Written by Steve Blechman and Tom Fahey, Ed.D.
12 November 2017


Fundamentals of Building Muscle: The Top 31 - The Final 11



Every issue of Muscular Development is packed with the latest cutting-edge research and authoritative information on building muscle, burning fat, increasing strength, achieving optimal health and maximizing performance. 2016 was a banner year for research on training, nutrition and fat loss, and we have compiled the top breakthroughs and best science to enable you to train smart and effectively in 2017. In total there are 31 fundamentals.


21) Melatonin Helps Cut Fat

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that promotes sleep. It is produced cyclically in response to darkness and light. Supplementing melatonin might promote weight control— according to the results of a study on mice by Italian researchers. Lean and obese mice were given melatonin or a placebo in their drinking water for eight weeks. Melatonin reduced weight, fat storage area and reversed fat tissue enlargement in the obese mice, but not the lean mice. It worked by decreasing inflammation and normalizing adipokines, which are important fat-signaling chemicals. It also activated brown fat and enhanced energy expenditure. Melatonin supplements help promote sleep and weight control. (Nutrition Research, 35: 891-900, 2015)


22) High-Intensity Interval Training Promotes Appetite Control

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves repeated repetitions of high-intensity exercise lasting 10 to 120 seconds, followed by rest or reduced exercise intensity. HIIT produces rapid improvements in endurance, maximal oxygen consumption, glycogen storage and muscle cell mitochondria (cell powerhouses) in less time than traditional exercise training. Its effects on obesity and weight control are not totally understood. Aaron Sim and colleagues from the University of Western Australia found that HIIT practiced for 12 weeks reduced appetite in overweight, inactive men better than continuous exercise. The HIIT program consisted of repeated bouts of exercise on a stationary bike for 15 seconds at maximum intensity, followed by one minute of rest. Traditional training involved 30 to 45 minutes of continuous exercise on a stationary bike at 60 percent effort. Appetite was assessed during test meals. The HIIT group showed improvements in appetite regulation during the test meals, while there were no changes in the traditional exercise group or controls. HIIT also improved blood sugar regulation. HIIT is a good training method for weight control and management of insulin sensitivity. (Medicine Science Sports Exercise, 47: 2441-2449, 2015)


23) Low-Fat Diets Don’t Work

During the past 35 years, nutritional experts have advised people to cut down the amount of fats they consume. The origin of this recommendation was the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs Committee chaired by former U.S. Senator George McGovern (1968 and 1977). This productive committee established reduced intake of fats and increased consumption of carbohydrates as national goals. Americans took this advice to heart, and obesity rates went through the stratosphere. Deirdre Tobias and co-workers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University conducted a meta-analysis that pooled the results of 53 randomized trials on the effects of low-fat diets on long-term weight loss. Low-fat diets do not cause more weight loss than diets higher in fat. Fat has been demonized for nearly half a century, based more on political considerations than scientific fact. (The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 3: 968-979, 2015)


24) High-Protein Diets Reduce Fat Without Harming Kidney Function

A landmark study led by Stuart Phillips from McMaster University in Canada showed that young men consuming a low-calorie, high-protein diet (2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day) combined with an intense exercise program gained lean body mass while losing fat, compared to a group with normal protein intake (1.2 grams per kilogram). While the changes were remarkable, the possible side effects of a high-protein, weight-loss diet are unknown. A study led by Claire Berryman from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts found that a diet high in plant and animal proteins reduced abdominal fat without affecting kidney function. People can safely and effectively follow a low-calorie, high-protein diet to lose weight. (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 104:743-749, 2016)


25) Cinnamon Improves Blood Sugar Regulation

Some of the simplest foods are sometimes the healthiest. Cinnamon is a popular kitchen spice used to flavor oatmeal, desserts, coffee and hot chocolate. It also promotes insulin metabolism and improves blood sugar control. Cinnamon contains antioxidants called phenols that decrease inflammation and promote blood vessel health. Its active ingredient is cinnamic acid, which is also found in fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Chinese researchers found that cinnamon extract improved blood sugar regulation in people with type 2 diabetes. Even small doses of cinnamon were helpful. People who consumed 120 milligrams per day of cinnamon for three months showed reduced blood sugar, triglycerides (blood fats) and hemoglobin A1c (a marker of long-term blood sugar regulation). Including cinnamon in the diet might reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Bodybuilders would benefit by sprinkling a teaspoon of cinnamon on their oatmeal at breakfast. (Nutrition Research, 32: 408-412, 2012)


26) HMB and PEAK ATP® Build Strength and Power, and Prevent Overtraining

Consuming PEAK ATP® and HMB supplements during a 12-week weight-training program increased strength and power, and prevented the effects of overtraining— according to a study led by Ryan Lowery from the Department of Health Sciences and Human Performance at the University of Tampa in Florida. The test subjects practiced an eight-week weight-training program, followed by an intense two-week program designed to cause overreaching, followed by a two-week taper. Subjects consumed three grams of free-form HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate) and 400 milligrams of PEAK ATP® (adenosine triphosphate) or placebo (fake supplements) daily during the study. The HMB/ATP subjects made substantial gains in strength and power during the entire study. The placebo group improved less, and regressed during the two-week overreaching phase. Supplementing HMB and PEAK ATP® during intense training increases strength and power above training alone, and prevents performance decreases during periods of intense training. (Journal Strength Conditioning Research, 30: 1843-1854, 2016)


27) Capsaicin Prevents Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps are caused by excessive firing of nerve cells in the spinal cord that control muscle contraction— according to studies presented at the annual meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Neurology by Nobel laureate Roderick MacKinnon. Flooding the sensory nerves in the mouth, esophagus and stomach with a pungent liquid consisting of spice extracts containing capsaicin prevents nervous system overload of muscles that can trigger cramps. Based on his research, a company called FLEXPharma developed HOTSHOT to tone down neural overreaction to training and prevent cramps. The product may also help people stricken with nocturnal cramping. While the concept is interesting, it hasn’t been tested in rigorous scientific studies. (The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2016)


28) Vitamin D Essential for Muscle Mass and Strength

Low vitamin D levels are linked to poor bone health, muscle weakness, deficiencies in reproductive hormones, low aerobic capacity and increased body mass index (the proportion of weight to height). A review of literature by Stéphane Walrand from the University of Auvergne concluded that vitamin D is essential for building muscle strength and muscle mass in older adults, and that supplements could benefit people of any age. Vitamin D is synthesized in the body in a reaction involving sunlight. It can also be consumed in the diet by eating fatty fish, mushrooms and supplements. The supplement works best in people who are vitamin D-deficient and those over 65. (Gériatrie et Psychologie Neuropsychiatrie du Vieillissement, published online April 21, 2016)


29) High-Protein Diet Plus Weight Training Improves Body Composition

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a daily protein intake of 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Active people might benefit from as much as 1.5 grams per kilogram. Jose Antonio from Nova Southeastern University in Florida, and colleagues, found that high protein intake (3.4 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day) plus a periodized weight-training program for eight weeks showed greater decreases in bodyweight, percent fat and fat mass than a group consuming 2.3 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. There were no differences in fat-free mass (largely composed of muscle). Previous studies showed overfeeding protein without weight training did not alter body composition. The researchers concluded that intensely training athletes would benefit from protein intakes greater than two grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. (Journal International Society Sports Nutrition, 13: 3, 2016)


30) Which Is Healthier: Farm or Wild Salmon?

Salmon is a healthy food because it contains omega-3 fatty acids that protect against heart attack and stroke, promote infant brain development and help ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and postpartum depression. A public health service group called the Environmental Working Group said that farm-raised salmon fillets sampled in three major cities contained unsafe levels of chemicals called PCBs that make their consumption dangerous— particularly in pregnant women. The PCB levels are above those recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but within those set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Healthy fish choices high in omega-3s include wild salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel. Fish high in mercury, another dangerous contaminant, include albacore tuna, swordfish, shark, red snapper and halibut. In late 2015, the FDA approved genetically engineered farmed salmon and will not require specific source labels. (ConsumerLab.com, January 3, 2016)


31) Soy Protein Reduces Strength Gains From Weight Training in Older Adults

Whey protein plus weight training promotes muscle protein synthesis in older adults and prevents sarcopenia— loss of muscle tissue that occurs with age. Rebecca Thompson and colleagues from the University of South Australia in Adelaide, in a study on aging men, found that supplementing diets with 27 grams of soy protein immediately after weight training caused lower strength gains, compared to a group receiving dairy protein. Estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogens found in soya, tofu and legumes bind to estrogen receptors, decrease sperm counts and have feminizing effects. A product found in soy-based foods called genistein acts like a weak estrogen.

Soy protein might have reduced strength gains in older men because of its effects on testosterone. Messina and colleagues (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 2007) found that soy protein supplements (approximately 55 grams per day for a month) decreased blood testosterone levels by 19 percent and increased estrogen receptor activity. Testosterone levels returned to normal within two weeks of discontinuing the soy supplement. (Clinical Nutrition, 35: 27-33, 2016)







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