Bodybuilding Definition: Anti-Catabolic Properties

Biceps Workout
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Definition: Anti-catabolic properties are those which protect muscle mass in the body from being broken down.

Catabolism is the breakdown of more complex components in the body into smaller pieces. When the word is used by bodybuilders, they are generally referring to the breakdown of the muscles. This happens when the body turns to using proteins in the muscles for fuel.

Bodybuilders and weight trainers want to build muscle and to protect those hard-earned muscles from being broken down. They may take supplements or eat foods with particular nutrients they believe will help prevent that catabolic breakdown of the muscles.

Anti-catabolic nutrients inhibit the breakdown of the muscles. This could be through several mechanisms. They may be a preferential fuel, so having more available within the muscles will prevent the breakdown of muscle protein for fuel. They may also have an inhibitory effect on catabolic processes. They may work to inhibit catabolic hormones.

Nutrients and Supplements Labeled at Anti-Catabollic

These nutrients and purified supplements are ones that some bodybuilders use in the belief that they have anti-catabolic properties. Some are used by medical practitioners as supplements for various illnesses and conditions to protect or treat muscle wasting in disease conditions. They often do not have strong evidence that they will have effects in protecting muscle mass in the fitness setting for healthy individuals.

Branched-chain amino acids: BCAA: These protein precursors have been studied for anti-catabolic effects in liver patients and they are used to treat movement disorders.They include leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are naturally found in meat, dairy produces and beans. Whey protein has a high concentration of BCAA, and so it may be preferred for use in protein shakes by bodybuilders.

Glutamine: The body uses glutamine for fuel, especially in the gut. The glutamine in the skeletal muscles is needed at times and this can result in catabolism of the muscles. Bodybuilders may think taking glutamine supplements will prevent this catabolism by giving the gut and other tissues the glutamine they want.

Hydroxymethylbutyrate - HMB: This is normally a byproduct of the breakdown of the amino acid leucine in the body. It is used as a supplement for people with AIDS and there is research into using it for other disease-related weight loss and loss of muscle. Bodybuilders may believe it has anti-catabolic effects to preserve their muscle mass.

Anti-Catabolic versus Anabolic - What is the Difference?

Confusing the terminology, some bodybuilders label slow-digesting protein as anti-catabolic, because it will be available to the muscles longer after ingestion. Fast-digesting protein is labeled anabolic as it is available to the muscles faster.

This leads to BCAA and whey protein, marketed as an anti-catabolic being labeled an anabolic because it is absorbed quickly. Meanwhile, casein is called anti-catabolic because it takes longer to enter the bloodstream.


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