Success in the sport of Bodybuilding is primarily based on two aspects, the ability to gain muscle tissue and lose body fat. Unfortunately, Bodybuilding, perhaps more than any other sport, is subject to a complete “information overload” on how best to achieve these goals. Magazines, web sites, blogs, video uploads etc are all readily available and they all profess to provide the secret of success. To quote an old friend of mine the big secret is that there is no secret. No one work out, nutrition plan or supplement that will give you a guaranteed path to achieving your dreams.
What I aim to provide is a route through the hype based on good science and practical application of working on myself and clients for well over 20 years.
In addition to the pure performance aspects of the sport I insist on basing my approach on good health. Bodybuilding is by its very nature on the cutting edge of human physiology and some of the dietary and supplementation regimes can be extreme. It is therefore very important to carry out certain health checks on a regular basis. Bio Chemistry blood tests, Hormonal panels, DNA tests, Blood pressure and Body composition tests are therefore all part of a responsible coaches armoury to be used when working with clients of all levels.
As I first put pen to paper on the initial draft of this article I am entering my 3rd week of dieting for the NABBA South East Britain Bodybuilding championships. Fat loss is therefore something which is presently quiet close to my heart.
Fat loss, together with the acquisition of lean muscle tissue, must be one of the Holy Grails of Amateur and professional sport and when we take into account body composition control for health purposes more column inches and book pages must have been written on the subject than just about anything else within the realms of Nutrition/Supplementation. With the wealth of material already in circulation one of the challenges is to construct an article which simply does not rake over very familiar ground.
I would therefore like to take you on a journey thru some of the past and current well known substances which have been praised for their Thermogenic/fat burning qualities by some parties but also considering how precarious this advice may be. Moving on from there I’ll refocus the spotlight on some of the “grey area” products which are still freely available with a dubious legal status and an even more dubious WADA status. Another pace forward will take us into the realms of pharmaceuticals which are being (mis) used by both competitive and recreational sportsmen/women and finally a quick lift of the lid on some of the really scary, dangerous products which are amazingly still readily available thanks to the power of the Internet but will, almost without question, lead to serious health issues.
Now, something like the author of the racy detective novel who doesn’t want you flicking the pages till you arrive at the sex scenes try and stay with me thru the more academic stuff and I’ll try to make this entertaining long before we get to the real blood and guts of the final few paragraphs.
Where to start? I thought that we would kick things off with a few items that I’m personally using at the moment and which have also picked up a body of opinion on their fat burning qualities – Caffeine, Green Tea and Grapefruit.
My mornings presently start at 4am when, after the obvious bathroom visit, I jump into my thermals (bear in mind this is mid February and recent early am temperatures have been minus 6) Once dressed I consume 1 strong black coffee and half a Grapefruit before I commence my morning cardio consisting of 30 mins “power walk” around my local streets (and yes I am on first name terms with most of my local Essex Constabulary!) This itself throws up a few areas of debate concerning the benefit of overnight fasted, steady state cardio exercise as a method of weight control, as detailed comment is outside the scope of this article all I would say is that I am looking at purely aesthetics not performance and having had some 17 years experience with various regimes this works!!
Once returned I will have the first of 2 or 3 cups of green tea that I will consume throughout the day.
Immediate thoughts would therefore be that I value all of these substances as an aid to my fat loss goals. Weelll not quite. I do have a great deal of faith in Caffeine as an Ergogenic aid with a role in Lipolysis, the Grape fruit is simply refreshing and the Green tea has other qualities but my personal view is that it is next to useless as a fat loss agent! Caffeine has been researched to death and I’m not going to tell you much you are not already very well aware of (as a recent point of reference the FSN Academy Linkedin discussion group has run a debate within the last month or so and is well worth checking out).
I’m sure the comments on Green Tea will raise some eyebrows so let’s look firstly at the theory of the product.
Green Tea is a non fermented extract from the Evergreen Shrub Camellia Sinensis native to mainland South and Southeast Asia. The Polyphenols found in the Tea, also referred to as Flavanols or Catechins have been found to have a number of potential health benefits. As we are concentrating on the possible Thermogenic effects we need to concentrate on the Catechins Epicatechin, Epicatechin-3-gallate, Epigallocatechin and Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG). These Catechins have been seen to inhibit the Enzyme Catechol-0-Methytransferase (COMT). COMT degrades one of the bodies principal fat burning hormones Norepinephrine and by inhibiting its action we can elevate Norepineherine levels and increase Thermogenesis.
These effects have been seen to be enhanced by the Caffeine element in Green Tea and by taking a Green Tea Extract giving more “bang for your buck” than trying to drink cups and cups of the stuff.
Research papers have confirmed and reinforced the effectiveness of Green Tea and Green Tea Extract: Venables et al 2008 from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is typical stating in its conclusion “Acute Green Tea Extract ingestion can increase fat oxidation during moderate intensity exercise and can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in healthy young men”.
Other research studies report similar results.
With this body of opinion behind it manufacturers have not been slow in combining Green Tea Extract with other substances to come up with bespoke Thermogenic products. One such supplement is James Haskells Hades, recently voted best pre trainer/fat burner by this very magazine and contains “Caffeine, Capsicum, green tea and a host of B vitamins”, the products developer, Katherine Andreason, also mentions L carnitine and CoQ10 as “useful additions”.
We don’t have to stop there when looking at this interesting beverage. The L Theanine content has been shown to have a beneficial effect on brain chemistry (Bryan J, 2008, Psychological effects of dietary components of tea: caffeine and L-Theanine. Nutr Rev: 66(2): 82-90) and the Alkyamines present appear to encourage immune system efficiency.
Having made as good a case as I can for the benefits of Green Tea I will now throw up a couple of counter arguments.
Firstly, after 17 years as a competitive bodybuilder and coach and having experimented on myself and others with most fat loss agents known to man I can honestly say that my colleagues and I have found Green Tea and its extract next to useless for noticeable, sustained fat loss. Ok, bear in mind that I am looking at extremes, “in shape” in bodybuilding terms is 4 – 5% bodyfat and I’m sure the product will add a few percentage points to any fat loss regime but we have found the effects minimal at best and green Tea would not be the mainstay of any dedicated fat loss program I constructed. However, I would, and do, use it for the other properties it contains.
Nothing I’m afraid comes with a completely clean bill of health and one warning shot with green tea is that it is well known within the medical community that the Catechins it contains may compromise platelet aggregation which may be beneficial to some but may well prove dangerous to others taking such medication as Warfarin. Or with conditions such as Thrombocytopenia (low Platelet count).
Moving along from what we may refer to as the “healthy option” let’s take a quick look at what I would call the “grey area” supplements, these being the ones which won’t cause you to spend time at her Majesties pleasure for merely possessing them but the legal status of their manufacture in this country must be dubious at best and I can guarantee that their consumption before competition will mean that you will fail every drug test currently being used in professional and high level amateur sport!
The best known of these is the famous Ephedrine, Caffeine, Aspirin stack.
As I type this article I have 2 versions of this product in front of me, both manufactured in Cyprus. A typical formula is 30 mg Ephedrine, 250 mg Caffeine, 150 mg Aspirin.
Taking these in reverse order, Aspirin in this context is included to thin the blood, Caffeine is there to do all the wonderful stuff we know about which leaves us with Ephedrine. Technically, we are looking at a Sympathomimetic Amine which has a stimulatory effect on the Adrenergic receptor system by increasing the activity of Norepinephrine at the postsynaptic alpha and beta receptors thereby acting as a strong CNS stimulant, appetite suppressant and concentration aid. Ephedrine’s molecular structure is similar to the drugs Amphetamine and Methamphetamine.
The synergistic effect of these 3 ingredients provides one hell of a powerful product. Does it work? Hell yes!! Work outs will be ferocious, PB’s will be broken and body weight would be lost.
However, I have something of a personal campaign against Ephedrine, as mentioned above it is chemically very close to some pretty serious “recreational” drugs and to my mind rather than taking it in capsule form you may as well roll up a £20 note and snort it off a mirror!
My personal experience of it with myself and associates is that you will start off having the work out of your life, strong, focused intense training sessions, so far so good, unfortunately the appetite blunting effect means that you probably won’t feel like re fuelling after the work out, heart rate and general metabolism are raised to quite scary levels, the chances are you may well still be awake at 3am the next morning and when the effects do start to wear off the “come down” is not pleasant.
Tolerance will be built up quickly and even though there is undoubtedly a fat burning effect it will also strip lean tissue. Recovery will be severely compromised and it’s a quick, fast track route to complete metabolic burn out. Again, personal experience tells me that people who habitually use Ephedrine are also using a host of other pharmaceutical agents which tend to hide the adverse effects until someone has to pick up the pieces after the inevitable injury and/or illness. Avoid!!
On the subject of pharmaceutical products I would like to touch on 2 products which are or have been used on prescription to help treat obesity and a third which is being used “off label”. I have never personally come across any competitive athlete using these substances but rumours persist that they have been experimented with and they are definitely being used by recreational trainers.
The first of these is Orlistat which is traded under at least 2 names – Xenical and Alli – the active ingredient is Tetrahydrolipstatin which acts as an inhibitory agent to the gastric and pancreatic lipases. Without the Triglycerides being broken down to smaller fatty acids absorption of fats cannot take place in the normal fashion and excretion of these fats is increased. Studies show (Padwal, R S et al 2009 Long term pharmacotherapy for obesity and overweight. The Cochrane Collaboration, John Wiley & Sons) that body fat loss can be enhanced when Orlistat is used together with a dietary program but it comes with a host of possible side effects such as gastrointestinal discomfort/distress, flatulence, bloating etc and what is politely referred to “faecal urgency” so you will probably lose weight but make sure you wear a nappy whilst using the medication!
The second prescription product is Sibutramine which was withdrawn from most major pharmaceutical markets due to cardiovascular complications in or around 2010. Working as an appetite suppressant Sibutramine inhibits the reuptake of Serotonin, Norepinephrine and Dopamine by 53%, 54% and 16% respectively thereby enhancing the feeling of satiety. It was backed with studies to show its effectiveness (Padwal, R S et al- referred to above ). My guess is that it is still obtainable from non regulated sources but at what cost?
The last “off label” product is the diabetes medication Victoza Liraglutide. When Metformin is proving ineffective for type 2 diabetes Victoza Liraglutide is sometimes prescribed to – inter alia – slow the production of glucose from the liver. However, it is also a GLP1 r agonist by which route it stimulates the production of the gut hormone GLP 1 (glucagon like peptide) which has a major contributing factor in the feel of satiety, particularly postprandial, the appetite is therefore blunted and less calories are consumed. My immediate thought here is that it would seem likely that you may form a negative feedback loop with the over stimulation of the receptor leading to a much reduced level of GLP 1 being produced after medication has ceased leading to a greatly increased urge to eat anything that’s still not breathing!!
So, 3 different medications, all working via different routes and all being used by, at least, recreational athletes.
Time I think to get a bit controversial and look at prescription medication which I know for an absolute fact is being used widely by athletes for both fat loss and other purposes. The two substances that I wish to major on here are the Thyroid hormone T3 and the Bronchial dilator Clenbuterol.
At the time writing this initial draft Ian Craig has just published the latest edition of FSN (March/April 2015) and has an excellent article concerning Thyroid function, its place in athletic performance and the fact that a number of very high profile athletes have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and placed on Thyroid medication. I’ll let those comment lie for the time being and just look at the fat loss properties. As the principal hormone involved with systemic metabolism levels of the metabolically active T3 will have a direct effect on the body’s ability to metabolism fat stores. In conjunction with a specific dietary regime and cardiovascular exercise use of T3 is one of the reasons you see bodybuilders on stage with bodyfat levels of 5% and below.
Most of us will appreciate the principals of negative feedback loops and as soon as the body recognises that T3 levels are rising it will of course start to shut down its own production which may well lead to long term problems. Short term if you get things wrong it will also strip any hard earned muscle you may have acquired very quickly indeed. I have personally seen someone go from a very lean muscular condition to looking as though he had hardly set foot in a gym in a couple of weeks.
Clenbuterol has a long history of being (mis) used by athletes and the list of those having served bans for Clenbuterol use reads like a role call of the great and good from a number of sporting disciplines. Popular rumour also suggests that a number of Hollywood A listers have also resorted to its use in their quest to stay lean and mean for the camera.
Technically a Sympathomimetic beta 2 agonist Clenbuterol was used medically as a smooth muscle relaxant playing a role as a decongestant and Bronchodilator in asthma patients.
Its ability to act as a stimulant, Thermogenic and mild anabolic agent was not long lost on the athletic community and is now one of the most widely used Thermogenic pharmaceutical agents among recreational athletes very often “stacked” with T3 to make an extremely potent metabolic enhancer. On the professional circuit its ease of detection makes it considerably “old school”.
Some of the milder side effects include hand tremors, headaches and general feeling of unease.
Finally, 2 of the nastiest substances you are likely to come across, DNP and Redotex.
DNP or Dinitro Phenol is, or at least was, used by industry as a detonator for TNT, pesticide, fungicide, photographic developer, wood preservative and industrial dye amongst other things and is classified “an industrial toxic waste”. To the very best of my knowledge it is not legitimately available anywhere in the world for human consumption.
In the early 1900’s it was noticed that employees working in some industries, particularly Munitions, where DNP is combined with Picric Acid to make explosives, were subject to unexplained weight loss and the cause was found to be the handling of DNP. Research was carried out but at the time was taken no further. Skipping forward to the 1930’s the idea was resurrected by Maurice Tainter and Windsor Cutting at Stanford University and human trials took place in the United States. As a result of this DNP became one of the first drugs marketed solely for the purpose of bodyfat reduction and was sold under such names as Dinitiso, Nitromet and Dinitrenal. Please bear in mind that pharmaceutical regulation at this time was not exactly what it is today.
Even so by the late 1930’s complaints about the side effects such as temporary blindness, cataracts, muscle tremors, increased respiration & heart rate, calcium depletion and possible cacogenic effects caused the product to be removed from sale.
There are reports however of it remaining in the survival kit of Soviet Bloc soldiers serving in extreme environments, its use and subsequent massive increase in body heat being seen as preferable to the possibility of freezing to death.
The product lay undisturbed for some decades until a Russian Doctor, Nicolas Bachynsky, was translating the Russian military/medical texts for the United States Government. He used this knowledge to set up a series of weight loss clinics throughout America and, for a while made an awful lot of money. However once again, the extreme side effects reared their ugly head and to cut a long story short, Dr. Bachynsky apparently found himself fighting multiple law suits and, according to reports, finally ended up in prison convicted of insurance fraud.
By chance in the same prison, at the same time, was “The Steroid Guru” Dan Duchaine who was serving time for the illegal sale of Anabolic/Androgenic steroids. Dan seized on his conversations with Dr Bachynsky and an extreme plan to construct the first muscular 400lb athlete was born. Two of the cornerstones of the plans were the use of insulin and DNP. News of their work became more generally available and its use, if not widespread, was certainly well known during the 1980’s and 90’s.
Although somewhat out of vogue there still remains a stubborn underbelly of use with daily newspapers including the Daily Mail and The Guardian recently reporting deaths of recreational athletes attributed to the drug. A quick click thru “Google” indicates that DNP remains available to those willing to buy online.
The latest tragic case in the UK occurred as recently as April this year when a female 21 year old student died after taking “diet pills” containing DNP purchased from the Internet. This case has led to questions being raised in the UK Parliament on the ease of obtaining this substance and Interpol are making enquiries along similar lines.
Mechanics of action are reported as a “Cellular Metabolic uncoupler”. The Krebbs cycle of Oxidative Phosphorylation is disrupted preventing the formation of ATP but turning the energy released into heat thereby increasing metabolic rate at an alarming rate.
I’m assuming that the feeling must be akin to being gently broiled from the insides!!
I was blissfully ignorant of the last substance I would like to bring to your attention until about 6 months ago when I was asked on line my opinion of a fat burner called Redotex being used in a couple of London gyms. My research immediately came across an import alert issued by the US Food and Drug Administration which stated “Detention without physical examination of Redotex and other diet pills from Mexico”. The same alert gave the contents of each capsule of Redotex as:
Triiodothyronine – 75mcg
Nor pseudoephedrine – 50mg
Atropine Sulphate – (a respiratory and circulatory stimulant) 0.36mg
Aloin – (a laxative) 16.2mg
Diazepam – (a depressant – valium) 8mg
As you may imagine my advice was to avoid at all possible costs if you place any value on your health.
Hopefully you will find the above to be an informative, unusual and somewhat controversial look at a variety of fat burning products available to professional and recreational athletes. It may shock some but this is the reality however grim.
There appears to be a rustling in the Bodybuilding hedgerows with whispers of something that I thought had been kicked into touch more than a decade ago. However the need for the unscrupulous to make money and the need for the uninformed and /or desperate to resort to the quick fix once again appears to winning out.
Say it quietly but DNP seems to be making a return.
DNP - Dinitro Phenol - C6 H4 N2 O5. Whichever way you write it doesn’t seem too bad, however let’s dig a little deeper.
I first became aware of this substance somewhere around the mid to late 1990’s when the late Paul Borresen was in correspondence with the late (anyone noticing a theme here)? Dan Duchaine. These two “Guru’s” were coming up with a strategy to produce the first 400lb Bodybuilder, the foundation stones of which were the use of DNP and Insulin.
This is not meant to throw stones at the memory of Paul Borresen. Despite a plethora of “interesting” personality traits I considered Paul a good friend but very few people would deny that he could be so far out on the cutting edge it was scary. He also had an almost Dr. Jekyll type need to experiment on himself with any ideas that may have pushed the Bodybuilding envelope.
My understanding of the history of DNP is that it was being used in munitions factories as a detonator for TNT on or around the early 1900’s when some of the employees found they were suffering from unexplained weight loss. After investigation the search was narrowed down to the handling of DNP and experiments on some unfortunate dogs was carried out. After a good many Rovers (or more accurately the US equivalent) had been stripped to the bone in the interests of science (and you thought those smoking Beagles were bad news) the whole thing seemed to get forgotten and the research gathered dust on some laboratory shelf.
However, if we fast forward to the 1930’s the idea was resurrected, once again initially in the United States, but this time on obese human subjects. It is estimated that some 100,000 people were prescribed DNP as a fat loss agent. Indeed it was one of the first drugs ever used for weight reduction being distributed under such trade names such as Dinitriso, Nitromet and Dinitrenal. It must to be borne in mind that these were the days when very little regulation of foods, supplements or “miracle cures” were in place. Even so, by 1938 or thereabouts complaints about the side effects were pouring in (temporary blindness being a common one) it once again disappeared and was filed in the “too damn risky” draw.
Our subject of discussion went on it’s merry way being used as a detonator, pesticide, fungicide, photographic developer, wood preservative and industrial dye amongst other things, oh yeah, almost forgot it also got designated a “industrial toxic waste”!!
To the very best of my knowledge DNP is not being legitimately sold anywhere in the world for human use but as you can see is readily available as an industrial chemical.
Pressing that fast forward button again we find ourselves pretty much up to date in the time line which is where Dan Duchaine comes into focus. One of the true front line soldiers of chemical Bodybuilding Mr Duchaine still divides opinion strongly some years after his death. I believe, although stories do vary, that Dan first picked up on the idea of DNP during a spell at the pleasure of the US authorities. Ideas started to spread and whoosh!! Away we go into Bodybuilding dream land where fat was no longer the enemy but simply an inconvenience that was ours to play with.
So, what the hell is it?
Most text books will describe DNP as a Cellular Metabolic poison or Cellular Metabolic uncoupler, it interferes with the Krebbs cycle of Oxidative Phosphorylation, preventing the formation of ATP but turning the energy released into heat thereby increasing the metabolic rate and burning fat at an alarming rate.
If that’s starting to get a bit heavy let me explain that we have 3 energy systems within our bodies which power all human movement, these being the Phosphagen system, the Glycolysis system and the Oxidative system. All 3 of these systems work in different ways to produce the molecule Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). The splitting of this molecule by enzyme action allows the released chemical energy to be used as mechanical energy in the contraction of muscle cells. The body will use Creatine, Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein, in some cases in the presence of oxygen, sometimes without, in the formation of ATP. The length of exercise and more particularly the intensity will govern which energy system takes priority. No one system works in isolation but a definite “pecking order” exists dependent of the type of activity being carried out. For example a one rep maximum Deadlift will call upon primarily the Phosphagen system, an 800 meter race will be primarily the Glycolysis system and the Oxidative system will be primarily in use for a 26 mile marathon or while you are sitting relaxed reading this article.
Our friend DNP manages to cross and destroy cell membranes and interferes with the ATP production in part of the Oxidative system known as the Krebbs Cycle, but the energy released, having to go somewhere gets transformed into heat.
If you really want to know the actual science detail behind these reactions please let me know and I’ll see what I can dig out.
We therefore have a large increase in bodily heat, metabolism goes into overdrive and we start to burn quite scary amounts of fat. This was the basic premise behind Paul Borresens ideas. The use of insulin as a shuttle molecule forces aminos, glucose etc. into the cells without having to worry about the buildup of body fat that often accompanies insulin use.
The problems start to appear when the heat increase reaches first of all uncomfortable then dangerous levels. If you think that the possibility of being gently broiled from the inside is a crazy exaggeration I’m afraid it isn’t. Having to continually take your temperature, sleep with fans around your head and sticking your nut under the cold tap on regular intervals might seem like a bit of an inconvenience but believe me it’s signs that things are not well.
Added to this the possibility of temporary blindness, cataracts, interference with the calcium production in muscle contraction, development of Cancers due to the release of free radicals on the splitting of cell membranes, muscle (in particular hand) tremors, increased respiratory rate, increased heart rate and thickening of the blood.
Just to take the last 2 of those, forgetting for a second that you may be running dangerously hot, your blood has started to thicken, you may also be using some form of testosterone and possibly Growth Hormone which will both have the same effect, and your heart is working faster than normal!! I’m not sure if my money would be on a Heart attack or a Stroke as the most likely, whichever way you are one sick Bodybuilder.
If you can’t get into shape using the tried and tested tools of the trade then give us at Physical Frontiers a ring. Please do not use DNP.
Let me put this as straightforwardly as possible:
THIS SHIT WILL F**K YOU UP
Here’s the difficulty with both high Blood Pressure and elevated Cholesterol, you won’t necessarily know you have a problem until you really have a problem. Both conditions can be asymptomatic in the early stages. Please don’t rely on banging headaches, dizziness or disturbed vision to suggest that your Blood Pressure is out of control. Similarly you won’t know that raised Cholesterol is laying down fatty deposits on you Arteries until you reach the point of early stage Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD)
I will repeat a point that I will continue to make, take responsibility for your own health, and get yourself checked.
Before we get down to the nitty gritty let’s have a quick check on how up to speed we are on what’s going on inside us.
First of all you guys out there with a credit card put your hands up, ok apart from the couple in the Outer Hebrides that’s about all of you, now, if you know your PIN number keep your hands up, good apart from a few of you my age when memory starts to become a problem that’s most of you. Right, here’s the curved ball, all those who know your Blood Pressure and /or Cholesterol levels keep your hands up. Oh dear, all of a sudden I don’t see many calloused, shovel type mitts still aloft.
In all seriousness what, in the great scheme of things, do you think may be more important? Food for thought guys.
Let’s first of all have a very quick look at the bits inside us that we are particularly interested in. First of all the Cardio Vascular system.
Your heart is basically a 4 chambered pump, it’s about the size of your fist, weighs somewhere in the region of 250g - 350g, sits at a slight angle within your rib cage, in front of your vertebral column (spine) but behind your Sternum (breast bone) and is flanked and slightly over lapped by your lungs.
The 4 main divisions of the heart are the Right and Left Atrium and the Right and Left Ventricle. The Right Atrium receives de oxygenated blood from the trunk, arms, legs etc via the Superior and Inferior Vena Cava. This oxygen poor blood is transferred via a one way valve to the Right Ventricle where it begins its journey to the lungs by being pumped out of the heart via the Right and Left Pulmonary Artery. These Arteries gradually decrease in size until we get to the Capillaries in the lungs which is the point that gas exchange takes place and the blood becomes “charged” with fresh oxygen taken in via the Respiratory System.
This freshly oxygenated blood is returned to the heart by the Venous system, finally arriving via the Right and Left Pulmonary Vein. These veins supply the Left Atrium, which in a similar way to the right side of the heart, pushes the blood via a one way pump into the Left Ventricle which in turn pumps the blood, now full of precious oxygen, to the various organs of the body via the Aorta.
The speed at which these pumping actions take place is called your Heart Rate and is governed by the Hearts “electrical wiring”. The same as all muscle fibres within the body the Heart responds to electrical charges delivered via the nervous system. These are controlled by the Sinoatrial node which is, in effect; your hearts own built in pace maker. It is the electrical system of the heart which is being measured when an Electrocardiogram (ECG) is taken.
Heart rate will be subject to a number of different controlling factors such as physical exertion, stress or disease. A “normal Heart Rate” would be between 60 - 100 beats per minute. A heart rate less than 60 per min would be considered low and is known as Bradycardia. A rate of more than 100 per min would be considered high and is known as Tachycardia.
Heart Rate or pulse rate are normally recorded at the wrist (Radial Pulse) or side of the neck (Carotid Pulse) which are 2 points where the Arteries are relatively close to the surface
Once in circulation the blood is controlled by the Arteries and Veins. Arteries carry blood from the heart under relatively high pressure and veins return blood towards the heart. The further Arteries and veins are from the heart the smaller and thinner they become eventually allowing for the exchange of nutriments and waste products.
The blood in circulation around the body will be subject to a degree of pressure to drive it through the Arteries and it is this pressure that we are looking to measure when you have your Blood pressure taken by a Doctor.
Before the current fancy digital readers the Doctor used a pressure cuff, Stethoscope and a rectangular box with a vertical glass tube inside containing a silvery fluid (Sphygmomanometer). The height reached by the fluid (Mercury) gave the reading and the numbers concerned are expressed as Millimetres of Mercury (mmHg).
As most of you would have seen BP is normally written as 2 figures i.e. 120/80, the first, and larger, of these two figures is known as the Systolic blood pressure (Sbp) and is the measure of the blood pressure against the Arterial walls at the point that the Ventricles contract and your heart “beats”. The second and lower of the figures is the Diastolic pressure (Dbp) and is measured when your heart is at rest. Both these readings give an indication of the resistance caused to the circulating blood as a result of Vasodilatation (opening of the blood vessels) or Vasoconstriction (closing of the blood vessels). Constriction is the one we need to be aware of and can be caused by a number of physiological factors including disease.
Normal Blood Pressure is commonly stated as 120/80 and anything in excess of 140/90 is considered the beginning of Hypertension. Due to our current western lifestyle millions of people are suffering from high BP, with some 50 million in the USA alone (American College of Sports Medicine figures). The link between hypertension and Cardiovascular disease is proven beyond doubt with the major killers being Coronary Heart Disease and Strokes. One major study states that for individuals in the age range 40 - 70 each increase in Systolic BP of 20 mmHg or an increase in Diastolic BP of 10 mmHg doubles the risk of CVD.
Transient increases to Blood pressure will occur on a day by day basis and can be caused by any number of things such as stress, Central Nervous System stimulants (a strong cup of coffee will do it) physical exertion etc. These increases will take place and soon return to normal. However, long term, chronic high BP is the real problem and may be caused by:
Recreational Drug use
Steroid/GH/other ergogenic aids
Lack of Cardio Vascular exercise
Bottom line is Hypertension aint big and it aint clever, take responsibility for your health, get it checked.
Having taken some of your time on the joys of Blood Pressure lets now have a quick look at Cholesterol. The immediate layman’s reaction to the word is that all and any Cholesterol is bad and should be avoided at all costs. The real story is not quite as easy as that.
We are all subject to 2 sources of Cholesterol, that which our bodies manufacture (endogenous cholesterol) and that which we assimilate as part of our diet (exogenous cholesterol).
Cholesterol is known as a Derived Lipid and exists only in animal tissue; foods of a plant origin contain no Cholesterol.
We need Cholesterol to perform many vital functions within our bodies including:
Formation of cell membranes
Precursor in the synthesis of Vitamin D
Precursor in the formation of the sex hormones estrogen, androgen and progesterone.
Key component in the synthesis of bile
Precursor of the stress hormone Cortisol
Although a degree of Cholesterol is vital to our existence an excess will start to cause us problems. We have little control over the amount our bodies make (apart from drug therapy and working on stress reduction) and therefore we are strongly advised to restrict both Cholesterol rich foods and those high in Saturated fats. Examples of foods high in Cholesterol are:
Organ meats, liver, kidney, brain etc
Shellfish (Shrimp/Prawns in particular)
Many manufactured, processed, pre packaged foods
An excess of Cholesterol can have a direct link to Atherosclerosis which is a degenerative condition where Cholesterol rich fatty deposits called Plaque are deposited on the Artery walls leading to them narrowing and potentially closing all together.
The transport of Cholesterol around the body is handled by substances known as Lipoproteins which are split into 3 main types - Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL) Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). Of these we are interested in the LDL’s and HDL’s.
LDL’s have a nasty trait of sticking the Cholesterol they contain to the walls of Arteries potentially leading to the Atherosclerosis condition referred to above. HDL’s however have the reverse effect and tend to “scrub” the Artery walls clean of cholesterol and transport it to the liver where it is excreted as a component of bile.
Dietary control together with life style management, stopping smoking, increasing physical activity and control of stress will all have an effect on Cholesterol and the level of LDL‘s & HDL‘s. Once again some of the regular practices carried out by competitive bodybuilders will have an adverse effect on blood Cholesterol, Triglycerides and lipid levels generally so it really is a damn good idea to have things checked before embarking on the next “course”.
Cholesterol is checked via a simple blood test and is usually measured in mill moles per litre. A total Cholesterol level of less than 5mmol/L is usually seen to be acceptable as is a LDL level of less than 2mmol/L and a HDL level above 1mmol/L.
We aim to keep ourselves and our athletes healthy thereby helping us achieve our genetic potential.
Please remember that the interpretation of any medical results should be performed by a qualified medical practitioner, ideally someone who understands the requirements of our sport.
A great professionally shot film of the incredible Laurie Carr and his training partner Paul Dillon prepping for the British Finals a little while back. This gives a wonderful insight to Laurie’s training and my involvement with him during one of the sessions held at Fort Galaxy Gym.