Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Combinations that Work: HMB & Isometric Training for Lean Mass, Creatine & Powerlifting for Leaning Out and Carnitine & Bodybuilding for Powerlifting?

Image 1: Jacek Spychala - I must admit, I don't know if he was one of the subjects, but 38 of his colleagues from the Polish National Powerlifting Team were (powerlifting.pl)
As an athlete and even as a regular fitness enthusiast, you got to chose your training and supplementation modalities according to your professional or personal goals (in fact, the failure to do so is, in my mind, one of the main causes why so many trainees do not get the desired results at the gym). A very recent study from the Department of Combat Sports and Weightlifting at the Józef Pilsudski University School of Physical Education (I wish every University had such a department ;-) in Warsaw, Poland, sheds some light onto combinations which work, and combinations which don't... and trust me you will be surprised by the results of Dr. Marek Kruszewski's controlled intervention study (Kruszewski. 2011).

Kruszewski recruited recruited a total of 170 (! that alone is noteworthy !) subjects who participated in a three-tier placebo-controlled study on the effects dietary supplementation of l-carnitine, creatine and HMB combined with different modes of strength training (bodybuilding type circuit training, powerlifting and isometric training) had on muscle strength, lifting performance and body composition (for a graphical overview of the study design see figure 1).
Figure 1: Graphical illustration of the three tiers (l-carnitine, creatine, HMB), general information and detailed information on the exact exercise protocol of the isometric workout of the HMB group
Not only the sheer size of the study with active and placebo groups of ~30 previously untrained subjects, each, in the l-carnitine and HMB tier of the study are impressive, the participation of 38 powerlifters from the Polish National Team (cf. video of Daniel Grabowski, with a 2254lbs total) is, as well. If each group had received all three of the supplements subsequently and body composition had not been measured with an expensive but still not 100% accurate body impedance device, this study would have been the equivalent of the egg-laying-wool-milk-sow of the Natural Rythmicity for Maximum Fat & Minimal Muscle Loss episode of the Intermittent Thoughts, but I guess we cannot have it all ;-)

2g HMB + isometric training for lean muscle gains!

Image 2: HMB is getting
cheaper, lately
I thought, I'd give the most "exotic" training variety (isometric training) the advantage and tell you about the effects 2g of HMB per day (4 servings of 500mg; one with breakfast, one before, one after the workout and one in the evening; for 5 weeks = 20 training sessions) had on the strength performance and body composition of 69 previously untrained, strength trainees -  not only to raise the awareness that isometric contractions could be a valuable addition to everyones regime (something my friend Rob Regish also advocates in his Blueprint), but also because the effects observed in this tier of the study were, as Kruszewski points out, "[t]he most distinctive and desirable" ones:
Although this type of supplementation [HMB] was used in the group of subjects who trained using the isometric method, regarded as a training system not associated with increases in lean body mass (LBM), the obtained results indicate that HMB may also affect LBM. In view of the fact that LBM involves mainly muscles containing about 70% water, the demonstrated significant elevation of LBM accompanied by the reduced water content in the bodies of the examined competitors is difficult to explain.
Now, I've got you listening my iron-friends, don't I? Increased lean mass (+1.31kg), decreased (as the author points out, later) "presumably extracellular" water - sounds like it was coming from a competitive bodybuilder's "dry dreams", doesn't it? Well, the one thing that would be missing now, is a way to get rid of the fat - but wait, weren't there other supplements in the study, as well?

10g Creatine (+10g dextrose) + powerlifting for fat loss!

Image 3: Creatine monohydrate
for fat loss? That's a surprise.
Yes, there were, and believe it or not, not l-carnitine and circuit training, but creatine and powerlifting will shed the fat - even in elite level powerlifters! By continuing their regular (pyramid style, cf. figure 1) powerlifting training, the 16 power lifters from the Polish National Team, who received the 20g/day creatine + dextrose combination did not only improve their powerlifting performance by a statistically significant +15.6kg over the placebo group, they also and, as Kruszewski points out, "surprisingly" lost a significant amount of body fat in the course of the 20 training sessions they completed within the 5 week study period:

[...] the present results indicate that supplementation with this compound [creatine] led to a significant reduction in the fat content and increase in the water content of the organisms of powerlifters from the Polish National Team.
In view of the results, the author observed in the last group, the one which did a bodybuilding-type circuit training that was supplemented with 900mg of l-carnitine l-tartrate per day (cf. figure 1), I find it pretty amusing that according to Kruszwski the "effect of creatine may be much more far-reaching than that indicated in the manufacturers’ leaflets", which is something, he certainly would not say of l-carnitine.

900mg l-carnitine l-tartrate + "bodybuilding-type" circuit training for powerlifting? 

Image 4: L-carnitine alone will not transform your physique like this magic mirror - no matter what the advertisement leaflet in the latest muscle mag says ;-)
The results in the l-carnitine supplemented group (3x300mg l-carnitine l-tartrate) were mixed. While the previously untrained subjects obviously gained strength in the course of the 15 workouts they performed in the 5 week study period, there were huge intergroup differences - meaning that a few subjects appeared to benefit from carnitine, while the majority didn't. Moreover, fat loss or beneficial changes of body composition, which is what l-carnitine is marketed for, were completely absent in the l-carnitine group. And while the training intensity was pretty low (although the trainees had to perform the 3rd of their three training circles to complete failure) this does not really surprise me, as the "fat burning" effect of oral carnitine supplementation has been debunked by more than a dozen well-designed studies, so that you better follow Kruszewski's advice and "treat advertisements of this compound [l-carnitine] with reserve" ;-) He goes on to explain that...
[...i]t is possible that individuals with inherited or acquired L-carnitine deficiency manifested by increased deposition of fat in the body may benefit from such supplementation and improve their body composition by consuming appropriate amounts of this substance accompanied by proper (predominantly aerobic) exercising. However, additional L-carnitine supplementation in individuals with normal production and concentration of this substance in the body is superfluous.
On the other hand, Kruszewski admits that despite the absence of significant improvements in muscle torque, the powerlifting performance of the subjects in the l-carnitine group increased statistically significantly more than the one in the placebo group (+13.7kg) which is ...
surprising in view of the fact that such an effect [increase in powerlifting performance] of L-carnitine has very rarely been reported and emphasized.
He goes on to suggest that these improvements may be related to l-carnitines impact "on the general physical fitness of the organism". Yet, whatever the reasons may be - out of this triumvirate, l-carnitine would certainly be the least effective addition to your regimen - whatever your goals may be.

Isometric training and HMB supplementation, on the other hand, emerge as as surprise winner. With statistically significant (+17.7kg) increases in power-lifting performance, significant increases in muscle torque, and a +1,31kg increase in body mass (predominantly lean muscle) that was accompanied by a likewise significant reduction in extracellular water, it may be a good idea to take advantage of the falling HMB prices (buy in bulk!) and to incorporate some isometric exercises into your workout regimen ... what do you say?