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Every athlete is always looking for an "edge" to improve performance, but all too often this quest leads to frustration when a
supplement fails to have the desired effect.
Fortunately many supplements were not originally intended for by bodybuilders have more than one application, and hydroxy citric acid (HCA) is no exception.
Introduced as a diet aid, HCA has potential as an athletic aid for bodybuilders and other athletes. Just as ephedrine in the Chinese herb ma huang is now used by bodybuilders to improve athletic training by sparing muscle tissue and improving fat mobilization for energy (notice that no one ever uses the over-the-counter diet aids with phenylpropanolamine for this purpose!), so, too, HCA offers unique benefits to athletes who want to improve their bodyfat-to-lean muscle ratio. HCA. the all-natural extract from the rind of the fruit of Garcinia cambogia, may be of particular help to those athletes whose sports require periods of special diet cycling (such as bodybuilders) or attention to bodyweight (such as gymnasts and wrestlers). Even distance runners who make use of carb loading may receive benefits from the use of HCA-containing supplements.
HCA differs from other products which are used to suppress the appetite in that it does not influence the central nervous system (CNS). All ephedrine/caffeine based supplements act upon the central nervous system. Of special importance to athletes, especially bodybuilders, HCA does not have negative effects on lean tissue. The reduced food intake which is found with the use of HCA comes from the extract's impact upon the body's utilization of carbohydrate calories.
To put the action of HCA in context, consider the following: Under normal circumstances, when sugars and starches are eaten, all of these carbohydrates are eventually reduced to blood sugar (glucose). Through the action of the peptide hormone insulin, glucose enters into the cells and is metabolized in one of several directions. Some of the glucose is quickly turned into the special starch called glycogen, which consists of glucose units linked together in a chain. Glycogen is found mainly in the' liver and, to a lesser degree, the muscles. When needed, glycogen is reconverted to glucose to provide energy to the body. Of course, most of the glucose which enters the cells is broken down steadily into smaller and smaller units by glycolysis, the citric- acid cycle (a.k.a. TCA cycle), and finally the electron transport system, to yield fuel for ongoing processes.
The glucose which is used neither for energy production nor glycogen production and storage can be turned into fat through a process known as lypogenesis. Lypogenesis is the first step in the HCA cycle (when excess calories are available). Humans do not usually produce any great quantity of fat from carbohydrates, but then again, we do not need to produce much fat to do damage. Why? Because the very act of making fat from carbohydrates turns off the process of burning fat for energy.
Most of the breakdown of glucose takes place outside of the mitochondria, the "furnaces" or "energy factories" within the cells where energy is produced. The last steps of glycolysis take place inside the mitochondria to yield the HCA-cycle intermediate, citrate. Citrate is sent back through the mitochondrial membrane to be cleaved to supply the building blocks for the production of fats. HCA acts to block the production of fat from carbohydrate calories by temporarily stopping the activity of the enzyme which is responsible for cleaving citrate to turn excess calories into the building blocks of fat. When the enzyme that cleaves citrate (ATP-citrate lyase) is blocked, several results occur.
First, the pathway for the production of glycogen becomes relatively more attractive than the pathway for the further metabolism of glucose into acetyl-Co enzyme A. In other words, glucose metabolism slows down, and this slowing favors glycogen production. Second, with less fat being produced, the body is more likely to burn fat from its own stores. (This is good Fat is a more stable source of energy than is blood sugar.) Third, the glucose breakdown product called pyruvate, which is the substance that enters the mitochondria and is the source of citrate, is either completely burned in the HCA for energy or recycled in the form of lactate and/or phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP). Lactate and PEP provide new sources of fuel for the production of more glucose, and thus more glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles. This process has the total effect of increasing muscle and liver glycogen (so your muscles appear larger) and increasing the likelihood that the body will use its own fat stores for energy, helping you to burn fat and retain muscle when dieting.
This extended "cycling" of carbohydrate calories both stabilizes energy levels and sends a signal to the brain that the body has plenty of fuel - i.e. it suppresses the appetite. Some calories are also burned through this recycling of carbohydrate calories. The effects of HCA upon cellular metabolism somewhat resemble those of ephedrine, but without the potentially harsh effects on the nervous system which can be found with ephedrine-based products.
This information is important to bodybuilders and various other types of athletes who need to control their weight without losing lean muscle tissue when they cycle back and forth from low-carbohydrate to high-carbohydrate or from low-calorie to high-calorie diets. For instance, bodybuilders typically drop weight before contests using a high-protein/low-calorie approach and then dramatically increase their carbohydrate and general food intake after the competition is over. The usefulness of HCA during precontest dieting is obvious, but what about after the contest? Well, let's see. The typical post-contest diet completely fills the body's glycogen stores within three to four days - the reason why so many people look far better a few days after their show - and within seven to eight days these post-contest rebound eaters are producing substantial amounts of fat from the carbohydrate calories they are consuming.
Moreover, and no less important, a very large fraction of the carbohydrates consumed by athletes, and by Americans in general, are simple rather than complex carbohydrates. Even those individuals who are eating substantial amounts of fats will still make fat from carbohydrates if the carbs they are eating are in the form of simple sugars(s). If you are making fat, you are doing a poor job of burning fat.
The "take home" from the above information is: (a) Besides your immediate post workout drink, the carbohydrates you consume should be low-glycemic - complex carbohydrates if maximum glycogen production and minimum fat accumulation is your goal. Your carbohydrate intake must be adjusted to your metabolic needs to achieve this result. The addition of HCA and/or an ephedrine/caffeine-based product can dramatically help in this goal. Many people are reporting far better results using ephedrine/caffeine-based products in conjunction with HCA than with either product used alone, but studies combining the two products have yet to be carried out.
Athletes who carb load (e.g. bodybuilders, runners, cyclists) need to be aware of the effects of diet upon performance. Endurance sports require that participants, in order to succeed, be able to access fat for fuel early in the event, and bodybuilders need to access fat stores consistently if they are to achieve the low bodyfat levels they desire precontest. This ability is closely related to insulin sensitivity. Diets high in simple carbohydrates and mixed diets of refined carbohydrates and fat interfere with the body's ability to burn fat for fuel (energy). Unfortunately, running a few more miles will not change the effects of a bad diet. However, because of its role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, HCA may help the body burn fat even when a person eats a less than optimal diet.
So what's an athlete to do? The first course of action is to address insulin requirements. In one study using niacin-bound chromium (trade name ChromeMate), even healthy young athletes reduced their total blood cholesterol levels and improved the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL (the "good" cholesterol) levels by adding chromium to their diet. The researchers in this case found that the lipid- lowering effects of the niacin-bound chromium were independent of the effects upon insulin levels, but one is tempted to speculate that there may be a connection between the improved chromium status of these athletes and their ability to bum fat for fuel. Scientists have long known that chromium status affects the actions of insulin and thereby the cell's ability to take in blood glucose. Improving the response to insulin generally improves fat metabolism as well.
The second recommendation for athletes who are concerned with bodyfat levels and glycogen storage (which means virtually all athletes... well, maybe not chess players) is that they give a fair trial to HCA as part of their program, either alone or in conjunction with other supplements such as L-carnitine, ephedrine/caffeine-based fat burners, etc.. HCA is the only supplement currently available which inhibits the production of fat by the body. Because HCA is relatively new to bodybuilding and other sports, exactly how effective HCA will be is unclear. HCA will probably have a wide range of effectiveness for different people (as all supplements do), but the preliminary evidence looks promising and the anecdotal feedback has been positive. An extract from the fruit and fruit rind of the Garcinia species of South Asia, HCA is most commonly available as a calcium salt. One such product is CitriMax, which provides 50 percent HCA by weight. HCA not only helps the body to reduce the amount of fat which is made from carbohydrates, but it also helps to turn on the body's natural ability to burn stored fat for energy. When used as directed 30 to 60 minutes before meals, HCA suppresses the appetite and restores energy levels without acting as a stimulant.
Because the actions of HCA are indirect (as opposed to stimulants which act directly and quickly on the nervous system), some individuals will require a period of a few days to weeks for the extract to reach its full effect. As with all supplements that are used for the purpose of losing fat, best results axe found with the use of HCA in conjunction with other dietary changes such as drinking at least six to eight glasses of water per day, limiting alcohol, keeping fat intake low and protein intake high, and eating additional fiber. Translation: If you eat crap, an entire truckload of HCA and ephedrine will not help you. These recommendations apply as much to bodybuilders and other athletes in training as they do to any dieter trying to lose weight. In both instances they lead to better results.