Writing supplement articles is tricky. No matter how good of a job you do at simply presenting the facts, there will always be those who accuse you of just trying to take their hard-earned money.
You could write a stupid and even dangerous training article and hardly anyone would bat an eye, but write the most fact-based supplement article and you're immediately branded a sell-out.
That's too bad, but here's the undisputable truth: Proper workout nutrition can help you progress faster. It can help you train harder, handle more volume, decrease cortisol, maintain performance for longer, and recover faster.
So I'll start by giving you a quick rundown of what Biotest's Plazma™ can do for you, then I'll explain the science behind it.
The Power of Plazma™
Simply put, Plazma™ can:
- Lower cortisol from your workout, helping you get more muscle growth and reducing the risk of overtraining.
- Allow you to do more volume with fewer ill-effects (excessive volume is the number one enemy of the natural lifter).
- Maintain a higher level of performance throughout your workout.
- Get stronger muscle contractions, a better pump, and a greater mind-muscle connection.
- Speed up muscle recovery and growth.
Now let's look at the science.
Cortisol, Meet Your Master
Cortisol is a double-edged sword: It's needed in order for you to perform optimally during your workout, but too much of it can limit your gains.
If most of us didn't suffer from chronically elevated cortisol levels already, too much cortisol production during the workout wouldn't be a big issue. It would simply be a blip on your daily radar – a blip that would quickly become inconsequential after the workout was over.
That is the main reason why people who have very little stress in life can gain muscle faster than people who are constantly under pressure.
I've written a whole article on cortisol but here's the short version. First, the good stuff about cortisol:
- Cortisol mobilizes stored energy.
- Cortisol increases blood sugar levels when they're too low.
- Cortisol increases mental awareness, drive, and focus.
- Cortisol increases heart rate and contraction strength.
- Cortisol increases muscle contraction strength and speed.
- Cortisol shuts down the immune system when needed so you'll be able to devote more resources to other systems that play a bigger role during a fight, a retreat, or solving a complex problem.
As you can see, adequate levels of cortisol are necessary to have a good workout. But too much of it can lead to several problems:
- Too much cortisol decreases muscle growth.
- Too much cortisol makes it harder to get leaner.
- Too much cortisol leads to nervous fatigue/burnout.
We clearly need to balance this finicky hormone.
Pushing Cortisol Levels into the Danger Zone
Think of it this way: Everything that either requires higher energy mobilization or more focus, drive, and aggressiveness can increase cortisol. Accordingly, there are several training factors that can increase cortisol.
Among them are the neurological demands of an exercise, training density (the shorter the rest periods are, the more cortisol you produce), and training competitiveness (a competition raises cortisol more than a workout).
There are two factors, however, that have more impact than the others:
- Training volume – The more volume you do, the more energy you need to fuel your body. The more mobilization of resources required, the greater the amount of cortisol released.
- Difficulty level of your sets – The more demanding each set is, the more cortisol you produce.
If you push several of these factors to a high level, you increase the risk of overproducing cortisol. If you're someone who trains hard in general, it means you'll need to keep volume lower to avoid producing too much cortisol.
This can be limiting because volume is an important factor in hypertrophy. What we need is something that will allow us to train really hard on our work sets without pushing cortisol production into overdrive. That will ensure maximum growth. That's where Plazma™ comes in.
Pre- and Intra-Workout Carbs and Cortisol
Pre- and intra-workout carb intake can lower cortisol levels significantly by making more fuel readily available for intense muscle contractions.
One of the main functions of cortisol is to mobilize stored energy, but if you have quality fuel easily accessible, you simply don't need to mobilize as much. Hence, less cortisol. That is one of the main benefits of Plazma™: It will significantly lower cortisol levels, thus allowing you to do more volume without jeopardizing your potential gains.
This will not only allow you to grow more muscle but will also decrease the risk of "neurological fatigue." This is possible because you're producing less cortisol, which means you're also producing less adrenaline. If you produce less adrenaline there's less risk of downregulating the adrenergic receptors and depleting noradrenaline and dopamine.
Won't Any Carbohydrate Source Work?
I can hear the skeptics already: "I'll just take a basic dextrose powder or even some Gatorade." Okay, Mr. Skeptic, let's look at the differences between highly branched cyclic dextrin (Plazma©'s carbohydrate source) and other carbs.
Shiraki, et al. compared highly branched cyclic dextrins, or HBCD, to both a glucose solution and plain water. The study found that time to exhaustion (high intensity swimming intervals) was 70% longer with the HBCD group. Sure, blood glucose levels increased significantly in the glucose-only group, but by the fourth interval (out of 10), they quickly came back down to levels similar to the water-only group.
While HBCD raises insulin, it doesn't increase it as much as other rapidly absorbed carbs. That is the main superpower of HBCD: It's absorbed rapidly and easily, but doesn't spike insulin, and this helps maintain a more stable blood glucose level.
That will allow you to avoid "crashing" in your workouts. I've seen a lot of people report a drop in energy and drive when they consume carbs pre-workout. This is likely due to the reactive hypoglycemia that occurs when the combination of high insulin levels and high physical activity leads to low blood sugar levels.
Plazma™, however, maintains a stable blood sugar level, in fact giving you what Biotest has coined "the reactive pump." It's exactly what you want in order to be able to do more volume and keep cortisol lower.
But I think I hear the voice of the skeptic again: "Yeah, but doesn't insulin drive amino acids into the muscles? Won't a lower insulin response diminish the anabolic effect from the protein in Plazma™?"
Good question, but no, it will not. There are two ways to transport nutrients: insulin-mediated nutrient transport and non-insulin mediated nutrient transport. The latter refers to nutrients entering cells without the need for insulin.
There are many phenomena that can increase it, and physical activity is one of them. It could be because of the effect of physical activity on GLUT-4 transporters, or the level of AMPK that comes with the energy production during a workout.
That means that the muscle contractions themselves will increase the uptake of the nutrients (amino acids, glucose) in the bloodstream. What's more interesting is that this means the muscles being trained are those that receive the nutrients. (More on that in a moment.)
The point is, even with a low insulin level (which is a good thing), you can easily deliver the nutrients to the muscles during your workout. Contrast that with regular high-glycemic carbs, which can lead to worse performance without resolving the issue of excess cortisol.
We've now established that ingesting the proper carbohydrates pre- and intra-workout will decrease cortisol levels and increase your work capacity and performance with repeated bouts of high intensity efforts (i.e. sets).
The carb source in Plazma™, HBCD, is the absolute best carb for that purpose. Not surprisingly, a lot of companies have jumped on the HBCD bandwagon, but here's the thing: These products include either only HBCD or HBCD and essential amino acids.
Plazma™, on the other hand, includes the full spectrum of amino acids from di- and tri-peptides of casein hydrolysate. That sounds high tech, and it is, but really what you should remember is that Plazma™ gives you all the amino acids of a complete protein and is absorbed just as fast as isolated amino acids.
This is important because the actual workout is the only time in your life when you can decide where the protein you consume ends up. Because of the non-insulin mediated nutrient uptake we talked about earlier, the working muscles literally pull in the nutrients that are in your bloodstream when you're training.
In normal circumstances, the ingested protein is meted out to every structure in your body that needs amino acids for repair or other functions (like building neurotransmitters and hormones), but when you're training, the amino acids in your bloodstream will be shuttled mostly to your muscles.
That is an amazing opportunity! You're sending the building blocks directly to the damaged muscle so they can be put to work rebuilding it bigger and stronger. This is a lot more efficient than simply relying on systemic distribution.
A lot of companies tried to accomplish the same thing by adding essential amino acids (EAAs) or branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) to their HBCD product. The problem is, to maximize hypertrophy, consuming all 21 amino acids is a lot more effective than just ingesting the 9 essential amino acids or the 3 branched-chain amino acids.
Now you might be able to get away with eating regular food before a workout. High-protein foods can work, provided that blood amino acid levels are maximized at the exact time you're training, which is really hard to do because we all have different rates of digestion.
As such, it's really hard to get elevated levels of blood amino acids at exactly the right time. Oh, it's possible, but it would largely be a matter of luck.
And yes, you might get away with simply using good ol' whey protein. It would definitely be better than solid food. But keep in mind that whey is still absorbed a lot more gradually than di- and tri-peptides. Again, the timing would depend heavily on luck.
One last word for those who think they can MacGyver their peri-workout drink. Do you really think you'll save money if you have to buy a tub of HBCD and a separate tub of whey protein? It won't cost you any less than it would cost you to buy Plazma™, and you will still get an inferior product.
Plazma™ also contains two scientifically proven compounds that increase work capacity, endurance, and recovery. The first is betaine anhydrous. Research shows that supplementing with this natural compound not only increases endurance and workout volume, but also increases muscle mass and improves body composition.
The other is L-citrulline. Multiple studies have shown that supplementing with this
amino acid increases endurance and reduces soreness. One study, in particular, showed that it reduced soreness by an impressive 40% over placebo, which is considerable.
Electrolytes, the Forgotten Key
The electrolytes in Plazma™ can also be a game changer. The proper electrolyte ratio will obviously prevent dehydration, which could be a problem with high volume workouts, but they also play a major role in muscle contraction and water distribution.
If you get sufficient electrolytes in you, your muscles will contract harder and you'll get a bigger pump (more intra-cellular fluid).
Plazma™ – The Only Supplement That Has It All
To make a perfect pre-/intra-workout drink you need the following elements:
- Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin: At the moment, it's head and shoulders above every other carb source. A lot of companies will use "lesser carbs" because they're cheaper and they can have a bigger profit margin, but they just don't work very well.
- The full amino acid spectrum and super-fast absorption: EAAs and BCAAs are fast, but lack the full spectrum of physiological benefits. Whey protein does have the full spectrum of amino acids, but it's not fast enough. You need di- and tri- peptides hydrolyzed from casein. They're superior because they're absorbed extremely quickly (they're already broken down, i.e., pre-digested).
- Science-tested ergogenic compounds: Betaine anhydrous and L-citrulline are well-known for making work "easier." The former increases endurance, along with muscle mass, while the latter reduces soreness by a significant degree, in addition to also increasing endurance.
- The proper combination of electrolytes: Lots of companies put a boatload of sodium in their supplement because it's great for feeling full and vascular. However, you also need other key electrolytes like potassium, calcium, and magnesium to optimize nutrient transport and muscle contraction.
Aside from Plazma™, there is no other product on the market that offers all of that. It's as simple as that.
- Shiraki T et al. Evaluation of Exercise Performance with the Intake of Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin in Athletes. Food Science and Technology Research. Volume 21 Issue 3 Pages 499-502.
- Wiernsperger NF. Is non-insulin dependent glucose uptake a therapeutic alternative? Part 1: physiology, mechanisms and role of non insulin-dependent glucose uptake in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes and Metabolism. 2005 Nov;31(5):415-426.