There has never been a better time than the present to take advantage of supplementation in regards to muscle enhancement and performance. I hear it all the time from Jorge Betancourt and other bodybuilders who competed during the beginning of mass marketed sports nutrition; “You younger guys have it made…all they had in my day was protein powder, and even then they couldn’t get that to taste good”. So take advantage of the products that you have available to you and the research that goes into producing the good ones.
Now when it comes to muscle hypertrophy, you can pretty much divide the aspects that make up a successful program into 3 almost equal parts: training, nutrition, and recovery. When it comes to supplementation, the key thing to remember is that it can cross over into any of these 3 parts; you can use supplements to enhance the quality of your training, fill gaps in your diet, and enhance the recovery process. Now in terms of recovery supplementation, the 3 major categories that should be focused on are the amino acids, minerals, and antioxidants that go into signaling protein synthesis, replacing vital minerals lost from intense exercise, and antioxidants to reduce recovery time so you can hit the gym again with the same intensity as before.
L-Carnitine L-Tartrate is the amino acid to keep in mind. There is tons of research to support the fortification of positive hormonal changes during exercise (supports the increase in testosterone, and IGF-1 during exercise) (1). It was an amino acid that originally became popular for increasing the availability of androgen receptors which would thereby lead to an increase in utilization of the testosterone produced during high intensity exercise. This is especially important when you consider that research shows no correlation between the testosterone increase that happens during high intensity exercise and protein synthesis (2).
The question that is asked when people hear this is: “What? This can’t be, testosterone is the most anabolic hormone in the body. If it can’t increase protein synthesis than nothing can”. Well don’t worry; testosterone is still king of all the hormones in the body in terms of muscle growth. The problem is that testosterone can be free, bound to a serum protein (albumin) or SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin). The testosterone that’s actually available for muscle growth is what enters cells (bioactive available testosterone).
Bioactive testosterone is made up of free testosterone and testosterone that is freed from its binding protein. The majority of testosterone in the blood however is SHBG. So when serum testosterone levels are increased during exercise, this does not automatically mean that protein synthesis will correlate with these increases. The same goes for many testosterone boosters that show evidence of serum testosterone level increases. You’ve seen the ads that glorify a large percentage increase in testosterone for different supplements. While libido may be enhanced, how much testosterone is actually available for muscle growth? This will vary from person to person, and while many testosterone boosters are still a great edge for natural athletes, this amino acid is another step forward in testosterone optimization.
However, when it comes to the benefits of LC LT, it doesn’t end there; it is also research proven to promote recovery from high intensity exercise (3). In citation number three, multiple markers for recovery were taken into account in relation to exercise and LC LT helped improve numbers for each marker of recovery used in the study.
Much research has been done on the BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) so I won’t spend as much time on it here in this article. However, it is important to be reminded of the fact that this combination of amino acids are readily used by the body during high intensity exercise and replacing them not only stops muscle catabolism, but it is important for protein synthesis post-exercise as well (4). This is common knowledge for many bodybuilders, but what they may not know is that while dieting (many bodybuilders utilize diets lower in carbohydrates to lose fat) it can be used as fuel source for bodybuilders struggling to get a good workout in because of lack of carbohydrates in their diet (5). The BCAAs are the first amino acids broken down and converted to blood sugar (glucose) for energy when carbohydrates are no longer available. And for those who are skeptical to the effectiveness of supplementing with essential amino acids to go along with their complete proteins. When it comes to intra-post workout supplementation or times of caloric depravation, there is research for their effectiveness (6).
Then of course, last, but certainly not least is good old glutamine. Time and time again research has proven glutamine to be effective for hastening recovery from exercise and supporting the immune system. It came under fire at one point in time for not having anabolic effects but it is a non-essential (it is the most abundant naturally occurring amino acid in the body) amino acid that aids in nitrogen retention and has anti-catabolic effects. In a clinical study done on patients who had just received a bone marrow transplant It came through once again showing positive changes in nitrogen retention and immune system function (7).
As far as mineral supplementation, it’s no secret that mineral loss is associated with high intensity exercise, whether it is minerals associated with recovery and optimal hormone levels like zinc and magnesium; or the electrolytes which are responsible for the success of many popular sports drinks today. ZMA was a recovery mineral complex based on research that found that many diets were below the RDA standard for zinc and magnesium. And because these minerals are lost from exercise they become even important for supplementation for recovery. The vitamin B6 that is used along with the zinc and magnesium is used to increase the absorption of these minerals.
Then of course, there are the electrolytes. Most active people are familiar with this term and its association with rehydration during and post exercise. They are electrically charged ions that include sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl-), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), bicarbonate (HCO3-), and sulfate (SO42-). These are the major electrolytes in the body and they are important because they help to carry electrical impulses that aid in nerve impulses and muscle contractions. This is why electrolyte supplementation in moderation can help reduce headaches related to dehydration and muscle cramping. Outside of glycogen depletion, electrolyte loss can be related to a decrease in sports performance.
Last but certainly not least are the antioxidants. Many are familiar with particular antioxidants like acai and their ability to reduce free radical damage and improve overall health. However research has proven them to be just as effective in reducing muscle cell damage and promoting the recovery and function of contractile skeletal muscle cells8. In this research study, one of the feature antioxidants used was N-acetyl-L-cysteine. It was so highly revered as an antioxidant that EUROSCAN which is an EORTC (European Organization of Research and Treatment of Cancer) uses it as a chemo preventative agent for up to four different forms of cancer (9). Then there is also Red Wine extract, it was originally made famous by research that showed that regular moderate consumption of red wine reduced the chances of coronary artery disease and improved heart health as a result of its antioxidant properties.
Betancourt Nutrition has created Bullrush, a comprehensive blend of the ingredients discussed to be taken either intra/post workout to optimize the hormonal response to exercise, increase recovery, and maximize performance. It only has 6 grams of carbohydrates per serving to maximize digestion (many intra-workout products include copious amounts of carbohydrates that cannot be digested because blood has accumulated in the working muscles and is not available to the stomach for digestion). Digestion and absorption rates are greatly reduced during exercise (10), and antioxidant extracts, electrolytes, and bcaa nitrates are better suited for intra workout supplementation because of their higher absorption rates. The Bullrush is not caffeinated like its pre-workout counterpart Bullnox, however.
Betancourt Nutrition also created Bullnox to be used pre-workout which has an herbal blend (called the Andro-stimulation blend) used to optimize the hormonal response to exercise as well. It also includes creatine, beta-alanine, l-citrulline, and the bcaa’s to provide a comprehensive blend of ingredients to allow for the user to not only increase intensity during exercise but make the most of the hormonal response to exercise as well. This will help lead to long term results as opposed to just a temporary caffeine rush during exercise.
- Kraemer, Williams J.; Volek, Jeff S.; French, Duncan N.; Rubin. The Effects of L-Carnitine L-Tartrate Supplementation on Hormonal Responses to Resistance Exercise and Recovery. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. August 2003, volume 17, issue 3.
- Daniel W. D. West1, Gregory w. Kujbida, Daniel R. Moore. Resistance exercise-induced increases in putative anabolic hormones do not enhance muscle protein synthesis or intracellular signalling in young men. November 1, 2009 The Journal of Physiology, 587, 5239-5247
- Jeff S. Volek1, William J. Kraemer1, Martyn R. Rubin1, Ana L. Gómez1, Nicholas A. Ratamess1, and Paula Gaynor2. L-Carnitine L-tartrate supplementation favorably affects markers of recovery from exercise stress. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 282: E474-E482, 2002; doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00277.2001
- Yoshiharu Shimomura*,2, Taro Murakami*, Naoya Nakai , Masaru Nagasaki* and Robert A. Harris. Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise1. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 134:1583S-1587S, June 20045.
- Calders, Patrick; Maithys, Dirk; Derave, WIM; Pannier, Jean-Louis. Effect of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), glucose, and glucose plus BCAA on endurance performance in rats. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 1999 - Volume 31 - Issue 4 - pp 583-587
- Kevin D. Tipton, Arny A. Ferrando, Stuart M. Phillips, David Doyle Jr., and Robert R. Wolfe. Postexercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 276: E628-E634, 1999
- Thomas R. Zeigler, MD; Lorraine S. Young RD, MS; Kathleen Benfell Rph. Clinical and Metabolic Efficacy of Glutamine-supplemented Parenteral Nutrition after Bone Marrow Transplantation. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Study. Annals of Internal Medicine. May 15, 1992 vol. 116 no. 10 821-828
- Priya Mohanraj1, A. John Merola2, Valerie P. Wright3, and Thomas L. Clanton3. Antioxidants protect rat diaphragmatic muscle function under hypoxic conditions. J Appl Physiol 84: 1960-1966, 1998;
- Dr. Nico De Vries, MD, PhD 1 *, Silvio De Flora, MD, PhD. N-acetyl-l-cysteine. Journal of Cellular Biochemistry. Volume 53 Issue S17F, Pages 270 – 277
- Brouns F, Beckers E. Is the gut an athletic organ? Digestion, absorption and exercise. Sports Med. 1993 Apr;15(4):242-57
Dustin Elliott is the Head Formulator for Betancourt Nutrition.