elitefts™ Sunday Edition

New GH Test Catches Two Powerlifters

Since 2003, USADA (of recent Lance Armstrong notoriety) and WADA have been funding research on better ways to detect human growth hormone use in athletes. Based at the University of Southampton, this research team—Growth Hormone-2004 Project—just got its first catch: Nikolay Marfin and Vadim Rakitin, two Russian paralympic powerlifters, were suspended for two years after testing positive for exogenous GH use.

The testing method is blood-based and looks for high concentrations of an insulin-like growth factor and a marker of collagen synthesis. Both of these products are increased by exposure to growth hormone, and they remain evident in the system even weeks after users have finished their cycles.

If I had to guess, beyond WADA and USADA-supervised events, elitefts™ readers might next see these tests mentioned in the context of labor negotiations involving American pro baseball and football teams. Human growth hormone is readily available, hard to detect, and given its purported recovery abilities and anabolic properties, is a PED of choice in many sports.

Novel Mass-Building Supplement has First Positive Test

There might be a new mass-gainer to try out.  A recent study by faculty at the University of Central Florida has linked phosphatidic acid supplementation with mass and strength gains among trained subjects.

Cell membranes are made of phospholipids, including phosphatidic acid (PA). PA seems to activate mTOR, which is a major muscle-growth pathway. Since it’s not readily available in our diet (membranes make up a fraction of the material in the plant and animal products we eat), the research crew theorized that supplementation could trigger muscle growth. The PI and Co-PIs set up a study with sixteen men divided into experimental and placebo groups that were trained for eight weeks using a bodybuilder-style program. The experimental group received 750mg of PA per day. DEXA scans and 1RM strength tests determined changes in the subjects, with the PA group gaining almost 3.75 pounds of muscle, compared to 0.2 pounds for the placebo group.

On the other hand, the data beyond this was a little muddled.  There looked to be some slight squat improvements for the PA group, but nothing that sets my hair on fire. Coupled with the small sample size, the difficulty in running a truly controlled program (especially in regard to diet), and the potential for bias towards either of the two supplement companies supporting their work, I’d say the study is one to take with a grain of salt.

And this will be a little on the fringe, but given the propensity of some supplement manufacturers to tinker with off-label ingredients, I’m always concerned about testing mass-market products. The phosphatidic acid they used wasn’t formulated in the lab or with bulk ingredients from a supplier, but with an off-the-shelf commercial product that’s coming to a supplement shop near you. Unfortunately, the study didn’t state anywhere that it tested for product purity.

All that said, if stronger studies duplicate these results (especially in individuals with longer training histories), it might be worth keeping an eye on. Availability will precede the science, so readers will have a shot at self-experimentation long before there’s a critical mass of evidence.

Source:  Efficacy of phosphatidic acid ingestion on lean body mass, muscle thickness and strength gains in resistance-trained men.  Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2012, 9:47

Sex Hormones and Life Expectancy

There’s been a long-simmering hunch that the typical cocktail of sex hormones in men has a way of shortening life expectancy via a few different pathways.  The problem with determining the veracity of this is finding someone to complete a double-blind study: it’s just really tough recruiting castration volunteers.

Historical studies on eunuchs offer at least some evidence for the theory, though past research is complicated by the very different lives eunuchs lead in comparison to their larger society. A recent look at the Yang-Se-Gye-Bo, a genealogy record of Korean eunuchs who served royal families, offers some clues. Since these eunuchs essentially lived the same lifestyles as royalty (including taking up wives and adopted children), the familial records of royals from the same time could conceivably be matched with the eunuch records to serve as a control and experimental groups.

A Korean research team took up this task and found that, on average, a group of 81 eunuchs outlived their male lieges by about 15-20 years. Accepting that this is a historical analysis and not an experimental work, it’s an interesting piece. Just within the context of other eunuch studies, the authors note that their conclusions roughly match evidence presented in a study from the late 1960s. As far as relevance to daily life, though, most research on eunuchs involves subjects who were castrated as children. Assuming someone sought to use this information to extend the lives of men, translating it into action would have some pretty obvious ethical problems.

Source: The lifespan of Korean eunuchs.  Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 18, R792-R793, 25 September 2012

Further Exploration of Occlusion Training

Occlusion training (or kaatsu, as it was coined in its homeland of Japan) involves strength training while the actively-used muscles are constricted. When I last looked at occlusion training (Strength 101: Part II – The Methods of Strength Development), researchers were still trying to figure out if the method actually worked, and if so, how it worked. Not much has changed since then, though there are some new ideas out there.

The latest theory for why occlusion training works goes back to mTOR signaling, though not in a manner you might be thinking. The authors of the paper below postulate that the physical swelling of an active muscle against the occlusion device forces water into muscle cells. The extra water then triggers the mTOR pathway.

The authors admit this is a bit of a leap. Their inference comes not from experiments showing mTOR ramping up in the presence of excess water, but instead from lab tests showing that signaling decreases when cells are dehydrated. If less slows mTOR, more will upgrade it, right? No way of telling just yet, but it’s an interesting idea.

Source:  Blood flow restriction: how does it work? Frontiers in Physiology. 3:392.

Easy Fix for Hip Abductors

Glutes seem to be the muscle of the moment in today’s pop-fitness circles. This isn’t all hype: the glutes and other hip abductors, like all gait muscles, can become dysfunctional in a manner that robs athletic performance and even impacts daily life.

A team of researchers looked at 30 young, high-level Australian Football players and found that roughly half had some marker of hip abduction dysfunction. The players were put through a rehabilitation protocol that yielded some fairly impressive results, including ten participants improving their functioning scores by more than 80% after two months in the program.

I don’t think these results are out of the norm: the program involved capable, robust athletes, and two months is a long period of time. What was impressive was the program’s simplicity. The athletes used only one exercise, which I’d describe as a semi-prone, cross-legged version of the classic “clamshell” lift, which they performed 100 reps per leg, per day.  They did this on their own time and without supervision beyond an initial movement-training and feedback session.

I’m not going to delve into study methods here just because this paper reiterates an established truism: regaining lost mobility and muscle function doesn’t require elaborate programming. Unlike hypertrophy or maximal strength goals, exotic exercise and rep combinations are unnecessary in the healing process, whether it involves overcoming an injury, healing from surgery, or any other dysfunction.

Source:  Hip abduction weakness in elite junior footballers is common but easy to correct

quickly: a prospective sports team cohort based study.  Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Technology 2012, 4:37


Quick Thoughts on the Science of Lifting, Part I