Moderation means to stay within reasonable limits and to eliminate extremes. As it pertains to life, this principle promotes limiting extreme expectations or taking unnecessary risks. This principle also eliminates trying to be too safe in your approach to life and not taking any risks at all. When it comes to behavior, it relates to the fact that excessive bad habits can lead to stress in your life and relationships (too much drinking, too much time playing video games, etc.).
For our purposes, moderation in terms of bodybuilding and nutrition means that too much of something good can be a bad thing. If you’ve found a diet that you like, and you take it to the extreme on a regular basis; the outcome will not be positive. If you find a great training regimen or a technique to increase the intensity of an exercise; using that training style non-stop will not help you achieve your goals any faster.
I am going to talk about the things that are supposed to be helping you in bodybuilding and how they can hold you back: single amino acids (like leucine, and l-arginine), creatine, low carb diets and overtraining. There are also things that are presumably bad for you like alcohol; which, believe it or not has positive studies for it’s benefits in moderation (not that you would necessarily need it if your following a healthy diet).
Single Amino Acids
Single amino acid supplementation has grown increasingly popular recently with amino acids like l-leucine, l-arginine, l-glutamine, l-phenylalanine, l-tyrosine and taurine. Possibly the most effective single amino today is l-leucine. It promotes positive effects on insulin, body compositions, and protein synthesis.
However, it has been hypothesized for the longest time that supplementation with single amino acids over an extended period of time can lead to an imbalance. This should especially be taken into consideration for teens, as there is research to suggest that single amino acid supplementation is more beneficial in adults, and it is of greater risk to causing imbalances in those who are still growing.
In a research study done on growing chicks they experimented with giving them essential amino acids and leaving out certain amino acids (like how the BCAAs are only a few of the essential amino acids and the rest are left out). They discovered that in a growing body the imbalance limited feed consumption (which decreases the chances of gaining the missing amino acids in the diet) and limited overall growth rate (1).
In the book Improvement of Protein Nutriture, researcher A.E. Harper discussed the results of research done on rats and other animals with disproportionate amounts of amino acids. His findings were similar when it came to discovering side effects that included depressed growth rates in growing rats. When single amino acid supplementation was applied to adult humans, the adverse effects from prolonged supplementation were usually mild.
In the studies that Harper reviewed, a common occurrence he discovered is when protein intake was high in adults, the adverse effects of single amino acid supplementation were almost non-existent. This means that the ideal way to promote nitrogen retention and prevent muscle breakdown is to consume whole proteins and not to rely so heavily on single amino acids.
This study continued to talk about the branched chain amino acids, especially leucine and how it depressed growth in growing rats. What research discovered is that once isoleucine and valine were reintroduced, the side effects of the imbalance were gone. But despite these reported adverse effects in youths, there are many studies that show the positive effects single amino acid supplementation, most notably with leucine in performance (2) and protein synthesis (3).
The one thing many of the leucine studies have in common however is that they are usually done with individuals/athletes who are 21 and up. So despite the mounting evidence of the effectiveness of specific amino acid supplementation, the take home lesson is to always be weary that single amino acid supplementation could lead to an imbalance in those that are young (under 18) or have a low protein intake. Two other amino acids for young lifters to watch out for are phenylalanine and tyrosine because they are naturally higher in younger individuals.
Younger individuals should focus on gaining optimal nitrogen retention, nitric oxide, and dopamine levels from proper rest, training and nutrition. That way you can use supplementation as a means to gain an edge for increased performance, and not rely on supplements to fill in the flaws in your bodybuilding regimen. Even adults should make sure they are not relying on single amino acids so much that they turn a blind eye to their total protein for the day. Once the total protein needs are met, single amino acid supplementation will have no adverse side effects in adults.
When it comes to creatine supplementation, prolonged use won’t lead to the adverse effects many people think of when it comes to using too much creatine. Many people believe that prolonged use would lead to dehydration, cramping and muscle injury. However, a study done in 2006 by researchers from the University of Connecticut concluded that after 7 days of creatine loading and performing heat tolerance tests; there were no adverse effects from creatine supplementation in regards to dehydration or cramping (5). The intramuscular water held as a result of creatine supplementation has actually been shown to increase heat tolerance during outdoor athletic events.
Water has the ability to regulate temperature, so the more of it your body holds, the more you will be able to withstand increases in heat. Think about the last time you went to the beach on a hot/normal day and the water was freezing cold. What you should keep in mind while supplementing with creatine is the total length of time you are on a cycle of creatine. Try to keep it to 4 weeks, while supplementing with creatine, your creatine phosphate levels will plateau and the benefits of supplementation will become non-existent. Danish researchers discovered during a study using creatine at 5 grams a day to preserve muscle glycogen that the effects of supplementation were non-existent after 5 weeks (6).
Low Carb Diets
Low carbohydrate diets have helped those looking to lose weight shed pounds fast. And it has also helped natural bodybuilders to increase the levels of their conditioning. However, when the effectiveness of low carbohydrate diets were studied for their long term effectiveness; they were found to be no more effective than low-calorie low fat diets (7). The other concern that has been expressed not only by these researchers but those who have studied the effectiveness of low carbohydrate diets in general; is the elevation in LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and triglycerides in the blood.
Many have heard the term overtraining before and realize that it relates to exercising too much and resting too little. The problem with many recreational lifters who are dedicated to the gym and go almost everyday is that they don’t know how to detect the early warning signs of overtraining or they perceive their decrease in motivation or performance as a sign to push themselves even harder. You are only able to recover and grow when you rest, yet the common feeling among gym regulars is that when they miss days in the gym they are getting smaller.
Another important factor that makes overtraining detection difficult is the genetic predisposition of some individuals to recover faster than others. Researchers from the University of Western Australia recommended periodic tests through a training regimen to track progress or signs of overtraining as the best available option for prevention. In an update on what was currently known about overtraining they pointed to the common side effects of reduced muscle glycogen, reduced aerobic capacity, along with a depressed immune system and psychological profile (8). Here are some warning signs of overtraining:
- Lack of energy, a perpetual tired feeling.
- Aches and pains, continual soreness in the legs.
- Pain in muscles and joints.
- Sudden drop in performance.
- Increased onset of colds.
- Decrease in quality of training.
- Loss of enthusiasm for your sport.
- Decreased appetite.
- Increased incidence of injuries.
- A compulsive need to exercise.
Another way to track overtraining is to keep track of you heart rate at rest and to watch out for any unusual increases in heart rate. The best time to test your heart rate is in the morning when your body is at rest. Once you feel you have your heart rate down and you feel your on the verge/or already have overtrained, test your heart rate to see if its values have changed.
It’s no secret that alcohol and the optimization of performance don’t go hand in hand. In the May/June issue of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal Ph.D Stella Lucia discussed the benefits of moderate drinking like: improved metabolic health, lowering insulin resistance, and blood fats (9). It has even been shown in a 10 year study to reduce the risk of type 2 Diabetes (10). This shows that moderation when it comes to alcohol can even have positive benefits.
However, all of these same benefits can be achieved through routine exercise and proper nutrition. The problem with alcohol consumption is knowing when to stop, especially in a social setting, which decreases the risk of practicing consumption as a means to improve health. Stella further goes on to explain that alcohol, when not practiced in moderation leads to social problems like violence and car accidents. In terms of athletics, it decreases reaction time, hand-eye coordination, balance, speeds fatigue and increases injury risk.
Alcohol provides a perfect representation of moderation in that too much of something can be bad for you but balance provides positive benefits. This is not only a lesson to keep in mind in life but in your training as well. There is such a thing as having too much of a good thing; keep this in mind the next time your taking a supplement as well. All too often presumably safe and effective supplements are pulled from the market as a result of abuse. Because of this, the entire bodybuilding community loses out and questions like this arise: “are these ingredients safe?”.
Well, the recommended dosage of just about anything is safe, but if you quadruple that, no, it won’t be. Many news reports come out about metals in protein and dangerous ingredients like sugar substitutes. However, the people that use these in moderation can live a full and healthy life no matter how many reports of how dangerous something is. Alcohol is bad for you, but in the European research study, alcohol in moderation is one of the reasons they have better markers of health than Americans (along with diet of course). So when you approach your diet, and training; remember….moderation is key.
- H. Fisher, P. Griminger, G. A. Leveille and R. Shapiro. Quantitative Aspects of Lysine Deficiency and Amino Acid Imbalance. The Journal of Nutrition, January 18, 1960.
- Melissa J. Crowe, Jarrad N. Weatherson, and Bruce F. Bowden. Effects of dietary leucine supplementation on exercise performance. Biomedical and Life Sciences, Volume 97, Number 6 / August, 2006
- Sabelle Rieu, Michèle Balage, Claire Sornet, Christophe Giraudet, Estelle Pujos, Jean Grizard, Laurent Mosoni, Dominique Dardevet. Leucine supplementation improves muscle protein synthesis in elderly men independently of hyperaminoacidaemia. August 15, 2006 The Journal of Physiology, 575, 305-315.
- René Koopman, Lex Verdijk, Ralph JF Manders, Annemie P Gijsen, Marchel Gorselink, Evelien Pijpers, Anton JM Wagenmakers and Luc JC van Loon. Co-ingestion of protein and leucine stimulates muscle protein synthesis rates to the same extent in young and elderly lean men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 84, No. 3, 623-632, September 2006
- Greig Watson, Douglas J Casa, Kelly A Fiala, Amy Hile, Melissa W Roti, Julie C Healey, Lawrence E Armstrong, and Carl M Maresh. Creatine Use and Exercise Heat Tolerance in Dehydrated Men. J Athl Train. 2006; 41(1): 18–29
- B. Op 't Eijnde, B. Ursø, E.A. Richter, P.L. Greenhaff, P. Hespel. Effect of Oral Creatine Supplementation on Human Muscle GLUT4 Protein...: Discussion. Diabetes. 2001;50(1) © 2001 American Diabetes Association, Inc.
- Alain J. Nordmann, MD, MSc; Abigail Nordmann, BS; Matthias Briel, MD; Ulrich Keller, MD; William S. Yancy, Jr, MD, MSH; Bonnie J. Brehm, PhD; Heiner C. Bucher, MD, MPH . Effects of Low-Carbohydrate vs Low-Fat Diets on Weight Loss and Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:285-293
- Fry RW, Morton AR, Keast D. Overtraining in athletes. An update. Sports Med. 1991 Jul;12(1):32-65
- Volpe, Stella Lucia Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., FACSM. Alcohol and Athletic Performance. ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal: May/June 2010 - Volume 14 - Issue 3 - pp 28-30
- Michel M Joosten, Diederick E Grobbee, Daphne L van der A, WM Monique Verschuren, Henk FJ Hendriks and Joline WJ Beulens. Combined effect of alcohol consumption and lifestyle behaviors on risk of type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr (April 21, 2010).
Dustin Elliott is the Head Formulator for Betancourt Nutrition.