brain barrier, so most of it can’t go anywhere else, except through the digestive tract. Therefore, after a meal full of glutamates, your intestines will absorb most of it and use it metabolically. The intestines have a unique affinity in wanting to use Glutamates for their own metabolic processes, since they have glutamate receptors.

A study by National Taiwan University showed almost no difference between the blood levels of glutamates, between those who had MSG containing food and a high protein meal. Human and animal milk even contains free form glutamates naturally. There is little point as you can see, to understand the dangers of excessive glutamate stimulation inside the blood stream on different organs glutamate receptors, since it never even gets to those places in large amounts he claims in the first place!

One reason why the negative theory on glutamates continues to be perpetuated by many is because of what is called “Chinese restaraunt syndrome”. Chinese restaraunts were notorious for adding lots of MSG. These people suffering from this, seem to have a adverse reaction to MSG containing meals causing a variety of symptoms. Whether this condition exists or is caused by something else I don’t know. If high amounts of MSG in meals do cause some adverse reactions in some, then, apparently those people are extra sensitive to glutamate levels in the body. They would have to be so sensitive to the stimulation, that a large amount of MSG might change the blood levels just enough to cause a reaction, whereas for most people it would not.

New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding – Review

February 25th, 2008 by Paul Johnson | Comments(4)

This book is written by Arnold Schwarzennegar in 1992, as a updated version of his original 1985 Encyclopedia book. The book is very comprehensive as it covers 800 pages in great detail on bodybuilding history, diet and nutrition, weight training routines, competitions, injuries and their prevention, supplements, all with Arnold’s commentaries. In the training section, he gives various routines based on your goals, whether beginner or advanced. There is a lot of photos of bodybuilders performing many different weight training excercises. The hall of fame section shows pictures of the various bodybuilders of the past. Arnold also talks about many of the bodybuilding champions he faced.

There is some quality content in the book, but I don’t think this book should be used as a tool to develop a training routine and especially supplementation advice. We have learned a lot in bodybuilding in the last 15 years, making this book a bit outdated. Overall I recommend The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, mainly because of Arnold being the author. If someone else was the author, It wouldn’t have been as interesting of a book.

If you want a book that is more autobiographical of Arnold Schwarzeneggar, then you read my review of Arnold’s other book Education of a bodybuilder

Cardio Necessary for Effective Fat Loss?

February 5th, 2008 by Paul Johnson | Comments(5)

There is a common belief in the mainstream, that for maximum (or even effective fat loss) you need to do some form of regular cardio to lose fat. This is simply wrong of course because many people have just dieted to lose fat, without any form of excercise. Of course this is a bodybuilding site, therefore dieting only is not ideal, since it doesn’t preserve muscle that well.

The next decision when going on a cutting phase, is whether or not cardio is even necessary? Weight training is actually more effective than low intensity cardio. Then there is HIIT cardio, which is much tougher to do, but is about as effective as weight training for fat loss. You would still have to do weight training for either form of cardio, to help preserve lean muscle preservation and strength.

So who should do cardio and when?

Most bodybuilders would agree that cardio is a pain. It is a nuisance and most would just rather stick to weight training only for their excercise. It is perfectly O.K no matter if you’re a newbie, or a veteran to start your cutting phase without any cardio. When you first start dieting, the act of restricting calories will be enough to start causing fat loss, even without cardio.

Eventually everyone will hit a fat loss plateau, which is when cardio will be a necessity. You can only restrict your calories so much, before you cause your metabolism to crawl to a halt. The cardio will allow a phenomenon called energy flux. Basically what that means is, you will lose fat more effectively if you eat more, but also burn more calories simulatenously. In other words, it is better for fat loss if you eat more calories and burn more, than to eat less calories and burn less simulatenously.

If you don’t want to do cardio while cutting, your fat loss will be slower. But bodybuilders often don’t want to hassle with the time and effort cardio takes and wouldn’t mind, even if the cutting phase took a little longer. You shouldn’t increase weight training to overcompensate for lack of cardio, that would cause more harm than good. You would wind up overtaxing the body putting you into overtraining state.

For further reading, You can read a previous article of mine:

Fat loss effect of weight training vs. cardio

Anabolic Burst Cycling of Diet & Exercise (ABCDE)

January 8th, 2008 by Paul Johnson | Comments(6)

This diet is a very interesting concept I have known for a while, but doesn’t get the attention it deserves by bodybuilders. The diet was developed by swedish bodybuilder and doctor Torbjorn Akerfeldt based on some research he found.

Anabolic Burst Cycling is actually a simple concept, it’s hormone manipulation through calorie cycling. Simply eat an excess calories for 2 weeks, then for 2 weeks diet. You continually do this over and over. With each cycle, you should have a positive net lean muscle gain and fat loss. Protein intake or eating clean also isn’t as important as total calorie intake. In other words a dirty bulk is ok, just as long as you get a calorie excess.

Why does Anabolic burst cycling work?

One study Akerfeldt cites to support his diet is published in (Am J Clin Nutr. 1996 Sep;64(3):259-66). I decided to take a look at the study. It was done for 3 weeks on men and women volunteers. They increased their calorie intake and it was observed that they had an increase in testosterone, IGF-1, and insulin. There were no changes in T4 or cortisol or adrenaline. There was an average of 4.3 kilograms of weight gained, with 46% of it being muscle. Note that these subjects did not weight train, yet still gained over 4 lbs of lean mass.

You may be wondering how muscle is gained and fat lost, from doing this diet. The answer is really all in hormone level manipulation. When you eat an excess of calories, your testosterone levels, growth hormone, IGF-1, insulin, all the anabolic hormones go crazy. During this time you can eat a lot of extra calories and gain a lot of muscle with less worry of fat, because the anabolic hormone spike helps build muscle. This anabolic hormone spike starts to taper off over time as the body adapts, which is why you only do it for 2 weeks.

Another study that Akerfeldt uses to help support him was published in (Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 49.4 (1989) : 608-611). Looking at the study, it was done on 6 men who ate a excess in calories. They measured their fat and protein oxidation, but they also observed over 4lbs of muscle gained with only 2 lbs of fat gained. This study is even more substantial, since without weight training, they gained muscle 2:1 ratio.

Why does Akerfeldt seem to think getting excess calories is the most important? Well he cites this study published in J. Nutr. 109.3 (1979) : 363-377. This study is also done on 6 men over 10 days. These subjects were all given equal amounts of protein(1.2 grams/kg), but they were seperated into 3 groups; maintenance, 15% above maintenance, and 30% above maintenance. When increased and lowered, they found a correlation between the total intake of calories and Biological value and net protein utilization of the dietary protein.

The bulking phase also increases your metabolism (by increasing thyroid hormones) and leptin levels. This will make it easier to lose fat immediately after the bulking phase. Once again, you can only do the fat loss phase for 2 weeks before your body starts adapting to the fat loss phase hormonally. The whole point of the diet is to manipulate hormones in such a way to keep the body guessing, that is favorable for bodybuilders.

Torbjorn Akerfeldt is also a firm believer in the muscle fascia stretching theory and believes it could be beneficial during the bulking phase. You can read more about it in a previous article of ours: Muscle fascia stretching

So we don’t need to workout to see muscle gains?

If you never lifted a weight in your life you could probably gain a few lbs of muscle from this diet, like some did in the studies. But a serious bodybuilder is not going to gain significant muscle with this diet long term, without the help of weight training.

Who is this ABCDE program for?

The program is for everyone, but I have read other hardgainers complain that the diet phase was too catabolic and they lost their hard earned muscle. That just means to me, that bodybuilders with a fast metabolism, should probably do a shorter fat loss phase, like 5 days to one week. One other problem about this diet, is that it is very hard to do. It is hard to adapt to eating a massive amount of calories, and then trying to diet soon after. Trying to yoyo back between each phase is probably the major reason why this diet has never become popular among bodybuilders.

Stubborn Fat Protocol

January 4th, 2008 by Paul Johnson | Comments(2)

The Stubborn Fat Protocol is a cardio routine developed by Lyle McDonald, a respected author of multiple excercise and diet books. The routine is innovative, but it is based on scientific research.

You will break up your cardio into 2 seperate sessions. The first session will be high intensity interval cardio for 10 minutes. The purpose of this firt session is to manipulate the adrenaline/ noradrenaline levels to mobilize the fat out of your fat cells. You then take a 5 minute rest after the first session.

Next you do 45 minutes of low intensity cardio. Afterwards you wait one hour before having a protein only meal. Then 2 or 3 hours later you can go back to normal diet, with carbs and fat included in the meals.

The reason why Lyle McDonald says it has to be done this way is because the high intensity portion gets the fat out of the cells, but there is a reduced burning effect at the muscle. It is then that you do the low intensity to finally be able to burn the mobilized fat in the muscle. Mcdonald recommends this workout 3 times a week.

Who should do the stubborn fat protocol?

The routine will be highly catabolic (muscle wasting). Ideally it should be for those who are at a plateau and low bodyfat percent trying to get that last bit of fat off. Overweight people should just stick to traditional routines as they are easier to stick to, require less time, and work well anyways. Only when you start to plateau, will a more aggressive cardio plan make sense.

You can learn more about the author Lyle McDonald at his site Sean Nalewanyj Review

November 5th, 2007 by Paul Johnson | Comments(6)

Sean Nalewanyj supposedly has the top selling body transformation book the last few years. The website of this program reminds me a lot like Musclenow program’s webpage. I came across many sites giving it a raving review. What I noticed was these reviews were 100% positive only because they were getting paid as affiliates. Of course, we do things here differently when it comes to reviews. My goal is to give a fair review of this package for my readers, even to point out some of the negatives.

Here is the before picture of Sean Nalewanyj he uses as proof he is the typical skinny hardgainer

Sean Nalewanyj before

Here is Sean Nalewanyj now:

Sean Nalewanyj

I find it odd that Sean and some other program owners use a photo of them when they were like 14 or 15. Everyone at that age who is active is often very skinny, regardless of genetics. He certainly has built up his muscularity to a respectable size, so I don’t see why they shouldn’t give a more credible before picture where they are a little older.

Book content:

The book is split up into 10 chapters

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Chapter 2 – The Muscle-Building Philosophy

Chapter 3 – Structuring The Perfect Workout

Chapter 4 – Proper Muscle-Building Nutrition

Chapter 5 – Harnessing Your Inner Power

Chapter 6 – Supplementing For Massive Gains

Chapter 7 – Critical Feeding Times

Chapter 8 – Muscle-Building Myths Uncovered

Chapter 9 – Proper Rest & Recovery

Chapter 10 – Closing Words

The first 7 pages he discusses his struggles of when he was skinny in high school. It was very true to heart and I and many others could relate to him. This was actually the best part of the e-book I thought.

The workout section is where I start to disagree. Sean says muscular failure is needed on all your sets. As I have pointed on in previous articles on this blog, training to failure is not proven to be necessary for gains. In fact it may even hurt you if your not careful.

He also preaches progressive overload, which means you need to increase weight continually to get more gains. He however, doesn’t believe in periodization, another major disagreement I have with him. If you rely on just weight increases you will plateau indefinitely. You have to rely on periodization, meaning radically changing your workout parameters to sustain long term gains. He calls this is a myth in his book. There is no real scientific evidence for his workout routine claims, but there is evidence against it.

Sean also has some good common sense tips such as keeping a journal. The one downside to his book he doesn’t cover much in great detail backed up with a lot of science, like some other e-books would. Some may enjoy the less complicated approach though

The rest of Sean’s muscle building package is full of a lot of helpful goodies. Sean provides access to a excercise database where you can see video of him performing all the excercises. This is good for learning proper form to all these excercises, as proper form is important for muscle gains and preventing injury. He also has a workout book log and tells you exactly how to structure the workouts. The personal trainer software answers questions that others have asked Sean in the past. He also includes meal plan samples, so you can follow his diet to a T.

Is the program worth the money?

The current price of it is 77 dollars. I personally think it’s worth that kind of money if your new to bodybuilding. Other than the workout routine, which I think should be changed often, he does gives great sound advice in his program. You will save a lot of time from spinning your wheels listening to everyone give different advice, if you just follow the advice of Sean’s program only. The other things in his program package are highly useful too. All in all, $77 dollars is a bargain for what you get.


Peanut Butter Causes Cancer?

November 4th, 2007 by Paul Johnson | Comments(8)

Bodybuilders are suggested to eat a high amount of good fats in their diet for hormonal and joint health, and for a good source of calories. Peanut butter is a very common source of fat for most bodybuilders in their diet. Most eat natural peanut butter because it doesn’t contain hydrogenated fats. Peanut butter is considered a good source of fat because it is low in saturated fat and high in monosaturated. The truth is, peanut butter is really not that healthy long term.

Why peanut butter can cause cancer:

Unfortunately a mold commonly winds up growing on peanut butter. This fungus Aspergillus flavus releases a cancer causing metabolic product (mycotoxin) called aflatoxin B1, which is a officially recognized carcinogen (cancer causing compound). Workers around peanuts even have to wear protection because of the health hazard. It is common knowledge that farmers and animals around peanuts have increased liver cancer.

How much of this fungus and to what degree it converts to the mcycotoxin aflatoxin seems to depend on where the peanuts are grown and how they are stored and for how long. Peanuts have less of this problem if they are farmed in dry climates, as the fungus seems to thrive in humidity. Other foods have this fungus growing on it such as walnuts and grains, but peanut butter and corn seem to be the worst afflicted foods. The risk of peanut butter giving liver cancer is a bit exaggerated by some. But most bodybuilders consume it everday, often in high amounts, which could be a problem.

Alternatives to peanut butter:

Almond butter is the best food alternative for peanut butter. Flaxseed oil would even be better, but it’s not a substitute in food as a butter. Almond butter actually has higher omega 3’s than peanut butter anyways and isn’t contaminated with this fungus. Almond butter is not as tasty as peanut butter, but at least you know you won’t be posioning your body. If you decide to use peanut butter, see if you can get peanuts grown in dry areas, to help reduce or eliminate fungus contamination.

R.O.B Approach by Rob Thoburn

November 3rd, 2007 by Paul Johnson | Comments(4)

Rob Thoburn has been in the bodybuilding and supplement industry for decades. A few years ago he launched a website and a interesting workout program he called the R.O.B approach. The ROB stands for Rest Only Briefly.

What makes his workout system so unique, is that he was a claimed hardgainer, yet he advocated very high volume at very high intensity. It was basically everything against what bodybuilders have been taught for years now. Hardgainers do low volume high intensity because they are taught that is best for them.

Rob thoburn says that he struggled for years to build muscle. It wasn’t until he changed his routine radically to a higher volume and intensity, that he noticed dramatic muscle gains immediately. His pictures from when he was younger, shows a tall very skinny person, so I believe he is a true hardgainer.

Here are some pictures of him now:

Rob Thoburn

Rob thoburn back

Rob thoburn Triple H

Principles of the R.O.B Approach:

Rob Thoburn seems to emphasize workouts more than diet. He doesn’t even believe that you need to eat protein around the clock in 6 meals or eating obnoxious amount of calories. What is more important to him is getting the total protein intake per day and making sure you stimulate the muscles in grueling workouts.

The R.O.B approach is not a specific workout routine, he only gives guidelines. The basics of his workout are 5 to 8 reps per set done to failure with only 10 to 50 seconds of rest between each set. He believes in very high volume and even says it’s ok working the muscle out 2 times a day. He leaves it up to the individual to decide the set volume per week per muscle, but he puts an emphasis on very high volume and intensity, to force the muscles to grow.

Is the R.O.B Approach the right way for hardgainers?

Rob thoburn has said his workouts will work for not just hardgainers, but everyone. Many have asked what makes his program any different than past volume programs that left hardgainers with little results. He believes the high intensity, with the low rest time is a crucial part in forcing the muscles to grow.

I have tried to ease into the R.O.B approach workouts, but I found the workouts so taxing I could never workout the muscle twice a day or even week, like he recommends. If you don’t ease into the workout slowly over weeks, you will feel burned out and overtrained very quickly if your used to low volume. It is very hard workout to keep up with the intensity with so many sets.

I personally never really noticed a dramatic benefit from changing my routine to more like the R.O.B approach. You will also burn a lot of calories from these workouts making it hard to get bigger. The amount of sets and intensity is simply not worth it to me, seeing as I couldn’t see a benefit from the workout over other ones. I have noticed that the popularity of his site and program has dwindled over the years. He used to have a forum on his site and used to visit other bodybuilding forums. Perhaps this is a testimony of how others feel about it too.

You can see some more of his pictures and read more about his program and even download his free E-book at his site RobThoburn

Training to Muscle failure

November 2nd, 2007 by Paul Johnson | Comments(5)

Whether or not training a set to muscular failure is better (or even necessary) for muscle growth, is a age old debate in bodybuilding. Muscular failure means doing reps in a set, until you can no longer lift the weight with proper form through the full range of motion.

Why is this last rep so important to discuss?

It may only seem like just another rep that happens to be the last in a set, but bodybuilders and scientist have viewed the last rep to failure as distinctly different from the other reps. Bodybuilders see it as giving it “your all” and fatiguing the muscle completely. Some high intensity workout programs, believe that you must go to failure for maximum muscle and strength gains.

Training to failure research studies:

To see why scientist see this rep differently, let’s look at some research.

A study published (J Appl Physiol. 2006 May;100(5):1647-56. Epub 2006 Jan 12.) did a 11 week resistance training program of failure vs nonfailure groups. Immediately after the 11th week all groups did the same workout, to see the effects each previous training led. Both groups had similiar increases in one rep max. During the 2nd phase of the study, there was an increase in muscular endurance in the failure group and power in the nonfailure group. The failure group had lower IGF-1 levels (important anabolic hormone for muscle growth), while the nonfailure group had lower resting levels of cortisol and higher testosterone levels.

A study published in (J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May;19(2):382-8) compared failure to nonfailure in 26 basketball players. The failure group did 4 sets of 6 repetitions every 260 seconds, whereas the nonfailure 8 sets of 3 repetitions every 113. Results showed that the failure group had significant strength increases over the non-failure group. One problem I have with this study is, time under tension differences between the sets. The failure group is doing 6 reps in a set instead of 3 reps. Even though the weight is the same and the time is lessened to increase intensity, 3 reps per set is not going to be the same stimulus.

A few months ago JM Willardson, who has published some important studies in excercise science, wrote a research note recently in (J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May;21(2):628-31.) He acknowledged that there isn’t enough conclusive evidence yet, whether sets should be done to failure or not. However, willardson recommended advanced lifters use training failure to break past plateaus, due to increased activation of motor units and the hormonal response. He also didn’t recommend it long term due to overtraining and risk of injury.

For further reading, you may want to read this previous article:

-Forced reps vs. regular reps