Too many people accept hitting age 40 as the start of a physical downhill slide. Not so. In fact, as Sherwin B. Nuland, clinical professor of surgery at Yale University, suggests in his book The Art of Aging, after midlife is when man’s creativity and ingenuity kick in. It’s when many discover their talents for such artistic endeavors as painting—or sculpting. And what better way to use that creativity than to sculpt and strengthen the very thing that can improve the quality of your life—your body.
Yes, it’s true that a lot of the body’s processes begin to slow when you reach middle age, but the muscle-growth process doesn’t have to turn into a fight to maintain.You can still gain, and a number of supplements can help you sculpt a bigger, better physique. Many can improve your overall health as well, as in antiaging elixirs.
The research on PS, which is derived from soy lipids, started in Italy, where cyclists used it to reduce cortisol—the muscle-eating stress hormone that also destroys testosterone—an average of 30 percent. It worked for aerobic athletes’ recovery and tolerance, but what about athletes whose anaerobic workouts are geared for building muscle?
Enter Thomas Fahey, who spearheaded research at California State University, Chico, in 1998. He subjected experienced weight trainers to overtraining. The subjects who got the PS “had considerably less muscle soreness and a better perception of well-being than those who didn’t get the PS.” The study showed that a big part of the reason was a 30 percent reduction in cortisol—good news for any athlete, but especially those looking to gain muscle.
There’s more good news. Older and newer research shows that cortisol can damage brain tissue and that PS, by controlling cortisol, improves brain function, like cognitive ability and focus.
Are you starting to see why this natural compound is so important, especially as we age? It’s anticatabolic not only for muscle tissue but brain tissue as well. It’s an antistress supplement that helps on a number of levels. That should be easy to remember—if you’re taking PS.
Recommendation: Take 600 to 800 milligrams prior to your workouts. You may also want to take another 200 to 400 milligrams before bed, as research shows that cortisol spikes in the latter hours of sleep. [Note: If you use Cort-Bloc, 600 to 800 milligrams is four capsules. See page 156 for more information.]
Monteleone, P., et al. (1990). Effects of phosphatidylserine on the neuroendocrine response to physical stress in humans. Neuroendocrinol. 52:243-248.
Fahey, T., and Pearl, M. (1998). The hormonal and perceptive effects of phosphatidylserine administration during two weeks of weight-training-induced overtraining. Biol Sport. 15:135-144
Crook, T. H., et al. (1991). Effects of phosphatidylserine in age-associated memory impairment. Neurol. 41:644-649.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle tissue, so it only makes sense that liberal use of a branched-chain-amino-acid supplement will enhance muscle growth. New studies show that taking as little as two grams of BCAAs before exercise preserves muscle tissue. That can be effective prior to weight and cardio workouts. BCAAs are especially critical if you do cardio on an empty stomach for enhanced fat burning, but anytime is a good time. Your body is constantly looking for reasons to reduce muscle, but circulating BCAAs can slam the door on that catabolic cascade.
Recommendation: BCAAs should be used liberally throughout the day, especially with solid-food meals. As you age, digestion and protein utilization aren’t as efficient as they need to be, so taking two to four BCAA capsules with meals will ensure that you have muscle-building blocks available immediately, independent of solid-food digestion.
Matsumoto, K., et al. (2007). Branched-chain amino acids and arginine supplementation attenuates skeletal muscle proteolysis induced by moderate exercise in young individuals. Int J Sports Med. 28:531–538.
Remember this: NO begets better blood flow. NO is nitric oxide, and its primary precursor is the amino acid L-arginine. In his feature “Say Yes to NO” in the January ’08 IRON MAN, Jerry Brainum discussed the work of scientist Louis J. Ignarro, a professor of pharmacology at UCLA who is a staunch advocate of using arginine as a means of increasing NO production in the body. In his book No More Heart Disease he suggests that increasing NO production through supplemental arginine will prevent heart attacks and strokes. That’s reason enough to add NO precursors like L-arginine to your supplement arsenal, but it can also facilitate the muscle-building process.
Better blood flow means better nutrient delivery to muscles, and that’s even more important once you reach middle age. Why? Efficient use of protein, glycogen and other nutrients becomes somewhat impaired as you get older. It also means you get better pumps during your workouts. Big pumps lead to more motivation to keep training hard (us old guys need all the motivation we can get). Speaking of hard, did you know the drug Viagra works via nitric oxide production? See, a bigger, better pump is a good thing on a number of different levels.
Recommendation: Take before your workout, as directed on the bottle of your chosen NO-precursor supplement. Using it before cardio is also a good idea, as enhancing blood flow can improve fat burning (take it with your BCAAs).
L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine are known as fat-to-muscle supplements because they can enhance the fat-burning process. How? They shuttle fat to the mitochondria, which are the furnace of cells. Studies also show that carnitine may enhance muscular-force production, a key to stimulating muscle growth. Researchers found that it improved the contractile force in the latissimus dorsi of dogs by 34 percent and overall force production by 31 percent.
A new study shows that after 21 days of carnitine supplementation, the numbers of androgen receptors on muscle were increased. Androgen receptors interact with testosterone, which can result in more muscle growth. Bonus: Carnitine has been used successfully to treat male sexual dysfunction.
Recommendation: Take 1,500 milligrams before breakfast and another 1,500 milligrams before lunch.
Kraemer, W.J., et al. (2003). The effects of L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation on hormonal responses to resistance exercise and recovery. J Strength Cond Res. 17:455-462.
Kraemer, W.J., et al. (2006). Androgenic responses to resistance exercise: Effects of feeding and L-carnitine. Med Sci Sports Exer. 38:1288-1296.
If you’ve been around body-building for any length of time, you know that creatine is one of the most researched and result-producing supplements you can use—if you’re a responder. It fortifies muscle energetics, which means it helps you grind out more reps on lower-rep power sets. It can also help volumize muscles by bringing in more fluid. What you may not know about creatine is that it’s a health builder as well as a muscle maker.
New research shows that creatine has significant antioxidant activity and may help protect against diseases like cancer. It also appears to help protect the skin from ultraviolet-light damage—as in fewer wrinkles. Plus, it has brain-building characteristics. In fact, the brain loads creatine for energy production just the way muscles do.
More good news: Research says it’s completely safe, with no adverse side effects if you avoid dehydration. Remember, creatine pulls fluid into muscle tissue, so drink plenty of water.
Recommendation: Take five grams after your workout. That’s the anabolic window when the muscles are most receptive to refilling depleted stores.
Sestili, P., et al. (2006). Creatine supplementation affords cytoprotection in oxidatively injured cultured mammalian cells via direct antioxidant activity. Free Rad Biol Med. 40:837-849.
Lenz, H., et al. (2005). The creatine kinase system in human skin: Protective effects of creatine against oxidative and UV damage in vitro and in vivo. J Invest Dermatol. 124:443-452.
Dechent, P., et al. (2006). Increase of total creatine in human brain after oral supplementation of creatine monohydrate. Am J Physiol. 277:R698-R704.
It’s a simple muscle-building equation: Drive out more reps, and you stimulate more growth. It all boils down to the size principle of fiber recruitment. On the first few easy reps of a set you engage the low-threshold motor units—mostly slow-twitch fibers; on the middle reps you engage the medium-threshold motor units, which recruit a few more fast-twitch fibers. The problem is, you don’t get to the fast-twitch fibers with the most growth potential until the last hard reps of a set. That’s when the high-threshold motor units kick in.
Unfortunately, if you do reps in the hypertrophic zone—eight to 12—muscle burn can stop you before you get at many, if any, high-threshold motor units. Beta-alanine can help, as it converts to carnosine in muscle tissue. Carnosine acts as a buffering agent that postpones the burn. Result: You power out more growth reps on every set. Beta-alanine works especially well in conjunction with creatine, but there’s more good news—on the health front.
Beta-alanine has antioxidant properties in that it increases glutathione and taurine levels in the liver. So it appears to be a natural liver protector that also heightens the organ’s detoxifying power.
Recommendation: Take three grams upon awakening, on an empty stomach. [Note: If you use Red Dragon, two capsules equals three grams. See page 153 for more information.] A tingling-skin effect is normal and an indicator that you’re getting real beta-alanine.
Lee, S.Y., et al. (2006). Effect of beta-alanine administration on carbon tetrachloride-induced acute hepatotoxicity. Amino Acids. 33:543-546.
You know that amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, but one of the most essential in the muscle-building process appears to be L-leucine. New research shows that taking just a few grams of L-leucine immediately after you train gives an extra boost to protein synthesis, kick-starting the anabolic process. As you get older…ah, you know the rest—we older guys need to maximize all the anabolic kicks possible.
Recommendation: Take four to six grams postworkout to heighten the anabolic environment.
Willoughby, D.S., et al. (2006). Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass and strength. Amino Acids DOI. 32:467-477.
A conditionally essential amino acid, L-glutamine is known as an immune-system booster and muscle-recovery enhancer. New research says it’s more anabolic than was previously thought. It encourages the synthesis of heat shock proteins and blocks cortisol’s antianabolic effects by interfering with the stress hormone’s interaction with myostatin, a muscle-growth-governing substance in the body. A lot of research suggests that reduced myostatin is why some people are more genetically suited to extreme muscle mass, so myostatin is bad for muscle growth.
According to researcher Jerry Brainum, “That finding casts glutamine in a new light, indicating that it has enormous potential for stimulating anabolic effects in muscle. Once again, however, the effects are likely to become apparent only with high-intensity exercise.” In other words, when you’re training hard, take glutamine.
Recommendation: Take three grams pre- and/or postworkout—or even more. Coach Charles Poliquin is such a big proponent of glutamine that he takes up to 80 grams spread throughout the day, with a lot of it preworkout.
Wischmeyer, P.E. (2006). Glutamine: The first clinically relevant pharmacological regulator of heat shock protein? Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 9:201-206.
You’ve no doubt read about the health benefits of fish oil. Modern man’s diet has an imbalance in the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, primarily because of grain-fed animals. Grass-fed livestock has a balance of the omega fats, whereas grain-fed animals have too much of the 6s and too little 3s. Omega-6s are linked to inflammation, which is believed to be the cause of a number of diseases, including cancer; omega 3s have anti-inflammatory effects. So what does that have to do with building muscle?
As Nicholas Perricone, M.D., writes in his latest book, The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet, “Omega-3 essential fatty acids can improve athletic performance, helping to make muscle cells stronger and more efficient; actually build muscle and lose bodyfat. There are even steroidlike substances in the body, like PPARs, that can help achieve these goals when activated by omega-3s.”
The essential fatty acids have also been linked to testosterone production, which, as you know, is highly anabolic and can help you burn bodyfat, especially around the middle.
Recommendation: Fish-oil capsules, two to three grams, with every solid-food meal—at least three doses a day.
Now, you don’t have to take every supplement listed, and you may want to cycle some—for example, creatine, which has been shown to be less effective with prolonged use due to decreased receptor efficiency. Pick and choose so you use the ones you think will be most effective, or rotate a few in and out of your regimen.
Me? I tend to use more of the above during the spring and summer, when my training is most intense, and then taper off in the fall and winter. What’s interesting is that, with these supplements and the evolution of my training, I’ve made the best gains of my life in my mid-40s—even better than when I was in my early 20s. That’s exciting and fuels my motivation to press on with a vengeance. Do I train to maintain? Hell, no—I train to grow.
Note: For the specific supplements Holman uses, see his “Size Surge Supplements” feature and training blog at X-Rep.com.
Editor’s note: Steve Holman is 48 years old and has written more than 15 books and e-books on building muscle and burning fat. His newest work, still in progress, is titled The Mature Man Muscle Plan. IM