Want to know an interesting thing about the bodybuilding world?
It’s that even with everything we’ve learned about dieting, fats, and gut health, there still seems to be a strange loyalty to chicken breast & broccoli. I still hear trainers recommending low-fat diets that are insanely high in protein.
Now, I know every nostalgic Arnie fanboy has been influenced by this dogma in one way or another. But, I can promise you that among all of the bodybuilding secrets eating a low-fat diet is not one of them.
One of the best kept secrets, and likely most overlooked is something extremely simple yet extremely powerful – Vitamin A. However, you probably never read any magazine or heard any bodybuilder tout the muscle-building potency of Vitamin A.
And yet, this vitamin is key to building muscle and might just be the next game changer in your arsenal of gains-making tools. Vitamin A is critical for anabolism (muscle building) as well as testosterone and growth factor synthesis. One human study in particular discovered that the supplementation of vitamin A and iron achieved results similar to testosterone injections.
But, instead of recommending eating naturally vitamin A rich sources like beef liver or cod liver oil, your typical fitness “professional” is vying for a diet that is extremely high in protein. What they don’t realize is that very high protein diets actually deplete vitamin A stores. With this nonsensical advice still circulating the gyms, it makes you question whether bodybuilders and pro athletes who concede to anabolic steroid use could actually achieve similar results by eating a diet naturally high in Vitamin A.
Believe it or not, there is a bounty of research that points to vitamin A as a critical component in the the synthesis of testosterone in the body. Nutrition researcher Chris Masterjohn, phD says,
“Vitamin A crosses the blood-testis barrier in its alcohol form as retinol, where it is stored in the Sertoli cells and converted as needed to its more biologically active form, retinoic acid. Experiments with rats show that greater concentrations of vitamin A in the testes increase basal testosterone secretion, as well as transferrin, which is responsible for the transport of iron; and a variety of growth factors including IGF-binding protein 4 (which transports IGF), androgen-binding protein (which transports androgens), transforming growth factor-beta (which causes cell growth but suppresses cancer) and steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (which is responsible for the transport of cholesterol into the mitochondria for its conversion to steroids). Vitamin A also decreases estrogen production in the male testes. Rats that are deficient in vitamin A experience decreased testosterone until the accessory sex organs atrophy, indicating that vitamin A not only aids in, but is essential to, testosterone production.”
Another experiment performed on guinea pigs discovered a significant reduction in testosterone levels along with Vitamin A deficiency, which is in line the results of several studies performed with rats. One study performed with humans assessed the diets of 155 pairs of male twins. This study found a link between Vitamin A consumption and testosterone levels.
Probably the most interesting study was one done on 102 teenage boys with delayed puberty and shorter heights. In this study, the boys were divided into four groups: a testosterone-administered group, a vitamin A & iron administered group, a group that received both testosterone and nutritional support, and a control group.
With the exception of the control group, each treatment type was effective at triggering puberty and growth. But the most interesting finding was that the growth & puberty onset in the testosterone administered group was nearly the same as the Vitamin A treated group! In the testosterone treated group, puberty occurred within 9-12 months of treatment, and puberty onset occurred within 12 months in the Vitamin A treated group.
This study suggests that had these teenagers been provided a serving of beef liver weekly, which is naturally high in iron and Vitamin A, they may have been able to avoid their growth and puberty onset issues to begin with. It also begs the question, assuming the same level of training and work is put it, could athletes and bodybuilders obtain similar results from consuming cod liver oil and grass fed butter on a regular basis as those who supplement with common precursors to testosterone? The answer is likely, yes.
It was previously thought that as an androgen, testosterone may be involved in the formation of prostate cancer and other prostate issues. However, again, it seems Vitamin A is a governing factor. One study performed on rats had two groups: one administered testosterone and one administered testosterone plus large doses of Vitamin A, and both groups were given a carcinogen. In the group not given Vitamin A, 65% of them developed prostate cancer, whereas only approximately 18% of the Vitamin A treated group developed prostate cancer.
Eating more and more protein with Vitamin A is nonsensical as protein synthesis and utilization requires Vitamin A to be present. In many animal studies, Vitamin A levels in the liver become severely depleted by high protein intakes.
But Vitamin A is not only depleted by a high protein diet, it is also required for the creation of new proteins – which is likely your ultimate goal if you are seeking to gain muscle. In one study, rats fed diets lacking vitamin A would create new proteins at a much lower rate than those that received proper levels of Vitamin A. It has been established by research that cultured skeletal muscle cells increase the amount of protein per cell when adequate vitamins A and D are present. This is not the case, however, when Vitamin D was present without Vitamin A.
Why You Should Eat More Liver
If your goal is to gain muscle and strength, your diet should be focused on maximizing testosterone, growth factors, protein synthesis, and the utilization of protein by muscle cells.
However, most standard low-fat recommendations deplete Vitamin A levels which blunt your body’s anabolic processes. When you combine this with a diet high in protein, which depletes Vitamin A reserves, you get a winning combo for stagnancy and likely muscle loss.
The common heavy compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts are commonly recommended for gaining muscle because of their ability to trigger increases in testosterone, but the body cannot do this without adequate vitamin A.
It’s time to abolish the low-fat, lean meat, skim milk dogma, and adopt a diet proven by ancient wisdom which includes a diet consisting of pasture raised eggs, beef liver, cod liver oil, raw whole milk, butter from grass fed cows, and bone broth.
Some have been told to avoid cod liver oil consumption for risk of Vitamin A toxicity. However, the Merck Manual suggests otherwise saying Vitamin A toxicity is very rare. Basically, unless you are an Arctic explorer who is consuming several million units of vitamin A from polar bear or seal liver, you don’t have much to worry about.
And even in Arctic explorers, their adverse symptoms disappeared after cessation of the foods extremely high vitamin A. Besides this example, the only other scenario where Vitamin A toxicity would be a concern is if you were consuming 100,000 IU of synthetic Vitamin A per day for several months. Just to put that quantity into perspective, you’d have to eat 150 grams of beef liver, seven pounds of butter or 309 egg yolks to reach these levels.
So go ahead, have your liver and eat it too. If you’re training at a high intensity regularly your body not only needs more Vitamin A, but you should prefer it to biohack your way to faster, more natural gains.
Until next time,