When it comes to designing a nutrition plan for athletes, my research supported by independent research has determined that there are different protein requirements for different athletically conditioned people.
Therefore, it is important to know about protein, as this is the major macronutrient needed for muscle growth and maintenance. It will also introduce you to some of the amino acids that have been shown to enhance athletic performance and have other functions in the body.
| What Are Macronutrients And Micronutrients?
The four macronutrients are protein (source of amino acids), carbohydrates, lipids (fats), and water - all of which you need in plentiful (hence the term 'macro') amounts each day.
Micronutrients - mainly vitamins and minerals - are needed in relatively small amounts (hence 'micro'), and have been shown to be essential to growth and development, and for good health and winning athletic performance.
[ Q ] What are protein and amino acids?
A: Protein is an essential macronutrient, which means that you must take in adequate amounts of it through your diet for continued health. In fact, it is the basic component of all living cells and can be found in virtually every part of your body, including your muscle tissues.
This nutrient provides your body with the raw material it needs - in the form of amino acids - for tissue growth, repair, and maintenance. Protein is also vital to the creation of biomolecules, such as hormones and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) - the molecule that stores your genetic code.
Also referred to as polypeptides, proteins contain anywhere from less than a dozen to over a hundred amino-acid molecules. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They are linked together by a chemical bond, known as a peptide bond. Although many amino acids exist in nature, twenty-two are considered biologically significant.
Some amino acids play important metabolic roles as precursors, or starting materials, of other molecules and act as intermediates, or go-betweens, in some metabolic pathways - a sequence of metabolic reactions. For example, some amino acids are important in the urea cycle, which is the pathway responsible for clearing nitrogen waste from the body.
| What Is Urea And The Urea Cycle?
Urea is the chief nitrogenous waste in mammals. Most of our nitrogenous waste comes from the breakdown of amino acids, through a process called deamination. Deamination of amino acids results in the production of ammonia (NH3).
Ammonia is an extremely toxic base and accumulation of it in the body would quickly be fatal. The liver, however, contains a system which quickly converts the ammonia (and carbon dioxide) into urea. This is called the Urea Cycle. Although our bodies cannot tolerate high concentrations of urea, it is much less poisonous than ammonia. Urea is then removed efficiently by the kidneys.
Other amino acids are important precursors of some neurotransmitters (chemical substances that help transmit nerve impulses throughout the body).
Your body needs amino acids for the formation of enzymes (catalysts, or starters, of different biochemical reactions), such as energy production. Researchers estimate that 10 percent or more of an athlete's energy production can come from amino acids. Apparently, as your muscles become better conditioned, and you undergo one to several hours of physical training each day, your body will use more amino acids for energy production during exercise and even at rest.
[ Q ] What are the different types of amino acids?
A: The essential amino acids, the amino acids that your body cannot manufacture and therefore need to be ingested, are:
Nonessential amino acids are amino acids that the body can manufacture on its own. However, it is still important to ingest nonessential amino acids from dietary sources and spare the supply of essential amino acids for other functions.
Some of the nutritionally important nonessential amino acids include:
- Aspartic acid
- Hydroxyglutamic acid
- Glutamic acid
[ Q ] Are there certain amino acids that my body is more likely to use as energy?
A: The three branched-chain amino acids (BCAA's), including isoleucine, leucine, and valine - which also happen to be essential amino acids - are the preferred group of amino acids for energy use. Scientific research has concluded that the body uses all three of these branched-chain amino acids for energy during exercise as well as during rest, but uses leucine most often.
When selecting your protein and amino acid supplements, make sure they supply a plentiful amount of the branched-chain amino acids, as well as the other essential and nonessential amino acids. Some products will provide a complete listing of the amino acid profile per serving.
Shopping around for a protein/amino acid supplement that suits your particular needs and budget may take a while; however, when you find the product that works best with your metabolism, you will be rewarded with many beneficial health and performance effects.
[ Q ] What do the letters D and L mean when they appear before the name of an amino acid?
A: Most amino acids occur in two forms, which are mirror images of each other. Chemists refer to them as isomers. The letters D and L distinguish between these mirror image forms. In general, the L form of an amino acid is more compatible with human biochemistry and is usually the only form that should be ingested.
| Don't All Amino Acids Start With The Prefix "L-" ?
No. Almost every amino acid occurs in two forms, L and D. The L- and D- forms of amino acids are molecular mirror images (i.e., stereoisomers called chiral enantiomers) of each other. In addition, DL forms do exist (combinations of the two, called racemic mixtures).
"Chirality" describes the "lefthanded/righthanded-ness" of a molecule that is observable by the ability of a molecule to rotate a plane of polarized light either to the left (Levorotatory) or to the right (Dextrorotatory) - hence the letters L & D.
All of the alpha amino acids in proteins are "left-handed". Therefore, they are all L-amino acids. D-amino acids are never found in proteins, but they do exist in other places in the body, in foods, in antibiotics, in other plants and animals, etc.
L-form amino acids are usually tasteless, whereas D-forms tend to taste sweet. For example, spearmint gum and caraway seeds, respectively, contain L-Carvone and D-Carvone. These smell different because our taste receptors contain chiral molecules which behave differently in the presence of enantiomers.
The D form should be avoided except in a few instances. For example, the D and L forms of the amino acids phenylalanine and methionine are biologically active, meaning that they can be used by the body. Finally, it's interesting to note that one common amino acid, glycine, does not have an isomer form. Thus, you will never see an L or D listed before its name.
[ Q ] How is adequate protein intake determined?
A: In addition to the molecules of carbon and hydrogen that are common to all organic molecules, amino acids contain nitrogen as part of their molecular structure.
Researchers can determine if protein intake is adequate by looking at how different diet compositions of the macronutrients affect nitrogen balance in your body. (Specifically, nitrogen balance refers to the condition in which the amount of dietary nitrogen taken in is equal to the amount of nitrogen excreted.) In order to achieve a positive nitrogen balance, you must take in more nitrogen than your body excretes.
| What Does "Nitrogen Balance" Refer To?
The difference between the amount of nitrogen taken in and the amount excreted or lost. If you excrete more nitrogen than you consume, your body will break down muscle tissue to get the nitrogen it needs (negative nitrogen state). Thus, muscle loss occurs. If, however, you consume more nitrogen than you excrete, you will be in an anabolic (muscle building) state (positive nitrogen state).
There is a home testing system, created by Robert Fritz and marketed under the name NitroStix that measures nitrogen balance to determine if your protein intake is sufficient. Use of these diagnostic sticks can also help you determine how other factors - training intensity and duration, and carbohydrate, lipid, and caloric intake - affect your nitrogen balance.
A positive nitrogen balance indicates maintenance and potential growth of body tissues. A negative balance may indicate that your protein intake is inadequate and that your body is experiencing a net loss of muscle tissue.
[ Q ] Based on nitrogen balance research, other studies and evidence, do athletes need more protein then non-athletes?
A: Yes, athletes need more than double the amount of protein that is recommended for non-athletes. In fact, even non-athletes need more protein then recommended by the conservatively low Dietary Reference Intakes, which are mistakenly determined by national average intake surveys, versus a performance nutrition approach based on what a person actually needs to be their healthiest for peak physical and mental performance.
Additionally, different types of athletes need different amounts of protein. For example, endurance athletes generally require much more protein then non-athletes, but less then larger strength athletes.
Strength athletes have additional protein requirements due to their large amount of type II muscle fibers, which tend to be big and strong, but break down more easily then the type I slow-twitch muscle fibers. Furthermore, strength athletes training to increase muscle mass and strength require even more protein to best accomplish this.
While nitrogen balance studies are a good indication of attaining a minimum beneficial protein intake status, just achieving positive nitrogen balance is not necessarily the best amount for optimum daily protein intake or performance daily protein intake. Your body uses protein/amino acids for many functions in addition to tissue growth and repair.
The most recent research studies provide insights about high protein intake, that demonstrate that extra protein helps produce important serum proteins, and also peptide hormones like IGF, insulin, and growth hormone (HGH).
| What Is HGH, And How Does It Relate To IGF-1?
HGH stands for Human Growth Hormone (also known as Somatotropin), an amino acid produced in the pituitary gland of the brain. HGH plays an important role in human development by affecting skeletal growth.
HGH levels are high during childhood, and peak at adolescence. During puberty, HGH levels determine height and bone size. After puberty, HGH levels start to decline, and by age 61 decrease to 20% of what they were at age 21.
HGH is continually produced throughout the human lifecycle, and continues to regulate the body's metabolism. HGH is carried into the liver and partially converted into IGF-1 (see below).
| What Are IGF-1, Somatomedin C, And NSILA?
IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) was known as "Nonsuppressible Insulin-Like Activity" (NSILA) in the 1970s, and as "Somatomedin C" in the 1980s.
IGF-1 is a protein hormone similar in molecular structure to insulin. IGF-1 plays an important role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults.
IGF-1 is produced by the liver upon stimulation by HGH (human growth hormone, see above), and stimulates and regulates cell growth and multiplication in bones, cartilage, and nerve cells, among other things.
The higher protein diets also resulted in healthier cholesterol levels, and other indicators of good health. Amino acids are involved in many important functions throughout the body, including the nervous system.
| The Central Nervous System.
The human central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. These lie in the midline of the body and are protected by the skull and vertebrae respectively.
This collection of billions of neurons is arguably the most complex object known.
The central nervous system along with the peripheral nervous system comprise a primary division of controls that command all physical activities of a human.
Neurons of the central nervous system affect consciousness and mental activity while spinal extensions of central nervous system neuron pathways affect skeletal muscles and organs in the body.
So based on the total evidence approach (comprehensive review of the scientific/medical studies, case studies, and observations with athletes), extra protein is indicated for all athletes, and even higher amounts of protein for strength athletes.
The range of protein intake for athletes in training and during the season is generally 15% to 30% of total daily calories, depending on the bioenergetics of the particular sport the athlete is involved in; for example, as a general rule, up to 30% for strength sport athletes, between 15% to 30% for multi bioenergetic athletes, and 15% for some long distance athletes.
Refer to the sports specific nutrition and supplement articles for more information about protein requirements for different sports. The quality of the protein being consumed is also important, in addition to total daily protein intake. Keep in mind that all these guidelines acknowledge that certain individuals may need to make minor adjustments to best suit their needs.
This is why it is important to work with training health care professionals to perfect your training, nutrition and supplement programs for best results.
Some additional considerations related to this topic of extra protein intake need to be kept in mind. For example, water intake requirement is increased with higher protein diets. Also, maintaining intake of all the essential vitamins and minerals is important, especially calcium, as there is some evidence that extra protein intake slightly increases the need for extra calcium intake.
[ Q ] How can I tell if a protein is high quality or low quality?
A: Scientists have developed a few techniques and rating systems that are helpful in determining the quality of a particular protein. Whether a protein can be turned into tissues for growth and development is the most basic criteria of quality.
When scientists discovered that some amino acids are essential and some are nonessential, they tried applying this concept to the different dietary proteins. Hence, the earliest protein rating system rates a protein on whether or not it is complete or incomplete.
A complete protein has adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids needed for normal growth and development. An incomplete protein may be deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids. An essential amino acid deficiency in the body can result in abnormal growth and development.
There are other rating systems that attempt to more accurately rate how much of a protein's amino acids are absorbed and turned into tissues and biomolecules. These include the protein efficiency ratio (PER), biological value (BV), and the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS).
An important point to keep in mind with all of these protein-quality rating systems is that they are derived using animal models. This does not mean that these tests are useless, but they do not tell the whole story as far as human nutrition is concerned.
[ Q ] What proteins are considered high quality?
A: All of the protein quality-rating systems demonstrate that the following proteins are high quality:
- whey protein isolates and concentrates,
- and egg-white protein.
(Whey and casein are both produced from milk.) Soy protein, which used to be considered incomplete by some rating systems, has recently been reevaluated using the PDCAAS system. (Soy protein will be covered in the next question and answer.)
Casein and egg proteins are high-quality proteins with a long track record of use in foods and supplements, but whey protein supplements are currently among the most popular and most researched of the sports nutrition supplements. In addition to stimulating muscle growth, whey protein has been reported to increase the production of protein and glutathione - the body's primary antioxidant enzyme, and to enhance the immune system.
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Whey protein contains the essential and nonessential amino acids and is also high in the beneficial branched-chain amino acids and may stimulate the anabolic hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1); a factor that is involved in muscle growth and maintenance.
The most current research indicates that whey protein isolate, which is fortified with extra leucine is the most beneficial for bodybuilders and other strength athletes. Also at the top of the list is whey protein isolate, followed by whey protein concentrate.
When it comes to getting the most from your sports supplements, it becomes a matter of how much a month you can spend. You can easily spend $125 to over $200 per month on sports supplements. The more high quality sports supplements you take, the better your results will be along with effective training and nutrition programs. Everything has to work together for winning results.
[ Q ] What are the health benefits of soy protein?
A: The consumption of soy protein products benefits gastrointestinal health and help maintain healthy blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A benefit of reducing blood cholesterol levels is better circulation. This is important for general health, but also for the efficient exchange of oxygen and nutrients to exercising muscle tissues, and the clearance of metabolic waste products.
Other health benefits reported from soy protein intake include reduction of heart disease, reduced risk of developing certain cancers, reduced incidence of osteoporosis, and improved kidney function. For women, soy protein can help manage menopausal symptoms, as well as the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). However, even if you include soy protein in your diet, these health benefits can only be achieved if you also maintain a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol, while high in fiber, fruit and vegetables.
In addition to the above health benefits, research indicates that soy protein offers athletes some distinctive health benefits. For example, a research study using a special isolated soy protein called Supro was conducted in 1992 by researcher I. Dragan and coworkers.
They performed a clinical study on forty-five male and twenty-one female Rumanian endurance athletes engaged in Olympic rowing events to examine the biological effects of soy protein on certain physical and biochemical characteristics. In addition to their daily diet, the athletes were given Supro at the rate of 1.5 g per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day for eight weeks.
The control group did not receive any soy protein supplement. At the conclusion of the twelve-week study, the athletes taking Supro every day showed an increase in their lean body mass and reduced body-fat levels. In addition, the soy protein group had more hemoglobin in their blood - meaning there was an increased ability for the blood to carry oxygen to the cells.
The soy group also experienced a decrease in fatigue after training sessions. There was also a decline in the urine excretion of certain proteins that in higher levels can indicate kidney stress. Moreover, no adverse effects or side effects were noted and Supro was well-tolerated.
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Other studies using soy protein on different groups of athletes have reported similar results. However, keep in mind that for people who are training for maximum gains in muscle mass and strength, the whey proteins previously discussed would be up on the top of the list during periods of pre-competition and competition training.
[ Q ] What are good sources of high quality protein?
A: Good sources of high quality protein include:
- whole eggs or egg whites ,
- lean cuts of meat,
- low-fat dairy products,
- high protein nutrition supplement bars,
- protein supplement drinks containing whey protein isolate fortified with leucine and other amino acids and nutrients,
- whey protein isolate,
- and whey protein concentrate.
If you choose soy protein-containing products, look for either sole source or a combination of the high quality proteins and clinically tested soy protein isolates, such as Supro.
Another thing to remember when selecting a protein product is that it is a good idea to ingest some lipids (fats and oils) along with the protein. The reason for this is that lipids help with the digestion of amino acids. Therefore, eating pure fat-free protein like egg whites or fat-free and carbohydrate-free protein supplements may not be the most efficient way to ingest your protein sources all of the time.
[ Q ] What effect does the amino acid glutamine have on athletic performance?
A: Because of its beneficial effects on athletic performance, healing, and the immune system, L-glutamine, one of the major amino acids found in the body, is among the most studied amino acids. One interesting role attributed to glutamine is its anti-catabolic effect, which protects muscle breakdown during times of exercise-induced stress.
Glutamine does this by suppressing the rise in the hormone cortisol, which can contribute to breaking down muscle tissue and other body components. Therefore, glutamine plays a dual role in muscle building: one in protein synthesis, and the other in decreasing protein breakdown in skeletal muscle.
Glutamine is also vital to immune system function, and is required for cellular replication of immune system components. In addition, a recent article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that a study using 2 g of L-glutamine increased the levels of growth hormone in study subjects within thirty minutes and elevated the level of plasma bicarbonate, which increased the buffering capacity of the body fluids.
Other functions of glutamine include: muscle sparing effect; gluconeogenesis; fatty acid synthesis; glucosamine synthesis; regulator of protein synthesis.
| What Is Gluconeogenesis?
Gluconeogenesis (or glyconeogenesis) is the formation of glucose from noncarbohydrate sources such as amino acids and the glycerol portion of fats.
All athletes, especially strength and power athletes, can benefit from these additional effects of L-glutamine supplements. The best recommendation at this time would be to keep extra supplement glutamine intake from the free form glutamine supplements to around 1 to 2 g per day.
Higher dosages (over 2 g and up to 5 g per day) can be used during periods of high intensity training that usually occur in the preseason and athletic season. Keep in mind that there is some glutamine that is naturally occurring in all proteins, so the supplemental amount of extra glutamine does not have to be too much if your total protein intake is correct. Larger strength athletes may benefit from additional glutamine supplementation during periods of intensive training and competition.
All-in-one bodybuilding and strength athlete formulas contain the extra glutamine you need along with all the other research-proven muscle building and strength performance enhancing ingredients in one custom-made formula. Higher Power Glutamine is an excellent choice to include when you are making your own sports supplements combinations.
[ Q ] What are the benefits of taking gelatin (hydrolyzed collagen) supplement products?
A: Although gelatin is considered an incomplete protein, it does contain high amounts of two amino acids, proline and hydroxyproline, that are important to the formation, maintenance, and repair of connective tissues. There are some recent studies showing that taking hydrolyzed gelatin products, high in these two amino acids, can increase the growth and size of connective tissues.
A study was conducted using athletes taking hydrolyzed gelatin/collagen in addition to micronutrients, such as magnesium and B vitamins. The results showed an increase in connective tissue mass. This could be of significance to athletes because it is probable that athletic training, especially with weights, stimulates the skeletal muscle system to increase in size and strength quicker than connective tissues.
This disproportionate development could lead to the muscles overpowering the very connective tissues that anchor them together. If you are prone to connective tissue injuries, or if you are recovering from one, including a hydrolyzed gelatin supplement in your sports nutrition program can have beneficial effects.
High quality hydrolyzed gelatin/collagen is also rich in the amino acid glycine, which amount other functions, can help boost natural growth hormone levels and other anabolic processes in the body.
| What Does Anabolic Mean?
Anabolic refers to the metabolic process that is characterized by molecular growth, such as the increase of muscle mass. Thus, it means "muscle-building" in most common bodybuilding contexts.
[ Q ] Are there any amino acids that can help with injury repair and pain relief?
A: First, eating correctly and ingesting adequate amounts of all of the essential nutrients is important for injury prevention and repair. In addition to this, the amino acid phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that has many functions in the body.
For example, phenylalanine is a precursor or starting material, of several important metabolites such as the skin pigment melanin and several catecholamine neurotransmitters, including epinephrine and norepinephrine. Catecholamine neurotransmitters are important in memory, learning, locomotion, sex drive, tissue growth and repair, immune system function, and appetite control.
Supplements containing both the D- and L-phenylalanine forms help control pain, as reported in clinical studies. This could be of interest to athletes who suffer from acute or chronic pain from injuries. The dosage of phenylalanine that has been shown to be effective for pain management ranges from 500 to 1,500 mg per day.
Scientists determined that DL phenylalanine can help protect endorphins, the body's pain control substances, from destruction, thereby allowing them to distribute pain relief for longer periods. These naturally occurring endorphins are a thousand times more powerful than morphine (a potent analgesic). This means that a very small amount of endorphins can go a long way in pain control.
A word of caution: When taking DL phenylalanine or any isolated, or individual, amino acid formula, it is best not to take very large doses over 6 g, especially if you are undergoing weight loss, strenuous training, or using phenylalanine for injury recovery. In these instances, you should use amino acids only under the supervision of a medical doctor.
An additional word of caution: People with a condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU) should not take any supplements containing DL phenylalanine because they have problems metabolizing this amino acid.
Additional Information About Protein & Amino Acids
mTOR: Unlocking The Secret Of Protein Synthesis
My search for anabolic truth started over 3 decades ago. Like you, I was training hard and long hours to build muscle and strength, and wanted to do my nutrition right for maximum results.
This was back in the days when attention was becoming more focused on anabolic steroids. But not wanting to turn to drugs to reach these goals, my focus was and still is on determining how the body works, then based on what the body needs, designing an exercise and nutrition plan that works best to get the body to respond in that direction.
I always thought that turning on the power of the trillions of cells and thousands of biochemical pathways that make up the body was more involved then just taking a drug or two. Imagine what effects you can elicit in your body by making these trillions of cells and biochemical pathways work to achieve your bodybuilding goals.
This is what the science of bodybuilding training nutrition is really about. This approach goes way beyond steroids, and is healthier for you too.
During my search for anabolic truth, a few times each decade, major discoveries are made that reveal the marvelous inner workings of the human body. In the past few years such a major discovery has been made in providing vital insights to protein synthesis and muscle growth.
While the details on this biochemical pathway are still being sorted out, one thing is certain: a key player in the regulation of protein synthesis is certain amino acids. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense, as amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and other biochemicals.
If they are present in the body in adequate amounts, then the body's mechanisms would be activated to build tissues. When amino acid intake is deficient, then it would follow that protein synthesis would suffer.
The biochemical pathway I want to review with you in this article is called "mTOR", which stands for Mammalian Target Of Rapamycin. How it got this name is not as interesting as what discovery it lead to concerning amino acids. There many amino acids, all having different functions, most having multiple functions.
| What Does "mTOR" Stand For?
"mTOR" stands for Mammalian Target of Rapamycin, one of the body's protein synthesis regulators, energy sensors, and nutrient sensors of amino acid availability, specifically of leucine. mTOR is activated when ATP levels are high, and blocked when ATP levels are decreased. mTOR activation is vital for skeletal muscle hypertrophy.
Early in my research and product development efforts, the group of amino acids referred to as BCAA's caught my special attention. Why? Because early on it was realized that these BCAA's could be used for energy as well as for anabolic processes.
Logic would dictate that a nutrition plan which compensates for this non-anabolic use of BCAA's would result in maintaining positive nitrogen balance, as well as increasing the rate of protein synthesis.
The mTOR pathway discovery and other research has supported that this logic is correct. The reality being that amino acids are not only building blocks of proteins, but they are also involved in providing nutritional signals to activate translation initiation and protein synthesis.
As an aside, this quick take home lesson supports the bodybuilding eating approach of spreading out nutrient intake over several meals/snacks per day.
As it turns out, this protein synthesis biochemical pathway was not discovered by exercise physiologists experimenting on making the best muscle building discovery. It was almost by accident that the mTOR discovery was made, at least as far as how it relates to its role in protein synthesis; research in the field of microbiology that lead to this important discovery.
As previously mentioned, mTOR stands for Mammalian Target Of Rapamycin. Rapamycin is a drug that is actually manufactured by a microorganism called Streptomyces hygroscopicus, which lives in the soil. What attracted the attention of the medical community was that researchers observed S. hygroscopicus secreted something that inhibited the growth of another microbe, Candida albicans.
So, the original use of rapamycin was thought to be potentially as an antibiotic. But, upon clinical study, researchers found that rapamycin had potent undesirable immunosuppressive activities, which made it unsuitable for use as an antibiotic drug for humans. However, due to rapamycin's effects it is being used on a limited basis in other medical applications, but that's another story.
During the course of all this early research to determine what it was about rapamycin that made it inhibit the growth of certain microbes, scientists found that it blocked the activity of a substance that was involved in controlling cell growth and protein synthesis, this the name mammalian target of rapamycin. The mTOR molecule is actually a protein kinase, a type of enzyme that drives biochemical reactions.
The Leucine Connection:
As more and more research was conducted to see just how mTOR functioned in protein synthesis, it was discovered that the essential amino acid leucine was involved in regulating this biochemical's activity. The mTOR substance is actually just one player in a series of biochemical reactions that includes other familiar anabolic substances like insulin and IGF-1 for example.
Making The Jump From Microbes To People.
There are many studies which have been previously conducted using BCAA's, which report beneficial effects of significance to bodybuilders and other athletes. Some of these benefits include: reduction of fatigue, inhibit post exercise immunosuppression, and of course, increased muscle protein synthesis.
The new research direction from the mTOR perspective has now revealing how leucine works at the cellular control level. The most recent research reveals that leucine, and other amino acids, may have unique roles in metabolic regulation beyond the role of protein synthesis. For example some researchers have found that an additional role for leucine is in the control of glucose balance by enhancing the recycling of glucose and a direct link to insulin signaling.
These additional nutritional insights of leucine may have important applications in weight management and also in prevention and management of diabetes. As a side note, I always contented that the average intake of protein in our country was too low and needed to be increased across the board, because amino acids have multiple functions in the body, including precursors of neurotransmitters, which control the way the entire body works.
L-Leucine: The Key To The BCAA's.
L-leucine is the only BCAA that can be completely oxidized by muscles for energy, and each molecule yields 3 acetyl groups. By contrast, L-isoleucine and L-valine provide relatively little energy for muscles, and a molecule of either yields only one acetyl group. During strenuous exercise, L-leucine is oxidized at a greatly accelerated pace.
Supplemental amounts of L-leucine act to compensate for those losses. In addition, L-leucine has the benefits of conserving glucose (blood sugar), the body's primary energy source, as well as sparing the other amino acids in muscle.
The result is greater endurance throughout the duration of a strenuous workout, and a net increase in muscle growth (due to diminished catabolism of muscle protein both during and after a workout).
Ironically, well-conditioned athletes and bodybuilders have an even greater need for supplemental L-leucine, since trained muscle uses more L-leucine than untrained muscle. However, all three amino acids need to be ingested for optimum health, the point here is focusing on which one or ones are needed in vastly greater amounts.
The Anabolic Cascade:
Is mTOR and Leucine the anabolic salvation? It is part of what has become know as the anabolic cascade. You see there are many nutritional and biochemical factors involved in the anabolic (tissue and substance building) processes in the body. So, yes leucine is beneficial, along with all the other essential and semi-essential nutrients.
As we learn more about the way the body works, it becomes clearer that a comprehensive nutrition plan is indeed the foundation of health and getting great results from your training efforts.
For me, one area of applying these scientific discoveries to nutrition practice has been in the development of sports nutrition supplements that do just that, they supplement the diet to make it better for a particular goal. In the case of mTOR, extra leucine in protein supplements makes perfect sense, as leucine is also used by the body for energy, so extra amounts makes the protein supplement more anabolic.
With athletes being more active, using more leucine disproportionately, they therefore need to take in more from supplements. This will actually make your total diet more anabolic. But more leucine is not the entire answer to bodybuilding diet perfection. This entails eating and supplementing right.
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Supplementing right is means more than taking a magic pill. It means including a variety of supplements to top off what your diet can't accomplish alone, plus fortifying your diet with the essential vitamins, minerals, lipids, amino acids, etc. to ensure all your vital nutrition needs are covered.
Another practical application from this mTOR and other biochemical discoveries is to learn what not to do. Regarding leucine and mTOR, researchers found that alcohol impairs skeletal muscle protein synthesis.
Apparently alcohol blocks the ability of leucine to trigger the mTOR protein synthesis pathway. So, those alcoholic drinks you may look forward to consuming, are actually canceling out all of your hard training and muscle building nutrition efforts.
What is most amazing is that there are dozens of things like this that otherwise hard working, diligent bodybuilders are doing wrong, which if prevented would result in massive muscle gains.
The Synergy of Protein Supplements
When I first embarked in developing protein and amino acid supplements, I just didn't want to go through the motions. I wanted to roll-up my sleeves, and get elbow deep in to the research. This was back in the 1980's, and what I discovered to be true back then about protein, continues to be proven over and over again today.
This was during the pioneering days when scientists did not believe that taking supplements of any kind could produce benefits above and beyond eating a health diet. Where they wrong about this general statement, especially when it concerns sports nutrition and protein!
Not All Proteins Are Created Equal:
Protein is essential for all living things, especially humans. Our bodies are mostly made up of various proteins. But not all of the proteins we eat are created equal. What proteins are made of has an impact on whether or not they work well in your body. Your body's activity level, and the type of activity you perform, will dictate what type of protein you need.
Whey protein has gotten the reputation of being the "king" of all proteins, especially as a supplement for athletes. Its reputation is well-deserved, as the benefits of whey protein are confirmed in medical research, including sports performance scientific studies by some of the world's leading researchers, universities and medical centers: from Shanxi Medical College in China to Harvard University, USA.
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Whey Protein Scores The Best:
But how do scientists know what proteins are best? During the mid 1990s, when researchers were experimenting with proteins from plant and animal sources, they discovered that some proteins have all the essential amino acids in proper proportions to support growth and health while others do not.
After years of testing and retesting, they determined that whey protein not only scored the highest in amino acid composition, but more importantly it also had a high biological value, or BV, a measure of how much of a protein is actually used by your body. Premium quality whey protein isolate also scores high on other rating scales as well.
Whey Protein Has Multiple Benefits:
Like with all proteins, there is more to the whey protein story. As scientists continued researching proteins, they started to focus on their building blocks, the individual amino acids. As they tested each amino acid separately, they were amazed to learn that individual amino acids exerted profound beneficial effects on the body. In fact, most amino acids have multiple benefits.
Below are some of the functions of the main amino acids in high-quality whey protein that occur in significant amounts to promote beneficial effects. These functions are not only important to your good health; they are also of particular interest to the fitness-minded.
Summary Of Whey Protein's Key Amino Acid's Benefits:
BCAA's (Leucine, isoleucine, & valine)
- Increase endurance
- Prevent fatigue
- Improve mental performance
- Increase energy levels
- Stimulate protein synthesis
- Improve nitrogen balance
- Maintains nervous system health
- Relieves depression
- Elevates mood
- Decreases pain
- Boosts memory
- Suppresses appetite
- Relieves mild to moderate depression
- Relieves insomnia and promotes restful sleep
- Promotes weight loss by suppressing appetite
- Reduces overall sensation of pain (i.e. migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, general muscle pain)
- Increases growth hormone levels
- Protects against heart disease
- Reduces cholesterol
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves poor circulation
- Aids in the production of creatine, an important source of energy
- Lowers ammonia levels, which can be increased in athletes due to frequent exercise
- Boosts NO production
- Boosts immune system function
- Maintains muscle mass
- Prevents muscle catabolism (breakdown)
- Enhances glycogen storage
- Aids recovery from exercise
- Promotes healing
- Increases growth hormone levels
- Rebuilds cartilage and bones
- Speeds injury repair
- Promotes tissue recovery following exercise
- Protects against overuse injuries (sprains, strains, tendonitis)
Whey Protein Gets Results: It Is Money Well Spent.
While high-quality whey protein isolate is the most expensive of the primary protein sources used in protein products, it has some distinct nutritional advantages. It enhances the production of glutathione, one of the body's most powerful natural antioxidants.
It has the highest levels of BCAA's and has been shown to boost immune system functioning and promote and support protein synthesis. It is high in glutamine and arginine. It has a good proportion of essential and nonessential amino acids.
Additionally, whey protein has been clinically proven to build muscle and improve athletic performance. It has also been shown to help reduce body fat, while at the same time increase lean muscle mass when taken as part of an exercise program. Another important benefit of the protein is its ability to raise levels of IGF-1, a muscle-building biochemical, and decrease levels of cortisol, a muscle & tissue degrading substance.
Whey Protein Source Glutamine & The Athlete:
Dr. Eric Newsholme and his associates at Oxford University in the United Kingdom were among the first to hypothesize that an amino acid imbalance may result from strenuous exercise and as a consequence induce a number of phenomena that are collectively referred to as the "over-training syndrome."
Decreased performance, depressed mood and increased incidence of infections are among the many symptoms that are related to the syndrome, which has been described by runners, cyclists, swimmers, skiers, ballet dancers, rowers and even racehorses.
Dietary glutamine plays a role in counteracting these phenomena because, as has been shown repeatedly, prolonged exercise decreases the plasma glutamine level, suggesting that the muscles cannot provide enough of the nutrient.
Inadequate amounts of circulating glutamine may lead to impaired immune function and increased susceptibility to infection among athletes suffering from over-training syndrome. In addition, glutamine use by the small intestine has been found to occur at a very high rate.
Observations of gastrointestinal disorders, particularly of diarrhea and food allergies may be due, at least in part, to low concentrations of circulating glutamine. Recently, it was also shown that glycogen storage in the muscles occurred significantly faster when study subjects consumed protein together with carbohydrates as compared to carbohydrates alone. One of the responsible dietary factors for this faster glycogen recovery is thought to be glutamine.
BCAA's Help Increase Training Strength, Endurance &
A study reported in the journal Medicina Dello Sport looked at the effect of taking supplemental BCAA's on bodybuilding progress. The study involved thirty-one male bodybuilders between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, all of whom were drug-free, or "natural", bodybuilders.
The subjects were divided into two groups: sixteen took a placebo and fifteen took a BCAA supplement. The results showed that while both groups experienced increases in body weight, the BCAA group had greater weight gains. An analysis of the weight gain in the BCAA group showed increases in the lean body mass in both the legs and arms, with no changes in the trunk area of the body.
In contrast, the group taking the placebo showed no lean-mass gains in these areas. The BCAA group also showed strength gains in both the squat and bench-press exercises, while the placebo group gained strength only in the squat exercise. In addition, the BCAA group showed improvements in measures of exercise intensity.
From my experience developing protein and amino acid products, and the most recent research, using BCAA's to fortify whey protein can further enhance the anabolic and strength boosting actions.
In July 2004 independent researchers reported findings of their newest research that serves to reconfirm my earlier discovery that fortification of whey protein with BCAA's, in particular leucine, will result in greater gains in strength and muscle size. D. J. Housh, and coworkers conducted their study at the exercise physiology lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Men were divided in to either a placebo group or a leucine fortified whey protein group. Subjects trained 3 times a week for 8 weeks. At the end of the 8 weeks the males who were strength training and ingesting the leucine fortified whey protein had significantly greater increases in strength and muscle size when compared to the males who were taking a placebo.
There are specific bio-energetic and physiological control mechanistic reasons why extra amounts of leucine and the other BCAA's, isoleucine and valine, help to boost anabolism.
The word synergistic gets used a lot in ad and brochures for sports nutrition products. By strictest definition, as it applies to nutrition or pharmacology, synergistic refers to the phenomenon of the simultaneous action of ingredients having total effect than the sum of their individual effects.
For example, creatine and whey protein taken together produce an increase in strength and lean body mass when compared to the sum of their individual effects.
So when it comes to proteins, the amino acid composition of some, like whey protein isolate, may indeed have some synergism going on. Ideally, you want your entire nutrition program to be synergistic, and strive to have optimum amounts of all of the know nutrients and performance enhancers.
This is been the way I have approached sports nutrition for over 2 decades, to understand what makes the body work, then provide a synergistic nutrition plan. When the synergy kicks in, your body's performance will make a giant step forward in progress.
Effects Of Creatine Monohydrate Plus Whey Protein:
A study conducted by D.G. Burke and co-workers sought to measure muscular developments during 6 weeks of resistance training, among 36 males who were randomly assigned to supplementation with whey protein, whey protein and creatine monohydrate, or a placebo (maltodextrin). At the end of the 6 week study period the following results were observed:
Lean body tissue mass increased to a greater extent in the whey-creatine group compared to the other groups; and also in the whey group when just compared to the placebo group: + 4 kg, 6.5% in the whey-creatine group; +2.3 kg, 3.8% in the whey group; and +0.9 kg, 1.5% in the placebo group.
Bench press strength increased to a greater extent in the whey-creatine group compared to the other groups: +15.2 kg, 17% in the whey-creatine group; 6.3 kg, 7% in the whey group.
Knee extension peak torque increased significantly with training in the whey-creatine and whey groups, but not for the placebo group.
The researchers also observed that continued training for an additional 6 weeks without supplementation resulted in maintenance of strength and lean tissue mass in all groups. The results of this study revealed a synergistic effect among males taking the whey protein and creatine supplement, which resulted in greater increases in lean tissue mass and bench press performance.
Creatine & Protein Supplementation:
W. Derave and co-workers wanted to determine the effects of creatine monohydrate and creatine + protein supplementation on GLUT-4 and glycogen content of human skeletal muscle. Note that GLUT stands for glucose transporter. There are 5 main GLUTs which tend to be tissue specific, and GLUT-4 is more abundant in skeletal muscle tissue and also adipose tissue.
This double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was performed on 33 young healthy subjects (26 men and 7 women). The subjects' right legs were immobilized with a cast for 2 wk, followed by a 6-wk resistance training program for the right knee extensor muscles.
The research participants were supplemented throughout the study with either placebo (maltodextrin) or creatine & maltodextrin, or with creatine plus protein during immobilization and creatine plus protein, maltodextrin, amino acid blend, and multivitamin blend during retraining.
Needle biopsies were bilaterally taken from the vastus lateralis (a muscle of the Quadriceps femoris group, of the thigh). GLUT-4 protein expression was reduced by the immobilization in all groups. During retraining, GLUT-4 content increased in both creatine (+24%) and creatine-protein (+33%) groups, which resulted in higher post training GLUT-4 expression.
When compared with the placebo group, the muscle glycogen content was higher in the trained leg in both creatine and creatine-protein groups. Supplements had no effect on GLUT-4 expression or glycogen content in control legs.
Area under the glucose curve during the oral glucose tolerance test was decreased from 232 mmol. per liter per minute at baseline to 170mmol. per liter per minute at the end of the retraining period in creatine-protein group, but it did not change in the creatine or placebo groups.
The researchers concluded that creatine intake stimulates GLUT-4 and glycogen content in human muscle only when combined with changes in activity level, and that combined protein and creatine supplementation improved oral glucose tolerance.
Creatine & Glutamine:
This was an interesting study conducted by M. Lehmkuhl and co-workers who recruited twenty-nine athletes, 17 men and 12 women, who were collegiate track and field athletes. Ten were randomly assigned to take creatine monohydrate, ten to take a creatine monohydrate + glutamine combination, and nine to take a placebo.
The creatine monohydrate taking group received 0.3 grams creatine per kilogram of body mass per day for 1 week, followed by 0.03 g creatine per kilogram of body mass per day for 7 weeks. The creatine monohydrate - glutamine taking group received the same creatine dosage scheme as the creatine monohydrate taking group plus 4 grams of glutamine per day.
All 3 treatment groups participated in the same strength and conditioning program during preseason training. Measurements observed during the study included body composition, vertical jump, and cycle performances before and after the 8-week supplementation period.
After the study period it was determined that body mass and lean body mass increased at a greater rate for the creatine monohydrate and creatine monohydrate - glutamine taking groups, compared with the placebo treatment. Additionally, the creatine monohydrate and creatine monohydrate - glutamine taking groups exhibited significantly greater improvement in initial rate of power production, compared with the placebo treatment.
The field of nutritional synergy is one that excites me, as it opens up a whole new frontier of performance nutrition opportunity. So when you are deliberating over which supplements you want to purchase, shop with your primary goal in mind (muscle gain, strength gain, endurance improvement, fat loss, etc.) and think synergy to help guide your way.
Special, high quality, multi-ingredient sports supplements are scientifically developed to promote greater results from your training and nutrition programs.
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