Amino Acid Pills vs. Powder: Which Is More Effective?

Amino acid pills vs. powdered supplements: why do you need amino acids, when do you need them, and which of these products works best? Discover the pros and cons of both delivery methods.

This article explores why you may need to take amino acid supplements, the difference between branched-chain amino acids and essential amino acids, plus the pros and cons of amino acid pills vs. powder supplements so you’ll know which one to choose for overall convenience and effectiveness.

Why Do You Need Amino Acids?

If you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, amino acids could be the boost you’re waiting for. Why is that? Because while both can be accomplished with increased muscle mass, you cannot build muscle without all nine essential amino acids.

Your amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein is what you need for muscle growth. Essential amino acids (EAAs) are so-called because it’s essential that you ingest them—your body cannot make these amino acids on its own.

Your nine essential amino acids include: histidine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, valine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. Without the proper amount of each of one, you won’t get protein synthesis for new muscle no matter how hard you work out, because your body simply doesn’t have the ingredients. It’s sort of like trying to make a cake with everything but flour, or trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with the corner and side pieces missing. You can try, but you won’t get the desired result no matter how much time and effort you put in.

The Difference Between EAAs, Branched-Chain Amino Acids, and Other Protein Supplements

Many protein powders and amino acid supplements contain handfuls of amino acids, often the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are valine, leucine, and isoleucine. For example, creatine is a type of protein found in dietary protein (animal meats) and produced by some of your nonessential amino acids, while whey protein contains all EAAs in one amount or another (though not always the optimal amount of each).

Taking these products as dietary supplements pre-, during, or post-workouts can help prevent muscle soreness, boost muscle protein synthesis, and aid in muscle recovery. They can even help prevent muscle tissue loss while you sleep. The fitness-minded often use casein protein supplements for just that, due to its slow digestion rate (though amino acid supplementation prevents catabolism while you sleep just as well, if not better).

People take amino acid supplements to prevent muscle damage during workouts, to repair and build new muscle, and to keep the muscle gains they’ve made even as they sleep.

Amino Acid Pills or Powder: Which Works Best?

So much of sports nutrition is counting, measuring, weighing, and timing: wouldn’t a pill or capsule be so much easier? Think about it: pre-workout, just take a pill; post-workout, just take another pill! It sounds almost too good to be true, and by the end of this in-depth explanation, you may agree that is indeed the case.

Let’s talk about the difference between powdered and pill forms of these essential nutrients, and which one works better for athletic performance, weight loss, and muscle building.

Amino acid pills vs. powders.

The Pros and Cons of Pre-Workout Amino Acid Pills

When deciding between amino acid pills and powders, use this pros and cons cheatsheet.

Pros

The upsides to pill or capsule EAA supplements are easy to imagine: they’re as simple to transport as vitamins, can be taken with minimal (if any) water requirements, and involve zero mixing. They’re time-savers, they’re convenient, and they come pre-measured. What could go wrong?

Cons

One of the biggest cons: proper dosages. The amount of capsules, soft gels, or pills you would have to take pre-workout to meet the amounts of amino acids used in clinical studies might not be as convenient as you think, especially if you’re supplementing as a professional athlete or bodybuilder. You just can’t fit 25 grams of protein into a half-gram pill.

Another con: the digestion time. A capsule or tablet has be to be digested once consumed, and not only does that require time and energy, but it also means that whatever fillers or gelatin that’s keeping the pill together is also getting ingested, when all you really want are your essential amino acids.

During particularly high-intensity workouts, it’s helpful to take EAAs before, during, and after workouts in different amounts, and it’s hard to get the timing right if you’re ingesting pills instead of powder. Not only that, all the time spent measuring powder isn’t avoided if you have to keep doing math on the dosage amounts of pills.

Long story short: some substances work well in pill form, like caffeine, but not so much a full host of essential amino acids.

The Pros and Cons of Pre-Workout Amino Acid Powder

Pros

Amino acid powders, whether you’re using a complete EAA supplement or a medley of different protein supplements, are faster acting, longer lasting, and don’t involve swallowing large, hard objects. Amino acid powder products can give you anywhere from 10-30 grams of active ingredients in one serving, and puts them to work ASAP as soon as you ingest them.

Cons

Those supplement powder containers can be awfully big sometimes, so much so that there have actually been multiple class-action lawsuits filed against some companies based on the size of their containers being too big for the product itself, with consumers finding them half or even a third full. You can’t be carting a container big enough to be a drum to the gym and back every day, nor is it always convenient to blend up a shake just before leaving the office to go work out. It would be nice to get the EAAs that can step up your lean muscle mass in pill form, but…the pros and cons weigh more heavily in the direction of choosing powdered supplements over pills.

Take A Powder…Literally

At the end of the day, creatine, whey, weight-gain, EAA, and BCAA supplements simply don’t work well in pill form; you just need so much more than a pill or capsule can deliver in the right window of time. It’s less a question of personal preference than it is a basic math equation. The powdered forms of these amino acid supplements are superior when it comes to all the key points of effectiveness, though it is fun to dream of a day when you can get perfectly enhanced exercise performance from one little pill.

The Uses and Benefits of Magnesium Malate

Find out the benefits of magnesium malate, the suggested dosage, plus the difference between various forms of magnesium supplementation and which one has the best bioavailability. 

Magnesium malate is a form of magnesium that’s highly absorbable by human beings. It provides not only the benefits of magnesium, but also the benefits of malic acid. Malic acid is a nutrient that contributes to our energy production by turning food into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the molecule that carries energy within our cells. That’s only the beginning of all that magnesium malate can do—read on to discover the scientifically backed benefits that magnesium malate can bring you.

Magnesium malate uses and benefits.

The Top Magnesium Malate Benefits

Magnesium is needed for cell formation and for maintaining your nerves, bones, and muscles. Most people can get the magnesium they need from their diet because it’s found in foods as diverse as whole grains, nuts, seeds, tofu, avocados, bananas, and dark chocolate. However, some people need to supplement magnesium to make sure they’re getting enough of this essential nutrient, and that is where magnesium malate comes in.

Because elemental magnesium is difficult for the body to absorb on its own, many supplements will bind magnesium to a salt for better absorption. Magnesium malate is one of those salt combinations, formed when magnesium is combined with malic acid.

Malic acid by itself is often taken by those seeking to improve their muscle performance, boost their mental focus, and reduce post-exercise fatigue. All those uses in one supplement means that this particular magnesium formation can help benefit those with conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Read on to find out what else magnesium malate can do.

Magnesium Malate for Sleep

Without enough magnesium, the hormone melatonin cannot function properly. Melatonin is responsible for sleep regulation, and without it you may find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep peacefully. Magnesium malate may help your sleep process, as magnesium is known to play a role in normal sleep regulation.

Magnesium Malate for Anxiety

Magnesium is important for stabilizing the nervous system, which is what allows us to withstand stress. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to heightened levels of stress, fatigue, and anxiety. Though more scientific research needs to be done to refine the understanding of magnesium’s effect on anxiety, it’s generally assumed that magnesium increases the neurotransmitters that block stress, like norepinephrine, while decreasing the ones that cause stress, like adrenaline and cortisol. Studies suggest that magnesium may be an effective treatment of anxiety due to its stress-stopping abilities.

Magnesium Malate for Constipation

Magnesium helps stimulate intestinal peristalsis (involuntary muscle contractions that move food through the digestive system) and helps soften stool by gathering water to the intestinal tract. These actions not only serve to prevent and treat constipation, but they also aid the body in performing its own natural detoxification processes.

Magnesium Malate for Bone Integrity

Magnesium is needed for building bone tissue and for improving the body’s absorption of calcium. This leads to magnesium playing an important role in maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis.

Magnesium Malate for Women’s Reproductive Health

The female reproductive system needs magnesium, and a review of the scientific literature shows that magnesium supplementation is effective in the prevention of premenstrual syndrome, dysmenorrhea, and menstrual migraines. Women with the proper level of magnesium may find their menstrual cycles more manageable, while pregnant women will find magnesium supplementation even more vital because they are more vulnerable to magnesium deficiency. Since magnesium is a mineral needed for fetal development, protein synthesis, and tissue construction, magnesium supplementation is often a part of a woman’s prenatal care.

Magnesium Malate for Improved Energy Production

Both magnesium and malate are needed to produce energy at the cellular level. Without enough magnesium, our mitochondria struggle to produce energy, while malate helps speed up energy production. With the high bioavailability of magnesium malate, you can put both of these compounds to work quickly to help balance your energy production.

One review on treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia suggests that magnesium malate can help manage the symptoms, including the lack of energy that characterizes both conditions. ATP levels are low in patients with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, and it’s been suggested that magnesium malate may help boost energy and relieve tenderness and pain.

Magnesium Malate for Anti-Inflammatory Use

Magnesium is needed to maintain your calcium levels, and research suggests that too-high levels of calcium in the body cause inflammation. A magnesium deficiency is associated with chronic inflammation and may be a risk factor for conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Magnesium Malate for Muscle Development

Magnesium is used in synthesizing growth factors that influence the development of our muscle fibers. Magnesium has been found to help athletic performance and improve athletes’ strength.

Magnesium Malate for Depression

Due to magnesium’s role in synthesizing the hormones dopamine and serotonin, there is believed to be a link between magnesium deficiency and depression. One study with 126 adults found that magnesium supplementation was helpful in resolving mild-to-moderate depression after just 2 weeks. Though magnesium deficiency is not the only cause of depression, it could be a contributing factor that a magnesium supplement can help eliminate.

Magnesium Malate for Heart Health

If we don’t have enough magnesium, the electrical impulses of our hearts and the regeneration of our veins and arteries can be compromised. Magnesium deficiency is inversely associated with coronary artery calcification, and research suggests that supplementing with magnesium helps prevent heart disease, endothelial dysfunction, platelet aggregation, vascular calcification (stiffening of the arteries), and atherosclerosis. Many studies show that that the proper amount of magnesium results in a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Magnesium Malate for Blood Pressure

Magnesium causes the walls of the blood vessels to relax, and in clinical trials it helps to lower blood pressure and treat hypertension. Patients with hypertension are found to have low levels of bodily magnesium, and some research suggests that magnesium supplementation may help increase the effectiveness of antihypertensive drugs (just be sure to consult a health care professional before making any changes that may alter the effect of prescribed medication).

Magnesium Malate for Controlling Blood Sugar and Preventing Diabetes

Magnesium plays a critical role in the metabolism of sugar in our bodies. Magnesium deficiency is associated not only with erratic blood sugar levels, but also with diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Supplementation with magnesium can help control blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol ratios, and magnesium malate specifically (if made from L-malic acid) can help remove compounds that inhibit sugar breakdown and glycolysis.

Magnesium Malate vs. Citrate

Magnesium citrate is another magnesium preparation in salt form. It also increases water in the intestines and is often used as a laxative for the treatment of constipation. However, magnesium citrate has a far lower bioavailability rate than magnesium malate has, meaning you get more magnesium from the malate version.

Magnesium Malate vs. Glycinate

Much like magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate also has lower bioavailability than magnesium malate. Glycinate is the salt form of glycine, which like aspartate or aspartame, activates our NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors. The NMDA receptors on our neurons help control our perception of pain, and when they’re overstimulated it can lead to severe pain, as with the NMDA receptors in the guts of those with colitis. This means that too much magnesium glycinate may actually be detrimental.

Magnesium Malate Dosage

Magnesium malate supplements are often taken orally alongside a meal. The National Institutes of Health give the following recommendations for the appropriate dosage per serving size.

For women:

  • 19-30 years: 310 milligrams
  • 31-up: 320 milligrams

For men:

  • 19-39 years: 400 milligrams
  • 31-up: 420 milligrams

Dosages of malic acid generally range from 1,200-2,800 milligrams per day. People who are athletes, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic, or under high levels of stress may require more magnesium and should consult with their doctor to determine the optimal dosage.

Magnificent Magnesium

When looking for magnesium from a dietary supplement, you’ll want to make sure you have the best bioavailable form of magnesium, and magnesium malate may be exactly the form you need. You’ll want to keep the tablets in a cool, dry place, out of reach of children, but other than those precautions, you can easily add it your regimen of multivitamins and gain its amazing health benefits.

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.

What’s with Wearable Fitness Technology?

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

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

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

Best Fitness Trackers

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

Fitbit

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

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

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

Garmin

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

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

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

Apple Watch Series 4

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

Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro

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

Withings Steel HR Sport

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

Moov Now

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

Polar Loop

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

Smartwatch

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

Smart Shoes

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

Science and Benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should I Take Amino Acids Pre-Workout?

The before, during, or after debate on amino acids for working out can leave you utterly confused as to when you should take your amino acid supplement. I’ll cover the details, but the quick and easy answer to the question should I take amino acids pre-workout is yes!

The before, during, or after debate on amino acids for working out can leave you utterly confused as to when you should take your amino acid supplement. I’ll cover the details, but the quick and easy answer to the question should I take amino acids pre-workout is yes! An amino acid pre-workout powder can help support muscle building, reduce the breakdown of muscle, increase blood flow to the muscle during your workout, and help prevent fatigue and boost performance.

Why Amino Acids Make Ideal Pre-Workout Supplements

You’re taking your sports nutrition goals seriously. You load your plate with whole foods and make sure to prioritize quality protein at every meal. Maybe you’re even incorporating protein powder or other dietary supplements into your regimen. You commit to each training session. You should be seeing major muscle growth gains and yet, you seem to be stuck.

The problem may be that you’re ignoring just how essential a role the fittingly named essential amino acids play when it comes to increasing your muscle mass. No matter how much time you put into weight training, if you fail to provide your muscles with the raw materials they need to grow, you won’t see the results you’re craving.

Key Facts About Amino Acids

You may have heard amino acids described as the building blocks of protein. That’s not a bad description, but it doesn’t entirely do justice to the importance of amino acids.

Not only do amino acids provide structural integrity to protein, but they’re also vital to the synthesis and metabolism of proteins, enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. They regulate the activity of numerous metabolic pathways. They contribute to cognitive function. In short, amino acids are involved in just about everything that occurs inside the human body.

There are 20 amino acids present in the human body. Nine of those are called essential amino acids because unlike the others, your body cannot synthesize them de novo—in plain English, they can’t be made from scratch. Instead, it’s essential that you supply your body with these amino acids via the food you eat or supplements you take.

Researchers have categorized six of the other amino acids as conditionally essential. Under most circumstances, your body can produce these amino acids, but when you’re under extreme duress, that ability becomes compromised.

The remaining four amino acids get grouped together as nonessential. In some instances, you’ll see people refer to 11 nonessential amino acids—when they do so, they’re simply lumping in the 7 conditionally essential amino acids listed above. Your body absolutely needs the nonessential amino acids, but it also has the ability to synthesize them, so it’s nonessential that you get them from your diet.

The easy answer to the question should I take amino acids pre-workout is yes! An amino acid pre-workout powder can help support muscle building and boost performance.

When it comes to using amino acid supplements to facilitate muscle growth and muscle recovery, all the key players can be found on that list of the nine essential amino acids. Here are some key facts about what each of these amino acids does inside your body.

Phenylalanine 

The analgesic (pain-killing) and antidepressant properties of this amino acid typically spark the most excitement. It’s also a precursor to norepinephrine and dopamine, two of the feel-good brain chemicals. When it comes to sports nutrition, the primary benefit of phenylalanine is that due to its ability to raise norepinephrine and dopamine levels in your brain, it may lower your rate of perceived exertion during exercise, helping you stay in a positive headspace through even the most grueling endurance exercise workouts. Our bodies also need phenylalanine to produce metabolism-regulating thyroid hormones.

Valine

A true power player when it comes to muscle synthesis, valine is both an essential amino acid and a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA)—more on these later. One of valine’s main functions is preventing muscle breakdown. That means if you take valine prior to or during an exercise session, it can help decrease muscle damage, allowing you to recover faster. Valine also stimulates your central nervous systems and regulates blood sugar levels.

Threonine

This amino acid helps keep your connective tissues and muscles strong and elastic, in part because it’s a precursor for two other amino acids: serine and glycine. The benefits of glycine have received a lot of attention from researchers lately. Studies show it can encourage muscle growth as well as decrease muscle loss, among other desirable effects. Threonine can also shorten the time it takes your body to heal wounds and recover from injuries. Plus, it supports healthy fat metabolism and stops fat from building up in the liver.

Tryptophan

Another amino acid that serves as a precursor for a feel-good brain chemical—in this case, serotonin, which can help quell physical sensations of pain. That means boosting your tryptophan can increase your tolerance for pain during challenging workouts. The human body also needs tryptophan to manufacture vitamin B3, which ensures your blood sugar levels stay balanced, forestalls free radical damage, and stymies the accumulation of cholesterol.

Isoleucine

Like valine, isoleucine is both an essential amino acid and a branched-chain amino acid. It’s a crucial component of hemoglobin, the protein in your red blood cells that transports oxygen. Our bodies also use isoleucine for muscle repair, which means upping your isoleucine levels lets you bounce back faster from taxing workout sessions.

Methionine

The principal task of this amino acid is to assist your body with metabolizing fat. Plus, it provides your body with the sulfur it needs to produce glutathione, its most abundant antioxidant compound, as well as cysteine and taurine, two other amino acids that contain sulfur. Thanks to its lipotropic properties, methionine can safeguard your liver function by preventing the buildup of fats.

Histidine

This amino acid, which has some antioxidant properties itself, is a precursor to histamine and helps your body synthesize carnosine. This can directly impact your physical performance because histamine can flush the potentially damaging free radicals generated during exercise from your system, while caronsine keeps lactic acid from accumulating in your muscles.

Leucine

Along with valine and isoleucine, leucine is both an essential amino acid and a branched-chain amino acid. It’s the most abundant amino acid found in human muscle tissue. In addition to enhancing stamina and endurance as well as promoting muscle recovery, leucine initiates the process of protein synthesis and helps to maintain your body’s nitrogen balance and energy supplies.

Lysine

Research indicates that lysine can simulate the release of growth hormone, meaning it can offer vital support to your muscle-building efforts. Lysine also ensures you body properly absorbs calcium. Plus, it demonstrates significant antiviral properties and encourages the production of antibodies, making it a phenomenal immune system booster.

Understanding Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Scientific analysis shows that 35% of your muscle protein is composed of three essential amino acids: valine, isoleucine, and leucine. These are, as you may have noticed if you’ve been paying close attention, the infamous branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These amino acids get their name from their molecular structures, which have distinctive, branch-like shapes.

The popularity of BCAA supplements with athletes skyrocketed based on studies indicating that they can help to reduce physical fatigue, sharpen mental focus, decrease muscle breakdown, preserve muscle glycogen stores, stimulate muscle protein synthesis, prevent muscle soreness, and more.

Leucine, found in high concentrations in whey protein, is arguably the most important BCAA. But as I mentioned earlier, simply increasing your intake of dietary protein or even adding a whey protein supplement is not the most effective way to benefit from leucine or other amino acids. When taken in supplement form, amino acids can be digested and absorbed more quickly, which maximizes their impact.

As I’ve discussed in previous articles, taking BCAA supplements is also not the most effective way to increase muscle concentrations of these beneficial compounds. There’s no question that BCAAs facilitate muscle growth and optimize athletic performance, but when you take them on their own, they have a minimal impact.

That’s because in order for your body to build complete proteins, it requires all the essential amino acids—and in their appropriate concentrations. Taking a supplement that contains only BCAAs throws off your amino acid balance. Taking an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement that contains the appropriate ratios of all the amino acids needed for protein synthesis is a far better way to amplify your muscle-building results.

When Should I Take My Amino Acids?

Now that you have an increased understanding of how amino acids prevent protein breakdown, facilitate healthy weight loss, improve recovery, and increase energy levels, among other benefits pertinent to those engaged in various physical pursuits, let’s discuss the optimal timing for taking an amino acid supplement.

One of the main reasons to take amino acids for fitness is to build muscle. When you exercise, muscle breaks down in order to release amino acids for the energy the muscles need to contract. Some of the released amino acids are used to rebuild the lost muscle protein. But many of the amino acids are oxidized and cannot be used for muscle protein synthesis. That’s where taking amino acids pre-workout comes in. They help replace the amino acids that are oxidized when your muscle protein breaks down as you exercise.

Taking an amino acid pre-workout powder before resistance exercise is especially important to maintaining and building muscle mass. During resistance exercise blood flows to the muscles at an increased rate. When you ingest amino acids pre-workout, there are more essential amino acids available to strengthen and build muscle.

Taking amino acids before a cardiovascular workout, such as a high-intensity interval training (HIIT class), can help reduce fatigue by balancing the uptake of amino acids that are responsible for the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

That said, taking amino acids after a workout (within an hour after exercise) gives your body a boost when it comes to replacing damaged muscle fibers with new muscle protein. Essential amino acids are also important for reducing inflammation, thereby accelerating workout recovery.

To maximize all the beneficial effects of amino acids, it’s best to take a high-quality essential amino acid blend both before and after exercise. If you’re carrying out a resistance-training regimen, you may also see benefits from taking amino acids during your training sessions. This approach to amino acid supplementation is optimal for improving muscle strength as well as accelerating recovery.

Key Facts About EAA Supplements and Resistance Exercise

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

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

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

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

Resistance Training, Defined

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

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

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

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

Understanding the Role of Amino Acids

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

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

Key Facts About EAA Supplements and Resistance Exercise

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

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

Amino Acids Flip the Switch for Muscle Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

How EAA Supplements Amplify the Benefits of Resistance Exercise

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

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

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

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

Together They Are Stronger

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

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

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

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

When Do I Take My EAA Supplements?

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

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

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

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

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