Big Muscles Are Not Just For Show...

Published on September 07, 2016 by Dr. NavNirat Nibber

Here at Dr. Nibber we talk about muscles a lot. We have talked about muscle recovery, sports endurance, training support etc. etc. The field of sports medicine changes so rapidly and really exemplifies the spirit of optimization and excellence that holistic medicine advocates. As a huge proponent of healthy, active, lifestyles it is interesting when research comes out that deals with optimizing the physiology of muscle growth and loss and how we can stimulate or block these pathways. 

Muscle Growth and Muscle Loss

Muscle loss (sarcopenia) occurs naturally with age, however the rate at which muscle is broken down can be influenced by a number of factors. Sarcopenia can affect the rate of bone loss and lead to osteopenia (bone loss). Resting muscles are also responsible for protein breakdown and synthesis, this refers to your basal metabolic rate (BMR), so if muscle mass decreases so will your BMR. This has consequences on the endocrine function, and can increase cardiovascular risk factors. Muscle loss can be slowed by resistance training exercises, which can cause micro-trauma that leads to the high energy process of muscle remodeling, thus increasing BMR. A higher BMR means a faster metabolism and you can burn more calories while resting.

On the other side of the coin, muscle enlargement can occur as a response to mechanical overload (as seen in resistance training exercises) and/or hormone stimulation via a complex signaling pathway called the insulin-like growth factor 1– phosphoinositide-3-kinase–Akt/protein kinase B–mammalian target of rapamycin (IGF1–PI3K–Akt/PKB–mTOR...try saying that 10 times fast!)

While complicated, this signaling pathway ultimately leads to an increase in muscle mass and associated increase in muscle strength. An opposing signaling pathway exists to cause muscle atrophy, or shrinking of fibers, leading to sarcopenia (reduced muscle mass). This pathway is called the myostatin-Smad2/3, and is a negative regulator of muscle mass. You can turn this muscle loss pathway on in a number of ways; the simplest is aging, but it will also turn on in starvation situations, cancers, diabetes, corticosteroid use, inactive lifestyles and loss of nerves in an area. The molecule follistatin, can stop myostatin from blocking muscle growth pathways, ultimately leading to an increase in muscle mass.


Epicatechins are a type of molecule called a flavonoid which is found in high concentrations in green tea (Camilla sinensis) and dark chocolate (Theobroma cacoa). Flavonoids are a group of molecules that are derived from plants and have a very distinctive structure which makes them very strong antioxidants and they can impact signaling systems.

The antioxidant effects of (-)-epicatechin have been well documented, (-)-epicatechin may also play a role in supporting the vasodilator, nitric oxide which explains the cardiovascular effects of this flavonoid. (-)-Epicatechin also supports strong and healthy muscles through a number of mechanisms. First it supports mitochondrial function in muscle cells, this helps the muscle maintain energy. Epicatechins also support the follistatin mediated inhibition of myostatin. It was found that not only did muscle mass increase but the grip strength of the muscle group also improved, meaning bigger and stronger muscles. Improving muscle mass has many potential benefits beyond the impressive physical physique. Increased muscle mass allows for increased strength, improved metabolism and joint support.

Wow that really is epic!