TRAIN TO GAIN

Myostatin and Mass Exodus

Jerry Brainum

Myostatin is a hot topic in bodybuilding these days. Although discovered by scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1997, myostatin remained obscure, except among researchers, until recently. It’s a naturally occurring body protein, and its synthesis is coded by genes. It also limits muscular growth. Scientists are still uncertain as to exactly how that works, but they believe it may block the activity of immature muscle cells, called satellite cells, that are involved in muscle repair and growth.

Animals born without the genes that code for myostatin become strikingly muscular and devoid of any superficial bodyfat—precisely the appearance sought by most competitive bodybuilders. Animals without myostatin also have muscles that are two to three times larger than the average. Test animals that were bred specifically to lack the myostatin gene showed significant muscular growth and a lack of bodyfat—and no particular health problems.

The implication is that myostatin-blocking activity is a magic bullet for a muscular body. Thus far, the only abnormalities that have turned up in myostatin-knockout animals are comparative weaknesses in the vertebral bone structure, evidently due to the excessive muscle surrounding the vertebral column—an imbalance between great muscular bulk and bone density in that area of the body. All other bony structures appear normal in such animals.

Scientists were quick to recognize the medical potential of arresting myostatin activity in such diseases as muscular dystrophy, cancer and AIDS, which are characterized by pronounced muscular wasting, or catabolism, and elevated levels of cortisol and myostatin. Several substances are known to block myostatin activity in the body. Recently, scientists isolated GASP-1, a protein that appears to be the body’s natural myostatin blocker. Some food-supplement companies are now selling products that contain a type of sea algae that, when exposed to myostatin in the lab, binds to it and ostensibly blocks its activity. Because what happens in a test tube isn’t necessarily duplicated in the human body, however, the true test will be to give the supposed myostatin blocker to human athletes, give a similar group a placebo, and then observe the results. No such study has been published.

One overlooked way to inhibit myostatin is simply by lifting weights, according to a newly published study that followed four men and four women, age 20 to 30, and another three men and four women, age 65 to 70, for nine weeks.1 The subjects, all untrained, participated in a resistance-exercise program consisting of just one exercise: one-leg extensions done three times a week. At the end of the study all subjects showed an average 37 percent drop in myostatin activity, an effect solely due to exercise.

Keep in mind that the research sample consisted of untrained adults who did only one exercise three times a week: The effect would likely be greatly magnified in healthy, hard-training bodybuilders. In fact, my guess is that myostatin activity would decrease by at least twice as much. Conversely, not working out for an extended time would induce a gradual rise in myostatin activity.

1 Roth, S.M., et al. (2003). Myostatin gene expression is reduced in humans with heavy-resistance strength training: A brief communication. Exp Biol Med. 228:706-709.


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Choose to Snooze

Becky Holman

Choose to Snooze

Bodybuilders know that more restful sleep means better workouts, more growth hormone and a stronger immune system. So what’s an insomniac to do? While serious sleep disorders may require a physician’s attention, you can try some techniques to improve your sleep. These tips are from the Web site Webmd.com:

Pump Protector and Fat Ejector

Jerry Brainum

Pump Protector and Fat Ejector

L-arginine has recently emerged as the superstar amino acid, displacing such previous favorites as glutamine and leucine. That’s particularly interesting because L-arginine isn’t even considered an essential amino acid, meaning one that must be provided in food. Like glutamine, it’s a conditionally essential amino: one that’s required in greater amounts during times of growth and stress.

Vacuum Your Waist

Frank Zane

Vacuum Your Waist

 Watching the ’03 Arnold Classic men’s pro physique competition, Reg Park, who was sitting next to me, remarked that just about every contestant had a big waist. “Guess it’s not only me who notices this,” I thought. “Whatever happened to the quest for a small waist?” The distended gut, or “blabs” syndrome, is commonplace among today’s top competitors. In their endeavor to get as big as possible by eating vast amounts of food and engaging in excessive pharmaceutical enhancement, they’ve caused everything to grow to colossal size, including their waistlines. True, there are a few exceptions—Shawn Ray, Kevin Levrone, Dexter Jackson and Chris Cormier. But those guys aren’t winning. I wonder what might happen if the stomach vacuum pose were made mandatory.

Whey More Than a Muscle Builder

Jerry Brainum

Whey More Than a Muscle Builder

Without a doubt, whey-based supplements are the most popular protein compounds among bodybuilders and other active people. In a way, that’s ironic, since whey was once considered a junk by-product of cheese manufacturing. On the other hand, milk protein, consisting of 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey, has long been considered one of the most biologically active protein sources.

Olympic Muscle

Charles Poliquin

Olympic Muscle

Q: Are the Olympic lifts of significant value to bodybuilders?

A: The snatch and the clean and jerk are contested in the Olympic Games for the sport of weightlifting. They have little positive influence on furthering a bodybuilder’s goals; however, some of the assistance exercises that Olympic lifters routinely use for improving their results on Olympic lifts can help bodybuilders way more than snatches and clean and jerks. I’m talking about the various forms of the power snatch and power cleans, as well as the various forms of the Olympic pulls (snatch pulls and clean pulls)—roughly 70 exercises. One favorite exercise of Olympic lifters, which is unfortunately not used by bodybuilders, is the front squat.