Many reviews conclude that metabolites play an important role with respect to muscle hypertrophy during resistance exercise, but their actual physiologic contribution remains unknown. Some have suggested that metabolites may work independently of muscle contraction, while others have suggested that metabolites may play a secondary role in their ability to augment muscle activation via inducing fatigue. Interestingly, the studies used as support for an anabolic role of metabolites use protocols that are not actually designed to test the importance of metabolites independent of muscle contraction. While there is some evidence in vitro that metabolites may induce muscle hypertrophy, the only study attempting to answer this question in humans found no added benefit of pooling metabolites within the muscle post-exercise. As load-induced muscle hypertrophy is thought to work via mechanotransduction (as opposed to being metabolically driven), it seems likely that metabolites simply augment muscle activation and cause the mechanotransduction cascade in a larger proportion of muscle fibers, thereby producing greater muscle growth. A sufficient time under tension also appears necessary, as measurable muscle growth is not observed after repeated maximal testing. Based on current evidence, it is our opinion that metabolites produced during resistance exercise do not have anabolic properties per se, but may be anabolic in their ability to augment muscle activation. Future studies are needed to compare protocols which produce similar levels of muscle activation, but differ in the magnitude of metabolites produced, or duration in which the exercised muscles are exposed to metabolites.
Keywords: Blood flow restriction; Fatigue; Lactate; Metabolic stress; Motor unit recruitment; Resistance training.