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?


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.


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.


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: Learn How Amino Acids and Other Macronutrients Shape the Way You Think, Feel and Age

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.

When you evaluate your diet, chances are you consider the ways it will affect your body. If we’re being honest, many of us are focused primarily on how the foods we eat impact our physical appearance. However, food not only affects your appearance, but also directly shapes the way you think, feel, and age. By choosing the best food for brain health, you can both protect and enhance your mental capacity. Researchers, including Lisa Mosconi, neuroscientist and author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Powerhave proven that well-fed brains show increased abilities to process information, recall memories, learn new things, focus on complex tasks, and more. Read on to learn more about optimal eating for brain health and the particular importance of a balanced supply of amino acids.

Understanding the Brain’s Unique Nutritional Needs

“What the brain needs to eat differs from what the rest of the body needs to eat,” explained Mosconi, who also serves as associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, in an interview. The foods we eat, in combination with our lifestyles as a whole, have a profound impact on our brains, making it crucial to cultivate healthy habits.

Though the brain is one of the most studied parts of the body, it remains one of the most mysterious. The brain, which serves as the coordinating center of sensations as well as intellectual and nervous activity, performs countless functions that are essential to our survival.

To coordinate these essential functions, the brain must rely on a constant stream of signals. These take the form of tiny electrochemical currents, and the brain uses a variety of substances called neurotransmitters to convey them from one region to another.

Three of the most important neurotransmitters—dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—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 the development of many psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease.

To generate neurotransmitters and carry out the rest of its duties, the brain commandeers approximately 20% of the calories you eat in a day. Without a consistent supply of calories, your brain power drops.

Where the calories come from matters too, if you’re invested in having a healthy brain. For instance, salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, necessary ingredients for the creation and maintenance of brain cells. And one of the many benefits of increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods is a reduction in cellular stress, which a wealth of research has shown contributes to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

The Basics of Eating for Brain Health

Mosconi and other scientists have used cutting-edge medical imaging and genomic-sequencing studies to further their comprehension of how diet influences brain health. “Nutrition plays a vital role in brain function and aging,” said Mosconi.

Some foods have neuroprotective qualities, meaning they help protect brain health and prevent cognitive impairment. Others, however, can actually cause harm to the brain and even raise a person’s risk of dementia. A poor diet has a more damaging effect on the brain than any other organ in the body, according to Mosconi.

How the Blood-Brain Barrier Works

Once our digestive system has broken down the food we eat into its constituent nutrient parts, those nutrients can enter the bloodstream and travel through it to reach the brain. Because of the brain’s vulnerability, it’s protected by a specialized defense system known as the blood-brain barrier. This barrier controls which nutrients can access the brain and which cannot.

“There are also gates in the brain that open and close depending on whether the brain is “hungry.” No other organs in the body have the same strict rules,” Mosconi said.

Which Foods Are Best for Brain Health?

Many of the nutrients the brain requires—Mosconi puts the total number of nutrients needed for optimal function at 45—it makes itself. However, there are some indispensable nutrients that must be provided from your diet. Furthermore, during times of illness or stress, it can be quite helpful to bolster the brain’s stores of self-produced nutrients.

An Overview of Brain-Essential Nutrients

Here are 10 of the best foods for brain health, all with impressive, research-validated benefits.

1. Caviar

Though it does not often appear on lists of superfoods, caviar may just be the most brain-healthy food in existence. The term caviar traditionally refers only to roe (eggs) from wild sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, but in some places today, you may see it applied to roe of other species of sturgeon or other fish altogether such as salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish, whitefish, or carp.

Though traditional caviar (Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga) remains the most sought-after, and the most expensive, other varieties contain the same special mix of nutrients: omega-3s, several B vitamins (choline as well as B6 and B12), magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium, and plenty of amino acids.

2. ColdWater Fatty Fish

Given that caviar’s price-point exceeds many households’ budgets—even relatively affordable picks like wild salmon roe clock in at $19.99 for 3.5 ounces—it’s fortunate coldwater fatty fish offer many of the same valuable nutrients at a significantly lower cost.

Fish like Alaskan salmon, mackerel, bluefish, tuna, herring, sardines, and anchovies all contain high quantities of brain health-boosting omega-3s.

According to a 2017 study, individuals with high levels of omega-3s showed correspondingly higher cerebral perfusion (blood flow in the brain). High cerebral blood flow is associated with a decreased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Per the study cited above, it appears that there may also be a connection between omega-3 levels and improved cognition.

3. Nuts and Seeds

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you can still find a plethora of food sources for the omega-3 fatty acids your brain craves.

Chia seeds are a fantastic source of plant-based omega-3s that also provides tons of fiber and protein in each serving. A single ounce of chia seeds not only meets, but exceeds, your daily recommended intake for omega-3s, netting you 4,915 milligrams.

Hemp seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts are also loaded with omega-3s and other healthy fats.

Many nuts and seeds contain troves of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that can help keep cells safe from the ravages of free radical-induced oxidative stress. The effects of this form of oxidative stress can become even more pernicious as we age, leading researchers to hypothesize that vitamin E-rich foods may offer protection against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

According to a 2014 review published in Nutrients, research consistently shows a clear association between higher blood levels of vitamin E and improved cognitive function.

Sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts have some of the highest concentrations of vitamin E.

4. Berries

As discussed above, foods replete with antioxidants can ward off signs of cognitive decline such as memory loss. Many types of berries contain an array of valuable flavonoid antioxidants.

By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, the antioxidants found in berries produce a range of benefits, including a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A review published in Neural Regeneration Research stated that new research shows that antioxidant compounds found in berries, including anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, and quercetin, “can prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions.”

Some of the brain-health benefits noted in the review are:

  • Enhanced communication between brain cells
  • Lower inflammation levels throughout the body
  • Increased plasticity, which encourages the formation of new connections between brain cells, thereby improving learning and memory
  • Decreased risk or delayed onset of dementia and cognitive decline

Berries known for their impressive antioxidant content include blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, blackcurrants, and goji berries.

5. Dark, Leafy Greens

These well-known power players of the health food world have highly desirable benefits for the health of your brain, thanks to the wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they contain.

Here, as in other realms, kale takes a place of pride in the superfoods royal court. Kale (and other cruciferous vegetables) provide your body with compounds called glucosinolates, which your body then breaks down into isothiocyanates.

Research indicates that isothiocyanates show formidable neuroprotective effects. According to a 2015 study, isothiocyanates “could be regarded as a promising source of alternative medicine for the prevention and/or treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.”

6. High-Glucose, Fiber-Rich Foods

Your brain requires a vast supply of energy (20% of the body’s total burn, remember?), and its preferred form of energy is a simple sugar called glucose. It loves glucose so much that the blood-brain barrier allows it to pass directly through to your brain cells.

The downside of our brain’s reliance on glucose is that when our blood sugar levels dip too low, that can have a rapid and adverse impact on brain function. Think brain fog, headaches, and other unpleasant and inconvenient symptoms. High blood sugar can also interfere with brain function.

Your brain works best when blood sugar levels remain stable. While simple carbohydrates provide quick energy, using these for brain food leaves you vulnerable to dips and spikes. Complex carbohydrates, however, serve as a more stable energy source.

Foods that pair a high-glucose content with a high-fiber content are ideal for brain health, as they have a more moderate effect on blood sugar levels while still offering your brain the glucose it needs.

Some wonderful options for high-glucose, fiber-rich foods include sweet potatoes, whole grains, beets, and kiwis.

7. Eggs

Not only are eggs a great source of amino-acid laden protein, but they also provide plenty of B vitamins, specifically, vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid.

Those three B vitamins can lower blood levels of homocysteine, a biological compound scientists have identified as a risk factor for brain atrophy, cognitive impairment, and dementia.

According to a randomized, controlled trial published in PLOS One, a preeminent peer-reviewed scientific journal, supplementing with vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid can slow the rate of brain atrophy for individuals with mild cognitive impairment.

8. Soy

Soybeans, as well as foods made from soy beans like tofu, provide tons of polyphenols,—specifically, isoflavones like daidzein and genistein—antioxidants linked to a decreased risk of dementia and increased cognitive abilities across age groups.

Soy also contains tyrosine. Though tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid (the body can synthesize it from phenylalanine), research, including this article published by a Belgian scientist, indicates that when you increase your dietary intake of tyrosine, you also increase the ratio of tyrosine to other amino acids like leucine, isoleucine, valine, and tryptophan.

As the article cited above notes, animal studies reveal that a supplemental intake of tyrosine can offset the negative impact of acute stress on cognitive performance, while human studies show it can counterbalance the ill effects of sleep deprivation and chronic stress on cognitive function.

We’ll talk more about tyrosine in the section below.

9. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

When it comes to healthy fats, extra-virgin olive oil ranks unquestionably high on the list.

Extra-virgin olive oil is loaded with beneficial monounsaturated fat as well as potent nutrients proven to keep your brain healthy as you age, like omega-3s and vitamin E. It’s also a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, an eating approach associated with numerous health benefits, including a lowered risk of dementia.

A research team from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University found that extra-virgin olive oil safeguards memory and learning ability while reducing the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, two abnormal developments in the brain that signal the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

10. Dark Chocolate

The higher the cocoa, or cacao, content of a particular chocolate bar, the better it is for you. Cacao is a rich source of flavonoids—and the flavonoids found in cacao seem to be especially beneficial for the brain.

Findings published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology indicate that the flavonoids found in cacao, most abundantly, epicatechin, induce widespread stimulation of cerebral blood flow, as well as “angiogenesis, neurogenesis and changes in neuron morphology, mainly in regions involved in learning and memory.” The flavonoids in chocolate can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as your risk of stroke.

As many of us know from lived experience, chocolate can also have a positive effect on mood.

The results of a 2018 study with human participants indicates that dark chocolate with cacao concentrations of 70% and up generate changes in brain activity that correlate to “enhancement of neuroplasticity, neural synchrony, cognitive processing, learning, memory, recall, and mindfulness meditation.”

10 of the Best Foods for Brain Health

Why Amino Acids Are Particularly Important for Brain Function

Amino acids are the precursors of neurotransmitters, a technical way of saying that amino acids make the neurotransmitters our brains depend on for balance and function. Changes in the production of neurotransmitters can occur when we fail to provide our brain with an adequate supply of amino acids from protein-dense foods. Alterations in the production of these transmitters can, in turn, directly influence the brain’s health.

Three amino acids—tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine—function as precursors to the production of three key neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Other amino acids also make significant contributions to brain health, like acetyl l-carnitine (a form of the amino acid carnitine), l-glutamine (a form of the amino acid glutamine), and the branched-chain amino acids.

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 a sensation of fatigue and ultimately hasten sleep. The long-standing tradition of dozing off after a big turkey dinner can be attributed (at least in part!) to the relatively high abundance of tryptophan in turkey.

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.

As touched on above, while tryptophan and tyrosine are the two primary amino acids connected to brain health, they’re not the only amino acids that play a role in brain function.

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.

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, valine and isoleucine—make indirect contributions to 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.

4 Amino Acids Essential to a Well-Fed Brain

Key Sources of Tryptophan, Tyrosine, and Other Amino Acids

As we’ve seen, amino acids can be found in protein-dense foods. Some foods contain more of specific amino acids than others, however. Animal protein is the most efficient means of meeting your body’s amino acid needs. It is possible to get all the essential amino acids exclusively from plants, but it will require more intentionality. We’ve included options for vegans and vegetarians on each of the lists below.

6 of the Best Sources of Tryptophan

While poultry and fish provide the most tryptophan per ounce, there are good options for vegetarians and vegans too. Red meats also contain this amino acid, but they should be eaten in moderation because they have more saturated fat.

1. Turkey and Chicken

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.

2. Shrimp

Shrimp is also a good source of tryptophan. A 4-ounce serving contains 330 milligrams.

3. Other Types of Seafood

Fish, such as tuna, halibut, salmon, sardines, cod, and scallops, contains between 250 and 400 milligrams of tryptophan per serving.

4. Pumpkin Seeds

Among nuts, pumpkin seeds are the best sources because they provide 110 milligrams of tryptophan per one-fourth cup.

5. Beans

Legumes, such as kidney beans and black beans, contain 180 milligrams of tryptophan per cup.

6. Milk

Dairy contains less tryptophan per serving compared to meat and fish. A 1-cup serving of milk provides 100 milligrams of this amino acid.

5 of the Best 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. Legumes are the best option for vegans.

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.

1. Red Meat

Roast beef, a decadent meal, is undoubtedly one of the best sources of tyrosine. It provides 1,178 milligrams per 3-ounce serving. Pork contains slightly less, typically, around 1044 milligrams in a 3-ounce serving of lean pork chops.

2. Poultry and Fish

Protein options such as salmon, turkey, and chicken contain between 900 to 1,000 milligrams per 3-ounce cooked portion.

3. Cheese

Parmesan cheese contains 559 milligrams per ounce.

4. Eggs

One egg has 250 milligrams.

5. Beans

A cup of cooked white beans has 450 milligrams of tyrosine.

Bonus: Top Sources of Carnitine and Glutamine

Most animal-based foods contain 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).

It can be challenging to obtain meaningful levels of supplemental carnitine from a plant-based diet, but it is possible. Dairy is a valuable resource, and some grains and vegetables, like asparagus, also provide carnitine.

While your body normally makes all the glutamine it needs, a severe injury or illness may require you to increase your dietary intake. Meat and seafood top the list when it comes to best sources of glutamine.

Eggs are also rich in glutamine, as are many dairy products. Whey protein, a byproduct of cheese production, is a top source of 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 abundant in glutamine.

What You Should Know About Strength Training for Women

In this article, we’ll dispel one of the most frustrating myths about strength training for women, give a clear definition of what strength training is (and isn’t), delve into the top benefits of strength training, and finally, share expert advice on how to safely commence a strength training program.

If you’re one of the many Americans committed to improving your overall health, increasing your physical fitness, losing weight, or all the above, adopting a consistent strength training workout routine can be one of the most efficient ways to pursue your goals. However, those without previous weight training experience—particularly women—often prioritize aerobic exercise over lifting weights. In this article, we’ll dispel one of the most frustrating myths about strength training for women, give a clear definition of what strength training is (and isn’t), delve into the top benefits of strength training, and finally, share expert advice on how to safely commence a strength training program.

Disproving a Persistent Myth About Strength Training for Women

Strength training has numerous benefits for women. But for many, the phrase “strength training” calls up images of massively muscular men sweating and grunting as they heave heavy barbells around at the gym. Unsurprisingly, this can make the weight room seem like an intimidating, off-limits place.

This barrier is fortified by the fact that women often worry strength training will cause them to develop bulging muscles. 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. Typically, when women lift weights, they develop stronger, more toned muscles while increasing their endurance. For a woman to use strength training to produce significant muscle growth, she would likely need to actively pursue that goal.

The truth is, following a strength training workout plan can help you build lean muscle while facilitating fat loss, among other benefits. The consensus among experts is that strength training should be a core component of everyone’s workout program—women and men alike!

What Is Strength Training, Really?

Now that we’ve uprooted some tenacious misconceptions about strength training for women, let’s go over what the phrase “strength training” really means. Strength training refers to any kind of physical exercise that uses resistance to induce muscular contraction, thereby building strength and enhancing anaerobic endurance. By placing a demand on your muscles, central nervous system, or both, strength training provokes beneficial adaptations related to muscle function as well as neural efficiency. In other words, it looks for ways to make it easier to perform the task you just carried out.

While many visualize high-intensity training sessions featuring heavy weights, that’s not a requirement for strength training. It’s completely possible to carry out a highly effective resistance-training workout using only the weight of your own body. In fact, certified personal trainers and other fitness professionals tend to recommend that those new to weight training master proper form for basic movements with their own body weight before increasing the  resistance they’re working against by adding an external load.

8 Top Benefits of Strength Training for Women

Strength training offers a wealth of benefits for everyone, including enhancing muscle mass, building bone strength, and supporting weight loss.

According to Girls Gone Strong, an organization committed to providing “a common voice of body-positive, evidence-based information” about strength training, nutrition, and women’s health, these are eight of the top benefits of strength training for women.

1. Build Lean Muscle Mass

Strength training exercises stimulate muscle protein synthesis, otherwise known as anabolism, and as long as your body has an adequate supply of amino acids (more on this later), the result will be the growth of new muscle tissues.

As discussed in a previous section, however, lifting weights is more likely to help you tone up, rather than bulk up. That said, strength training does build lean muscle mass. Since it often results in the loss of body fat, however, you may even look smaller after a few months of regular strength training sessions than you did when you began.

2. Improve Overall Strength

Your body responds to strength training by breaking down muscle tissue and rebuilding it to be stronger than it was before. This process, the inverse of muscle protein synthesis, is called muscle protein breakdown or catabolism. While it may seem counterintuitive at first, it’s key to making you stronger.

During exercise, the resistance your muscles work against leaves them with micro tears. Your body breaks down these older, damaged fibers to clear the way for the growth of new, stronger ones. The more rapidly this process progresses, the less muscle soreness you’ll experience after a workout. More rapid muscle protein turnover also allows you to make greater strength gains in shorter periods of time.

3. Increase Bone Density

All of us face a higher risk of decreased bone density as we age, but women (Caucasian and Asian women, especially) tend to lose more bone mass. Estimates indicate that 35% of postmenopausal women develop osteoporosis, a bone disease that indicates a progression of bone weakness that can lead to severe bone fractures and other health problems. Rates of osteopenia, a condition characterized by lower-than-normal bone density that’s a precursor to osteoporosis, are even higher.

Studies show that engaging in weight-bearing exercises can help to preserve bone mass. Those who have already started to experience the loss of bone mass should consult with a doctor before undertaking a new exercise plan. In most cases, light-to-moderate intensity options, such as training with resistance bands or a stability ball, will be best for those who have already developed osteopenia or osteoporosis.

4. Maximize Metabolic Rate

Common wisdom holds that as we age, our metabolism slows. This doesn’t have to be the case, though.

The effect of aging on your metabolism largely results from decreased muscle mass as well as decreased physical activity. Since strength training increases both your muscle mass and your activity level, it’s the perfect antidote to age-related changes to your metabolism.

Researchers have found that building muscle mass is one of the most effective ways to increase metabolic rate for individuals of all ages. A significant percentage of the energy our bodies expend goes into protein turnover, so the more muscle you have and the more rapidly your muscle tissues turn over, the faster your metabolism will be.

5. Corrects Posture and Alignment

Having good posture means that your body parts—muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments—are all aligned symmetrically. This brings benefits like decreased joint stress, improved self-esteem and self-confidence, and even lower anxiety levels.

Strength training builds up your muscle, supporting tissues, and even bones, making it easier for you to hold your body in proper alignment. Building core strength can be key. Weak abdominal muscles can result in habitual anterior pelvic tilt, a position in which your hips tilt forward, putting undue stress on your neck and lower back. Strengthening your core brings your pelvis back into alignment.

The improvements to posture and alignment brought about by strength training can be especially beneficial for those suffering from chronic, treatment-resistant neck pain and back pain.

6. Strengthen Pelvic Floor

Did you know that on average, one in three women in the United States experience incontinence. Though it used to be considered an issue that affected older women, it’s now clear that pelvic floor weakness and incontinence issues impact women of all ages.

Stress urinary incontinence is the most noticeable, and for many, the most undesirable way that pelvic floor dysfunction presents, but there are other potential indicators, too, such as:

  • Lower back pain
  • Hip pain
  • Soreness in the buttocks
  • Pain in the pubic symphysis (the place where the pelvis joins at the front midline of the body)

When done safely and with proper form, strength training can significantly improve pelvic floor function. Here, again, exercises that engage the muscles of the core—abdominals, obliques, diaphragm, deep back muscles, glutes, and other muscle groups—prove especially useful.

7. Heighten Insulin Sensitivity

Research has shown that regular strength training can improve insulin sensitivity. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined how resistance training affected insulin levels and glucose tolerance for individuals whose baseline values indicated they were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Participants engaged in supervised resistance-training sessions consisting of an eight-exercise full body workout 3 days a week for 4 months. At the study’s conclusion, testing revealed lower levels of 2-hour glucose, fasting C-peptide, and insulin resistance.

The study authors determined that these findings indicate resistance exercise can enhance insulin sensitivity, mainly due to the increase it produces in the amount of glucose taken up by the muscles.

8. Balance Blood Pressure

Lifting weights can help you keep your blood pressure at low, healthy levels. According to a study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension, participating in 3 days of weight training weekly can decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. After 12 weeks, the group average of participants’ blood pressure numbers dropped from the range for stage 1 hypertension (150/93) to pre-hypertension (134/81). The average reduction for systolic blood pressure was 16 mm Hg. To put that in context, a 20 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure doubles your risk of developing heart disease, meaning weight training can decrease your risk by nearly 50%.

That said, weight training can produce short-term increases to blood pressure, so those with high blood pressure (160/100 mm Hg and above, according to an expert from the Mayo Clinic) should check with a doctor before lifting weights.

Top 8 Ways Strength Training Benefits Women

Building a Safe, Effective Strength Training Routine

If you are planning to exercise at home, the easiest thing you can do is to use your own body weight for resistance. Popular bodyweight exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, and abdominal crunches.

You can also use resistance bands (essentially, large rubber bands) to make bodyweight exercises more challenging. Some doctors and sports medicine clinics provide resistance bands to patients free of charge. You can also buy resistance bands in sports stores or from online retailers.

Another option is to use free weights such as dumbbells, weight bars, and barbells. Again, you can purchase these inexpensive tools in sports stores or online. Or, get a gym membership. This could give you access to coaches who can help guide you through the correct form for different weightlifting exercises, as well as group classes to offer variation and support.

If you go to the gym, you may also want to use weight machines. Many fitness centers have circuit-style weight machines that target different muscle groups. If you are a beginner, it’s best to ask for assistance before using these machines.

A Word About Injury Prevention

Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people to fail to consider injury prevention until they’re concerned that they may have injured themselves. Nothing will stymie or set back your progress faster than an injury. Though there’s no foolproof method for preventing injuries 100% of the time, there are certainly safe training guidelines you can use to lower your risk.

One of the most important elements of injury prevention is to ensure you have a good, solid foundation for a weightlifting movement before you increase the amount of weight you’re lifting. “The body works together as a team, and each teammate has a specific job or set of jobs,” explained Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board Member and Physical Therapist Ann Wendel. “If one teammate (body part) isn’t doing its ‘job,’ then another teammate has to make up for it.”

Wendel discourages an exclusive focus on perfect form, which she feels distracts from the steps you can and should be taking in the moment to prevent injury. “Posture is not a static position, posture is dynamic, and we must constantly adapt to the situation at hand,” Wendel said. No matter what movement you’re carrying, she emphasizes the importance of deep core stability and breath coordination. When the lumbar spine is stable, that allows you to safely work against resistance with your arms and legs. Without that stability, you face an increased risk of problems such as:

  • Excessive muscle soreness
  • Muscle strains
  • Overuse injuries

If you’re new to strength training, in addition to keeping Wendel’s advice at the front of your mind, you should consider working with an experienced professional who can help you master basic movements that will allow you to carry out total body strength training workouts on your own.

4 Essential Weightlifting Movements

While there is no single “best” weightlifting workout—for women, men, or nonbinary individuals—the following four movements will deliver an effective workout that’s accessible for novices but, with increased resistance, challenging for experienced lifters too.

  1. The goblet squat: Squats engage and strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward. Hold the end of a dumbbell or base of a kettlebell at chest level, keeping your hands in contact with your chest. Stand tall with your spine straight and shoulders rolled back, then bend your knees and lower your hips until the top of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keeping your spine straight and your weight on your heels, stand back up.
  2. The deadlift: This exercise strengthens practically every muscle you use for your daily movements. Begin with your heels shoulder-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward. Stand tall with your spine straight and shoulders rolled back. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward. Bend forward, pushing your hips back as you do, until the weights touch the ground. Keeping your spine straight, stand back up, and squeeze those glutes.
  3. The chest press: This exercise strengthens not only the muscles in your chest, but also those throughout your upper body. Begin lying on your back on an exercise bench or on the floor with your knees bent and your feet planted firmly. Hold the dumbbells directly over your chest with the ends touching. Keep your shoulders pulled down away from your ears. Bend your arms until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor, then return to the starting position.
  4. The overhead press: This exercise strengthens a number of muscles in the upper body, including the deltoids, which often get neglected. Stand with your feet beneath your hips and your spine straight and elongated. Hold the dumbbells in front of your shoulders, then press them straight up. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position, keeping your elbows centered beneath your hands.

We recommend that you switch your lifting routine every 4 to 6 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 muscle 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 4 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.

As touched on in our discussion of muscle protein synthesis and breakdown, amino acids play a crucial role in maximizing the benefits associated with strength training. Amino acids build the protein that develops muscle strength and tone, so that you get fitter faster. You can read more about amino acids and fitness here.

4 Essential Weight Lifting Moves for Women

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

Even if you’ve looked into the best sources of vegan protein, you may not be taking in all the essential amino acids that your body needs. Read on to ensure you get a steady supply of essential amino acids in the proper ratios for optimal health.

Once the sole province of hippies, the vegan diet has become increasingly popular and increasingly mainstream over the last decade or so. No wonder, given the increased exposure it has received, such as the high-profile documentary What the Health, which claimed going vegan can help you lose weight, improve your heart health, and even decrease your risk of developing cancer.

In addition to hoping to improve health by following a vegan diet, many people decided to abstain from consuming animal products for ethical or environmental reasons.

Whatever your reason for choosing to follow a vegan diet, it’s important to be aware that eating exclusively plant food can put you at increased risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Even if you’ve looked into the best sources of vegan protein, you may not be taking in all the essential amino acids that your body needs. To ensure you get a steady supply of essential amino acids in the proper ratios for optimal health, you’ll need to eat a variety of vegan protein sources or round out your intake with a high-quality supplement.

Read on to learn the basic tenets of veganism, seven health benefits associated with the vegan diet, and how to avoid nutrient deficiencies while abstaining from all types of animal proteins and other animal-derived foods.

Veganism 101

According to search data from Google Trends, worldwide interest in veganism has increased dramatically between 2004 and 2019. It seems that interest may be far from peaking, too. In 2014, a mere 1% of Americans identified themselves as vegans, but by 2017, that number had shot up to 6%, per a report from GlobalData.

While a number of different dietary approaches have been collected under the umbrella of veganism, a simple definition provided by the Vegan Society, one of the most established organizations devoted to this lifestyle, goes as follows: “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

A central component of veganism is eating a diet devoid of all animal foods as well as foods derived from animals. This includes not only meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy, but also honey and other products made by bees as well as products made using animal-based ingredients such as gelatin.

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

7 Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Proponents of a vegan diet often reference the many health benefits associated with this eating approach. And, indeed, studies have shown that eating a vegan diet can be an effective way to lose weight, balance blood sugar levels, safeguard the health of your heart, and even lower your risk of cancer, among other compelling benefits.

It’s important to note, however, that the majority of the studies demonstrating these benefits are observational. Because so many factors influence our health, that makes it challenging to ascertain whether the observed benefits stem from the vegan diet alone or in conjunction with other elements of a person’s overall lifestyle.

In order for researchers to make more definitive statements about the health benefits of a vegan diet, they will need to conduct randomized, controlled studies. That said, existing evidence indicates that if you go vegan, you may experience the following seven health benefits.

1. Facilitation of Healthy Weight Loss

According to an observational study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegans tend to be thinner than both vegetarians and omnivores. One proposed reason for this is that vegans eat less saturated fat as well as more dietary fiber. It’s also possible that the correlation between vegan meals and a lower body mass index (BMI) can be explained (at least in part) by healthier lifestyle choices like more physical activity.

Encouragingly, data from several randomized, controlled studies indicates that eating a vegan diet does facilitate weight loss more effectively than a variety of other diets. These studies controlled for the kind of external factors, like physical activity, mentioned above.

A  6-month, 5-arm, randomized controlled trial looked at the effects of different types of low-fat, low-glycemic index diets: “vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, or omnivorous.” None of the five diets emphasized caloric restriction. The authors concluded that “vegan diets may result in greater weight loss” than the other four.

When compared to a conventional low-fat diet, a low-fat vegan diet also showed more significant weight loss, according to a study published in Preventative Medicine. Yet another study evaluated the weight-loss benefits of a plant-based vegan diet, a no-added-fat diet, and the American Heart Association (AHA) diet and found that following a plant-based diet led to beneficial changes to body mass index, mid-arm circumference, and waist circumference.

And findings published in Obesity, a peer-reviewed journal, assessed how a vegan diet compared to the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) diet on weight loss as well as weight-loss maintenance. Individuals in the vegan group lost more weight than those in the NCEP group at both the 1-year and 2-year mark.

Even when compared to a low-calorie diet, a vegan diet was discovered to result in significantly more weight loss, per the results of a randomized study published in Nutrition Research. One possibility for why that might be is that a vegan diet leads to a higher dietary fiber intake, which can help you feel naturally fuller and unconsciously eat fewer calories.

2. Stabilized Blood Sugar Levels

A growing pile of research indicates that following a vegan diet can help stabilize blood sugar levels. This can be particularly crucial for those with an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

According to a study published in Diabetes Care, the journal of the American Diabetic Association, “Prevalence of type 2 diabetes increased from 2.9% in vegans to 7.6% in nonvegetarians.”

A separate study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vegans have higher insulin sensitivity and lower rates of diseases associated with insulin resistance than omnivores do. The authors of the study matched participants with control subjects based on race, age, sex, body mass index, physical activity, and energy intake. They found that vegans had “significantly higher glucose disposal” than control subjects did.

Based on the results of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, following a vegan diet can lead to significant changes to Hb A1c, a measurement of the glycosylation of hemoglobin which can be used to give an average of blood sugar levels over the last 3 months. Participants adhering to a vegan diet saw average changes to Hb A1c of about -0.40 compared to 0.01 for the conventional diet.

3. Decreased Risk of High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

Solid evidence shows that individuals who eat a vegan diet have significantly lower risks of developing both high blood pressure and heart disease—75% and 42% respectively, according to observational studies published in Nutrients and the Permanente Journal

These findings are bolstered by those of randomized, controlled studies showing significant reductions to both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol as well as total cholesterol.

According to a multicenter, randomized, controlled study conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, following a vegan diet can lead to beneficial changes in terms of mean body weight, Hb A1c, and both LDL and total cholesterol. Total and LDL cholesterol fell by 13.7 and 13.0 mg/dl for participants who ate a vegan diet compared to a mere 1.3 and 1.7 mg/dl for participants in the control group.

Furthermore, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association examined the effect of a vegan diet on blood lipid concentrations, meaning total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides. The meta-analysis showed that vegan diets produce significantly lowered blood concentrations of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The authors concluded that a vegan diet could be “a useful nonpharmaceutical means of managing dyslipidemia, especially hypercholesterolemia.”

4. Reduced Symptoms of Arthritis

Compelling evidence indicates that eating a vegan diet can result in meaningful reductions to distressing arthritis symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Researchers from the Department of Internal Medicine at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine set out to evaluate the effectiveness of a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet on symptoms of osteoarthritis. The results of the  randomized study showed that eating a vegan diet can result in significant improvements to energy levels and physical functioning.

Plus, a study published in the British Journal of Rheumatology found that eating a vegan diet (specifically, a raw vegan diet) produced impressive results on rheumatic symptoms both on subjective measures as well as disease activity measures.

5. Improved Kidney Function

Some research points to replacing animal proteins with plant-based proteins as a means of improving kidney function.

A study published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition looked at how plant-based protein consumption influences kidney-related biomarkers. The authors found eating plant-based protein lead to significant reductions to urinary urea nitrogen, proteinuria, blood sodium, and serum phosphorus compared with eating animal protein. A separate study published in Diabetes Care yielded similar results.

This may be, according to researchers at the University of Kentucky, because substituting plant-based protein for animal protein “results in less hyperfiltration and glomerular hypertension with resulting protection from diabetic nephropathy.” Research so far has concentrated on soy protein, which contains specific peptides, amino acids, and isoflavones thought to be beneficial for kidney function.

6. Lower Odds of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Though no randomized, controlled trials have been conducted to date, observational studies have revealed the possibility that eating a vegan diet may lower a person’s odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the first studies to look for a connection between animal product consumption and dementia was published in Neuroepidemiology in 1993. The authors matched participants based on age, sex, and zip code. They found that matched subjects who ate meat (including poultry and fish) were more than twice as likely to develop dementia as their vegetarian counterparts.

A more recent article published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2016 pulled from relevant journal literature as well as the results of a ecological study using Alzheimer’s disease prevalence from 10 countries (Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, India, Mongolia, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, and the United States) along with dietary supply data from 5, 10, and 15 years before the prevalence data. The authors found that animal products received 5 years before had the strongest correlations with increased prevalence of Alzheimer’s. They concluded: “Reducing meat consumption could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

7. Lessened Chance of Developing or Dying from Cancer

Though more research must be done before firm conclusions can be drawn, a 2017 systematic review with meta-analysis of nearly 100 studies examining how following a vegan diet influences a person’s overall risk of several potentially fatal diseases, including cancer, turned up highly encouraging results.

The analysis showed “a significant reduced risk of incidence” for all kinds of cancer— a 15% lower risk.

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

Avoiding Nutrient Deficiencies on a Vegan Diet

Those who choose to follow a vegan diet often face questions about potential nutrient deficiencies, many of which center on the assumption that there are few good sources of protein available to vegans. The truth is, whether or not you eat animal products, your health will suffer if you over-consume processed foods and under-consume nutritious whole foods. And anyone who cuts entire food groups out of their diet does have an elevated risk of nutrient deficiencies.

Researchers have found that vegans are most likely to have inadequate blood levels of the following seven nutrients:

  1. Vitamin B12
  2. Vitamin D
  3. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
  4. Iodine
  5. Iron
  6. Calcium
  7. Zinc

While it’s certainly possible to eat enough protein purely in the form of plant protein, vegans do need to put some thought into the amino acid balance of the proteins they consume (more on that in a later section).

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

In order to avoid developing a nutrient deficiency, those trying a vegan diet should take care to eat processed vegan foods, including meat substitutes, in moderation and to prioritize nutrient-rich plant foods.

There are also certain tactics you can take to increase your body’s absorption of key nutrients. For example, eating iron-rich foods in combination with foods high in vitamin C can boost your body’s iron absorption, as can cooking with cast iron pans and not drinking tea or coffee with meals. Plus, fermenting and sprouting foods enhances absorption of both iron and zinc.

An adequate intake of longer-chain omega-3s like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be particularly challenging. Some evidence indicates that consuming foods high in a different type of omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can help the body produce EPA and DHA. It’s unclear, however, whether that conversion will always suffice to meet your body’s needs. For that reason, it can be advisable to take a vegan algae oil supplement containing EPA and DHA.

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

The Truth About Vegan Protein Sources

When discussing vegan protein sources, it’s crucial to delve into the question of complete protein sources. A protein source described as complete contains all nine essential amino acids in properly balanced ratios. All animal proteins are complete proteins, but the same can’t be said of all plant proteins. Here are five excellent vegan protein options loaded with amino acids.

1. Soy

There’s a reason so many researchers chose soy when investigating the benefits of plant-based protein. Soy provides all the essential amino acids in a reasonably good profile. A cup of soybeans contains 28 grams of protein while a 3-ounce serving of tofu has 6.2 grams of proteins.

2. Quinoa

Another wonderful source of plant-based protein, this ancient pseudocereal has a comparable amino acid profile to soy. A cup of quinoa provides 8.3 grams of protein.

3. Legumes

While lentils are debatably a complete protein, the same can’t be said for black beans and other types of legumes. They are high-quality protein sources, however. A cup of beans contains, on average, between 15 and 17 grams of protein.

4. Nuts

Nuts also fall short on essential amino acids while providing plenty of protein. An ounce of nuts delivers an average of 4 to 9 grams of protein.

5. 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 you can eat. Among vegetables you have cucumbers, radishes, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, turnips, and spinach. While these foods contain proteins, the proportion of the food source as protein is low.

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

How to Combine Plant-Based Proteins for Optimal Nutrition

Combining proteins is a good way to nourish your body with essential amino acids, but there are specific rules to follow.

In order to take in all nine essential amino acids in the appropriate profile to fully stimulate protein synthesis, the complementary proteins must be eaten at the same time so that levels of all amino acids rise simultaneously.

The proteins must also have truly complementary profiles of essential amino acids to be effective. Unfortunately, most plant-based proteins are limited by the availability of lysine, and finding combinations that truly allow for a complete spectrum of essential amino acids to be ingested at the same time can be challenging. 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 Essential Amino Acids Support Optimal Vegan Health

Many vegans can benefit from incorporating an essential amino acid supplement (vegan, of course) 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. To maximize the the physiological effectiveness of the dietary protein intake, be sure to take your essential amino acid supplement with your meals. Dosages will 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: Treat and Prevent Health Problems with 5 Potent Anti-Inflammatory Amino Acids

Chronic inflammation has been linked to many deadly modern diseases. One of the ways to fight inflammation is with an anti-inflammatory diet rich in amino acids. Recent studies focused on the use of amino acids for inflammation reduction have yielded highly promising results.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to many deadly modern diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, depression, 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. Recent studies focused on the use of amino acids for inflammation reduction have yielded highly promising results.

In this article, we will first examine the biological mechanisms that result in chronic inflammation and then explain how anti-inflammatory amino acids can combat systemic inflammation at its source.

What Leads to Chronic Inflammation?

Chronic inflammation is a complex condition, and experts have identified a host of risk factors that make individuals more likely to develop it, many of which are related to the overconsumption of inflammatory foods and other elements of a person’s lifestyle.

The simplest way to conceptualize chronic inflammation, also referred to as systemic inflammation, is as an inappropriate immune response.

The inflammatory response is a defense mechanism activated by the immune system in response to threats like joint sprains or the presence of viruses. Inflammation shows up in different ways, including pain, redness, and swelling. Short-term inflammation is an integral part of the healing process, but when inflammation becomes chronic, it begins to cause health problems.

Chronic inflammation sets in when the immune system begins regularly releasing inflammatory chemicals (such as pro-inflammatory cytokines) in the absence of an injury or infection.

When left untreated, chronic inflammation can lead to the development of a variety of harmful health conditions, such as:

Health care professionals can diagnosis chronic inflammation by testing for inflammatory markers in the bloodstream such as interleukin-1 and -6 (IL-1 and IL-6), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha), homocysteine, and C-reactive protein (CRP).


The Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Plan

Whether you hope to alleviate unpleasant symptoms associated with conditions linked to chronic inflammation or to combat its pernicious effects before they appear, adopting a proven anti-inflammatory diet is a highly effective treatment approach.

In a separate article, we provide an introduction to 25 powerful anti-inflammatory foods which we highly recommend you read. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing exclusively on the benefits of amino acids for inflammation.

Making foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids the cornerstone of your anti-inflammatory diet plan is a choice that will pay dividends. That’s because omega-3 laden foods like fatty coldwater fish and beans are also excellent sources of anti-inflammatory amino acids. Researchers have found that eating a diet replete with foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids can not only lower your risk of chronic diseases, but also help to enhance muscle growth and support healthy weight loss.

The Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Amino Acids

Amino acids are one of the most important types of nutrients—they make up proteins, which are needed in most biological processes in our bodies.

There are two basic types of amino acids relevant to conversations about human nutrition: the first can be made by the body and are therefore deemed nonessential amino acids (meaning that, under normal circumstances, it is not essential to supply the body with foods containing these amino acids), and the second are essential amino acids because humans must obtain them from the foods they eat. Both essential and nonessential amino acids play a crucial role in fighting inflammation.

The Top 3 Anti-Inflammatory Essential Amino Acids

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of three essential amino acids:

  1. Leucine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Valine

These amino acids—found in dairy, meat, and eggs, as well as other foods—are renowned for their ability to promote muscle growth and fuel significant strength gains. They also help reduce the time needed to recover between intense workouts by minimizing muscle damage and speeding up the rebuilding process.

Many of the most famous benefits of BCAAs can be attributed in part to their anti-inflammatory properties. It appears that, thanks to their anti-inflammatory capacity, BCAAs can be used for a number of medicinal purposes.

BCAAs show particular promise as a means of treating inflammation associated with liver disease. According to a study published in Nutrition, supplements containing a balanced formulation of leucine, isoleucine, and valine can have beneficial effects on hepatic encephalopathy,  liver regeneration, and hepatic cachexia. They promote ammonia detoxification, correct the imbalance of amino acids in the blood, and stimulate protein synthesis. The authors conclude that, for certain groups of patients, “BCAA treatment can significantly improve the health-related quality of life and the prognosis of hepatic disease.”

It’s important to note here that the positive influence of BCAAs, and indeed, of any single amino acid, depends on the body receiving adequate amounts of all the other essential amino acids. For this reason, most people will experience the greatest effect when supplementing with a balanced blend of all the essential amino acids.

The Top 2 Anti-Inflammatory Nonessential Amino Acids

As touched on previously, your body can generate its own supplies of nonessential amino acids, meaning that under normal circumstances, there’s no need to take in additional quantities of these amino acids. Chronic inflammation, however, is not a normal condition. Under these circumstances, it can be quite valuable to increase your intake of nonessential amino acids known to have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Two such nonessential amino acids are:

  1. Glutamine
  2. Glycine

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 in animal models (specifically, rodents and pigs) show that glutamine can help heal inflammatory bowel disease because this amino acid increases concentrations of friendly microbiota that support healthy digestion and decreases concentrations of hostile bacteria. Most animal proteins contain glutamine, and it can also be found in beans, spinach, cabbage, and parsley.

Another nonessential amino acid with pronounced anti-inflammatory benefits, glycine appears to be extra-effective for alleviating inflammation associated with:

A review published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care examined the protective mechanisms responsible for glycine’s impressive benefits. The authors found, among other things, that glycine suppresses the formation of pro-inflammatory substances such as inflammatory cytokines and free radicals. Glycine also 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. Ultimately, the authors determined: “Multiple protective effects make glycine a promising treatment strategy for inflammatory diseases.”

It’s easy to incorporate more glycine into your diet. Animal proteins, including meat, dairy, and fish, contain glycine in combination with all nine of the essential amino acids that your body needs to thrive.

Bone broth, for example, contains glycine, a wealth of other amino acids, and natural collagen. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can find glycine in plant-based sources like beans, spinach, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin, banana, and kiwi.


One of the ways to fight inflammation is with an anti-inflammatory diet rich in amino acids.

Amino Acids for Inflammation: The Bottom Line

Nutrition is the first line of defense against chronic inflammation and the raft of modern (and preventable!) illnesses linked to that condition. Eating a diet rich in amino acids—all the essential aminos, including the BCAAs—and nonessential aminos like glutamine and glycine, helps to reduce inflammation, decrease harmful bacteria, and prevent injuries.

While it’s certainly possible to get all the amino acids you need for optimal health from diet alone, food restrictions, preferences, and lifestyle considerations (including a busy schedule) can make that challenging. To ensure you’re providing your body with the amino acids for inflammation it needs, consider supplementing with a complete essential amino acid formula.

How Meditation for Athletes Can 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. While the idea that meditation could improve athletic performance might once have sounded too alternative to be taken seriously by the locker room crowd, now that famous and highly successful athletes including Novak Djokovic, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Derek Jeter have vocally endorsed its benefits, it’s practically mainstream. You can even find meditation apps designed to help you use mindfulness training to become a better athlete.

Given the raft of benefits meditation has for your overall health, and that there’s no cost involved with taking up the practice, there’s nothing to stop athletes of all levels from exploring how sports meditation can help them hone their skills.

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Before we delve into the ways that meditation can benefit athletes, it’s important to ensure we share the same definition of meditation. The foundational concept of mindfulness meditation—the cultivation of intentional, nonjudgemental awareness of the present moment—comes from Buddhism. The practice of mindfulness meditation in the present day, however, has expanded to include secular practices denuded of the spiritual elements involved in a traditional Buddhist meditation practice. No matter your religious affiliation, or lack thereof, it’s practically guaranteed that you can find a complementary way to engage with mindfulness meditation.

Researchers have found that establishing a regular meditation practice can actually spur the development of new neural pathways that encourage both enhanced focus as well as smoother emotional regulation. Furthermore, it can decrease the density of brain matter in areas such as the amygdala that are responsible for encoding negative emotions.

Already, you can see the ways meditation can be a beneficial tool for athletes. We all perform our best when we’re able to remain focused and calm, to remain present rather than ruminating on any mistakes we may have made or fear we may make.

Why Meditation for Athletes Results in Success

For elite athletes in the modern age, success depends largely on cultivating a mental edge that will allow them to outplay their opponents. Physical fitness is a prerequisite, but mental fitness often determines who wins and who loses.

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

The results of a study done with 235 Canadian athletes during the 1984 Winter and Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles and Sarajevo neatly illustrates Kaufman’s assertion. The authors used a combination of individual interviews and self-completed questionnaires to asses athlete readiness in three crucial arenas: mental, physical, and technical. This allowed them to identify which element was most likely to correlate with success, as well as how a lack of mental, physical, or technical readiness might interfere with optimal performance. Their assessment showed that mental readiness was the only one of the three factors with a significant link to success at the Olympics.

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.

Achieving the Mindset of a Champion

In addition to the compelling scientific evidence offered by the study cited above, there’s also the fervent testimonials about the power of meditation shared by Phil Jackson, the NBA’s all-time most decorated coach.

In his book 11 Rings: The Soul of Success, Jackson underscores the relationship between mindfulness and the on-court success of his 11-time championship Chicago Bull and Los Angeles 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],” Jackson writes in 11 Rings. With meditation, he continues, “one breath equaled one mind.”

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. Thanks to his remarkable track record, Jackson became something of a poster child for the benefits of meditation for athletes. He implemented Zen philosophy and mindfulness techniques in order to foster his players’ mental strength. After introducing mindfulness techniques in training camps, he then established it as a standardized process. According to Jackson, this mental training was every bit as important as the physical training his teams underwent.

While most people don’t have the time or pre-existing fitness level to carry out the kind of physical training NBA players do, anyone can use sports meditation to break through plateaus and reach the next level.

3 Ways Meditation Improves Sports Performance

If you take the long view, all the benefits of meditation will likely improve your athletic performance. Consider, for instance, how decreased stress and increased self-awareness could influence your success at your chosen sport. Some benefits, however, have even more direct and apparent benefits. While the science on meditation for athletes is still developing, the findings so far are highly promising.

A Norwegian research team lead by the head manager and mental trainer of the Olympic Athlete program in central Norway examined how mindfulness training impacted stress, perceived performance, and athlete burnout among junior elite athletes. Qualitative analyses showed that mindfulness positively impacted awareness, recovery, and performance. In an article on the study that they published in the Journal of Health Psychology, the authors discussed how the changes produced by meditation translated into an increased motivation to exercise and greater satisfaction with workouts. It appears that by increasing our capacity to stay rooted in our present experience, we can more readily access valuable resources such as motivation and perception of success.

Here are three more scientifically validated ways meditation techniques can help athletes maintain peak performance.

1. Enhanced Visualization Ability

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.

Meditation offers the perfect opportunity for the type of visualization Schwarzenegger described. In fact, it itself is the very definition of the type of mind-body connection necessary for optimal performance. Training your mind so that you can quite literally see your future successes with this discipline gets you one step closer to making them a reality.

Dr. Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist who has trained the Seattle Seahawks, Olympic gold and record-breaking Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgarten, among others, actually prefers the term “imagery” to “visualization” as he believes the former helps to remind practitioners to engage all five senses, not sight alone.

“The objective is to create such a lifelike experience that your body believes that it could be real,” Gervais explained in an interview. “So there’s a switching on or an animation that happens within you when you create an image that is crisp and has color, and sound, and smell, and taste.” Doing so prepares your mind for what might happen in the moment, allowing you to have an optimized response ready.

2. 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. According to a study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, a consistent meditation practice can produce positive changes to immune activity biomarkers.

To determine whether connection exists between mindfulness meditation and improved immune system function, the study authors conducted a comprehensive review of randomized, controlled trials that included data from 1,602 participants. They looked specifically at how meditation affected five measures of immune function:

  1. Circulating and stimulated inflammatory proteins
  2. Cellular transcription factors and gene expression
  3. Immune cell count
  4. Immune cell aging
  5. Antibody response

The results pointed to an association between mindfulness meditation and changes in select biomarkers of immune system activity, though the researchers did note that further research would be needed to confirm the association. Based on their findings, however, they stated: “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.

3. Higher Quality Sleep

A well-rested athlete is one that’s primed for victory, so for anyone seeking to maximize their performance, sleep should be a top priority.

A study from the University of Utah found that participants who ranked themselves high for the trait of mindfulness had better emotional regulation throughout the day and experienced less cognitive and psychological activation (e.g. racing thoughts) before bedtime, leading to a higher quality of rest.

By incorporating meditation into your daily routine, you can ensure that you fall asleep more easily and get the deep, uninterrupted sleep you need to succeed.

The Top 3 Benefits of Meditation for Athletes

Putting Sports Meditation into Practice

If you’re ready to experience the benefits of sports meditation for yourself, here are three proven techniques you can try.

1. Morning Mindfulness

If your morning starts off foggy, your workouts and in-game performance may suffer. Avoid this by adding mindfulness meditation to your morning routine. If you start each day by being completely present in the current moment—by bringing your mind home to your body—you pave the way for achieving that same centered mindset under pressure.

Here’s how it works: Whatever you’re doing at the present moment becomes the most important thing in the world. Imagine that you’re washing the dishes. While doing so, notice the feeling of the water on your hands, the smell of the dish soap, the way the water droplets splash against the side of the sink. This brand of disciplined observation keeps you rooted to the present task while funneling out unwanted distractions.

This morning mindfulness practice instills the essential lesson that mindfulness does not require that you sit silently in a stationary position. Instead, you can practice mindfulness by applying your undivided focus to 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, thanks to your unshakeable focus.

2. Pre-Workout Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga, a discipline that includes Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, and Power Yoga, helps to foster mind-body awareness and mindfulness by focusing on the physical aspect of meditation—namely matching breath to movement. As an added bonus, it aids flexibility and improves posture. All things that can help an athlete excel during 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 traditional hatha yoga class or a more vigorous power yoga session, be sure to take 5 minutes in Savasana, the resting pose, to connect to the stillness in your body and visualize the performance goals you hope to reach during your workout.

This type of yoga is also a wonderful post-workout recovery tool and an exercise option for your days off.

3. Pre-Game Mantra Meditation

Chants or “war cries” have long been a common method of getting athletes pumped up before a big game or competition. Mantra meditation offers a more targeted take on this concept.

This ancient method of focusing the mind centers on the use of a sound, word, or phrase. It can be as simple as chanting “om” three times, or as intricate as developing your own individualized 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.

3 Ways to Put Sports Meditation into Practice

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.