Myostatin blockers - the ultimate way to build muscle?

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You’ve probably seen plenty of advertisements for supplements known as myostatin inhibitors. But are they really that effective?

Myostatin is a gene expressed in developing and mature muscle tissue. A specific gene encodes for the transcription of the myostatin protein, which is a “negative regulator” of muscle growth. In simple terms, if you want to gain weight in the form of muscle, the less myostatin the better.

The theory is great.

By inhibiting or “blocking” myostatin, you can take the brakes off muscle growth and gain weight (in the form of lean mass) at a very rapid rate.

Much of the early research on myostatin has been conducted in animals. In mice where myostatin has been “knocked out,” (right) individual muscles weigh twice as much as those of normal mice.

In 1997, researchers found that the strong Belgian Blue and Piedmontese cattle strains who were noted for their extreme muscle mass were found to be like this due to a defective myostatin gene.

These strains have been produced through selective breeding of the strongest cattle and are now increasing in popularity due to their high meat content and very low bodyfat.

In 2004, a German boy, was born with extraordinary muscular development. Upon testing they found he had a mutation in both copies of the myostatin-producing gene, making him considerably stronger and more muscular than his peers. His mother, a former sprinter, has a mutation in one copy of the gene as well as the father.

More interesting still, researchers from the University of Maryland have shown that myostatin affects muscle growth in women too [1]. The study tracked a group of men and women taking part in a weight training program for nine weeks. Muscle growth in the quadriceps (the set of muscles in the front of your thigh) was measured at the end of the study.

Myostatin genotype didn’t appear to be responsible for the different rates of muscle growth between men and women (the increase in muscle volume in the thigh was twice as great in the men). However, when only the women were analysed, muscle growth in those with the less common myostatin genotype was almost 70% greater.

Variations in myostatin genotype could explain why some people gain weight in the form of muscle far more quickly than others. Muscle fibres in elite bodybuilders, for example, are often no bigger than someone who has never picked up a barbell in their life. Their muscles are larger because they contain a greater number of small to average sized fibres.

There is considerable research now being done in the research labs to develop a drug that can block myostatin and therefore allow increased muscle mass. Obviously this would be life saving for any disease where muscle wasting is life threatening, such as muscular dystrophy (MD), a muscle disease characterised by progressive muscle weakness and degeneration/death of muscle fibres or severe muscle atrophy (wastage) as occurs in space flight and long bed ridden illness.

Although, these new myostatin blocking drugs are in the experimental stage and some labs have done small studies with them on people with MD, they still need to pass a considerable amount of ethical and safety procedures to ensure they are safe for sale, as it is unclear whether long term treatment of muscular dystrophy with myostatin inhibitors is beneficial, as the depletion of muscle stem cells could worsen the disease later on.

In the supplement world, whenever such information comes out, you can expect some ingenious minds to come out with a product to solve the problem. It is no surprise that a few marketing types have produced a ‘natural’ supplement that can supposedly replicate these effects before the pharmaceutical labs have and without any safety issues!

A so-called myostatin inhibitor (supposedly an active extract from cultured Cystoseira) is claiming to have the ability to achieve the elusive goal of blocking myostatin. Before you rush out and spend your monthly salary on this new wonder supplement, if this were true, these marketing types could be short-listed for the Nobel prize in medicine, but as you can imagine - upon buying and testing this supplement in detail, the product has no effect on muscle growth whatsoever.

You don’t need to take our word for it. Here’s what Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale, one of the most influential voices on diet, performance and athletic training in the world, has to say.

“The myostatin products are total hoaxes and a waste of money. The only thing it has going for them is the advertising, which are smooth con jobs.”

Dr. Di Pasquale was a world-class athlete for over 15 years, winning the World Championships in powerlifting in 1976 and world games in 1981. His work in finding safe alternatives to anabolic steroids and other drugs has won him praise from athletes, trainers and fitness experts around the globe. And he’s certainly less than impressed by the claims made by the companies advertising these products.

“For example, there is one ad that claims a pro bodybuilder went from 195 pounds and 35% body fat to 224 pounds and 5.5% body fat in 16 short weeks. And that it was all due to their new myostatin inhibitor supplement. That’s a gain of 85 pounds of lean muscle in 16 weeks. I can even believe that it’s possible because this guy’s been there before but I can guarantee you that the myostatin inhibitor had absolutely nothing to do with it. Rather, you might suspect that the high doses of anabolic steroids and possibly a collection of numerous other drugs (GH, IGF-I, insulin, clenbuterol, thyroid, etc.), along with an intense training program and high protein diet, may have had something to do with the rapid muscle mass gain.”

Although there is some evidence that these so-called myostatin inhibitors do bind myostatin in a chromatography column, Dr. Di Pasquale points out that he, “… could use dozens of ingredients that would do the same or better, including milk or motor oil.” Myostatin inhibitors are more about marketing than real results. Several people who have tried these products have been extremely disappointed with the lack of any real gains. A lot of disappointed guys wish they’d kept their money. So even though these marketing guys have retreated back into their ‘new idea’ cave, you still may see this product floating around in some supplement/internet shops - beware.

So if this doesn’t work, what can you take to pack on muscle fast? Lets have a look for muscle-building supplements which have a lot of research to back them up. Creatine, whey protein and HMB are just three popular muscle-building supplements with an impressive body of research to support their use.

Take, for example, exciting research carried in the journal Nutrition [2]. The trial, published by a research team from Poland ’s Institute of Sport and Physical Education shows clearly that Creatine and HMB work better together than when they’re taken alone. Subjects using HMB were able to lift a total of 83 pounds more weight when their maximum lifts in a number of different exercises were combined. Gains were similar (86 pounds) in the group using Creatine. However, participants using both Creatine and HMB were able to lift a whopping 114 pounds more than they could at the start of the study (obviously this is not 114 pounds on their bench press, but over a combination of exercises during a training session).

In other words, the combination of Creatine and HMB is almost 40% more powerful than HMB alone at increasing strength. Not only did test subjects using HMB and Creatine get stronger faster, they also built more muscle. Participants in the Creatine group, for example, gained 2 pounds of lean muscle. However, those using Creatine and HMB gained an impressive 3.4 pounds of lean muscle. In fact, the group using Creatine and HMB built muscle more than three times faster than those using HMB.

Eds. Note: You can buy Creatine, whey protein and HMB separately. But it’s a lot more convenient to use an all-in-one supplement, such as Cyclone, a popular product with a good reputation from a company called Maximuscle, which provides all of these nutrients in the precise doses used in the research.

References
1. Ivey, F.M., Roth, S.M., Ferrell, R.E., Tracy, B.L., Lemmer, J.T., Hurlbut, D.E., Martel, G.F., Siegel, E.L., Fozard, J.L., Jeffrey Metter, E., Fleg, J.L., & Hurley, B.F. (2000). Effects of age, gender, and myostatin genotype on the hypertrophic response to heavy resistance strength training. Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 55, M641-M648
2. Jowko E, Ostaszewski P, Jank M, Sacharuk J, Zieniewicz A, Wilczak J, Nissen S. (2001). Creatine and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) additively increase lean body mass and muscle strength during a weight-training program. Nutrition, 17, 558-566

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