Amino1 vs Gatorade – Can MusclePharm take on Sports Drinks?

For years, individuals close to the bodybuilding community and sports nutrition industry have known something that many others don’t:

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) have a multitude of benefits over what is offered by traditional sports drinks.

However, most casual gym-goers and high school / college athletes are completely unaware of these incredible supplements.

Amino1 RTD is ready to launch as of October 1, 2015. Stay tuned for price deals when it hits stores and online retailers!

Amino1 RTD is ready to launch as of October 1, 2015. Stay tuned for price deals when it hits stores and online retailers!

Sometime in 2015, they are releasing a ready-to-drink bottle of their amino acid supplement, Amino1, and are pointing their attack directly at Gatorade and Powerade, owned by PepsiCo ($PEP)[2] and Coca-Cola ($KO)[3], respectively.

Update, Sep 21, 2015: Musclepharm has announced that Amino1 RTD will launch on October 1, 2015. When it debuts, it will be available in one of three flavors: Lemon Lime, Fruit Punch, and Orange!

Update, Nov 1, 2014: Scivation may be beating MusclePharm to the punch — Xtend RTD has been announced!

Below, we discuss the challenges that MusclePharm faces, explore the benefits of BCAAs, dive into the Amino1 ingredient profile, and postulate where we see this ending.

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Quick Links

See the table of contents below to jump around this article, but first check out our system’s important links.

  • Get notifications on Amino1 at PricePlow!Go to our Muscle Pharm Amino1 page to sign up for notifications and compare prices.

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    MusclePharm’s History

    MusclePharm is an incredibly aggressive company that spares no expense when it comes to marketing.  They are relatively young, founded in 2006 by former NFL player Brad Pyatt.

    The company has operated as a massive loss-leader, sparing no expense when it comes to sponsoring athletes.  They sponsorships began with MMA fighters, but now features major stars in Colin Kaepernick and Tiger Woods as well.[4,5]  Meanwhile, they operated at a financial loss several years in a row.[6]

    Those risks have paid off, as MusclePharm is now valued at ~127 million dollars, and in 2014-Q1, they managed their first profitable quarter.[6]

    Costco and MusclePharm distribution

    One of the company’s biggest wins was their acceptance into Costco wholesale stores nationwide.[7]  The two products currently carried in Costco are Combat Powder (whey protein powder) and Amino1, dubbed “The Athlete’s Cocktail”, and the subject of this article.

    Amino1 samples are occasionally provided at select Costco centers, which further lay the groundwork for the next wave of attack:

    The sports drink market.

    MusclePharm on the attack: the Amino1 vs water and Gatorade study

    Yesterday, the first shots were fired: MusclePharm published a study and a press release titled “Amino1 Rehydrates Faster than Water and Gatorade”, which was covered by CNN Money.[8]

    No punches pulled here.  They don’t say “Amino1 beats traditional sports drinks.”  They say Gatorade right there in the title, big and bold.

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    This is what you can expect when an aggressive supplement company decides to come into your backyard and steal your girlfriend.  They come out swinging.  This industry does not pull punches.

    The full research study can be found in the Nutrition Journal, titled “An amino acid-electrolyte beverage may increase cellular rehydration relative to carbohydrate-electrolyte and flavored water beverages”.[9]

    This study compares the rehydration capabilities of the following:

    The drink contenders

    • Electrolyte-Carbohydrate (EC – ie. Gatorade)
    • Electrolyte-Branched chain amino acid (EA – ie. Amino1)
    • Flavored Water (FW -ie. Crystal Light, which turned out to be a mistake)

    The participants

    Can MusclePharm take on the Goliath? Image courtesy Jeff Bedford

    Can MusclePharm take on the Goliath? Image courtesy Jeff Bedford

    The researchers took ten men with the following stats:

    • 26.7 years old ± 4.8 standard deviation units
    • 5’8″ height, ± 2.5 standard deviation units
    • 163.6lbs, ± 10.9 standard deviation units

    …and ten women with the following stats:

    • 27.1 years old, ± 4.7 standard deviation units
    • 5’9″ height, ± 7.9 standard deviation units
    • 156.5lbs, ± 6.5 standard deviation units

    They were all trained athletes in endurance and resistance training (with at least a year of experience) and free of any major medical conditions.  And yes, on average, the women were taller than the men in this study.

    The methods

    The drink volumes of each beverage in the study

    The drink volumes of each beverage in the study

    They then dehydrated the participants (via treadmill exercise and sauna) until about 2% of their body weight was lost, which is the point at which athletic performance significantly declines.[10]

    The researchers then randomly provided one of the three beverages, and monitored them for three hours.

    To measure hydration, they collected the volume of urine and the urine’s specific gravity, and then compared it to their drink volume to assess overall fluid retention.

    Measurement timing

    Measurements were taken at the following times:

    1. Before dehydration began
    2. Immediately after dehydration (the time of 2% body weight loss), and
    3. 3 hours after rehydration, which was 4 hours after the aforementioned dehydration point.
    The 1 hour gap is for drinking

    Note that there’s a one hour “gap” in point three above – that was the subjects’ allotted drinking hour.  After that, the drinking stopped and the measurements began.

    Real world design

    The composition of each beverage

    The composition of each beverage

    A practical dosage was applied – one serving of each drink.  After that, the rest of a subject’s body weight was recovered via drinking water.

    While that may have confounded with results, it’s a realistic design, and is a normal way for athletes to replace their body weight.  After all, few athletes who lose 5 pounds of sweat will go and drink a pure 5 pounds of Gatorade.  They typically drink 1 or 2 Gatorades, and after that, they switch to water.

    The results

    The results weren’t a slam dunk, but are still very positive for Amino1 – especially given the additional benefits of the BCAAs, taurine, and other ingredients in Amino1, which aren’t covered by this study.

    It turns out that all three solutions “hydrated” the participants the same in terms of urination volume and fluid retention.  The amount of fluid-in vs. fluid-out was statistically the same between all three beverages.

    But there was a big difference: the quality of urine:

    The USG (urine specific gravity) of Amino1 drinks returned to normal far faster than the other drinks.

    Why is Specific Gravity of urine important?

    Specific gravity is a term used in several industries.  It basically means the ratio of any substance in water (be it the wort in beer or the waste molecules in urine).

    When it comes to specific gravity of urine, we’re measuring for clean urine – who can get back to baseline faster?

    Since overall fluid retention was the same in this study, but Amino1 drinkers’ urine returned to a normal state sooner, it led the researchers to believe that using Amino1 causes your body to fully complete the hydration process sooner than Gatorade or water.

    Amino1 vs. Gatorade - The differences are in the third bar for each drink, with AE (Amino1) back to normal faster

    Amino1 vs. Gatorade vs. Water – The differences are in the third bar for each drink, with AE (Amino1) back to normal faster

    They hypothesize that after the 3 hour re-hydration window, the water and sports drink users would have needed to continue urinating more to get back to their normal specific gravity, whereas the Amino1 users were already “stable” and could resume a normal urine and activity schedule.

    The data trends support that hypothesis – they noticed a trend that towards the end of the 3 hour window, Amino1 users were indeed urinating less.  Amino1’s process simply worked faster.

    While this is not a slam dunk win, it’s a win enough, and was enough for MusclePharm to fire the first shot in what may be an exciting marketing battle to come.

    Game on!

    The Crystal Light Mistake – water wasn’t supposed to perform so well!

    It turns out that Cyrstal Light is just as good as Gatorade in terms of hydration -- potentially due to its potassium content

    Surprise guys! Turns out I hydrate just as well as Gatorade. I got potassium, you know…

    One poor design decision in this experiment was the usage of Cyrstal Light as a flavored water source.

    The researchers did not get the hydration effects they expected from this solution.  Their “water” worked too well – it performed as good as Amino1 and Gatorade in terms of hydration volume speed!

    It turns out that Crystal Light also contains electrolytes – 121.3mg of potassium – which may have altered the expected results.  This was not ordinary water, and was an oversight when designing the study.

    So a freebie for Kraft Foods – their Crystal Light product worked just as well as Gatorade in basically all parameters measured.

    Competing interests

    The study was funded by MusclePharm and several of their employees were involved.  However, it seems to be a well-designed study, despite the mistakes above (which actually hurt MusclePharm’s results, if anything!)

    What’s next?

    Since Gatorade already sells in droves, there is no business reason for them to go out of their way to produce a more expensive product

    One issue I have with is that I quite honestly don’t care how “good” my urine is.  My urine could be bright rainbow colored and have a negative specific gravity for all I care, so long as I dominate my races.

    What we all care about is performance.

    We want to see what happens when you put these athletes on stationary bikes and make them pedal to exhaustion.  Rehydrate them and do it again, while measuring performance and all biological factors.

    This is a far more costly and time-consuming experiment, but MusclePharm can afford to do it and we hope they do so.  Given the plethora of benefits of the ingredients in their product, we’re pretty sure it’d provide them with the slam dunk they’re looking for.

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    Our take on where this goes

    We’ve been waiting for this for quite a while.  In fact, we even predicted that it would happen, as you can see below in a quick rant (and subsequent BB.com forum thread[11]) during one of our YouTube reviews:

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    We fully expect MusclePharm to turn up their marketing machine to new levels.  They will have to fight hard for refrigerator space, especially if they’re taking on Pepsi and friends.

    In the long run, we see this being a successful project, and believe it will cause three things to happen:

    1. The sports drink manufacturers will be forced to respond

      This industry does not pull punches.

      …most likely with a amino-infused product (which will likely be micro-dosed just for marketing purposes, but hopefully not).

      This would be just like when Gatorade added whey protein to their recovery line after protein supplementation hit the mainstream.  That decision upset the entire protein market then[28], and it will upset the entire amino acid market this time as well.

      Expect that in 2015 or 2016.

    2. MusclePharm will be poised for a major acquisition

      … or potentially even a hostile takeover if some industry behemoth cares to do so (and if it’s even possible – I haven’t done the research).

      The potential companies involved would obviously be Coca-Cola or Pepsi, if they deem it necessary to protect their turf.  But if Nestle or Kraft wanted to get involved in the ever-growing supplement industry, this could very well be their chance.

      A final play would be a Glanbia acquisition (they already own industry giants Optimum Nutrition and BSN), but at this point, I’m just speculating and throwing big names around.

    3. Someone is going to lose refrigerator space

      Pick your favorite trend that’s going downhill.  It will continue to do so, and this new technology of sports drinks (ie. one that actually works) will slowly take hold.

    Bet on MusclePharm?

    Regardless of whether or not the Amino1 RTD launch works out, we see MusclePharm as a strong-yet-still-risky investment.  They’re one of the bigger ships in an ever-rising tide, and are growing faster than anybody else.  However, they still have to prove that they can remain profitable.

    Two years ago, I would have told you that they’d either fail spectacularly or more likely get bought out by someone else.  Now, the chances of a spectacular failure don’t seem to be much in the cards.  They’re well over the IPO hump.

    It seems that the company will either continue to grow and bring supplements further into the mainstream, or they will be bought out and go the way of previous industry game-changers like EAS.

    Either way, that makes for good news to MSLP shareholders, and from a non-financial perspective, we deem this as a BUY that is worth a nugget of diversification in your portfolio.

    Disclaimer: I do not hold stock in MSLP and have no intention of doing so.  I am no longer in the stock market (I put all of my stock in my own business here with PricePlow).

    What are BCAAs?

    So what’s the big deal here, and what’s so good about Amino1?  It comes down to the primary ingredient – the BCAAs.

    The three Branched-Chain Amino Acids

    Leucine, Valine, and Isoleucine are the three BCAAs.

    Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that are not produced by the human body.

    Amino acids are the major building blocks of protein, which in turn is the major building block of muscle.  Since you can’t make them yourself, you need to ingest them, and that’s why they’re called essential amino acids.

    What we all care about is performance.

    The three BCAAs, but most notably leucine, are the most important aminos when it comes to muscle repair and growth.

    Most people get their amino acids via the proteins from food and occasional supplements.  Think steak, chicken, eggs, and some whey protein powder.  But in these foods, the amino acids are “peptide bonded”, and it takes time for your digestive system to break them down into their useful subcomponents.

    What if we need or want something easier or faster?  I don’t exactly feel like eating a steak in the middle of football practice, after all.

    The History of BCAA

    Decades ago, the sports nutrition industry realized that if you took the free-form version of these amino acids, which were not bound to any food, they’d get nearly instantly absorbed into the bloodstream and taken directly into the muscles, providing a plethora of benefits discussed below.

    But the free form aminos back then smelled quite bad – an odd combination of “stale”, “rotten”, and “bland”.  Companies could put them into capsules or tablets, but that doesn’t make for a helpful sports drink (or intra-workout drink, as the supplement industry calls it).

    Bad taste no more: Scivation Xtend to the rescue

    Scivation Xtend - The start of an athletic revolution

    Scivation Xtend – The start of an athletic revolution

    The taste/smell problem was first solved by Scivation, the company that brought BCAA supplements to the forefront of the bodybuilding and sports nutrition industries.  Their flagship product, Xtend, is a deliciously sweet drink powder mix that is still a top-seller amongst its amino acid peers.

    Following Scivation’s success with Xtend (which was spearheaded by then-CEO Marc Lobliner), there are now hundreds of these drinks on the market, each one providing its own add-on ingredients for additional benefits.  MusclePharm’s is Amino1.

    Over time, products like Xtend have inched closer and closer to the sports drink market, adding electrolytes, B vitamins, and a few other optional amino acids that have various endurance and recovery benefits that go beyond the sugar and electrolytes found in Gatorade and Powerade.

    So why haven’t we seen this before?  Why is MusclePharm the first to bottle them?

    Knowing that BCAA supplements could provide numerous benefits to athletes outside of the bodybuilding community, I’ve asked Mike McCandless, Scivation’s CEO, this exact question.

    The problem is stability in water:

    The reason bcaa’s RTD’s haven’t been made in efficacious doses is stability. We’ve worked on it for 18 months as a combo project with Glanbia.

    We know how long our version can stay shelf stable. Within 5 months I’ll know what it looks like 2 years post production. Most companies don’t care, but there are some of us that actually give a ****.[11]

    So Scivation is working with Glanbia (hugely well-funded) to solve the problem. MusclePharm, also well-funded, seems to have solved it as well.

    Meanwhile, these products are far more expensive to produce than your current Gatorade or Powerade.

    And since Gatorade already sells in droves, there is no business reason for them to go out of their way to produce a more expensive product… outside of providing their users with some actual benefits, but why would they bother doing that?

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    So next up, we need to discuss the BCAA benefits and what sports drink customers have been missing out on:

    The benefits of BCAAs and products like Amino1

    There are two major use-cases of taking a free-form amino acid based beverage like Amino1:

    Athletic endurance/recovery and dieting.

    Here are just a few of the major bullet points from well-performed research studies done on branched chain supplementation:

    1. Endurance and athletic performance

      1. Study 1: Maintain your muscle during bouts of hard exercise[12]

        “BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis; this suggests the possibility that BCAAs are a useful supplement in relation to exercise and sports.”

      2. Study 2: Decrease soreness and muscle fatigue the days after training[13]:

        The results obtained showed that BCAA supplementation prior to squat exercise decreased DOMS and muscle fatigue occurring for a few days after exercise. These findings suggest that BCAAs may be useful for muscle recovery following exercise.

      3. Study 3: Burn fat and maintain high performance[14]:

        BCAA supplementation (76% leucine) in combination with moderate energy restriction has been shown to induce significant and preferential losses of visceral adipose tissue and to allow maintenance of a high level of performance.

      4. Study 4: Endurance after muscle glycogen depletion[15]:

        BCAA supplementation increases resistance to fatigue and enhances lipid oxidation during exercise in glycogen-depleted subjects.

      It goes on and on – I could pull dozens of studies out like this, done on any type of athlete in nearly any environment.

      If this is the first time you’ve heard of this stuff, you might feel like you’ve been missing out.  The fact is, you have been!

    2. Weight Loss and Fat Burn

      MusclePharm also makes BCAA 3:1:2, a capsule form of these BCAAs.

      MusclePharm also makes BCAA 3:1:2, a capsule form of these BCAAs.

      Dieters should be especially interested in BCAA supplements.  First, some background:

      Regardless of your food intake, your body and brain prefer branched-chain amino acids to be readily available in order to perform optimally.

      When you’re in “normal” diet mode and consistently eating quality protein, carbs, and fats, you don’t need to worry so much about keeping supplemental amino acids in your bloodstream — they’re already there from your food!

      Catabolism – the breakdown of muscle tissue – especially during diets

      But when when you’re on a caloric deficit and working hard (ie. you’re on a diet), there’s a good chance that you don’t have enough of these aminos in your system.

      Guess where your body will get them from — your own muscles!

      This process is known as catabolism – the breakdown of muscle tissue.  It happens to all of us to a certain degree when working out, but it happens the worst when you don’t have the right aminos readily available in your bloodstream.

      Muscle tone is sexy and attractive, at least to the vast majority of us.  But when you don’t properly manage this process during a diet, you lose both fat and muscle.  This leads to the dreaded “skinny fat” syndrome, which is attractive to pretty much nobody.

      The solution:  drink BCAA supplements before and during long exercise bouts

      But now you’re smart, educated, and dieting with muscle in mind.  You take a BCAA supplement like Amino1 or Xtend.

      This time, when your brain requests some leucine, it doesn’t need to pull it out of your poor bicep – you already have the BCAAs in your bloodstream, ready to go!  And remember, because these amino acids are free-form, they require very little digestion, so it all happens fast.

      A couple of studies above back that up, but here are a couple more:

      1. Study 5: Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers[14]

        We conclude that under our experimental conditions, the combination of moderate energy restriction and BCAA supplementation induced significant and preferential losses of VAT, and allowed maintainance of a high level of performance.

        Note that these are elite wrestlers trying to burn fat and lose weight — not the “beginner gains” that many supplement studies abuse.

      2. Study 6: Consuming a supplement containing branched-chain amino acids during a resistance-training program increases lean mass, muscle strength and fat loss[15]

        BCAA group decreased their percent body fat significantly more than the whey group and the carbohydrate group.

        The above study was performed by industry expert Jim Stoppani, who is also working in is his own way to bring more BCAAs to athletes with his Pre-JYM pre workout supplement.[16]

      These is on top of studies 3 and four listed in the athletic performance section above.

    3. Fasted Workouts – The third use case

      MusclePharm Amino1

      Check out the original Amino1 Powder drink mix above, and sign up for price alerts to get notified of the RTD!

      Some people, even if they’re not on a “diet”, simply prefer to work out early in the morning on an empty stomach.  This is known as fasted training, and it’s great for burning fat. But it’s also great for burning muscle, which, once again, is exactly what we don’t want.

      Supplementing BCAAs first thing in the morning and during fasted training highly prevents this catabolic, muscle-burning activity, so it’s a third use-case for products like Amino1 – even if you planned on eating a ton of protein later on.

      In addition, there are a plethora of other athletic benefits from the other ingredients in Amino1, such as taurine’s cell-hydrating capabilities that go beyond electrolytes.

    On a personal note

    I’m a competitive swimmer, having raced several long-distance ocean swims as well as your standard swim meets and sprint triathlons.  I’ve had hard workouts with and without BCAAs.  The difference is noticeable.

    I’m not above the placebo effect, but after you’ve been competing in a sport for over 25 years, you get pretty well-tuned to your capabilities.

    It’s easy for me to see that I am a better athlete with BCAAs than without them, yet I still struggle to understand why a triathlete will spend $8000 on a bicycle but won’t spend $20 on a tub of branched-chains that have a bedrock of quality research beneath them.

    Side effects of BCAAs?

    BCAAs provide extremely limited amounts of side effects.  In fact, it’s difficult to find any study where side effects were reported.

    Even in the cases of using BCAAs with critically and terminally ill patients, there were no side effects, complications, or adverse events found from BCAA supplementation – even in high doses.[24,25]

    The Amino1 (Powdered) Ingredients

    As of right now, we don’t know what’s going to be in the Amino1 ready-to-drink bottle.

    But we can get a rough estimate from the regular Amino1 powder ingredients.  In each serving you get:

    • 3g of BCAAs, consisting of 1.5g leucine, 500mg of isoleucine, and 1000mg valine.

      Note that most BCAA supplements like Scivation Xtend contain 5g BCAA per serving, but Amino1 opts for less and has a bigger supporting cast of ingredients listed below.

    • The “Cellular Energy & ATP Fueler” proprietary blend, consisting of:

      • L-Glycine, an amino acid / neurotransmitter that boosts cognition at higher dosages, but is effectively useless in our case;
      • L-Alanine, an amino acid that plays a key role with glucose activity in the muscle;
      • Citrulline malate, a known nitric oxide booster, cardiovascular system supporter, and muscle performance enhancer;[17]
      • L-Carnitine L-Tartrate, the preferred form of carnitine for muscle recovery;[18]
      • CoQ10, another well-known cardiovascular system supporter;[19]
    • The “Amino Hydrate System” proprietary blend, consisting of:

      • L-Taurine, well-known for its “osmoregulation” / hydration properties that works alongside the sodium electrolyte;[20]
      • Coconut Water Powder, the primary source of natural electrolytes.  Coconut water is well-known for its hydrating capabilities;[21]
      • Beet root extract containing betaine nitrate.

        Both betaine and nitrates have been exciting to athletes lately, with more and more well-performed studies on trained athletes proving their efficacy;[22]

      • Goldenseal root, which contains berberine, an incredible effect on blood glucose metabolism;[23]

      • Sarsaparilla root

      • Silppery elm bark

      • Additional flavors, sweeteners, B-vitamins, and electrolytes to cover what the coconut water powder doesn’t.

    Again, we’re not sure if the RTD version will have the same amount, but we can update this when the label is released.

    Conclusion

    First shots have been fired.  As such a dominant player in the market, Gatorade does not yet need to respond, nor do we expect them to.  We do, however, expect more to come from MusclePharm this year, as they prepare for a massive battle in 2015.

    If this is your first time hearing about branched chain amino acids, it will not be your last.  Whether Coca-Cola and Pepsi like it or not, they are coming to a sports drink near you.  It is only a matter of time.

    Sports drink manufacturers have not seriously innovated for decades.  If anything, they have stifled innovation.  Over the next few years, they will be given two options: adapt or lose marketshare and play catch-up later.

    A changing of the guard is slowly happening, and the pieces are coming into place.

    What will MusclePharm’s next move be?

    Stay tuned below to find out:

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    References

    1. https://www.google.com/finance?q=MSLP
    2. https://www.google.com/finance?q=PEP
    3. https://www.google.com/finance?q=KO
    4. MusclePharm Now Sponsoring San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, PricePlow, April 13, 2013
    5. http://espn.go.com/golf/story/_/id/11102091/tiger-woods-musclepharm-strike-endorsement-deal
    6. https://www.google.com/finance?q=OTCMKTS%3AMSLP&fstype=ii
    7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a2-1V2AXes
    8. http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/marketwire/1129820.htm
    9. http://www.nutritionj.com/content/13/1/47
    10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17921463
    11. http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=160213431
    12. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/134/6/1583S.short
    13. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/2/529S.short
    14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9059905
    15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3313152/
    16. JYM Pre-JYM
    17. Citrulline Malate
    18. L-Carnitine L-Tartrate
    19. CoQ10
    20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15018993
    21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12056182
    22. New Betaine Research on TRAINED Athletes
    23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23118793
    24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6413133
    25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1419824/
    26. https://twitter.com/BradPyatt/status/486860983734763521
    27. http://www.stack3d.com/2014/07/muscle-pharm-amino1-rtd.html
    28. Protein shortage / huge increase in price coming?; Laxter (quoting BK); Bodybuilding.com Forums; June 18, 2014
    Posted in by Mike | Tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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