Muscle Atrophy: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Learn about what causes muscle wasting or muscle atrophy, and how best to prevent and treat this condition, including through the use of physical therapy, medical intervention, and staying active. 

Muscle atrophy is essentially muscle wasting: it’s what happens when your muscles waste away, frequently as a result of a lack of physical activity. This article will explore the causes and symptoms of muscle atrophy, as well as preventative steps people can take if they’re immobile or bedridden due to illness. Loss of muscle mass or muscle strength can be particularly devastating for those who are already in positions of compromised health, and so in an effort to help you maintain your quality of life, we’ve compiled the relevant information here.

Muscle Atrophy: Definition

Atrophy of the muscles occurs when a person is inactive for so long that their skeletal muscles (these are the muscles attached to your bones which literally make your skeleton move) begin to break down, and the muscle protein is cannibalized by the body. This can happen in small instances or large, catastrophic instances.

Muscle atrophy of the hand or forearm may occur if you spend weeks in a cast to heal a broken arm, which is why people in casts are given exercises to do while they’re immobilized to prevent protein degradation in their muscles and muscle wasting. Muscle atrophy of the legs or muscle atrophy of the thighs can happen on a much larger scale to those who become wheelchair-bound, either temporarily or due to becoming permanently paraplegic. In even more extreme cases, those who have been held as prisoners of war may have full-body muscle wasting due to confinement and malnutrition for significantly long periods, sometimes years.

Muscle atrophy is a decrease in muscle mass, either partial or complete, which is most commonly suffered when a person becomes disabled or their movements severely restricted. This makes it difficult or impossible to move the part of the body where the muscle has atrophied, and medical advice should be sought for solutions.

Muscle atrophy: causes, treatment, and prevention.

Muscle Atrophy: Causes

Significant decreases in activity levels can lead to muscle atrophy, and there are many situations where that can occur, causing what’s known as disuse atrophy. There are also instances of muscle atrophy due to medical conditions that inhibit the use of a body part, and even rarer causes like the muscle atrophy experienced by astronauts after relatively short periods (a few days) of weightlessness. Muscle atrophy in situations of being bedbound or ceasing intense physical training can come on in as little as 2 weeks. Some of the other causes of muscle atrophy are as follows.

  • Lack of physical activity
  • Advanced aging
  • Malnutrition
  • Stroke
  • Alcohol-associated myopathy
  • Burns
  • Temporary disabling injuries (broken bones, torn rotator cuff)
  • Permanently disabling injuries (severed spinal cord, peripheral nerve damage)
  • Prolonged corticosteroid therapy

Some of the diseases and medical conditions that can disrupt or restrict movement, thus leading to muscle atrophy, include:

  • Spinal muscular atrophy: A hereditary wasting disease of the limbs.
  • Osteoarthritis: Degeneration of bones and joint cartilage that leads to decreased movement.
  • Polymyositis: An inflammatory disease of the muscles.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease): Compromises the nerve cells of the spinal cord.
  • Muscular dystrophy: A hereditary disease that causes muscle weakness.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): An autoimmune disease that destroys the protective sheathing of brain and spinal nerves.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): A chronic inflammatory disease of the joints.
  • Dermatomyositis: Inflammation of the skin and underlying muscle tissue.
  • Polio: A virus afflicting muscle tissue, which can lead to paralysis.
  • Cancer cachexia: The weight loss, lack of energy, and loss of appetite in someone undergoing cancer treatment.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: An autoimmune disease and form of polyneuritis, which leads to paralysis of the limbs.
  • Neuropathy: Nerve damage that results in loss of sensation or functioning.

Muscle Atrophy: Symptoms

Regardless of the cause, these are the symptoms that may alert you to possible muscle atrophy, after which a trusted medical professional should be sought for advice.

  • One of your limbs (arms, legs) appears markedly smaller than the other one.
  • You’ve spent a long time physically inactive (bedridden, hospitalized).
  • You’re experiencing noticeable weakness in one limb.

Not to be flippant about the subject, but there is some truth to the phrase “use it or lose it” when it comes to muscle. If you cannot move your muscles with regular physical activity, you will start to lose them.

Muscle atrophy pain may or may not be a symptom, as that depends on the cause of the atrophy. Many people will begin to lose muscle before they are aware it’s happening, and will have to rely on visual muscle size to realize they need medical attention.

Muscle Atrophy: Diagnosis

Once you’ve gotten in contact with a medical professional, the diagnosis may involve your full medical history, a review of any previous injuries, as well as an evaluation of your symptoms. Diagnosing the atrophy may also involve diagnosing the underlying medical condition, which may require blood tests, X-rays, MRIs, CTs, a nerve conduction study, or a muscle and/or nerve biopsy to find out what could be causing muscle atrophy if it’s not readily apparently (as it would be if you’d suddenly become bedbound).

Can Muscle Atrophy Be Reversed?

Depending on the cause, yes. There are some cases where a proper diet, exercise, and physical therapy can not only reverse muscle atrophy, but also prevent it from recurring. However, this will not be the case in some disease-related forms of atrophy, and it is important that you consult your doctor on what your expectations for muscle atrophy recovery should be in restimulating protein synthesis and rebuilding your muscles.

Muscle Atrophy: Treatment

Again, this will depend on the diagnosis of the cause, and also the severity of your muscle loss, but the treatments for reversible muscle atrophy may be as follows.

  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Dietary changes
  • Surgery
  • Electrical stimulation

If a lack of movement caused this condition, regaining movement will go a long way towards fixing it, and moderate exercise like walking, along with physical therapy, may be a way to regain muscle strength without needing surgery to fix skin, tendons, or ligaments too tight to begin moving again (as in cases of contracture deformity that could be caused by malnutrition or burn injury scar tissue).

Muscle Atrophy: Prevention

There are ways to prevent muscle atrophy before it happens, and ways to guard against it if you were fortunate enough to recover your musculature after one instance of muscle loss. If preventing muscle atrophy is in your control (and, of course, sometimes it will not be), here are a few ways to maintain muscle strength in adverse circumstances.

Stay Active

If you’re in recovery from a severe illness or have just come home from the hospital after a debilitating accident, it’s not as if you’ll take up jogging right away. However, movements as small as walking to your mailbox each day, or around the block, or up and down a single flight of stairs, can truly make the difference in the long run when it comes to maintaining your mobility.

Stay Nourished

Depending on your condition, this may be difficult, but when your body lacks the proper nutrition to stay running, it will start to catabolize your muscles for its needs, which is a form of self-cannibalization or destructive metabolism that literally eats away at your muscles. Make sure you’re getting proper protein, if not from whole foods, then in the forms of protein shakes or supplements, as every little bit may help.

In fact, supplementing with amino acids has been proven to help accelerate muscle recovery in times of sickness and illness and can help boost your muscle-building gains. To learn more about amino acid therapy for muscle atrophy, give this informative article, written by one of the world’s foremost amino acid researchers, a read.

Seek Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is particularly valuable for those with severe injury recovery (such as a car crash survivor) or a neurological condition, as therapists provide professional guidance on what, and how, and how often to stretch your body to build strength.

Try Passive Movement

Another way physical therapy can help you even before you have the strength to help yourself is with passive movement. Passive movement requires the therapist to gently move your legs and arms for you. This is how you can begin to recover from a very deep muscle deficit and build up strength and muscle again.

Preventative Measures

Not only will the above advice help prevent muscle atrophy, but it can also help discourage bedsores in those who are bedridden due to illness, and reduce the chances of developing dangerous blood clots in the limbs. Likewise, these movements may prevent muscle stiffness, retraction, and nerve damage. Consult a medical professional or licensed physical therapist for more advice.

Eliminate Atrophy

If you are in danger of muscle atrophy, take steps to make sure your protein intake and nutrients are sufficient, including the use of a supplement if necessary, like Amino Co.’s essential amino acid supplement, which contains all of the essential aminos required to build new muscle cells and structures. Also, make sure that you stay active, no matter in how small a way, to preserve your muscle function and prevent your muscles from falling into complete disuse. You cannot always control your body’s condition, but if the type of atrophy you fear is the type that’s preventable, it’s well worth the effort to maintain the quality of life and movement you’ve come to expect.

When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?

The best time to take protein supplements depends on your activity level, your personal goals, and the types of workouts you engage in. This article will provide you with specific, scientifically backed recommendations, and the reasoning behind that advice.

When taking protein supplements, people often wonder when exactly is the best time of day to consume them. Pre-workout? Post-workout? Is it okay to drink a protein shake before bed? Protein supplements can help people lose weight, build muscle, and recover from tissue damage due to injury or surgery. Because they’re so effective, most people want to be sure they’re utilizing protein the right way. So when is the best time to take protein? Short answer is: that depends on your health goals and the kinds of workouts you’re doing. For the longer answer and more detail, read on.

The Different Types of Protein Supplements

Protein is a source of energy for the body, essential for muscle growth, repairing damaged tissue, and preventing certain infections and diseases. Normal dietary protein comes from foods like meats, eggs, fish, dairy, grains, legumes, and seeds. Though animal products contain the most amount of protein, vegetables are sources of protein too, a fact well-known by those living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Of the most popular protein powders on the market in fact, a significant portion are plant-based.

Plant-based proteins include:

  • Soy protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Rice protein, which is lower in the essential amino acid lysine.
  • Pea protein, which has lower levels of the essential amino acid methionine and nonessential amino acid cysteine.
  • Hemp protein, which is low in lysine but high in fiber, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential, meaning your body can’t make them on its own, and needs to gain them from the foods you eat.

Dairy-based proteins include:

  • Whey protein, which is absorbed relatively quickly and contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Casein protein from milk curds, also containing the essential amino acids, and with a slower digestion rate than whey (which is why people often take casein before they sleep, so it will digest throughout the night… more on that timing below).

Animal-based proteins include:

  • Egg protein powder made from pure egg white protein.
  • Creatine, which is not found in plants but can be synthetically created. Though it is an animal protein, depending on its origin source, it may nevertheless be possible for vegans to use creatine as a supplement.

These are among the most commonly known protein powders available to buy, but we here at the Amino Co. have also developed an essential amino acid (EAA) blend that isn’t lacking or low on any of the amino acids required for protein synthesis and new muscle growth. It also blends free-form amino acids with whey protein and creatine, a nonessential protein that nevertheless has great value as a supplement. These forms of protein are used to help those who want to build muscle rapidly, and can even benefit those with muscle, neurological, or neuromuscular diseases.

The Varied Uses of Protein Supplementation

From muscle building to weight loss, here’s a quick look at all that supplemental protein can do to benefit your body.

Exercise Performance and Recovery

Added protein has been shown to increase endurance during training and workouts, as well as reduce soreness and speed up post-workout recovery. The timing of your protein intake matters here, whether you’re eating high-protein foods or taking supplements. Read on to learn about workout-specific timing recommendations.

Muscle Building

Muscles can only be built when you have the proper amount of amino acids for protein synthesis, and when you’re consuming more protein than your body breaks down during workouts. Taking a protein supplement, especially one that contains all the necessary EAAs for muscle growth, can make a huge difference. Finding the right anabolic window, the period of time when the protein you take in will go directly to your muscles, is something the International Society of Sports Nutrition has done extensive research on, and we, too, will provide specific scientific reasoning below.

Muscle Loss Prevention

Muscle mass is lost not only during intensive workouts, but also naturally as we age. Each decade you live after the age of 30 brings with it a higher risk of losing muscle (anywhere between 3-8% per decade). Proper protein intake is not only valuable to athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone who works out regularly, but it’s also important for each and every one of us as we age. Most Americans reserve their protein more for dinner than breakfast (3 times the amount on average is the difference between the two meals), and could use a supplemental boost of protein first thing in the morning to shore up their protein stores and help prevent the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Fat Loss Facilitation

Protein is filling enough to help curb hunger pangs and chemically contributes to appetite suppression by reducing the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. A high-protein diet raises your metabolism and increases levels of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). More satiety means fewer calories consumed throughout the day, which quickly leads to safe, maintainable weight loss and the reduction of dangerous body fat.

The Enduring Power of Protein

Popular because they’re convenient and effective, protein powders and supplements are here to stay and can offer you a wide variety of options, from self-mix formulas and powders to ready-to-drink protein shakes. If you’ve got your preferred protein supplement ready to go, then it’s time to wonder: when should you drink protein?

The Best Time to Take Protein Depending on Your Workout

Depending on your goals and activities, there are recommended times to take protein for the greatest effectiveness for your energy levels and muscle-building needs. Here are specific recommendations based on different types of workout activity.

The best time to take protein supplements.

Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout and post-workout

The amino acid leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and it promotes muscle recovery after workouts. Not only that, it activates protein synthesis, prompting new muscle to be built. One might think that due to leucine’s ability to boost endurance and stamina, one should take a BCAA supplement before a workout, but the science contradicts that idea. Not only are BCAAs only three of the nine essential amino acids needed to construct new muscle, leucine and the other BCAAs (isoleucine and valine) experience oxidative degradation during aerobic activity.

BCAAs are Insufficient Pre-Workout

Adding these limited amino acids before your workout, especially in the unbalanced form of BCAAs instead of a complete EAA formula, means that a greater percentage will be oxidized and used for energy instead of muscle building. Your body does not want to be out of balance, so a sudden overabundance of a few amino acids will cause the body to clean up and reduce them in order to maintain equilibrium.

Rather than risk burning off the protein you put in because your body is only looking for energy sources, it’s better to take a full measure of EAAs within the hour after your aerobic workout, when your body is looking for supplies to rebuild. Leucine will be there to prompt muscle protein synthesis, and the rest of the essential amino acids will all be included in the ideal ratio for generating new muscle growth.

EAAs are Effective Pre- and Post-Workout

That being said, taking a complete amino acid protein supplement before an aerobic cardiovascular workout (like a high-intensity interval training or HIIT class), not only provides the necessary ingredients for muscle building, but also helps fight fatigue in a way that only taking BCAAs can’t, by fueling your body with the amino acids that help produce dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Whether you’re walking, cycling, running stairs, or jumping rope, start by taking your EAA supplement 30 minutes before your workout session. The biggest benefit comes when you take your EAA supplement within an hour after your workout, when your blood flow is strong and active. Not only will the amino acids rush in to replace damaged muscle fibers with new muscle, EAAs can also help calm unnecessary inflammation. That will help quicken your recovery, allowing you to feel only the good side effects of working out, like increased energy and light euphoria, instead of soreness and fatigue.

Resistance Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout, during, and post-workout

Research has shown that EAAs given 30 minutes before a resistance exercise workout prompt muscle protein synthesis much more effectively than consuming EAAs afterwards does. Taking a protein supplement before this type of workout helps prevent the breakdown of muscle protein during the activity, and also increases blood flow to the muscles, thus getting the amino acids quickly into the muscle where they’re needed.

Consuming EAAs after a resistance workout is not harmful by any means, as that method, too, will prompt the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, but it’s not ideal to leave the consumption of EAAs until after your resistance training is complete. Our recommendation is to first and foremost take a complete protein supplement before a resistance workout, and if possible take them throughout and/or after as well to get the most benefit.

Bodybuilding

Best time to take protein: Pre- and post-workout, and also before bed.

Immediately before and after a weight-lifting workout, we recommend that you take 15 grams of EAAs each. An EAA supplement has been shown to have a faster effect on muscle protein synthesis than either whey or casein protein alone. However, our Amino Co. blend of free-form EAAs with whey and creatine support ensures that you get a fast dose of EAAs and that the EAAs from whey will digest more slowly as you work out, offering a steady supply to help prevent muscle breakdown. Creatine helps prevent catabolism by supplying faster energy than your body can naturally generate from muscle cell mitochondria. This means more energy for more reps, which ultimately means more work put in and more muscle gained.

An hour after your post-workout dose of EAAs, we recommend another 15-gram dose. On off days, continue taking these same doses, measured between meals instead of surrounding your workout. Lastly, it’s also recommended you take another 15-gram dose before bed to keep your muscles fed as you sleep and to help prevent muscle breakdown as much as possible. You work hard to gain your muscles, and we encourage you to protect those gains at every opportunity. Set your alarm to take one more dose around 4 am if you know you won’t have a problem falling back to sleep, that way your muscles never go hungry for fuel.

It should be noted here that bodybuilders aren’t the only ones who benefit from taking extra protein before bed. One study of 16 elderly men showed that those who consumed casein protein (which digests slowly) before bed had increased muscle growth over those who took a placebo, despite being less active individuals. When you’re sleeping, it’s the protein that counts, and not the activity.

Is There Any Downside to Taking Protein Supplements?

The majority of scientific studies into how our bodies process high amounts of protein show that you can safely consume plenty of protein without risk of harmful side effects. Unless your doctor advises against protein supplements or you have a known kidney issue like rhabdomyolysis, there is no need to worry about excessive protein intake; merely take your products as recommended and spread them throughout your day.

Timing Is Everything

At the end of the day, it’s true that people who work out need more protein, but even those with a less active lifestyle benefit from consuming extra protein for strength, for maintaining healthy weight levels, and for preventing the loss of muscle mass we all experience as we age.

Make a protein shake for breakfast, have another to curb your appetite between meals, and make another as a beneficial treat before bed. Know that the more regularly you take in balanced forms of protein like Amino Co.’s complete EAA blend, the more good you can do for your body. Whether you’re working out or not, upping your daily protein intake is safe and smart. Bulk up, slim down, and stay strong with protein!

What Are the Best Muscle Recovery Foods?

Wondering what muscle recovery foods are good for prevention and relief of delayed onset muscle soreness? This comprehensive list of foods full of healthy fats, amino acids, and natural sugars will support your workout and recovery goals.

After starting a new workout, you’re in for some growing pains. Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS can affect anyone, from those new to working out to elite athletes incorporating different exercises into their routines. Whenever you push your muscles, either with unfamiliar exercises or longer durations, you’re creating microscopic tears to the muscles, which then cause stiffness, soreness, and pain. Are sore muscles a good sign? Yes, in a sense, because it means you’re using your muscles in new ways that will eventually lead to a better fitness profile. But don’t fret! Eating muscle recovery foods can help ease the discomfort and may even help decrease muscle soreness in the first place.

Using food as your method of recovery and prevention may truly be the best road to take. The other suggestions to help muscle recovery either take extra time or come with other risks, and none of them can get in front of DOMS before it starts. Getting a massage after every workout would be great, but do you have the time, the money? Rest and ice packs are perfectly reasonable options too, but it’s the rest that might bother you if you’re really excited about a new workout and seeing results. Do you really want to take a couple of days off after every workout to let your muscles recover? It might not be a bad idea, but with the right foods pre- and post-workout, it might not be necessary either.

The last refuge to treat the ache and pain of muscle soreness is to use painkillers. Whether it’s over the counter fare you’d take for any pains (a wincing headache for example, or to relieve menstrual cramps), or prescription painkillers meant for more serious pains (a wrenched back or dental surgery). And these pain killers come with health-compromising side effects that are best avoided.

So what can you eat that will make a difference? Here are some foods you might want to include on the menu on gym days.

 Muscle recovery foods for prevention and relief.

Muscle Recovery Foods

Whether for their protein content, iron content, anti-inflammatory properties, or amino acids, these foods can help your muscles heal faster.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese has around 27 grams of protein per cup, and is often a regular food in the fitness community for those without any dietary restrictions surrounding milk products. In fact, the casein protein found in cottage cheese curds (as opposed to the whey protein found in watery milk) are often isolated and used as a workout protein supplement. As a slow-digesting protein, casein can help build and rebuild muscle while you sleep if it’s your last snack before bed.

The essential amino acid leucine is also present in cottage cheese, and comprises around 23% of the essential amino acids in muscle protein (the most abundant percentage of them all). Foods with leucine can help you build muscle by activating protein synthesis, and the faster you rebuild your muscle, the faster your muscle repair and workout recovery!

Eat it plain, or combine cottage cheese with some of the other recovery foods on this list to stack the benefits. Cottage cheese can even be used in baked goods and pancakes or included in protein shakes—don’t be afraid to get creative.

Sweet Potatoes

Adding sweet potatoes to your post-workout meal can help replenish your glycogen stores after a tough workout. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin C and beta-carotene as well, and are loaded with fiber which helps to control appetite and maintain healthy digestion and build muscle.

Sweet potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or on a grill, cut into fries, spiced with cinnamon, or made savory with garlic powder and pepper. Enjoy them at the dinner table or on the go: a baked potato wrapped in foil can join you just about anywhere.

Baking Spices

Speaking of what you can put on sweet potatoes, it turns out some baking spices are good for post-workout recovery as well. Not so much in the form of gingerbread cookies or cinnamon rolls, but a study showed that cinnamon or ginger given to 60 trained young women (between the ages of 13 and 25) significantly reduced their muscle soreness post-exercise. If you’re already having a sweet potato, make it a little sweeter with some cinnamon, add it to oatmeal, or put some in your coffee for the extra boost.

Coffee

Did we just mention coffee? Good news: coffee’s on the list too. Research suggests that about 2 cups of caffeinated coffee can reduce post-workout pain by 48%, and another study showed that pairing caffeine with painkilling pharmaceuticals resulted in a 40% reduction of the drugs taken. If you do need pharmaceutical pain relief, maybe coffee can help you minimize just how much you take—caffeine is a much less dangerous stimulant than pain pills.

Turmeric

Another spice on the list, turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and has been shown to be a proven and reliable pain reliever. Whether it’s helping you with delayed onset muscle soreness or pain from an injury (workout-related or otherwise), turmeric eases both pain and swelling by blocking chemical pain messengers and pro-inflammatory enzymes.

As with the other spices, it can be easily added to baked goods, to coffee, and to oatmeal. With its beautiful golden color, you can even make what’s called “golden milk” or a turmeric latte by combining 2 cups of warm cow’s or almond milk with 1 teaspoon of turmeric and another teaspoon of ginger, and then sip your muscle soreness away.

Oatmeal

Speaking of oatmeal (and isn’t it nice that so many of these ingredients can be easily combined?), it, too, can help relieve muscle soreness. This complex carb gives you a slow and steady release of sugar, along with iron needed to carry oxygen through your blood, and vitamin B1 (thiamin), which can reduce stress and improve alertness. This is why oatmeal is a great way to start the day, but since it also includes selenium, a mineral that protects cells from free-radical damage and lowers the potential for joint inflammation, it’s a great food for those in high-intensity workout training as well (like, up to Olympic level training).

Use oatmeal as a daily vehicle for other healthy ingredients, including the spices on this list, and enjoy its reliable benefits.

Bananas

Easily sliced into oatmeal, included in smoothies, or eaten alone, not only are bananas a healthy way to replace sweets (frozen and blended they can even make a delicious ice cream alternative), bananas are also a great way to get much-needed potassium. Research suggests potassium helps reduce muscle soreness and muscle cramps like the dreaded “Charley horse” spasm that contracts your muscle against your will and might not let up until it causes enough damage to last for days. A banana a day could keep the Charley horse away, and is particularly delicious (and helpful) when paired with its classic mate: peanut butter.

Peanut Butter

The healthy fats and protein found in nut butters like peanut or almond butter can help repair sore muscles. A reliable source of protein for muscle building, with fiber for blood pressure aid, vitamin E for antioxidant properties, and phytosterols for heart health, peanut butter offers up a ton of benefit and is easy to eat anywhere. Make a sandwich, use it to help bind together portable protein balls filled with other ingredients, add it into smoothies, or just eat it from the jar with a spoon (no one’s judging).

Nuts and Seeds

If you’re a fan of protein balls, then you’re well acquainted with nuts and seeds, which are great additions to these protein-rich foods. While providing essential omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation, various nuts and seeds can provide you protein for muscle protein synthesis, electrolytes for hydration, and zinc for an immune system boost. Something as simple as a baggie full of almonds, walnuts, pumpkin, and cashews can help maximize your muscles. Mixing in seeds (sunflower, chia, pumpkin) adds a healthy density that can curb your hunger and satisfy your appetite for longer. They’re small but powerful assets in quick muscle recovery.

Manuka Honey

This is not your grocery store honey in its little bear- or hive-shaped bottle. Manuka honey comes from the Manuka bush in New Zealand, with a milder flavor than that of bee honey and a much thicker texture. It’s anti-inflammatory and rich in the carbs needed to replenish glycogen stores and deliver protein to your muscles. Drizzle it over yogurt or stir it into tea to gain its benefits.

Green Tea

Green tea is particularly helpful for muscle recovery purposes. With anti-inflammatory antioxidants, it makes an excellent pre- or post-workout drink to prevent muscle damage related to exercise, and also helps you stay hydrated.

Cacao

Cacao has high levels of magnesium, antioxidants, and B-vitamins, which reduce exercise stress, balance electrolytes, and boost immunity and energy levels. The antioxidant flavanols in cacao also help up the production of nitric oxide in your body, which allows your blood vessel walls to relax, lowering blood pressure and promoting healthy blood flow. Adding cacao powder to your high-quality protein shakes or a glass of cow/almond/coconut milk post-workout will bring you its benefits.

Tart Cherries

Tart cherry juice has been shown to minimize post-run muscle pain, reduce muscle damage, and improve recovery time in professional athletes like lifters, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Enjoy tart cherry juice as a drink, or include the dried fruit as a part of your own muscle-building trail mix with the nuts and seeds discussed above. It’s not the only fruit or fruit juice you might include either. The nutrients in fruits like oranges, pineapples, and raspberries can also help speed up your recovery.

Salmon

Rich with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, muscle-building protein, and antioxidants, salmon is an extremely efficient post-workout food. Not an option if you are vegan or vegetarian, of course, but for the meat eaters among us, or those on the Paleo diet, salmon can specifically help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, and provide you with an abundance of the protein needed for muscle growth. Eat this protein within 45 minutes after working out for maximum effect, either grilled, cooked up in salmon cakes, or raw in the form of sushi or sashimi. All of the above goes for tuna as well, by the way—reasons you might become a pescatarian.

Eggs

If you are an omnivore or ovo-vegetarian, eggs are great way to gain protein first thing in the morning, and an even more effective food to have immediately post-workout to help prevent DOMS. Like cottage cheese, eggs are a rich provider of leucine, and like salmon, eggs contain vitamin D (in their yolks). For your convenience, eggs can be boiled and brought along for immediate consumption after your training. Boil a dozen at the start of each week during your meal prep, and have an easy protein source in the palm of your hand every other day of the week.

Spinach

Did we really get all the way to the end of the list without a vegetable? So sorry! Let’s fix that with spinach. A powerhouse of antioxidants, not only can spinach help prevent diseases like heart disease and various cancers, but it also helps you recover quickly from intense exercise. Spinach’s nitrates help to strengthen your muscles, and its magnesium content helps maintain nerve function. Spinach helps to regulate your blood sugar (in case you worry about the spikes you might get from the sweeter items on this list), and can be added to many dinners, snuck into smoothies, or eaten on its own either raw or sautéed in olive oil.

Resist Damage and Recovery Quickly

These foods help with recovery from DOMS and reduce the amount of soreness you get in the first place by providing your body with the proteins and nutrients it craves when you’re working out to the best of your ability.

A quick note before you go. In your quest for pain-free muscles, you’ll want to avoid:

  • Refined sugar: Just one sugary soda a day can increase your inflammatory markers, as can white bread and other products with refined sugar. Natural sugars don’t bring that kind of adverse effect, so get your sugar from whole foods instead.
  • Alcohol: The dehydration caused by alcohol requires its own special recovery, and will deplete many of your vitamins (especially B vitamins). Some research suggests that alcohol can interfere with how your body breaks down lactic acid, which would increase muscle soreness. If you’re on a mission to build muscle, it’s best to avoid alcohol.

If you’re eating pretty well and avoiding what you shouldn’t eat, but still find muscle soreness a burden after working out, there is always the option to supplement.

What is the best supplement for muscle recovery? Evidence shows that getting all your body’s essential amino acids in balance will help specifically with muscle sprains and pulls, so when supplementing, just make sure you cover the waterfront (rather than choosing one or two essentials and neglecting the rest). Other than that, a diverse diet can be had in choosing natural preventions and remedies for healthy muscle recovery.

Muscle Strains, Sprains and Pulls: How to Heal Quickly and Protect Yourself with Amino Acids

Muscle strains are common injuries—especially for athletes and individuals with jobs that require heavy lifting. Muscle strains in the back cause significant pain and stiffness and may affect your quality of life. How long does it take for a pulled muscle or a muscle strain to heal? It depends on the severity of the injury and how you choose to treat the injury.

Severe muscle injuries, including muscle sprains and strains, limit your range of motion, depending on where the injury occurs. For example, a muscle strain may require time off work or time away from the gym to allow the muscle tissue to heal properly. Conventional muscle strain treatments, as well as natural remedies such as physical therapy, amino acid supplements, massage, and other techniques, can hasten recovery time.

The best advice? Avoid muscle injuries by warming up before exercising and by lifting heavy objects correctly (use those legs!).

What Is a Muscle Strain?

Muscle strains occur when muscles are overstretched to the point of tearing muscle fibers. Muscle injuries that involve torn muscle tissue can range from mild to severe. Mild cases, for example, only affect a few of the muscle fibers in the group while the surrounding muscles remain intact. On the other side of the scale, severely strained muscles are torn to the extent that the muscle is unable to function correctly.

According to Harvard Medical School, there are three grades of muscle strains defined by the severity of the damage:

  • Grade 1 strain: A grade 1 strain is the mildest of the three grades, causing the muscle to be painful and tender, but to retain its normal strength. Typically, only a few muscle fibers have been damaged and the surrounding fibers continue to function appropriately, allowing for full range of motion and weight-bearing activities.
  • Grade 2 strain: This grade of strain is considered moderate and causes muscle pain and tenderness. The surrounding area may swell and bruise. In a grade 2 muscle strain, a significant loss of strength and range of motion may occur.
  • Grade 3 strain: If a muscle tears all the way through, separating the muscle into two pieces, it is considered a grade 3 strain. Grade 3 strains cause complete loss of muscle function, significant pain, a visible dent under the skin, discoloration or a bruise, and swollen tissue. A grade 3 muscle strain is considered a serious injury and needs to be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, presents similarly to a grade 1 muscle strain. DOMS is the result of exercise—or overexercise—and the pain typically appears within 48 hours after exercising and lasts for a few days. Rubbing the muscle and gentle stretching will help the injury heal and relieve pain and tightness.

Muscle Strain Symptoms

Muscle strain symptoms depend on the location of the injury and severity. Recognized signs of a muscle strain may include:

  • An audible “pop” at the time of injury, indicating a grade 3 strain
  • A gap or visible change in the normal outline of a muscle, suggesting a grade 3 strain
  • A decrease in muscle strength, indicating a grade 2 strain—with complete loss of muscle function signifying a grade 3 strain
  • Swelling, bruising, or both at the site of injury
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Generalized muscle pain and tenderness that increase with movement
  • Charlie horse-type pain
  • Painful muscle knots

Certain areas of the body may present with slightly different symptoms of muscle damage including:

  • Low back strain: If you have a low back muscle strain, the back pain will likely radiate into the buttocks. A low back strain causes stiffness and often restricts the range of motion. The injury may cause spasms, poor posture, and significant pain, even while at rest.
  • Forearm muscle strain: When you experience problems flexing the fingers or wrist, or pain, swelling, and muscle spasms, you may have a forearm muscle strain. A forearm muscle strain is often caused by physical trauma, overuse, or repetitive movements.
  • Hamstring strain: Hamstring strains are very common injuries for competitive athletes. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of muscle injury often is related to poor flexibility, muscle imbalance, or a prior hamstring injury.
  • Neck strain: Necks are incredibly susceptible to injury. There are over 20 muscles connected to the neck that facilitate the movement of the shoulders, upper back, jaw, neck, and head. Neck strains may cause sharp localized pain that aches or throbs, stiffness, muscle spasms, and inflammation, and the pain often worsens with movement.

NOTE: An Achilles tendon rupture can cause an audible “pop” like a grade 3 strain, as well as immediate sharp pain in the lower leg and ankle. The Achilles tendon is not a muscle, and if you experience significant pain or the inability to bend your foot or stand on your toes, see your doctor immediately for evaluation and treatment.

 

Did you just pull a muscle?

Diagnosis and Muscle Strain Treatment

If you believe you have a grade 2 or a grade 3 muscle strain, see your sports medicine healthcare team as soon as possible. Your doctor will physically examine the area, testing range of motion, pain, flexibility, and strength. If your symptoms are moderate to severe, X-rays or an MRI may be required to determine the extent of the damage to the muscle so the best treatment for your muscle strain can begin.

If you have a minor muscle strain, your doctor may recommend the R.I.C.E. method:

  • Rest: Allow the muscle to repair by minimizing use for a few days or until pain abates.
  • Ice: Apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes every hour for the first 24 hours, and then every 3 to 4 hours, or as necessary.
  • Compression: Wear a compression wrap or undergarment for the first few days after you’ve injured your muscle to relieve pain.
  • Elevation: For the first few days after injury, elevate the muscle above the heart to reduce swelling.

For minor muscle sprains, your physician will likely suggest an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and encourage you to begin stretching the muscle after a few days of healing. If the stretching causes pain, give yourself a few extra days to allow the injured muscles to repair.

Grade 2 and grade 3 strains may require prescribed pain relievers and muscle relaxants to relieve discomfort. Severe strains may require a trip to an orthopedic specialist. Depending on the location and severity of the strain, immobilization for a few weeks may be necessary. In severe cases, surgery and physical therapy may be required.

When healing from a sports injury, even a minor muscle strain, it would be wise to consult with a physical therapist who can design a customized recovery and exercise program for you. The last thing you want to do is cause further damage or re-injure your muscle. A sports medicine-minded physical therapist can teach you to exercise properly to spur healing and to create muscles that are strong and flexible, so reinjury of the muscle is less likely.

Amino Acids and Muscle Recovery and Health

For all grades of muscle tear damage, taking a full-spectrum amino acid supplement spurs healing of muscle damage when consumed in the days following injury according to a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Researchers from Australia investigated a supplement that contained the nine essential amino acids as well as three nonessential amino acids. Findings support the use of an amino acid supplement 30 minutes prior to working out and immediately upon completion of the workout to reduce muscle soreness and delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Amino acids are required for muscle growthmuscle building, and pain management. If you are looking to heal a muscle strain or other muscle injury—an amino acid supplement is a must. According to an article in the journal Practical Pain Management, amino acids are responsible for three key pain-modulating neurotransmitters, and balanced amino acid supplementation can reduce pain and even reduce the dose of prescription painkillers that are necessary for severe pain. The article further explains that the human body’s entire pain-relief system is fueled by amino acids and the hormones they produce.

4 Essential Tips to Prevent Muscle Strains and Sprains

Preventing injury is always better than treatment! Use these four tips to help prevent muscle injuries including pulls, tears, and sprains.

  1.  Warm up your muscles properly before exercising or moving heavy objects. Just 5 minutes of light stretching can protect you from injury.
  2. Take an amino acid supplement 30 minutes before you exercise and immediately following the workout to protect your muscles and improve performance.
  3. Learn how to lift heavy objects safely by squatting down instead of bending over to prevent mild strains or more severe lower back injuries.
  4. Under the guidance of a physical therapist or sports medicine professional, create a balanced exercise routine that includes aerobic activity, stretching, balance work, resistance exercise, and weight lifting.

9 Natural Remedies for Back Pain Relief

Few things can be as immediately disabling as back pain. Looking for back pain relief? Here are some natural remedies that can help get the pain off your back.

Few things can be as immediately disabling as back pain. Our backs are a delicate and complex structure of muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones. Back pain can be caused by a wide range of injuries, dehydration, inflammation, and certain underlying health conditions, and back pain relief can be difficult to come by.

Be it acute or chronic, back pain causes a reduction in physical activity, lost productivity at work, and overall poor quality of life scores according to a study published in the journal European Spine. 

Low back pain is incredibly common, not only in the United States but also globally. In fact, according to findings from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study, low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Fortunately, there are effective natural pain management remedies that can help you enjoy life to the fullest.

Are You at Risk for Back Pain?

Nearly everyone will experience some type of back pain over the course of a year. According to a National Center for Health Statistics 2016 report, during 2012 more than 125 million adults in the United States had a musculoskeletal pain disorder. This staggering figure accounts for more than 50% of the U.S. adult population.

It must be noted that musculoskeletal pain is classified as pain related to nerves, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones, not just in the back. The Cleveland Clinic also puts fibromyalgia, arthritic pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome in the same category.

In the general population, researchers report the lifetime prevalence of back pain high at 85%. This surprising statistic comes from a comprehensive review conducted by researchers from the Department of Sports Medicine and Sports Nutrition in Germany.

This same review also found that in athletes, the lifetime prevalence can be as high as 94%, and it identifies rowing and cross-country skiing as sports with the greatest risk.

Of course, there are also risk factors for chronic pain conditions, such as occupations that increase your likelihood of suffering an injury to the back muscles or sustaining muscle pain. In a review of the National Health Interview Survey completed by the National Institutes of Health, the following occupations have the highest rate of low back pain—attributed directly to the job:

  • Construction and Extraction: 11.22%
  • Healthcare Practitioners and Healthcare Support: 10.61%
  • Personal Care and Service: 8.27%
  • Transportation and Moving: 7.74%

Your risk for developing back pain increases according to a cross-sectional study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases if you:

  • Are obese
  • Smoke
  • Are inactive
  • Have family members with chronic back pain

Types of Back Pain

Back pain can be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute back pain can last anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, and generally does not require traditional medical intervention. However, when back pain persists or worsens for 12 weeks or longer, the pain is considered chronic, and a consultation with your health care provider is advised.

Pain in the back can present in the:

  • Lower back
  • Middle back
  • Upper back
  • Neck and shoulders
  • Glutes

Back pain can be described as:

  • Nagging
  • Radiating
  • Throbbing
  • Pinching
  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

Keeping a journal of your pain can help you find a successful treatment. Take note of the type of pain, severity, when it occurs and for how long, the location of the pain, and what you were doing when it occurred. These details can help your wellness team identify the best course of action to relieve your back pain naturally.

Common Causes of Back Pain

According to Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Comprehensive Spine Care, there is a wide range of injuries and medical conditions that can cause back pain. Their list includes:

Muscle injuries and muscle strains Vertebral fractures Pregnancy
Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal Scoliosis Obesity
Degenerative disc disease Tumors Anxiety
Pinched or compressed nerves Osteoporosis Smoking
Lack of physical activity Aging

The Center for Comprehensive Spine Care makes a special effort to identify the symptoms of thoracic back pain. This type of back pain occurs in the upper back and it may indicate a serious or even potentially life-threatening underlying condition. If you experience upper back pain and any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Deformity of the spine
  • Nerve pain in the lower body
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs or lower body
  • Severe stiffness
  • Severe constant pain
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

9 Natural Remedies for Back Pain Relief

1. Fish Oil (2,000 milligrams a day)

Omega-3 fatty acids make an essential contribution according to the Harvard T.H. Chan’s School of Public Health. Omega-3s cannot be produced in the body; they must be consumed. The richest sources are coldwater fish, walnuts, and flax seeds.

Every healthy diet should include a variety of foods with these essential fats to reap their health benefits. However, when you are experiencing back pain, taking a high-quality supplement of 2,000 milligrams a day may be advised. In a landmark study conducted by the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical center, fish oil was shown to be as effective and safer than NSAIDs in relieving back pain.

While omega 3s are well-tolerated in food, check with your doctor prior to taking a fish oil supplement if you have type 2 diabetes, take blood thinners, or have a bleeding disorder or a shellfish allergy.

2. Turmeric (1,000 milligrams a day)

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that fights inflammation and reduces pain, is one of the most effective natural compounds in the world. Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Department of Experimental Therapeutics conducted a clinical trial that found that natural compounds including curcumin are more effective than aspirin or ibuprofen.

Curcumin’s health benefits extend beyond its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, in a systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers state curcumin is safe in doses up to 2500 milligrams a day and can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. Current clinical trials are focusing on curcumin’s ability to prevent cancer, fight cancer, and even make traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy more effective.

Incorporating turmeric into your diet is easy. The small orange root is now readily available in most grocery stores. Just look for it near the fresh ginger. But please note, when using fresh or powdered turmeric, to get its full benefit, it must be combined with black pepper. Piperine, an essential compound in black pepper, makes it easier for the body to absorb curcumin.

Turmeric is easy to incorporate into salad dressings, stews and soups, and rice dishes for daily enjoyment. When you feel you need an extra boost of curcumin’s anti-inflammatory powers, sip on a turmeric latte. This delightful warm drink can be made with ingredients in your pantry—just don’t forget to add the black pepper!

3. D-Phenylalanine (1,500 milligrams a day, for several weeks)

D-Phenylalanine, or DPA, is one of the essential amino acids that is recognized for its power to reduce low back pain according to University of Michigan’s, Michigan Medicine. They report DPA decreases pain and can inhibit chronic pain in some cases. There are currently 48 clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of phenylalanine on conditions like cystic fibrosis and PKU, as well as the levels needed for wellness.

To learn more about taking phenylalanine for back pain, check out this article.

4. L-Tryptophan (2-6 grams a day)

Tryptophan, most commonly associated with turkey “comas” on Thanksgiving, is another of the essential amino acids that can help when you are experiencing upper back pain, middle back pain, or lower back pain. Tryptophan plays a critical role in back pain relief by helping to repair muscle tissue that has been damaged. Additional tryptophan benefits include reducing anxiety and depression.

An important note about amino acid supplements: The balance of amino acids in your blood is a delicate one. Because certain amino acids hitch a ride on the same transporter for entry into the brain, increasing levels of one without increasing levels of the other can restrict access and adversely affect mind and mood. For this reason, it’s recommended to supplement with a complete essential amino acid blend formulated with an ideal ratio of aminos.

5. Collagen (2-5 grams a day)

A vital protein, and the most abundant in the human body, collagen is the substance that gives our skin, hair, ligaments, and tendons the fuel they need. If your joints creak or pop, you may not have enough collagen “greasing the wheel” between your joints. And that can increase the risk for joint deterioration that can cause arthritis and chronic back pain.

Collagen is recognized for improving skin health, hair health, IBS symptoms, cellulite, and muscle mass, and has even garnered a reputation as an effective treatment for joint disorders and osteoarthritis according to researchers from the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine. This study specifically points to the efficacy of collagen hydrolysate.

Think of collagen hydrolysate as gelatin. It is rich in amino acids, but it has been processed fairly extensively to make the proteins smaller and more easily absorbed. Seek a high-quality supplement from a reputable company to add to your diet. While generally considered safe, some mild side effects have been reported with collagen supplements, namely digestive upset and heartburn.

6. Acupuncture

A popular and time-tested holistic technique, acupuncture has been shown to improve chronic back pain. In a large-scale clinical trial, researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics evaluated the efficacy of acupuncture for back and neck pain, arthritis pain, chronic headaches, and shoulder pain. The researchers determined that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain and verified that acupuncture has more than a placebo effect.

7. Massage

Massage is known for relieving stress, anxiety, pain, and a variety of other health conditions. Professional athletes often turn to massage after a tough workout or game to help relieve sore or strained muscles. Massage therapists can target specific muscles, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues that are causing back pain.

There are a number of massage modalities, with some dating back to ancient China. Depending on the root cause of the back pain, a licensed and experienced massage therapist might recommend a deep tissue, sports, soft tissue, or Shiatsu massage. Massage is believed to relieve low back pain by improving circulation, releasing tension, increasing endorphin levels, and improving range of motion. Understand that it may take multiple sessions to accomplish relief.

8. Capsaicin Cream

Made from the compound found in cayenne and other hot peppers that cause the burning sensation and taste, capsaicin promotes pain relief, particularly for back pain, according to a study published in the journal Molecules. Available both over-the-counter and by prescription, a topical capsaicin cream can provide immediate back pain relief.

It is important to purchase a high-quality product and apply it as directed on the packaging. In itself, capsaicin can create pain, but it can also relieve the discomfort and pain caused by soft tissue injuries, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and muscle pulls or strains. Researchers believe that the heat generated by the capsaicin works by activating pain receptors that cause the brain to release pain-fighting hormones.

9. DIY Pain Relief Rub

Beyond using heating pads to soothe muscle tension and back pain, you can whip up a quick DIY pain relief rub. For a quick DIY topical back pain reliever (that smells great too!) use the recipe below. This home remedy is perfect for relieving lower back pain after a hard workout or pulling weeds. When applied, it provides a cooling, yet invigorating effect because of the menthol in the peppermint oil.

DIY Pain Relief Rub

  • 5-7 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 5-7 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5-7 drops marjoram essential oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil or jojoba oil

Mix all ingredients together until well combined. Massage into sore muscles and joints daily, or as needed.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

6 Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Back Pain

1. Exercise Regularly

The more you move, the better. Regular exercise is important for keeping your strength, flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular health at their pinnacle. Low-impact exercise like walking, riding a bike, and swimming are good options when you have back pain.

In addition to weight management, regular exercise has been shown to help:

Aim for 180 minutes each week, or 30 minutes a day, of moderate, low-impact exercise to relieve back pain and discomfort. The other health benefits will help to prevent additional injury and improve cardiovascular function.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

2. Stay Hydrated

Drink at least 8 ounces of pure water for every 10 pounds of body weight to stay properly hydrated. When you are dehydrated, the natural lubrication in your spinal discs is depleted and can result in backaches and fatigue.

Kidney stones and urinary tract infections are more worrisome side effects of dehydration and can both cause back pain. According to the National Kidney Foundation, it is vital to drink enough water during workouts and periods of hot weather as prolonged or frequent dehydration can cause kidney damage.

3. Lift Heavy Items Properly

Avoiding back injury is the best way to prevent back pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is important to use proper lifting techniques to avoid back pain. The Mayo Clinic recommends:

  • Starting in a safe position
  • Maintaining the natural curve of your spine
  • Using your legs to lift the weight
  • Squatting instead of kneeling
  • Avoiding twisting

4. Practice Pilates

Joseph Pilates developed this practice of stretching and body conditioning while interned during World War I. The reformer, which is widely used in Pilates studios today, is modeled after the first equipment he developed in the internment camp using bunk beds, springs, and ropes.

Pilates is focused on increasing core strength and creating long fluid muscle groups. This practice can help prevent injuries to the back and provide back pain relief. If you do have back pain, medical research shows that a regular Pilates practice is a great way to strengthen your core to prevent low back pain. In the just-released results of a randomized controlled trial, 12 weeks of Pilates practice improved chronic back pain.

Most metropolitan areas have established Pilates studios where experienced instructors and reformers are available. If a studio is not available in your area, Pilates equipment, including reformers, are available for home use.

5. Tai Chi

This ancient martial art has been practiced for thousands of years. It is characterized by slow, precise, and controlled movements—a very different discipline than other martial arts that focus on explosive power. Tai chi epitomizes the mind-body connection, as every fiber of your being must be engaged for best practice.

According to Harvard Medical School, the health benefits of tai chi include aerobic conditioning, improved flexibility and balance, better muscle strength and muscle response, and a reduction in falls. Tai chi can be practiced by virtually anyone, in any health condition. It involves low-impact and slow-motion isolating muscle groups responsible for core strength, balance, and confidence.

6. Yoga

Millions of Americans practice a form of yoga. This practice combines deep relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, and strength-training postures that are mixed together in balance to create a discipline known for reducing pain and improving balance, flexibility, and strength.

According to Harvard Medical School, yoga’s proven health benefits include:

  • Reducing your risk of heart disease
  • Relieving migraines
  • Fighting osteoporosis
  • Alleviating the pain of fibromyalgia
  • Easing multiple sclerosis symptoms
  • Increasing blood vessel flexibility (69%!)
  • Shrinking arterial blockages

Regular yoga practice can help you prevent injury and back pain. And, if you have low back pain, a systematic review and meta-analysis focusing on the effectiveness of yoga and back pain showed that yoga is effective for both short-term and long-term relief of chronic low back pain.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

Precautions

As mentioned above, back pain accompanied by certain other symptoms can be a sign of serious underlying health conditions. If you experience back pain and any of the following symptoms, please consult with your physician immediately:

  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling in any part of the body
  • Deformity of the spine
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Extreme stiffness
  • Severe constant pain
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

Back pain symptoms tend to recur, with studies showing a recurrence rate of somewhere between 24% and 80%. To protect against future episodes of back pain, learn to lift heavy items properly and build your core strength to reduce your risk of injury.

At the End of the Day

Back pain is costly. It affects productivity at work, health care costs, and most importantly your quality of life. Whether acute or chronic, when you are in pain, the only thing you can focus on is effective back pain relief. Whether it strikes as lower back pain, middle back pain, or as neck and shoulder pain, pain is pain and finding the natural back pain remedy to ease your pain and speed up the healing process is essential.

Once the root cause of your back pain is determined, natural lower back pain remedies and upper back pain remedies are available. The key is finding the combination of treatments that work for you. Whether it is a high-quality amino acid supplement, a DIY essential oil rub, yoga, or Pilates, you can improve your quality of life and relieve your discomfort.

How to Use Amino Acids for Bodybuilding

Amino acids have become some of the most popular types of bodybuilding supplements across multiple disciplines. Both BCAAs and EAAs can be used on their own or in the form of “stacks”—specialized blends of multiple supplements that work together synergistically to provide even greater benefits than when taken on their own.

Bodybuilding usually refers to increasing and sculpting muscle mass for appearance as well as strength. In a more general sense, bodybuilding can refer to increasing muscle mass and function for the purpose of competing in sports such as football or power sports (e.qg., shot putting, discus throwing, etc.). It is a given that bodybuilding requires resistance training. If bodybuilding is for the purpose of improving competitive performance in a specific sport there are likely to be training requirements unique to that sport. This discussion on amino acids for bodybuilding will, therefore, not focus on the specific aspects of training. Regardless of the goal of training, amino acids play a key role in bodybuilding.

The Impact of Nutrition on Bodybuilding

Training tends to be the first factor most consider when seeking to build lean muscle, however, the nutrients we provide our bodies with can be equally influential—or more so—in determining how quickly we progress toward our goals. No matter how intensely you train, you will not be able to achieve the results you desire if you’re lacking certain crucial nutritional elements.

Obtaining all the nutrients you need from your diet alone in the quantities necessary for maximal bodybuilding results can be challenging. That’s where workout supplements come in.

By taking targeted sports nutrition supplements, you can ensure you get all the nutrients you need to build muscle, speed recovery time, decrease muscle soreness, amp up energy levels, and more.

Bodybuilding Supplements Then and Now

Depending on how broadly you interpret the idea of dietary supplementation, the idea of bodybuilding supplements can be traced back to ancient Greece.

According to Professor Andrew Dalby and other experts, Greek and Roman athletes consumed large quantities of meat and wine as well as herbal concoctions and tonics with the goal of increasing their strength and stamina.

In the early 1900s, Eugen Sandow, a pioneering German bodybuilder whose legacy earned him the honorific “father of modern bodybuilding,” advised all who wished to maximize their muscle growth to adhere to the dietary rules he himself followed. Bodybuilder Earle Liederman, who rose to prominence in the 1920s, recommended drinking what he called “beef juice” or “beef extract” (a substance the luminaries of today’s wellness landscape call “bone broth” and chefs simply refer to as “consommé) in order to speed muscle recovery.

In the 1950s, protein powders entered the picture as recreational and competitive bodybuilding became ever more popular with ever-broader audiences in the United States and elsewhere. Irvin P. Johnson, who operated a bodybuilding gym in Chicago, was one of the first to market egg-based protein powder. According to an article he published in Iron Man with the title “Build Bigger Biceps Faster with Food Supplements,” his specialized line of protein powders fueled serious strength gains. According to the article, he went from only being able to leg press 165 pounds for 10 repetitions to 660 pounds for 12 repetitions!

The bodybuilding supplement industry grew at an exponential rate throughout the 1970s and 1980s, fueled both by increased interest in recreational bodybuilding as well as advancements in advertising. Then, in October of 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, a piece of legislation that transferred responsibility for determining the safety of dietary supplements such as protein powders and other mainstays of sports nutrition from the government to the manufacturers of the products. Unless they added a new dietary ingredient, manufacturers were no longer required to provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with evidence to substantiate the safety or efficacy of their products. Legal experts believe this opened the door for the supplement industry to sell even more of their products. According to a Consumer Reports publication, annual sales of sports nutrition supplements hit $2.7 billion in 2010. And according to the “Sports Nutrition and High Energy Supplements – Global Market Outlook (2017-2026)” report sports nutrition and high energy supplements made $44.58 billion in 2017 with an outlook of $124.85 billion by 2026.

Defining the Term “Bodybuilding Supplements”

Just as the term bodybuilding can encompass both physique-focused and performance-focused endeavors, so too can the term “bodybuilding supplements” encompass a multitude of dietary supplements utilized by individuals engaged in bodybuilding as well as weight lifting, mixed martial arts, and other athletic pursuits to increase lean body mass as well as bring about other desirable outcomes such as:

  • Decreased body fat
  • Sharper muscle definition
  • Enhanced athletic performance

Amino acids have become some of the most popular types of bodybuilding supplements across multiple disciplines. Both branched-chain amino acid supplements (BCAA supplements) and essential amino acids (EAAs) can be used on their own or in the form of “stacks”—specialized blends of multiple supplements that work together synergistically to provide even greater benefits than when taken on their own.

Making the Most of the Building Blocks of Protein

Amino acids have earned the nickname “the building blocks protein” because of the vital role they play in creating muscle tissue. While it’s certainly possible to obtain all the amino acids you need simply by eating high-protein foods like eggs, lean meats, legumes, vegetables, and pseudo-grains like quinoa, amino acid supplements can be a convenient and efficient way to maximize the benefits of amino acids.

One of the most compelling reasons to use supplements can be captured in a single word: bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to how efficiently a substance can be metabolized and the percentage of what’s ingested that’s utilized for its intended purpose inside the body.

Several factors determine the bioavailability of each amino acid. For example, when taking in amino acids from a food source, the amount of fat contained in that food influences the length of time it takes for amino acids to be put to use. The way you cook food can also impact the amino acids it contains. Some heat-sensitive amino acids can even decompose when cooked. And not all amino acid supplements are metabolized at the same rate. The physical nature of the supplement will have the most significant influence on its bioavailability. A BCAA powder, for instance, will be digested differently than a supplement in pill or liquid form. The extent to which a supplement is pre-digested as well as whether it contains any fillers or binders impact its overall bioavailability.

Understanding Muscle Protein Turnover

Muscle protein turnover is the metabolic basis that powers increased muscle mass, strength, and function.

Muscle protein turnover refers to the constant breakdown of older muscle proteins that are no longer operating at peak efficiency and their replacement with newly synthesized, more efficient muscle protein fibers. The balance between protein synthesis and breakdown determines whether a muscle is growing or shrinking.

Muscle function is accomplished by the contraction of muscle protein fibers. Muscle strength and function are determined by how many muscle protein fibers you have and the efficiency with which they contract. Increasing muscle protein mass and contractile efficiency is accomplished by optimizing muscle protein turnover.

For bodybuilding, the goal is to make the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceed the rate of protein breakdown. Further, the increased balance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown should optimally be accomplished mainly by stimulating synthesis, not lessening breakdown—protein breakdown gets rid of muscle proteins that are not functioning efficiently, so it is good to keep that process functioning at full speed.

The Mechanics of Muscle Protein Synthesis

Muscle proteins are composed of a series of amino acids hooked together in a specific order determined by the messenger RNA (mRNA) in the cell for each specific muscle protein. The sequence of the mRNA is dictated by the DNA in the cell. There is a specific molecule for each amino acid (tRNA) that delivers it to the mRNA as required for incorporation into the protein that is being produced.

A simple, conceptual way to think about the process of muscle protein synthesis is to compare it to the construction of a building. The DNA is basically the idea for the design of the building. The RNA is the written plan or blueprint, and transcription of the mRNA from the DNA is the process of writing up the plan. The tRNA molecules that bring the amino acids to the mRNA for incorporation into protein are like trucks that bring bricks to the building site, and the hooking of amino acids together in the proper order on the mRNA corresponds to the builder putting the bricks together according to the blueprint. The protein is the final product, or completed building, ready to serve its function.

The details of how muscle protein is made are important only so that it is clear why all the amino acids must be available in abundance. If the mRNA dictates that the next amino acid in the chain making up the protein is a particular amino acid that is deficient, then the process is halted and no muscle protein is produced.

How Amino Acids Impact Muscle Protein Synthesis

We must derive certain amino acids, as I touched on earlier, from dietary protein. However, the human body can synthesize other amino acids through chemical reactions that occur in the liver and select sites throughout the body.

The amino acids that must be obtained from the diet are called essential amino acids, or EAAs, while the amino acids that can be made in the body are called nonessential amino acids, or NEAAS.

The nine essential amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, valine, phenylalanine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. Three of the EAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, have been subcategorized as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), a descriptor which refers to their chemical structure. We typically put the number of nonessential amino acids at 11, as that’s how many NEAAs can be found in human protein, though other NEAAs like citrulline and ornithine can be found elsewhere in the body.

Since your body can produce NEAAS and they are available in abundance, the availability of EAAs serves as the limiting factor for setting the rate of muscle protein synthesis.

Using Essential Amino Acids to Stimulate Muscle Growth

Consuming essential amino acids, either as dietary protein or supplements, is the most potent stimulus of muscle protein synthesis. Consuming nonessential amino acids, either alone or with EAAs, has no impact.

EAA supplements have been shown to trigger muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle mass, strength, and physical function in at least 25 clinical trials. The muscle-building response to EAAs is 2 to 4 times greater than the muscle-building response to the same amount of a whey protein supplement. The muscle-building response to EAAs is even greater than the response to hormonal treatment with testosterone, growth hormone, or insulin.

There is one very big must when it comes to EAA supplementation, however. In order to be effective, all the EAAs are required. That being said, there are varying degrees of importance among the EAAs.

Leucine, which is both an EAA and a BCAA, is particularly important. Leucine is the most abundant EAA in muscle protein, so it should comprise the highest proportion of an EAA supplement. Beyond its role as a component of muscle protein, leucine can signal the molecular mechanisms within the cell to initiate the process of protein synthesis. Important as leucine may be, however, it cannot function alone. All the other EAAs are required as well, roughly in proportion to their relative content in muscle. It is not possible to make muscle protein from leucine alone.

The Role of Essential Amino Acids for Bodybuilding

It is clear from the above discussion that making sure you consume enough essential amino acids is an important part of bodybuilding. Even when using EAA supplements, the main source for your essential amino acids intake will likely be dietary protein. Therefore, the place to start is with your diet.

Protein is the key dietary component of the basic bodybuilding diet. It will increase your muscle mass. You should set a goal of eating approximately 30% of your caloric intake as high-quality protein.

When I say high-quality protein, I mean a protein that contains a high abundance of essential amino acids. High-quality proteins are generally animal-based proteins. These protein food sources also have a significant amount of non-protein calories. Therefore, eating a sufficient amount of high-quality protein to supply all the EAAs you need is difficult through normal diet alone.

You will most likely run into issues with the flexibility of your diet when eating this amount of high-quality protein food sources because of the non-protein calories. Therefore, EAA supplements can play a vital role in helping you meet your dietary goal for EAA intake.

While the focus of your basic diet should be high-quality protein, you must remember that energy substrates (carbohydrates and fat) are important too. As an example, in a tightly controlled study, subjects drank the same amount of protein in the form of milk. In one case, it was skim milk, and in the other case whole milk. The stimulation of muscle protein synthesis was greater with the whole milk. Under these study conditions, the additional calories provided by the fat in the whole milk helped to fuel muscle building.

You must be in a positive energy balance to gain a significant amount of muscle mass. Carbohydrate is of less importance for resistance training than it is for endurance training, but you should eat enough fruit and vegetables to meet the RDAs for micronutrients. Also, carbohydrate intake will stimulate insulin release, and insulin is an anabolic hormone that will increase the amount of muscle protein made from your EAA intake.

Fat intake will also amplify the anabolic effect of EAAs, and therefore you can eat animal-based, high-quality protein foods without worrying about eating too much fat.

What you do want to keep in mind with your bodybuilding diet is that the more you eat, the bigger you will get. If you do eat a lot while lifting heavy weights and consuming EAA supplements as recommended, a significant part of the weight gain will be muscle.

You will also gain fat with this dietary approach, so you need to carefully monitor your body composition to be sure that the extra fat you put on does not counteract the benefits of the muscle gain. In a sport like powerlifting, that is not likely to be the case, but if you are bodybuilding for appearance, you must reach a balance between muscle and fat gains. This can be accomplished by incorporating aerobic exercise into your training program.

How to Use Essential Amino Acids for Optimal Bodybuilding Results

amino acids for bodybuilding

The research documenting the optimal use of amino acids for bodybuilding is extensive. Experts can provide precise guidance on the effects of taking EAAs both pre-workout and post-workout.

Consuming 15 grams of EAAs 30 minutes before starting your workout will elevate blood concentrations of essential amino acids throughout your workout and stop the muscle breakdown that would otherwise occur. A 15-gram dose of EAAs achieves a greater response on muscle protein synthesis than either casein or whey protein can, without creating the fullness that can hinder a workout.

Then immediately after your workout, take another 15 grams of EAAs. One hour later, take another 15-gram dose.

These recommendations stem from the assumption that you will be working out every day. When you do take off days, you should still consume the same amount of EAAs. Instead of using your workouts to determine the timing, however, take your EAAs between meals.

Between the completion of dinner and breakfast the next morning, you may go for 12 hours or more without food. During this post-absorptive time, muscle tissue breakdown transpires in order to supply amino acids to tissues and organs that have no protein reserve. Therefore, to fuel maximal muscle-building response around the clock, you should consume another 15 grams of EAAs before bedtime. If you have wholly committed to maximizing muscle gain, you can even set your alarm for a final dose at about 4 am.

Alternatively, you can take 20 grams of casein protein at bedtime. Because casein coagulates in the stomach, your body digests it at a slower rate, meaning the amino acids it contains are then absorbed over many hours. While the anabolic effect will be less than if you take the EAAs, this approach will save you the trouble of getting up in the middle of the night.

The total amount of supplemental EAAs you ingest should be in the range of 60 grams per day. Consuming this amount of EAAs will stimulate the production of new muscle protein without you having to also take in a significant amount of non-protein calories. The result will be a lean body with increased muscle mass and minimal increase in fat mass. Sixty grams of EAAs in addition to what you eat as part of your bodybuilding diet is needed to drive protein synthesis past what may be your normal genetic limit.

Do EAA Supplements Have Side Effects?

This a reasonable question, because bodybuilding requires a much higher than average EAA intake. An important caveat to state up front is that I am focusing exclusively on side effects from EAA supplements.

When your EAAs come from an unusually high amount of dietary protein intake, that will increase the rate of amino acid oxidation and as a result, burden the kidneys to excrete the ammonia and urea that are natural byproducts of NEAA oxidation.

The great thing about EAA supplements, however, is that there is no such increased oxidation of NEAAs when EAAs are consumed. This is because NEAAs are not also being consumed but are rather being produced in the body. In fact, the oxidation of the NEAAs actually goes down, since they are being incorporated into protein at an increased rate.

Consequently, there is no reason to worry about the side effects of EAA supplements. The FDA has determined EAA supplements to be Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS), while the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Science has determined that there is no upper limit of consumption beyond which would not be safe.

5 Amino Acids for Energy and Mood

Looking for a natural pick-me-up? Amino acids for energy naturally fuel your body throughout the day while also boosting your mood, and these five can be especially beneficial!

The popularity of natural energy drinks and aromatherapy products is a strong indicator of just how many people are seeking healthful ways to feel more energized and positive in their outlook on life. Even if you exercise routinely and eat a healthy diet with a variety of whole foods, sometimes you may feel like you need an extra pick-me-up. Substances like caffeine and alcohol in moderation can give you a boost, but this energy lift is often short-lived and sometimes followed by a let-down or energy “crash.” However, amino acids for energy naturally fuel your body throughout the day while also boosting your mood.

As building blocks of protein—the most plentiful substance in the body after water—amino acids help you function at your best in a variety of ways. In fact, processes as diverse as immune system function and muscle growth would break down without a steady supply of amino acids on hand to fuel growth, maintenance, and repair.

But what about the brain? If you’re curious to learn how amino acids affect this large and most complex of organs, as well as how your brain reacts to nutritional factors that can influence mood and energy, you first need to have a basic understanding of brain chemistry.

Brain Chemistry 101

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that work in concert to shape how we perceive and learn from the environment around us. These pathways are established during growth and development and are instrumental in forming our personalities and outlook on life.

These same pathways also respond acutely to specific amino acids that cross the blood-brain barrier to act as building blocks of important neurotransmitters—or, in the case of glutamate and aspartate, as neurotransmitters in their own right.

In addition, with the exception of glycine, all amino acids can be found in two forms: L and D. But only the L form is used by the body. Keeping that in mind, here are five individual amino acids for energy that may help optimize neurotransmitter synthesis to help balance your energy levels and mood.

Amino Acids for Energy

Glutamine and Glutamate

L-glutamine is used to treat fatigue and depression, and also to boost immune function and muscle recovery. Under stressful conditions, your body consumes large amounts of glutamine, which is readily converted to glutamate by removal of an amine group (a group of organic compounds that contain nitrogen).

In fact, extreme stress, such as that caused by disease or severe injury, can deplete levels of glutamine and result in a life-threatening situation, requiring immediate supplementation.

Glutamine also protects the brain from ammonia toxicity, which generates free radicals and is implicated in the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Ammonia interferes with neuronal metabolism and reduces the amount of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the body is able to produce. This has a crucial effect on energy levels, as ATP is also known as the “molecular unit of currency” due to its role in storing and transporting chemical energy within cells.

Because of the number of neurons in the brain, this organ consumes more glucose than any other. And if glucose stores become depleted, the brain compensates by increasing glutamine metabolism. For this reason, glutamine is also known as “brain food,” and its consumption can result in less fatigue and elevated energy and mood.

Glutamate, the anion—or negatively charged ion—of glutamic acid, acts directly as an excitatory neurotransmitter and is also used widely in the brain. It plays a critical role in synaptic maintenance and plasticity, and even contributes to learning and memory.

Glutamate is also the metabolic precursor of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits neural transmissions and acts as an anxiolytic agent, reducing anxiety and calming nervous activity.

Phenylalanine and Tyrosine

Phenylalanine is an important building block for a number of proteins, including those involved in both hormone and neurotransmitter production. Dopamine, norepinephrine, and thyroid hormones are three key end products that are necessary for optimal brain and mental function.

Norepinephrine and epinephrine are catecholamines, which are responsible for the fight-or-flight response that increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, and increases blood glucose. The adrenal glands secrete these neurotransmitters along with other stress hormones. Catecholamines are produced by the brain and sympathetic nervous system as well.

Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter supporting attention and motivation. It plays a key role in the “reward system” of your brain. Drugs and other substances that adversely affect memory, cognition, attention, learning, mood, and fine motor control do so via their effect on dopamine function. Both phenylalanine and tyrosine can serve as dietary precursors of dopamine.

When the amino acid phenylalanine is not used in specific reactions, it’s converted to tyrosine, a nonessential amino acid that is a direct precursor of both dopamine and mood- and energy-affecting catecholamines.

Supplemental L-tyrosine is promoted for alleviating fatigue, low mood and sex drive, depression, and anxiety. It’s also used in those suffering from thyroid problems resulting from an underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism.

Tyrosine and phenylalanine can also be combined in supplement form, though some individuals appear to respond better to one or the other. However, as with many nutrient-based therapies, it’s worth exploring the various available options to find the appropriate balance for your individual needs.

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that acts as a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is also known as a “happy chemical” because it creates feelings of calm and well-being. If serotonin levels are low, depression, anxiety, insomnia, extreme anger, and mood swings can occur.

Serotonin, or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), is derived from both tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). It is a primary regulator of not only mood and sleep but also sexual function, appetite, and digestion.

In fact, serotonin is crucial for normal gastrointestinal (GI) function and plays a critical role in GI motility and immune function, visceral sensitivity, and blood flow. Even more interesting is the fact that abnormalities in reuptake of this neurotransmitter have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Tryptophan supplements, sold commercially as L-tryptophan, have shown efficacy in alleviating symptoms resulting from low serotonin levels, including depression, anxiety, and insomnia. The amino acid also acts quickly to increase these levels. However, the amino acid 5-HTP has been found to be even more beneficial, as it crosses the blood-brain barrier and converts into serotonin more efficiently and has a more pronounced antidepressant effect.

Amino acids for energy and mood.

Amino Acid Therapy

There are many nuances to amino acid therapy, as various factors determine which amino acids are able to pass into the brain for conversion into mood-changing neurotransmitters. Protein intake, stress, intense exercise, and even sudden lifestyle changes can all affect amino acid metabolism.

If you’re experiencing issues with malnutrition or extreme stress, it’s a good idea to seek professional medical advice. However, if you’re one of the many simply seeking a natural source of energy to help you feel more energized in your day-to-day life, you might want to first make sure your diet is rich in high-quality proteins to ensure a steady supply of energy- and mood-boosting amino acids.

However, it’s also important to note that some individuals have experienced positive results with various free-form amino acid regimens. For example, most of us are probably familiar with the muscle soreness that follows a particularly intense workout. But a particular set of amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, has been shown to actually increase the lactate threshold.

This means that you can actually exercise longer before lactic acid builds up in your muscles to the point where pain and soreness begin. BCAAs have also been shown to decrease post-workout muscle fatigue and increase muscle growth. However, BCAAs only work effectively when consumed as part of a complete essential amino acid blend.

So, as you can see, amino acids offer many benefits for energy and mood. Not only do they provide a natural way to shift brain chemistry, but they also offer up the possibility of achieving greater energy levels and a happier mood.

How to Meditate Like a Master, and Why You Should Commit to That Goal

When it comes to meditation, there’s a helpful set of practical steps you can take to achieve greatness. Why not put them to use? Here’s how to meditate like a master.

In order to achieve mastery, you must commit yourself wholly. That’s why LeBron James strives to eclipse the incredible records set by Michael Jordan, Ronda Rousey shatters glass ceiling after glass ceiling for female athletes in the world of mixed martial arts, and Tom Brady continues to play in the NFL well past the age most quarterbacks retire. Despite what we might daydream about, most of us lack the requisite genetics and training required to achieve that kind of superstar status with our athletic endeavors. When it comes to meditation, however, we all have the capacity to attain true mastery. So why not try for it?

After all, meditation can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, at virtually any time. The scientifically validated benefits of meditation include:

  • Decreased stress
  • Enhanced sense of calmness
  • Greater mental clarity
  • Increased happiness

Though the thought of beginning a meditation practice may intimidate you, the process of learning how to meditate is quite simple. Long before you’ve mastered the nuances of this time-tested means of improving mental health as well as physical well-being, you will begin to experience its benefits.

If you’re ready to set out on the path toward inner peace, read on to learn about:

  • The goal of meditation
  • How meditation works in practice
  • The benefits of meditation for your mental and physical health
  • Different forms of meditation
  • Strategies for building a meditation practice

Take a deep breath in, release your worries and hesitations with a long out-breath, and prepare to learn how to truly relax.

What’s the Purpose of Meditation?

Before delving into the specifics of different meditation forms, let’s cover some basics on the purpose of meditation.

The belief that you can achieve your best self here and now forms the basis for the entire practice of meditation. Though meditation can certainly have spiritual elements, the practice itself is both concrete and practical.

If the entire purpose of the art of meditation had to be boiled down to a neat phrase, it might be this: the goal of meditation is to increase awareness.

Awareness of what? Any number of things. The answer varies from person to person as well as from session to session. To help make this abstract concept something you can grab on to, here are several examples of what meditation might bring into your awareness:

  • Your most pressing thoughts, both conscious and unconscious
  • Novel solutions to recurring personal problems
  • Your own unique intuition
  • Reflections on spirituality and the interconnectivity of things
  • Your core identity

By attuning yourself to these critical touch points, you can give your overall well-being a boost. What’s more, your new awareness can be mastered through sustained hard work and healthy doses of determination.

How Does Meditation Work?

“Meditation is a training of our attention,” Tara Brach, a sought-after meditation teacher and author of the books Radical Acceptance and True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart, told the New York Times. “It allows us to step out of distracted thought, and helps us arrive in the present moment in a balanced and clear way.”

By meditating, you can train your mind. This will likely feel quite unfamiliar the first time you try it. Most of us spend little time consciously directing our minds. Left to their own devices, our minds wander freely. We ponder what the future might hold or replay events from the past. Very rarely do we stay completely rooted in the present moment.

By meditating, we can bring ourselves back to the here and now. Rather than fretting about what was or fantasizing about what might be, we can inhabit what is. This practice can bring with it very tangible benefits—studies have even shown that meditating can lower your blood pressure levels.

7 Proven Benefits of Meditation

Modern life brings with it just as many problems as conveniences. From pollution to the constant stream of bills to workweeks that stretch to 60 hours (or beyond), it can feel like every day has its share of obstacles that must be surmounted.

It can be easy to feel that the world is conspiring against you, trapping you like a hamster on a wheel, running in place and unable to think about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. But we are more than the sum of our daily functions, and it’s vital that we make time and space in our lives to recognize that.

This is where mastering meditation comes in. As it builds awareness, meditation reintroduces you to your inner self—the one that got lost in the hustle and bustle of modern living. By committing to a meditation practice, you can begin to live a more fulfilling life.

Not convinced yet? Here are seven scientifically validated ways meditation can benefit your mental and physical health.

1. Increase Sense of Self

In 2011, a team of Harvard-affiliated researchers documented for the first time that meditating can change the brain’s gray matter. The study’s authors found that an 8-week mindfulness meditation program produced measurable changes in brain regions associated with:

  • Memory
  • Sense of self
  • Empathy
  • Stress

The impact on sense of self may prove particularly significant. Previous research, such as this study conducted at the University of Utah, shows that a stronger sense of self correlates with a higher degree of overall well-being.

And remember, the remarkable changes documented in the Harvard study came about after a mere 8 weeks of meditation. The changes seen in the brains of long-term meditation practitioners are even more impressive.

2. Relieve Stress

Of all the reasons people try meditation, perhaps the single most common is stress reduction.

According to a meta-analysis of clinical trials published in JAMA Internal Medicine, meditation delivers the stress-relieving results practitioners hope for. Based on data from 47 trials that enrolled a combined total of 3,515 participants, mindfulness meditation programs can reduce “multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress.”

Another study looked specifically at the ability of meditation to decrease the physical inflammatory response associated with psychological stress. The researchers rigorously compared an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP). They found that mindfulness meditation resulted in “a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response.”

The stress-reducing capacity of meditation is so pronounced, it has even been successfully used as a complementary treatment to alleviate symptoms of stress in cancer patients.

3. Reduce Anxiety

Studies show that meditation can reduce anxiety just as effectively as stress.

Anxiety and stress often present in similar ways. While stress is your body’s response to a specific trigger and tends to be a short-term experience, anxiety is a sustained condition. Stress commonly triggers anxiety, but the anxiety can linger long after the initial threat that set off the stress response has retreated. When left untreated, anxiety can adversely impact your social life, your work, and your closest relationships.

Researchers have found that meditation can lower long-term anxiety levels to the same degree it quells short-term stress. According to a large systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, meditation can measurably reduce anxiety symptoms.

It also appears that the benefits of a meditation-centric intervention can be quite long-lasting. A very interesting study published in General Hospital Psychiatry shared the results of a 3-year follow-up on the effects of mindfulness meditation on anxiety.

The initial study found that an 8-week outpatient stress reduction intervention that taught participants mindfulness meditation led to clinically and statistically significant improvements for subjective and objective symptoms of anxiety and panic. Repeated measures at 3 months and 3 years showed that the improvements endured. Plus, most of the participants maintained a meditation practice after the study ended. The authors concluded that mindfulness meditation can bring about “long-term beneficial effects in the treatment of people diagnosed with anxiety disorders.”

Further research has shown meditation can treat specific symptoms of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Phobias
  • Social anxiety
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Panic attacks

4. Enhance Concentration

Meditation exercises affect your attention span the same way weightlifting exercises affect your muscles: the more time you put into your training, the stronger you get.

A study published in Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience showed that mindfulness meditation sessions can help you develop and improve your powers of concentration. The authors found that meditation improved participants’ alertness, ability to orient themselves, and conflict monitoring skills. They state that the results of the study suggest mindfulness meditation can enhance the function of specific neurocognitive subcomponents of attention.

Another study which looked specifically at the benefits of meditation for human resource workers found that those who meditated regularly could stay focused on a task for longer and were better able to remember the details of their tasks than peers who did not meditate.

Plus, a review found that meditation can reverse abnormalities in a network of brain neurons called the default mode network that are associated with mind wandering. While mind wandering may sound harmless, these abnormalities can predispose you to depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It appears, however, that meditation can reverse some of those abnormalities, which can result in improved concentration among other benefits.

Delightfully enough, it appears that the beneficial effects of meditation on your ability to concentrate set in quite quickly. One study found significant improvements to participants’ visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning after only 4 days of meditation sessions.

5. Alleviate Sleep Issues

One out of every two individuals will struggle with insomnia at some point in their lives. Research shows that meditation can help you fall asleep more quickly and stay in a state of sleep throughout the night.

According to a 2015 review that evaluated mindfulness meditation as a means of treating insomnia, randomized controlled trials consistently show that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI) result in an overall reduction in sleep latency (meaning participants who meditated fell asleep faster) and total wake time (meaning fewer instances of waking up over course of the night) and increase in total sleep time (that one’s self-explanatory). The researchers concluded that mindfulness matches the effectiveness of other methods for treating insomnia, comes with fewer side effects, and is more readily available.

Experts have theorized that one of the reasons meditation may help with sleep is that it helps you react more skillfully to the racing thoughts that might otherwise keep you awake. Meditation can also teach you techniques for relaxing your body, releasing tension, and entering a peaceful mindstate.

6. Treat Pain

The physical pain you experience stems from signals transmitted back and forth between your body and your brain. Meditation can change the way your brain processes pain signals, resulting in decreased physical sensations of pain.

One study published in the Journal of Neuroscience used a novel MRI technique to investigate how meditation affects pain-related brain processes. The authors recorded baseline measurements for each participant at the beginning of the study. Participants then went through 4 days of mindfulness meditation training including breathing exercises. By practicing meditation techniques when exposed to painful stimuli during the MRI, participants were able to reduce pain by 40%, and their brain scans showed increased activity in regions known to control pain.

7. Lower Blood Pressure Levels

One of the most striking physical benefits of meditation documented so far has been its ability to lower blood pressure levels, which in turn reduces strain on your heart muscles and boosts your overall cardiovascular health.

According to a review of randomized controlled trials as well as systematic reviews, transcendental meditation can be beneficial for individuals with hypertension. Pooled results from a combined total of 996 participants indicated an average reduction of systolic and diastolic blood pressure of -4.36mm Hg and -2.33 mm Hg respectively compared to the control groups. The effect on systolic blood pressure was greatest among older participants, those with higher initial blood pressure levels, and women.

A separate review also found promising data on the ability of meditation to lower blood pressure and prevent cardiovascular disease. The authors found that regardless of the form of meditation, practitioners experienced better blood pressure control, enhancement in insulin resistance, and reduction of lipid peroxidation and cellular senescence. They concluded that meditation can produce beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, particularly the vascular aspects.

A third review noted that benefits of meditation for blood pressure control appear to come from its positive effects on the nerve signals that regulate heart function, tension in blood vessels, and the fight-or-flight response that raises alertness in stressful situations and that can become problematic in the context of modern life.

When it comes to meditation, there’s a helpful set of practical steps you can take to achieve greatness. Why not put them to use? Here’s how to meditate like a master.

Choosing the Best Type of Meditation for You

Meditation has a long, rich, and varied history. Some of the earliest records of meditation come from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism and can be dated to around 1500 BCE. Other records indicate that the Taoist and Buddhist traditions of meditation emerged sometime in the 6th to 5th centuries BCE.

As you might imagine, we now have many, many different types of meditation to choose from—both religious and secular. In recent years, mindfulness meditation has become the most popular form of meditation among Western practitioners.

The Basics of Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a deceptively nuanced practice. The central concept is simple: to exist attentively and acceptingly in the present moment. Despite what you may believe, the aim is not to empty your mind or to wipe it clean like a chalkboard. Even advanced meditators have thoughts crop up during their sessions. Instead of fighting against distracting thoughts, the goal is to register where your mind has wandered to, what emotions have been stirred up, and any physical sensations you’re experiencing without judgement. This practice can yield profound results.

Though mindfulness meditation has roots in Buddhist practices, it’s quite possible to take an entirely secular approach to it. Many meditation teachers emphasize how it can be used for benefits such as stress reduction, improved focus, and a greater sense of tranquility rather than spiritual enlightenment.

“There’s a misconception that mindfulness is religious,” Atman Smith, a meditation teacher who has worked with underserved and high-risk youth in Baltimore City Public Schools, drug treatment centers, wellness centers, and colleges since 2001, told the New York Times. “What we have to explain is that it’s a stress reduction technique and a way to get yourself stronger mentally. It’s a self-care practice.”

Differentiating Between Mindfulness and Meditation

It’s common to see the terms “mindfulness” and “meditation” used as if they are synonymous; however, that’s really not the case.

The word mindfulness encompasses a way of being. To be mindful is to be open and aware of the moment in which you’re currently existing without succumbing to reflexive judgement, criticism, or distraction.

Meditation can certainly involve being mindful, and when practiced regularly, it can expand your capacity for mindfulness.

Meditation teacher Tara Brach expressed the differences between meditation and mindfulness like this: “Mindfulness is your awareness of what’s going on in the present moment without any judgment. Meditation is the training of attention which cultivates that mindfulness.”

Another reason why it’s helpful not to use the words mindfulness and meditation interchangeably is that mindfulness meditation is not the only form of meditation. Transcendental Meditation, another type that’s quite popular, promotes relaxation through the recitation of a mantra.

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

One of the wonderful things about mindfulness meditation is that you can practice it all on your own and in practically any setting. The point of mindfulness meditation is not to relinquish control over your thoughts and allow them to wander at will nor to attempt to empty your mind. The core of the practice is to pay close attention to the present moment, and to your own thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations specifically.

Those who are new to meditation often find it helpful to listen to guided meditations. Eventually, it’s helpful to learn to meditate on your own in order to establish a complete, thriving meditation practice. But in the beginning, having the guidance of an experienced teacher can be invaluable. Many expert meditation teachers have recorded perfectly paced instructions to lead you through the experience, help you stay rooted in the present moment, and release any thoughts or judgements that crop up.

Basic mindfulness meditation tends to involve sitting quietly and focusing your full attention on your breath for a set amount of time. However, there are many variations on the practice. As you explore meditation, you may wish to try the following techniques to move you closer to your elusive—but achievable— goals of mastery and self-awareness.

  • Body scan: Rather than using the breath to keep you grounded in the present moment, this meditation technique asks you to apply your focus to a series of sensations and areas of the body. Typically, you start either at the toes or the head and move slowly toward the other end of the body.
  • Walking meditation: Even if you struggle to sit still, it’s best to start with sitting meditation before progressing to walking meditation. While there’s no rule to enforce that order, since walking meditation involves more inputs, it can be substantially more difficult to attain the desired mindstate.
  • Mindful eating: As with walking, this technique requires more intense focus than a basic meditation session. Rather than eating on autopilot, take time to fully appreciate the smell, taste, and mouthfeel of your food. You can begin even before you take your first bite by tuning into the physical sensation you experience as you sit down for your meal.

Cultivating Effortless Presence

Effortless presence meditation has much in common with mindfulness meditation. Rather than concentrating your focus on your breath or physical sensations, however, effortless presence allows you to access the benefits of meditation by doing the exact opposite.

This type of meditation puts the focus on reaching a state in which your attention isn’t actually concentrated on any particular thought or thing. In effortless presence meditation, you work only on being. As in, not striving for any one particular thing. While only being, you should avoid thinking about your bills or mulling the future. When taken to its full expression, effortless presence involves not even acknowledging yourself as a person. While this may sound strange or even impossible, practitioners find it revelatory and remarkably beneficial.

Sustained practice of this technique is thought to reveal the most natural state of your existence to you, one in which your Ego vanishes along with your efforts to control things. We know, this may be a challenging concept—especially during the age of Netflix, Instagram stories, and the never-ending status updates—but why not give it a try? All you have to lose is yourself (in the best possible way).

To perform effortless presence meditation, simply sit and do nothing else whatsoeverjust be. Far from emptying your mind, however, effortless presence is about achieving the elusive state of self-awareness mentioned earlier.

To deepen your understanding of effortless presence, watch this video from meditation master Peter Russell.

The Art of Loving Kindness (or Metta) Meditation

If you like the idea of boosting your ability to empathize with others on your journey to self-mastery, you should look into loving kindness, or Metta, meditation.

The focal point of this form of meditation is developing feelings of kindness and benevolence toward yourself and others.

To start, you work on accepting and loving yourself. After all, as the inimitable drag queen and cultural icon RuPaul puts it, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anybody else?”

Try following along with this progression:

  1. Take a very comfortable posture.
  2. Focus on breathing in and out from your solar plexus (an area of the chest practitioners of this form of meditation often call the “heart center”).
  3. Anchor your mindfulness only on the sensations emanating from your heart center.
  4. Begin to generate feelings of kindness toward yourself while feeling and freeing yourself from any mental blockage, numbness, self-judgment, or self-hatred.
  5. Continue to breathe in and out. Then, either think or say one of the traditional phrases (or an original and personalized iteration) encapsulating the idea: “May I be happy.”

Once you’re able to generate loving feelings for yourself, the next step is to gradually apply your benevolent feelings to other people and then to the entire universe. There are, naturally, many steps along that path and it can take years of sustained practice to even begin to approach that lofty goal.

To continue to explore the nuances of loving kindness meditation, watch this video from Emma Seppala, Ph.D, author of “The Happiness Track.”

Building a Meditation Practice

To reap the benefits of meditation, especially if you’re new to the practice, it’s important to set aside time for a formal meditation session. This will help you establish a routine and become more comfortable with the various elements that go into meditating.

“Some people complain about taking time out of their day,” said meditation teacher Atman Smith in a New York Times interview. “Practice is important though. It’s a tool you can use to bring yourself back to the present in stressful situations.”

While it is important to make time for meditation, you don’t need to block out an hour from each day. Simply committing to meditate for a few minutes daily can make an incredible difference to both your mental and physical health.

While mastery of anything takes long-term, sustained effort, the first hurdle is to establish the correct mindset. Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes, so when you set out to master the art of meditation, know that committing yourself fully to that pursuit will yield the most impressive results. As part of that commitment, you should strive to meditate every day, even if only for a short time. We create new brain pathways based on the activities we perform each day, making us more effective at performing them, so daily meditation will help you move as rapidly as possible toward the goal of meditating like a master.

With your foundational mindset now firmly in place, here’s some expert advice you may find helpful as you work to achieve your goal.

Handling a Wandering Mind

While meditating, a moment inevitably comes when the mind wanders. Perhaps you will begin to notice something happening in the room or a stray thought will hook you and lead you off on an internal journey. Don’t worry when this happens. This does not make you a bad or unmindful meditator. It’s just as natural for the mind to wander as it is for the lungs to breathe.

When you notice your mind has wandered, note what it is you were thinking about or distracted by. Don’t try to immediately and forcibly redirect your attention. Pause, let go of the thought or distraction, broaden your attention, then gently redirect it to your breath—or whatever the focus (or non-focus) of your meditation session might be.

Just as inevitably, your mind will wander again. And when it does, again, remember this is natural. The goal is not to prevent the mind from wandering, but to develop a skillful way of detecting when that has happened and reorienting our attention.

“Where we build our skill is in the practice of coming back,” Tara Brach said in a New York Times interview. “Coming back again and again. Notice it — thinking — and then pause, and then come back to the present moment.”

Using Mantras to Build Focus

There’s a reason mantras are such an enduring component of multiple forms of meditation. Repeating the same words over a sustained period of time can help you develop calm and focus.

If you find mindfulness meditation or effortless presence too passive, you may do better with a form of meditation centered on mantra chanting. You can choose from a number of Sanskrit mantras or develop your own. Mantras can even be as simple as the word Om.

Setting a Time to Practice

Especially in the beginning, it can be quite beneficial to choose a particular time of day for your meditation practice. The idea is that, as with any habit, it will be easier to follow through on your intention if you build it into your routine. If your schedule varies from day to day, it may be more helpful to link meditation to another activity that’s already part of your routine (like brushing your teeth) rather than tethering it to a precise time.

Many people find it easiest to meditate first thing in the morning. Others find it a refreshing addition to their lunch hour, a wonderful way to mark the end of the work day, or a relaxing element to work into a bedtime ritual.

No matter when you decide to meditate, try your best to be consistent with it.

Locating the Best Spot

In the same way that it can be helpful—especially for meditation novices—to meditate at the same time of day, choosing a specific spot where you will meditate can help you build a lasting practice.

Identify a location where you can sit comfortably and where there will be minimal distractions around you. The fewer the distractions, the easier it will be to stay in the proper meditating headspace.

Don’t worry about folding your legs into a lotus position, and if you find it uncomfortable to sit on the floor, don’t. The key is to find somewhere you can sit upright in a comfortable position with your shoulders rolled back and your spine straight, breathing easily.

Purchasing Essential Meditation Accessories

Despite what advertisers would like you to believe, there are no essential meditation accessories. You may find that using a meditation app, or sitting on a dedicated meditation cushion or stool helps you, but it’s certainly not a requirement for the practice.

The one true essential for meditation is willpower, and no one has found a way to bottle and sell that.

When it comes to meditation, there’s a helpful set of practical steps you can take to achieve greatness. Why not put them to use? Here’s how to meditate like a master.

Carrying Mindfulness into Everyday Life

By embracing the techniques and advice outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of meditation. Remember, your thoughts are powerful, and the more insight you gain into how your mind works, the better.

Remember, too, that there’s no need to abandon mindfulness when you stop meditation. Ultimately, mastering meditation means being mindful in all areas of your life. The more you meditate, the more you can show up for whatever life might bring your way with an open mind and heart.

Unlock Lasting Weight-Loss Results by Understanding Hunger Control

Weight loss and maintenance depend on a number of factors, one of which is controlling the desire to eat. Dietary proteins and amino acids play key roles in hunger control. Learn how to maximize their effect.

Weight loss and successful long-term weight maintenance depend on a number of factors, one of which is controlling the desire to eat. While there are numerous approaches to weight management, reducing your caloric intake will almost certainly play an important role in helping you achieve your desired body weight. No matter how dedicated you are, if you’re dealing with persistent feelings of hunger, it’s highly likely that you will deviate from your mindful eating intentions. Fortunately, there are scientifically validated ways to keep your hunger levels in check. Researchers have found that dietary proteins, as well as amino acids, play key roles in hunger control.

Studies Show Eating More Protein Can Curb Hunger

Increasing satiety by choosing the right foods to eat is essential to achieving successful weight loss and weight maintenance.

Scientists have known for more than 50 years that when you eat a high-protein meal you end up consuming fewer calories. In 1956, a research team composed of Sherman Mellinkoff, Marjorie Frankland, David Boyle, and Margaret Greipel found a clear link between amino acid concentration in the blood and hunger levels. The more amino acids were circulating in a subject’s blood, the lower their reported level of hunger…and the fewer amino acids, the higher their level of hunger. The researchers noted that the same relationship appeared to exist between blood sugar levels and hunger—when blood sugar levels dropped, participants’ appetites soared. Since that pioneering study, it has been repeatedly shown that dietary protein elevates amino acid concentrations in the blood and that high-protein meals function as appetite suppressants.

Several studies conducted on healthy subjects have shown, too, that long-term adherence to a high-protein diet can increase feelings of fullness in an enduring way. Some of these studies carefully controlled energy balance by having the subjects live in a chamber for several days so that their total energy expenditure could be accurately measured. The level of energy expenditure was matched with the same amount of caloric intake. This approach ensured that the only variable was the level of protein intake, so there was no doubt that the effect on appetite control stemmed from the higher intake of dietary protein.

Why Eating High-Protein Meals Makes You Feel More Satiated

There are a few theories as to why a high-protein meal makes you feel fuller.

One potential pathway has to do with hunger hormones such as peptide YY (PYY), sometimes referred to as the fullness hormone. Research shows that peptide YY helps control hunger and food intake. Scientists have found that when you eat protein, your gut releases these hunger hormones.

According to a study published in Cell Metabolism, eating a high-protein diet increases your body’s production of hunger-fighting PYY.

“We’ve now found that increasing the protein content of the diet augments the body’s own PYY, helping to reduce hunger and aid weight loss,” said Rachel Batterham of University College London, a Medical Research Council clinician scientist and the study’s lead author.

Batterham and her fellow researchers found that eating high-protein meals stimulated the body to release more PYY than either high-fat or high-carbohydrate meals. Consequently, both normal-weight and obese participants who ate the high-protein meals reported fewer food cravings and less overall hunger.

The research team conducted follow-up studies with mice in order to eliminate other factors that could influence the results. They discovered that mice on high-protein diets had higher PYY levels and ate fewer calories than those who ate the usual amount of protein. They also had lower body fat levels.

So, what is it about high-protein foods specifically that produces this effect on fullness signals?

One hypothesis, which I introduced above, has to do with amino acids. Proteins are made up of amino acids, so when we eat a high-protein meal the plasma concentrations of their component amino acids spike. Some researchers, including the team behind that groundbreaking 1956 study, believe that this elevation of plasma amino acid levels can promote feelings of fullness.

Dietary proteins and amino acids play key roles in hunger control.

Amino Acids: The Key to Quelling Many Types of Hunger

A review of studies conducted to date provides indisputable evidence that amino acids on their own, separate from other compounds found in protein, can lower hunger levels.

The satiating effect of increased plasma amino acids was proven in an experiment in which amino acids were infused intravenously. This study demonstrated that intravenous amino acid infusion increased the satiety rating and feeling of fullness, even though nothing was ingested into the gastrointestinal tract. The suppression of appetite was due to elevated plasma amino acid concentrations. When the infusion stopped and plasma amino acid concentrations returned to the basal level, the effect on satiety was eliminated.

As with the question of exactly what biological mechanisms underlie the clear connection between protein intake and increased satiety, there is no single, succinct answer to the question of why their component amino acids have such a pronounced effect on hunger control.

One possibility is that a greater availability of amino acids, particularly the essential amino acids that cannot be produced in the body, stimulates protein synthesis. The stimulation of protein synthesis increases energy expenditure. Recent research proposed that the extra use of oxygen associated with stimulated protein synthesis results in increased satiety.

Another possibility is that the actions of amino acids in the brain stimulate satiety. When amino acids were infused into the intestines of cats, either as a mixture or independently, researchers recorded increased signaling from the part of the brain responsible for satiety. Early amino acid studies that identified the brain receptor that influences satiety are supported by the more recent identification of a chemosensor for dietary essential amino acids in the brains of rats. This area of the brain projects signals to other brain areas that are associated with the control of food intake.

Do All Amino Acids Help Control Hunger?

The short answer is, no. While all amino acids have health benefits and can be valuable components of dietary supplements, scientists have found that only some amino acids increase satiety. Other amino acids have been shown to have either no discernible effect on appetite or, in some cases, to stimulate the appetite.

The results of one study showed that while tryptophan and lysine increased satiety, proline and threonine had no effect and arginine decreased satiety.

The results of another study in which essential amino acids were directly injected into the cerebroventricular area of the brain found that injections of all three of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) or leucine individually led to a suppressed food intake. Ultimately, the study’s authors determined that the effect of the BCAA injection was entirely due to leucine, as individual injections of the other BCAAs, isoleucine and valine, had no effect.

Not only does an augmented supply of certain dietary essential amino acids including leucine, lysine, and tryptophan induce satiety, but the reverse is also true. When your body lacks amino acids, that spurs your appetite.

Research consistently indicates that a low-protein diet drives increased food intake—in fact, there is a brain receptor that identifies a diet deficient in essential amino acids! A low-protein diet causes an increase in food intake in order to correct the amino acid deficiency, which can easily result in weight gain. This phenomenon was demonstrated by a study published in Physiology and Behavior. Increased food intake occurs when intake of all the essential amino acids drops, not just leucine or other amino acids directly linked to fullness signals.

How You Can Use Scientific Findings to Achieve Real-World Weight-Loss Results

So, you may be asking yourself, what does this all mean for my personal weight-loss journey?

As I have mentioned, understanding the precise biological mechanisms that affect hunger control can be challenging. Satiety is difficult to quantify objectively in humans. A number of factors come into play, and we do not have access to the complete workings of the brain. Consequently, we must rely extensively on data obtained from rats, which differ from humans in obvious ways. That being said, there are important findings obtained from studies on rats that are relevant to human nutrition.

With regard to amino acids, a rat’s brain can sense when essential amino acids are available and modify dietary intake accordingly. Elevated levels of certain essential amino acids—namely leucine, lysine, and tryptophan—can increase satiety, while a deficiency of essential amino acids increases the amount of food eaten. Following this science, a low-protein diet increases food intake and causes weight gain, and a high-protein diet reduces food intake.

In addition to ensuring an adequate intake of dietary protein, you may find it beneficial to consume a balanced mixture of free essential amino acids. Essential amino acids produce the same effect as high-protein foods but contain far fewer calories.

Taking a complete essential amino acid supplement with all the essential aminos has been shown to be the most low-calorie way to improve hunger control. While not all amino acids directly affect your hunger levels, it appears that supplementing with individual amino acids does not have the same effectiveness as optimizing your intake of all the essential amino acids.

Tendonitis: When Tennis Elbow Has You Down for the Game

A painful condition, tendonitis involves inflammation of the tendons—fibrous cords connecting muscles to bones. Commonly occurring in the knees, heels, shoulders, elbows, and wrists, tendonitis leads to swelling and discomfort when moving the affected body part.

A painful condition, tendonitis involves inflammation of the tendons—fibrous cords that connect muscles to bones. Commonly occurring in the knees, heels, shoulders, elbows, and wrists, tendonitis leads to swelling and discomfort when moving the affected body part.

You might know tendonitis by the following terms:

  • Jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis)
  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
  • Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis)
  • Pitcher’s shoulder or swimmer’s shoulder (rotator cuff tendonitis)

Tendonitis is also spelled tendinitis, so don’t let those variations confuse you. Whatever you call it, tendonitis causes pain and discomfort that can have a negative effect on quality of life. And while the condition usually improves on its own with rest, more severe cases may require physical therapy, medication, and even surgery to heal. Understanding the signs and symptoms of tendonitis is the first step in knowing when and if to seek medical attention.

Common Causes of Tendonitis

The most common causes of tendonitis are sudden injury and repetitive motions, such as from physical activities that put stress on the tendons. If proper technique isn’t followed, tendonitis or tendon rupture can occur.

Risk factors for tendonitis include age— it’s inevitable that as we age, our tendons become less pliable—occupation, and certain sports. Jobs that involve repetitive movements or forceful action, such as frequent overhead reaching, can cause irritation of a tendon. Sports injuries that cause tendinitis are common among tennis players, runners, golfers, swimmers, bowlers, baseball players, and basketball players.

Tennis Elbow and Tendonitis Symptoms

Wondering if you’re suffering from tennis elbow or just a mild cause of overexertion? Here are some of the primary signs and symptoms of tendinitis:

  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • A cracking or grating feeling around the bone
  • Swelling
  • A lump near the affected tendon

Despite the name, tennis elbow often occurs in people who have never picked up a racket. In fact, the condition may occur in anyone whose work or hobbies involve repetitive motions of the wrist and arm. To that end, tennis elbow is common in painters, plumbers, and carpenters as well. Older people are more likely to get tennis elbow, as tendons become less flexible with age.

If you’re suffering from persistent pain around your elbow that spreads into the forearm and wrist, or if you’ve noticed a bony bump on the outside of your elbow, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. Left untreated, tendonitis can cause a more serious condition called tendon rupture, which often requires surgery to repair.

Tendonitis Diagnosis

Your health care provider will determine if you have tendonitis or a related condition by taking a medical history and conducting a physical examination that assesses range of motion and discomfort in the affected area. Be upfront with your work and physical activities, including any new sports you’re trying out, so the doctor can consider contributing risk factors.

Your physician may also order X-rays to rule out arthritis or a fracture and blood tests to rule out conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Your doctor may even go a step further and order an MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) to see changes in the tissue around the tendon.

The type of test used is greatly determined by the area affected. For instance, the Finkelstein test helps diagnose wrist tendonitis. Your doctor will bend your thumb, fingers, and wrist in a specific manner to see if the pain that results is tied to wrist tendonitis or another type of wrist injury.

Tendonitis Treatments

There’s no one cure for tendonitis. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation while giving the body time to heal. Some of the most effective home remedies for the condition include:

  • Resting and avoiding activities that led to the injury
  • Applying an ice pack to the affected area for 20 minutes every couple hours
  • Using a compress or bandage on the affected area
  • Elevating the limb or injured body part
  • Taking over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen

It’s important to note that tendonitis can take 4 to 6 weeks to heal. However, more serious or long-lasting cases of tendonitis may require additional treatment. If rest and medication are doing little to alleviate your discomfort, you might want to see a doctor and/or physical therapist to discuss the following treatment options:

  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Shockwave therapy
  • Platelet rich plasma injections to encourage healing
  • Surgery to repair tendon ruptures and remove damaged tissue

Note that it could take 6 months for a tendon to heal completely after surgery.

A painful condition, tendonitis involves inflammation of the tendons

Achilles Tendonitis Treatment

Athletes and other people who spend a lot of time on their feet are at risk for a type of tendonitis affecting the Achilles tendon. With Achilles tendonitis, the large tendon that runs down the back of the leg becomes inflamed. As a result, patients may suffer stiffness, swelling, and pain that worsens with activity. Treatments for Achilles tendonitis vary based on the severity of the condition and may include:

  • Rest and avoiding repetitive motions
  • Stretching and muscle-strengthening exercises
  • Icing the area
  • Elevating the affected foot
  • Physical therapy
  • Taking anti-inflammatories
  • Wearing special shoes to take tension off the tendon

In severe cases, patients may require steroid injections or surgery to treat their Achilles tendonitis.

What Is the Difference Between Tendonitis and Tendinosis?

Tendonitis involves inflammation. When tendonitis is at play, you’ll see hallmark inflammatory signs such as warmth, swelling, redness, and pain. Take wrist tendonitis, for example. Wrist tendonitis involves inflammation of the wrist tendons and is caused by either a sudden injury or repetitive motions that cause the wrist tendons to rub against the bone. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen can help the pain as the tendonitis subsides over the course of several weeks.

Tendinosis, on the other hand, is chronic, which means continuous or recurring. It’s caused by a repetitive trauma or overuse injuries, and can take several months to heal. The main difference between tendonitis and tendinosis is that tendinosis is the the non-inflammatory degeneration of a tendon.

Amino Acids as a Tendonitis Cure

An increasing amount of research suggests that amino acids can boost musculoskeletal health and even help repair damage. When people engage in exercise, their muscles break down more rapidly, and additional protein is required to prevent minor injuries from becoming serious ones.

According to a 2018 article titled “Nutritional Research May Be Useful in Treating Tendon Injuries,” evidence suggests that certain amino acids, including leucine, arginine, and glutamine, can aid in tendon growth and healing. However, it’s always best to consume a balanced mixture of essential amino acids to ensure optimal health and wellness.

The article goes on to reveal that tendon surgery isn’t always successful, and many patients experience chronic pain even after treatment. More research is needed to determine if amino acids could be used in therapeutic approaches to tendon injuries and other problems.

Additionally, people can protect their long-term tendon health by avoiding exercises and activities that put undue stress on tendons. It’s also smart to mix up workout routines, take time to stretch and warm up, and use ergonomic equipment in the workplace.