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Articles Written by Rehan Jalali


Supplementation Articles


Phosphatidylserine: A "Must Have" Bodybuilding Supplement


Are you stressed out? Does your muscle soreness last for days after brutal workouts in the gym? Is your mind less sharp than it used to be?  Are your catabolic hormone (cortisol) levels through the roof?  As Tony Soprano would say "Fughettaboutit"--Phosphatidylserine is here! There are many sports supplements on the market today that promise results from increasing lean muscle mass and releasing growth hormone to dropping body fat, and many other things.  Only some of these supplements are truly effective in producing measurable results on your physique and in the gym.  One of these amazing and well-researched supplements is Phosphatidylserine (PS).  I know, it's a mouthful--but after reading about this unique and powerful nutrient, it should be made clear that this ingredient can really enhance your bodybuilding efforts and should be considered an essential supplement, especially if you train hard. 


Since this supplement is relatively unknown to many athletes, it is important to understand what it is and how it works.  PS is a Phospholipid (a type of fat found in every cell of the body that contains the mineral phosphorous) and the commercial supplement version is derived from either soy lecithin or bovine cerebral cortex (1). PS does occur naturally in some foods such as green leafy vegetables and rice but in very small, insignificant amounts.  Most of the versions on the market today are derived from soybeans due to the concern about "mad cow disease".  Supplementation is the only way to get enough PS to produce physiological results.  PS specifically contains a  phosphatidyl molecule consisting of a head group containing phosphorous along with  a chemical subgroup of serine.  Phospholipids are vital to the proper function of cell membranes.  In fact, phospholipids actually hold the molecules in the cell membranes together.  PS imbedded into cell membranes can control many important functions including movement of molecules in and out of the cell, taking cellular messages from the outside of the cell to it's interior, and communication between cells. It can also help protect cell membranes from damage that can occur from intense training and free radicals.  PS is found in a high quantity in the brain and specifically in nerve cell membranes.  Clinical research on PS dates back over twenty years but only recently have bodybuilders and other athletes realized all the benefits of this useful supplement.


Physiological effects of PS

PS has been shown to have several positive effects in the body.  These include neurological enhancement/brain function, cell membrane protection/optimum cellular function, and cortisol suppression/athletic benefits. 


Neurological enhancement/brain function

Most of the extensive research on PS is on its ability to improve brain function and memory.  PS is highly concentrated in the brain where it can help regulate the passing of impulses between nerve cells.  It is also readily absorbed across the blood-brain barrier. In one study conducted by Crook and associates (2), subjects given 300 mg of PS daily for 12 weeks showed greater signs of memory and remembering things like telephone numbers.  They also showed greater ability to concentrate and focus as compared to a placebo.  Another study by Palmieri and associates (3) showed that individuals with moderate cognitive deterioration (some memory loss) had improved attention span, greater concentration, and short-term memory improvement by taking 300 mg PS daily.  Other studies also confirm these findings. 


Cell membrane protection/optimum cellular function

PS is found in cell membranes and can have a protective effect against damage.  Cellular damage can occur with age and even intense training so having good levels of PS in the body is important.  Optimal membrane levels of PS are important for sending signals into cells including to secondary message systems.  PS can also have an effect on transport of key minerals in and out of cells including calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.


Cortisol suppression/athletic benefits

Research has shown that PS may be a powerful cortisol suppressing agent.  PS specifically can lower a rise in ACTH (adrenocorticotrophin hormone) after exercise. This effect of PS can help lower muscle breakdown secondary to exercise.  According to several studies by Monteleone and associates, PS supplementation can blunt cortisol release significantly secondary to stress. (4,5).  In fact, in another study by Fahey and Pearl (6), supplementation of PS at 800 mg daily reduced cortisol levels by 30% as compared to a placebo following heavy resistance training.

To truly appreciate these research results with PS, it is essential to understand cortisol and its effects in the body. Cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid.  It is a natural hormone of the adrenal glands.  Cortisol is necessary to maintain important processes in times of prolonged stress.  Most of its effects are not directly responsible for the initiation of metabolic or circulatory processes but it is necessary for their full response.


The major catabolic effects of cortisol involve it’s facilitating the conversion of protein in muscles and connective tissue into glucose and glycogen (cortisol may increase liver glycogen). Gluconeogenesis involves both the increased degradation of protein already formed and the decreased synthesis of new protein. Cortisol can also decrease the utilization of glucose by cells by directly inhibiting glucose transport into the cells (7).  A cortisol excess can also lead to a decrease in insulin sensitivity.  Cortisol also reduces the utilization of amino acids for protein formation in muscle cells. A cortisol excess can lead to a progressive loss of protein, muscle weakness and atrophy, and loss of bone mass through increased calcium excretion and less calcium absorption. Recent research has shown that increased cortisol levels also increased protein breakdown by 5-20%. (8).  Even mild elevations in serum cortisol can increase plasma glucose concentration and protein catabolism within a few hours in healthy individuals (9). Cortisol increases with increasing time of intense exercise.    Excess cortisol can also adversely affect tendon health.  Cortisol causes a redistribution of bodyfat to occur through an unknown mechanism.  Basically, the extremities lose fat and muscle while the trunk and face become fatter.  Cortisol excess can also lead to hypertension because it causes sodium retention (which can make you appear bloated) and potassium excretion.  In other words, excessively high cortisol levels may turn you into a girly man!  So the real challenge becomes how can cortisol levels be controlled but not inhibited completely because of cortisol’s necessary anti-inflammatory effects.  One excellent way is to take a PS supplement regularly.  With all the adverse effects of excess cortisol to muscle building, it can be theorized that since PS blunts cortisol release, you can maximize your gains from your training program and optimize muscle recovery (cortisol delays muscle recovery) and muscle function by taking this supplement.  The way PS reduces cortisol levels is by suppressing hormones that control cortisol release including ACTH and CRF (corticotropin releasing factor).  By using PS to reduce cortisol levels, you can increase the testosterone : cortisol ratio which is a major determining factor of muscle anabolism in the body.  It may be possible that since PS reduces cortisol levels, testosterone may work more efficiently in the body. So PS can help reduce cortisol levels to lower muscle breakdown but it does not cause a long term detrimental suppression of cortisol which can lead to problems.  By taking PS, athletes can recover from exercise much faster, thereby making faster gains in the gym. One interesting thing to note is that one of the mechanism's of action of anabolic steroids is also cortisol suppression.  This is why athletes on anabolic steroids tend to recover much faster and have much less muscle soreness than their "PS-Less" natural counterparts.  The problem with anabolic steroids is that they block the corticosteroid receptor which means that when individuals come of off anabolic steroids, their cortisol levels soar and they experience muscle atrophy and a suppressed immune system (which is another benefit of using PS to suppress cortisol levels--a healthy immune system).  PS does not have the problem of cortisol receptor blockage and can be taken continuously in a safe and effective way. 


Another aspect of weight training where PS can play an important role is the Overtraining Syndrome.  Overtraining can occur when there is a serious imbalance with regards to training and proper recovery.  In other words, there is not enough rest and optimal recovery from very intense training sessions.  Overtraining has been shown to actually decrease performance, cause depression, promote injuries, and even lower immune health.  In overtrained individuals, cortisol levels increase while testosterone levels decrease.  PS can help speed up recovery and lower the negative effects from overtraining.  It can also help repair damaged muscle cell membranes secondary to intense training.  The Fahey and Pearl study I referenced earlier also showed (6) that athletes taking PS had much less muscle soreness and had a greater level of well being even after just one week into the study.  When the group was taking PS in the study, they felt stronger and had greater energy levels.  This is powerful stuff from a powerhouse supplement!


The efficacious dose of PS ranges from 100 mg to 800 mg daily depending on what you are using it for.  For cognitive benefits and neurological function, as little as 100 mg daily may be effective.  Although 300 mg daily were used in some of the studies regarding this effect of PS.  For athletic performance and bodybuilding purposes, a dose of 400 mg to 800 mg daily during periods of intense training can be effective.  Remember, during times of intense training is where you can see and feel the effects of PS supplementation.  Some of the best times to take PS for cortisol suppression are right after training and/or 30 minutes before bed-time.  These are two times where cortisol suppression is important.  There is no reason to cycle PS as it has been shown to be safe even after long term use.  Some researchers believe PS can have "blood thinning" properties so it may be a good idea not to take PS with herbs like Gingko biloba.  You should always consult a physician before taking PS if you have any medical conditions or are taking medications such as warfarin or other blood thinning agents. Personally, PS has been one of the most effective supplements I have used.  Its effects can be felt in as little as 1-2 weeks of use, especially if your workouts are super intense (and you know what they say, intensity builds immensity!).   There are some high quality PS supplements on the marketplace including Cort-Bloc from Muscle-Link. 


So the next time you experience long-term muscle soreness or just want to enhance muscle recovery and maximize your hard workouts, give PS a try and you may be pleasantly surprised! 




1)     Burke, E. and Fahey T., Phosphatidylserine (PS):Promise for athletic performance. New Canaan, Ct. Keats Publishing, 1998.

2)     Crook, T., et al., "Effects of phosphatidylserine in age associated memory impairment," Neurol 1991, 41:644-649. 

3)     Palmieri G., et al., "Double-blind controlled trial of phosphatidylserine in subjects with senile mental deterioration," Clin. Trails J. 1987, 24:73-83.

4)     Monteleone, P., et al., "Blunting by chronic phosphatidylserine administration of the stress-induced activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in healthy men," Eur. J. Clin. Pharamacol. 1992, 41: 385-388.

5)     Monteleone, P., et al., "Effects of phosphatidylserine on the neuroendocrine responses to physical stress in humans," Neuroendocrinol. 1990, 52: 243-248.

6)      Fahey,et al., "The hormonal and perceptive effects of phosphatidylserine administration during two weeks of resistive exercise-induced overtraining. Biol Sport. 1998, 15:135–144.

7)     Griffin J, Ojeda S. Textbook of endocrine physiology, 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

8)     Brillon, et al., “Effect of cortisol on energy expenditure and amino acid metabolism in humans,” Am J Physiol. 1995, 268 : E501-13.

9)     Simmons, et al., “Increased proteolysis: an effect of increases in plasma cortisol within the physiological range,” J Clin Invest. 1984, 73 : 412-420.


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