Thursday, March 6, 2008

Faster, Higher, Stronger (and Without Leakage)!

Pop Quiz:

You've just been jogging for an hour and your muscles are aching. What causes the ache?

“Build-up of lactic acid in the muscles?”


In fact, this theory was discredited over 10 years ago. People continue, however, to repeat it like it was common knowledge. Was it the absence of a good explanation in place of the 100 year old lactic acid theory that’s caused the confusion? There was such a void that apparently, physiology textbooks have been ignoring muscle fatigue altogether, as if it just didn't exist.

Well, now it seems we have an answer. New research has uncovered what exactly goes on beneath the skin when muscle fatigue sets in. The short answer is leakage. Normal muscle function involves the controlled release of calcium.

After a period of vigorous exercise, calcium channels begin to leak like broken pipes. Because the muscles need a precise amount of calcium ebbing-and-flowing, this decreases their ability to work properly.
If that wasn’t enough, the leaking calcium also stimulates a “protein-digesting enzyme” that actually eats away at the muscle fibres.

Thus, the ache-age...

What's truly fascinating about this is how researchers uncovered it, and what they're doing with their new found knowledge. You might think Dr. Andrew Marks and his team at Columbia University were working in some sport medicine lab, funded by the Major League Baseball or something...

Well, not at all. Instead, they were studying heart failure, and their previous research showed that calcium was involved when heart patients experienced fatigue. Then Marks, in a bit of investigative wimsy that would make the eyes of Sherlock Holmes twinkle with admiration, reckoned that what happens in the heart--a muscle afterall--is probably the same thing that happens in leg muscles, arm muscles and so on.

So they put together a drug that acts as a plug for the calcium, gave it to a group of mice (which all signed wavers, I'm sure) and presto, performance was enhanced:

Without the drugs, mice are exhausted after three weeks of daily 3-hour swims. With the drug, the mice were still energetic, had lost less exercise capacity after 3 weeks, and their muscles showed fewer signs of calcium leakage, atrophy, and less muscle damage.

-Science Daily

As yet, the drug is not available for human consumption--or even testing for that matter. But, the Columbia team intend to patent their concoction. You can imagine the potential for performance enhancement in both professional and amateur sport, as well as the headache (leakage?) for anti-doping agencies desperately trying to keep up.

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