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The whole town and his wife seems to be using whey protein.

Whey protein isolate – everybody knows – works; you know it works. It is the best protein for improving body composition (reducing fat while improving lean mass)! Or is it really?!

Whey protein isolate may be the best protein for you in most instances, that may not be the case always! Depending on your fitness goal, whey protein concentrate (and, even casein!) can sometime give whey isolate a run for its money. How is that?!

Well, read on to find out!

However, before we get into the nitty-gritty of which type of whey will best serve your purpose, let us get to know a bit more about why you should supplement with whey, in the first place.


Why should I take whey supplements?

Resistance training causes increase in muscle mass. This is due to increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS) that resistance training induces (Hulmi et al., 2009; Hakkinen et al., 2001; Hulmi et al., 2007). However, intense workouts alone are not enough to keep packing on lean muscle mass; you have to ‘stay anabolic’ most of the time to be able to keep that MPS working for you.

Without complicating matters, here’s a look at how resistance training increases lean muscle mass: a resistance training session causes muscle protein breakdown. This is then followed by repair of the damaged muscle tissue so that the muscles come out stronger the next time you hit the weights. For the muscles to get stronger, however, proteins ingestion (over and above normal needs) is crucial. Needless to say, the process of repair will suffer if you aren’t loading up on proteins.

That resistance training combined with protein supplementation causes muscle hypertrophy is well-documented (Moore et al., 2009; Hulmi et al., 2009; Cribb, Williams, Carey, & Hayes, 2006).  Ingestion of a whey protein supplement either immediately before or after a training session is – considered by some – to be the best for this purpose; also whey increases muscle protein turnover like no other protein. Furthermore, whey protein seems to work equally well in women as well (Josse, Tang, Tarnopolsky, & Phillips, 2010).

Another benefit of supplementing with whey is, improved post-workout recovery  This is likely due to the ‘anti-catabolic’ action of essential amino acids (Bird, Tarpenning, & Marino, 2006; Hoffman et al., 2010; Etheridge, Philp, & Watt, 2008).


What is Whey Protein?

You most likely know that whey is one of the 2 milk proteins – the other being casein. Casein is the more abundant of the two and it is casein that gives milk that white colour. In commercially available cow’s milk, 20% of protein is whey while the rest of it is casein (Hulmi, Lockwood, & Stout, 2010; Ha & Zemel, 2003; Etzel, 2004; Krissansen, 2007).

Whey is produced in large amounts as a by-product in the cheese industry. However, this whey has loads of fat, milk sugar (lactose) and salts in it and is not suitable for improving body composition.

During the process of whey purification, whey concentrate and isolate are produced sequentially. During the initial steps, larger molecules are separated out resulting in formation of whey concentrate. These larger molecules are proteins, lactose, immunoglobulins, amongst other less important ones. To produce whey isolate, cheese whey is passed through an ultrafiltration process (ion exchange or other methods). The ultra membrane filters fat, milk sugar (lactose), salts and other unwanted ingredients leaving behind a pure form of whey (Barile et al., 2009).

Hydrolysates, on the other hand, are formulations where large protein molecules are broken down into smaller fragments. The hypothesis is that this might further increase the rate of absorption of whey. However, this might not be totally true and hydrolysates may not offer much of an advantage over isolates or concentrates.


Types of Whey Protein

Whey is available commercially as either isolate or concentrate. ‘So, what’s the difference between them and which one should I be using’, you might want to ask?

The main difference between the two is the quality and the amount of protein content – isolate is purer and thus will contain almost 100% protein (well, 90-94% to be precise) while whey concentrate will contain protein ranging from 70-85%.

‘Well, that settles it – I am going with whey isolate!’, you might say. Hang on, not so fast! There is more to it than just protein content.


Comparing Whey Isolate and Whey Concentrate

Since whey isolate is higher in protein content, has a better amino acid ratio and thus bioavailability, it is absorbed into your system way quicker than whey concentrate (or any other protein, for that matter). That makes whey isolate the ideal post-exercise anabolic drink (Hulmi et al., 2009). Some researchers have suggested taking whey protein isolate before workouts as well in addition to your routine post-workout shake for maximum benefits (Esmark et al., 2001; Cribb & Hayes, 2006). Quicker absorption will mean almost instantaneous rise in blood amino acids which are then taken up by ‘hungry muscles’.

Having said that, the need for immediate post-workout protein supplementation in now being increasingly questioned (more below).

High protein content and higher quality of protein, however, that does not clinch the deal in favour of whey isolate. Concentrate has something up its sleeve that will make sit up and take notice!

As stated earlier, in comparison to isolate, whey protein concentrate will contain lesser amount of protein (in the range of 70-85%). However, somewhat similar to casein, whey protein concentrate will get absorbed slowly – this helps you stay anabolic for longer! Slower absorption also helps with absorption of other important nutrients from food like calcium. Not a lot of people know this but calcium plays an important role in causing fat loss (in addition to keeping your bones healthy)! Add to that the added benefit of appetite suppression for longer and casein suddenly become an important tool for your fat-loss goals or intermittent-fasting health journey…

Furthermore, whey protein concentrate is loaded with immunoglobulins – this helps boost your immune system and therefore may be beneficial in dealing with the intense stresses of training (especially if you happen to overtrain!).


Whey Isolate

Pros

    • pure; contains 90-94% protein!
    • purity means that it is great for gaining / maintaining lean mass while getting ripped (ideal when nearing competition or a photo shoot)
    • contains all essential amino acids in the best possible ratios
    • bioavailability for humans is best amongst all proteins – meaning, of the amount ingested, more is likely to be absorbed. For instance, in a scoop containing 25 g of whey isolate, almost all of the protein in there, will be going into your muscle
    • lightening fast absorption; ideal post-exercise drink – helps you get into the anabolic mode almost immediately

Cons

    • pricier than whey protein concentrate – to ensure purity, the commercial production of whey necessitates use of complex filtration procedure, hence the price
    • although whey isolate will help recovery after workouts, it loses out to whey concentrate in some respects. This is so because immune boosting constituents of milk protein like alpha – lactoglobulins and lactoferrins are removed during the purification process

Whey Concentrate

Pros:

    • lot cheaper than whey isolate
    • has a slower absorption rate than whey protein isolates; thus ensures a steady state of elevated amino acids in the blood and helps you stay anabolic for longer. This also reduces the need for frequent dosing
    • slower absorption helps with absorption of other important minerals like calcium and reducing blood glucose and lipid levels
    • induces appetite suppression which may help longer fasting interval, thereby improving body composition and metabolic disease parameters
    • contains immune boosting complexes (alpha – lactoglobulins and lactoferrins) which help post-exercise muscle recovery
    • helps fight diseases – for instance, chronic hepatitis C (Elattar et al., 2010)

Cons:

    • some amount of fat will be present so not ideally suited during times when keeping body fat% down is desirable
    • if you have any degree of intolerance to milk and dairy products, you might want to forget using whey concentrate on account of its lactose content – which is missing from the more purer whey isolate

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

In conclusion, isolate and concentrate are equally good – however, your circumstances – price, training goals and lactose intolerance – should tip the scales in favour of one or the other.


Recent developments

  1. More recently, the presence of a post-workout anabolic window (of opportunity) is being increasing questioned. ‘Not only is nutrient timing research open to question in terms of applicability, but recent evidence has directly challenged the classical view of the relevance of post-exercise nutritional intake with respect to anabolism’ (Aragon and Schoenfeld, 2013). The amount and quality of protein that you consume throughout the day is, now, thought to be more important than immediate post-workout whey ingestion.
  2. BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine) may be overrated and ‘data do not seem to support a benefit to BCCA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction’ (Dieter BP, Schoenfeld BJ and Aragon AA, 2016).

Reference List

Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10:5 /1550-2783-10-5.

Barile, D., Tao, N., Lebrilla, C. B., Coisson, J. D., Arlorio, M., & German, J. B. (2009). Permeate from cheese whey ultrafiltration is a source of milk oligosaccharides. Int Dairy J, 19, 524-530.

Bird, S. P., Tarpenning, K. M., & Marino, F. E. (2006). Liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid ingestion during a short-term bout of resistance exercise suppresses myofibrillar protein degradation. Metabolism, 55, 570-577.

Cribb, P. J. & Hayes, A. (2006). Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci.Sports Exerc., 38, 1918-1925.

Cribb, P. J., Williams, A. D., Carey, M. F., & Hayes, A. (2006). The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr.Exerc.Metab, 16, 494-509.

Dieter BP, Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA.(2016). The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition;13:21. doi:10.1186/s12970-016-0128-9.

Elattar, G., Saleh, Z., El-Shebini, S., Farrag, A., Zoheiry, M., Hassanein, A. et al. (2010). The use of whey protein concentrate in management of chronic hepatitis C virus – a pilot study. Arch.Med Sci., 6, 748-755.

Esmarck, B., Andersen, J. L., Olsen, S., Richter, E. A., Mizuno, M., & Kjaer, M. (2001). Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. J Physiol, 535, 301-311.

Etheridge, T., Philp, A., & Watt, P. W. (2008). A single protein meal increases recovery of muscle function following an acute eccentric exercise bout. Appl.Physiol Nutr.Metab, 33, 483-488.

Etzel, M. R. (2004). Manufacture and use of dairy protein fractions. J Nutr., 134, 996S-1002S.

Ha, E. & Zemel, M. B. (2003). Functional properties of whey, whey components, and essential amino acids: mechanisms underlying health benefits for active people (review). J Nutr.Biochem., 14, 251-258.

Hakkinen, K., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W. J., Hakkinen, A., Valkeinen, H., & Alen, M. (2001). Selective muscle hypertrophy, changes in EMG and force, and serum hormones during strength training in older women. J Appl.Physiol, 91, 569-580.

Hoffman, J. R., Ratamess, N. A., Tranchina, C. P., Rashti, S. L., Kang, J., & Faigenbaum, A. D. (2010). Effect of a proprietary protein supplement on recovery indices following resistance exercise in strength/power athletes. Amino.Acids, 38, 771-778.

Hulmi, J. J., Ahtiainen, J. P., Kaasalainen, T., Pollanen, E., Hakkinen, K., Alen, M. et al. (2007). Postexercise myostatin and activin IIb mRNA levels: effects of strength training. Med Sci.Sports Exerc., 39, 289-297.

Hulmi, J. J., Kovanen, V., Selanne, H., Kraemer, W. J., Hakkinen, K., & Mero, A. A. (2009). Acute and long-term effects of resistance exercise with or without protein ingestion on muscle hypertrophy and gene expression. Amino.Acids, 37, 297-308.

Hulmi, J. J., Lockwood, C. M., & Stout, J. R. (2010). Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutr.Metab (Lond), 7, 51.

Josse, A. R., Tang, J. E., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2010). Body composition and strength changes in women with milk and resistance exercise. Med Sci.Sports Exerc., 42, 1122-1130.

Krissansen, G. W. (2007). Emerging health properties of whey proteins and their clinical implications. J Am Coll.Nutr., 26, 713S-723S.

Moore, D. R., Tang, J. E., Burd, N. A., Rerecich, T., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2009). Differential stimulation of myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic protein synthesis with protein ingestion at rest and after resistance exercise. J Physiol, 587, 897-904.

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cafe_neroGet off the Tube – straight into the nearest Cafe Nero  – pick up your favorite coffee and then off to work – isn’t that what most of us do?! Don’t we all love having our coffees, especially first thing in the morning? Yes, we do! – The reason being?! Well, for sure one of the reasons has got to be that coffee really ‘gets you going’ first thing in the morning. But, have you ever wondered how your innocuous looking cup of coffee manages to do that? Read on to find out more.

CAFFEINE

Let’s face it, we have to drink coffee every single morning coz somewhere along the line, we’ve got addicted to caffeine present in our coffee. It is this caffeine that is responsible for the ‘gets me going’ phenomenon!

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that caffeine is the most ingested psychoactive drug (stimulant) in the world. It is a of major contents of almost all ‘stimulant’ beverages like tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks (not to mention thermogenic fat loss supplements).

According to Starbucks information on beverages, a tall latte’ contains 150mg of caffeine (filter coffee ‘venti’ – meaning twenty in Italian – is low in calories but contain a whopping 400mg per serving). Taking in that amount of the drug can have profound effects on your physiology.

What exactly are these effects and how does caffeine in your tall, skinny latte’ help you to get ‘switched on’, you might want to ask? Well, read on to find out more.

CHEMICAL STRUCTURE AND PHARMACOKINETICS OF CAFFEINE

But before we get into the intricacies of what makes caffeine tick, let us have a closer look at what caffeine really is. Chemically, caffeine is 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine.

Derived from the purine xanthine, methylxanthines have numerous medicinal applications, especially in lung disease. Apart from caffeine, other methylxanthines of note are theophylline, aminophylline (both of which are used as bronchodilators – in asthma), paraxanthine and theobromine. As you may have guessed, methylxanthines are  cardiac and CNS stimulants and bronchodilators (with individual variations, of course).

On ingestion, caffeine is expeditiously absorbed through the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Within 15 minutes of consumption of coffee, trace levels of caffeine appear in blood; peak concentrations are reached within an hour 1.

Caffeine is highly lipid soluble (dissolves rapidly and completely in fat). Thus, it can cross cell membranes (of muscle and nerve cells), especially, the blood-brain barrier (a partition which allows only certain chemicals to enter the brain matter).

Caffeine exerts its action (as given below) on various systems through a number of proposed mechanisms.

After exerting its action, caffeine is broken down by the liver and kidneys – metabolites (break down products) that are formed are paraxanthine, theobromin and theophylline1. Incidentally, these metabolites have actions similar to caffeine as well – theophylline is considered even more potent!

ACTIONS OF CAFFEINE 

As mentioned previously, caffeine is the most often used stimulant in the world with prominent actions on the central nervous system as well as metabolism. As opposed to caffeine present in drinks, anhydrous form of caffeine (in the form of capsule/tablet/powder) is more potent.

Pharmacologically, caffeine is a competitive adenosine-receptor agonist, i.e. it serves as a competition for adenosine at its receptor. This receptor is responsible for suppressing neurotransmitters like adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, acetylcholine, dopamine and serotonin. Thus, ingestion of caffeine increases the production of these neurotransmitters.

However, since these neurotransmitters have complex and sometimes conflicting actions, effects of caffeine in endurance, strength and explosive sports (enhancement of performance, recovery and hydration) can be conflicting as well.

However, the main actions of caffeine can be described as under:

  • COGNITIVE EFFECTS

Caffeine improves wakefulness and vigilance. It may be also responsible for improved skill levels, especially those acquired through repeated training 2.

Foskett et. al. demonstrated in their study, improved cognitive parameters in athletes due to caffeine ingestion with enhanced sprint abilities as well as ball passing, ball control and accuracy associated with acute ingestion of caffeine3.

Because caffeine in low to moderate doses (3-6 mg/kg of body weight) has been shown to cause improved concentration during sleep-deprived spells, it may find application in services like the Special Forces 2.

  • THERMOGENIC EFFECTS

Consumption of caffeine causes stimulation of metabolism and a significant increase in the production of energy 4 – thermogenic action of caffeine has been shown to last for almost 3 hours after ingestion 4. Caffeine causes mobilization of free fatty acids and fat oxidation to produce energy during exercise 5-7. Additionally, it causes extra-muscular fat oxidation as well. Thus, caffeine seems to be definitely associated with causing fat loss 7.

These metabolic-stimulatory and fat-burning effects make caffeine a crucial ingredient of most fat-loss supplements (thermogenics).

  • ENHANCED EXERCISE ABILITY 

It is believed that caffeine enhances exercise performance. This is owing to its ‘glycogen-sparing effect’ – decreased utilization of muscle glycogen for energy during exercise – fats are used instead. Thus, owing to muscles glycogen lasting longer, the setting in of fatigue is prolonged.

Also, caffeine supports formation of new glycogen (glycogenesis) and thus aids in recovery after an intense exercise session.

Enhanced secretion of endorphins induced by caffeine is also a presumed mechanism in enhancing exercise performance 8 – the resultant decrease in pain perception leading to ‘feel good factor’ of beta-endorphins is well-documented 9.

In addition to the above findings, research also suggests that caffeine can improve neuromuscular transmission and muscle contraction 10;11 – both isometric and muscle endurance components are improved 10.

 To conclude, research overwhelmingly supports the view that caffeine enhances performance in endurance events 5;12, sports involving muscle power-strength components 13;14 as well as high intensity team sports 14;15.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

So, the next time you are sipping that favourite coffee of yours, you know exactly what it is doing to you!

To sum up, caffeine has the following effects:

  • is more potent when ingested in the anhydrous state (as a tab/capsule/powder supplement rather than as coffee)
  • aids in sports performance
  • improves skills acquisition in sports – like ball control and passing
  • supports new glycogen formation (glycogenesis) and thus helps quicker recovery from an exercise session
  • prolongs exercise induced fatigue – by their ‘glycogen-sparing’ effect so you can keep going for a longer
  • improves neuromuscular transmission and muscle contraction
  • has thermogenic effects – stimulates metabolism causing burning of calories
  • induces fat loss – mobilizes fatty acids from fat stores and uses these as substrate (instead of glycogen) for producing energy
  • improves concentration – especially during sleep-deprived states
  • secretes beta-endorphins – makes you feel good

 References

  1.  Harland BF. Caffeine and nutrition. Nutrition 2000; 16(7-8):522-526.
  2. Lieberman HR, Tharion WJ, Shukitt-Hale B, Speckman KL, Tulley R. Effects of caffeine, sleep loss, and stress on cognitive performance and mood during U.S. Navy SEAL training. Sea-Air-Land. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2002; 164(3):250-261.
  3. Foskett A, Ali A, Gant N. Caffeine enhances cognitive function and skill performance during simulated soccer activity. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2009; 19(4):410-423.
  4. Astrup A, Toubro S, Cannon S, Hein P, Breum L, Madsen J. Caffeine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr 1990; 51(5):759-767.
  5. Ivy JL, Costill DL, Fink WJ, Lower RW. Influence of caffeine and carbohydrate feedings on endurance performance. Med Sci Sports 1979; 11(1):6-11.
  6. Erickson MA, Schwarzkopf RJ, McKenzie RD. Effects of caffeine, fructose, and glucose ingestion on muscle glycogen utilization during exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1987; 19(6):579-583.
  7. Spriet LL, MacLean DA, Dyck DJ, Hultman E, Cederblad G, Graham TE. Caffeine ingestion and muscle metabolism during prolonged exercise in humans. Am J Physiol 1992; 262(6 Pt 1):E891-E898.
  8. Laurent D, Schneider KE, Prusaczyk WK, Franklin C, Vogel SM, Krssak M et al. Effects of caffeine on muscle glycogen utilization and the neuroendocrine axis during exercise. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2000; 85(6):2170-2175.
  9. Grossman A, Sutton JR. Endorphins: what are they? How are they measured? What is their role in exercise? Med Sci Sports Exerc 1985; 17(1):74-81.
  10. Kalmar JM, Cafarelli E. Effects of caffeine on neuromuscular function. J Appl Physiol 1999; 87(2):801-808.
  11. Lopes JM, Aubier M, Jardim J, Aranda JV, Macklem PT. Effect of caffeine on skeletal muscle function before and after fatigue. J Appl Physiol 1983; 54(5):1303-1305.
  12. Hogervorst E, Bandelow S, Schmitt J, Jentjens R, Oliveira M, Allgrove J et al. Caffeine improves physical and cognitive performance during exhaustive exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2008; 40(10):1841-1851.
  13. Woolf K, Bidwell WK, Carlson AG. The effect of caffeine as an ergogenic aid in anaerobic exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2008; 18(4):412-429.
  14. Beck TW, Housh TJ, Schmidt RJ, Johnson GO, Housh DJ, Coburn JW et al. The acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on strength, muscular endurance, and anaerobic capabilities. J Strength Cond Res 2006; 20(3):506-510.
  15. Schneiker KT, Bishop D, Dawson B, Hackett LP. Effects of caffeine on prolonged intermittent-sprint ability in team-sport athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006; 38(3):578-585.

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“Cocaine is a hell of a drug”- Rick James on the Chapelle Show

Cocaine, also known as coke, crack, rock and by numerous other names, is a drug used for ‘recreational purposes’. Allegedly, it causes an ‘euphoriant high’. No wonder then, that its regular use is fraught with the risks of developing a dependence. This propensity to cause cravings and the severe adverse effects associated with its regular use has resulted in a ban imposed on its use – either for medical or recreational purposes.

Recently, however, it is being increasingly suggested that cocaine has a profound effect on human metabolism and the way our bodies store fats. Thus, it is being touted as a potential drug in the fight against obesity.

Also, in sporting circles, there is a school of thought that cocaine – on account of  its stimulant effects – may help enhance performance. Athletes have tended to use cocaine both during competition and in training (to improve intensity). However, owing to severe adverse effects – even sudden death – associated with its use (in a sport setting) and the fact that cocaine use is banned by both the IOC and WADA Anti-doping code, athletes need to be wary of its use under any pretext whatsoever!

Here’s a bit more about cocaine and why you should avoid it – in competition and outside of it!

What is cocaine?

That question is probably as dumb as it can get! Most definitely, almost everyone knows a bit about cocaine. However, here’s some more info – especially relevant if you are an athlete.

Cocaine is the most powerful natural stimulant of the human central nervous system (Avois et al., 2006; Kloner & Rezkalla, 2003; Welder & Melchert, 1993) (in case, you are wondering – amphetamines aren’t natural; they are man-made). And, not to mention, cocaine also happens to be the most addictive of all drugs known to mankind (Avois et al., 2006).

Historically, humans have used cocaine as a psychoactive drug for thousands of years – dating as far back as the times of the Incas (aptly enough, one of the many street names for cocaine is Inca Message! – bet you didn’t know that…)

Pharmacologically speaking, cocaine is a triple-re-uptake-inhibitor; it inhibits the re-uptake of three chemicals (with potent neuroendocrinal actions): adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. So, what does that mean in plain English?

Well, it means that cocaine inhibits the normal, rapid re-uptake of these neurologically active chemicals back from where they were secreted (vesicle present in the neurons or nerve endings of the central nervous system) – effectively prolonging the time duration of action of these potent neuroactive chemicals significantly. This leads to prolonged and potent physiological actions on the target cells, either in the human brain or peripheral organs like the heart – see below.

A point to be noted – the pharmacological actions of cocaine can be quite complex and may vary depending on the amount of dosage used.

What does cocaine do to your brain and body?

Normally, cocaine is administered using one of the following ways – snorting, smoking or injecting. Of these, snorting is the most popular. Owing to rapid absorption through the linings of the nasal cavities and almost immediate entry into the blood stream, this route of administration produces peak effects within 5 minutes.

Cocaine causes an ‘initial rush’ or a ‘feeling of well-being’ which is characterized by:

    • euphoria,
    • alertness,
    • clarity of thought process,
    • a decreased feeling of fatigue,
    • talkativeness, and
    • increased social interaction

This initial rush is, however, followed by depression! This is what makes cocaine a top candidate for repeated use and subsequent development of dependence (cocaine is more addictive than amphetamines).

Adverse effects that cocaine can cause are:

    • depression,
    • anxiety,
    • paranoid events,
    • arrhythmia,
    • respiratory disturbances,
    • epileptic seizures, and
    • strokes

Why are athletes tempted to use cocaine?

Contrary to popular belief, cocaine does precious little to help enhance sports, study, sexual or work-place performance! However, athlete still continue to use cocaine; believing that it may help them run that much quicker or lift that much more weight.

Cocaine may improve cognitive processes and therefore, the level of motivation (during competition) and skill-learning (during training sessions) may be affected favorably – some believe that this may be a prominent reason for athletes to get attracted to cocaine, especially since very little evidence suggests that cocaine enhances other aspects of metabolism sufficiently to affect sport performance.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that cocaine does precious little to enhance performance in ‘endurance sports’. However, an animal study conducted by Braiden et al., suggests that the opposite may be true and cocaine by accelerating glycogen degradation and accumulation of lactate during exercise, may, in fact, help endurance events (Braiden, Fellingham, & Conlee, 1994). In ‘power sports’ like weightlifting, there is evidence that some amount of benefit may be achieved through the use of cocaine (Bohn, Khodaee, & Schwenk, 2003).

Having said that, enough conflicting evidence exists for the effectiveness of cocaine use in either power or endurance sports. Additionally, some believe that cocaine may not affect sporting performance at all – favorably or otherwise. And that the sense of euphoria and clarity of thought process associated with cocaine use, creates a false sense of improved performance rather than actually improving it!

Why should athletes be discouraged from using cocaine?

Cocaine use is fraught with risks – some fatal! Cocaine (similar to amphetamines) increases risk of sudden death due to cardiac arrest during intense exercise sessions – such as an on-field sport performance, especially those involving short bursts of sprints!

Researchers believe that pathophysiological processes induced by cocaine that may be responsible (Avois et al., 2006), either singly or in combination for such fatal incidences as sudden cardiovascular death are:

    • enhanced heat production
    • increased lactic acid synthesis
    • intense constriction of blood vessels

Also, cocaine is an adrenergic drug. Regular use with resultant chronic stimulation of cardiac β1 receptors may cause death of heart cells. This may lead to fatal cardiac arrhythmia and cardiac arrest (Davis, Loiacono, & Summers, 2008).

If, however, you are not worried about the adverse effects and driven by the ‘win-at-all-costs’ attitude, another reason why you should refrain from using cocaine is because cocaine is not used in any over-the-counter drugs. Slightest traces of either cocaine or its metabolites (benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine) in urine, therefore,  constitutes a serious doping offence and ground enough for immediate suspension under the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code. Contrast that with ephedrine alkaloids which are present in some over-the-counter cough/cold medications; there can therefore be enough grounds for defending your case – whether you’ve unknowingly (or ‘otherwise’) used ephedrine/ephedra alkaloids.

Just to let you know, the World Anti-Doping Code’s Doping List classifies cocaine as an ‘indirectly acting sympathomimetic agent and a noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor and hence a performance enhancing drug (Davis et al., 2008). It is mentioned in the S6-a (stimulants) class of prohibited substances (on page 8 of the 2015 list).

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

To conclude, notwithstanding the anecdotal evidence, cocaine seems to do precious little to improve sports performance. It may, on the other hand, be detrimental and may also increase the risk of fatal adverse effects. In short, using cocaine – for sports persons – is a ‘lose-lose situation’.

Therefore, if you’re an athlete and looking for an ergogenic aid, cocaine is the last thing on earth that you should look to get in your system!

 References

Avois, L., Robinson, N., Saudan, C., Baume, N., Mangin, P., & Saugy, M. (2006). Central nervous system stimulants and sport practice. Br.J Sports Med, 40 Suppl 1, i16-i20.

Bohn, A. M., Khodaee, M., & Schwenk, T. L. (2003). Ephedrine and other stimulants as ergogenic aids. Curr.Sports Med Rep., 2, 220-225.

Braiden, R. W., Fellingham, G. W., & Conlee, R. K. (1994). Effects of cocaine on glycogen metabolism and endurance during high intensity exercise. Med Sci.Sports Exerc., 26, 695-700.

Davis, E., Loiacono, R., & Summers, R. J. (2008). The rush to adrenaline: drugs in sport acting on the beta-adrenergic system. Br.J Pharmacol., 154, 584-597.

Kloner, R. A. & Rezkalla, S. H. (2003). Cocaine and the heart. N Engl J Med, 348, 487-488.

Welder, A. A. & Melchert, R. B. (1993). Cardiotoxic effects of cocaine and anabolic-androgenic steroids in the athlete. J Pharmacol. Toxicol. Methods, 29, 61-68.

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Really?! I can hear you say! And, you’re not alone! Most people associate testosterone use (and, that of other androgenic-anabolic steroids) with aggression and anti-social behaviour. Which isn’t very surprising, given the amount of rap that these ‘illegal’ substances have had from the mainstream media.

It is indeed sad that testosterone – especially when used as a steroidal supplement – has been maligned beyond belief. So much so, that we tend to associate testosterone (T) supplementation with ‘aggression’ and ‘doping’ or ‘cheating’ more readily than ‘truthfulness’ or ‘pro-social’ behavior. The truth of the matter is that T can, in fact, have positive social influence on the behaviour of men and even produces truthfulness.

Before we get into how the process of lying that is positively affected by supplementation with T, let us try to have a cursory look at what the basis of lying is.

Basis of Lying

Why do we lie? Well, even before someone starts to answer that question, you’ll know the answer will be quite complex. And, no matter how impressive the answer is, you can be rest assured that no one will ever know the complete truth. To date, no researchers, doctors or rational thinking scholars have been able to solve the riddle! Despite immense research in this direction, the psycho-physiological basis of lying is yet to be unearthed.

Some researchers believe that the internal chemistry in our bodies may have a lot to do with our tendency to lie (or be truthful). Of the numerous physiologically active chemicals and substances in our bodies that carry out (almost a million!) physiologically important roles, T has been recognised as one such chemical that influences truthfulness and social behaviour, especially so in men.

Several scientific studies – in the recent past – have demonstrated this positive association between T (supplementation) in men and truthfulness!

The Act of Lying

One of the most accepted of all social rules is the need to be truthful; don’t know how much of a religious person you are, but almost all religious scriptures advocate being truthful for the good of society.

The basis of such a rule is that truthfulness helps build trust amongst concerned parties facilitating mutual social or economic growth (Wibral, Dohmen, Klingmuller, Weber, & Falk, 2012). However, it is an undeniable fact, that no matter what part of the globe you live in, you will always come across deceitful, lying people.

Scientists for long have been studying the reasons – social, psychological and physiological – that make people susceptible to lying (Bok, 1978; DePaulo, Kashy, Kirkendol, Wyer, & Epstein, 1996; Vrij, 2001). However, no one has been quite able to crack it (the reasons).

Recently, however, a connection between T and truthfulness – not to mention, a more socially acceptable behaviour – has been suggested. And, that low testosterone levels may have something to do with lying! Scientific studies have been consistently reporting that men supplemented with steroidal injections of testosterone are more likely to be

    • truthful, and
    • to put on a more ‘pro-social behavior’

Let us get to know why!

Testosterone and the Connection with a ‘Pro-social Behavior’

Let’s have a quick look at what T is before moving on to how it influences truthfulness and a pro-social behaviour.

As we all know, testosterone is the main androgenic hormone of the human male; it is responsible for:

    • development of primary male sexual characteristics – growth of testes and penis during uterine life and again, near puberty
    • development of secondary male sexual characteristics – male pattern of distribution of bodily hair including a beard and moustache, a base voice and increase in lean mass – muscles and bones – imparting more vigor to the male

However, there seems to be more to T that just its influence on the male reproductive physiology. As mentioned earlier, T seems to affect psycho-social human behavior as well.

While research has tended to focus on the connection between aggression and testosterone, recently it is being reported that testosterone may, in fact, (at least under certain conditions) positively influence a man’s social interactions – making him more selfless (Eisenegger, Naef, Snozzi, Heinrichs, & Fehr, 2010; van, Montoya, Bos, van, & Terburg, 2012). One of the reasons cited for such unusual findings (unusual, going by current logic) is the fact that testosterone is principally a reproductive hormone; and, gaining a higher social status is a part of what is called the ‘dominance behaviour’ or the ‘alpha-male behaviour’ (seen so typically in animals) (Eisenegger et al., 2010; Eisenegger, Haushofer, & Fehr, 2011; Mazur & Booth, 1998). Therefore, being socially amicable with a selfless behaviour and reduced lying may be a part of this ‘dominance behaviour’ with the ultimate aim of dominating over other males and securing a female mate!

It is also suggested that pride may also contribute to such pro-social behavior (Wibral et al., 2012).

The acts of – sometimes unwarranted – heroism that men tend to indulge in are also blamed on T combined with such inherent characteristics as pride and the tendency to dominate.

Evidence in Favour of ‘Testosterone Truthfulness’

In a study published in 2012, Wibral and his colleagues reported that T administration may reduce the incidence of ‘self-serving’ lies (Wibral et al., 2012). The authors go on to the suggest how T may positively influence the human male psyche.

    • positively affecting social preferences and choice making
    • improving self-esteem and, therefore, the concern for social standing
    • improving concerns for the belief of others

There is also some evidence that T administration may positively affect social behavior in women too (Eisenegger et al., 2010; Wibral et al., 2012).

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

Testosterone may not be just a ‘male sexual hormone’; it has a lot to do with the way men interact socially as well. In a nutshell, there seems to be – in all truthfulness (!) – far more to testosterone than meets the eye!

References

Bok, S. (1978). Moral choice in public and private life. In Lying (pp. 326). New York: Vintage Books.

DePaulo, B. M., Kashy, D. A., Kirkendol, S. E., Wyer, M. M., & Epstein, J. A. (1996). Lying in everyday life. J Pers.Soc Psychol., 70, 979-995.

Eisenegger, C., Haushofer, J., & Fehr, E. (2011). The role of testosterone in social interaction. Trends Cogn Sci., 15, 263-271.

Eisenegger, C., Naef, M., Snozzi, R., Heinrichs, M., & Fehr, E. (2010). Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour. Nature, 463, 356-359.

Mazur, A. & Booth, A. (1998). Testosterone and dominance in men. Behav.Brain Sci., 21, 353-363.

van, H. J., Montoya, E. R., Bos, P. A., van, V. M., & Terburg, D. (2012). New evidence on testosterone and cooperation. Nature, 485, E4-E5.

Vrij, A. (2001). The pyschology of lying and the implications for professional practice. In Detecting lies and deciet (pp. 254). John Wiley & Sons.

Wibral, M., Dohmen, T., Klingmuller, D., Weber, B., & Falk, A. (2012). Testosterone administration reduces lying in men. PLoS One, 7, e46774.

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