Broscience meets biochemistry
“that’s not even natty bruh”
In the professional arena, the days of natural bodybuilding are over. Steroids became the norm in the 70s and 80s and today’s illegal anabolic formulations are far more grotesque.
To be fair to most people who hit the gym, steroid use is not common. Even on steroids, one still has to work very hard to achieve results (although the usage of the steroid greatly increases recovery time and consequently speed of progress). As such, only the elite tend to use steroids, generally due to a desire to push past the boundaries of their genetic limits. As for Synthol (site-enhancement oil), no work is required to see the gain in muscle size; however, this does not imply that novices can/will use it. Given that Synthol (an injected substance that is 85% oil, 7.5% lidocaine, and 7.5% alcohol) has been known to cause pulmonary embolisms, nerve damage, infections and stroke, one has to be very invested in bodybuilding to entertain using it.
Although the average person does not use steroids or synthol, supplementation (particularly lifting-oriented supplements) is a massive industry; this market could exceed $45 billion globally by 2022. In early days, the go-to supplement was whey protein; this intuitively made sense because protein was known to build muscle and whey was absorbed incredibly quickly. For many years, additional protein intake was the only legitimate and effective form of supplementation. However, athletes started seeking much more out of their supplements after this guy exploded onto the scene.
Creatine seemed miraculous; almost too good to be true. Regular supplementation was shown to substantially increase strength, fat free mass and muscle morphology. Perhaps what was most astounding was that creatine supplementation seemed to be relatively free of the side effects associated with the intake of endogenously produced supplements (e.g. the infertility associated with taking steroids).
The race had begun. Money poured into analyzing potential endogenous metabolites that could be “the next Creatine”. Before long, another champion was found.
Beta-alanine was found to substantially increase muscle carnosine levels. Carnosine is a dipeptide responsible for acting as pH buffer in skeletal muscles; it mops up the H+ ions produced when muscle workload is high and lactic acid fermentation is significantly increasing muscle acidity (this is what induces the sensation of cramps). The rate-limiting factor in carnosine synthesis is the concentration of beta-alanine. Hence, supplementation increases carnosine levels.
After the discovery of beta-alanine, there hasn’t been an industry-disrupting supplement on the same level. Nevertheless it’s worth looking at a couple more…………………………………………………………..
Bodybuilders will recognize these three supplements pretty quickly; Citrulline, Arginine, and Ornithine are often marketed as special amino acids with purported abilities to boost Nitric Oxide production, growth hormone levels, and reduce training fatigue.
Students of biochemistry however, will recognize these three from a distinctly different setting. To the uninitiated, an unexpected setting indeed.
These are all Urea Cycle intermediates. Literally. All three of them. They’re even sequentially right next to each other.
Drowning in a veritable ocean of detail in every class, it is often hard to make real world connections to much of what is being taught. When it does happens, the material undergoes a sudden and exhilarating re-contextualization.
The cycle that makes the main ingredient of your pee also contains some side ingredients that makes people swole.