However, its use as a GH releaser never materialized into new muscles for users,
so it quickly fell out of favor. Recently however, there has been a resurgence of
interest in arginine by athletes and supplement companies. This is due to recent
findings showing a long list of possible uses with arginine, ranging from possible
protection from heart disease, reducing cholesterol, to increasing blood flow.
The reason for this surge of interest in arginine by researchers is its connection to a molecule called nitric oxide (NO). NO is the new super star molecule with
researchers as it appears to play a role directly or indirectly in almost every aspect of human physiology.
Arginine is a key component of the NO production pathway (arginine serves as the
substrates for the nitric oxide synthase enzyme, which produces citrulline and NO
from arginine) which is essential for a cascade of reactions involved in
vasodilation and cardiovascular function.
Recent data suggests arginine may have some legitimate uses regarding health and
well being. For example, the lining of artery walls called the endothelium needs to
dilate and contract effectively. NO is essential to this function and several studies
have found arginine supplements at 8-20 grams per day restored endothelial
vasodilation in the coronary arteries and may improves overall blood flow which is
important for people suffering from ischemic issues.
Arginine has shown a very good safety profile to date and appears to have virtually
no toxic effects. From an athletic/muscle building point of view, things become
much less clear. Early studies suggested arginine could increase growth hormone
levels, but in truth
(b) short lived spikes in GH don’t appear to have any positive effects on muscle mass or performance in healthy athletes anyway. Also, NO is a
messenger molecule related to virtually just about every pathway in the human
body one way or another.
Therefore, simply raising NO will have both positive and negative effects, most of
which are not known at this time. It may be shown that the improved blood flow
might increase oxygen saturation of tissues making it a good candidate for
endurance athletes or a pre workout supplement for bodybuilders, but that has yet
to be proven.
Unfortunately the data that has examined effects in athletes is lacking and some
supplement companies are far overstating arginine’s potential role in muscle
growth or performance. From a health perspective, arginine may have some real
direct uses for people with high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, ischemic
(meaning a reduced blood flow and oxygen delivery to tissues) and even men with
erectile dysfunction. As for athletes, the jury is still out but arginine is one of those supplements to keep a close eye on for sure. At this time, I would not recommend it to athletes however for increasing either muscle mass or performance. For that use, it gets a thumb’s down.
In the world of amino acids, the structural “building blocks” of proteins, there are
several classes and types of aminos. For example, we have the essential amino
acids, the non-essential amino acids, the conditionally essential amino acids and
the branch chain amino acids (BCAA).
The essential amino acids are deemed as such because the body cannot manufacture them and they must be supplied by the diet. The non-essential amino acids can be made from the essential amino acids, and thus don’t have to be supplied by the diet for survival, though many non-essential amino acids play essential roles in health and metabolism in their own right.
The conditionally essential amino acids, so named because during certain periods,
such as infancy or certain metabolic states, can be considered essential for that
period of time. The branch chain amino acids (so named because they branch off
another chain of atoms rather than form a straight line as other amino acids do) are
leucine, valine and iso-leucine.
The BCAA’s are the amino acids that are primarily used (oxidized) during exercise
and make up to one third of the amino acids in muscle tissue. It has been known
for a long time that BCAA’s play a critical role in the turn over of lean body
tissues (muscle) and is muscle sparing (i.e. anti-catabolic) in a variety of muscles
wasting states. Of the three BCAA, L-leucine appears to be the most important to
preserving hard earned muscle mass; intense exercise and certain disease states
have been shown to eat up a great deal of L-leucine.
So far so good! On the research front, some studies have found the consumption of
BCAA before endurance exercise may decrease the rate of protein degradation and
may have a sparing effect on muscle glycogen degradation and depletion of muscle
However, leucine supplementation at 200 mg per kg of bodyweight prior to
anaerobic running exercise (sprinting) did not improve performance.
Truth is, research to date with BCAA’s and performance has been contradictory at
best. One of the major drawbacks of the BCAA’s as a supplement is dosage. It
takes very high doses to see any ergogenic effect, assuming there are any
ergogenic effects to be had, as studies are still limited and or contradictory.
Although BCAA’s supplementation may or may not be effective, it is cost
prohibitive when one factors in the amounts needed. The good news however is
that proteins, in particular whey protein, is very high in BCAA’s and this may be
yet another reason whey is the so popular with athletes and so impressive in the
As amino acids relating to the functions they play in the body, they get a thumb’s
up from me, but as a supplement they get a thumb’s down at this time. It’s far more
cost effective to use a high BCAA content protein supplement than take BCAA’s
supplements in capsule form due to the high doses needed.
There is almost no one on the planet that has not heard of Creatine at this point. Yet it’s surprising that so much confusion, misinformation and disinformation still exists.
What is Creatine? During short maximal bouts of exercise such as weight training or sprinting, stored adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the dominant energy source. However, stored ATP is depleted rapidly. To give energy, ATP loses a phosphate and
becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP). At this point the ADP must be converted
back to ATP to derive energy from this energy producing system.
Creatine is stored in the human body as Creatine phosphate (CP) also called phosphoCreatine. When ATP is depleted, it can be recharged by Creatine phosphate. That is, the CP donates a phosphate to the ADP making it ATP again.
An increased pool of CP means faster and greater recharging of ATP and therefore
more work can be performed for a short duration, such as sprinting, weight lifting
and other explosive anaerobic endeavors.
The above was of course an immensely over simplified review of an exceptionally
complex system, but the basic explanation is correct. To date, research has shown
ingesting Creatine can increase the total body pool of CP which leads to greater
generation of force with anaerobic forms of exercise, such as weight training,
Other effects of Creatine may be increases in protein synthesis and increased cell
hydration, though researchers are still elucidating the effects.
Creatine is formed in the human body from the amino acids methionine, glycine
and arginine. Certain foods such as beef, herring and salmon, are fairly high in
Creatine but a person would have to eat pounds of these foods daily to equal what
can be found in one teaspoon of powdered Creatine from a supplement. The
average person’s body contains approximately 120 grams of Creatine stored as
Creatine and Creatine phosphate.
Creatine has had spotty results in research that examined its effects on endurance
oriented sports such as swimming, rowing and long distance running, with some
studies showing no positive effects on performance with endurance athletes.
Whether or not the failure of Creatine to improve performance with endurance
athletes was due to the nature of the sport or the design of the studies is still being debated. But one thing is for sure; the research is stronger in the high intensity short duration sports.
Creatine can be found in the form of Creatine monohydrate, Creatine citrate,
Creatine phosphate, Creatine-magnesium kelate and even liquid versions.
However, the vast majority of research to date showing Creatine to have an effect
on muscle mass and performance used the monohydrate form and most Creatine
found in supplements