Amino Acids vs. Steroids—Is There a Steroid Substitute?

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Within the past 15 years, a great deal of controversy has centered around the use and effectiveness of synthetic derivatives of testosterone(anabolic steroids) by athletes to improve performance. During this same time controversy has overlapped in the use of aminoacids and now “steroid replacements” that claim “anabolic effects”.

There is for need of clarification of what steroids are in order to understand claims and make the intelligent choices when deciding what type of alternative to use to optimize growth and energy. All natural steroids are synthesized from cholesterol and have common structural configuration. Anabolic steroids, synthetic derivatives of testosterone, generally vary in structure from testosterone by substitution of various alkyl groups (1). Testosterone is synthesized by the adrenal glands, testes in males and ovaries in females. The male testes produce serum level of testosterone is 4 to 20 times higher in men than women (2,3).

The functions of testosterone are categorized into androgenic and anabolic actions. Androgenic effects include: development of male secondary sexual characteristics and the enlargement of the prostate and seminal vesicles, external genitalia, and the psychic effects such as increased aggression. Anabolic effects include: Increased mass of specific tissues and increased fat mobilization capabilities (4). Steroid hormones (anabolic/androgenic) actions generally involve their binding of proteins, caller,’ receptors, in the cytoplasm of cells (5,6). Muscle overload using resistance training may also increase the number of androgen binding sites, thus making the trained muscles more susceptible to anabolic compounds (7).

Women with fewer circulating androgen receptor sites than men are likely to be influenced to a greater extent than men by anabolic steroid administration. There are enough books and journal articles listing- side effects of steroids, and whether they do in fact work. It is known in the circles of the users and those who observe bodybuilding that anabolic/androgenic steroids do increase muscle mass and strength with intense weight training. Let’s explore the alternatives that have been reported to assist the body in growth and repair without the side-effects of many steroids.

Amino Acids: What They Can And Cannot Do

Do amino acids increase muscle size and strength? No, contrary to popular belief, neither amino acids nor anabolic steroids increase muscle size! Exercise with progressively heavier weights increases muscle size. Using ergogenic aids such as amino acids or anabolic steroids will enhance the growth of the muscle by creating an environment of higher nitrogen retention.

However, without weight training, neither of the above mentioned aids will, by themselves, make the muscles bigger (8,9).

Athletes that are involved in weight training, whether as a preparation for other sports or for competition in bodybuilding, weight lifting(Olympic) or powerlifting require more calories and subsequently higher intake percentage wise (15-20 percent) than the average individual (10).

The Recommended Daily Allowance for daily protein intake is: .65 grams/kilogram/ bodyweight) for a group of sedentary American’s. Recent European studies have found these above mentioned athletes require 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of lean bodyweight (11).

The athlete can supply these dietary needs in one of two ways.

  1. Eat less protein foods daily which then require less energy for digestion, and decreased metabolic waste (urea and ammonia that is produced during protein digestion).
  2. Use amino acid supplements that are Singular, free form, either in capsule or powder. Contrary to many supplement companies claims, free form singular amino acids are utilized more efficiently and completely by the body then the cheaper to produce peptide-bond amino acids from a food source.

There is direct evidence that energy is provided from amino acids during strenuous exercise (14). Research has demonstrated that the most important amino acids for muscular fuel are the branched-chain amino acids: L-leucine, L-Isoleucine and L-Valine (15).

These three amino acids must be present together at the same time to be effective and prevent metabolic imbalances found if one or two of the amino acids are given (16). Branched-chain amino acids can contribute as much as 15% of the muscles energy needs during strenuous exercise. They are found in highest concentration in the muscle, approximately 85%. As stated earlier, amino acids to be most effective should be singular free form and they require essential co-factors to be present for uptake and maximal utilization.

These include B-vitamins (in capsules), that are yeast-free multi-vitamin/mineral capsules and some simple carbohydrates.

The carbohydrate ingestion promotes the secretion of insulin from the pancreases Insulin acts as a carrier for amino acids through the blood stream to target specific tissues, i.e.: Branched-chain amino acids to muscle and kidney.

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When Is The Best Time To Take Amino Acids?

Prior to training and immediately after has provided the best results in the hundreds of people I have worked with. Approximately 30 minutes before training 3-4 grams of amino acids that contain all ten essential amino acids and is higher in the BCAA’s, along with fruit juice (4-6 ounces) and the vitamin co-factors. This program can assist the individual in maintaining blood sugar levels during exercise. The same formula can be repeated after exercise to assist in growth and repair of the tissues (17).
 
Other Ergogenic Aids
Recently other substances have gained attention for their proported “anabolic effects” as “non-steroidal anabolic agents”. These include smilax officinalis, yohimbie, serenoa serrulata, orchic extract, cyclofenil, gamma, beta sitoterol, etc. The fact is: Plant sterols are not biologically active as anabolic hormones’. Plant sterols are used as raw materials by pharmaceutical companies in the making of birth control bills and anabolic/androgenic steroids. These substances are chemically refined into biologically active hormones by an elaborate and exacting process, which, the human body cannot reproduce (18). They may cause rises in blood sugar that give a temporary lift in energy, but so do raisins at far less a price!

 

One product that has recently gained popularity is the active form of vitamin B-12, also known as cobalamind or cyanocobalamine. This co-enzyme also called 5,6 dimeth-ylbenzimidazole-cobamide (commonly sold under the name- Dibencozide). It plays a vital role in nucleic acids and protein synthesis, and in nitrogen retention, cell division, and growth (19).

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Article Categories: Nutrition & Wellness
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