Our Panel of Experts Answer Your Questions on a Variety of Topics

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Training

Q I've been working out regularly and eating properly but I'm not getting as much from my workouts as I'd like. Lately I've been under a lot of stress and have a hard time getting to sleep at night. Sometimes I only sleep 4-5 hours a night. How will this effect muscle growth and fat loss?
- James

A Prolonged lack of sleep is probably one of the worst things for a weight training athlete in just about every respect. REM sleep is when your body secretes its largest quantities of GH (growth hormone) for the entire day. Scientists have known for a long time that this directly affects fat loss. Most men will also note a substantial reduction of LH (lutenizing hormone) and consequentially reduced T (testosterone) levels. As if that were not already bad enough news, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels drop off with a subsequent reduction in T4 (thyroxine) and T4 to T3 (triiodothyronine) conversion. In other words, your metabolism will suck! One other factor that should be considered is sleep quality, not merely quantity. It is possible to sleep 8-9 hours restlessly and still wake up feeling awful. Sleep is much like training in this respect quality really counts! You can spend 3 hours a day, 6 days a week in the gym wasting your time, or you can do the right stuff for 45 minutes, 3 or 4 days a week and get phenomenal results. Some people have been using various GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) precursors available on the market (furanone di-hydro, tetramethylene glycol, and butylene glycol (1, 4 butanediol)) to induce deeper, more restful sleep. I have personally tried some of these and they seem to work moderately well for me. Occasionally, I've received feedback from people who wake up after 4-6 hours of deep sleep though. This happens because GHB inhibits dopamine activity, so after it wears off a fairly large surge of dopamine will become active causing the user to wake up. I will also say that these products have been getting quite a bad rap lately from the FDA because of it's potential for abuse as a recreational "good time" drug. I've been receiving a ton of questions about this subject lately so I'll shed some light on it once and for all. These products (Renewtrient, Regenerize, Nu Life, Somatopro, etc.) are essentially all precursors (gamma butyrolactone) that the body uses to make GHB. They agonize the benzodiazepine receptors and essentially function as a mild Valium or Xanax. This is why you should never use this type of product if you are taking prescription benzodiabpenes or phenethiazines (such as thorazine and stellazine). Do not consume alcohol with these products either. Ironically, GHB has been used in Europe as a treatment for alcoholism. It's also a good idea to supplement some potassium because of the possibility of minor potassium depletion. That being said, I believe this type of supplement will benefit most people who have trouble sleeping as well as increasing quality REM sleep when used responsibly. If you choose to try any of these products, it is always a good idea to start with a minimal dose to assess tolerance and gradually increase the dose as needed. Please note that these products are becoming illegal in many states because of their potential for abuse. Sleep on ya' all!


  • Artru AA, Steen PA and Michenfelder JD. gamma-Hydroxybutyrate: Cerebral Metabolic, Vascular, and Protective Effects. J Neurochemistry. 35(5): 1114-9, November 1980.

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  • Kleimenova NN, Ostrovskaya RU and Arefolov VA. Effect of sodium hydroxybutyrate on the ultra structure of the cross-striated muscle tissue myocytes during physical exercise. Byull Eksp Biol Med 88(9): 358-61, 1979.

  • Laborit H. Correlations between protein and serotonin synthesis during various activities of the central nervous system (slow and desynchronized sleep, learning and memory, sexual activity, morphine tolerance, aggressiveness, and pharmacological action of sodium gamma-hydroxybutyrate). Research Communications in Chemical Pathology and Pharmacology 3(1): January 1972.

  • Laborit H. Sodium 4-Hydroxybutyrate. Int J Neuropharmacology [Great Britain]. 3: 433-52, 1964.

  • Ostrovskaya RU, Kleimenova NN, Kamisheva V, Molodavkin GM, Yavorskii AN and Boikko SS. Effect of sodium hydroxybutyrate on functional biochemical and morphological indexes of physical working ability. Farmakol Regul Protsessov Utomleniya [Moscow, USSR] 39-56: 112-17, 1982.

  • Takahara J, Yunoki S, Yakushiji W, Yamauchi J, Yamane J and Ofuji T. Stimulatory effects of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid on growth hormone and prolactin release in humans. J Clin Endocrinal Metab 44: 1014, 1977.

  • Vickers MD. Gamma-hydroxybutyric Acid. Int Anaesthesia Clinic 7: 75-89, 1969.

  • Thyroid testing and thyroid hormone replacement in patients with sleep disordered breathing. Mickelson SA, et al. Ear Nose Throat J. 1999 Oct;78(10):768-71, 774-5.

  • EEG and ocular correlates of circadian melatonin phase and human performance decrements during sleep loss. Cajochen C; Khalsa SB; Wyatt JK; Czeisler CA; Dijk DJ, Am J Physiol 1999 Sep;277(3 Pt 2):R640-9

  • Adaptation to chronic stress in military trainees. Adrenal androgens, testosterone, glucocorticoids, IGF-1, and immune function. Bernton E; Hoover D; Galloway R; Popp K, Ann N Y Acad Sci 1995 Dec 29;774:217-31

  • Circadian rhythm of hormones is extinguished during prolonged physical stress, sleep and energy deficiency in young men. Opstad K , Eur J Endocrinol. 1994 Jul;131(1):56-66.

Editor's Note: This particular response was written before GBL products became scheduled drugs. However, the information regarding sleep, of course, still applies. Many users of the newer ZMA (zinc monomethionine and magnesium aspartate) supplement by SNAC have been reporting an increased quality of sleep and no one seems to be using it to get high so it should be around for awhile.

The Genetic Variable

Q How much of a factor are genetics in changing your body? I think God played a cruel little joke and skipped over me when he was handing out the gene for physique development.

A I don't think anyone can deny that genetics are an important variable in many respects to physical development. However, not all hope is lost just because were not born a Greek demigod. No, lifting weights will not help you become 6'4" if you are only 5'6". Nor will it change your muscle insertions. Done properly though, it will allow anyone to optimize their muscle to body fat ratios, increase energy levels, improve functional abilities to perform everyday tasks (suddenly raking the leaves doesn't have you in agony for the next three days), significantly improve overall coordination/motor skills, increase libido, increase bone density, positively alter metabolism, increase insulin sensitivity, stimulate growth hormone, etc. The list could go on forever. Lets not forget how much exercising regularly can improve anybody's self image. It's pretty hard not to feel good about yourself when you show your body a top notch level of respect. It's really rather empowering. There are too many things in this life that we do not have control over. When we have control over our health and physical presence it truly gives us a sense of power and control over every other aspect of our lives. Too many people use poor genetics as an excuse to sell themselves short of their true potential. In fact, most people have no idea what they're capable of until they get the right information and actually apply it. I've seen some top notch bodies that started out as, if you'll pardon my expression, genetic sludge. Just goes to show that we can all benefit from being our best. You don't have to be the best, just be your best. Oh, God played a little wisecrack on me too, he told me to get my workout programs from Men's Health. I think I actually lost muscle my first few months of training. Oh well, live and learn I guess.

Cyclodextrins... Efficient prohormone delivery?

Q My friend is taking something called a cyclodextrin. He says it will boost strength and recovery between workouts. What is your opinion of this?

A Cyclodextrins themselves are not directly active in any part of strength or muscle development. They are merely sublingual delivery transports for whatever molecule they may contain. In this case, a prohormone molecule. The major problem with oral prohormones is that so much of the product is rendered worthless by the time it makes the first pass through the liver. The solution? Trap the molecule within a water soluble molecule and Wallah! Now we can absorb the prohormone through the mucus membranes beneath the tongue. Sounds great right? We've achieved direct delivery to the bloodstream where the prohormones can do their thing, and minimize prohormone casualty that would usually occur while passing thoughout the GI tract. If only it were that simple. The theory is great but the reality is that most prohormone tabs dissolve very slowly and the user often times ends up swallowing half of it anyway. Kind of defeats the purpose right? Does this mean that cyclodextrin prohormones are no better than oral prohormones? Not necessarily. I've found that one way to get around this is to grind the cyclodextrin tab into more of a powder. This will dissolve much faster and probably achieve greater absorption. Yes, this is indeed a royal pain in the ass but nobody ever said success comes easy. Also note that the cyclodextrin/prohomone studies were conducted using a hydroxypropyl-betacyclodextrin (hpbcd) complex as opposed to a betacyclodextrin. This may have some impact on the results the user will experience. In fairness, I will say I've had decent "real world" feedback from athletes using the betacyclodextrins too. Having said all of that, the next issue I'd like to blatantly address is the fact that most prohormones suck anyway. Both diones (androstenedione and norandrostenedione) have the ability to convert directly to estrone (a weak estrogen) which may then be converted to estradiol (a potent estrogen). The degree of conversion may vary substantially in different individuals largely based on aromatase enzyme availability. This may also be slightly controlled with an anti-aromatase but who wants to deal with all of that? The good news is that the diols (4- androstenediol and 19-norandrostenediol) do not have the ability to convert directly to any of the various estrogenic compounds. However, the testosterone formed as a result of 4-AD conversion is still susceptible to aromatization . So what's my best advice? If you're going to use prohormones, probably stick with the 4-AD and 19-Nor-4-AD as it has the best risk to benefit ratio. You may also wish to try some of the newer transdermal versions of these currently distributed by Biotest and LPJ research. The data makes sense that they would be more effective than an oral and the feedback has been impressive so far. If you do decide to disregard my opinion and use the outdated androstenedione then at least use an estrogen antagonist such as diindolylmethane (currently distributed by Substrate Solutions as Di Indolin) or else you won't be bra shopping at Victoria's Secret just for your girlfriend or wife anymore.

Well It's a matter of fat..

Q My trainer keeps telling me I need to increase my fat intake even though I'm on a weight loss diet. It really doesn't make any sense to me why I would want to eat more fat when I'm trying to lose fat. Is there any truth to this advice?
-B. McKellar

A I assume your trainer is referring to increasing your essential fats (at least I hope). You see, saying "fat" is like saying "car", it's kind of vague. Is it a mint Aston Martin or is it a 1973 rusty, olive green Pacer? Two rather different forms of transportation, yet they both are cars nonetheless. There is an abundance of peer reviewed research out there supporting many of the benefits of using healthy fats for weight loss, cholesterol control (improving VLDL, LDL, and HDL ratios in patients), increasing insulin sensitivity, increasing protein utilization, improving skin (as well as treating disorders such as psoriasis) and hair, improving hormone production/function, improved blood lipid profile, etc. Essential fatty acids (EFA's) play some greater or lesser role in nearly every life function. I am certainly not the first writer to talk about this. In fact, this information is really nothing new at all. However, I talk to people everyday who still have no clue when it comes to EFA's . There are two basic categories of essential fat ; omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega 6's (linoleic acid). Our bodies cannot produce these, therefore they must be obtained through dietary means. The best sources of omega-3's are probably flaxseed oil and fish oil. Fish oil has the added benefit of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which has been shown to have a powerful impact on lowering blood pressure, hormone production, weight loss and possibly even cancer prevention. The best omega-6 source is probably primrose oil. To maintain omega-3 and omega-6 balance the preferred ratios are probably in the neighborhood of three grams of flax or fish oil to each one gram of primrose oil.

Phosphatidyl Joint Aches!

Q I want to know if you're aware of any studies regarding the effects of phosphatidylserine on joint integrity. Ever since I've been taking it my joints feel a little sore. What could be causing this?

A Cortisol is a catabolic hormone secreted by the body in response to stress. The upside to cortisol is it has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and frankly, some cortisol is necessary to live. The downside is when it's produced in excess due to high levels of physical or emotional stress it makes the body a very unfriendly environment for building new muscle tissue. One viable solution for this problem is to supplement phosphatidylserine (Cort Bloc by Muscle Link is one that I recommend). Usually 200g-300g on weight training days seems to get the job done. Unfortunately, there are always some people out there with the "if some is good.more is better" school of thought. These people start mega-dosing the stuff and before long cortisol can no longer exert it's positive anti-inflammatory effects. As with most supplements, take a minimalist approach with phosphatidylserine. Start with maybe 100g-150g on workout days and go from there. If your joint soreness is training induced you may want to lighten up the poundage for a few weeks and try using a glucosamine HCl product so your joints don't sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies every time you hit the gym.

The Skinny on Artificial Sweeteners

Q I've noticed that a lot of protein powders use aspartame as a sweetener. Can't this stuff cause cancer? Why not use a natural sweetener?
-R. King

A I really think this whole aspartame debate has been blown way out of proportion. That 's just my opinion. A study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition gave obscene doses of aspartame to 48 healthy volunteers and found no adverse effects whatsoever. The study concluded that aspartame is safe for use by the general public. There seems to be some contention that the FDA has too much financial interest in aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) to take it off the market. It also seems as though the small number of internet aspartame "hate groups" are somehow sponsored by companies that produce stevia, another sweetener that is in direct financial competition with the company that produces aspartame (Searle). I don't have proof to support this statement but it seems fairly obvious to me, and we all know how money can make people act funny (especially large amounts of money). Sucralose is the newest sweetener to hit the market. It is distributed by McNeil specialty products, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson. It's 600 times sweeter than sugar. It's actually a derivative of sucrose (table sugar) and seems to be pretty safe stuff. I suppose given a choice in the matter, I'd rather see proteins with sucralose instead of aspartame, but it looks like that could be a while. Right now it is somewhat short in supply and the soda industry is huge in demand. I've consumed aspartame in moderate quantities for years now, and I can honestly say I haven't grown six fingers or two heads or three legs.well maybe the third leg thing is debatable.


  • Comments on the purported generation of formaldehyde and adduct formation from the sweetener aspartame.Tephly TR Department of Pharmacology, Life Sci 1999;65(13):PL157-60

  • Neuropsychological and biochemical investigations in heterozygotes for phenylketonuria during ingestion of high dose aspartame (a sweetener containing phenylalanine). Trefz F; de Sonneville L; Matthis P; Benninger C; Lanz-Englert B; Bickel H , Hum Genet 1994 Apr;93(4):369-74

  • Safety of long-term large doses of aspartame.Leon AS; Hunninghake DB; Bell C; Rassin DK; Tephly TR, Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Arch Intern Med 1989 Oct;149(10):2318-24

  • Aspartame metabolism in normal adults, phenylketonuric heterozygotes, and diabetic subjects.Filer LJ Jr; Stegink LD. Diabetes Care 1989 Jan;12(1):67-74

  • How aspartame prevents the toxicity of ochratoxin A. Creppy EE; Baudrimont I; Anne-Marie. J Toxicol Sci 1998 Jul;23 Suppl 2:165-72

  • Aspartame: neuropsychologic and neurophysiologic evaluation of acute and chronic effects.Spiers PA; Sabounjian L; Reiner A; Myers DK; Wurtman J; Schomer DL. Am J Clin Nutr 1998 Sep;68(3):531-7

Glucosamine and Insulin Sensitivity

Q I read someplace that although Glucosamine & Chondroitin are great for the joints (I use the stuff myself and can vouch for it), they inhibit the production of muscle glycogen. Do you know if that's true? If it is true then what's the best way to increase the stores of glycogen for weight training?

A Yes, what you read is true. Glucosamine and chondroitin can indeed impact glycogen synthase (the enzyme responsible for glycogen formation in the body). I believe this effect is somewhat dose related though. I also believe that the individual's initial level of insulin sensitivity will also play a role in determining to what extent the glucosamine/chondroitin will down regulate glucose metabolism. One possible solution to minimize the effects of this down regulation would be to supplement 500mg-600mg of alpha lipoic acid each day in 2 or 3 divided doses. ALA has proven to be effective in upregulating the insulin receptor as well as being a potent antioxidant. I have not seen any studies regarding ALA and glucosamine specifically but I have to speculate that it would be effective. All in all, I think glucosamine/chondroitin supplements have worked wonders on maintaining healthy joint function (especially in weight training athletes) and would still recommend its use. Here are a couple of studies regarding the effects of glucosamine on insulin resistance:

  • Glucosamine regulation of glucose metabolism in cultured human skeletal muscle cells: divergent effects on glucose transport/phosphorylation and glycogen synthase in non-diabetic and type 2 diabetic subjects. Ciaraldi TP, et al. Endocrinology. 1999 Sep;140(9):3971-80.

  • Activation of the hexosamine pathway by glucosamine in vivo induces insulin resistance in multiple insulin sensitive tissues. Virkamaki A, et al. Endocrinology. 1997 Jun;138(6):2501-7.

Try this and let me know how it works for you.

Getting the "swing" of things

Q Hi, I am a avid softball player and I have been training with free weights at lifetime fitness in Eagan since February of last year. My goal is to hit the ball out of a baseball field, not trying brag but I am pretty close now. My question is, do you know of any proven methods (besides pure mechanics of your swing) to get more power and arm strength? I also have a question regarding creatine. I have been taking it for as long as I have been working out. Is it okay to just take it when you lift and not on the days that you don't lift?
-M. Kirkwood

A You are joining the ranks of baseball players that are discovering the miracles of weight training to enhance athletic performance. There are a few specific movements that should help increase the power of your swing. External rotator cuff movements in particular seem to help the most snce the strength of these muscles (teres minor and infraspinatus) are often times out of balance with the internal rotators of the humerus, i.e., the pectorals. The easiest way to improve this is to spend a few minutes, twice a week, doing a couple of basic isolation movements for these muscles. The first movement is to externally rotate the arm using a cable or a dumbbell (I prefer cables) with the elbow placed in a fixed position slightly above the hip and the elbow bent at a ninety degree angle. Start out with a very light weight (3-5 lbs) and perform 2 sets of 10-12 reps for each side. The second movement is simply a variation of exercise #1. Instead of placing the elbow at the side, stand next to an adjustable bench. Adjust the bench so that the back of the bench is at shoulder level while standing in an upright position. Using the top of the bench as a fulcrum, bend the elbow at ninety degrees once again. Rotate the arm such that the initiation of the movement begins with the forearm parallel to the ground and finishes with the forearm perpendicular to the ground. Perform 2 sets of 8-10 reps using 3-0-1 tempo (3 second eccentric-no pause at the bottom-1 second concentric). A little bit of rotator work really goes a long way to increase swing power and perhaps more importantly, shoulder longevity. Remember to only perform this as a warmup on heavy lifting days that will involve the shoulders because overtraining before a workout would actually be counterproductive and decrease the stability of the shoulder capsule during the workout. As far as creatine, I believe it is beneficial to take a week off every 4-6 weeks. Many lifters have been experiencing good results using liquid creatine pre and post workout on training days only. It seems that the liquid is effective even at lower dosages. Another supplement I've been impressed with lately is ribose. This is another substrate the body can use to manufacture ATP. Replenishing ATP stores more quickly will ultimately lead to increased strength levels and faster recovery between workouts. Biotest makes a quality liquid ribose/creatine combination called Ribose-C and EAS makes an effervescent version called Riboforce HP. Try this out and the only thing you'll be saying is, "going, going... gone!!!".

Curling Technique

Q Every time I train my biceps, my forearms end up wearing out before my biceps do. This makes it difficult to push my biceps to failure. Any ideas?
-K Leventhal

A The biceps primary function is elbow flexion, though it is also responsible for supinating (turning the palm inward) the wrist. The two most powerful wrist flexors are the Flexor Carpi Radialis and the Flexor Carpi Ulnaris. Both of these anterior forearm muscles will easily become involved in bicep movements if the wrist does not remain neutral throughout the motion. A simple method of increasing bicep involvement and minimizing forearm involvement during curls is to slightly move the wrist back throughout the top third of the motion so that the palms will essentially face upward at the top. This will disengage the majority of forearm flexion and increase fiber recruitment in the biceps. Initially this may warrant a slight reduction in training poundages (10-15%), but they will return to normal and then some in no time. Not to mention, the increased bicep growth that will come as a result of this curling technique!

How to have great sex while simultaneously building great abs!

Q I was reading Men's Health, and they have promised me better abs and better sex in each of the past 27 issues. I have yet to see any discernible results and I'm becoming very discouraged. Do you know of any exercises that would target both of these functions simultaneously?
-Anonymous (understandably so)

A Why it's a matter of fact I do! This exercise may be new to many of you. It was developed by Russian exercise physiologist Ivana Humpalot (no relation to the Ivana in "Austin Powers II"). It primarily involves the spinal flexors (rectus abdominus) in combination with the hip extensors (hamstrings and glutes). You will begin by lying prone with your "training partner" mounted above you. The added resistance of your partner being on top of you will increase gluteal muscle fiber recruitment substantially over performing this movement missionary style. The concentric portion of the movement should be performed slightly faster than eccentric portion. Using a rep tempo of 3-1-2 usually works best. That's a 3 second negative, 1 second pause, and 2 seconds on the positive portion of the movement. Now here's the tricky part of the exercise at the top of each repetition, while keeping your hip extensors in the flexed position for a momentary pause, perform an intense abdominal crunch using a 2-0-2 tempo. If you do this exercise properly, you should look like a goofy white guy trying to do the worm, as seen in "Breakin' II: The Electric Boogaloo" or perhaps "Beat Street". This exercise is intended to stimulate maximal hypertrophy of the abdominals, glutes, and other unmentionable muscles. Charles Poliquin suggests that this movement also works best using high reps and maximal time under tension. Don't be one of those 3-reps-to-failure guys or your training partner may seek somebody else to workout with.