The search continues for a natural supplement that will produce genuine anabolic or muscle-building effects. It seems that most people are seeking short-cuts to gains in muscular size and strength, even though with proper training and judicious nutritional practices it's possible to reach the genetic limits of muscle growth. The sports supplement industry is well aware of this demand for quick muscle and responds by offering an often dubious array of supplements. As noted in the feature on herbal-based testosterone supplements elsewhere in this issue, many supplements have little or no proof behind them. Often the "evidence" consists of a few animal studies, or even worse, isolated cell studies, both of which often have little relevance for intact bodies. The search for such miracle "anabolics" leads to esoteric journal articles that are often so obscure that they don't show up in Pub Med searches. In Applied Metabolics I've chosen to discuss studies that usually feature human subjects, although even these may not be entirely relevant. An example of this is exercise studies that feature untrained subjects. Untrained subjects gain muscle no matter how they train, since the first three months of training involves an improvement in neuromuscular coordination that inevitably results in strength gains, no matter what type of system is used. But as a trainee advances, other factors, such as heightened muscle protein synthesis, comes into play. What this means is that what applies to a rank beginner often doesn't apply to someone with a more advanced history of training.
Although animal and isolated cell studies are only the first rungs in research, occasionally a study is published that features only animal and isolated cells, but the results are so compelling that you realize that it can indeed apply to humans, even those who are advanced trainees. Such a study was recently published by a group of Japanese researchers. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this study was the main players involved. What these researchers found was that two common substances, when combined, are capable of producing potent anabolic effects in muscle. And although the study did feature isolated cells and lab rats, the mechanisms involved are also present in the human body, and as such are likely to produce similar effects in an intact human body.
So what are these two miracle anabolics that have existed right under our collective noses the whole time? Caffeine and lactate. That's right, the same caffeine that you ingest in your morning cup of Java when combined with lactate, which is produced every time you exercise intensely, appears to produce anabolic effects in muscle. How is this possible? The answer has to do with muscle stem cells, better known as satellite cells. These cells are normally quiescent, residing quietly in the recesses of muscle fibers, and are only activated when a muscle is injured . . .