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"Must Have" Bodybuilding Supplement
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
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
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
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
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
1) Burke, E. and Fahey T., Phosphatidylserine (PS):Promise
for athletic performance. New Canaan, Ct. Keats Publishing,
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
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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