Putting on muscle with only light weights

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As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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This is a topic that should stir up some controversy: a study suggesting that you don’t need to lift heavy weights to put on muscle. I blogged about this when the study first came out a few months back; I’ve since had the chance to chat with Stuart Phillips, so I wrote a Globe column with more details:

For once, scientific studies, decades of practical experience in the gym, and logic all point to the same conclusion: you need to lift reasonably heavy weights to gain strength and muscle. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 60 to 70 per cent of your “repetition maximum” or RM (the most you can lift for a given exercise) for novices, and 80 to 100 per cent for experts.

So recently published results from McMaster University, which suggest that you can build muscle just as well – or perhaps even better – with weights as light as 30 per cent RM, have been greeted with surprise, to put it mildly.

“There are plenty of people who just don’t believe it,” admits kinesiology professor Stuart Phillips, the senior author of the paper, which appeared in the journal PLoS ONE.

The results would be welcome news for older people and weight-room neophytes, but there is a catch. The key to stimulating muscle growth, Dr. Phillips believes, isn’t linked to any particular weight or number of repetitions – it’s reaching the point of failure, where you can’t lift anymore.

Phillips has since completed a training study that actually attempts to put these finding into practice. It’ll be exciting to see what the results of that study reveal when they’re analyzed and released.

Carbohydrates vs. fat in marathons

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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These days, everyone’s interested in boosting their fat-burning abilities. After all, we have a “limitless” supply of fat, so why not rely on it during extended exercise? That’s the goal of current ideas like “train low, compete high,” where you basically practice training in a low-carb state to enhance your fat-burning abilities.

With that in mind, I quite like a nugget of info that John Hawley dug up from the archives (this 1993 paper, to be precise) about our dependence on carbohydrate during extended exercise. Researchers from George Brooks’s group at Berkeley tested runners doing a treadmill marathon in either 2:45 or 3:45, and measured what fuels they were oxidizing. The slower group used 68% carbohydrate, and the faster group used 97% (which means, as Hawley pointed out, that Geb is probably using PURE carbohydrate).

Doesn’t mean that fat-burning abilities aren’t important — but it’s worth keeping in perspective.

Sports performance and the brain on Ritalin, Wellbutrin, etc.

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

Of the sessions that I attended at the Sport Nutrition Conference in Canberra last month, the one that was most unfamiliar to me was about nutrition and the brain, presented by Romain Meeusen of the Free University in Brussels. He covered a lot of ground about the various ways that the brain interacts with the periphery, but what caught my attention the most was a series of experiments using anti-depressants.

The original experiments tried giving substances like bupropion (Wellbutrin), reboxetine and Ritalin to cyclists, and didn’t see any improvement in 30min time trial performance after a 60min warm-up. BUT when they increased the temperature from 18 C to 30 C, all of the sudden these drugs produced massive improvements in performance — from 39.8 to 36.4 minutes for (I think) bupropion. Ritalin was even bigger — a seven-minute improvement.

At 18 C, most of the cyclists hit a maximum core temperature of about 39.5 C, but at 30 C they were up over 40.0 C when taking the drugs — almost to the point where the trials had to be halted for ethical reasons. As Meeusen put it, their “safety brake” didn’t work, so they were capable of pushing into the danger zone without feedback from the central nervous system. This is essentially what happened to Tom Simpson (who was taking amphetamines) on Mont Ventoux in 1967, he said.

So what does this mean? Well for starters, buproprion, which was recently taken off WADA’s banned list, should be put back on it. To Tim Noakes, this would undoubtedly sound like evidence that fatigue is governed by a “central governor.” Meeusen, as far as I can tell, doesn’t see it that way. He says “fatigue is likely to be an integrated phenomenon with complex interaction among central and peripheral factors.” Which basically means “it’s complicated.” Hard to disagree with that.

Comrades Marathon

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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Just noticed that my short article about the 89-km Comrades Marathon in South Africa is now posted on the Canadian Running website. I happened to be there this year while doing some reporting for another story, and I have to say it was a pretty inspirational experience. It almost, maybe, sort of made me think I’d like to try an ultra-race someday. Maybe.

If you’re interested, Matt Leduc, the pride of Ajax, Ont., blogged about his preparations and experiences for this year’s race. However, you’ll have to look ahead to 2012: the entry deadline for the 2011 race closed on Nov. 30.

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Needless to say, Marathon Man had finished long before the 12-hour cut-off.

“Moderate” amounts of booze slow muscle recovery

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

My latest column in the Globe takes on a topic of seasonal significance: alcohol and exercise. Researchers at Massey University in New Zealand have been doing some very interesting research about the links between alcohol and recovery from DOMS; and there are some other factors like glycogen replenishment and dehydration that come into play:

Earlier this year, researchers in New Zealand published a surprising study that found significant delays in muscle recovery when the subjects drank a “moderate” amount of alcohol after a strenuous workout. The findings join a little-known body of research suggesting that alcohol can sap your morning-after strength even if you’re not hung over.

The subjects in the new study did a series of leg exercises, then had 90 minutes to drink either straight orange juice or a mix of vodka and orange juice before going to bed. Over the next three days, the alcohol group didn’t report feeling any additional leg soreness compared to the OJ group – but their loss of strength in a series of tests was 1.4 to 2.8 times greater.[READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE…]

(So that I don’t get accused of being a Scrooge, let me give away one of the article’s conclusions: truly moderate consumption, i.e. of a drink or two, shouldn’t have any effects on your recovery.)