New research on a muscle-building protein might be key to fast-tracking fitness success, but can it really replace exercise?

By Lauren Mazzo
Updated: April 26, 2017
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Trainers, instructors, and dietitians love to say "there's no magic pill for success" when it comes to crushing your weight-loss or fitness goals. And they're right-but only for now.

New research shows that the suppression of a certain protein, myostatin, both enhances muscle mass and leads to significant improvements in heart and kidney health (at least in mice!), according to a study presented at the American Physiological Society's 2017 Experimental Biology meeting. Why that's huge: It means science is one step closer to creating an actual magic exercise pill (to the dismay of trainers everywhere).

Myostatin matters because it has a powerful effect on your ability to build muscle. People with more myostatin have less muscle mass, and people with less myostatin have more muscle mass. (ICYMI, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more cals you burn, even at rest.) Research shows that obese people produce more myostatin, making it harder to exercise and build muscle, sticking them in a kind of obesity downward spiral, according to the researchers. (But that doesn't mean they shouldn't get moving; any exercise at all is better than no exercise.)

In the study, researchers bred four different types of mice: lean and obese mice each with unlimited myostatin production, and lean and obese mice that didn't produce any myostatin. Both the lean and the obese mice that couldn't produce the protein developed more muscle, though the obese mice remained obese. However, the obese mice also showed cardiovascular and metabolic health markers that were on par with their lean counterparts and were much better off than the obese mice with more myostatin. So even though their fat levels didn't change, they had more muscle under the fat and didn't show some of the biggest risk factors of being obese. (Yes, being "fat but fit" is actually healthy.)

Harnessing the power of myostatin is important for more than just weight loss. These findings suggest that blocking the protein could be an effective way to fast-track the protective cardiovascular benefits of having more lean muscle mass (without having to actually build it at the gym), and prevent or even reverse (!!) obesity-related changes to your metabolism, kidney, and cardiovascular function. (Speaking of reversal, did you know HIIT is the ultimate workout for anti-aging?)

Obviously, popping a pill with these benefits won't give you *all* the perks that you get from a real sweat session. It won't increase your flexibility or zen the way yoga does, give you a nice runner's high, or leave you with that sense of empowerment you have after weightlifting. You sure as hell couldn't just pop some pills and expect to be able to run a marathon. Myostatin might help you build muscle, but training that muscle is a whole other thing. So, yeah, taking advantage of the new myostatin powerhouse via some sort of supplement might boost your workout results and help get obese individuals up and moving, but it'll never replace good old-fashioned hard work.

Even more reason to get to the gym: You can tap into the magic of myostatin without waiting for a groundbreaking pill. Studies show that both resistance and aerobic exercise may result in a significant decrease in myostatin in skeletal muscle. #SorryNotSorry-myostatin is officially off your list of reasons to skip the gym today.

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