Building muscle is not as difficult as most people think. Since maintaining adequate muscle mass is crucial for overall fitness and health, adopting the simplest and most effective ways to do so will be more likely to ensure your success.
Start out by forgetting about and ignoring the majority of what you’ve heard or done yourself for muscle building. Diet, exercise, and supplements can only be helpful if you know which foods, workouts, and nutrients are truly useful. Each of these is a topic by itself, so this post will focus on one of these categories: muscle building supplements.
By the way, the benefits of certain supplements diminish as you age. Here is what you should know.
Bodybuilding supplements follow the marketing hype of the “flavor of the month” approach that browbeats people with testimonials from cut-in-stone guys and gals that are as far removed from normal reality as they can get. Don’t you buy into that crapola. Most of the products on the market won’t really help us normal folks, anyway.
In general, this kind of hype is closer to being fraudulent than it is to being of value to your fitness and health.
So let’s dispense with that avenue of supplementation right now and move on to some simple things that really work.
Enhancing Normal Metabolism
The guiding principle that I like to follow, and suggest to others, is finding out what our bodies are supposed to do, then seeking supplements that capitalize on normal metabolism.
This is where it gets a little tricky, because “normal” is a moving target. It changes as we age, mostly to our detriment. Fortunately, there is quite a bit we can do to slow down our deterioration – i.e., so-called anti-aging strategies.
Hormone balance is key for fitness and health every which way from Sunday. Imbalances among any of hundreds of hormones that our bodies normally produce – e.g., steroids, neurohormones, thyroid hormones, peptides too numerous to count – can just make getting older a bad experience.
Prescription hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, growth hormone and insulin, at best, offer a mixed bag of effectiveness for correcting hormone imbalances.
Certain supplements supposedly direct metabolism to make up for specific hormone deficiencies. Hormone deficiencies underlie classic aging, including muscle atrophy, starting at about age 25. In other words, unless you do something to slow down hormone drop-offs, loss of muscle mass will continue as you age.
This is where boosting levels of growth hormone (i.e., HGH) can be very helpful. Doing so is relatively simple by enhancing the release of HGH from the pituitary gland. A whole raft of supplements are marketed for their HGH-releasing properties, some of which actually work. They form a category of supplements called HGH secretagogues.
The most well-researched HGH secretagogue is undoubtedly L-arginine, which is a common amino acid that occurs in all dietary proteins.
Before I get too far into this topic, let me stress that the research on L-arginine as an HGH secretagogue shows it to be highly age-dependent.
The cut-off age seems to be 45-50 years old. Beyond that, L-arginine has little or no effect, even in massive doses. Do not despair if you are older than 50, though. I’ll tell you about another muscle building supplement below that does not have an apparent age limit.
How to Use L-Arginine
For the under-50 crowd, a dose of L-arginine an hour before a weightlifting workout speeds muscle building and fat loss. For example, the protocol used by researcher Sandy Shaw simply entailed taking 10 grams of L-arginine before doing bench press workouts. She lost 25 pounds of fat and gained 5 pounds of muscle within 6 weeks on this regimen.
Clinical studies have shown that various doses of L-arginine have a wide range of effectiveness. Starting dosages are typically 2 to 5 grams on an empty stomach one hour before exercise and before bedtime. Side effects may include stomach upset, nausea, and diarrhea. However, these can be minimized by starting at low dosages (1 gram) and building up slowly.
Effects of L-Arginine on Exercise Performance
L-Arginine enhances exercise performance because it is one of the main ingredients that goes into the biosynthesis of creatine in the liver. Creatine is important for high-intensity, short duration exercises for muscle building.
This means that L-arginine provides a two-fold boost in exercise performance by stimulating growth hormone levels and by fueling the synthesis of creatine.
Positive effects of Larginine supplementation also include boosting the immune system, fighting cancer, protecting the liver, promoting healing of burns and wounds, enhancing male fertility, and restoring sexual function in impotent men. Most of these benefits come from stimulating HGH secretion.
Enhancing Performance with Additional Amino Acids
Bodybuilders get even better results by combining L-arginine with other amino acids, such as L-ornithine, L-lysine, and L-glutamine. This is called stacking. When taken together, these amino acids have a synergistic effect on HGH secretion.
A beginner’s stack is 2 grams each of L-arginine and L-ornithine and 1 gram each of L-lysine and L-glutamine. An advanced stack would include 2 grams each of all four amino acids. The arginine-lysine-glutamine trio is especially important because it stimulates insulin levels, even on an empty stomach.
The combination of HGH and insulin in the absence of food drives the incorporation of amino acids into muscle. When taken before bedtime, this combination also stops the body from breaking down as much muscle tissue as it normally does during a night’s sleep.
Anti-aging clinics are on the rise, even though the FDA looks somewhat askance at them. (One of our local clinics in Scottsdale, AZ, even got raided by the feds. Just routine government hassling – apparently no charges were filed.)
Nevertheless, such clinics do represent shortcuts of sorts for anti-aging strategies that will add muscle. The most common prescriptions entail treatment with testosterone and/or HGH directly. Getting hormone treatments like this obviates the need for supplementation.
If you decide to follow that kind of shortcut, be sure to stay in close touch with your doctor so you do not exceed normal levels of either hormone. What that means is to be determined in consultation with your doctor. Virtually all of the controversy associated with direct hormone treatments using testosterone and HGH are based on using excessive levels.
Keep things simple with Growth Hormone Support by Pure Encapsulations. It provides a combination of L-arginine and an activated form of L-ornithine. If you order from our store at that link, be sure to use the access code ‘dnc42‘ when you login or create your account with us.
Best Supplement for Aging Muscles
The majority of muscle building supplements completely fail to work as well in older adults as they do in 20- to 40-somethings. Fortunately for me and all other AARPers, key research shows how a particular amino acid derivative fills the void. It is related to all the hullaballoo about branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements for bodybuilders.
There are only three BCAAs that normally occur in dietary proteins: L-leucine, L-isoleucine and L-valine. Without getting technical about what distinguishes BCAAs from other amino acids, I’ll just point out that they comprise three of the nine essential amino acids for humans, meaning we have to get them in our diet. In addition, these three BCAAs account for 35 percent of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and 40 percent of the preformed amino acids required by mammals.
Of particular interest for us seniors, though, is what our bodies do with L-leucine. In essence we slowly convert L-leucine into a very active muscle building metabolite called beta-hydroxy betamethylbutyrate (HMB). Typically we make 200-400 mg per day. We can also get a small amount in certain foods, particularly grapefruit, catfish, and alfalfa. (Okay then … grapefruit and catfish, unless you like to munch on alfalfa hay.)
The bonus for seniors is that HMB has a comparable effect for building muscle mass in older as well as younger adults.
Key Research on HMB
The study that really got my attention is summarized in the abstract of this research article:
Vukovich MD, Stubbs NB, Bohlken RM. Body composition in 70-year-old adults responds to dietary beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate similarly to that of young adults. J Nutr. 2001 Jul;131(7):2049-52.
Studies in young adults have demonstrated that beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) can increase gains in strength and fat-free mass during a progressive resistance-training program. The purpose of this study was to determine whether HMB would similarly benefit 70-y-old adults undergoing a 5 d/wk exercise program. Thirty-one men (n = 15) and women (n = 16) (70 +/- 1 y) were randomly assigned in a double-blind study to receive either capsules containing a placebo or Ca-HMB (3 g/d) for the 8-wk study. Skin fold estimations of body composition as well as computerized tomography (CT) and dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans were measured before the study and immediately after the 8-wk training program. HMB supplementation tended to increase fat-free mass gain (HMB, 0.8 +/- 0.4 kg; placebo, -0.2 +/- 0.3 kg; treatment x time, P = 0.08). Furthermore, HMB supplementation increased the percentage of body fat loss (skin fold: HMB, -0.66 +/- 0.23%; placebo, -0.03 +/- 0.21%; P = 0.05) compared with the placebo group. CT scans also indicated a greater decrease in the percentage of body fat with HMB supplementation (P < 0.05). In conclusion, changes in body composition can be accomplished in 70-y-old adults participating in a strength training program, as previously demonstrated in young adults, when HMB is supplemented daily.
The highlighted conclusion states the main result of interest. Specifically, 70-somethings gained an average of 800 grams (0.8 kg) of fat free mass after only 8 weeks of taking 3 grams of supplemental HMB, 5 days a week.
Also note the bonus result of decreasing body fat composition at the same time.
REPEAT: These results occurred in subjects who were in their 70s!
Many manufacturers offer HMB-containing products. They all have two disadvantages. One is that they too often come with other ingredients that have little to do with muscle building and more to do with justifying a high price. The simplest products are the most cost-effective.
The other disadvantage is that, since HMB is patented, all manufacturers have to pay a licensing fee for using it in their products. This means there are no discount products on the market yet.
My product of choice, the one I take myself is HMB Plus by Pure Encapsulations. It is the simplest and most cost-effective formula that I know of.
For the younger and more impatient crowd, though, fast results from a complex containing HMB with muscle-building amino acids might be more desirable. The most loaded combination that I have found is HMB Complex by Seroyal/Genestra.
Once again, if you order from our store at either of those links, be sure to use the access code ‘dnc42‘ when you login or create your account with us.
NOW GO BUILD SOME MUSCLE!
All the best,