Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Researchers at The University of Auckland have shown for the first time that the mere presence of carbohydrate solution in the mouth immediately boosts muscle strength, even before it is swallowed.

The results suggest that a previously unknown neural pathway is activated when receptors in the mouth detect carbohydrate, stimulating parts of the brain that control muscle activity and producing an increase in muscle strength.

Previous research had shown that the presence of carbohydrate in the mouth can improve physical performance during prolonged activity, but the mechanism involved was not known and it was unclear whether a person must be fatigued for the effect to be seen.

“There appears to be a pathway in the brain that tells our muscles when energy is on the way,” says lead researcher Dr Nicholas Gant from the Department of Sport and Exercise Science.

“We have shown that carbohydrate in the mouth produces an immediate increase in neural drive to both fresh and fatigued muscle and that the size of the effect is unrelated to the amount of glucose in the blood or the extent of fatigue.”

The current research has been published in the journal Brain Research and has also captured the attention of New Scientist magazine.

In the first of two experiments, 16 healthy young men who had been doing biceps exercises for 11 minutes were given a carbohydrate solution to drink or an identically flavored energy-free placebo. Their biceps strength was measured before and immediately afterward, as was the activity of the brain pathway known to supply the biceps.

Around one second after swallowing the drink, neural activity increased by 30 percent and muscle strength two percent, with the effect lasting for around three minutes. The response was not related to the amount of glucose in the bloodstream or how fatigued the participants were.

“It might not sound like much, but a two percent increase in muscle strength is enormous, especially at the elite level. It’s the difference between winning an Olympic medal or not,” says co-author Dr Cathy Stinear.

As might be expected, a second boost in muscle strength was observed after 10 minutes when carbohydrate reached the bloodstream and muscles through digestion, but no additional boost in neural activity was seen at that time.

“Two quite distinct mechanisms are involved,” says Dr Stinear. “The first is the signal from the mouth via the brain that energy is about to be available and the second is when the carbohydrate actually reaches the muscles and provides that energy,” says Dr Stinear.

“The carbohydrate and placebo solutions used in the experiment were of identical flavor and sweetness, confirming that receptors in the mouth can process other sensory information aside from the basic taste qualities of food. The results suggest that detecting energy may be a sixth taste sense in humans,” says Dr Gant.

In the second experiment, 17 participants who had not been doing exercise and were not fatigued simply held one of the solutions in their mouths without swallowing. Measurements of the muscle between the thumb and index finger were taken while the muscle was either relaxed or active.

A similar, though smaller effect was observed as in the first experiment, with a nine percent increase in neural activity produced by the carbohydrate solution compared with placebo. This showed that the response is seen in both large powerful muscles and in smaller muscles responsible for fine hand movements.

“Together the results show that carbohydrate in the mouth activates the neural pathway whether or not muscles are fatigued. We were surprised by this, because we had expected that the response would be part of the brain’s sophisticated system for monitoring energy levels during exercise,” says Dr Stinear.

“Seeing the same effect in fresh muscle suggests that it’s more of a simple reflex – part of our basic wiring – and it appears that very ancient parts of the brain such as the brainstem are involved. Reflexive movements in response to touch, vision and hearing are well known but this is the first time that a reflex linking taste and muscle activity has been described,” she says.

Further research is required to determine the precise mechanisms involved and to learn more about the size of the effect on fresh versus fatigued muscle.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Pauline Curtis
The University of Auckland

Women who walked two or more hours a week or who usually walked at a brisk pace (3 miles per hour or faster) had a significantly lower risk of stroke than women who didn’t walk, according to a large, long-term study reported in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The risks were lower for total stroke, clot-related (ischemic) stroke and bleeding (hemorrhagic) stroke, researchers said.

Compared to women who didn’t walk:

  • Women who usually walked at a brisk pace had a 37 percent lower risk of any type of stroke and those who walked two or more hours a week had a 30 percent lower risk of any type of stroke.
  • Women who typically walked at a brisk pace had a 68 percent lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke and those who walked two or more hours a week had a 57 percent lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Women who usually walked at a brisk pace had a 25 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke and those who usually walked more than two hours a week had a 21 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke — both “borderline significant,” according to researchers.

“Physical activity, including regular walking, is an important modifiable behavior for stroke prevention,” said Jacob R. Sattelmair, M.Sc., lead author and doctoral candidate in epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass. “Physical activity is essential to promoting cardiovascular health and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, and walking is one way of achieving physical activity.”

More physically active people generally have a lower risk of stroke than the least active, with more-active persons having a 25 percent to 30 percent lower risk for all strokes, according to previous studies.

“Though the exact relationship among different types of physical activity and different stroke
subtypes remains unclear, the results of this specific study indicate that walking, in particular, is associated with lower risk of stroke,” Sattelmair said.

Researchers followed 39,315 U.S. female health professionals (average age 54, predominantly white) participating in the Women’s Health Study. Every two to three years, participants reported their leisure-time physical activity during the past year — specifically time spent walking or hiking, jogging, running, biking, doing aerobic exercise/aerobic dance, using exercise machines, playing tennis/squash/racquetball, swimming, doing yoga and stretching/toning. No household, occupational activity or sedentary behaviors were assessed.

They also reported their usual walking pace as no walking, casual (about 2 mph), normal (2.9 mph), brisk (3.9 mph) or very brisk (4 mph).

Sattelmair noted that walking pace can be assessed objectively or in terms of the level of exertion, using a heart rate monitor, self-perceived exertion, “or a crude estimate such as the ‘talk test’ – wherein, for a brisk pace, you should be able to talk but not able to sing. If you cannot talk, slow down a bit. If you can sing, walk a bit faster.”

During 11.9 years of follow-up, 579 women had a stroke (473 were ischemic, 102 were hemorrhagic and four were of unknown type).

The women who were most active in their leisure time activities were 17 percent less likely to have any type of stroke compared to the least-active women.

Researchers didn’t find a link between vigorous activity and reduced stroke risk. The reason is unclear, but they suspect that too few women reported vigorous activity in the study to get an accurate picture and/or that moderate-intensity activity may be more effective at lowering blood pressure as suggested by some previous research.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and a leading cause of serious disability in the United States, so it’s important to identify modifiable risk factors for primary prevention, Sattelmair said.

An inverse association between physical activity and stroke risk is consistent across genders. But there tend to be differences between men and women regarding stroke risk and physical activity patterns.

“The exact relation between walking and stroke risk identified in this study is not directly generalizable to men,” Sattelmair said. “In previous studies, the relation between walking and stroke risk among men has been inconsistent.”

The study is limited because it was observational and physical activity was self-reported. But strengths are that it was large and long-term with detailed information on physical activity, he said.

Further study is needed on more hemorrhagic strokes and with more ethnically diverse women, Sattelmair said.

The American Heart Association recommends for substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or a combination.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Birdgette McNeill
American Heart Association

WESTCHESTER, Ill. – Athletes who get an extra amount of sleep are more likely to improve their performance in a game, according to a research abstract presented at the 21st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).

The study, authored by Cheri Mah of Stanford University, was conducted on six healthy students on the Stanford men’s basketball team, who maintained their typical sleep-wake patterns for a two-week baseline followed by an extended sleep period in which they obtained as much extra sleep as possible. To assess improvements in athletic performance, the students were judged based on their sprint time and shooting percentages.

Significant improvements in athletic performance were observed, including faster sprint time and increased free-throws. Athletes also reported increased energy and improved mood during practices and games, as well as a decreased level of fatigue.

“Although much research has established the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive function, mood and performance, relatively little research has investigated the effects of extra sleep over multiple nights on these variables, and even less on the specific relationship between extra sleep and athletic performance. This study illuminated this latter relationship and showed that obtaining extra sleep was associated with improvements in indicators of athletic performance and mood among members of the men’s basketball team.”

The amount of sleep a person gets affects his or her physical health, emotional well-being, mental abilities, productivity and performance. Recent studies associate lack of sleep with serious health problems such as an increased risk of depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Jim Arcuri
American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

Experts recommend that adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night to maintain good health and optimum performance.

Persons who think they might be suffering from a sleep disorder are encouraged to consult with their primary care physician, who will refer them to a sleep specialist.

The annual SLEEP meeting brings together an international body of 5,000 leading researchers and clinicians in the field of sleep medicine to present and discuss new findings and medical developments related to sleep and sleep disorders.

More than 1,000 research abstracts will be presented at the SLEEP meeting, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. The four-day scientific meeting will bring to light new findings that enhance the understanding of the processes of sleep and aid the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

Experts at The University of Nottingham are to investigate the effect of nutrients on muscle maintenance in the hope of determining better ways of keeping up our strength as we get old.

The researchers, based at the School of Graduate Entry Medicine and Health in Derby, want to know what sort of exercise we can take and what food we should eat to slow down the natural loss of skeletal muscle with ageing.

The team from the Department of Clinical Physiology, which has over 20 years experience in carrying out this type of metabolic study, need to recruit 16 healthy male volunteers in two specific age groups to help in it’s research.

Skeletal muscles make up about half of our body weight and are responsible for controlling movement and maintaining posture. However, at around 50 years of age our muscles begin to waste at approximately 0.5 per cent to one per cent a year. It means that an 80 year old may only have 70 per cent of the muscle of a 50 year old.

Since the strength of skeletal muscle is proportional to muscle size, such wasting makes it harder to carry out daily activities requiring strength, such as climbing stairs and leads to a loss of independence and an increased risk of falls and fractures.

In order for skeletal muscles to maintain their size, the large reservoirs of muscle protein require constant replenishment in the way of amino acids from protein contained within the food we eat. In fact, amino acids from our food act not only as the building blocks of muscle proteins but also actually ‘tell’ our muscle cells to build proteins.

Recent research from the clinical physiology team has shown that the cause of muscle wasting with ageing appears to be an attenuation of muscle building in response to protein feeding. In other words, as we age we lose the ability to covert the protein in the food we eat in to muscle tissue. The proposed research will investigate the mechanisms responsible for this deficit.

Dr Philip Atherton, who is currently recruiting volunteers, said: “I am really excited to be involved in this project because if we can determine ways to better maintain muscle mass as we age it will greatly benefit us all.”

The researchers are looking for 16 healthy, non-smoking, male volunteers aged 18 to 25 and 65 to 75.

Initially, the volunteers will undergo a health screening and then on a different day, under the supervision of a doctor, will be infused with an amino acid mixture to simulate feeding along with a ‘tagged’ amino acid that allows them to assess muscle building. To make these measures, blood samples will be taken from the arm and muscle biopsies from the thigh muscle under local anaesthesia. Volunteers will receive an honorarium to cover their expenses.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Lindsay Brooke
University of Nottingham

 

The study will take place at The University of Nottingham’s Medical School which based at the City Hospital in Derby.

Investigators in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital have identified the role of a protein that could potentially lead to new clinical treatments to combat musculoskeletal diseases, including Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

Results of these studies appear in the March 11, 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

These studies, led by Brian Kaspar, PhD, a principal investigator in the Center for Gene Therapy at The Research Institute and an assistant professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University, focus on a protein called follistatin (FS). Using a single injection, gene-delivery strategy involving FS, investigators treated the hind leg muscles of mice. Results showed increased muscle size and strength, quadruple that of mice treated with proteins other than FS. The muscle enhancements were shown to be well-tolerated for more than two years.

According to Dr. Kaspar, increased muscle mass and strength were also evident when this strategy was tested using a model of DMD. Apart from the injected hind leg muscles, strengthening effects were also shown in the triceps. In addition, fibrosis, abnormal formation of scar tissue and a hallmark of muscular dystrophy, was decreased in FS-treated animals.

“We believe this new FS strategy may be more powerful than other strategies due to its additional effects, including its ability to reduce inflammation,” said Dr. Kaspar.

The strategy showed no negative effects on the heart or reproductive ability of either males or females. The results were also replicated in older animals, suggesting that this strategy could be useful in developing clinical treatments for older DMD patients.

“This research provides evidence of multiple potential treatment applications for muscle diseases including, but not limited to, muscular dystrophy,” said Jerry Mendell, MD, director of the Center for Gene Therapy at The Research Institute, a co-author on the study, and professor of Pediatrics in Neurology and Pathology at The Ohio State University. “These results offer promise for treatment of potentially any muscle-wasting disease, including muscle weakness due to other illnesses, aging, and inflammatory diseases such as polymyositis. Our next step is to pursue clinical trials.”

The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital has a patent pending on the FS technique due to the major role it may play for muscular dystrophy treatment and other muscle-wasting diseases.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Pam Barber/Mary Ellen Fiorino
Nationwide Children’s Hospital

USC study finds combining resistance training and androgens gives more muscular bang for the buck

PHILADELPHIA (June 19, 2003)-Men who take supplemental androgens-the male hormone testosterone or similar medications-increase their strength by adding muscle mass, but androgens alone do not pack more might into the muscles, according to studies presented today by University of Southern California researchers.

Treatment with androgens increases lean body mass-which encompasses everything in the body but bone and fat-and strength increases proportionately with the amount of muscle added, says E. Todd Schroeder, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and adjunct assistant professor in the USC Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. Schroeder presented his findings at the Endocrine Society’s 85th Annual Meeting.

However, when men use androgen therapy combined with resistance training, such as weightlifting, their gains in strength may far outpace the amount of muscle that can be added with androgens alone. Each muscle cell packs a bigger punch, a concept known as improved muscle quality.

“The results of androgen therapy alone on muscle and strength are not necessarily bad, but they are not optimal,” Schroeder says. “The men did improve their strength, but it was proportional to the muscle mass they added.”

The findings wield health implications beyond the stereotypes of muscle-bound bodybuilders. Schroeder and his colleagues are studying the usefulness of androgens and exercise in helping maintain muscle strength, muscle power and physical function among seniors, for example. They also have studied androgen therapy’s effectiveness in battling wasting among HIV-positive patients.

In their recent study, Schroeder and USC colleagues Michael Terk, M.D., and Fred R. Sattler, M.D., looked at both young men and seniors. They followed two groups: 33 seniors ranging from their mid-60s to late 70s, and 23 HIV-positive men ranging from their early 30s to late 40s.

The younger men were randomly assigned to get 600 milligrams (mg) each week of nandrolone alone or in combination with resistance training. The older men were randomly assigned to receive 20 mg a day of oxandrolone or a placebo. These pharmacologic androgen doses were given over 12 weeks.

Researchers determined maximal strength-the most weight a participant could safely lift or push-using leg press, leg extension and leg flexion machines.

The researchers also measured the cross-sectional area of participants’ thighs and the lean body mass of their lower extremities by magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. They then determined the strength that participants exerted for each unit of muscle (muscle quality) and how muscle quality changed over time.

Androgens alone increased lean body mass and maximum strength in both groups of men, but “gains were modest,” Schroeder says, and muscle quality did not change, since the muscle size and strength both increased proportionately. However, among those using nandrolone and undergoing resistance training, muscle quality improved significantly: Gains in strength were much greater than the gains that could occur from muscle-mass increase alone.

“It is clear from our studies and others that resistance training is critical for increasing muscle quality, but the effects can probably be augmented with androgens,” Schroeder says. “In addition, not everyone can do resistance training, and a short course of androgens can help get people stronger and more functional.”

Finally, results provide researchers insight into how to better design future studies to test strategies to best preserve and even improve muscle strength and physical function among seniors. Similar studies will be important for other types of patients who experience muscle loss and frailty, such as those with cancer, chronic lung disease, chronic renal failure and other conditions.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Jon Weiner
University of Southern California

Grants by the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases and the National Center for Research Resources (General Clinical Research Center) supported the research. Bio Technology General Corp., which makes Oxandrin (oxandrolone), also supported part of the research.

Edward T. Schroeder, Michael Terk and Fred R. Sattler, “Pharmacological Doses of Androgen Do Not Improve Muscle Quality in Young or Older Men: Results from Two Studies,” Endocrine Society’s 85th Annual Meeting, poster P3-212, presentation 11 a.m., June 21. Findings released at news conference 1:30 p.m., June 19.

It’s an inevitable truth: as we get older, our muscles deteriorate and we become weaker. Not only can this be an immensely frustrating change, but it can also have many other, more serious implications. We become clumsier and begin to have more falls, often resulting in broken bones or even more severe injuries. There is wide interest in this phenomenon, but to date, the majority of research has focussed on therapies for older patients with advanced symptoms. Now one study, led by Dr Alexandra Sänger from the University of Salzburg, is taking a new approach: scientists are examining the effects of different exercise regimes in menopausal women, with the aim of developing new strategies for delaying and reducing the initial onset of age related muscle deterioration. Results will be presented on Monday 7th July at the Society for Experimental Biology’s Annual Meeting in Marseille [Poster Session A5].

Dr Sänger’s research group has investigated two particular methods of physical training. Hypertrophy resistance training is a traditional approach designed to induce muscle growth whereas ‘SuperSlow®’ is a more recently devised system which involves much slower movement and fewer repetitions of exercises, and was originally introduced especially for beginners and for rehabilitation. “Our results indicate that both methods increase muscle mass at the expense of connective and fatty tissue, but contrary to expectations, the SuperSlow® method appears to have the greatest effect,” reveals Dr Sänger. “These findings will be used to design specific exercise programmes for everyday use to reduce the risk of injury and thus significantly contribute to a better quality of life in old age.”

The study focussed on groups of menopausal women aged 45-55 years, the age group in which muscle deterioration first starts to become apparent. Groups undertook supervised regimes over 12 weeks, based on each of the training methods. To see what effect the exercise had, thigh muscle biopsies were taken at the beginning and end of the regimes, and microscopically analysed to look for changes in the ratio of muscle to fatty and connective tissue, the blood supply to the muscle, and particularly for differences in the muscle cells themselves. “The results of our experiments have significantly improved our understanding of how muscles respond to different forms of exercise,” asserts Dr Sänger. “We believe that the changes that this new insight can bring to current training systems will have a considerable effect on the lives of both menopausal and older

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Notes to editors

  • Hypertrophy resistance training is a method of strength training that is designed to induce muscle growth, also known as hypertrophy.
  • SuperSlow® resistance training was developed by Ken Hutchins and is based on the same principle as hypertrophy resistance training, but involves slower movement and fewer repetitions of exercises, which is thought to improve the quality of muscle contraction and thereby strength.

Contact: Holly Astley
Society for Experimental Biology

Recipe to recover more quickly from exercise: Finish workout, eat pasta, and wash down with five or six cups of strong coffee.

Glycogen, the muscle’s primary fuel source during exercise, is replenished more rapidly when athletes ingest both carbohydrate and caffeine following exhaustive exercise, new research from the online edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology shows. Athletes who ingested caffeine with carbohydrate had 66% more glycogen in their muscles four hours after finishing intense, glycogen-depleting exercise, compared to when they consumed carbohydrate alone, according to the study, published by The American Physiological Society.

The study, “High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is co-ingested with caffeine,” is by David J. Pedersen, Sarah J. Lessard, Vernon G. Coffey, Emmanuel G. Churchley, Andrew M. Wootton, They Ng, Matthew J. Watt and John A. Hawley. Dr. Pedersen is with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, Dr. Watt is from St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia. All others are with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT) in Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.

A fuller audio interview with Dr. Hawley is available in Episode 11 of the APS podcast, Life Lines, at www.lifelines.tv. The show also includes an interview with Dr. Stanley Schultz, whose physiological discovery of how sugar is transported in the gut led to the development of oral rehydration therapy and sports drinks such as Gatorade and Hi-5.

Caffeine aids carbohydrate uptake  

It is already established that consuming carbohydrate and caffeine prior to and during exercise improves a variety of athletic performances. This is the first study to show that caffeine combined with carbohydrates following exercise can help refuel the muscle faster.

“If you have 66% more fuel for the next day’s training or competition, there is absolutely no question you will go farther or faster,” said Dr. Hawley, the study’s senior author. Caffeine is present in common foods and beverages, including coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks.

The study was conducted on seven well-trained endurance cyclists who participated in four sessions. The participants first rode a cycle ergometer until exhaustion, and then consumed a low-carbohydrate dinner before going home. This exercise bout was designed to reduce the athletes’ muscle glycogen stores prior to the experimental trial the next day.

The athletes did not eat again until they returned to the lab the next day for the second session when they again cycled until exhaustion. They then ingested a drink that contained carbohydrate alone or carbohydrate plus caffeine and rested in the laboratory for four hours. During this post-exercise rest time, the researchers took several muscle biopsies and multiple blood samples to measure the amount of glycogen being replenished in the muscle, along with the concentrations of glucose-regulating metabolites and hormones in the blood, including glucose and insulin.

The entire two-session process was repeated 7-10 days later. The only difference was that this time, the athletes drank the beverage that they had not consumed in the previous trial. (That is, if they drank the carbohydrate alone in the first trial, they drank the carbohydrate plus caffeine in the second trial, and vice versa.)

The drinks looked, smelled and tasted the same and both contained the same amount of carbohydrate. Neither the researchers nor the cyclists knew which regimen they were receiving, making it a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment.

Glucose and insulin levels higher with caffeine ingestion
The researchers found the following:  
  • one hour after exercise, muscle glycogen levels had replenished to the same extent whether or not the athlete had the drink containing carbohydrate and caffeine or carbohydrate only
  • four hours after exercise, the drink containing caffeine resulted in 66% higher glycogen levels compared to the carbohydrate-only drink
  • throughout the four-hour recovery period, the caffeinated drink resulted in higher levels of blood glucose and plasma insulin
  • several signaling proteins believed to play a role in glucose transport into the muscle were elevated to a greater extent after the athletes ingested the carbohydrate-plus-caffeine drink, compared to the carbohydrate-only drink

 Dr. Hawley said it is not yet clear how caffeine aids in facilitating glucose uptake from the blood into the muscles. However, the higher circulating blood glucose and plasma insulin levels were likely to be a factor. In addition, caffeine may increase the activity of several signaling enzymes, including the calcium-dependent protein kinase and protein kinase B (also called Akt), which have roles in muscle glucose uptake during and after exercise.

Lower dose is next step  

In this study, the researchers used a high dose of caffeine to establish that it could help the muscles convert ingested carbohydrates to glycogen more rapidly. However, because caffeine can have potentially negative effects, such as disturbing sleep or causing jitteriness, the next step is to determine whether smaller doses could accomplish the same goal.

Hawley pointed out that the responses to caffeine ingestion vary widely between individuals. Indeed, while several of the athletes in the study said they had a difficult time sleeping the night after the trial in which they ingested caffeine (8 mg per kilogram of body weight, the equivalent of drinking 5-6 cups of strong coffee), several others fell asleep during the recovery period and reported no adverse effects.

Athletes who want to incorporate caffeine into their workouts should experiment during training sessions well in advance of an important competition to find out what works for them.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Christine Guilfoy
American Physiological Society

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function to create health or disease. The American Physiological Society (APS) has been an integral part of this scientific discovery process since it was established in 1887.

A University of Colorado at Boulder study of a space-age, low-gravity training machine used by several 2008 Olympic runners showed it reduced impacts on muscles and joints by nearly half when subjects ran at the equivalent of 50 percent of their body weight.

The new study has implications for both competitive runners rehabilitating from injuries and for ordinary people returning from knee and hip surgeries, according to Associate Professor Rodger Kram of CU-Boulder’s integrative physiology department.

Known as the “G-Trainer,” the machine consists of a treadmill surrounded by an inflatable plastic chamber that encases the lower body of the runner, said Kram. Air pumped into the chamber increases the pressure and effectively reduces the weight of runners, who are sealed in the machine at the waist in a donut-shaped device with a special zipper and “literally lifted up by their padded neoprene shorts,” he said.

Published in the August issue of the Journal of Applied Biomechanics, the study is the first to quantify the effects of running in the G-Trainer, built by Alter-G Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif., using technology developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. The paper was authored by Kram and former CU-Boulder doctoral student Alena Grabowski, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Although G-Trainers have been used in some sports clinics and college and professional sports training rooms since 2006, the new study is the first scientific analysis of the device as a training tool for running, said Grabowski.

“The idea was to measure which levels of weight support and speeds give us the best combination of aerobic workout while reducing the impact on joints,” said Kram. “We showed that a person can run faster in the G-Trainer at a lower weight and still get substantial aerobic benefits while maintaining good neuromuscular coordination.”

The results indicated a subject running at the equivalent of half their weight in the G-Trainer at about 10 feet per second, for example — the equivalent of a seven-minute mile — decreased the “peak” force resulting from heel impact by 44 percent, said Grabowski. That is important, she said, because each foot impact at high speed can jar the body with a force equal to twice a runner’s weight.

Several former CU track athletes participating in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing have used the machine, said Kram. Alumna Kara Goucher, who will be running the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races in Beijing, has used the one in Kram’s CU-Boulder lab and one in Eugene, Ore., for rehabilitation, and former CU All-American and Olympic marathoner Dathan Ritzenhein also uses a G-Trainer in his home in Oregon. Other current CU track athletes who have been injured have tried the machine in Kram’s lab and found it helpful to maintain their fitness as they recovered, Kram said.

For the study, the researchers retrofitted the G-Trainer with a force-measuring treadmill invented by Kram’s team that charts vertical and horizontal stress load on each foot during locomotion, measuring the variation of biomechanical forces on the legs during running. Ten subjects each ran at three different speeds at various reduced weights, with each run lasting seven minutes. The researchers also measured oxygen consumption during each test, Kram said.

Grabowski likened the effect of the G-Trainer on a runner to pressurized air pushing on the cork of a bottle. “If you can decrease the intensity of these peak forces during running, then you probably will decrease the risk of injury to the runner.”

The G-Trainer is a spinoff of technology originally developed by Rob Whalen, who conceived the idea while working at NASA Ames as a National Research Council fellow to help astronauts maintain fitness during prolonged space flight. While the NASA technology was designed to effectively increase the weight of the astronauts to stem muscle atrophy and bone loss in low-gravity conditions, the G-Trainer reverses the process, said Grabowski.

In the past, sports trainers and researchers have used climbing harnesses over treadmills or flotation devices in deep-water swimming pools to help support the weight of subjects, said Kram. Harnesses are cumbersome, while pool exercises don’t provide sufficient aerobic stimulation and biomechanical loading on the legs, he said.

Marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain is currently using a G-Trainer in her high-altitude training base in Font-Remeu, France. Radcliffe is trying to stay in top running shape while recovering from a stress fracture in her femur in time for the 2008 Olympic women’s marathon on Aug. 17, according to the London Telegraph.

Kram and Grabowski have begun a follow-up study of walking using the G-Trainer. By studying subjects walking at various weights and speeds in the machine, the researchers should be able to quantify its effectiveness as a rehabilitation device for people recovering from surgeries, stress fractures and other lower body injuries, Kram said.

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Article adapted by MD Sports from original press release.
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Contact: Rodger Kram
University of Colorado at Boulder

Boosting an exercise-related gene in the brain works as a powerful anti-depressant in mice—a finding that could lead to a new anti-depressant drug target, according to a Yale School of Medicine report in Nature Medicine.

“The VGF exercise-related gene and target for drug development could be even better than chemical antidepressants because it is already present in the brain,” said Ronald Duman, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study.

Depression affects 16 percent of the population in the United States, at a related cost of $83 billion each year. Currently available anti-depressants help 65 percent of patients and require weeks to months before the patients experience relief.

Duman said it is known that exercise improves brain function and mental health, and provides protective benefits in the event of a brain injury or disease, but how this all happens in the brain is not well understood. He said the fact that existing medications take so long to work indicates that some neuronal adaptation or plasticity is needed.

He and his colleagues designed a custom microarray that was optimized to show small changes in gene expression, particularly in the brain’s hippocampus, a limbic structure highly sensitive to stress hormones, depression, and anti-depressants.

They then compared the brain activity of sedentary mice to those who were given running wheels. The researchers observed that the mice with wheels within one week were running more than six miles each night. Four independent array analyses of the mice turned up 33 hippocampal exercise-regulated genes—27 of which had never been identified before.

The action of one gene in particular—VGF—was greatly enhanced by exercise. Moreover, administering VGF functioned like a powerful anti-depressant, while blocking VGF inhibited the effects of exercise and induced depressive-like behavior in the mice.

“Identification of VGF provides a mechanism by which exercise produces antidepressant effects,” Duman said. “This information further supports the benefits of exercise and provides a novel target for the development of new antidepressants with a completely different mechanism of action than existing medications.”

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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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Contact: Jacqueline Weaver
Yale University
Nature Medicine