You’ve likely heard of “yo-yo” weight loss—the issue that plagues many Americans who work hard to shed pounds, only to see them inevitably creep back on time after time. That stubborn fat just doesn’t seem to want to stay away for good.
But what if I told you that a similar mechanism exists for muscle mass?
Because that’s exactly what a new study published in Scientific Reports seems to conclude. From ScienceDaily:
A study led by researchers at Keele University has shown for the first time that human muscles possess a ‘memory’ of earlier growth—at the DNA level. Periods of skeletal muscle growth are ‘remembered’ by the genes in the muscle, helping them to grow larger later in life.
It’s “muscle memory” in the most literal sense. Here’s how the study worked:
Over a 22-week period, eight untrained males participated in a period of targeted resistance exercise, then a period of inactivity, then a second period of exercise. They found that the initial bout of resistance exercise resulted in genetic changes that persisted even as their muscle mass withered away during the period of activity, and those changes resulted in greater muscle growth than expected when they performed their second period of resistance exercise.
“In this study, we’ve demonstrated the genes in muscle become more untagged with this epigenetic information when it grows following exercise in earlier life, importantly these genes remain untagged even when we lose muscle again, but this untagging helps ‘switch’ the gene on to a greater extent and is associated with greater muscle growth in response to exercise in later life—demonstrating an epigenetic memory of earlier life muscle growth!” Dr. Adam Sharples, the senior author of the study, told ScienceDaily.
The takeaway: If you build muscle now, your muscle will maintain a memory of that muscle growth later in life. So if you return to training after a layoff, said muscle will grow bigger and stronger than it would had you never stimulated muscle growth at all.
The researchers also raised the ethical question of athletes who take illegal performance-enhancing drugs potentially receiving gains that extend far beyond the length of any penalty or ban they might face.
“If an elite athlete takes performance-enhancing drugs to put on muscle bulk, their muscle may retain a memory of this prior muscle growth. If the athlete is caught and given a ban—it may be the case that short bans are not adequate, as they may continue to be at an advantage over their competitors,” says Robert Seaborne, a PhD student who assisted on the study.
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