BIOLOGY BASICS: CHOLINE AND MUSCLE GROWTH. You may be wondering why choline has been added to almost every pre-workout supplement in recent years. If not, you are going to find out. The truth is that most so-called supplement formulators have no idea why choline is being used. They chalk it up to the classic usage of improving focus in the gym. Well, to all of you barracudas (the barracuda is a ray-finned fish that gets hypnotized, and follows, shiny objects), here is some information that you can use to justify your hefty price tags (you know who you are).

Listen up Barracudas, this is for you. Acetylcholine (ACh) is a neurotransmitter, chemical messenger, that is stored in the synaptic vesicles located in the nerve terminals. Acetylcholine is made from choline and acetate. Cofactor A and Choline bind to the enzyme Choline Acetyltransferase. A Cofactor is a non-protein chemical compound required for an enzyme to work. For instance, Choline Acetyltransferase facilitates the transfer of acetate to choline, making Acetylcholine. After the process is completed, Choline Acetyltransferase releases Acetylcholine and Cofactor A. Therefore, think of Choline Acetyltransferase as the hook-up spot where Choline and Acetate get it on. To all of you Barracudas, you are welcome.

That is the million-dollar question (like I’ve said before, I like classic clichés). Once Acetylcholine is made, it is stored in the synaptic vesicles. Input from the nervous system (you think about flexing your bicep) causes Acetylcholine to be released from the Synaptic End Bulb into the Synaptic Cleft. The Synaptic Cleft is the small space between two neurons, or between a neuron and target cell. In this case, we will be focusing on the Synaptic Cleft between a neuron and a muscle cell.

Muscle fibers have Nicotinic receptors located in their cell membranes. These receptor sites bind with Acetylcholine. When they bind to one another, the Nicotinic receptors change shape. Think of the Nicotinic receptors as doors to the muscle cell. Acetylcholine is the key. It opens the door and allows sodium to enter the cell. 

When sodium enters the cell through the Nicotinic receptor, it causes the muscle cell to depolarize. Muscle cells have a different charge inside, than what is outside of the cell. Depolarization is the reduction in the difference of charges inside and outside of the cell. Meanwhile, as the charges inside and outside of the cell become more alike, a different sodium channel is activated. More sodium is let into the cell. The excess sodium causes calcium ions inside of the muscle cell to be released from their storage sites. The calcium ions then activate a series of events that involve Troponin, Tropomyosin, and Myosin. These three substances cause the muscle fiber to contract (I will cover the biology of muscle contractions in a different article).

Not all Choline is created equal. The most common forms of Choline used in supplements are Choline Bitartrate, Citicoline (CDP-Choline), and L-Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha GPC). Both CDP and Alpha GPC are the preferred types of Choline. 

CDP breaks down into Choline and Cytidine. Cytidine converts into Uridine. Both Choline and Uridine have strong cognitive benefits. Alpha GPC is the type of Choline required for the brain. Alpha GPC is broken down into Choline and Glycerophosphate. It easily crosses the blood brain barrier and has a strong cognitive benefit. Glycerophosphate can help with the production of cellular membranes, however there is no evidence that it has cognitive benefits like Uridine.

And then there is the Barracuda’s favorite source of Choline. Choline Bitartrate, also known as Choline Salts. Choline Bitartrate is used in most Barracudas” formulas because it is cheap. That means higher profit margins for them, and less results for you. And to top it all off, it is only 41% choline by weight. You would be better off eating 3 egg yolks (one egg yolk has about 115mg of choline). See below for examples of Barracuda formulas.

 As you can see, the largest dose of Choline Bitartrate is 1g, or 410mg of actual Choline. However, you would get better results by eating 4 whole eggs.

Choline helps you build muscle by activating muscle contractions. The stronger the muscle contraction, the more weight you can lift. The more weight you can lift, the bigger, and stronger, your muscles will become. Most people (especially Barracudas) don’t know that your muscles’ nervous system grows faster, and before muscle tissue. Have you ever heard of Muscle Memory? The reason Muscle Memory works is because your nervous system doesn’t degrade as fast as your muscle tissue. You must grow more motor units before your body can grow new muscle fibers.

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