Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms and Natural Remedies

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder occurring in women of reproductive age. Early PCOS diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to prevent this condition from affecting your health and quality of life. Know PCOS symptoms so you can get the treatment you need to reclaim your health.

A hormonal disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may cause women to suffer numerous unpleasant symptoms, including infrequent or long-lasting periods, higher androgen levels, and impaired ovarian function. Common signs of this condition include acne, weight gain, hair loss, thinning hair, or unwanted hair on the body or face.

A women’s health issue of increasing prevalence, PCOS affects a shocking 10% of women of childbearing age. Unfortunately, people know little about PCOS, and many women don’t even know they have it. One study out of the United Kingdom showed that nearly 70% of the 728 women studied did not know they had PCOS.

Early PCOS diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to prevent this condition from affecting your health and quality of life. Know PCOS symptoms so you can get the treatment you need to reclaim your health.

The Ins and Outs of PCOS

The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone that control the menstrual cycle. The ovaries also produce androgens, which are a type of male hormone, but in a small amount.

Every month during ovulation, the ovaries release eggs for fertilization by sperm. Ovulation is regulated by follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which tells the ovaries to produce a follicle to surround the egg, and luteinizing hormone (LH), which tells the ovaries to release the egg.

Women with PCOS develop small, fluid filled sacs, or follicles, inside the ovaries that contain immature eggs not ripe enough for ovulation. And if ovulation doesn’t occur, hormone balance is disrupted. Estrogen and progesterone levels dip way down and androgen levels shoot way up. These extra male hormones interfere with the menstrual cycle, which is why infrequent periods are a primary marker of PCOS.

What Causes PCOS

We know that high levels of androgens stop the ovaries from releasing mature eggs and producing an adequate balance of female hormones, but we don’t know the exact causes behind PCOS. Still, there are theories, namely that excess production of male hormones and PCOS might be brought on by genes, insulin resistance, inflammation, or a combination of all three.

  • Genes: While research shows PCOS has a genetic component, it is likely the result of several genes rather than just one.
  • Insulin resistance: With approximately 70% of PCOS patients also having insulin resistance, the link between the two conditions is pretty solid. A resistance to insulin triggers the body to make more insulin…and excess insulin causes the body to produce more androgens. Obesity is the primary driver for insulin resistance.
  • Inflammation: Levels of inflammation are higher in women with PCOS, and research suggests that increased insulin leads to higher levels of male hormones.

PCOS Symptoms to Know

Occurring in women of reproductive age, PCOS manifests symptoms typically in concurrence with the first menstrual period. However, women may also get PCOS later in life as a result of weight gain. Here are some of the principal symptoms of PCOS:

  • Irregular or infrequent periods: Long-lasting, infrequent, or irregular periods are common PCOS signs. If you have fewer than nine periods a year, you might want to consider getting tested. Because the uterine lining builds up for a longer period of time, you may bleed heavier and longer than usual.
  • Elevated androgen levels: Women with PCOS often have high levels of the male hormone androgen, which can lead to physical symptoms like excess facial hair, body hair, acne, skin tags, dark patches of skin, thinning hair, and pattern baldness.
  • Polycystic ovaries: The ovaries are often enlarged and contain follicles around the eggs, a condition that can affect function.

In some cases, polycystic ovary syndrome causes relatively mild symptoms and has a minimal effect on daily life. However, the disorder can lead to more serious side effects and health problems, including infertility and premature birth, gestational or type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, depression and mood swings, and endometrial cancer. To that end, early diagnosis of PCOS is crucial to protecting your long-term health.

Diagnosing PCOS

A visit to your health care provider is in order if you…

  • Have skipped periods and aren’t pregnant
  • Are noticing signs of PCOS, like hair growth in unusual places and hair loss on your head
  • Have been unable to get pregnant after a year or more of trying
  • Have noticed diabetes red flags, such as vision impairment, unexplained weight loss, or extreme thirst or hunger

While there’s no definitive test for PCOS, doctors typically make a diagnosis based on a variety of factors and criteria. If you think you may be suffering from the condition, your physician may perform a pelvic exam to assess the health of your reproductive organs and look for abnormalities. He or she may also assess your physical condition for excessive hair growth and the presence of acne.

Blood tests are a common element of PCOS testing. Doctors analyze hormone levels to look for menstrual and androgen abnormalities. They may also measure glucose and cholesterol levels and perform an ultrasound to examine the ovaries and the thickness of the uterine lining.

Once a diagnosis has been made, you and your doctor can work together to determine the best course of treatment.

Treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Lifestyle changes are a common first treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with the condition, your doctor may suggest you lose weight by exercising and following a low-calorie diet. In some cases, losing a percentage of one’s body weight can have a positive effect on health and PCOS symptoms and boost fertility. This informative article explains how simply adding essential amino acids to your diet can help boost your metabolism and supercharge weight loss.

If these PCOS remedies aren’t enough to improve symptoms, your condition may require medication. Birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin can help reduce androgen production and regulate hormones, thereby limiting bleeding and other unpleasant side effects of the condition. Patients who prefer not to take pills can opt for a skin patch or vaginal ring instead.

Additionally, PCOS patients may benefit from progestin therapy. This treatment can help regulate menstrual periods and guard against endometrial cancer.

Effective PCOS Natural Remedies

Natural remedies can go a long way toward alleviating PCOS symptoms and improving quality of life. Along with cutting calories, including more anti-inflammatory foods in one’s diet can boost wellness. Some of the best foods for PCOS patients include fruits and veggies, salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive oil.

Scientists are starting to examine the connection between PCOS and amino acids. Building blocks of protein, amino acids can be helpful in alleviating PCOS symptoms such as insulin resistance and problems with weight loss. In particular, the amino acid N-acetylcystine (NAC) reportedly protects against free radical damage and supports a healthy immune system.

According to a study in the European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology, women who received NAC or another amino acid supplement 3 times a day for 24 weeks saw significant reductions in PCOS symptoms like excess hair growth and menstrual irregularity compared to those who received a placebo. Further studies involving Clomid and NAC demonstrated an improvement in ovulation and pregnancy rates among women with this condition.

Single amino acid therapy can, however, produce unwanted side effects. Your body is designed to keep amino acid concentrations in the blood stable. If the levels of a single amino acid are increased, it affects the optimal concentrations of others. Likewise, some amino acids act as precursors for brain neurotransmitters, and they hitch a ride on the same transporters to cross the blood-brain barrier. If there is more of one amino acid than another, then levels of associated neurotransmitters will drop off substantially and affect mind and mood. For this reason, it’s recommended to always supplement with a balanced and complete mixture of all the essential amino acids to keep the concentration of amino acids in the blood stable.

It may take time and effort to find the right PCOS treatment for you. However, with a little luck and some health management, you will eventually be on the road to recovery.

Amino Acids for the Heart: How Amino Acids Help Lower Blood Pressure

In 2015, the Journal of Nutrition published a study from University of East Anglia researchers that blew up the health headlines:

Eating amino acids could be as good for your heart as quitting smoking or getting more exercise!

Researchers evaluated the effect of seven amino acids on the heart health of nearly 2000 women with healthy BMIs. They studied the women’s diets and compared clinical measures of blood pressure and blood vessel thickness and stiffness. They discovered that the women who ate the most amino acids had the lowest blood pressure and arterial stiffness. Lead researcher Dr. Amy Jennings, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said:

“The really surprising thing that we found is that amino acid intake has as much of an effect on blood pressure as established lifestyle risk factors such as salt intake, physical activity and alcohol consumption. For arterial stiffness, the association was similar to the magnitude of change previously associated with not smoking.”

Hence, the sensationalist headline.

What I found particularly interesting (and effective) with this particular study was the emphasis it placed on the importance of getting amino acids from both plant-based and animal-based food sources to protect against heart disease.

The amino acids studied were:

  1.     Arginine
  2.     Cysteine
  3.     Glutamic acid
  4.     Glycine
  5.     Histidine
  6.     Leucine
  7.     Tyrosine

Glutamic acid, leucine, and tyrosine are found in animal-based food sources, such as meat and fish, and they were the only amino acids shown to reduce arterial stiffness.

All seven amino acids for the heart, especially the ones from plant foods, lowered blood pressure.

This was not the first article to show that the amino acids in dietary protein can lower blood pressure. According to the November 2010 issue of the International Dairy Journal, when young adults with elevated systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial pressure took 28 grams of a whey beverage daily for six weeks, their blood pressure dipped way down. The control group of young adults with normal systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial pressure did not show any change in blood pressure. Young adults with elevated systolic pressure only, lowered their systolic blood pressure when taking whey protein for six weeks.

The most likely explanation for the pressure-lowering effect of dietary protein is the increased production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide widens the blood vessels and therefore reduces the pressure required to push blood through them. Nitric oxide is produced from the metabolism of the amino acid arginine, which is contained in dietary proteins.

The verdict: eating foods high in amino acids, like meat, fish, lentils, dairy, beans, broccoli, and spinach, as the researchers suggest, could lower high-risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure and arterial stiffness.

Highlighting Arginine

If ever there was a standout amino acid for heart health, it’s arginine, which is celebrated for its blood-pressure-lowering effects. Arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid that’s found in red meat, fish, poultry, wheat germ, grains, nuts, and seeds.

Evidence suggests arginine helps to boost levels of nitric oxide in the body, alleviate systemic inflammation, and enhance the overall health of blood vessels. Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator that helps blood vessels relax and improves circulation throughout the body. Arginine may help increase the flow of blood to the arteries in the heart, which, in turn, helps to improve clogged arteries and coronary heart disease. These same effects may make arginine a natural solution for erectile dysfunction. Because nitric oxide helps prevent blood clots that can cut off blood supply, arginine may be an effective treatment for angina (chest pain).

Studies also show that arginine may help lower cholesterol by as much as 10%. When you have high cholesterol, the cholesterol builds up in your blood and eventually accumulates on the walls of your arteries causing atherosclerosis and greatly increasing your risk for heart disease.

My Stance on Carnitine for the Heart

The amino acid carnitine is often cited as a heart helper. The reason carnitine is important in human nutrition is that it helps transport fatty acids into the mitochondria (the energy plants of cells). Fatty acids are the main fuel for the mitochondria to produce ATP (your body’s energy currency). If your body doesn’t have enough carnitine, then the production of ATP from fatty acids will not occur at maximal capacity.  And heart muscle prefers to oxidize long-chain fatty acids for energy! Carnitine also helps eliminate toxins from the mitochondria and fight against the oxidative stress that can instigate heart disease.

A 2013 systemic review and meta-analysis of 13 controlled trials from Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that carnitine offered cardioprotective benefits for heart attack patients. Researchers concluded:

“Compared with placebo or control, L-carnitine is associated with a 27% reduction in all-cause mortality, a 65% reduction in VAs, and a 40% reduction in anginal symptoms in patients experiencing an acute myocardial infarction. Further study with large randomized controlled trials of this inexpensive and safe therapy in the modern era is warranted.”

The majority of the general population most likely makes enough carnitine from the amino acids lysine and methionine, so it may not be required in supplement form. If a person is carnitine deficient, however, it is very difficult to specifically increase the consumption of the amino acids that make up carnitine—lysine and methionine—sufficiently enough to impact the amount of carnitine produced. The supplementation of the diet directly with carnitine is the most effective way to increase its availability.

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3 Natural Cures for ED

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects approximately 30 million men in America. The condition, marked by an inability to get and sustain an erection firm enough for intercourse, can affect men of all ages. This article covers three natural cures for ED that can help men achieve stronger erections when the cause of the dysfunction is physical.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects approximately 30 million men in America. The condition, marked by an inability to get and sustain an erection firm enough for intercourse, can affect men of all ages. According to a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 1 in 4 men seeking ED treatment at an outpatient clinic were under the age of 40.

There are many causes of erectile dysfunction, sometimes physiological, sometimes psychological, and sometimes both. This article covers three natural cures for ED that can help men achieve stronger erections when the cause of the dysfunction is physical.

ED Remedies Give NO a Needed Boost

Nitric oxide (NO) is a molecule produced by the lining of your blood vessels (the endothelium). When you engage in heart-healthy activities like exercise, the endothelium releases more NO. Your body basks in the NO, expanding your blood vessels, increasing blood flow, and reducing blood clotting and the buildup of plague on your arteries. When you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or are in distress, it’s an entirely different story. The endothelium produces less NO, and your risk of heart disease shoots way up. As for erections…well, those go way down.

Nitric oxide is needed for penile erection because it relaxes the blood vessels so that circulation is improved and blood can flow to the penis. It also relaxes the smooth muscles in the penis so that your penis can fill with blood and you can get and keep an erection. ED medications like Viagra all attempt to improve erectile function by boosting nitric oxide production. These ED medications come with risks, some on the mild side, such as headaches, and some severe and serious, such as vision and hearing loss, and even death. Before opting for pharmaceuticals, it might be advantageous to look into alternative ED remedies. Let’s start with three natural cures for ED that are side effect free.

Arginine for ED

Arginine is an amino acid precursor for nitric oxide, which means it helps boosts NO levels in the blood. Nutrients and oxygen flow quicker to the organs that need them, such as the penis, so that sexual potency and performance are improved. There have been several promising studies on arginine’s impact on erectile dysfunction. A study in BJU International showed that when 50 men with erectile dysfunction took 5 grams of arginine daily for 6 weeks, 31% of them enjoyed significant improvement in sexual function. Arginine helped the men who had low urinary levels of nitric oxide.

Citrulline for ED

Citrulline is an amino acid that converts to arginine in the kidneys. But, while arginine metabolizes fast when taken as a supplement, citrulline goes slower due to the conversion process, which is why many experts recommend taking citrulline and arginine together as an ED treatment. Citrulline actually causes blood arginine levels to rise higher than when you consume arginine, and, unlike arginine, citrulline does not cause any digestive issues.

A 2011 single-blind study published in the journal Urology tested the effects of citrulline on ED against the effects of a placebo. Twenty-four men of an average age of 56.5 took a placebo for one month. Two out of the 24 reported an improved erection hardness score from 3 (mild dysfunction) to 4 (normal dysfunction). For the following month, the men received a daily dose of 1.5 grams of citrulline. This time, 12 out of 24 of the men improved from mild dysfunction to normal function with no adverse side effects.

While citrulline alone may not resolve all cases of ED, it can be consumed in the recommended doses (less than 3 grams a day) without significant risk.  Further, it will not interfere with other treatments, such as Viagra or other pharmaceuticals.

Pycnogenol for ED

Pycnogenol is a proprietary formula extracted from the bark of the maritime pine tree. It stimulates the endothelial cells to release more NO, thereby contributing to better erections. In 2005, the European Bulletin of Drug Research released a study that examined the combined effects of arginine and pycnogenol with testosterone on 50 men with ED and low testosterone. After 11 months, 76% of the men enjoyed better sexual function and improved sperm count and quality.

In another randomized, placebo-controlled crossover design study, 50 middle-aged men diagnosed with mild to moderate ED took a placebo or a supplement of pycnogenol and arginine for one month. The men recorded their sexual function or dysfunction in a journal and researchers tested testosterone and NO levels. Erectile function was restored and blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure decreased after one month.

If you’re suffering from ED and ready to try these or other natural cures, it’s important to talk to your doctor before supplementing, as even mother nature’s remedies can have contraindications if you are currently on prescription meds for ED or other conditions.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects approximately 30 million men in America. The condition, marked by an inability to get and sustain an erection firm enough for intercourse, can affect men of all ages. This article covers three natural cures for ED that can help men achieve stronger erections when the cause of the dysfunction is physical.


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The Truth About Complementary Proteins

Combine two incomplete proteins together and you have a complementary protein that contains a sufficient amount of essential amino acids. Or does it? Just because two proteins are complementary doesn’t necessarily mean that the combination becomes a high-quality protein.

First, let’s get some protein terminology under our belts.

Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 dietary amino acids that may be components of protein. Each protein has a distinct number of amino acids and a specific sequence in which they are linked together. Nine of these aminos your body cannot make on its own. These are called essential amino acids, and you need to get them from the protein you eat or the essential amino acid supplement you take.

A normal diet includes a variety of protein food sources. Some protein foods are considered complete proteins, which contain all the essential amino acids the body needs…and other protein foods are considered incomplete proteins, which have low amounts of just some of the essential amino acids.

amino acid nutrition

Combine two incomplete proteins together and you have a complementary protein that contains a sufficient amount of essential amino acids. Or does it?

There are many websites that provide “examples” of complementary proteins:

  • Legumes with grains, nuts, seeds, or dairy
  • Beans and rice
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Yogurt with nuts

However, a big cautionary note about complementary plant-based protein foods is warranted. Let’s take the example of red beans and rice, which is often cited as a good example of complementary proteins. While neither is a high-quality protein food source, together they provide a balanced mixture of essential amino acids, in theory. Beans are deficient in methionine. Grains generally are relatively high in methionine, so the combination of beans and rice provide at least some of all the essential amino acids. However, just because two proteins are complementary doesn’t necessarily mean that the combination becomes a high-quality protein.

The Incomplete Nature of Complementary Proteins

The notion that the combination of a grain and a legume provide a complete protein is widely promoted on vegetarian websites. Take the example of the peanut butter sandwich. Technically a peanut butter sandwich provides a complete mixture of all the essential amino acids, because the combo of peanut and wheat protein provide at least some of all the essential aminos. However, the quality of peanut protein is low, and the quality of wheat protein is even lower. A peanut butter sandwich also has low protein density, which means the protein calories are fewer than the non-protein calories. The caloric intake required to consume sufficient peanut butter to meet all of your essential amino requirements exceeds the total caloric requirement for the day. The bottom line is that although peanut and wheat proteins are technically complementary proteins, a peanut butter sandwich is still a very low-quality protein food source.

Complementary proteins must have truly complementary profiles of essential amino acids. Unfortunately, the quality of most plant-based proteins is limited by the availability of lysine. Therefore, it is unlikely that two plant-based proteins will be complementary. This can become a real challenge to vegetarian diets and vegan diets that don’t allow for dairy. In contrast to the difficulty of finding complementary plant-based proteins that result in a high-quality protein source of essential amino acids, a typical omnivore diet that combines animal protein and plant-based protein foods can be quite effective. Most plant-based proteins are limited by lysine and animal-based proteins are generally high in lysine. The abundant lysine in the animal protein can improve the quality of the plant-based protein.

A practical alternative to combining animal and plant-based proteins to enhance protein quality is to incorporate essential amino acid supplements into the diet. Amino acid supplements can address any imbalance in the essential amino acid profiles of dietary protein. Furthermore, since an essential amino acid supplement has minimal non-protein components, the protein density of the meal will be greatly increased by consuming essential amino acids with dietary proteins. Adding an essential amino acid supplement to vegetarian and vegan diets is particularly appealing, as it will greatly improve the ratio of essential amino acids to nonessential amino acids in the diet without contributing much to the total caloric intake. And you won’t need to put as much thought into matching the “right” protein foods to make high-quality complementary proteins!

A Personal Reflection on Exercise for Older Adults

As we grow older, physical activity and strength training must be tempered with modifications to keep us both strong and safe. Exercise for older adults should be carefully structured, diligently performed, and supplemented with essential amino acids.

There’s no doubt about it: physical activity helps us age gracefully, increases longevity, and enhances quality of life. But as we grow older, physical activity and strength training must be tempered with modifications to keep us both strong and safe. Exercise for older adults should be carefully structured, diligently performed, and supplemented with essential amino acids.

New to Exercise? Here Are Some Tips!

If you haven’t exercised in years, you might benefit from some help from a certified exercise trainer to develop a program specifically designed for your capabilities and goals. You’ll see benefits from almost any type of exercise, so a trainer may not be necessary if you are otherwise healthy and mobile with good knowledge of the proper form for strength exercises. Just start cautiously and build up slowly. The key to making exercise part of your life is to do something you enjoy. From walking to swimming to tai chi…it all works!

Some of the best types of exercises are those which use your own body weight for resistance, which reduces the risk of injury while still being an effective way to build muscle strength and even muscle mass. Some examples are push-ups, including wall push-ups, resistance band exercises, balance exercises, chair squats, water aerobics, and even brisk walking. Combined with flexibility exercises, research shows these low-impact exercises contribute to better balance with a reduced risk of falls, improved overall physical health, and enhanced quality of life.

Regardless of what type of workouts or exercise program you engage in, it will be necessary to push yourself, both to create the exercise habit and to reach new performance and fitness gains. You are actually in a pretty enviable position, because you should see some rapid improvement as soon as you begin to train. The improvement will be especially dramatic if you couple your exercise with premium essential amino acid (EAA) supplements. And what better motivation to continue exercising than results you can see!

It’s also important to moderate your expectations. Please be aware that at some point you will plateau in your progress. This is a normal part of developing and sustaining fitness. When you hit a plateau, you just need to push harder and increase your activity levels to keep improving. Resist the urge to baby yourself! You are capable of more than you realize.

The key to success is consistency. You have to make exercise a nonnegotiable time of the day. Setting a schedule and sticking to it is the surest way to maintain the consistency that you need.

An Exercise Pro? I’ve Still Got Tips!

If you are an exercise aficionado, you’re starting with the tremendous advantage of being in much better shape than the average person your age. Even so, I’m guessing you still face challenges. The challenges are part physical and part psychological, and the two aspects may merge together indistinguishably. I can relate, as I fall into this group and have talked with many former athletes in the same situation.

When I was young, my athletic focus was basketball. I was even drafted by the Warriors into the NBA. When my basketball career ended, I took up distance running seriously. Although not a world-class runner, I nonetheless embraced the challenge of setting both short- and long-term goals, and I trained hard to reach those goals. Being a scientist, I approached training for marathons methodically. I carefully recorded every workout in detail, including distance, time, etc. I did interval workouts twice per week and recorded every split of every interval. I raced steadily from age 25 until last year at age 69 when I had my hip replaced.

As I got older, I faced the same challenges that all of my friends who ran faced. Injuries became more frequent and it took longer to recover, not just from injuries, but from workouts. What was most discouraging was that, regardless of my workouts, I inevitably got progressively slower over the years. At 65, I was still trying to do the same program as when I was younger, but with drastically less success. I was running quarter-mile intervals at a considerably slower pace than I could maintain for an entire 26-mile marathon when I was younger. Intellectually, I understood that the days of 65-second quarter-mile intervals were long in the rearview mirror, but psychologically, it was much harder to accept. I would look at the workouts in my running log that I used to do and feel overwhelmingly discouraged at the decline in my ability. I could understand why almost everyone I knew from years of running had given it up.

At some point, I decided that I would rather keep running at a slower pace and within my reduced capabilities than quit altogether. This is a realistic modification when it comes to exercise for older adults. I retired the old running logs and started a new one so I could train refreshed. I wish I could say that, all of a sudden, I saw the light and loved running again, but it doesn’t really work that way. I still get frustrated when I’m jogging and someone breezes by me like I’m standing still. Nonetheless, I have made enough peace with my current abilities that I keep plugging away every day. I now take naps after good workouts, as I recognize I don’t recover very fast anymore. I never question why I am still working out—it’s just what I do.

The moral of my personal story is to keep doing whatever activity or sport you love. As difficult as it may be, it’s productive to move past the dismay of needing to play from the forward tees on the golf course when you used to play from the tips, or the disappointment you feel because you can only play doubles in tennis now. The benefits of participation in activities you enjoy trump any of these psychologically “negative” aspects. The social aspect of joining workout classes in the gym or a golf group is a great hack for adjusting to retirement. You just need to let go of what you used to do, and be happy with what you can do now.

Supplements for Seniors

I have found that using an EAA supplement before and after exercise has benefited my training tremendously, especially when it comes to recovering faster. I take a pre-workout beverage that seems to give me energy to get started and sustains my effort throughout the workout. I also take a post-workout muscle support supplement that seems to reduce inflammation and improve my gains in strength.

I have seen firsthand how combining EAA supplements with exercise positively influences body composition. One of the advantages of my line of work as a researcher is that I have been able to measure my body composition on a regular basis for the past 45 years.

When I was young and training twice a day for competitions, I had about 4% body fat. I predictably gained fat and lost muscle with time, despite continued training. At 65, my body fat was 22% of my body weight. Two years ago, at age 69, I started combining EAA supplements with my normal exercise routine. Even with the surgical stress of a hip replacement, I have increased my lean body mass and reduced my fat mass to slightly less than 20%. It is remarkable to have your body composition moving in a positive direction when you are in your 70s! And I entirely credit the regular use of EAA supplements in conjunction with my habitual exercise routine for the improvements in both body composition and performance that I have experienced in the last couple of years. I hope I’ve inspired you to follow suit!

Exercise for older adults helps us age gracefully, increases longevity, and enhances quality of life.

How Much Protein Should I Eat? Your Guide to Optimal Dietary Protein Intake

When it comes to answering the question how much protein should I eat all data suggests protein intake should be greater than the RDA. The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams for every 2.2 pounds of body weight, or 10% of total daily caloric intake. This is the minimal amount of protein you need to avoid losing muscle mass.

If you’re interested in weight loss or improving your overall health, you probably spend at least a portion of your time thinking about the amount of carbohydrates and fats you eat. But unless you’re a professional athlete or bodybuilder, you probably don’t spend nearly as much time pondering your protein intake. However, our bodies are made up of approximately 15% protein, which we need for everything from building muscle to manufacturing hormones and maintaining and repairing tissues. When you really start to think about everything protein does for your health, you may find yourself asking, how much protein should I eat? If so, we invite you to read on to discover your optimal dietary protein intake for overall health and well-being.

The Dietary Reference Intakes

The National Academy of Sciences dietary reference intakes (DRIs) are widely accepted as the most authoritative source for defining nutritional requirements. In fact, the DRIs are the basis for the more commonly recognized recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—translated for the public as MyPlate.

The DRIs define the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for a wide range of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as proteins and carbohydrates (but not fats). The DRIs also indicate the recommended dietary intake of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in terms of a percentage of total calorie intake.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance

The RDA for protein is 0.8 grams for every kilogram of body weight. If we convert that to the English equivalent of 2.2 pounds, that would mean a 175-pound person needs to eat about 63 to 65 grams of protein (or 2.2 ounces) per day to meet the RDA.

However, the average American eats approximately 4 to 5 ounces of protein per day, or about twice the RDA. This may seem like a small amount of protein if you have a 10-ounce steak on the menu for dinner tonight. But it’s important to distinguish the intake of pure protein—which is what’s reflected by the dietary guidelines—from protein food sources.

What do we mean by this?

Even a high-quality protein source like lean meat isn’t pure protein, as it also contains fat and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. But there are still approximately 7 grams of protein in 1 ounce of red meat, so a 175-pound person can indeed satisfy the RDA for protein by eating a 10-ounce steak. However, there are many sources of protein in the average diet, many of which have less protein per gram than steak.

Nevertheless, if you add up all the protein food sources you might eat in a day, including breakfast with eggs, yogurt, or cereal with milk; lunch with ice cream or pudding for dessert; and dinner with salmon, chicken breasts, or pork chops, you’re still probably eating at least twice the RDA for protein.

And if you add to the obvious protein sources the protein contained in foods like wheat, peas, potatoes, soy, etc., you’re likely eating quite a bit more than the RDA.

Does eating more protein than the RDA suggests lead to health issues like obesity and diabetes? Some health professionals believe so. And research does suggest that too much protein may be harmful for people with kidney disease.

However, it’s important to remember that the RDA is defined as the minimum amount that should be eaten to maintain body protein. In other words, the RDA refers to the lowest dietary protein intake at which the rates of protein synthesis and breakdown are theoretically matched throughout the day.

As for sticking to this minimum, there’s never been a health outcomes study that’s shown that eating the RDA for protein is preferable to eating a greater amount of protein.

Dietary Protein Intake as a Percent of Total Calories

In addition to the RDA, the DRIs recommend that protein intake fall within a certain percentage of total calorie intake. Since all the food we eat is in the form of three macronutrients—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (four if you include alcohol)—the DRIs committee accounted for the fact that the amount of each macronutrient eaten will influence the amount of the other macronutrients in the diet.

For example, if you eat a high-protein diet, you are simultaneously decreasing the amount of fats and/or carbohydrates you eat. And recommended ranges of calorie intake for each macronutrient were set to account for this interrelationship.

In the case of dietary protein, the DRIs recommend that total intake constitute between 10% and 35% of dietary calorie intake. However, the DRIs also state that there’s no evidence of harmful effects with intakes above this level.

For a person of average body weight with a relatively low activity level, the RDA for protein provides about 10% of the day’s total calorie intake—the lower limit of the range for protein. Yet a diet providing 3.5 times more protein is still within the recommendations of the DRIs.

But a dietary protein intake recommendation with a range of 3.5 times (or more) can hardly be considered a useful guideline. Consequently, we have to accept that the “experts” have let us down—at least as far as giving us concrete guidelines for ensuring we’re eating enough protein.

So we need to figure this out for ourselves. And the best way to start doing this is by understanding the difference between minimal and optimal protein consumption.

Minimal vs. Optimal Protein Consumption

The RDA for protein corresponds to about 10% of daily calories. This is the minimal amount of protein we need to eat to avoid loss of muscle mass. Since the RDA is equivalent to only about 10% of dietary calories, you might consider protein content a minor component of your diet.

But this perspective is missing the boat.

In fact, protein should take center stage in almost every person’s diet. Likewise, there’s a particularly good argument for the centrality of protein in an athlete’s diet in terms of both muscle mass and strength.

More generally—and as we briefly touched on earlier—dietary protein has a central role in the body’s nutritional arsenal against the chronic diseases and stresses many of us deal with every day. Indeed, many of these beneficial effects are related to dietary protein’s influence on muscle.

So the starting point of any nutritional approach to improving physical health and performance is a balanced diet that contains the optimal—rather than minimal—amount of protein.

So How Much Protein Should I Eat?

If you’re still wondering how much protein you need, the scientific data indicate the optimal level is even greater than the RDA of 10% of daily calorie intake.

However, the average American’s protein consumption is about 20% of their daily calorie intake—a perfectly reasonable amount for anyone striving to meet their daily protein requirements.

While consuming more protein may provide further benefits, the total amount of calories from protein food sources makes greater protein intake difficult to accomplish in the context of a balanced diet.

And that’s where amino acids—the building blocks of protein—and amino acid supplements can come in handy.

The potential role of essential amino acid supplementation in achieving optimal daily protein intake becomes even more evident when you consider that supplements provide the active components of dietary proteins without the accompanying non-protein components (carbs and fats) found in food sources. Even protein supplements like protein powders may be loaded with added sugar, calories, and artificial ingredients.

So if you’re struggling to meet your protein needs (a distinct possibility if you’re vegan) and want to build muscle—or maybe you’re an older adult who wants to ensure you’re at least not losing important muscle tissue—you may want to look into supplementing your daily protein intake with amino acids.

Just make sure you look for a formula that provides a balanced supply of all nine essential amino acids. That way, you can be sure you’re getting all the benefits amino acid nutrition can provide.

How Much Protein Should I Eat? Your Guide to Optimal Dietary Protein Intake

Amino Acids for Men

Getting enough amino acids for men is especially important as you age because the body’s ability to use protein sufficiently declines. Anabolic resistance can take effect. The result? Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. There are ways to stall sarcopenia. Amino acid supplementation is key.

Getting enough amino acids for men is especially important as you age.

Amino acids make up protein…and protein is needed to make muscle…and muscle plays many important roles in health and disease. But as we age the body’s ability to use protein sufficiently declines. Anabolic resistance can take effect. (Anabolic resistance lowers the body’s ability to break down and build up protein.)

The result? Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, which kicks in after age 30. You can lose 3-5% of your muscle mass every decade, for an average loss of 30% throughout your life. Can is the operative word. There are ways to stall sarcopenia. Amino acid supplementation is key.

Testosterone Decline and Muscle Loss

The predominant hormonal response to aging in men is reduced secretion of the hormone testosterone from the testes. Testosterone is the primary anabolic hormone in men. It promotes the gain of new muscle protein, and has other effects as well. Sexual function in older men is directly affected by a reduction in testosterone.

Replacement therapy with testosterone is popular; although therapy is limited by the fact that testosterone cannot be given as a pill. Patches are commonly used to increase testosterone levels, but the amount of the hormone that can be delivered via this route is restrained and insufficient to affect muscle. As a result, only some aspects of testosterone action can be restored with testosterone patches, such as sexual function, which includes both the level of interest in sex as well as the ability to do something about that interest. To increase the concentration of testosterone enough to have an anabolic effect on muscle, testosterone must be injected, usually once per week or once every other week.

The use of testosterone replacement therapy is controversial because there’s concern that any existent prostate cancer may be stimulated by testosterone therapy. This fear arises from the fact that the first line of action in the treatment of prostate cancer is often giving a drug that blocks the action of testosterone on the prostate.

Testosterone replacement therapy carries with it significant risk of adverse responses. If you choose to take these risks and receive hormonal therapy, you will need to bolster its effects with amino acid supplementation. Testosterone is similar to resistance exercise in that it primes the muscle to increase its rate of protein synthesis. An increased supply of building blocks (i.e., dietary essential amino acids) is a prerequisite to producing new protein at an increased rate.

Maintaining Muscle Mass and Function

While it is impossible to entirely stop the process of aging, it is definitely possible to slow the progression of muscle loss.

Eating high-quality protein food sources is key. Pack your diet full of eggs, milk, quinoa, red meat, chicken, turkey, and fish.

Be honest about your ability to consume enough protein to meet your needs as you age, especially if you are trying to build or maintain muscle. In America, 30% of people over the age of 65 fail to eat the minimal daily recommended intake of protein. Furthermore, the quality of dietary protein can also decrease, which is why it’s so important to increase your consumption of essential amino acids by incorporating amino acid supplements into your overall dietary pattern.

Getting enough amino acids for men is especially important as you age.

Essential Amino Acid Supplements

While essential amino acid supplements (EAAs) can benefit everyone, they are a particularly important component of dietary intake in older people. An EAA supplement can help overcome anabolic resistance, or the inability of the body to adequately build new muscle protein. Further, EAAs are less of a burden on the liver and kidneys than intact protein is.

An EAA supplement not only stimulates muscle protein synthesis, but also activates an increased recycling of nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) back into protein. In contrast, ingested dietary proteins add more NEAAs into circulation. Surplus NEAAs are metabolized by the liver and ultimately produce urea and ammonia, which are excreted in urine by the kidneys. Reutilizing NEAAs in circulation by providing only EAAs means less work for the liver and the kidneys. The kidneys benefit since they do not have to excrete extra urea and ammonia in the urine.

EAA supplements can also help with the problem of insulin resistance so common in older people. One of the characteristics of insulin resistance with aging is that fat accumulates in the liver and limits insulin action as a result. Older individuals have, on average, twice the fat in their livers as they did when they were younger than 30. EAA supplements reduce liver fat in the elderly to the same degree as the most effective medication, and with none of the adverse effects of that medicine. As a result, insulin sensitivity is improved.

Dosage of EAA Supplements

A dosage as small as 3.6 grams (the equivalent of 20 grams of high-quality protein) of EAAs can effectively stimulate muscle protein synthesis in elderly people, and when taken over time, this dosage can induce functional improvements. Optimally, two doses per day should be taken. In some circumstances a high dose may be considered. Of course, always discuss with your healthcare provider before adding any supplements to your dietary plan. If your normal diet is relatively deficient in EAAs (e.g., a vegetarian or vegan diet), then larger doses of an EAA supplement are essential.

If you are exercising, the timing of the ingestion of the EAA supplement should be coordinated with the exercise. Take EAAs in the free form with minimal mixing with other nutrients. Powder mixed into a beverage is the most convenient, but capsules can be an effective way to consume part of your dose as well.

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?

So, you’re interested in supplementing with BCAAs. Let’s make sure you get the BCAA benefits you’re after. To reap the muscle-building benefits, supplement with an amino acid formula that contains the appropriate concentration of ALL the essential amino acids.

So, you’re interested in supplementing with BCAAs (if you don’t yet know the basics about branched-chain amino acids, commonly referred to as BCAAs, I recommend reading this article first). Scientists have found that increased concentrations of the three branched-chain amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—can result in remarkable benefits, particularly for muscle growth and muscle recovery. Consequently, BCAA supplements are becoming ever more popular. While I wholeheartedly support your decision to try BCAA supplementation, I want to make sure you get the benefits you’re after.

5 Top Benefits Linked to BCAA Supplements

A wealth of research has linked BCAAs to a variety of enticing effects. While many of the effects of BCAAs have to do with muscle building and exercise performance, athletes aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a supplemental dose of BCAAs. In my opinion, these are five of the most exciting as well as the most scientifically validated results of BCAA supplementation.

1. Limit Muscle Protein Breakdown

Many would rank this as the topmost and best BCAA benefit. Leucine, the power player of the BCAA trio, stimulates the rapamycin complex (mTOR) signaling pathway, which produces an increase to the rate of muscle protein synthesis, the process by which the body builds new muscle tissue.

Leucine has an impressive anabolic effect on skeletal muscle, which leads to impressive muscle-building results.

As a study published in the Journal of Nutrition explained, leucine promotes significant changes to skeletal muscle protein metabolism, namely, decreases to protein breakdown and increases to protein synthesis.

According to a placebo-controlled study published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2017, the post-workout ingestion of BCAAs can cause an increase in muscle protein synthesis of approximately 22%.

2. Optimize Exercise Performance

Another reason BCAAs have become such a red-hot workout supplement is that compelling evidence demonstrates they can lead to impressive improvements to exercise performance.

Researchers from the Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education at Leeds Metropolitan University in Leeds, UK, conducted a study to examine the effects of leucine on resistance training performance for novice trainees. At the study’s conclusion, participants who took leucine showed markedly higher strength gains than those who took a placebo—40.8% for the leucine group compared to 31.0% for the placebo group.

3. Minimize Muscle Damage and Soreness

As if athletes needed still more reasons to adore BCAAs, it appears they can also reduce post-workout  muscle soreness and damage.

The results of a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that taking BCAAs both before and after a workout can lead to significant decreases to creatine kinase efflux as well as muscle soreness. Participants who took BCAAs also recovered their maximal voluntary contraction ability more rapidly than those who took a placebo.

“The present study has shown that BCAA administered before and following damaging resistance exercise reduces indices of muscle damage and accelerates recovery,” the study’s authors concluded.

4. Enhance Weight-Loss Efforts

Recent inquiries into the benefits of BCAAs indicate that they can maximize the effects of healthy weight-loss efforts.

A randomized, double-blind study published in 2009 looked at how BCAAs, whey protein, and a carbohydrate-based sports drink influenced body composition. All study participants (who had a minimum of 2 years of experience with resistance training) completed an 8-week, whole-body training program while eating a standardized diet.

At the study’s conclusion, participants in the BCAA group had decreased their body fat percentage far more significantly than both the whey protein and carbohydrate sports drink groups. According to the authors, this reveals BCAAs can effectively encourage fat loss.

5. Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

We know that BCAAs make crucial contributions to the regulation of glucose levels. A steady supply of these essential amino acids is a prerequisite for ideal glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity.

Researchers have not yet conclusively demonstrated that BCAA supplementation produces beneficial changes to blood sugar levels, but findings so far have been quite promising. A 2012 study examined the effects of BCAAs on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity for patients with chronic hepatitis C, a serious form of liver disease.

At the study’s conclusion, the authors found that BCAAs produced a clear, beneficial effect on patients’ HbA1c values, a blood marker that measures the glycosylation of hemoglobin and can be used to give an average of blood sugar levels over the last 3 months.

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?

Whether you’re a bodybuilder looking to mitigate muscle breakdown during exercise so you can build more lean muscle mass, an endurance athlete looking to optimize performance, or just an everyday person seeking to improve blood sugar metabolism and reach or maintain a healthy weight, the draw of BCAA supplements is self-evident.

However, in order to reap the BCAA benefits you desire, you must supplement with an amino acid formula that contains the appropriate concentration of all nine essential amino acids, not just the three BCAAs. Let me explain why that is.

The BCAAs Work Best as Part of a Team

Taking supplements that contain only some of the essential amino acids, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) supplements, has minimal effect on protein synthesis (the process of building proteins, like those that make up muscle), because the synthesis of complete proteins requires adequate availability of all the essential amino acids. I just can’t stress this enough. Further, the many other functions of amino acids in the blood, including the production of neurotransmitters, regulation of blood flow, safeguarding of immune function, and improvement of plasma lipid profiles, are contingent on a balanced composition of blood amino acids.

In theory, the use of a single amino acid supplement may elicit a desired response, but oftentimes, this is not the case. Also, while the targeted response may be positively affected, other responses may not be desirable.

Take a moment to think about the human body at work, all day and night and every day and night. There are a multitude of physiological events taking place at the same time. And amino acids play a role, either directly or indirectly, in nearly every physiological function. Underlying these major functions are countless chemical reactions and the continuous breakdown and synthesis of compounds, all needed to sustain vital organs and life. And every single one of these functions requires a balanced supply of amino acids.

Each amino acid serves multiple purposes and often works in concert with other amino acids. The simultaneous action of amino acids in a wide variety of reactions and functions helps to explain the nutritional value of a balanced mixture of all the essential amino acids. The most important thing to remember is that, although you may be taking an amino acid supplement for a specific purpose, the other functions of amino acids are always in action.

Leucine Alone Won’t Produce the Hoped-For Effects

Let’s demonstrate this with a concrete example. In addition to its role as a building block of protein, leucine activates the molecular processes that start protein synthesis. For this reason, leucine is often referred to as a nutraceutical, because it functions as a metabolic regulator and serves as a precursor for protein synthesis.

Consequently, leucine is a popular dietary supplement, either alone or contained in BCAA supplements. But, here’s what happens when you consume leucine without all the other essential amino acids in the proper composition. Regulatory mechanisms kick in to maintain a balance of essential aminos. So, when leucine is consumed in large amounts as a dietary supplement, the degradation of leucine is activated as the body tries to maintain the normal balance of all essential amino acids.

Even more concerning is that the metabolic pathway responsible for the degradation of leucine also degrades the other BCAAs (valine and isoleucine) at an increased rate. If only leucine is consumed, all three BCAAs deteriorate at an accelerated rate. The concentrations of both isoleucine and valine will fall below their normal levels. The decrease in the concentrations of valine and isoleucine will limit any beneficial effect the increased dose of leucine might have had because there won’t be enough valine and isoleucine available for the production of new protein.

For this reason, BCAA supplements are more commonly taken than leucine supplements alone, even though leucine seems to be the primary nutraceutical of the three. However, even all three BCAAs taken together do not resolve the problem created by an imbalance in availability of essential amino acids, since there are six other essential aminos not being given. As a result, neither leucine supplements, nor BCAA supplements that contain all three, have a demonstrable beneficial impact on protein synthesis.

BCAA Supplements: The Bottom Line

When you consume a large amount of the essential amino acid leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down, since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. Coincidentally, the breakdown of all the BCAAs (leucine, valine, and isoleucine) is increased because the same enzyme works on each.

If you hope to access the remarkable benefits associated with BCAAs—such as an improved ability to build muscle, decreased muscle soreness after high-intensity workouts, and a higher rate of fat loss, to name a few—you should not take BCAA supplements. Instead, look for a supplement with an amino acid formula that contains all the essential amino acids and has a greater proportion of valine and isoleucine to avoid decreases in their availability.

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?

Resistance Exercise: Muscle Strength, Muscle Mass, Muscle Definition

Want to increase muscle strength, muscle mass, and muscle definition? EAA supplementation can help! Just as your training will differ depending on your performance goals, so, too, will your optimal nutrition program, including the formulation of your EAA supplements, which will help you build muscle fast.

Resistance exercise, often referred to as strength training or weight training (though you can make major strength gains using only your own body weight), is a broad term that encompasses any physical activity involving the use of resistance to muscular contractions in order to increase muscular strength, decrease body weight, and improve your overall quality of life.

Resistance training exercises work the major muscle groups in the body by asking them to overcome resistance force. Push-ups are a classic example of a bodyweight resistance exercise. When you commit to a resistance exercise training program—and execute the movements with good form—you can see impressive improvements when it comes to building muscle.

While there are many benefits of resistance training, including better joint function, increased bone density, and enhanced muscle, tendon, and ligament strength, a well-rounded training program should also incorporate aerobic exercise that targets the health of your heart and lungs as well as flexibility and balance exercises to expand both your range of motion and your control in positions at the extremes of that range.

Before helping you compare resistance-training approaches to determine which is the best fit for you, let’s take a moment to go over the benefits of resistance training.

How Resistance Training Benefits Your Health

Studies show that resistance exercise can improve your health in a number of significant ways.

Want to increase muscle strength, muscle mass and muscle definition? EAA supplementation can help!

According to a review published in Preventative Medicine: “Research demonstrates that resistance exercise training has profound effects on the musculoskeletal system, contributes to the maintenance of functional abilities, and prevents osteoporosis, sarcopenia, lower-back pain, and other disabilities.”

The authors of the review also note that resistance training has been found to positively influence risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, such as:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Resting metabolic rate
  • Glucose metabolism
  • Blood pressure
  • Body fat
  • Gastrointestinal transit time

And they found that all these benefits of resistance training can likely be achieved through two 15- to 20-minute training sessions each week—quite a minimal time investment for such a considerable health payoff!

Additional benefits associated with resistance exercise include:

  • Decreased risk of injury to joints
  • Increased skeletal muscle strength
  • Improved muscle to fat ratio
  • Reduced risk of cognitive decline
  • Greater stamina
  • Lower levels of chronic pain
  • Better mobility and balance
  • Higher bone density, which decreases your risk of osteoporosis
  • Fewer instances of insomnia
  • Corrected posture
  • Enhanced sense of well-being, both physical and mental

5 Different Types of Resistance Exercise

When it comes to resistance-exercise programs, there are numerous options out there sure to appeal to individuals with a wide range of fitness levels and physical activity preferences.

Want to increase muscle strength, muscle mass and muscle definition? EAA supplementation can help!

If you’re new to resistance training, you may find it beneficial to work with a personal trainer. There are also many online resources that can help you find appropriate warm-up exercises, build muscular strength, work toward healthy weight-loss goals, and effectively target different body parts.

Some popular resistance-training approaches include:

  1. Free weights: This is the category for classic strength-training tools like the dumbbells and barbells you need to execute a bench press. Kettlebells, medicine balls, and sandbags belong here too, as do any other weights you lift without guidance from a machine.
  2. Weight machines: These can be more approachable if you’re new to lifting weights, though some experts feel they’re less effective for building overall muscle strength than free weights are since they work one muscle group at a time. Examples of common weight machines include the seated leg press, pull-downs, and lever triceps dips.
  3. Resistance bands: These deceptively simple tools (they’re just giant rubber bands) are portable, adaptable to practically any workout, and can be immensely challenging. When stretched, they offer continuous (and adjustable) resistance throughout a workout.
  4. Suspension equipment: This category includes simple hanging bars that allow you to do pull-ups and chin-ups, as well as machines that use counter-balanced weights to make those movements easier.
  5. Your own body weight: Hands-down the most accessible form of exercise, since all you need is your own body. You can use bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and chin-ups to train both your upper body and your lower body.

Which Type of Resistance Exercise Is Best for You?

Increasing muscle strength is a primary goal of resistance exercise. But what if your goal is to increase muscle strength without increasing mass? For example, extra body weight is a liability to a distance runner, but increased muscle strength is an asset. A football player on the other hand not only wants to get stronger, but also wants to get bigger. A bodybuilder wants to increase muscle protein mass while minimizing body fat and muscle glycogen in order to get the “ripped” look.

Just as your training will differ depending on your performance goals, so, too, will your optimal nutrition program, including the formulation of your essential amino acid (EAA) supplements, which will help you build muscle fast.

Here are three questions to consider when deciding which resistance-training program, as well as dietary and supplement supports, will be the best match for you and your goals.

Want to increase muscle strength, muscle mass and muscle definition? EAA supplementation can help!

1. Do You Want to Build Muscle Mass?

It’s a common misconception that lifting weights will make you bulkier. The response of the muscles to resistance exercise and EAA supplementation depends on both the type of workout and the amount of calories you consume. Performing a few heavy lifts, for instance, primes the muscle to respond to essential amino acids with both an increase in strength and muscle mass.

When you do multiple lifts with a relatively small weight, muscle protein turnover will also be stimulated to a greater extent when EAAs are taken in conjunction with the workout, but there will be a closer balance between synthesis and breakdown, and strength will increase without much change in muscle mass.

It’s easy to see how the type of workout can affect the desired outcome: strength, or strength plus mass.

Calorie Intake Is Key

Consuming extra calories while supplementing with EAAs will also affect your body’s response to resistance exercise. An EAA supplement has a very small caloric value, and when taken in conjunction with resistance exercise imparts a greater effect on strength than on muscle mass. But if you increase the amount of calories you ingest while also taking EAAs, the size of your muscles will increase alongside strength. Of course, lifting heavy for a few reps will have much more of a mass effect than lifting light for multiple reps.

How Carbs Impact Muscle Mass and Definition

The non-protein component of an EAA supplement also affects the ultimate impact of exercise on strength and mass. If EAAs are taken with carbohydrate, the insulin response to carbohydrate will enhance the EAA effect on muscle protein synthesis, suppress protein breakdown, and contribute to a greater net gain of muscle protein mass. In addition, some of the carbohydrate will be stored in the muscle as glycogen, and water will attach to the glycogen in its storage form in muscle. As a result, muscle size will increase even more than from the gain in net protein. However, water and glycogen storage will lessen muscle definition.

If you are trying to increase muscle mass and strength and are not particularly concerned about muscle definition, then you should take carbohydrate along with EAAs before and after a workout. If you are a bodybuilder and want to get bigger but also want muscle definition, then it is best to limit carbohydrate intake. This is true not only with regard to EAA supplements, but also with your basic diet. If mass and strength with definition is your target, then take only EAAs before and during the workout, and eat a diet made up of largely protein and fat. This will minimize the storage of glycogen and water in the muscle, both of which impair muscle definition.

Muscle Definition with EAA Supplementation

If muscle strength and definition without much increase in mass is your specific goal, I recommend taking EAAs by themselves before and after your workout. By performing a large number of repetitions with a relatively low weight, the muscle gain will be less than the muscle gain stimulated by fewer lifts with heavy weights. It may be inevitable that you gain some muscle mass along with your strength gains, but if you take EAAs without carbohydrates before and after workouts, the major impact will be on strength.

2. Do You Want to Lose Weight?

Many people believe that cardio is the most effective kind of exercise for weight loss, but studies clearly show that strength training can be at least as effective, if not more effective, when it comes to helping you lean out.

New research from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers clear insight into how resistance exercise can help you lose weight faster than moderate cardio can. One reason for this, the study authors note, is that building muscle boosts your metabolism, which can speed up your weight-loss efforts.

People also find it easier to make time for a quick resistance-training session than for an hour-long treadmill workout. This makes it more likely that individuals will adhere to a consistent physical activity program, which is key for weight-loss results.

A Manageable Time Commitment

The ACSM study indicates comparable results for two strength-training sessions weekly versus three strength-training sessions weekly. Shooting for just two workouts per week is a manageable way to introduce a physical activity training program into your schedule.

To maximize your results, you’ll want to choose workouts that target all of your major muscle groups: upper body, lower body, and core.

The Progressive Overload Principle

When beginning a strength-training program, many people have questions about how much weight they should lift. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends selecting a weight (or level of resistance) that requires between 60% and 70% of your maximal effort.

A helpful trick for gauging that is to settle on a weight at which you can complete 10 repetitions with proper form—your posture doesn’t begin to slip, you’re not using momentum to make it easier, and so on. The goal is to choose an appropriate weight or resistant force that requires strenuous effort but doesn’t strain you to the extent that you compromise your form.

To continue to reap the benefits of strength training, including weight loss, you need to consistently reach the point at which it would be difficult for you to complete another repetition. This is the principle of progressive overload: regularly adjusting training variables such as the number of sets and repetitions you complete, or the weight you use, in order to continue to grow stronger and fitter.

When the 10-rep set you began with starts to feel too easy, you’ll increase your set to 15 reps at the same weight. And once that no longer presents a challenge, increase your weight by 5%. So, if you initially used 10-pound dumbbells, you’d bump the weight up to 15 pounds.

The ACSM study authors suggest beginning with two to four sets of each exercise you choose with a rest period of 30 seconds between sets. They also note that previous research has shown even a single round of each exercise can lead to results.

How to Measure Your Progress

While resistance exercise inarguably helps you lose body fat, that doesn’t necessarily translate to overall weight loss. Studies cited by the ACSM authors show that on average, individuals lose 1 pound of fat each month after adopting a resistance-training program while increasing their lean body weight by 1 pound. If you’re following along with the calculations, you’ll have realized that comes out to zero pounds of overall weight loss.

This means the scale will not be the most reliable way to track your progress. Where you will see changes, however, are the fit of your clothes. If you’re interested in having a precise way to measure the effects, you can take measurements of your waist, hips, and other body parts to record how resistance training reshapes your body.

3. Do You Get Bored Easily?

When picking the right training program for you, it’s important not to neglect the mental component of working out. If you thrive on routine and find it stressful to try to master new skills, you’ll do best with an approach like muscular-isolation training or powerlifting. But if you enjoy variety and find yourself quickly tiring of workouts once they become familiar, you’ll want to seek out something like explosive dynamic training or circuit training that builds in plenty of novelty.

No? Here’s How to Build a Reliable Routine

If you’re looking for a weight-training program that can remain consistent from week to week, either muscular-isolation training or powerlifting may be a wonderful fit for you.

Muscular-isolation training is a time-tested approach centered on working only one or two muscle groups each day. Unlike whole-body programs, the purpose of this approach is to isolate and thoroughly exhaust the muscles in question.

Both beginning and advanced lifters can benefit from this type of training. It’s especially helpful if your goal is to increase muscle definition in a particular area, for example, your chest.

Powerlifting used to be reserved for dedicated gym rats only, but in recent years, interest in this highly effective type of training has grown exponentially. This type of strength training relies on large movements that involve multiple major muscle groups. For some movements, you’ll be lifting a heavy weight off the floor and raising it all the way over your head. Powerlifting training exercises include weighted squats, deadlifts, snatches, and power cleans.

Powerlifting engages your entire body and brings about massive strength gains. While beginners can benefit from power lifting with guidance from an expert coach, these are innately high-risk exercises.

As the amount of weight you can lift becomes heavier, so do the repercussions when it comes to injuries. That said, exerting your muscles to this extent can be incredibly beneficial. Research indicates that powerlifting can lower your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and even cognitive decline.

Yes? Try These Variety-Filled Workouts

Athletes love explosive dynamic training because this approach incorporates a significant amount of aerobic exercise. A typical workout might involve some combination of box jumps, rope climbs, and powerlifting moves like squats, snatches, and cleans (albeit, performed with lighter weights so that it’s possible to rapidly complete a high number of repetitions).

As with powerlifting, any beginners interested in explosive dynamic training should seek out a well-trained professional to teach them how to perform each movement with correct form and to coach them through the workouts.

Explosive dynamic training, which encompasses the CrossFit take on strength training, can be an invaluable tool to support efforts to lose a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. The mix of resistance exercise and aerobic exercise ensures that your heart rate remains elevated while consistently breaking down muscle tissue to instigate muscle growth. This helps you both to burn more calories in the moment and to build lean mass so that you burn more calories at rest.

If explosive dynamic training sounds like a more intense commitment than you’re currently looking for, total-body circuit training might be a good fit for you.

You may be familiar with popular versions of total-body circuit training programs like P90x and Insanity. These boot-camp-style workouts use lighter weights to increase the difficulty of a variety of movements. This is a great way for those new to weight training to explore the benefits of this type of physical activity, especially because there are a plethora of guided programs out there.

Total-body training doesn’t tend to deliver weight-loss results as quickly as explosive dynamic training does, but it can be a wonderful way to support long-term weight-loss goals.

Key Facts About EAA Supplements and Resistance Exercise

Together, resistance exercise and EAAs can stimulate muscle protein synthesis greater than they can alone. Increasing muscle strength and mass requires a close interaction between exercise, daily diet, and EAA supplementation. Let’s take it step by step.

In a previous blog post, I covered aerobic exercise and how essential amino acid (EAA) supplements can be used to mitigate the effects of muscle breakdown and improve performance. But what about combining EAA supplements and resistance training? Does that lead to any impressive benefits?

If you’ve spent any time in the company of individuals seeking to increase their physical strength and build muscle mass recently, you’ve likely heard them talking about branched-chain amino acid supplements (often referred to as BCAAs). They’ve become about as ubiquitous as whey protein! Proponents believe BCAAs can maximize muscle growth, decrease post-workout muscle soreness, enhance mental focus, and more. But recent studies indicate that when it comes to using amino acid supplements to enhance muscle protein synthesis (the building of muscle protein), there may be a much more effective option.

Before exploring the relationships between resistance exercise, amino acid supplements, and muscle protein turnover, let’s get clear on some of the basic terminology.

Resistance Training, Defined

Resistance training can take many forms. You can lift weights to build muscles, or use the machines at the gym, or even use your own body weight in resistance exercises such as planks and pull-ups. If you’re curious about resistance training but not sure where to begin, I recommend checking out this post.

Research links resistance exercise to a wealth of benefits, including better joint function, increased bone density, and enhanced muscle, tendon, and ligament strength.

To get the best results from any exercise program, including resistance training, it’s vital to provide your body with the fuel it needs to power through workouts and recover in between sessions. Increasing muscle strength and mass requires close interaction between exercise and daily diet.

Protein is, hands down, the most important nutrient for anyone engaged in a regular resistance exercise training program. Protein contains amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscle tissue. Even if you make sure to prioritize protein intake at every meal, you can still amplify your anabolic response via amino acid ingestion. In the most basic terms, taking amino acid supplements promotes muscle protein synthesis (sometimes abbreviated to MPS response) and can help your body build the most muscle in the shortest amount of time.

Understanding the Role of Amino Acids

In technical terms, amino acids can be defined as simple organic compounds that contain a carboxyl (-COOH) and an amino (-NH2) group. When these compounds link together, they form protein molecules. And it is those protein macromolecules that make up your muscles.

Your body needs 20 different amino acids to produce protein. Scientists categorized nine of these as essential amino acids.

Key Facts About EAA Supplements and Resistance Exercise

Your body absolutely requires these nine amino acids not only to produce protein but also to carry out basic bodily functions that keep you alive. However, it cannot make them. Instead, they must be obtained from the food you eat. Anyone seeking to optimize her physical performance and muscle growth should review this list below outlining some of the important roles the essential amino acids play:

  1. Leucine: Many bodybuilders and athletes sing the praises of leucine supplementation—and for good reasons. One of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine plays a significant role in muscle anabolism. It also activates mTORC1 (more on what that means later).
  2. Lysine: This amino acid contributes to muscle growth as well as tissue repair and nutrient uptake throughout the body. Lysine is the second most abundant protein found in human muscle tissue.
  3. Valine: Another of the three BCAAs, valine promotes muscle growth and tissue repair. Studies show that valine can have significant anabolic effects.
  4. Isoleucine: The third BCAA, isoleucine makes major contributions to hemoglobin synthesis as well as the regulation of energy and blood sugar levels. Isoleucine also speeds recovery, decreasing the time needed to repair post-exercise muscle damage.
  5. Threonine: Best known for keeping your muscles and connective tissues strong and limber, threonine also contributes to muscle protein synthesis. Plus, it can speed healing and help you bounce back faster from injuries.
  6. Phenylalanine: Adequate levels of phenylalanine are crucial for the structure and function of a vast number of proteins and enzymes. One of this amino acid’s most notable functions is as a precursor to another amino acid, tyrosine, which your body converts into a number of brain chemicals including dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
  7. Methionine: Your body needs methionine in order to carry out tissue repairs as well as to generate new tissue. Without methionine, the synthesis of protein cannot begin. Methionine also spurs the formation of collagen and cartilage.
  8. Histidine: Another of the amino acids involved in muscle anabolism, histidine combines with beta-alanine to form the dipeptide carnosine, which improves your performance during high-intensity exercise. Histidine is also involved in the synthesis of hemoglobin as well as tissue repair.
  9. Tryptophan: This amino acid maintains the balance between protein synthesis and breakdown in adults. And like phenylalanine, tryptophan is a precursor for important brain chemicals—in this case, serotonin and melatonin.

Amino Acids Flip the Switch for Muscle Growth

After you’ve considered the list of the ways the essential amino acids contribute to muscle protein turnover, you will hopefully have grasped a key fact: BCAAs are not the only amino acids involved in muscle growth and repair. So when it comes to amino acid supplementation for sports nutrition purposes, taking a BCAA supplement simply doesn’t make sense.

Over the course of the 3 decades I have spent conducting NIH-funded research on muscle metabolism, I have garnered extensive data on how the muscles of the human body maintain themselves. The protein in your muscles continually break themselves down and rebuild themselves. In order to do this, they need a steady supply of all 20 of the amino acids involved in muscle protein turnover.

In order for muscle protein synthesis to begin, you must provide your body with one of the organic compounds that flip the “on switch.” Research indicates that leucine, an EAA and BCAA, may just be the most potent activator of the MPS response.

As I mentioned above, leucine supplementation activates the mTORC1, or the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1, thereby flipping the switch that turns on muscle protein synthesis. Scientists have found that leucine supplementation on its own requires a protein dose containing between 2.5 and 3 grams of protein in order to activate mTORC1. However, when individuals consume leucine in combination with the other eight essential amino acids, the required dose drops to 1.8 grams of leucine.

The mTORC1 pathway controls both anabolic and catabolic signaling of skeletal muscle mass, meaning it regulates both muscle growth and muscle tissue breakdown. Research has shown that pairing resistance exercise with essential amino acid supplementation has an additive effect when it comes to stimulating muscle protein synthesis via the mTORC1 pathway.

In other words, taking essential amino acids maximizes the hard work you put in during your training sessions and makes it easier for you to gain muscle.

How EAA Supplements Amplify the Benefits of Resistance Exercise

Resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein turnover. Muscle protein turnover is the balance between how much muscle protein is broken down and how much muscle protein is built back up. This is how muscle fiber function improves. Newer, better functioning fibers are synthesized to replace older ones that are not functioning as well. Both muscle protein breakdown and muscle protein synthesis are stimulated.

Since resistance exercise increases the efficiency of muscle protein synthesis, the increase in synthesis will be slightly greater than the increase in breakdown. The stimulation of protein synthesis is limited, however, because some of the essential amino acids released by protein breakdown are oxidized and not available to be reused for synthesis. Thus, even though the muscle is able to produce new protein more efficiently during resistance exercise, the balance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown remains negative (i.e., net loss of muscle protein) in the absence of nutrient intake.

Therefore, performing resistance exercise in a fasted state does not result in a positive muscle protein balance. To tip the balance in favor of muscle building, you must consume essential amino acids to replace those oxidized while exercising.

If you’re simply looking to increase muscle strength, then you only need to consume EAAs. But, if increasing muscle strength and muscle mass is your goal, you need to eat extra calories in addition to EAAs. You can tailor your nutrition to your resistance-exercise goals—mass, strength, or both—by adjusting your EAA and extra calorie intake.

Together They Are Stronger

As I mentioned briefly earlier, there is an interactive effect between resistance exercise and EAAs. Both stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and the combined effect is greater than either of their individual effects.

Essentially, resistance exercise primes the muscle to produce protein at an accelerated rate, but muscle protein synthesis is limited by the availability of essential amino acids in the fasted state. With targeted supplement support, you can go from fasted to full of free essential amino acids ready and waiting to be put to use. The ingested EAAs are rapidly consumed by the muscle, in part because blood flow to muscle is increased by resistance exercise, and in part because the molecular mechanisms in the muscle cells that regulate the rate of synthesis are turned on. The net result is that the major gain in muscle mass that occurs after resistance exercise is due to the combined effects of exercise and the increased availability of EAAs.

In my research, I have found that when EAAs were given before resistance exercise, muscle protein synthesis was stimulated more than when given after exercise, but the EAAs given after exercise still caused a significant stimulation.

Together, resistance exercise and EAAs can stimulate muscle protein synthesis greater than they can alone.

When Do I Take My EAA Supplements?

Unlike EAA supplementation for aerobic training, EAA supplementation during resistance training necessitates a before, during, and after approach that is customized according to your muscle and strength-building aims.

If an EAA supplement is ingested 30 minutes before resistance exercise, the muscle is put into a very anabolic state (where it is building up). If EAAs are consumed immediately after exercise there is also a stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis, but less so than if given before the workout.

So, you’ll want to take EAAs before a resistance workout to prevent the net breakdown of muscle protein during the workout. During resistance exercise, there’s an increase in blood flow to the muscle, and this increase can help deliver the ingested amino acids directly to the muscle for absorption. By increasing the blood concentrations of EAAs, the concentration gradients force EAAs into the muscle cells instead of out. Without EAA supplementation, the EAAs are forced out of the muscle.

Consuming EAAs after the workout will further stimulate protein synthesis and prolong the muscle-building response. The optimal approach is to take EAAs before and after resistance workouts, and throughout if possible.

Together, resistance exercise and EAAs can stimulate muscle protein synthesis greater than they can alone.