A Beginner’s Guide to Amino Acids and Growth Hormone

Growth hormone sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in humans and other animals. It has many beneficial properties, including lowering fat mass and increasing muscle mass and strength. Results in humans, however, are inconsistent. A greater understanding of amino acids and growth hormone may be the key to advancing growth hormone therapy.

Public interest in growth hormone seems to be constantly increasing. And based on recent studies, it seems that an improved understanding of the relationship between amino acids and growth hormone may be the key to unlocking the benefits of increased growth hormone production.

In technical terms, growth hormone (GH), also called human growth hormone (hGH) in reference to human use, can be categorized as a peptide hormone that sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration. As you may already know, or be able to guess from that definition, studies link growth hormone to a plethora of desirable effects, especially when it comes to athletic performance and aging.

It appears that growth hormone could be the key to remaining strong and healthy as we grow older. But how exactly does growth hormone work? And why has supplemental growth hormone been banned for all off-label use? And last but not least, what role could amino acids play in safely and naturally increasing your growth hormone levels?

Read on to find out.

How Growth Hormone Works

Growth hormone is, as the name tells you, a hormone. The pituitary gland controls growth hormone production (as well as most hormone production) and also regulates growth hormone release. GH release occurs in short bursts every 3 to 5 hours, then dissipates rapidly. Testing indicates that serum growth hormone levels peak about an hour after you fall asleep.

Growth hormone regulates your growth and development during your early years. When you enter puberty, your GH levels hit their highest point and stimulate increases in muscle mass and bone density. Over the course of your lifetime, growth hormone influences your body temperature, sugar and fat metabolism, and heart function.

Researchers have found that growth hormone increases the amount of protein allocated to your muscles, which spurs muscle growth. It also pulls fat from your body’s stores and transports it into your bloodstream where it can be burned for energy. Recent studies have also linked higher levels of serum growth hormone to better sleep quality, more resilient bones, and increased libido. And there’s evidence indicating that increased hGH levels (in conjunction with a good supply of collagen) help keep your skin taut and glowing.

Top Uses for Growth Hormone Replacement Therapy

As we’ve discussed, human growth hormone is a naturally occurring substance. However, scientists have found ways to produce synthetic hGH.

Doctors use synthetic hGH primarily to treat delayed or stunted growth in both children and adults. Some medical causes of growth issues include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Turner syndrome
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Impaired hGH production
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Muscle wasting disease

Other legitimate medical uses for synthetic hGH include the treatment of short bowel syndrome and muscle wasting caused by HIV or AIDS.

Receiving hGH injections can elevate growth hormone levels, resulting in benefits such as:

  • Increased capacity for physical exertion
  • Better bone density
  • Greater muscle mass
  • Decreased body fat

Understandably, those benefits appeal to many people with normal production of hGH too.

In fact, growth hormone is one of the most popular performance-enhancing drugs. Athletes dope with hGH, sometimes in combination with anabolic steroids, in order to rapidly and dramatically build muscle mass and boost their endurance and performance.

The simple fact that the use of growth hormone as a performance enhancer is banned by all anti-doping governing bodies indicates it can induce some beneficial gains. Scientific studies have shown this to be particularly true when it comes to amplifying the effects of weight training.

Growth hormone replacement therapy is also a sought-after anti-aging treatment. Research tells us that growth hormone secretion declines as you age. And as you age, your overall muscle mass decreases and body fat percentage increases. Although there is no proof that decreased growth hormone concentrations cause these changes in body composition, proponents believe that growth hormone replacement therapy can reverse these age-related changes.

The Search for the Best Growth Hormone Booster Is On

Even if you aren’t in a position to have to worry about the rules set in place by governing bodies, it’s a good idea to steer clear of off-label use of synthetic hGH. Even when prescribed and injected by a doctor who’s also monitoring your overall health, growth hormone replacement therapy can have side effects like:

  • Nerve, muscle, and joint pain
  • Fluid retention
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Low blood sugar
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Growth of cancerous tumors
  • Acromegaly (unusual growth of hands, feet, and facial features)
  • Dependency and withdrawal

Taking illicit hGH is especially risky, since there’s no way to be absolutely sure of the composition of those products. And beware of any growth hormone supplements designed to be taken orally, since your body cannot utilize an oral dose of growth hormone.

Since it can be expensive and risky to utilize growth hormone replacement therapy for performance boosting and anti-aging purposes, much effort has been made to identify a nutritional approach to stimulating growth hormone release. Nutritional stimulation of growth hormone secretion would achieve the benefits of growth hormone replacement therapy within the regulations of drug enforcement agencies and without any concerning side effects.

What Science Tells Us About Amino Acids and Growth Hormone

Amino acids have been the primary focus of efforts to identify nutritional approaches to stimulating growth hormone release.

Based on a wealth of anecdotal evidence, many athletes and other individuals interested in remaining vibrant as they age have already used amino acid supplementation to boost their hGH levels. There’s also mounting data from scientific studies indicating that amino acid supplements function as growth hormone secretagogues, meaning they induce GH release.

It’s quite clear that the intravenous administration of certain amino acids results in significant growth hormone release. For example, doctors routinely use an intravenous arginine infusion test to check the pituitary gland’s GH response. In healthy individuals, the injection of arginine (L-arginine) leads to a 52% increase in concentrations of arginine in the bloodstream, which in turn results in significantly increased GH concentrations.

Intravenous injections of ornithine (L-ornithine) also spur growth hormone release. Studies show it can result in a 5-fold increase in serum growth hormone concentrations within just 45 minutes.

However, the intravenous arginine infusion test results in much higher arginine concentrations in the blood than can be achieved with oral consumption. This is because orally ingested arginine is rapidly cleared by the liver, which blunts the increase in arginine concentration in the blood.

Coupled with the fact that oral consumption of a large amount of arginine causes diarrhea and other symptoms of GI distress, the doses of oral arginine that have been tested as potential growth hormone boosters don’t measure up to intravenous infusions of arginine.

Oral consumption results in much lower concentrations of arginine in the blood than those achieved during the intravenous arginine test. Consequently, an oral dose of arginine only stimulates growth hormone production in certain circumstances.

Oral supplementation with arginine has been tested both alone and in combination with other amino acids. Trials looking at the use of amino acids to stimulate the release of growth hormone have been run with combinations of arginine and ornithine, and arginine and lysine. Lysine has been tested alone as well. In addition, glutamine and glycine have each been tested as growth hormone stimulants.

The results of recent studies have been inconsistent. It appears that regardless of the amino acid combination, some studies report positive results while others fail to find a significant effect.

Some findings appear to indicate that the time of day when a person takes the amino acids may determine whether, and to what extent, they impact GH concentrations.

For example, some scientists have hypothesized that arginine may only act as a growth hormone secretagogue at night. During one study, researchers gave participants 250 mg/kg/day of oral arginine aspartate for a week. Then they measured growth hormone and prolactin secretion over 24 hours by using methods such as radioimmunoassay analysis of blood samples taken every 30 minutes. Those results were compared to data obtained from the same subjects under identical conditions after a week of placebo supplementation. All subjects had growth hormone levels during slow wave sleep that were about 60% higher after a week of arginine supplementation than after a week of taking the placebo.

Using a combination of arginine and ornithine in conjunction with resistance training seems to deliver fairly consistent results as well. It’s not yet entirely clear, however, if those benefits have do do with growth hormone release.

For a double-blind study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, participants completed a 5-week progressive strength-training program. Half the participants took an amino acid supplement that combined 2 grams of L-arginine and 1 gram of L-ornithine, while the others took a placebo.

The subjects who took the amino acid blend scored far higher for total strength as well as lean body mass than those who took the placebo. The authors concluded that both arginine and ornithine can, in conjunction with a high-intensity strength-training program, substantially increase strength, muscle growth, and fat loss in a short period of time. It also seems that the amino acids supported muscle recovery and prevented inflammation related to tissue breakdown.

However, that study did not specifically measure growth hormone production, so there’s no way to know for sure whether that was, indeed, the driving force behind the reported benefits. Plus, other studies have been unable to duplicate those results for individuals with lower activity levels as well as for older individuals.

To date, no combination of amino acids has proved to be universally beneficial in terms of increasing growth hormone concentrations. In all the scientific studies, there have been people who responded and people who didn’t. Furthermore, there is very limited data indicating that stimulation of growth hormone release by one or two individual amino acids translates to an increased rate of protein synthesis in muscle.

A Different Angle on the Benefits of Growth Hormone

The reason stimulation of growth hormone release with one or two individual amino acids doesn’t lead to significant muscle growth is that all the essential amino acids are required to produce a complete muscle protein.

Furthermore, it is not growth hormone, per se, that stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Although growth hormone may have some direct metabolic effects, its main action is to encourage the expression of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is a potent stimulator of muscle protein synthesis if expressed inside the muscle cell. It is not clear whether individual amino acids increase the expression of IGF-1 in muscle, but studies indicate that essential amino acids can work synergistically to increase IGF-1 function inside muscle cells.

An important study in which older individuals were given either a balanced formulation of all the essential amino acids or a placebo for 3 months showed clearly that both muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis increased for the amino acid group compared to the placebo group. Participants supplementing with a complete essential amino acid formula expressed more IGF-1 inside their muscle cells, which resulted in favorable changes to their lean body mass. Muscle protein synthesis not only increased when essential amino acid levels in the blood shot up after consumption, but also in the basal state between meals. This means that IGF-1 is released continuously into the muscle, where it increases the capacity to make new muscle protein, both day and night.

Activating Growth Hormone with Essential Amino Acids

What we’ve seen thus far is that for some people, growth hormone release can be stimulated by consumption of a variety of amino acids—arginine, lysine, ornithine, glutamine, glycine—either alone or in combination. But it’s clear that many factors influence the effect amino acids have on hGH production. Responses in sedentary individuals, including older individuals, are much less consistent.

The inability of individual amino acids to stimulate muscle protein synthesis in every circumstance and in every human is likely due to the fact that all essential amino acids are required to make new muscle protein. Dietary supplementation with a balanced mixture of essential amino acids has the advantage over individual amino acids because muscle protein synthesis is directly stimulated by essential aminos, and the increase in IGF-1 in muscle stimulates the synthesis of new muscle protein 24 hours a day.

Growth hormone sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in humans and other animals.

Amino Acids: The Fatal Flaw in the Alkaline Diet

The alkaline diet is based on the premise that acidic blood causes all sorts of health problems that can be countered by eating more alkaline foods. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Eating too many alkaline foods and not enough acidic foods may lead to amino acid nutritional deficiencies that can have disastrous consequences on your health.

The alkaline diet—which is also known as the alkaline ash diet, alkaline acid diet, acid ash diet, acid alkaline diet, and even pH diet—is based on the premise that acidic blood causes all sorts of health problems that can be countered by eating more alkaline foods.

Proponents of the alkaline diet claim it can help with weight loss and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease and even cure conditions like arthritis and cancer.

But is the alkaline diet all it’s cracked up to be?

While the alkaline diet includes many healthy suggestions—such as fruits, vegetables, and water galore—and cautions against the consumption of admittedly unhealthy substances such as alcohol, sugar, and processed foods, nothing you eat is going to have a dramatic effect on the pH of your blood.

But if the alkaline diet is all about creating the optimal conditions for health through the consumption of alkaline foods, how can this be the case?

The reason is that our bodies have mechanisms in place that keep the blood pH tightly regulated.

What’s more, eating too many alkaline foods and too few acidic foods may actually lead to amino acid nutritional deficiencies. And this can have disastrous consequences for everything from bone health to muscle mass to blood pressure.

The pH Balance Diet: Weighing the Scales Between Acidic and Alkaline

The pH is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline something is and is based on a scale of 0 to 14, where 0 is considered extremely acidic, 7 neutral, and 14 extremely alkaline.

The body’s pH actually varies considerably from one area to another. For instance, the normal pH of the blood is around 7.4, but the pH of the stomach remains between 1.5 and 3.5 to maintain the acidic environment necessary to break down the foods we eat.

Based on the premise that maintaining a blood pH above 7.4 helps improve overall health, the alkaline diet involves avoiding foods that may act to lower blood pH levels by increasing dietary acid load.

Therefore, in the alkaline diet, dietary proteins and amino acids—particularly those obtained from animal protein—are especially to be avoided.

Instead, proponents of the alkaline diet advocate creating an alkaline environment in the body by eating mainly non-acid-forming foods, and even bicarbonate (HCO3–), which is a base that can neutralize acidic blood.

However, a high-protein diet, with its increased acid load, actually results in very little change in blood chemistry and pH, though the same diet does have a profound effect on urinary chemistry and pH.

The reason for this is that the body maintains tight control over blood pH, but urinary pH has the ability to move from an acid to alkaline state to help the pH of the blood stay in balance.

The alkaline diet is thus built on the notion that alkaline foods increase the pH of urine, thereby making urine less acidic and, by extension, blood less acidic.

But there are two problems with basing a dietary theory on urinary pH. First, urinary pH does not necessarily reflect blood pH. Second, aside from its role in contributing to kidney stones and gout, clinical trials supporting the claim that acidic urine results in adverse health outcomes are lacking.

Amino Acids and Blood pH

Our bodies absorb all the essential amino acids—the amino acids that must be obtained through dietary sources—needed for survival from the proteins we eat. And as you might guess from the name, amino acids are indeed acidic. This is reflected by the drop in urinary pH that occurs after consuming protein-rich foods.

The sulfur-containing amino acids, such as methionine and cysteine, are considered particularly problematic by proponents of the alkaline diet, as increased sulfur intake can result in the formation of sulfuric acid and present a significant acid load to the body.

And, as animal proteins are a good source of sulfur-containing amino acids, advocates of the alkaline diet caution against the consumption of these proteins.

However, there’s an innate fallacy in the assumption that sulfur has a negative effect on health. This is because sulfur plays many important roles in the body, and a sulfur deficiency can have many adverse effects.

In addition, dietary amino acids, including sulfur-containing amino acids, have only a transient effect on blood pH. As we alluded to earlier, this is a result of the body’s highly effective system for regulating blood pH.

How the Body Regulates Blood pH

The kidneys play an important role in maintaining a constant pH in the blood. For example, when the blood becomes acidic after ingesting amino acids, the kidneys excrete ammonia in the urine, which works to balance the acidic load in the blood.

So, while urine becomes more acidic after eating amino acids, this acidity is not reflected in the blood. Rather, urine becomes acidic to help prevent the blood from becoming acidic and to keep blood pH constant.

This is, in fact, a natural function of the kidneys, and there’s no evidence that high protein or amino acid intake has any detrimental effect on kidney function.

Alkaline Diet Fact:
Consuming animal protein and/or amino acids does not acidify the blood significantly, so there’s no physiological basis for the alkaline diet.

But the excretion of ammonia in the urine plays only a minor part in keeping blood pH in the normal range. The major mechanism for maintaining the proper balance of blood pH is actually the carbon dioxide (CO2)–HCO3– system.

While the kidneys play a significant role in helping to maintain blood pH, it’s actually the lungs that play the predominant part in maintaining the pH balance of the blood.

You see, the lungs excrete protons derived from dietary metabolism in the breath as CO2. And CO2 is acidic, while HCO3–, as we’ve discovered, is basic, or alkaline.

To keep the levels of CO2 and HCO3– in balance, the lungs and kidneys work together so that as HCO3– neutralizes excess acid and is thus lost from the body, more CO2 is produced and excreted in the breath. And the HCO3– lost to acid neutralization is then regenerated in the kidneys.

As this process demonstrates, the human body has a very efficient procedure for keeping blood pH tightly regulated—even after the consumption of a large amount of protein and/or amino acids.

The Flaw in the Alkaline Diet

As we’ve seen, the alkaline diet doesn’t account for the efficient regulation of blood pH by both the CO2-HCO3– system and urinary excretion of ammonia. And following the recommendation of proponents of the alkaline diet to avoid all animal proteins and thus all sulfur-containing amino acids will result in an inadequate intake of essential amino acids.

However, essential amino acids perform a wide range of important metabolic functions and contribute to a multitude of health benefits, so they must be present in the diet in adequate amounts for optimal health to occur.

The alkaline diet is based on the premise that acidic blood causes all sorts of health problems that can be countered by eating more alkaline foods

What’s with Wearable Fitness Technology?

Wearable fitness devices have become popular in recent years. You have probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology and what are your best options?

Wearable fitness devices have become all the rage. Just scope out all the gym rats glancing down at their wrists between sets! You’ve probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology?

The craze began with basic wearables like pedometers, heart rate monitors, and calorie counters, and has morphed into more sophisticated devices that can track all your fitness data. Wearable fitness devices track your heart rate, the distance you travel, how many calories you burn, and how much exercise you do each day. Set your fitness and health goals, and your fitness tracker will alert you when you’ve reached them. Some of these devices can connect to apps on your smartphone to measure your long-term progress and share your data with fitness groups.

Best Fitness Trackers

Wearable fitness devices have become popular in recent years. You have probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology?

Fitbit

With the promise of multi-day battery life, Fitbit has a variety of activity trackers to suit your needs and budget. No matter which model you choose, you’re covered with distance, calorie burn, and step counting, while more sophisticated models also offer heart and sleep monitoring.

An upgrade from the Fitbit Charge 2, the Fitbit Charge 3 features a streamlined design and the smartwatch features you depend on. Lightweight with a grayscale touchscreen display, the Charge 3 monitors heart rate and daily steps, and jumps on board automatically to track workouts and even menstrual cycles for women if you wish. You can also take texts and calls and check your social media accounts on this handy wearable device.

Or you can get fit with the more top-of-the-line Fitbit Ionic or Fitbit Versa fitness trackers. They’ve got more app compatibility, better visuals on the screen, and built-in GPS. If you’re willing to splurge, then the Ionic or Versa are sweet upgrades.

Garmin

A smart option for runners and outdoorsy types, the Garmin Vivosport is lightweight with an integrated GPS and heart rate monitor. This water-resistant tracker does everything from sleep tracking to workout tracking. It helps you measure your fitness goals with personal records and a virtual pacer, and you can sync up with the Garmin Connect app to track your metrics over time.

Want a slimmer, sleeker, slightly cheaper Garmin option? You could opt for the Vivosmart 4, which is a lighterweight choice that also comes equipped with a Body Battery Energy Monitor so you know when to go hard and when to back off, as well as a function that measures your oxygen saturation levels. Still, you won’t get the GPS integration function with the Garmin Vivosmart and may miss the better lit display of the Vivosport.

And then there’s the least expensive option, the Garmin Vivofit, which is a slim-fitting fitness tracker that tracks the basics—steps, distance, calories, sleep—but doesn’t have all the smart functions you may desire.

Apple Watch Series 4

Leave it to Apple to make its mark on the fitness industry. The Apple Watch is for iOS users looking for the best of the best in fitness trackers. It’s compatible with most third-party fitness apps, boasts GPS tracking, changes in altitude, onboard heart rate monitoring, and even an electrocardiogram app certified by the FDA. Your Apple Watch comes complete with Bluetooth and Siri, all in typical Apple style.

Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro

Android users can get onboard the fitness tracker train with the Samsung Gear Fit2Pro, complete with GPS technology and smartwatch bells and whistles. It has an ultra-detailed display, it monitors your heart rate, and it tracks your fitness data. Samsung has designed a fitness tracker with a minimalist look that stores and streams music, tracks typical fitness metrics, is water resistant, and features a top-notch display. And yes, you can still get social and take phone calls and texts.

Withings Steel HR Sport

Withings emerged onto the wearable tech market in 2015 with its Activité Pop smartwatch, and it’s holding strong among the best wearable fitness tech companies in 2019 with its newly released Steel HR Sport. This hybrid watch is stylish, with a traditional analog face and integrated smartwatch features, GPS connectivity, and activity tracking. It measures your steps in percentages, monitors your sleep, and tracks your heart rate and VO2 max so you know how much oxygen you’re using when exercising. If you’re looking for subtlety with all the digital dressings, the Steel HR Sport might be your favorite.

Moov Now

Perhaps the best wearable fitness tracker for those on the budget, the Moov Now is noted for its outstanding 6-month battery life, and while it doesn’t have the fancy trappings of many of the other fitness trackers on this list, it will keep track of your steps, your boxing and rep-based activities, and even monitor your swimming and running goals as well as your sleep.

Polar Loop

An “activity band with smart guidance” this wearable fitness tracker offers the same functions as the others, tracking sleep, calories, and steps. Sync it up with your smartphone to account for goal setting and reminders, and enjoy the personalized guidance and motivation throughout your day. Rest easy knowing its waterproof and durable.

Smartwatch

Skagen created the Signatur Connected Hybrid Smartwatch, a classier option compared to a standard smartwatch. The company specializes in elegant, smart devices that do not look like wearable tech. This watch tracks activities, and it synchronizes with your smartphone. This is an excellent choice if you are looking for a more sophisticated wearable.

Smart Shoes

This option is considered “invisible” wearable tech. Under Armour, for example, has integrated a fitness tracker right into the soles of the shoes, so you do not need to wear a smartwatch to record your fitness data. These smart shoes have an accelerometer that records running metrics, as well as Bluetooth, and keeps all metrics logged in an app.

Science and Benefits

The National Institutes of Health says that if you walk fewer than 5,000 steps per day, you have a sedentary lifestyle—if you take more than 10,000 steps per day you are considered “active.”

With reminders and accountability tools, wearable fitness trackers can help people get more active. Using a smartwatch can also reduce the strain of upper vertebrae, known as “text neck” and cervicalgia, because wearers raise their arms to look at wrist-worn displays instead of lowering their heads to look at the phone.

Another benefit of wearable technology is that it helps you engage with your surroundings. “What we’re really trying to achieve is the idea of freedom from your phone,” says David Ng, a wearable product manager for Samsung. Trackers that monitor your heart rate are also great because they can keep track of your resting heart rate—a key value when it comes to hypertension and heart disease.

Science, however, has not been so in awe of wearable fitness technology.

Research published by the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that activity trackers had no effect on health and fitness. The results of another study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that subjects who didn’t use fitness trackers lost more weight than the group that used wearable fitness technologies.

When considering the less-than-stellar findings, it’s important to note that most existing studies, including the two mentioned above, used devices that are several years old—outside experts agree that fitness tech is improving.

“There are two things, specifically, that apps and devices are actually getting better at,” said Mitesh Patel, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. In his opinion, the first is leveraging social networks to foster competition and support. A study, conducted by Liza Rovniak, a Penn State psychologist, showed that support networks are effective at increasing physical activity in unmotivated adults. The second factor devices are improving, according to Patel, is goal setting. He sustains that the problem with early fitness trackers was that they all used the same goal (step count) and they all set the bar way too high. Today’s fitness wearables tailor their feedback to users’ individual habits, instead of telling you to take 10,000 steps.

Of course, there will always be people who prefer to track their own progress and go to the doctor to measure heart rate. But wearable tech is an excellent option to consider if you want to develop a new relationship with your fitness routine, but you can also decide to keep on working out the traditional way, without any wearable fitness technologies—the important thing is that you find time to exercise!

Eating for Brain Health: Amino Acids for Optimal Cognitive Function

A well-fed brain is able to process information, remember, learn, focus, and maintain an active mind. The food we eat can greatly enhance the health and capabilities of our brains, especially as we age. Optimal eating for brain health depends on protein-rich foods full of brain-boosting nutrients called amino acids.

The brain is one of the most studied and mysterious parts of the body. It performs countless functions that are essential to survival—it is the coordinating center of sensations and intellectual and nervous activity. Our lifestyles have a profound impact on our brains; therefore, it is crucial to cultivate healthy habits. A well-fed brain is able to process information, remember, learn, focus, and maintain an active mind. The food we eat can greatly enhance the health and capabilities of our brains, especially as we age.

Inside the brain’s neurons, impulses are carried in the form of tiny electrochemical currents that involve a variety of substances called neurotransmitters. The most important neurotransmitters are dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters belong to a class of chemicals called monoamines, which regulate our mood states and experiences of fear and pleasure. They also play key roles in many cognitive functions. A lack of balance among these neurotransmitters contributes to many psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease. Optimal eating for brain health depends on protein-rich foods full of brain-boosting nutrients called amino acids.

Amino Acids for Brain Function

Amino acids are the precursors of neurotransmitters, which is a sciency way of saying that amino acids make the neurotransmitters our brains depend on for balance and function. The amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine produce the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. As proteins are composed of amino acids, and amino acids are the precursors of neurotransmitters, it is easy to see the connection between the food we eat and our brains. Alterations in the production of transmitters can directly influence the brain’s health.

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is the rarest of the essential amino acids found in food and is the precursor of serotonin, one of the body’s natural antidepressants. Tryptophan can enhance positive mood and lower obsessive thinking, which is often related to eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. However, a careful balance is needed, because serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and an increase can induce the sensation of fatigue and ultimately sleep. It is a long-standing tradition to doze off after a big turkey dinner, and this can be attributed (at least in part!) to the relatively high abundance of tryptophan in turkey.   

Tyrosine

Tyrosine is the precursor of three neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, dopamine, and epinephrine. Tyrosine is not typically considered an essential amino acid because it can be synthesized by humans from phenylalanine; however, studies have shown that in certain instances the brain may not be able to synthesize sufficient tyrosine from phenylalanine to meet its needs. For example, delirium is associated with a low conversion rate of phenylalanine to tyrosine.

Tryptophan and tyrosine are the two primary amino acids connected to brain health, but there are other amino acids which play a role in brain function: acetyl l-carnitine (carnitine) and l-glutamine (glutamine). Carnitine converts fats in the body into fuel that can be used by the brain. This amino acid also removes toxins that interfere with brain activities. Glutamine improves the uptake of serotonin and dopamine, and stimulates the production of neurotransmitters that assist with brain function and focus. Glutamine can also be converted to the amino acid glutamate, another neurotransmitter.

BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids, leucine, valine and isoleucine) play an indirect role in the production of natural neurotransmitters. The BCAAs, along with phenylalanine, tyrosine, and serotonin, are all transported into the brain by the same transport system. An increase in BCAAs can inhibit the uptake of tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine by occupying the transporters.  

Brain-Boosting Foods

The food you eat plays a key role in your brain health, and proteins supply your brain with the amino acids it needs to perform its daily activities.

Sources of Tryptophan

The best dietary sources of tryptophan are turkey and chicken. A 4-ounce portion of turkey or chicken breast provides 350 to 390 milligrams of tryptophan. Red meats also contain this amino acid, but they should be eaten in moderation because they have more saturated fat. Shrimp is also a good source of tryptophan; a 4-ounce serving contains 330 milligrams. Fish, such as tuna, halibut, salmon, sardines, cod, and scallops, contains between 250 and 400 milligrams of tryptophan per serving. Dairy contains less tryptophan per serving compared to meat and fish; a 1-cup serving of milk provides 100 milligrams of this amino acid. If you are vegetarian or vegan, keep in mind that among nuts, pumpkin seeds are the best sources because they provide 110 milligrams of tryptophan per one-fourth cup. Legumes, such as kidney beans and black beans, contain 180 milligrams of tryptophan per cup.

Sources of Tyrosine

Low tyrosine levels are rare, but you may need a higher dose during stressful times. Tyrosine is found in a variety of foods, such as meats and cheese. Roast beef, for example, has 1,178 milligrams per 3-ounce serving. Other meats such as pork chops, salmon, turkey, and chicken contain 900 to 1,000 milligrams per 3-ounce cooked portion. Parmesan cheese contains 559 milligrams per ounce, and one egg has 250 milligrams. Don’t eat meat? A cup of cooked white beans has 450 milligrams of tyrosine. The amount of tyrosine you need each day is linked to the essential amino acid precursor phenylalanine—for adults, that is 14 milligrams per kilogram per day.

Sources of Carnitine and Glutamine

Most animal-based foods are good sources of carnitine. Beef is one of the richest natural sources of carnitine. Lean cuts have 95 milligrams or less of cholesterol and fewer than 10 grams of total fat in every 3-ounce serving. Chicken breast is high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol, and a good source of vitamins and minerals. It also contains 3 to 5 milligrams of carnitine in every 4-ounce serving. All fish and shellfish have some carnitine (cod has the highest concentration of any seafood).

While your body normally makes all the glutamine it needs, a severe injury or illness may require you to increase your dietary intake. Meat, fish, and seafood are the best sources of glutamine. Many dairy products are also rich in glutamine, and whey protein, a byproduct of cheese production, is a top source of glutamine. Among animal products, eggs are also rich in glutamine. Dried lentils, peas, beans, and cabbage are excellent options for vegetarians and vegans. Many whole grains, including oats and products made from whole wheat, quinoa, millet, and brown rice, are also rich in glutamine.

 

Strength Training for Women: 4 Essential Weight-Lifting Moves

Strength training has numerous benefits for women. Many women avoid strength training because they are afraid they’ll develop bulging muscles. But strength training is a crucial component of everyone’s workout program—women and men alike! High levels of estrogen make it hard for women to become overly muscular.

Strength training may call up images of men lifting weights in the gym. Many women avoid strength training because they are afraid they’ll develop bulging muscles. But strength training is a crucial component of everyone’s workout program—women and men alike!

Strength training has numerous benefits for women. And please don’t let the fear of big muscles deter you. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, high levels of estrogen make it hard for women to become overly muscular. When women lift weights, their muscles tone, strengthen, and develop more endurance rather than increase in actual size. The benefits of strength training include enhancing muscle mass and helping with weight loss and bone strength.

How to Get Started

If you are planning to exercise at home, the easiest thing you can do is to use your own body weight for resistance and do pushups, pullups, and abdominal crunches. You can also use resistance tubing (large, colorful rubber bands) for added resistance and toning effects. Some doctors and sports medicine clinics provide tubing to patients free of charge, or you can buy resistance tubing in sports stores. Another option is to use free weights such as dumbbells, weight bars, and barbells. You can purchase these inexpensive tools in sports stores, and they’re a primary component of most gyms. If you go to the gym, consider using weight machines—many fitness centers have circuit-style weight machines that target different muscle groups. If you are a beginner, ask for assistance before using these machines. Ideally, you should do 8 to 12 repetitions of your chosen exercise. As you progress, add more weight and more sets to those repetitions.

Weight Lifting for WomenEssential Moves

Keep in mind that there are no “best” weight-lifting workouts for women because different training programs can get similar results. We recommend that you switch your lifting routine every four to six weeks to force your body to adapt to a new training program. Strength training focused on growth hormone release helps women because it plays a key role in muscles’ recovery, cell reproduction, and regeneration. Here is an example of an effective routine, based on the exercises described above, and focused on growth hormone release:

Alternate upper and lower body workouts over four training days each week for this routine. Hit the upper body on Monday, for example, doing chest or overhead presses, with 8 to 12 repetitions. On Tuesday, train your lower body with squats. Take Wednesday off for recovery. On Thursday, focus on the upper body again. On Friday, back to the lower body.

You can support your strength-training gains with amino acid nutrition. Amino acids build the protein that develops muscle strength and tone, so that you get fitter faster. Read more about amino acids and fitness here.

Amino Acids Missing from a Vegan Diet

If you follow a vegan diet, it might be hard for you to get the essential amino acids that your body needs. Luckily, proteins are present in many foods—not just in animal products, but it’s important to eat a variety of vegan protein sources to make sure your body receives the nutrients it needs to thrive.

If you follow a vegan diet, it might be hard for you to get the essential amino acids that your body needs. Luckily, proteins are present in many foods—not just in animal products, but it’s important to eat a variety of vegan protein sources to make sure that your body receives the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Vegan Protein Sources

What are the best vegan protein sources?

SOY and QUINOA

They are great options because they provide all the essential amino acids in a reasonably good profile. A cup of soybeans contains 28 grams of protein, a 3-ounce serving of tofu has 6.2 grams of proteins, and a cup of quinoa provides 8.3 grams of protein.

NUTS and BEANS

Nuts and beans don’t contain all the essential amino acids, but they have a good amount of protein. Seeds and nuts (per ounce) contain about 4-9 grams of protein, and a cup of beans has 15-17 grams of protein.

FRUITS and VEGETABLES

Fruit and vegetables occupy a central part of a vegan diet, so it’s important to know that some of them can provide more vegan amino acids than others. Plums, raspberries, papaya, grapes, pineapples, apples, oranges, melons, and pomegranates are the best protein-rich fruits that you can eat. Among vegetables: cucumbers, radishes, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, turnips, and spinach. While these foods contain proteins, the proportion of the food source as protein is low.

Food Combinations for Complementary Proteins

Combining proteins is a good way to nourish your body with the essential amino acids, but there are specific rules to follow. Complementary proteins have to be eaten at the same time; the essential amino acids must be increased simultaneously and in the appropriate profile to fully stimulate protein synthesis. They also need to have truly complementary profiles of essential amino acids to be effective. Unfortunately, most plant-based proteins are limited by the availability of lysine. Grains are low in lysine, while legumes are low in methionine, both essential amino acids. For this reason, the popular combination of beans and rice cannot guarantee high-quality proteins.

As vegans don’t allow for dairy, it can be challenging to find the right food combination to get a complete protein. Luckily, there are alternatives to make sure you don’t miss those essential amino acids that are so important for virtually every biological process in your body.

How to Supplement with Amino Acids on a Vegan Diet

It’s a smart move for vegans to incorporate a vegan amino acid supplement into their diet. Adding an essential amino acid supplement to a vegan diet will significantly improve the ratio of essential amino acids to nonessential amino acids.

The best amino acid supplement maintains an optimal balance of essential amino acids in the blood to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle protein breakdown. Stimulating muscle protein synthesis is crucial, especially after working out—this process improves the functional ability of muscle by increasing muscle strength and mass.

If you work out, take your supplements before, during, and after exercise, to minimize the accelerated protein breakdown. Supplements should also be taken with your meals to enhance the physiological effectiveness of the dietary protein intake. Dosages depend on how far short your diet falls of the goal intake of high-quality protein.

Amino Acids and Gaining “Good” Weight After Serious Illness, Surgery or Injury

Recovery almost inevitably involves regaining the weight that was lost. It is important that the regained weight is largely muscle, and that you don’t replace the muscle you lost with new fat. The key to gaining good weight is optimal amino acid nutrition.

Obesity has become such a pervasive problem in the United States that few people think about gaining weight on purpose. That is, until they lose a drastic amount of weight due to serious illness, surgery, or injury. The weight lost in these circumstances includes a significant amount of muscle. Recovery almost inevitably involves regaining the weight that was lost. It is important that the regained weight is largely muscle, and that you don’t replace the muscle you lost with new fat. The key to gaining good weight is optimal amino acid nutrition.

Why Illness, Surgery, or Injury Often Results in Weight Loss

When you become seriously ill, undergo the physical stress associated with major surgery, or suffer a severe injury, your body may enter what’s known as a catabolic state.

The catabolic state refers to the rapid loss of weight, especially muscle, accompanying physiological stress. Some events that might cause a catabolic state include major surgery or trauma, serious chronic diseases like cancer and heart failure, or acute illnesses such as pneumonia. Even a serious case of the flu can create a catabolic state. There are two components of the catabolic state:

  1. Changes in muscle metabolism that are part of the stress response
  2. Decreased appetite

Many catabolic states involve hospitalization during the most severe stage, perhaps even in the intensive care unit. Receiving an adequate intake of nutrients in a severe catabolic state becomes challenging for several reasons. First, the normal anabolic (muscle building) response to protein intake diminishes, a condition called anabolic resistance. Second, glucose metabolism is altered significantly—insulin resistance kicks in and fat accumulates in the liver. And third, fatty acid levels in the blood drastically increase. During the acutely severe stage, the debilitative effects of bedrest are often superimposed onto those fundamental elements of the body’s stress response.

The primary nutritional focus for helping individuals weather a catabolic state with the most minimal damage possible should be the consumption of essential amino acids (EAAs). Providing your body with a steady supply of essential amino acids can effectively slow down the loss of muscle that accompanies anabolic resistance. Even EAAs have a limited effectiveness in the catabolic state, however, and some degree of muscle loss is inevitable.

Full Recovery Involves Gaining Good Weight

Once the initial health issue has passed and you’ve entered the recovery phase, you may actually be happy to have lost some weight. The problem with this perspective is that the stress response specifically targets muscle loss. Although some fat is lost as well, a significant portion of weight loss that occurs in a catabolic state comes directly from your muscle mass.

Further, it’s important to make peace with the fact that you will almost inevitably regain the weight that you lost in one way or another. The key is to restore your lost muscle mass, and avoid unfavorably affecting your body composition by regaining the weight you shed as fat.

Making a Healthy Weight-Gain Meal Plan

Making the decision to gain weight should not be interpreted as a license to binge on high-calorie, sugary, salt-laden junk food. While that could very well provide you with the extra calories required to gain weight, you’ll be undermining your overall health in the process.

The point of gaining good weight is to restore your lost muscle mass and subcutaneous fat, not to build up deposits of belly fat that have been linked to adverse health outcomes including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The best healthy weight-gain strategy for you will depend on your individual circumstances and goals; however, there are certain strategies for devising a healthy weight-gain meal plan and exercise protocol that can be universally beneficial.

The Importance of Protein

Protein should be the macronutrient that dominates your meal plan for gaining good weight. As you may be aware, your muscles are formed from protein. Making protein the base of your diet, therefore, makes it far more likely that the extra calories you take in will be transformed into muscles, not excess body fat.

Initially, anabolic resistance lingers after recovery, which will limit the efficacy of the protein you consume. As your physical condition improves, your body will become more efficient at putting the dietary protein you consume to work promoting muscle growth.

Research has consistently demonstrated that getting your extra calories from protein results in more lean muscle mass gains and less fat mass gains.

A study published in JAMA compared the effects of low-, normal-, and high-protein diets on weight gain and body composition. All participants ate diets designed to provide approximately 40% more calories than needed to maintain their current weights. The authors found that participants on the high-protein diet gained significantly more lean body mass—in other words, muscle mass—than those on the normal- and low-protein diets.

Aim to consume between 25% and 30% of your daily calories in the form of high-quality protein. Another way to conceptualize the amount of protein needed to gain weight is to shoot for between 0.7 and 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Depending on your calorie intake, you may find you have room to increase that.

One thing to keep in mind: protein is highly filling. You may find that increasing the number of grams of protein you eat each day substantially reduces your appetite. That’s why increasing your protein intake is also a helpful strategy for meeting weight-loss goals (albeit, without the overall strategy of eating more than enough calories to meet your body’s energetic needs). While this could make it challenging for you to eat the extra calories needed for weight gain, I’ll provide helpful tips on how to overcome this hurdle later on in the article.

Structuring your diet around protein will involve incorporating a variety of high-quality protein sources, such as:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Many dairy products
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Unless you have dietary restrictions that rule out animal proteins, I recommend making those the focal point of your healthy weight-gain meal plan. Animal-based proteins, including many dairy products, not only contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to build muscle, but also have a higher ratio of overall calories from protein. On average, about 50% of the calories in animal protein food sources come from protein. In contrast, around 70% or more of the calories in many plant-based protein food sources may come from carbohydrates.

How to Handle Fats and Carbohydrates

Since your primary—and quite likely, unfamiliar—goal is to gain weight, you may need to adjust the way you typically think about food. If you’re accustomed to restricting your carbohydrate or fat intake, this is the moment to let go of that. Placing limits on how much fat or how many carbs you eat will only make it harder for you to eat the calorie-dense foods required for healthy weight gain.

Yet another reason to prioritize animal protein as a mainstay of your meal plan for gaining good weight is that the majority of the non-protein calories in these foods come from fat. While many of us have been conditioned to think eating fat is harmful, that is certainly not the case—especially if you are recovering from a catabolic state. Adding more healthy fats to your diet is a wonderful way to increase your total caloric intake and support your body as it re-builds lost muscle.

If you’re going to worry about eating too much of any of the three macronutrients (and as long as you’re eating healthy, whole foods, there’s little cause for any concern at all), direct your attention to carbohydrate consumption. The metabolism of dietary carbohydrate requires the effective action of insulin, and the catabolic state induces a resistance to the normal action of insulin that may persist for months. Insulin resistance makes carbohydrate metabolism less effective as an energy substrate. In simpler terms, this makes it more likely that the carbohydrates you consume will be converted to fat and stored in the liver.

Because of this potentiality, I find it reasonable to limit carbohydrate consumption to between 20% and 30% of your overall caloric intake. That said, you will likely see the greatest weight-gain results if you include plenty of protein, fat, and carbohydrates at each meal.

Strive to eat at least three macronutrient-optimized meals per day. If you have a good appetite (and the physical activity routine I describe below will help to stimulate that), you should also feel free to add in energy-dense healthy snacks whenever possible.

As you regain your muscle mass and approach complete recovery, your basic diet should evolve towards one of the diet options that suits your individual needs and preferences. Maintaining a high-protein intake (about 25% of your daily calories) will help to maintain the muscle you have regained during recovery.

24 of the Best Foods to Help You Gain Weight in a Healthy Way

Whole, single-ingredient, healthy foods should form the basis of your healthy weight-gain meal plan. However, as I mentioned in reference to high-protein foods, these foods do tend to be more filling than the quick-and-easy processed foods that can be so tempting to rely on. This can make it challenging to create the calorie surplus necessary to gain weight.

To encourage yourself to eat enough of these foods to gain the weight you lost, get creative with your use of spices, sauces, and condiments. Make your meals so irresistibly delicious that you simply have to clean your plate.

Another helpful tip for getting the amount of calories needed to gain weight fast is to emphasize energy-dense foods. These foods contain a high number of calories relative to their weight. Here are seven types of energy-dense foods to add to your grocery list:

  1. High-fat dairy: There are a plethora of good options in this category. Think whole milk, full-fat yogurt, organic cheese, and so on. If you’re vegan, full-fat coconut milk is your best option.
  2. Meat: Let your tastes, and the usual best practices for buying meat, guide you. Choose pasture-raised or free-range options whenever possible. And the fattier the cut, the better.
  3. Nuts: Go nuts for nuts! Avoid overly processed options—you can always add your own flavor enhancers if you like. Almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts are particularly nutrient-rich. Nut butters can be a fabulous, calorie-dense treat, but steer clear of varieties with added sugar.
  4. Fats and oils: It’s hard to get more energy-dense than fats and oils! Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter all have many desirable characteristics. And don’t forget avocados, that beautifully fatty fruit!
  5. Root vegetables: These starchy veggies are the perfect way to add healthy carbohydrates to your plate. Load up on sweet potatoes, yams, rutabaga, turnips, and even plain old potatoes.
  6. Grains: Whole grains can be another solid option when it comes to healthy carbohydrates. Try making oats for breakfast or serving brown rice with your dinner.
  7. Healthy snacks: This is the broadest category, and your personal tastes will, of course, come into play here. Some of my personal favorites include dark chocolate and dried fruit as well as homemade granola and trail mixes.

You may have noticed that few fruits and vegetables appear on the list above. I’m certainly not suggesting that you stop eating fruits and vegetables, however, those foods are unlikely to contribute significantly to the caloric excess you are attempting to create.

Exercising to Rebuild Lost Muscle Mass

Exercise is always important in relation to muscle mass and function, and never more so than when you are recovering from a catabolic state. Exercise is the best way to reverse muscle loss and regain normal function. Prioritizing exercise—and strength training in particular—during your recovery period encourages your body to store the extra calories you eat as muscle, not fat.

However, depending on your particular situation, it may be difficult to follow the general guidelines of the American College of Sports Medicine for the amount and intensity of exercise. It may be necessary to go to a physical therapist initially, followed by an experienced trainer, to formulate the best plan for recovery exercises.

The general guideline of resistance exercise 2 times per week and aerobic exercise 5 times per week is appropriate, with the understanding that the level of intensity can be quite limited at first. Try to increase the weight you lift as well as the number of repetitions and sets you do over time. When it comes to cardio, there’s no need to deprive yourself of the fitness benefits associated with this type of exercise, but be sure to adjust your caloric intake to account for the calories you burn off. Remember, your goal at the moment is to consume an excess of calories.

The key to successful recovery is understanding that your exercise capacity will eventually return if you stick with it. This may be easier said than done in the depleted state after recovery from a catabolic state, but there is no substitute for persistence.

Using Essential Amino Acid Supplements to Maximize Your Recovery

As I explained earlier, essential amino acids play a key role in helping your body recover from catabolic stress. That’s part of the reason why it’s so vital that you increase your protein intake.

You may also find it helpful to add on an essential amino acid supplement specifically formulated to target an increase in muscle mass and function.

Ideally, you will want to take your essential amino acid supplement between meals to avoid the muscle loss that normally occurs in the absence of the absorption of dietary protein. As you regain strength, you will want to start coordinating the timing of your supplement intake with your exercise routine. It is optimal to take essential amino acids about 30 minutes before exercise and then again after exercise. Regardless of how light the exercise is, it is, in fact, activating the muscle to begin the process of restoration to full strength. Essential amino acids should be taken in conjunction with whatever physical activity you perform.

You’ll want to choose an amino acid supplement formulated with essential amino acids in a relatively pure form. That means avoiding blends that include other ingredients that simply add non-protein, non-amino acid calories.

The dosage of essential amino acids that gives the greatest stimulation of muscle protein synthesis is 15 grams—more than 15 grams at one time won’t provide much additional benefit. On a gram-for-gram basis, smaller doses may be more effective. A dose as low as 3.6 grams has been shown to be a potent stimulator of muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, there is quite a bit of flexibility in dosing.

Nonetheless, the larger the dose (up to 15 grams), the greater the muscle gain with each dosage. For optimal restoration of lost muscle, 15 grams twice per day between meals will give you the fastest results.

The Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods Everyone Should Be Eating

When health experts speak of an “anti-inflammatory diet,” they hope to help people who suffer from chronic inflammation, but all can benefit from anti-inflammatory nutrients. Eating anti-inflammatory foods protects against certain diseases and slows the aging process. Here are the best anti-inflammatory foods to eat.

Chances are, you’ve come across the term before: anti-inflammatory foods. You have a general sense that it’s important to include these foods in your diet, and you may even be able to name a few, like fatty fish and leafy greens. You may also have questions: like why exactly it’s important to combat inflammation and what the best anti-inflammatory foods to do so might be. Read on to find out.

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to a threat. When our immune system recognizes a threat, such as a microbe or a virus, it responds by releasing specialized defenses to neutralize that threat.

Inflammation forms a crucial component of the immune system’s defenses. Our body uses inflammation to heal itself and defend against invaders—a process that often involves some redness and swelling. If you sprain your ankle, for example, the surrounding area will swell and become inflamed while your body works to heal that injury. Short-term inflammation triggered by an injury or infection comprises an important part of the body’s healing process. But long-term, recurrent, persistent chronic inflammation? That’s an entirely different beast.

Chronic inflammation does not result from an injury or infection, but rather as the result of ongoing influences such as a lack of sleep, high levels of stress, or a poor diet. Unlike beneficial, healing, short-term inflammation, this type arises even when you’re not under direct threat from a foreign invader.

Chronic inflammation can be seen as an immune system dysfunction. In essence, the body sends a response to a threat that is perceived but that does not require an inflammatory response. The immune system then kicks into overdrive and won’t turn off. This can occur due to chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, or due to an inability to distinguish between real and perceived threats.

The Effects of Chronic Inflammation

When left unaddressed for too long, chronic inflammation can trigger a multitude of disease processes. This makes it fertile territory for many researchers who hope to better comprehend its mechanisms and foster methods for counteracting it.

Scientists are still working to understand all the effects of chronic inflammation, but it is clear that it has been linked to a host of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, bone loss, depression, aggressive behavior, rheumatoid arthritis, and even cancer. All these conditions can be affected by lifestyle and environmental factors, such as:

  • Excess weight
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Pollution
  • Poor oral health
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Chronic inflammation is, in essence, a prolonged state of emergency. The continued presence of inflammatory cells in the blood vessels leads to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which causes the walls of the arteries to thicken and harden. This, in turn, substantially increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Inflammation plays a significant role in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease as well. Scientists have now proved unequivocally that inflammatory compounds can cross the blood-brain barrier, but have yet to identify exactly how they contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and other conditions that adversely impact the health of the brain.

While elevated inflammatory markers unquestionably have an adverse impact on your health, the good news is that we have the ability to influence a number of factors that lead to chronic inflammation and inflammatory diseases.

One of the most effective ways to fight chronically high levels of inflammation is through our diets. “Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

25 of the Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Add to Your Diet

When health experts suggest adopting a proven anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, the primary goal of such an approach is to alleviate the negative outcomes experienced by individuals suffering from chronic inflammation. That said, everyone can benefit from eating more anti-inflammatory nutrients.

These 25 powerful anti-inflammatory foods can help protect against certain diseases and slow the aging process, stabilize blood sugar, increase metabolism, and even lower your cancer risk.

The Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods Everyone Should Be Eating

To facilitate a concise and comprehensible overview of the ways certain foods with potent inflammation-quelling effects improve your health, we’ve divided them into four general categories:

  1. Vegetables and fruits
  2. Healthy fats
  3. Fiber-filled foods
  4. Herbs, spices, and more

Foods from these four categories provide crucial nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, niacin, and vitamin C that benefit your health on many levels.

1. Vegetables and Fruits

It’s no coincidence that just about every expert out there recommends vegetables and fruits as the basis of a healthy lifestyle. Loading up on these foods can help to combat weight gain, safeguard your heart health, prevent metabolic syndrome, and more.

In addition to common healthy eating favorites such as leafy greens and vitamin-C loaded oranges, make sure to incorporate plenty of cruciferous vegetables and alliums into your diet.

Cruciferous vegetables—a family that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts—and alliums—such as garlic, scallions, onions, and leek—have antioxidant properties and have been shown to lower the risk of cancer. If you like garlic, eating one clove per day is ideal—it might add an extra punch to your favorite meals.

2. Healthy Fats

While popular opinion used to demonize fats, the truth is that far from undermining your health, they can dramatically improve it.

Plus, adding fat to your food enhances its flavor.

Oil is an essential ingredient in the kitchen and offers the opportunity to select a type of fat that brings health benefits, such as extra-virgin olive oil. Olive oil lowers the risk of heart disease by helping to reduce cholesterol levels.

A special place in your diet should go to avocados, which contain omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to have antioxidant properties. A 2013 study in the journal Food & Function found that people who ate a hamburger with avocado had lower levels of a kind of inflammatory marker called CRP (C-reactive protein) 4 hours after eating than those who did not.

Prioritizing healthy fats should impact your selection of proteins too. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases. Cold-water fish, such as salmon, herring, tuna, trout, and mackerel, are among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include beans (navy, kidney, and soy), flax seeds, and walnuts.

Many foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like cold-water fish and beans, are also excellent sources of amino acids, which have strong inflammation-fighting effects of their own. A diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids and protein lowers the risk of chronic diseases and enhances muscle growth and strength.

3. Fiber-Filled Foods

In addition to many vegetables, like okra, eggplant, and onions, and a variety of fruits like bananas and blueberries, the best sources of fiber include whole grains such as brown rice, barley, and oatmeal.

The fiber in whole grains mediates inflammatory processes by helping with weight loss and feeding beneficial gut bacteria, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

4. Herbs, Spices, and More

When cooking vegetables, consider adding spices like ginger, rosemary, turmeric, oregano, cayenne, cloves, and nutmeg, which have anti-inflammatory compounds. These spices add kick to your meal and are also good for your health.

Extensive research also shows that green tea and dark chocolate (in part due to its magnesium content) can lower inflammation levels.

Can Foods Cause Inflammation?

It’s important to introduce healthy foods into your diet to fight chronic inflammation, but it’s also critical to avoid certain foods.

It can be all too easy to inadvertently eat a pro-inflammatory diet by overdoing it on refined carbohydrates like white bread and pastries, fried foods, soda and all the sugar-sweetened beverages, and processed meat such as hot dogs.

Most foods that contribute to inflammation are generally foods you should eliminate from your diet or consume in moderation, as they are linked to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Processed foods contain trans fats, which have higher levels of C-reactive protein, a cause of inflammation. It’s essential to read labels when you go grocery shopping—in 2006, the FDA required food manufacturers to identify trans fats on nutrition labels, so taking time to read the ingredients contained in the food you buy is crucial.

How to Build an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A healthy, anti-inflammatory diet includes several servings of foods high in amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids each week, fiber every day, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

You should also limit the consumption of saturated fat to 10% of your daily calories.

One way to help meet these goals is to snack strategically. You can add a few servings of healthy foods like berries or walnuts, and the powerful anti-inflammatory compounds they contain will stack up quickly.

If your meals need extra sweetness, try adding naturally sweet fruits rather than sugar. You may find that working in spices that are known for their anti-inflammatory properties to add flavor will have the added bonus of not necessitating as much added sweetness as you’re accustomed to.

There’s no one perfect anti-inflammatory diet, and it’s vital that you consider your own preferences as well as what scientists have discovered about certain foods. The most effective way to use foods to improve your health is not to adopt a short-term strategy like a cleanse but rather to make sustainable changes to your long-term interactions with food.

Amino Acids for Inflammation

One of the ways to fight inflammation is with an anti-inflammatory diet rich in amino acids. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are ideal to treat inflammation because they help lower the risk of chronic diseases and are also excellent sources of amino acids for inflammation.

The inflammatory response is a defense mechanism that our bodies use to respond to threats, such as microbes or viruses. Inflammation shows up in different ways, including pain, redness, and swelling. Usually, the body is able to recover in a few days, but inflammation can also become chronic. In the case of chronic inflammation, the immune system struggles to distinguish between real and perceived threats.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to many deadly modern diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, depression, aggressive behavior, and even cancer. Instead of fighting chronic inflammation with pharmaceutical drugs, which can damage our organs over the long term, we can focus on preventative measures to reduce the risk of developing serious health problems.

Nutrition and Inflammation

One of the ways to fight inflammation is with an anti-inflammatory diet rich in amino acids. Amino acids are a central component of nutrition—they make up proteins, which are needed in most biological processes in our bodies. There are different types of amino acids; some can be made by the body (nonessential amino-acids), others come through the food we eat (essential amino acids). Amino acids play a crucial role in fighting inflammation.

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are ideal to treat inflammation because they help lower the risk of chronic diseases. Cold-water fish and beans are among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and they are also excellent sources of amino acids for inflammation. A diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids and protein lowers the risk of chronic diseases and enhances muscle growth and strength.

Anti-Inflammatory Essential Amino Acids

The branch-chained amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are found in dairy, meat, and eggs, and they promote muscle growth and strength. They also reduce recovery times following intense workouts and alleviate muscle fatigue and damage, in part due to their anti-inflammatory properties. BCAAs can help reduce inflammation in patients suffering from liver disease—they promote ammonia detoxification, correct the imbalance of amino acids in the blood, and stimulate protein synthesis. The beneficial effect of BCAAs on protein synthesis requires adequate amounts of all the other essential amino acids.

Anti-Inflammatory Nonessential Amino Acids

Glutamine is not classified as an essential amino acid, but people who have gastrointestinal disorders or undertake intensive athletic training are often deficient in this amino acid, making it a conditionally essential amino acid in certain circumstances. Glutamine is used within the intestines, kidneys, and by the immune system—it has important antioxidant properties and can help reduce inflammation.

Studies conducted on rodents and pigs show that glutamine can help heal inflammatory bowel disease because this amino acid increases intestinal-friendly microbiota and decreases bacteria. Other amino acids that hold promise for inflammatory bowel disease include arginine, cysteine, methionine, threonine, glycine, histidine, and glutamate. Most animal proteins contain glutamine, and it can also be found in beans, spinach, cabbage, and parsley.

Glycine is a nonessential amino acid that can help people suffering from conditions like ulcers, arthritis, diabetes, kidney and heart failure, neurobehavioral disorders, chronic fatigue, sleep disorders, and even certain cancers. Glycine influences inflammatory cells by suppressing the formation of pro-inflammatory substances such as inflammatory cytokines and free radicals. This amino acid protects against shock caused by hemorrhage and prevents ischemia and injury to a variety of tissues and organs including the liver, kidney, heart, intestine, and skeletal muscle.

It’s easy to incorporate more glycine into your diet. Animal proteins, including meat, dairy, and fish, contain glycine and all the nine essential amino acids that your body needs to thrive. Bone broth, for example, contains glycine and other amino acids, and it also has natural collagen, which releases important amino acids and other substances that are often missing from the typical Western diet. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can find glycine in plant-based sources like beans, spinach, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and pumpkin; plus fruits like banana and kiwi.

Nutrition is the first line of defense against chronic inflammation and modern (and preventable!) illnesses. Eating a diet rich in amino acidsall the essential aminos, including the BCAAsand nonessential aminos like glutamine and glycine, helps to reduce inflammation, decrease harmful bacteria, and prevent injuries. To ensure you’re providing your body with the amino acids for inflammation it needs, consider supplementing with a complete essential amino acid formula designed to optimize muscle protein synthesis and subdue inflammation throughout the body.

Meditation for Athletes: Yes, It Will Improve Your Performance!

An unfocused mind is one that’s ripe for defeat. So prime yours for victory instead, with meditation for athletes. Here’s how sports meditation is helping athletes like you stay at the top of their game.

An unfocused mind is one that’s ripe for defeat. So prime yours for victory instead, with meditation for athletes.

Yes, you heard that right.

Here’s how sports meditation is helping athletes like you stay at the top of their game.

Benefits of Meditation

In addition to its many other benefits—like reducing stress and increasing self-awareness—the power of meditation is used to help focus the mind of its practitioners. Moreover, while the science on meditation and athletes is still developing, the phrase sports meditation is becoming more and more commonplace, thanks to some obvious benefits.

Here’s how the ancient practice helps athletes maintain peak performance:

Enhanced Focus with Visualization: Arnold Schwarzenegger said that when it came to his success in the sport he dominated—bodybuilding—what was most important was “putting your mind in the muscle.” He would create a mental picture of what his muscle was doing during each weight-lifting exercise, thereby making a mind-body connection.

Relatedly, meditation offers the perfect opportunity for visualizing what you will be doing during crunch time. In fact, it itself is the very definition of mind-body connection: readying your body with a healthy mind! As a result, training your mind to (literally) see your future successes with this discipline gets you one step closer to making them a reality.

Improved Immune Function: If you’re in bed with the flu, you can’t compete. As a result, you’ll want to keep your immune system in peak condition. Luckily, there’s a meditation for that.

A study was conducted to determine what connection (if any) exists between mindfulness meditations and an improved immune system. It consisted of a comprehensive examination that included data from 1,602 participants. What it revealed was tentative evidence that mindfulness meditation was associated with changes in select biomarkers of immune system activity. Furthermore, researchers noted that, “these shifts in immune system activity could potentially have beneficial effects on health by influencing mechanisms that are known to affect biological aging and disease.” Specifically, meditation shows promise for reducing inflammation in the body, increasing cell-mediated immunity, and boosting enzyme activity that helps protect cells from aging.

Higher Quality Sleep: A well-rested athlete is one that’s primed for victory, and sleep should be a number one priority. A study from the University of Utah showed that participants who ranked themselves high for the trait of mindfulness were less anxious before bedtime (leading to a higher quality of rest). The good news is that by incorporating meditation into your daily routine you can train yourself to be more mindful.

Meditation and the Mindful Athlete

It’s no secret that success in modern athletics depends largely on the mental edge athletes are able to develop and exert over their opponents.

Speaking with the American Psychological Association, Keith Kaufman, Ph.D.— a Washington, DC-area sport-psychology practitioner and researcher and author of Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement— explains: “It’s been suggested that many coaches regard sport as at least 50 percent mental when competing against opponents of similar ability. In some sports, that percentage can be as high as 80 to 90 percent mental.”

Consider, for instance, a study on Canadian athletes during the 1984 Olympics:

  • 235 Canadian Olympic athletes were assessed for three major readiness factors: mental, physical, and technical.
  • Of the three, only mental readiness was significantly associated with how successful they were at the Olympics.
  • Results suggested that both popular belief and the scientific evidence regarding the connection between mental state and athletic achievement were in harmony.

As sports meditation is a sharpening kit for an athlete’s mental edge, there’s little doubt that its practice can help spur athletes to victory.

Harmony, 11 Rings, & the Power of Silence

While the study above offers evidence for the value of meditation, should you have any lingering doubts, just take it from Phil Jackson, the NBA’s all-time most decorated coach.

In his book 11 Rings, Jackson underscores the relationship between mindfulness and the on-court success of his 11x championship Bulls and Lakers teams.

“When I had the players sit in silence, breathing together in sync, it helped align them on a nonverbal level far more effectively than (any of my words could have). (With meditation) one breath equaled one mind,” Jackson writes in 11 Rings.

His insight wasn’t merely a theoretical one: by helping his teams develop a razor sharp, single-minded focus, Jackson won more NBA championships than any other coach before or since.

So what if you’re not an NBA player?

No problem!

Here are three types of fitness meditation that can help any athlete reach the next level.

Specific Types of Meditation for Improving Athletic Performance

Want to take your game to the next level? There’s a meditation for that!

Start with these three meditation practices for critical times throughout your day.

Morning Clarity: If your morning starts off foggy, your workouts and in-game performance may suffer. Avoid this reality while bringing clarity to your day with mindfulness meditation.

What’s mindfulness? In short, it involves being completely present in the current moment (or “bringing your mind home to your body”).

Here’s how it works: Whatever you’re doing at the present moment becomes the most important thing in the world. Say you’re washing the dishes. While doing so, notice the water cleaning the plate, the movements of the sponge, etc. This brand of disciplined observation keeps you rooted to the present task while funneling out unwanted distractions.

The main takeaways are this: mindfulness has nothing to do with sitting silently in a stationary position and everything to do with applying undivided focus on completing a specific task.

By becoming a more mindful person you’ll become a more mindful athlete; and when it comes time to perform, you’ll be able to block out all the noise and focus on the task at hand (achieving victory!), thanks to your unshakeable focus.

Pre-workout: Hatha types of yoga (which include Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, and Power Yoga styles) help to foster mind-body awareness and mindfulness by focusing on the physical aspect of meditation, namely matching breath to movement, and aiding flexibility and improved posture. Just what an athlete needs prior to performing an intense workout!

Incorporating hatha yoga pre-workout can help ensure that you get the most out of your training session. Whether you engage in a slower-paced hatha yoga class or a more vigorous power yoga session, take 5 minutes in resting pose (“Savasana”) to connect to the stillness in your body (notice how you worked out all those kinks!) and visualize the performance goals you hope to reach during your workout. Yoga is also a wonderful post-workout recovery tool and an exercise option for your days off.

Pre-game: Chants or “war cries” have long been a common method of getting athletes pumped up before a big game or competition. Mantra meditation provides the perfect opportunity for this. It’s an ancient method of focusing the mind using a sound, word, or phrase. It can be as simple as chanting “Om” three times, or as intricate as developing your own pre-game mantra. Recitations can be performed aloud or silently and facilitate stress reduction to produce a relaxed warrior-athlete who’s primed for victory.

More Meditation Tips: Keep Exploring

No matter where you fall on the athletic spectrum—whether it’s having never played sports in your life or having trained intensely over the course of many years—by practicing the meditations listed above you’ll get a boost in reaching your performance goals.

Sharpen your knowledge of all three practices highlighted here: mindfulness meditation, yoga, mantra meditation.