No news is more pleasing to a bodybuilder than hearing about a supplement that can help burn bodyfat while sparing lean muscle. Ever since a study performed several years ago at Bemidji State University in Minnesota showed purported ergogenic benefits of chromium in well-trained athletes, few supplements (except for, perhaps, creatine) have received as much popular press. Some say that many of the claims surrounding chromium are plain hype, but then again, this mineral does appear to be of benefit in certain populations. Remember, just because it may not work for you doesn't mean it won't work for anyone.
Chromium is a mineral that's vital for normal insulin function. Insulin, if you need reminding, is the anabolic hormone in the body, notwithstanding those of you who are big fans of testosterone. Some research (not all) has shown a favorable effect of chromium on risk factors related to cardiovascular disease. In addition, other evidence suggests a positive effect on body composition.
In a recent investigation conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, a group of healthy, sedentary, obese women was given either chromium picolinate or chromium nicotinate (200 mcg twice a day) for nine weeks, The subjects were divided into four groups: 1) chromium picolinate, 2) chromium picolinate with exercise, 3) chromium nicotinate with exercise, and 4) exercise Plus placebo. Twice-a-week exercise was extensive, involving step aerobics, cycling for 30 minutes and resistance training.
Supplementing with chromium picolinate resulted in statistically significant weight gain (+2.9%), caused by a gain in fat-free mass with a slight gain in fat mass.
Exercise plus chromium nicotinate caused a significant reduction in bodyfat (-1.6%) and a lowered insulin response to an oral glucose load. Exercise by itself or with chromium picolinate didn't significantly affect bodyweight, fat mass or fat-free-mass levels.
It's rather intriguing that chromium picolinate may cause weight gain without exercise. Although a 2.9% increase in weight over nine weeks may not seem like much, it would be quite noteworthy if it were entirely composed of muscle. The doses used here were twice the amount used in previous studies on women.
This is the first study to show that chromium nicotinate plus exercise can cause a significant decrease in bodyweight with a slight gain in muscle, but study authors didn't suggest a mechanism for this effect. Nonetheless, it would seem that giving chromium picolinate to healthy, obese women is contraindicated for weight loss. Using chromium nicotinate plus exercise, however, may increase the weight loss that normally occurs with regular exercise. So before you buy a bottle of chromium, ask yourself whether you're seeking weight loss or weight gain.