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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
Whether for their protein content, iron content, anti-inflammatory properties, or amino acids, these foods can help your muscles heal faster.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Explore its many functions, as well as which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.
Arginine (also called L-arginine) is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in our bodies. Essential amino acids must come from our food sources or from ingesting a supplement, but conditionally or semi-essential amino acids are on the edge. Arginine, for example, is essential during our early years of childhood growth, but is usually nonessential in normally functioning healthy adults. However, because arginine is so valuable for so many processes in the body, foods high in arginine can help shore up your stores, and may be even more important in certain medical circumstances.
This article will explore what arginine does in the human body, who could use more of it, and which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.
Arginine: Its Role in the Body
Here are some of the health benefits that might result from an extra intake of arginine. Research is still being conducted on this amino acid and how supplementing or concentrating it might help treat certain conditions, and so far the results look promising.
Studies are beginning to show arginine’s immune-boosting effects, particularly with modulating some symptoms of herpes (flare-ups) and HIV (excessive weight loss), and there have even been correlations shown between low circulating arginine and cases of trauma and cancer. Though more research is needed, it’s a valuable discovery to know that arginine is often missing when the body is experiencing traumatic events.
Not only is arginine helpful in assisting kidney function after transplantation, but it also appears to reduce kidney inflammation. Arginine is often studied in relation to kidney functioning to try to isolate which conditions it helps best and whether or not there’s any potential harm from enhanced levels of arginine. As a natural player on the body’s chemical stage, it’s a particularly safe facet to explore.
The Research Continues
Arginine has been studied in the contexts of helping diabetes, obesity, male fertility, hypertension, dementia, and cancer, and the research goes on still. Scientists and doctors work to pinpoint the best application of arginine treatment and to better define its powers of influence. As a naturally created amino acid that helps us grow and keeps our bodies functioning, it’s a promising reserve for testing.
Foods High in Arginine
Short of supplementation, you can always get arginine from certain natural food sources. So which foods are arginine foods, and are they easy to incorporate in your diet? Short answer to that last question: yes, these arginine-rich foods will be easy to find and to eat (you’ve surely tried a few if not all of them already). As for which foods you should eat more of if you want to up your arginine content? Take a look at the list of foods below and start thinking about which ones you’d like to incorporate into your diet as well as your dietary intake.
Since arginine is derived in the body from protein, any high-protein food will help, but turkey breast in particular has such a substantial amount of arginine that it’s considered the best source around. With a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins to boot, one cooked turkey breast provides 16 grams of arginine.
Seeds and nuts have a fair amount of arginine, with sunflower and sesame seeds both contributing 2.4 grams of arginine per 100 grams of seeds. While they’re a tad low in arginine, they definitely make up in balance by providing a high amount of the essential amino acid lysine along with your arginine intake, so you don’t run the risk of overbalancing. Lysine helps absorb any excess of arginine, and will act as a check on keeping your amount of arginine within its optimal healthy levels.
Another high-protein food, and with it comes another high contribution to your arginine content. Pork loin is one of the leaner cuts of pork you can get, so you’re not sacrificing one aspect of your health to favor another (balance is always key). Pork loin has 14 grams of arginine per rib, just second under the above-listed turkey breast.
What did we say above about seeds, that some aren’t that impressive in the arginine department? Well, here’s an even better option then: a cup of pumpkin seeds can give you nearly 7 grams of arginine, as well as the minerals zinc and iron. Pumpkin seeds are easy to snack on and a great arginine-rich food for vegans or vegetarians who don’t eat animal products. Plus, they’re trail-mix-worthy and can be flavored sweet or salty depending on your taste.
Chicken is a staple of a diet rich in protein and low in fat. One chicken breast can contain up to 9 grams of arginine and can be combined easily with other potent sources of vitamins and minerals like beans and vegetables in meals and stews.
Another kind of chick, this time chickpeas, or as they’re also known, garbanzo beans, offer up fiber and protein (especially for those who don’t eat meat). A single cooked cup of chickpeas has at least 12 grams of fiber, over 14 grams of protein, and 1.3 grams of arginine. Enjoy it as hummus and know that it’s providing you with that little boost of arginine you’re looking for.
With vitamin E, vitamin B3, niacin, and folate, a cup of peanuts also gives you over 4 grams of arginine. Pine nuts, too, contain over 3 grams of arginine per cup, and a good helping of mixed nuts will almost certainly give you a fair amount of arginine, as there are levels of arginine in almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans. Go nuts with nuts if you’re looking for foods high in arginine. Be squirrelly with them!
Another great protein and arginine source for non-meat eaters, soybeans and other soy products like tofu and tempeh provide potassium and magnesium. Soybeans specifically come with 4.6 grams of arginine per cup, and soybeans are also loaded with lysine for help balancing arginine.
Derived from a seawater blue-green algae, spirulina can be purchased in powdered form and added for its nutrients to smoothies and other foods. A cup of spirulina contains 4.6 grams of arginine, as well as iron, niacin, calcium, and potassium. You’ll probably use spirulina sparingly, but when you do know that it brings you that much more arginine along with its other nutrients.
Another great vegetarian/vegan source of protein and fiber, arginine can be found in lentils up to 1.3 grams per cup, with lysine again to pack a double punch of amino acid intake. Lentils also pair excellently with the meats on this list for the carnivores who are interested—there’s an arginine-rich meal in the making here.
Dairy products are sources of protein and thus arginine too. Just 4 ounces of cheddar cheese has a small amount of arginine, 0.25 grams, and a cup of milk has 0.2 grams, just a little bit more arginine for your effort. Some good news: if your dairy is coming in the form of ice cream, chocolate syrup has 0.9 grams of arginine per 100 grams, so add a little of it on top, or have some chocolate milk while you’re at it, and know that you’re getting some arginine there too.
We’ve saved the most curious for last: though most of us spit out or avoid the seeds in our watermelons, they contain over 5 grams of arginine per cup, so feel free to swallow them knowing they’re doing you no harm and also bringing you a little bit good—you can’t lose!
Arginine Foods and You
The value of gaining more arginine from foods is that it’s as natural as the healthy production of arginine within us. Not only is arginine deficiency blessedly low due to its levels in our food, but if you’re gaining a bit more of it through dietary intake, you’re not very likely to get too much of it either. With evidence showing arginine helps blood flow and heart health along with the immune response to cancer, it’s a natural amino acid to value and desire.
However: do remember that if you’re looking for even more arginine in supplement form (as with any sort of dietary supplement), it’s important not to go overboard. Too much of any one vitamin, mineral, or amino acid might have the unwanted effect of overtaxing a specific part of the body. Whether it’s by causing an excessive clean-up in the liver or kidneys, or overwhelming the other chemicals in the body that your chosen one works in concert with, you don’t want to throw yourself off kilter.
Look into well-rounded multivitamins or comprehensive essential amino acid blends that offer a measured balance of your body’s needs. Extremely high levels of arginine are no more desirable than low levels of arginine. Instead, what’s important is to have a healthy arginine ratio in the body that will meet your needs but not overwhelm your system. Eat well, supplement well, and prosper!
The best amino acids for muscle growth tip the balance in favor of muscle protein synthesis. And making a complete protein requires adequate availability of each of the amino acids. Read on to find out the formulation of amino acids that is best for building muscle.
Before we get into the best amino acids for muscle growth, let’s first review the makeup of muscle. Muscle tissue is composed of a variety of proteins that are in a constant state of turnover—proteins that are no longer functioning well are being broken down and new ones are being produced. Muscle growth occurs when the rate of synthesis of new muscle protein exceeds the rate of breakdown.
Muscle protein is composed of 20 different amino acids hooked together in a specific order. Nine of the amino acids are essential amino acids (EAAs) and cannot be produced in the body. The other 11 are nonessential (NEAAs) and can be produced in adequate amounts within the body.
Muscle protein synthesis (the building of new muscle protein) involves a series of molecular events that result in the component amino acids being linked together in a specific order. For this reason, amino acids are often called the building blocks of protein. Making a complete protein, therefore, requires adequate availability of each of the amino acids. In that sense, there is no individual best amino acids for muscle growth, because they are all required to produce muscle protein. Rather, there are formulations of amino acids that are “best” for specific circumstances, such as building muscle.
Where Do Amino Acids Come from for Muscle Protein Synthesis?
When protein is broken down during muscle protein turnover, amino acids are released into muscle cells. Most of these amino acids become the precursors for the synthesis of new muscle protein. However, some of the amino acids from protein breakdown are released into the blood and delivered to other tissues and organs, and still other amino acids from protein breakdown are irreversibly oxidized/damaged. Therefore, the rate of reincorporation of amino acids from protein breakdown into newly synthesized muscle protein will always be less than the rate of protein breakdown. Without other sources of amino acids, a reduction of muscle protein and subsequent muscle loss occurs.
There are two ways to get the additional amino acids you need for muscle protein synthesis.
They are produced in the body. (NEAAs can be produced in the body, so only a minimal amount must be consumed in the diet to meet all demands.)
EAAs, on the other hand, cannot be produced in the body and must be consumed in the diet.
Research shows that consuming EAAs stimulates muscle protein synthesis and helps build muscle, but eating more NEAAs doesn’t add any further stimulus. When EAAs are consumed, the additional NEAAs required for the production of complete proteins are produced in the body. Ingesting EAAs, either as dietary protein or as amino acid supplements, shifts the balance between synthesis and breakdown of muscle protein to favor the net production of new muscle protein, which defines muscle gain.
What Are the Best Amino Acids for Muscle Growth?
Muscle protein is composed of a specific amount of each amino acid, hooked together in a specific order. In that sense, all the amino acids are equally important, as a shortage of any of them will stop the process of synthesis.
The EAA in shortest supply is called the limiting EAA. The availability of the limiting EAA will limit the rate of muscle protein synthesis, regardless of the availability of all the other EAAs and NEAAs. Therefore, you could say that the limiting amino acid in any formulation of EAAs is the most important.
This is the major problem with supplements that only have the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Since the other essential amino acids are not provided, the rate of muscle protein synthesis is not improved. Because of this, BCAA supplements have been proven to provide a far smaller effect on muscle growth than a complete EAA formulation.
It is possible to gain insight into the amount of each EAA that is needed to avoid that EAA being the limiting EAA by looking at the requirements for the individual EAAs. By definition, NEAAs are not required in the diet, so when we talk about dietary requirements we are talking only about EAA requirements. The dietary requirement for each EAA differs. Here are the daily requirements for EAAs for adults as published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO).
The requirements are based on a number of factors, including the composition of total body protein. From the requirements shown above, it is clear that all EAAs are not “equal.” The requirements for leucine and lysine are the highest, while the requirement for tryptophan is quite low.
It could be argued that the best amino acids for muscle building parallel the individual requirements of the EAAs. Indeed, that is the basis for the official FAO/WHO grading of protein quality, called the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS). Indeed, an EAA supplement that closely parallels this distribution will be an effective stimulant of muscle protein synthesis in any circumstance. The bottom line is that you need all the essential amino acids to have any effect on muscle mass, and any nonessential amino acid need not be included in a dietary supplement.
Leucine for Muscle Growth
There has been considerable research over the past 15 years that indicates that alternative mixtures of EAAs may be more beneficial in particular circumstances. Most of the research has centered on the EAA leucine. In addition to being the most abundant EAA in body protein, under certain circumstances, leucine can function to regulate molecular processes within the muscle cell. In those circumstances, it can be called a “nutraceutical.”
Leucine can activate the molecule called mTOR, which gets muscle protein synthesis started. Various conditions associated with progressive muscle breakdown and loss of muscle strength, such as cancer, heart failure, and aging, can suppress the activity of mTOR and associated molecules. When mTOR activity is limited, it may be preferable to increase the proportion of leucine to as high as 35% to activate mTOR. At the same time, activation of mTOR and associated molecules in the muscle cell is not sufficient to increase muscle protein synthesis. You also need an abundance of all EAAs to produce complete proteins. Therefore it is necessary to limit the proportion of leucine in an effective dietary supplement to below 40% so that sufficient amounts of the other EAAs can be included.
If extra leucine is added to a dietary supplement such as whey protein powder to capitalize on its action as a nutraceutical, then the remainder of the supplement should provide the other EAAs in proportion to their contribution to the composition of muscle protein. It seems logical that this would be dictated entirely by the composition of muscle protein, but it is not quite so straightforward.
The absorbed ratios of the different EAAs will not be directly reflected in the EAAs inside the muscle cells because some amino acids are transported into the cell faster than others. Lysine, in particular, is transported sluggishly into the muscle. When lysine is consumed, less lysine will enter the muscle cell than would be expected from the profile of the consumed EAAs. Consequently, to increase the lysine concentration inside the muscle cell in proportion to the lysine content of muscle protein it is necessary that lysine comprise 20% or more of the total EAAs consumed to achieve the maximal muscle-building effect.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
The most effective EAA supplement for muscle growth will have all the EAAs and roughly parallel the requirements cited above. However, alternative formulations may be “best” in different situations. For example, while a high proportion of leucine may be best for older individuals with heart failure, a disproportionate amount of leucine may not be needed by a young athlete after a resistance workout. This is because the resistance workout will activate mTOR and associated molecules, and if the proportion of leucine is in line with the composition of muscle protein (around 23%), then relatively more of all the other EAAs needed to produce complete protein can be included in the supplement.
Even the optimal formulation for exercise might vary, depending on when the supplement is consumed and the type of exercise. For example, endurance training causes a selective increase in leucine oxidation, in which case a supplement high in leucine would be optimal as a post-workout supplement following exercise to speed up muscle recovery.
Regardless of the specific circumstance it is meant for, the “best” formulation will include all the EAAs and not just the BCAAs or specific amino acids like beta-alanine or arginine. A complete formulation will more effectively stimulate the production of new muscle protein than any individual or sub-group of EAAs possibly can.
Amino acids can be delivered either by intravenous infusion or oral ingestion. Both routes support protein metabolism in the body, as well as provide amino acids for other purposes. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
The use of amino acid infusions to provide nutritional support to individuals incapable of eating a sufficient amount of dietary protein to meet nutritional requirements dates back to the 1960s. An amino acid infusion can either provide partial nutritional support or may be given as part of total parenteral nutrition (TPN). TPN provides all nutrition, including amino acids, carbohydrate, fat, and vitamin and minerals via intravenous infusion, or amino acid injections. But is there a significant advantage to taking amino acids intravenously over taking amino acids orally as a supplement?
Intravenous Amino Acids and TPN
Intravenous amino acids can provide nutritional therapy for protein metabolism (the breaking down and building up of proteins).
An amino acid infusion contains the amino acids with the greatest protein-stimulating effect. These include the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, lysine, valine, phenylalanine, histidine, threonine, methionine, and tryptophan, as well as the nonessential amino acids alanine, arginine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. These amino acids act as protein-building blocks, encouraging protein synthesis in muscle cells and preventing protein breakdown.
An amino acid injection is the administration of amino acids and other nutrients by way of parenteral nutrition. Parenteral administration utilizes routes outside the gastrointestinal (GI tract), such as intravenous routes. Enteral nutrition, on the other hand, is food or drug administered by way of the GI tract, such as with tube feeding.
Intravenous infusion of amino acids is used for patients who cannot take in food or nutrients through the enteral route (GI Tract). For instance, if gastrointestinal absorption is disrupted by inflammatory disease or obstruction, or if tube feeding is not providing adequate nutritional support.
Aminosyn® II is a popular amino acid injection given by way of peripheral vein or central vein infusion and used as a source of nitrogen in the short-term nutritional therapy of patients with adequate body fat who are unable to sustain oral nutrition. This type of amino acid infusion is also administered to help prevent or reverse negative nitrogen balance in patients who cannot take in nutrients via the enteral route.
Individuals who have had large portions of their intestines removed surgically can live indefinitely on total parenteral nutrition (TPN). A 15% amino acid injection can be administered by use of a central venous catheter or by peripheral vein. This amino acid infusion is coupled with vitamins, trace elements, electrolytes, and energy nutrients to provide the necessary nutritional support for weight maintenance or weight gain. In order for the amino acids from TPN to be adequately absorbed and utilized, energy requirements must be met. Energy is typically provided as a combination of dextrose to support carbohydrate metabolism and an intravenous fat emulsion that offers up essential fatty acids to protect against essential fatty acid deficiency and fulfill the dietary balance of fat and carbs.
The primary drawback to amino acid infusion as the sole source of amino acids from the physiological perspective is that the intestine atrophies. This is because some of the amino acid requirements of the gut are satisfied by direct uptake of amino acids from the digestion of orally ingested protein or amino acids. Atrophy makes the intestines more permeable to diffusion of bacteria and bacterial products from the gut into the body. Of course, if TPN is used because of the removal of the gut, this point is moot. If the intravenous infusion of amino acids is used alongside orally ingested protein, gut integrity will be maintained so long as the oral intake is sufficient.
Benefits of Amino Acid Infusion
The clinical benefits of amino acid infusion in patients who are incapable of ingesting adequate nutrition orally are well established. In addition, intravenous infusion of amino acids in individuals fully capable of ingesting amino acids orally is gaining popularity. The “selling point” of this therapy is that the exact concentrations of individual amino acids in the blood can be precisely controlled. This is promoted as particularly important to the relative concentrations of amino acid precursors of specific brain neurotransmitters. This approach is used in recovery from addiction, as well as for general support of protein metabolism in the body.
The premise of intravenous amino acid therapy is that the individual cannot get the full benefit from orally ingested amino acids, or that the intravenous infusion somehow confers special beneficial effects.
Advantages of Oral Ingestion of Amino Acids
The oral ingestion of amino acid solutions has advantages over amino acid infusion. There is no risk associated with oral ingestion, whereas intravenous infusion carries with it the risk of vein irritation. A health care provider is needed to perform the intravenous infusion, whereas free amino acids for oral consumption are relatively cheap and readily available.
It is possible to obtain a mixture of essential amino acids for oral consumption specifically designed for a particular condition, such as reaching your ideal body weight, whereas the options for intravenous infusion are much more limited due to the arduous procedure to obtain approval from the FDA.
There are also physiological advantages to the oral ingestion of amino acids over peripheral infusions. Most important of these is that the uptake and utilization of amino acid solutions by the intestines provides a direct source of essential nutrition.
Orally ingested amino acids are directly absorbed by the intestines and require no digestion. The amount of amino acids provided to the body by the two routes (oral and intravenous) are thus similar. Since orally ingested amino acids pass through the intestines, liver, and other organs before reaching the peripheral circulation, the peripheral plasma concentrations of amino acids reach higher levels when infused intravenously. Conversely, orally ingested amino acids provide more direct support of the internal organs.
Orally ingested and intravenously infused amino acids both stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is the metabolic basis for muscle growth and strengthening. A clinical study of older individuals showed that muscle protein synthesis was stimulated in response to both intravenously infused as well as orally ingested amino acids. In addition, the profile of amino acid concentrations in the blood reflected the profile of the orally ingested amino acids, so there is no advantage to intravenous infusion in terms of supplying the proper balance of amino acids needed to synthesize neurotransmitters in the brain. Further, a clinical response was observed at dosage levels that are able to be consumed orally without much difficulty.
Side Effects of Amino Acid Injections
Amino acid infusions are now being marketed as a way to boost athletic endurance, protect against muscle loss, and even improve the health of the central nervous system. While amino acid solutions can indeed impart these benefits, amino acid injections were not originally developed for healthy individuals tackling body weight goals. Oral amino acid supplements, however, can help build muscle, sharpen cognitive function, and enhance athletic endurance, and there are no needles or doctors involved. It’s as easy as mixing an amino acid powder with water.
One of the biggest advantages of taking an oral amino acid supplement over an amino acid injection is that no special care is needed and there are no side effects to contend with.
Amino acid injections can cause the following adverse reactions:
Contraindications for amino acid injections are indicated for individuals in hepatic coma, with hepatic insufficiency, severely impaired kidney function or renal failure, or suffering from metabolic disorders due to compromised nitrogen utilization or hypersensitivity to one or more amino acids.
Amino acids can be delivered either by intravenous infusion or oral ingestion of amino acid solutions. Both routes support protein metabolism in the body, as well as provide amino acids for other purposes.
The intravenous infusion procedure has risks and costs that are avoided by oral ingestion, and the amino acid profiles in available intravenous infusion mixtures are limited. For these reasons, amino acid infusion should be used only in individuals who are incapable of ingesting amino acids or who have a limited capacity for absorption. Oral ingestion is the preferred route of delivery of amino acids in most circumstances.
Lysine is an essential amino acid required for protein synthesis, collagen development, proper cell function, and tissue repair. But your body cannot make it on its own. You have to get it from the foods you eat or the supplements you take. Lysine supplementation, however, comes with its own set of best practices.
L-lysine, the form of lysine used by the body—usually referred to as simply lysine—is one of nine essential amino acids. This indispensable amino acid is required for protein synthesis, collagen development, proper cell function, and tissue repair. But like the other essential amino acids, your body can’t make it on its own. You have to get it from the foods you eat or the supplements you take. If you’re interested in lysine supplementation, however, you should know that it comes with its own set of best practices.
But before we get into those, let’s first talk about lysine deficiency and what may lead to a lysine-deficient diet.
In developed countries, such as the United States, lysine is an abundant nutrient in the majority of people’s diets, where it can be found in a variety of food sources, including:
Fish (especially cod and sardines)
Cheese (especially Parmesan)
However, in poor countries, where cereals are relied upon heavily for nutrition, lysine is the most limiting amino acid.
What is a limiting amino acid, you ask?
Amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein, as they create all the different proteins in our bodies by linking together in long chains. However, if any single essential amino acid is in short supply, protein synthesis will stop as soon as its supply is exhausted. The amino acid in shortest supply during protein synthesis is therefore known as the limiting amino acid.
Because the majority of cereal grains are lysine deficient, lysine becomes the limiting amino acid. And the people who rely on these grains as their main source of food are deficient in this essential amino acid as well.
Based on animal studies, every cereal grain that’s been studied contains an insufficient amount of lysine. Lysine is also the most limiting amino acid in pig feed and falls just behind methionine as the second most limiting amino acid in avian diets.
In fact, over 90% of the lysine produced is used to supplement animal diets. In 2005, 200,000 metric tons of lysine was used in the United States alone to supplement animal feed.
Why do I mention this in an article about lysine supplementation presumably aimed at humans?
It’s merely to make the point that lysine is most likely the most studied amino acid in animal nutrition, yet has received far less attention for its role in human nutrition.
While lysine is supplied by many animal proteins (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products), it’s typically the limiting amino acid in plant proteins. Therefore, vegetarians, and especially vegans, must be diligent in choosing appropriate proteins or taking an essential amino acid supplement to ensure adequate lysine intake.
Lysine and Muscle Protein
Lysine is an important component of muscle tissue. In fact, it’s the second most abundant essential amino acid in human muscle protein.
Even so, lysine does not play a significant role in either molecular signaling (the communication between cells) or protein synthesis (the process of building new proteins) and is only effective in stimulating the synthesis of new muscle protein when it’s included in a mixture of all the other essential amino acids.
Muscle protein is comprised of 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are essential amino acids. However, to build new muscle protein, each of these amino acids must be available to muscle cells in a proportion that roughly matches their own individual contribution to the muscle protein amino acid profile. Lysine, however, is a bit of an outlier.
For maximal effectiveness in stimulating muscle protein synthesis, an essential amino acid formulation must contain more lysine than the amount of lysine found in muscle protein. This is because some dietary lysine may be altered during digestion, rendering it useless.
Also, once lysine is in the blood, it’s transported into muscle tissue very slowly. Therefore, it’s necessary to consume higher levels of lysine to achieve an optimal balance of essential amino acids inside muscle cells.
Lysine and the Immune System
In addition to its important role as a component of muscle protein, lysine is a key player in the immune system. For example, lysine is involved in the development of antibodies and has important antiviral properties.
As a nutritional supplement, lysine has also been found to be active against certain viruses, including herpes simplex viruses.
In fact, a study published in the journal Dermatologica found that a treatment group given L-lysine monohydrochloride (1,000 milligrams 3 times a day for 6 months) had an average of 2.4 fewer infections, and their symptoms were significantly less severe and healing time significantly reduced.
The important role of lysine in immunity to infections is particularly evident when the diet is deficient in this essential amino acid.
A diet deficient in lysine not only impairs immune function but also increases the susceptibility of both animals and humans to infectious disease. Therefore, people whose diets are especially deficient in good sources of lysine, especially vegans and those from countries that rely on cereal grains, would benefit from lysine supplementation.
Those with diets that are deficient in either protein sources or amino acids in general also need to be aware of the possibility of impaired immune function. However, for these people, care must be taken when supplementing with any individual amino acid—including lysine—to support immune function.
In other words, an excess of lysine relative to other key amino acids may actually impair immune function. Maintaining a normal balance of amino acids in the blood is therefore critical for optimal immune system function.
Lysine and the Maillard Reaction
When you think about the amount of lysine you’re getting in your diet, you need to be aware of one other caveat: the Maillard reaction.
The Maillard reaction refers to a chemical reaction that takes place between amino acids and sugars. In fact, it’s the process that gives browned food its complex flavor (think dark coffee, toasted bread, and charred meat).
Most protein foods that have been processed in a factory are heat treated. This facilitates the formation of Maillard reactions, and these reactions are accelerated at higher temperatures.
Lysine is particularly susceptible to Maillard reactions because it possesses a reactive amino group (every amino acid is made up of one amino group and one carboxyl group) at the end of its side chain (the shorter chain of atoms attached to the main chain, or backbone, of the molecule).
Maillard products can make lysine nutritionally unavailable. By contrast, free lysine (lysine that isn’t bound to other amino acids in a protein string), either alone or in a balanced essential amino acid formulation, is not subject to Maillard reactions.
Additional Benefits of Lysine Supplementation
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, a variety of other health benefits have been attributed to lysine.
In one study, researchers found that a combination of lysine, proline, green tea extract, and vitamin C displayed an anti-tumor effect against pancreatic cancer cells.
Another study found that lysine was effective in reducing stress-induced anxiety and its associated diarrhea.
Improved Bone Health
Lysine supplementation was found in one study to improve intestinal calcium absorption. Studies have also found that taking lysine and L-arginine together can make bone-building cells more active and increase the production of collagen.
Lysine also works in conjunction with vitamin D to help support the assimilation of calcium and strengthen bones. For those suffering from osteoporosis, higher amounts of calcium in the body may improve bone strength and help prevent fractures.
Reduced Complications from Type 2 Diabetes
In a study of the effects of lysine on insulin and glucagon concentrations, researchers discovered that relatively high doses of lysine supplementation resulted in a small decrease in blood sugar levels and an increase in glucagon and insulin concentrations.
Another study also found that supplementation with lysine was helpful in decreasing infection risk in diabetic patients.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
Additional studies have found that, in combination with vitamin C, lysine helps form the collagen necessary to maintain artery wall strength and help prevent atherosclerosis.
Reduced Gastrointestinal Inflammation
In one study, it was found that lysine has an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut lining, which could have implications for inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.
However, before we can definitively say that lysine is beneficial in these areas, additional controlled clinical trials will need to be performed.
Side Effects of Lysine Supplementation
While the use of lysine supplements is generally considered safe and adverse effects are uncommon, lysine has been known to cause stomach pain and diarrhea in some individuals.
There has also been one report of kidney disease linked to lysine supplements, so if you have kidney disease or are taking aminoglycoside antibiotics, please speak with your health care provider before taking lysine supplements.
In addition, lysine supplementation has not been thoroughly studied in pregnant and nursing women, so its use cannot be recommended in this population.
In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with these parting thoughts. While the research on lysine remains spotty, we can say that lysine supplementation is appropriate for individuals whose diets are specifically deficient in this amino acid.
For most other circumstances, a more balanced formulation of essential amino acids is optimal. However, as we stated earlier, because of lysine’s incomplete digestion and slow transport into muscle cells, one should look for a formula containing at least 20% lysine.
Cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disorder that can cause extensive damage to the digestive system, respiratory system, and other vital organs. Learn what causes cystic fibrosis, along with the symptoms and treatment.
Cystic fibrosis is a progressive genetic disorder that affects over 30,000 people in the United States, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Patient Registry. When the disease was first reported in 1938, it was described as “mucoviscidosis” to emphasize a patient’s tendency to produce profuse amounts of mucus in the body. The abundance of mucus leads to grave complications over time, as it causes frequent lung infections and impairs lung function, including restricting a patient’s ability to breathe. As researchers attempt to better understand what causes cystic fibrosis, breakthroughs in treatment are ongoing and show promise.
Depending on the severity of the illness, this lung disease can cause extensive damage to the digestive system, respiratory system, reproductive system, and vital organs. Organ damage, infections, and breathing obstruction can even lead to death. The average life expectancy for cystic fibrosis patients is between 42 and 50 years of age. Lung complications are responsible for 80% of all cystic fibrosis deaths.
What Causes Cystic Fibrosis?
Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic defect of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, which normally regulates the production of tears, digestive enzymes, sweat, saliva, and mucus in healthy cells. Among other errors, the mutation deletes amino acid and primary nucleotide-binding domain phenylalanine 508 (F508del) in CFTR, causing faulty cell gating and erratic channel processing across a cell’s plasma membrane. The defective genes also disrupt the passage of salts across cells. There are over 1,700 known cystic fibrosis mutations; the type of cystic fibrosis defect determines the severity of the disease.
Researchers suspect that mucus hyperproduction is not a direct cause of the defective CFTR, but is a “downstream consequence,” as changes in CFTR expression in different cell types do not always correlate with disease severity or mucus buildup. Mechanisms for mucus production, per se, appear normal in most instances; therefore, cystic fibrosis genetics continues to be the focus of illness causation.
Cystic Fibrosis Risk Factors
Family history is a prime cystic fibrosis risk factor. Cystic fibrosis sufferers inherit two copies of the defective gene—one from each parent who must have at least one copy of the CF gene. Single-copy carriers of the defective gene are otherwise normal but can pass the mutation on to offspring. There is a 25% chance that two cystic fibrosis gene carriers can produce healthy, non-cystic fibrosis children who are not carriers. However, there is also a 25% chance that the offspring of two cystic fibrosis gene carriers will produce a child who will have cystic fibrosis, while there is a 50% chance the child will be a carrier who does not have cystic fibrosis.
Approximately 1 in 25 people (or 10 million Americans) are carriers of the defective CF gene. Though there are carriers among all races, Caucasians of Northern European descent are most at risk of developing cystic fibrosis. The disorder is least common among Asian and African groups.
Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms
Cystic fibrosis can yield a variety of symptoms. The severity of these symptoms varies among cystic fibrosis sufferers. Symptoms of cystic fibrosis include:
Recurrent lung infections
Frequent bouts of coughing with or without phlegm
Decreased ability to exercise
Poor weight gain and limited muscle development
Frequent foul-smelling, greasy stool production
Digestive problems, such as constipation or intestinal blockage
Infertility (especially in males)
The overproduction of sticky mucus yields many of these symptoms. Mucus is a viscoelastic substance that protects and covers the surfaces of the reproductive, gastrointestinal, and respiratory epithelial tracts. An overabundance of thick mucus, however, hinders the secretion of pancreatic digestive enzymes. If these digestive enzymes fail to reach the small intestine, the body is unable to process proteins, fats, and vitamins from foods. And mucus-filled lungs impair efficient breathing and decrease the flow of oxygen in the blood. Moist, mucus-filled lungs are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria that get trapped in respiratory airways.
Cystic Fibrosis Complications
The symptoms of cystic fibrosis often appear in infancy and childhood. Meconium ileus, or intestinal blockage, is a condition that occurs in 5% to 10% of newborns with cystic fibrosis. Newborn screening for cystic fibrosis is standard in the United States.
As they age, cystic fibrosis sufferers can experience more serious complications. Repeated coughing can produce blood from eroded tissue lining along respiratory airways. Chronic swelling inside the nose may trigger the formation of nasal polyps. Chronic lung infections can lead to more serious disorders, like pneumonia or bronchitis. Lung tissue that worsens over time can permanently limit function, inducing respiratory failure. Severe bouts of breathlessness can last for weeks and require hospitalization.
As severity of the disease progresses, pancreatic damage compromises insulin production and considerably increases the risk of diabetes in cystic fibrosis patients. Liver damage from mucus disruption can trigger gallstones, block the bile duct, and cause liver disease. Risk of osteoporosis, or low bone density, increases in cystic fibrosis patients. Worsening nutrient absorption over time is a major risk factor for bone loss and poor growth. Hypotension, or abnormally low blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, and extreme fatigue likely precipitate with the loss of metabolism-essential salts and minerals through sweat in cystic fibrosis patients.
Clubbing of toes and fingers are further signs of oxygen-starved tissues, nutrient deficiencies, and any number of recurring illnesses aggravated by cystic fibrosis. Additionally, over 90% of males who have cystic fibrosis experience high rates of infertility due to the absence or blockage (by mucus) of the vas deferens—the sperm duct that connects the testicles to the prostate gland by way of the urethra. Cystic fibrosis male infertility is further exacerbated if sperm cells are diminished or impaired (malformed or poorly motile) due to reproductive damage. Malnutrition, as well as increased mucus production along the cervical lining in women with cystic fibrosis, can increase the risk (by approximately 20%) of infertility or pregnancy difficulties.
Cystic Fibrosis Treatment
There are genetic tests and blood tests available to screen for cystic fibrosis; however, genetic testing does not detect all known mutations of the disorder. Therefore, couples seeking to get pregnant may not receive accurate results regarding their carrier status for the CF gene. Luckily, advancements in postnatal screenings can diagnose this lung disease within the first month of life—which helps parents prepare for long-term care for their cystic fibrosis children before serious symptoms of CF and complications develop. Diagnostic sweat tests and genetic tests are available for babies and older patients.
Although there is no available cure for cystic fibrosis, treatment options are geared toward alleviating cystic fibrosis symptoms and complications to improve quality of life. Cystic fibrosis treatment plans are tailored to each patient’s specific circumstances, so it is important to work closely with your health care provider through the process. In addition to daily care such as a healthy diet and adequate fluid intake, treatment options to help mitigate CF affects include:
Antibiotics to treat lung infections (e.g., azithromycin)
Transplantation for damaged organs or tissues, such as a lung transplant
Pancreatic enzyme replacement to help bolster digestive function
Invasive vitamin and saline supplementation regimens to compensate for ill-absorption of nutrients as well as salt and mineral loss through sweat
Inhaled therapies, like bronchodilators and nebulizers, to help decongest the lungs or open airways (e.g., albuterol)
Although males with cystic fibrosis may not be able to father children naturally, they may still possess healthy sperm cells. Artificial insemination is a popular option in this case.
Cystic Fibrosis Breakthroughs
Innovative cystic fibrosis genetics research has focused on how particular CFTR gene failures may affect specific organ cells and their metabolic mechanisms. The United States Food and Drug Administration approved drugs known as CFTR modulators to treat the defective CFTR protein directly—one drug was approved in 2012, and the second drug in 2015. It is believed that CFTR modulators will add many years to the current cystic fibrosis life expectancy for some people.
The symptom-targeted remedy thymosin alpha 1 has shown great promise therapeutically in clinical trials. Thymosin alpha 1 is processed as a 28-amino acid fragment from prothymosin alpha, a 113-amino acid precursor. Thymosin alpha 1 repaired multiple tissue defects in mice with cystic fibrosis by reducing inflammation and increasing CFTR development, activity, and stasis.
To learn more about how amino acids can help with cystic fibrosis, read this article.
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.
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 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 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.
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:
Enhanced sense of calmness
Greater mental clarity
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.
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:
Sense of self
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.”
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:
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.
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 whatsoever—just 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:
Take a very comfortable posture.
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”).
Anchor your mindfulness only on the sensations emanating from your heart center.
Begin to generate feelings of kindness toward yourself while feeling and freeing yourself from any mental blockage, numbness, self-judgment, or self-hatred.
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.
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.
Glutamine supplements have become popular for boosting glutamine levels in the body, especially among people looking to build muscle mass. But should you take a glutamine supplement? Let’s find out!
Glutamine, also known as L-glutamine (the form used by the body), is one of the most well-known amino acids in the supplement world because of the many roles it plays in the body. It’s an important building block of protein, it nurtures digestive tract health, and your immune system depends on it. While glutamine is produced naturally in the body and is found in various foods, glutamine supplements have become popular—especially among people looking to build muscle mass—for boosting glutamine levels. But should you take a glutamine supplement? Is it worth it? Let’s find out!
Glutamine’s Main Role in Muscle
Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in skeletal muscle and is required for muscle protein synthesis (the building of new muscle tissue). And because it’s made in the body and is available in large amounts, there’s never a shortage of glutamine for protein synthesis.
Glutamine’s main role in muscle is detoxifying the ammonia that’s released when amino acids are metabolized. In fact, glutamine is the main carrier of ammonia throughout the body.
When ammonia is released during the metabolism of certain amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids isoleucine, leucine, and valine, it’s transferred to the amino acid glutamate to form glutamine in muscle. Glutamine is then released by muscle and carried via the blood to the liver, where the toxic ammonia is converted into nontoxic urea and excreted in the urine.
The reduction in glutamine concentration in muscle actually results from the rapid transport of glutamine out of the muscle and into the blood, where it’s taken up at increased rates in other tissues and organs. Because of this rapid use by other tissues and organs, the blood level of glutamine drops despite its accelerated release from muscle.
Accelerated glutamine production in muscle occurring at the same time as an increase in muscle protein breakdown is to be expected. As mentioned earlier, the reason for this is that when muscle protein breaks down, amino acids are released and metabolized, creating potentially toxic ammonia in the process.
In other words, if you speed up protein breakdown, you create a greater need for the resulting ammonia to be cleared away from the muscle and transferred to the liver so it can be converted into urea and eventually excreted in the urine. Urea excretion is increased in almost all forms of serious illness. And as we’ve already discussed, glutamine plays a key role in this process.
Thus, the concentration of glutamine in muscle falls because it’s being rapidly exported into the blood to deal with increased ammonia concentrations.
Muscle Glutamine and Overtraining Syndrome
Overtraining syndrome is a condition that occurs when a person doesn’t allow themselves sufficient time to recover from workouts. Though individual symptoms vary, the main symptom seen is a deterioration in exercise performance despite harder and harder training.
Although there’s little doubt that overtraining does, in fact, occur, the exact basis for the syndrome is still uncertain. Likewise, even though reduced concentrations of glutamine in muscle and blood are markers of overtraining syndrome, it’s unclear if decreases in glutamine actually cause the syndrome or if glutamine depletion is merely a symptom of it.
Supplementing with Glutamine During Critical Illness and Overtraining Syndrome
The relationship between decreases in muscle glutamine concentration and net loss of muscle protein (in critical illness) and deterioration of performance (in overtraining syndrome) seems to lead logically to the use of glutamine supplements. However, there’s little evidence that glutamine supplements maintain muscle mass and function, regardless of the situation.
How can this be?
For one thing, the body normally makes about 80 grams of glutamine per day, and the rate of glutamine production increases in pathological states. In addition, glutamine makes up a substantial percentage of dietary protein, so daily consumption of glutamine may be as much as 80 grams per day as well.
Moreover, as we alluded to earlier, it’s very difficult to get glutamine into muscle cells when the process of muscle breakdown signals the body to release more glutamine into the blood to deal with increased levels of ammonia.
Glutamine doesn’t move freely into and out of muscle. Rather, it has a specific transporter that shepherds it from the blood to the cell against a concentration gradient—an area of higher concentration to one of lower concentration.
But that transport mechanism is reversed in critical illness and overtraining syndrome, so rather than carrying glutamine into the muscle, it’s carrying it out of the muscle and into the blood. As a result, very little glutamine will enter the muscle even when the blood concentration is increased significantly with glutamine supplementation.
Consequently, taking L-glutamine supplements has little impact on muscle mass or function.
Glutamine and Immune Function
Immune function involves a complex network of immune cells and signaling molecules that are crucial for fighting infection. A variety of immune system functions are supported by glutamine metabolism, and the decrease in blood glutamine concentration in critical illness discussed earlier occurs in part because of the accelerated use of glutamine by the immune system.
In a review of 14 different clinical trials of glutamine supplementation, researchers analyzed the ability of a glutamine supplement to enhance immune function, as reflected by infectious complications and length of hospital stay in surgical or critically ill patients. The analysis showed that there may be an association between glutamine supplementation and a reduction in infectious complications and shorter hospital stays, although the association was not very strong.
The importance of immune function in hospitalized patients is plainly evident, as resistance to infection is crucial to the recovery process. However, what’s less well appreciated is that strenuous exercise also stresses the immune system.
In fact, according to a study published in the journal Nutrition, glutamine supplementation may decrease the incidence of infections in endurance athletes following bouts of intense exercise.
Glutamine and Intestinal Health
In addition to the role played by the intestines in digestion and nutrient absorption, intestinal cells are also involved in a variety of other functions, including immune response and hormone secretion.
Glutamine metabolism is a crucial component of energy generation in the intestines and is a precursor for a number of important metabolic pathways, especially those leading to the production of the amino acids ornithine, citrulline, proline, and arginine.
Because of the specific metabolic function of glutamine in the intestines as well as its protective action, including its role in modulating intestinal permeability, many clinical trials have been conducted to assess the benefits of supplementation on intestinal health, particularly with respect to states in which normal intestinal function is disrupted—such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and leaky gut syndrome.
However, the results of these trials have been confusing and inconclusive. This is in part due to the fact that the amino acids glutamate and proline can easily substitute for many of the metabolic roles of glutamine, including energy production and amino acid synthesis.
So does glutamine supplementation benefit gut health? I’m afraid the answer to that question is, at best, a firm maybe.
Glutamine and Neurotransmitters
Glutamine plays several parts in the brain and central nervous system (CNS). Its principal action is as a precursor in the production of glutamate and aspartate, both of which are excitatory neurotransmitters. Glutamine is also the precursor of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Much of the production of glutamate and GABA from glutamine occurs via a metabolic pathway within the CNS. Initially, glutamine is produced from glutamate and ammonia in specialized cells within the CNS called astrocytes, which are star-shaped glial cells—cells that surround and support the work of neurons. Newly produced glutamine is then transferred to neurons, where it’s converted into glutamate and GABA and sometimes aspartate.
The relationship between glutamine and glutamate in the astrocyte is cyclic. Glutamine metabolism forms glutamate, which in turn combines with ammonia to reform glutamine. For this reason, this process is referred to as the glutamine-glutamate cycle.
As stated earlier, the glutamate, GABA, and aspartate produced from glutamine act as neurotransmitters. And since glutamate and aspartate work to counteract the influence of GABA, the balance of these neurotransmitters is crucial for healthy brain activity.
Glutamine has the ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier via a specialized transporter, so in theory, glutamine ingestion can increase levels of glutamine in the brain. But most of the glutamine in the brain comes from the process of glutamate combining with ammonia in the brain’s astrocytes.
In fact, it’s very difficult to increase concentrations of glutamine in the blood and ensure it enters the brain because a typical glutamine supplement provides only a small fraction of the total amount of glutamine present in the body. In addition, the body regulates the entry of glutamine into the brain to maintain a proper balance of glutamate, aspartate, and GABA.
The primary source of glutamine in the brain is also derived from the glutamine-glutamate cycle, rather than the blood, so the failure to demonstrate a beneficial effect of glutamine on brain health—even with amounts greater than what’s normally consumed in the diet—is not surprising.
So…Should You Take a Glutamine Supplement?
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and plays many metabolic roles. It serves as a shuttle for transferring ammonia from muscle to liver, fuel source for the intestines and immune system, and precursor for key neurotransmitters in the brain.
Because of glutamine’s many diverse roles, L-glutamine supplements have been promoted extensively, particularly in stressful or pathological situations in which blood glutamine concentrations have been depleted.
While there’s some evidence that glutamine supplementation may aid immune function when blood concentrations of glutamine are decreased, supplementation has shown only minimal benefits in other areas, including muscle building and brain function.
The ambiguous results of glutamine supplementation can in large part be attributed to the rate of glutamine production in the body as well as normal dietary consumption.
As stated earlier, glutamine production in the body is already so great that the incremental increase in availability provided by a dietary supplement—even in high doses—will usually be of only minimal significance.