The following is the written transcript of TC’s Audio Interview with Jose Antonio, PhD. Many of you heard the interview when it was released a couple weeks ago, but it’s been brought to our attention that a lot of our readers couldn’t listen to the thing. Either they didn’t have RealAudio capability or they just plain blew out their speakers while listening to a clip of Ricky Martin’s snappy “La Vida Loca” song.
Regardless, here it is, almost in its entirety (we might have deleted a few burps or sneezes, but this is essentially it):
T: Today we’re going to be talking to noted muscle-cell physiologist Dr. Joey Antonio. Joey, before we get into the interview, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?
JA: Thanks for having me. By the way, currently where you’ll find me is in the middle of the country in Nebraska. I’m at the University of Nebraska in a small town called Kearney, Nebraska. As you said earlier, I have done past work in muscle physiology. Currently, a lot of my research focus is on sports, nutrition, and dietary supplementation. And as you know, I just finished a really quite intriguing study on Tribex-500. And the results were a little bit surprising to me since I had done a similar study roughly a semester ago on another Tribulus product, and I really didn’t find anything.
T: Before we get into it, I want to ask a little bit about studies in general. First of all, we asked you to do this study, right?
T: How does it work? I mean, people think there’s some sort of graft going on when a study’s done, and we slip a few thousand dollars in your pocket or buy you a Viper or something. Typically, how are these things set up?
JA: Well, actually, it tends to be a lot slower and a lot more complicated than people realize. People think they can call me up, send me X amount of dollars to do the study, and then get the results a few weeks later. And what a lot of people seem to forget is that there’s a lot of red tape at universities where you have to go through “human subject review.” They have to make sure you’re not going to kill anyone, and then you have to make sure your study protocol is the kind that’s appropriate for whatever you’re testing.
Now, granted, a lot of supplement companies will fund studies, and usually the scientist and company will come to an agreement as to what to do with the data. Let’s say the data doesn’t support the product. Well, a lot of companies will take the stand that they have the final say as to what to do with the data. But I worked with several companies who — if the data actually is negative and it doesn’t support their product — want to know it, because they’re selling the stuff. And I know there’s a few companies that have gotten in trouble for making claims about products that they couldn’t support.
So I think honesty is the best policy. It’s always good to get the information out there rather than trying to hide it, because eventually people find out. In this business, it’s a small world, and everyone talks to everybody.
T: Right. Do they ever say to you, “Hey, we don’t want this released if it doesn’t come out the way we want it to?”
JA: Oh, yeah. Actually, I know of one particular company, whose name I won’t mention, where it was specifically stated in a contract that I couldn’t release the information unless they gave approval. And, of course, I found nothing in the study, so they didn’t give approval.
T: Do you or the university get any extra compensation? Or does the company just fund the cost of doing the study? In other words, nobody buys the university a new wing or anything, do they?
JA: Oh, no. In fact, typically the funding is — compared to most businesses — a paltry amount. And most of the funding goes to paying grad students to help or to pay for travel and expenses. It’s nothing that you could make a living off of. I mean, this is kind of pocket change for a lot people who do this kind of work. No one’s getting rich off these studies.
T: Okay, great. Why don’t you tell us a little bit how the Tribex study was set up?
JA: Well, with the Tribex study, what’s interesting is that we wanted to do it in a slightly different way. So for subjects, we used a couple of football players and four bodybuilders. We didn’t want to get your normal, untrained, grad-student slob who works out a few times a week and then has to go study. So we got what we consider very highly-trained guys. We put them on both the placebo and Tribex, so both groups got both products. And they didn’t know when they were on Tribex.
We did multiple measurements of various things like strength, body composition, etc. And over a 12-week period, four out of the six guys improved dramatically; one of the six improved moderately; and then one person didn’t change at all. Frankly, I was a little surprised of the data, because these guys were really well trained. Just getting any improvement is kind of amazing, especially in light of the fact that I had done a similar study on a Tribulus product and found absolutely nothing. That study is actually going to be published fairly soon in the Sports Nutrition Journal. And I’m fairly sure that this Tribex study will get published, because the data is really interesting.
T: Great. Now when you say they showed significant improvement, what do you mean? In lean body mass, performance, strength, or what?
JA: Well, actually, I looked at various measures. Let’s take lean body mass which, obviously, for bodybuilders, is probably the most interesting thing. In fact, a lot of bodybuilders don’t care that they even get stronger, as long as they put on muscle mass.
Regarding lean body mass, again, we’re talking guys who are already pretty lean and muscular. Probably the best results were seen in the guy who gained about 11 pounds of lean body mass. The average range, however, is probably closer in the six-pound range. And for most of these guys, they said they felt better. They definitely were stronger, and visually you could tell they were just more cut…except for that one guy. There was this one guy who just seemed like he got worse. It was just really bizarre. But I guess that’s true for any supplement; you won’t get 100% success. And if everyone improved dramatically, I’d be wondering what you guys were using to spike Tribex.
T: Tim told me that the study results were favorable, but I didn’t know anything about 11 pounds! That’s pretty darn good.
JA: Yeah! For that particular individual, it was pretty amazing.
T: Now, you said something about this being a single-subject design, earlier. I’m not sure I’ve never heard of that before. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
JA: Okay, single-subject design studies are actually typically used in motor-behavior, motor-learning research. And this is the way it works. Let’s say you’re the subject, and we’re going to give you product X; and let’s say we do this for 12 weeks. What I’m going to do is measure certain areas every week. Let’s say I’m going to measure your strength and measure your muscle mass. So, I’ll measure it for the first four weeks and get a baseline — I mean, you’re not going to change dramatically in four weeks, I hope — and then I give you treatment. But you won’t know when I introduce the treatment, because all along you’re taking a supplement, either the placebo or the supplement.
Let’s say I give you the supplement at the four-week mark — remember, I’m still measuring you every week — and then over the last eight weeks of that study what you’ll see is a trend. Depending on what supplement you’re given, you’ll either see an upward trend, a downward trend, or no change. For instance, if you gave someone anabolic steroids, you’d probably see an upward trend in lean body mass.
That’s the kind of model we used with the Tribex study. It’s not a model you typically see in exercise science, but it’s a one that’s used in psychology and motor-learning, motor-behavior research. So, I felt, why don’t we do this in exercise science? You and I know that there are many studies out there where they use untrained slobs. And, of course, they all get better because they’re all untrained. The funny thing is exercise physiologists probably know better than anyone how to train people who are untrained. But when it comes to trained people, it’s like we don’t know where to start.
T: So each of the guys took Tribex and a placebo, and they were each their own control?
JA: Exactly. In fact, they took the placebo and the Tribex for different lengths of time. So there wasn’t a bias toward one person taking it longer or shorter; everyone took it for different amounts of time. And we still saw the same trend: once they were on Tribex, you saw a trend toward increased strength and a trend toward increased lean body mass.
T: What kind of workout program did they perform?
JA: Typically, these guys were training about four or five times a week. And it was generally your typical bodybuilding program of split routines, doing chest, shoulders, tris, back, thighs, and legs. It tended to be in the high-rep range, somewhere around 10 to 12. They didn’t really vary too much from that, other than maybe adding weight and changing some of the exercises. But, in general, it was your stereotypical bodybuilding workout, and the football players did the same thing.
T: Great! All right, let’s talk about another project you’re involved with. I understand you’re part of a research team that’s working on something called liposome technology.
T: Briefly, what the hell are liposomes? Why would athletes be interested in these things?
JA: Liposomes are interesting because they’re used as the delivery vehicle for various drugs. You can think of a liposome as a kind of soap bubble that you can stick things inside, like protein. And what’s cool about these liposomes is that they can be timed to release the protein so that you can increase the amount that’s absorbed, and also increase the amount that’s in your blood over a longer period of time.
Actually we’ve done some pilot work on glutamine where we loaded glutamine into a liposome, or a bunch of different sized liposomes, and found that absorption was better and also that levels in your blood were higher. So immediately, the first thing that comes to your mind is that we can get more of it in your body and maintain higher levels. And with glutamine, you’d have a kind of before-bed drink that would maintain high levels of an anti-catabolic amino acid in your blood. You wouldn’t have to worry about getting into that starvation mode that your body goes into during the night.
T: That’s phenomenal.
JA: There’s a lot of other cool stuff. You can stick things in liposomes that typically don’t get absorbed well, like certain amino acids — and if you put them in a liposome, plasma levels go up. So there’s a lot of different things you can do with liposomes. And the great thing about it is that there’s already a lot of data where they use liposomes as a method for delivering drugs.
T: How long would you expect that these levels stay elevated? Say you took a hit of whey protein with liposome delivery technology at bedtime, how long would amino acid levels stay elevated?
JA: I would guess, based on the data without liposomes, with whey protein you’d get a quick rise and probably a quick drop. And by three to four hours after eating it, you’re probably down to normal levels. Using liposome technology, depending on which kind of liposome you use, you could get a quick rise and drop, and then another rise. Or you could just get a slow rise and maintain a steady, high level for up to around six to seven hours which, for most people, is a good night’s sleep.
T: That’s great. This is like the Holy Grail of protein technology.
JA: It could be.
T: Liposome protein could be like a dieter’s dream in a sense, too. You could take a hit, then cut down on your eating and, simultaneously, you’d cut down the amount of muscle you might otherwise lose in a dieting situation, right?
JA: Yes, exactly! You and I know that one of the most important factors, especially for putting on muscle mass, is just having high levels of amino acids in your blood all the time. So you should take your whey protein in liposome form, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t eat six meals a day, or if you just have a hard time getting meals in, anyway.
T: Yeah. Now, as far as transferring to other types of supplements, would this strictly be restricted to proteins? Or could you do other types of supplementation with this?
JA: No, actually. Basically, insert anything you want into a liposome. You could, for instance, put in various prohormones. The absorption would be better and, actually, you might get a higher sustained level in your blood versus just taking the hormone or prohormone by itself where you get a quick rise and then a dropoff. It’s also been applied to other things besides proteins or amino acids.
T: Incredible. And, as long as you’ve mentioned it, what’s your opinion of the whole prohormone thing?
JA: Well, it’s really kind of interesting because that one study in JAMA that got so much publicity — I think it was [performed by] Dr. King at Iowa State — used what I consider small doses of androstenedione. Even though I’ve never been particularly impressed with androstenedione, per se, I think it’s still premature to say all prohormones are a complete waste of time. Androstenedione might possibly help older men. And also, there’s forms of these prohormones, like the 19-nors, which actually may be better because we know that, if you’re taking straight anabolic steroids, the nor-testosterones are better than the testosterones. And an example of that would be comparing Deca to just straight testosterone shots. We know Deca works better.
T: You mentioned glutamine briefly, and I know you’ve done some studies on the stuff, so what did you find out? What are your recommendations? What’s the bottom line on glutamine?
JA: In one of the studies, we used wrestlers and actually underfed them. It was a short-term study, only 14 days. We found that guys who were taking glutamine seemed to maintain nitrogen balance better than those who were not consuming glutamine. In other words, if you jack up your glutamine intake, it’ll help prevent the loss of muscle mass secondary to cutting back calories. This could really help a bodybuilder who’s in a pre-contest dieting mode and dramatically cutting calories. Again, this is based on my speculation on that two-week study. But I think every little bit of lean muscle you can keep while you’re dieting is good.
T: I’ve heard recommendations going anywhere from a couple of grams a day up to 40, which is cost-prohibitive, in my book.
JA: You can go that high, and it’s not harmful. But I would suggest somewhere in the 10-20 gram range if you’re dieting. And 5-10 grams if you’re not.
T: What about timing? Before workout? Afterward? Bedtime?
JA: There’s no evidence to show that any of those times would matter. As long as you get it during the day, it shouldn’t matter.
T: Of course, if you combine this with liposome technology, then you’ve got something else there, right?
JA: Right. You could have a pre-bedtime drink there.
T: Dr. Antonio, you work out; you’re one of us. What kind of supplements do you take?
JA: I normally take a meal replacement powder. In fact, my favorite happens to be what you guys make, Grow! I swear Grow! tastes like a Wendy’s milkshake. I hope you’re not fooling me, ’cause I’m, like, drinking it like crazy. It’s the best MRP, by far, that I’ve ever tried. And I’m not yanking your chain. You can ask my wife. She even likes it, and she hates most protein powders. With Grow!, I normally add about a teaspoon of glutamine, and I actually add some colostrum to it, about five to ten grams.
T: Really?! Colostrum popped up years ago, and it seems like there was some controversy about whether it gets broken down and denatured in the digestive track.
JA: My personal feeling is that colostrum seems to promote a loss of fat. There’s a group of Australian scientists who did some work on it in athletes, and it did promote a loss of fat and a slight increase in lean body mass. I mean, these aren’t gigantic doses — I’m only talking about ten grams.
I talked to one of the colostrum manufacturers, and they’re convinced that it increases IGF-1 levels in blood. And there’s actually one study that would support that. For some reason, colostrum’s been ignored, but I think it’s going to start to come out again. This kind of colostrum doesn’t get completely denatured in the stomach, and it may actually have the benefits and claims that were made way back when.
I also take a multi-vitamin and mineral, antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin E. That’s really it. I don’t take any creatine because I get kind of puffy.
T: Wait a minute. Here you are telling me that these great results came out of the Tribex study, but you haven’t said anything about taking Tribex?
JA: Oh, actually, it’s funny. I was talking to Tim Patterson about that. I said, “I refuse to take Tribex until I see the results of this study.” And so actually, I started taking Tribex this week.
T: I was going to say, “Geez.”
JA: Yeah, I actually added that to my pillbox.
T: Now, you’ve also done quite a lot of work on steroids and, historically, I suspect that universities are reluctant to do this type of study, at least, obviously, on human beings. Are you contemplating any studies using steroids?
JA: I’d like to. I’d like to perhaps even do it in the fall. It’s just that I haven’t made time for it, and I haven’t contacted any of the companies to see if they would be willing to provide the steroids or prohormones. But, yeah, that’s always been something I’m interested in. I don’t think, despite the ballyhoo about how androstenedione might be bad for you, that they’re half as bad as real anabolic steroids. So, the whole idea of it possibly harming people, that’s really kind of the least of my concerns. I’m more interested if it actually helps your body composition or exercise performance.
T: Right. This is just purely anecdotal, but my good buddy, Dr. Nadler, plastic surgeon, said the cases of gyno have gone up dramatically lately. He has no proof, but he suspects it’s because of all the andro products.
JA: I would probably have to agree with that. There’s a bodybuilder who told me he was taking androstenedione. I said, “Let me do some measures on you just for the hell of it, and let’s see what happens.” This guy was starting at about 5% body fat. So he was already pretty lean. So for a period of about ten weeks, I just did multiple measures of skinfolds, and I Dexed him to see what his fat mass was and his lean body mass. And after 11 or 12 weeks, his body fat went up to 7%, with no change in body weight. In other words, he got fatter and lost muscle! And he said, “Man, I ain’t taking this stuff no more.”
T: It’s weird, because if you just look at any endocrinology textbook, it’ll say that a lot of androstenedione converts to estradiol, and that the older you get, the more the conversion rate increases.
JA: Yeah. It is kind of bizarre.
T: If you ever do any steroid studies, contact us if you need any funding. We’re always interested in that sort of stuff, regardless of whether it helps us directly or not.
JA: Does Biotest currently have any prohormone products?
T: No. In fact, we deliberately chose not to. Even though we patented a delivery system that increased absorption from 5% to 90%, we still chose not to do it. We just don’t think that the prohormone technology is where it needs to be right now.
Let’s talk about what you’re probably best known for, at least in the scientific world. Tell me about your studies on muscle cell hyperplasia and stretching. Apparently, you found that applying a chronic stretch to muscle tissue causes the muscle to actually increase the number of muscle cells.
JA: Yes. We did that original work with bird muscles, of all things. We found that, hanging weights on bird wings for a prolonged chronic stretch, you get a tremendous increase — up to a 100% increase — in the number of muscle fibers. And when I say chronic, I’m talking weeks. This would be like holding a heavy suitcase for weeks and having it stretch you.
T: That’s amazing.
JA: It just goes to show you how your muscles can adapt if you subject them to extreme, extreme stresses.
T: Is there any way we could apply this finding to bodybuilding?
JA: In a way, I think you can. The whole idea that one set is all you need to make muscles grow doesn’t jive. In these birds, we can achieve a 300% increase in muscle mass. And, believe me, they’re not doing one set — they’re being stretched to hell for days. Now, if building muscle was just purely an intensity thing, rather than a volume issue, then these birds wouldn’t grow. In fact, you’d expect them to shrink. But that’s not what happens. You need both volume and intensity to increase muscle mass. Of course, you and I know that we’re all different, and there’s individual variation. So it’s not clear how much volume is needed.
T: I understand you’re also working on a book?
JA: Yes. A colleague of mine, Jeff Stout from Creighton University, and I are putting together what we hope is going to be the Bible of sports nutrition. We’re going to cover any and every dietary supplement that, for the most part, is consumed by both athletes non-athletes. We’re hoping that this book will be the reference, not only for scientists and physicians, but for athletes, as well. Currently, there’s really no kind of tome or text that’s the authority on sports supplements or sports nutrition, and we’re hoping this will be it.
T: So this will be the first one that really isn’t marketing-driven in any way? No one’s sponsoring you? No one’s paying for this?
T: Okay, so you’re going to cause some trouble, in other words?
JA: Yes, and the thing is, we’re going to be completely straightforward and honest about the supplements we cover — not everyone is going to be happy, either. We’re going to give not only the scientific details, but we’re also going to include our recommendations. So we’re putting our butts on line.
T: Well, that’s terrific, because most of the time when I read these research papers written by scientists, it’s usually clear what the implied meaning is, but they never take that deductive leap and make a recommendation.
JA: Oh, I know.
T: Right. When will this book be out?
JA: It should be out by next summer.
T: In the meantime, people can read your articles and column in Muscle and Fitness, right?
JA: Yes. In a way, I got started in writing through you. So I have to thank you for that.
T: Then you repay me by signing with Muscle and Fitness???
JA: Well, you left, too! So it seems like there was this mass exodus, like everyone was leaving. You went to Testosterone, and I went to Muscle and Fitness. In a way, it kind of worked out well. I have my own column or byline in Muscle and Fitness, called “Lab Notes,” where I cover sports nutrition-type issues. But I must say, I get quite a kick every week out of your little editorials that you put out. I wish I could write that stuff, but no one would ever print it. So there are good benefits to having your own little magazine there.
T: Exactly. So, call us up when your contract expires.
JA: Sure, then I can write the way you write.
T: You bet! That about wraps things up, Dr. Antonio. I want to thank you for all your time. I appreciate it.
JA: I appreciate it, too.
Pretty cool stuff, huh? Some incredible results from his Tribex-500 study; a glimpse into a future technology that could change the way we take supplements; some promising information about glutamine; and a heads-up about a great, new, unbiased book about supplements. Not bad for a day’s work.