Most Popular Supplements for Muscle Growth

Learn the chemistry behind the traditional top supplements for muscle growth, and find out about the newest and most comprehensive supplement that’s about to revolutionize muscle building.

If you’re looking for supplements for muscle growth, you’ve probably already noticed that it’s a pretty crowded field. Different proteins and combinations and timing strategies get discussed, and before you know it you feel like you need about half a degree in chemistry just to build muscle at the gym! We’re streamlining the relevant information on muscle-building supplements, their pros and cons, so you can decide on the best supplements for your own fitness goals. If you’re in a rush, skip to the end, because there’s a new supplemental option that combines the best muscle growth nutrients you’ve ever known, all in one complete, balanced formula that will best all the rest. Read through to learn about the ideal muscle-building combo, a powerful protein trinity.

The First Steps Towards Muscle Building

Getting the most out of your workout involves taking a few first steps before you can start targeting muscle gain specifically. The first steps after taking up regular exercise are:

While supplements are not mandatory to reach these goals, they can be excellent aids to quicken your progress and maximize your protein intake without bringing unpredictable calories to your diet. Next up we’ll discuss the top supplements for muscle growth that you can choose from when attempting to gain muscle mass, and reveal a cutting-edge, scientifically-backed newcomer to the muscle-building supplement world.

Traditional Top Supplements for Muscle Growth

Over and above eating well and lifting weights, here are some protein and muscle-building supplements you can use to augment your workout goals, some of them more effective than others.

Top supplements for muscle growth and bodybuilding.

Carnitine

Carnitine is the general term for a group of amino acid compounds that include L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine. Carnitine is a transporter that moves long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria, where they’re oxidized or burned for energy.

A popular supplement for fat-loss, carnitine can also aid muscle growth by increasing blood flow to muscles, lessening muscle soreness, and increasing nitric oxide production, all of which improve your post-workout recovery. The combination of these benefits makes carnitine a strong asset for energy-boosting while you’re building muscles through exercise, especially when utilized in pre-workout and post-workout shakes. Though it doesn’t directly contribute to muscle building, it does provide valuable energy assistance, and improves performance during endurance athletics.

Pros

  • Aids athletic endurance by providing energy transport.
  • Helps ease muscle soreness and improve post-workout recovery.

Cons

  • Does not directly increase muscle, but instead aids in workout energy.
  • Carnitine is only a peripheral aid to individuals working to build muscle via exercise.
  • Carnitine would need to be taken alongside direct protein or amino acid supplements to be most effective.

Whey Protein Powder

A milk protein derived from whey, which is the watery part of milk that separates from the curd, whey protein is an excellent supplement affecting protein synthesis. With a high level of branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, and including some amount of all nine essential amino acids (EAAs), this protein supplement digests relatively quickly and can help with rapid muscle building.

Whey protein can help increase blood flow due to its content of peptides, and is regularly consumed by bodybuilders immediately after their training sessions (within the hour). When choosing a whey protein, it’s recommended that you find a powder containing whey protein hydrolysates, which are proteins broken down for faster digestion.

Pros

  • Whey protein is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Whey protein is high in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Cons

  • While whey protein is a fast-absorbing whole protein, free-form amino acids can be absorbed much more quickly.
  • Whey protein’s amino acid content is not optimally balanced, and a properly formulated essential amino acid supplement can have 3 times the effectiveness rate as a whey protein powder supplement alone.

Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid that not only helps build muscles by increasing the levels of the essential amino acid leucine in muscle fibers, but it also helps fight against muscle breakdown, and has been shown to play a significant role in protein synthesis.

Incidentally, glutamine can also be recommended for those with digestion issues (diarrhea or constipation), anxiety, cravings for sugar and/or alcohol, and those with poor wound healing.

Pros

  • Valuable as a precursor to the essential amino acid leucine.

Cons

  • Glutamine aids only one of the nine essential amino acids needed for muscle building, and so is far from being the most effective muscle-building supplement.
  • Glutamine is unnecessary if you’re taking a complete blend of essential amino acids.

Casein Protein Powder

Casein is the other milk protein that is derived from the curd of the milk and not the whey. Casein has a slower digestion rate than whey protein does, which makes it an excellent protein to take before bed, as it digests while you sleep and helps to prevent catabolism (which is to say destructive metabolism, a kind of self-cannibalism the body sometimes resorts to for energy).

Because increased calorie intake is also needed to build muscle, casein can help by being less filling than whey, allowing you to consume more alongside it. However, it’s also suggested that taking a combination of whey (or better yet free-form essential amino acids…read on!) and casein after a workout can help with muscle protein synthesis better than taking either one of them alone. Be advised that a casein protein product with micellar casein is the slowest-digesting form of casein readily available, and is your best bet when buying it as a supplement.

Pros

  • Casein protein has a slower digestion rate than whey, which can help prevent catabolism during sleep.

Cons

  • Works best when combined with stronger protein supplements like whey protein or free-form essential amino acids.

Beta-Alanine and Carnosine

Beta-alanine, an amino acid and key component of the dipeptide carnosine, aids in increasing carnosine levels and thus heightening muscle strength and muscle endurance. Higher levels of carnosine also increase the force of muscle contractions, and combining it with creatine (next on the list) has the greatest effect on losing body fat and gaining lean tissue, as was seen when the two were studied during a 10-week resistance training program conducted with collegiate football players.

Pros

  • Carnosine contributes to muscle endurance, leading to more powerful workouts, which can then translate to increased muscle.

Cons

  • Carnosine does not directly build muscle, but instead helps aid in workout endurance.
  • Carnosine is most effective in combination with proteins like creatine or free-form amino acids, and so is best as peripheral support for muscle building.

Creatine

Popularized as a workout supplement in the 1970s, creatine is made up of three amino acids—glycine, arginine, and methionine—and is vital for supplying the energy for muscular contraction. Creatine can be found in the forms reatine alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG), creatine monohydrate, and creatine malate. Creatine has been shown to increase the levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in resistance-exercise training, which is essential for stimulating muscle growth.

Creatine is converted to phosphocreatine (CP) in the body, which then provides energy for explosive exertions like heavy weight lifting or sprinting. The creatine-phosphocreatine system provides an increase in energy supplied to muscle cells when your body is using more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) than is being regenerated in the cells’ mitochondria. This increases your athletic endurance.

Pros

  • Provides energy for increased exercise performance, especially when you’re using more ATP than the mitochondria of your muscle cells can regenerate.
  • Creatine helps stimulate muscle growth.

Cons

  • Creatine is not most effective when taken alone, but is instead at its best when paired with an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement, where it will help provide the energy needed for increased muscle protein synthesis.

Nitric Oxide Boosters (Arginine)

Nitric oxide (NO) in the body serves to dilate blood vessels, thus allowing better blood flow to muscles, providing them with energy, nutrients, water, anabolic hormones, and oxygen—everything your muscles need to function, grow, and thrive. Nitric oxide boosters do not contain nitric oxide, but instead provide it via the amino acid arginine, which the body converts into nitric oxide.

Arginine supplements are often marketed based on their association with muscle growth, increased muscle strength, and loss of bodyweight. However, we recommend supplementing with citrulline to increase arginine, as arginine supplements don’t produce significant increases in blood arginine concentrations due to the liver’s effectiveness at clearing absorbed arginine. Citrulline, on the other hand, is converted into arginine by the kidneys, and the arginine is then released into the bloodstream; this more effectively increases your arginine levels. Additionally, there are no adverse effects associated with citrulline supplementation, while arginine consumption can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.

Pros

  • Arginine in the bloodstream leads to more readily available amounts of nitric oxide, essential for muscle functioning.

Cons

  • Counterintuitively, arginine supplements are often ineffective at supplying useable arginine to the bloodstream.
  • Instead citrulline is recommended to supplement for an effective increase in arginine, and can be taken alongside or included in EAA and protein supplements for optimal muscle performance.

ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate, Vitamin B6)

Supplementing the minerals zinc and magnesium aspartate along with vitamin B6 is sometimes important to bodybuilders because they become depleted during intense training and need to be specifically replaced. These nutrients are necessary for maintaining proper sleep and hormone levels, as testosterone particularly can be compromised by intensive training.

Athletes who take ZMA have been shown to have increased levels of IGF-1 and testosterone, both of which have an influence on muscle gains. ZMA is recommended to be taken before bed on an empty stomach, to allow for better uptake and to help improve sleep quality and the muscle recovery that sleep provides.

Pros

  • Can help correct vitamin and mineral deficiency caused by intensive weight training.

Cons

  • ZMA supplementation does not lead to direct muscle growth, but can be taken as needed alongside free-form amino acids or traditional protein contributions like whey or creatine, depending on your workout style and your body’s needs.
  • Not everyone will need the extra supplementation of ZMA.

HMB (Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate)

Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate or HMB is a molecule derived from the processing of the essential amino acid leucine, and helps protect against muscle protein breakdown. HMB is often recommended only for those who are beginning weight-training exercises, as the scientific results seen in those who are more experienced with muscle training are less significant. This is due to the fact that HMB is heavily reliant on a steady and abundant supply of EAAs to be effective. When the EAA supply dips down, so does the effectiveness of HMB; it cannot work alone.

Pros

  • HMB supplementation can be good for resisting extreme catabolic states, such as in individuals with critical wasting illnesses.

Cons

  • HMB without an excess supply of EAAs is only marginally effective.
  • EAA supplementation is also needed to derive maximum benefits from HMB supplementation.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The branched-chain amino acids are a subcategory of essential amino acids, and are designated by the molecular structure of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs make up 14% of the amino acids that reside in your muscles, and it’s been shown that taking a supplement of BCAAs during resistance-training exercise increases muscle strength, fat loss, and lean mass.

However, while research shows that leucine in particular stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and that together these three amino acids diminish cortisol (a catabolic hormone), increase energy, and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, BCAAs when consumed alone are not fully effective. All nine essential amino acids are needed to make new muscle, and in fact, the the rate of muscle protein synthesis is directly affected by the availability of all your essential amino acids—the more you have, the faster your rate of muscle synthesis, and the fewer you have, the slower the rate. Because of this, research actually shows that BCAAs when taken alone have little to no effect on the rate of muscle protein synthesis in humans.

Pros

  • BCAAs are valuable amino acids that can be taken to help some aspects of muscle building.

Cons

  • BCAAs are only three of the nine essential amino acids, and all essentials are needed to create new muscle.
  • BCAAs have little to no effect on muscle protein synthesis when taken alone.

An Essential Amino Acid (EAA) Blend: The New Top Muscle Growth Supplement

If BCAAs ever sounded good, you’ll probably be more interested in a complete EAA supplement. Our unique EAA supplement is an ideally proportioned blend that combines the strengths of whey protein, creatine, and the eight essential amino acids that contribute directly to muscle growth. With our EAA blend, you’ll not only get the BCAAs mentioned above, but also a full cocktail essential amino acid supplement. It contains the key factors that make whey protein and creatine effective too, giving you the best of every top effective traditional supplement on the market.

EAAs and Muscle Protein Synthesis

The human body is made up of about 20% protein, and amino acids are used to form our muscles, tissues, and organs (not to mention the hormones needed for cognitive and physiological function). The key to our muscle-building product that helps make it more effective than other supplements, and even some dietary sources of essential amino acids, is its absorption rate and digestibility.

The EAAs derived from dietary proteins have to be digested first and then absorbed, while free-form amino acids are absorbed more quickly and completely. With eight of the nine essential amino acids (minus tryptophan which is not necessary to supplement for muscle protein synthesis), the amounts of EAAs are maximized more than any naturally occurring protein can deliver.

EAAs with Whey Protein’s Support

While free-form EAAs provide faster absorption, an intact protein like whey provides for a longer absorption period, sustaining the supply of EAAs after the rapid absorption of the free-form EAAs. Designed to work in concert with one another, our muscle-growth supplement combines its EAA profile with a balanced inclusion of whey protein for steady, ongoing support of muscle protein synthesis.

EAAs and Creatine’s Energy

Because creatine-phosphate provides the energy for sudden bursts of physical activity like lifting heavy weights or sprinting, it’s included in the Amino Co.’s technology to provide the energy needed to convert EAAs into muscle via muscle protein synthesis. Instead of waiting for the mitochondria of muscle cells to metabolize ATP for energy, creatine covers the time gap when needed, completing the full circle required for ideal muscle building: the rapid essential ingredients, the long-haul supply, and the energy to put them to use.

The Amino Company Advantage

Our product is a unique, patent-pending blend of essential amino acids, whey protein, and creatine that outperforms all other supplements in increasing muscle mass. Good for increasing strength in the elderly and easy to include in drinks or smoothies, Amino Co. supplements are scientifically proven to be effective in muscle protein synthesis over any other supplement, food, or protein choice currently available.

The ABCs of Muscle Growth

On a first glance at muscle growth supplements, it looks like an alphabet soup of vitamins and molecules and chemistry notes, but the more knowledgeable you become about your own body’s strengths and needs, the closer you’ll approach a PhD’s level of understanding when it comes to which supplements best support your goals. Effectiveness is key, bolstered by practical results that can be not only felt, but also scientifically proven. In the end, you can see which supplement brings you the greatest value.

The strongest performers from the traditional list of muscle growth supplements have been brought forward to the new frontier: an EAA blend that brings the best of everything essential to building and maintaining new muscle. The Amino Company provides the full circle of quick, long-lasting, and energized EAAs for muscle building. When you take our unique blend, you’re guaranteed to have an optimally balanced formula designed specifically for human muscle growth (and not lab animals). With the Amino Co. on your team, you can reach higher heights of strength faster and more effectively than ever before!

What Are the Best Muscle Recovery Foods?

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

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

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

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

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

 Muscle recovery foods for prevention and relief.

Muscle Recovery Foods

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

Cottage Cheese

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

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

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

Sweet Potatoes

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

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

Baking Spices

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

Coffee

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

Turmeric

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

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

Oatmeal

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

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

Bananas

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

Peanut Butter

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

Nuts and Seeds

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

Manuka Honey

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

Green Tea

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

Cacao

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

Tart Cherries

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

Salmon

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

Eggs

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

Spinach

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

Resist Damage and Recovery Quickly

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

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

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

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

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

How Amino Acids Support Female Muscle Growth

Is it truly more challenging for women to build muscle? To answer that question, we first separate the myths about gender differences and muscle growth from the actual science. Then, we offer tips everyone can use to get serious muscle growth results.

Female muscle growth. It’s not a phrase you hear too often. However, whether you’re a man or a woman, muscle building benefits your overall health and well-being. Strong scientific evidence shows that increasing your lean muscle mass can help you stay healthy as you age, support fat loss by keeping your metabolism running at full capacity and prevent the development of chronic diseases.

If you’re born male, you’re coached from a young age to want to grow up to be big and strong. But if you’re born female, you receive the opposite message. With the emergence of ripped and toned female fitness influencers taking social media by storm, the tides appear to be shifting. Nonetheless, society still tends to instruct girls to train themselves to be as dainty as possible—in part, so they can grow up to be women who attract big, strong men.

But the health benefits of muscle mass apply to everyone, regardless of gender. However, it can be more challenging for women to build muscle for a variety of reasons.

In this article, we’ll explore the scientific realities behind the common belief that muscle building comes more naturally to men than to women. Plus, we’ll offer tips that everyone can use to increase their physical strength and get serious muscle growth results.

Do Men Build Muscle More Easily Than Women?

If you’re at all familiar with the resources out there for people interested in muscle building, you’ve probably noticed that the vast majority of it is written by male authors for male audiences. While that has begun to shift somewhat as more women get into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and sports science, these realms are still dominated by men.

In those realms, a concept that many take for granted is that muscle gains come more easily for men than for women. This concept is propped up by claims that men and women have significant physiological differences that give men an advantage when it comes to physical strength and performance.

 

How amino acids can maximize female muscle growth.

What Science Tells Us About the Differences Between Men and Women

Let’s begin by comparing the average metabolic rates—the calories you burn just by going about your day—for men and women. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, about 90% of the variations researchers identified in the baseline number of calories participants expended over a 24-hour period came down to differences in fat mass and muscle mass. Your age has a measurable impact too. Researchers found that participants between 50 and 65 years of age had baseline metabolic rates that were 4.6% lower than participants between the ages of 20 and 30.

Fascinatingly, they reported: “No sex difference in any energy expenditure measurement could be found.” However, women do tend to have slower metabolisms than men, but it’s not because they’re women, it’s because on average, women are smaller and have less muscle mass.

So, let’s look into muscle mass differences. Findings published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reveal that women have, on average, about 67% of the muscle mass men do.

Women lag further behind when it comes to the muscle groups of the upper body than those of the lower body. A research team from the departments of Physical Education and Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada set out to determine how gender differences influence strength and muscle fiber characteristics. They found that female participants had approximately 52% of the upper body strength and 66% of the lower body strength of men.

These differences appear to have more to do with the likelihood that men will have larger muscles than with innate sex-based differences, though. A study published in Ergonomics sought to measure the extent to which differences in strength between men and women can be explained by muscle size. Researchers found that when they adjusted their findings to take into account overall muscle mass as well as the size of specific muscle groups, 97% of sex-related differences were in strength. The researchers state that their findings suggest muscle size “almost entirely” accounts for the differences we expect to see between a man’s physical strength and a woman’s. In other words, if a man and woman have comparable muscle mass, they should be equally strong.

It appears that the vast majority of the differences we attribute to sex actually have to do with body composition. A woman and man with similar previous experience in terms of physical activity and comparative amounts of muscle and fat will perform similarly on standard measures of strength.

However, there are some differences between the ways men’s bodies and women’s bodies tend to respond to strength-training regimens and individual workout plans.

How Hormones Affect Female Muscle Growth

Hormones tend to be the first factor people point to when talking about physiological differences between women and men. It’s only logical, given that men’s increased muscle mass results from higher testosterone levels. Hormone levels fluctuate from person to person and over time, but on average, women produce far less testosterone than men do—between 15 and 20 times less, according to data sourced from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

However, the question of testosterone levels isn’t as clear cut as we tend to think. In fact, some men have lower testosterone levels than some women do. After a team of researchers from the U.K. analyzed the hormone levels of elite athletes, they found significant overlap between testosterone levels for male competitors and female competitors. It’s worth noting that the hormone profiles of elite athletes differ from those of average individuals. It’s also highly likely that women with naturally higher levels of testosterone are more likely to excel at the elite level in certain physical disciplines. The main takeaway is that the idea that men have higher testosterone levels and therefore build new muscle more easily doesn’t entirely hold up.

Furthermore, did you know that testosterone is not the only hormone involved in building muscle mass? Estrogen, which as you may know, women typically produce at higher levels than men do, has also been shown to have significant benefits for muscle growth.

Studies done with animal subjects and well-controlled studies with human subjects support the idea that estrogen can help to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue that often accompanies the aging process. It appears that estrogen has an overall positive impact when it comes to maintaining and increasing your lean muscle mass.

And an article published in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews presented experimental findings suggesting that estrogen may have an anabolic effect on muscles, meaning it supports muscle gain. It appears to do this primarily by lowering protein turnover, which slows the rate of catabolism (muscle breakdown), and enhancing the sensitivity of muscle tissue to resistance training.

Estrogen also boosts your metabolism, making it easier to cut your body fat percentage. While that doesn’t directly contribute to muscle growth, it does mean the new muscles you build will be more visible.

Women and Men Build Different Types of Muscles

We all have two general types of skeletal muscle fibers: slow-twitch, or Type 1, and fast-twitch, or Type 2. Type 1 muscles help power you through feats of endurance, like marathons. And the more Type 2 muscles you have, the better you perform on tests of explosive strength, like Olympic weight training.

There’s a clear divide between the average percentages of Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibers that women and men typically have. According to Greg Nuckols, an experienced fitness writer who holds a BS in Exercise and Sports Science and three all-time world records for powerlifting, women typically have more Type 1 muscle fibers than men do, about 27% to 35% more. Women also tend to have greater capillary density.

Both give women an advantage in many ways. Greater capillary density means an increased ability to circulate blood through your muscle tissue to bring in fresh oxygen and clear out waste products. And having a higher percentage of Type 1 muscle fibers gives you an improved capacity for glucose and fatty acid oxidation, which translates to a decreased risk of chronic conditions linked to metabolic health, like diabetes and heart disease.

However, Type 2 muscle fibers are thicker, quicker to contract, and engage when your body nears maximum exertion. If you’re looking to increase your muscle mass and build strength so you can lift heavier and heavier weights, you need to recruit your Type 2 muscles. There’s no evidence that Type 1 muscle fibers can be transformed into Type 2 muscle fibers (or vice versa), which means there may always be a gap between the level of explosive strength an experienced female weight lifter can generate and the amount a male lifter at the same level can generate.

Maximizing Muscle Growth as a Woman

While men may have some innate advantages when it comes to building muscle mass, studies show that both men and women gain muscle at the same rate when they commit to workout routines like resistance training, weight training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Researchers from the University of Maryland Exercise Science and Wellness Research Laboratories conducted a study in which participants committed to a 6-month, whole-body strength-training program that worked for all the major muscle groups in both the upper and lower bodies.

They used MRI images to assess thigh and quadriceps muscle volume as well as mid-thigh muscle cross-sectional area before and after the strength-training program. Their findings showed that the thigh and quadriceps muscle volume increased significantly for all age and gender groups as a result of the strength-training program. The researchers found no significant differences related to either participant age or gender.

In some cases, women can make more significant strength and muscle gains than men. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine examined how men and women responded to weight-training and resistance-training approaches. The researchers found that after following the same short-term training program, female participants made more significant strength increases than male participants did.

For women interested in optimizing their body composition by decreasing their body fat percentages and increasing their muscle mass, there are certain strategies you can put in place to maximize your muscle-building potential.

Train Strategically

When it comes to building muscle, the first step is to institute a strength-training regimen. For those seeking to rapidly increase muscle growth who are comfortable and able to perform high-intensity workouts, the most effective strength-training approach will involve lifting increasingly heavy weights. That might mean using barbell, kettlebells, dumbbells, or other types of weights.

Incorporating weightlifting into your training sessions encourages muscle growth because of the strain it places on your muscles. This wear and tear breaks down the muscle tissues. Then, during the recovery process that takes place while you sleep and on rest days, your muscles rebuild themselves. Each time this process takes place, your muscles grow bigger and stronger.

Adding high-intensity interval training to your exercise routine can also increase your muscle gains. This method of training involves short burst of intense exertion—a great tactic for recruiting your Type 2 muscles.

Increase Your Protein Intake

As you know, your muscles are made up of proteins. In order for your muscles to successfully rebuild themselves after workouts, you need to provide them with an adequate supply of dietary protein.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much protein your muscles need to properly build and repair themselves. Factors like age, weight, activity level, and training goals will all influence the amount of protein an individual needs to consume.

Federal guidelines set the minimum recommended amount of protein consumption for adults at 17% to 21% of your daily calories, and that’s without taking weight training into consideration.

As Jim White, RD, ACSM, explained, resistance training increases the process of protein turnover. By eating proteins laden with all the essential amino acids, you’re providing your body with the raw materials it needs to build muscle.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, if you’re looking to build muscle mass, you should aim to consume between 0.5 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That means a 150-pound woman, for example, should set a protein intake target of 75-120 grams of protein each day. It’s also important to consider the percentage of your overall calorie intake that comes from protein.

White, as well as other experts, recommends prioritizing the post-workout window for protein consumption as this has the biggest impact on muscle growth. Findings published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition indicate that protein consumption before workouts can also be a key factor. Eating protein both before and after workouts can boost your performance, speed your recovery time, and increase your lean muscle mass.

Amino Acids Can Boost Female Muscle Growth

While it’s entirely possible to meet your body’s protein needs through diet alone, it can be helpful to add in high-quality supplements, including protein powders. Especially if you have a busy schedule that makes it challenging to consume enough protein during meal or snack times, it can be highly beneficial to provide your body with amino acids from other sources.

Researchers have found that certain supplements can be particularly helpful when it comes to building and maintaining muscle mass. If you’re wondering about the best amino acids for muscle growth, here are three to consider.

How amino acids can maximize female muscle growth.

1. Creatine

Creatine, an amino acid compound found naturally in the human body as well as in foods like red meat, has been the subject of hundreds of studies. If you’re lifting weights and looking to amplify your results, you may want to consider supplementing with creatine.

Media reports may have lead you to believe that creatine supplementation can adversely impact the health of your kidneys, but scientists have repeatedly and conclusively found that not to be the case.

After going over all available data on the short-, medium-, and long-term effects of creatine supplementation, researchers from the Higher Institute of Physical Education and Readaptation in Brussels, Belgium found no evidence that creatine causes liver dysfunction in healthy individuals (individuals with pre-existing kidney disease should avoid creatine). The researchers concluded that individuals who take creatine “do not report any adverse effects, but body mass increases.” They also noted that creatine may benefit the health of your heart and help reduce your risk of neurological diseases.

Studies show that supplementing with creatine can increase your lean body mass, enhance your anaerobic working capacity, and minimize the muscle damage caused by extreme exertion.

2. Beta-Alanine

This naturally occurring amino acid has also been the subject of extensive research.

One reason for this is that beta-alanine is the rate-limiting precursor of carnosine, an amino acid found in high concentrations in human skeletal muscle. One study on the effects of beta-alanine supplementation found that it can increase concentrations of carnosine in your muscles, which in turn helps to prevent muscular fatigue.

A separate study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found pairing beta-alanine supplementation with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can substantially increase both endurance and aerobic metabolism. It also showed a clear and impressive impact on subjects’ lean muscle mass.

Plus, a third study that examined how beta-alanine impacted anaerobic power output by using tests of physical strength such as timed sprints and a 90° bent-arm hang found that supplementing with beta-alanine improved participants’ results across all categories. Participants who supplemented with beta-alanine were able to achieve simultaneous weight loss and lean body mass increases.

3. Citrulline

Supplementing with citrulline can significantly increase your blood levels of not only this important amino acid, but two other crucial amino acids as well: ornithine and arginine. This can have a wide range of health benefits.

According to findings published in the The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, even a single dose of citrulline can improve your physical performance as measured by a flat barbell bench press. It can also reduce post-exercise muscle soreness. Participants were able to complete approximately 53% more repetitions and reported 40% less muscle soreness at both 24 and 48 hours afterward.

A separate study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that citrulline reduced muscular fatigue and improved muscle metabolism as measured by oxidative ATP production and the rate of phosphocreatine recovery after exercise.

All in all, it appears that this amino acid can improve endurance and speed up recovery time.

Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

Your muscles aren’t composed of single amino acids, but rather 20 separate amino acids. Building muscle mass requires a steady supply of all those amino acids. Nine of those are essential amino acids, meaning you must get them from the foods you eat or supplements you take.

While certain amino acids have been shown to have more dramatic results when it comes to muscle growth, your rate of muscle protein synthesis will be limited by whichever essential amino acid is in the shortest supply. That’s why some of the foremost experts on amino acids believe that taking an essential amino acid (EAA) blend is ultimately the most effective way to build your muscle mass. Using a supplement formulated to include all the required amino acid building blocks stimulates the production of new muscle tissue more effectively than any single amino acid could.

Best Amino Acids for Muscle Growth

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. 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).

Best Amino Acids for muscle growth

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.

If the EAA supplement is meant to be consumed as a pre-workout supplement for exercise performance, it may be formulated to optimize the concentrations of neurotransmitter precursor availability in addition to providing EAAs for muscle protein synthesis.

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.

Leucine Muscle Building and Performance: The Magic Bullet?

Leucine has received special attention for its role in muscle building, not only because it is the most abundant EAA in muscle protein, but also because of its nutraceutical role as a regulator of muscle protein synthesis. Is leucine the “magic bullet” of muscle building?

Leucine is one of the nine essential amino acids (EAAs). EAAs are considered “essential” because the body can’t make them, and they must be consumed as part of the diet. Among the EAAs, leucine has received special attention for its role in muscle building, not only because it’s the most abundant EAA in muscle protein, but also because of its nutraceutical role as a regulator of muscle protein synthesis—the process of muscle building. But are these leucine muscle building benefits the “magic bullet,” or is leucine no more or less important than any of the other EAAs? The truth is that it falls somewhere in between.

What Is Leucine?

Leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), the other two being isoleucine and valine. The term branched-chain refers to the chemical structure of these EAAs, which consists of branched side chains—the shorter chains of atoms attached to the main chain, or backbone, of the molecule.

Leucine is the best known of the BCAAs and is, as already mentioned, the most abundant EAA in muscle tissue. In addition, leucine acts as a signal to activate various cellular functions, including the process of protein synthesis.

How Muscle Protein Synthesis Works

Muscle protein is in a constant state of turnover, being continuously broken down and resynthesized. Muscle building takes place when the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown. This can occur when there’s a stimulated rate of muscle protein synthesis, a suppression of muscle protein breakdown, or a combination of the two.

The process of muscle protein synthesis itself involves the hooking together of a series of amino acids in a very specific sequence and amount. Under normal conditions, most of the amino acids that hook together to form new muscle protein are those released during protein breakdown.

However, about 15% to 20% of the amino acids released during protein breakdown are not available to build new muscle protein. Some are irreversibly oxidized, while others are released into the bloodstream and taken up by other tissues and organs. For this reason, an additional source of amino acids is needed so that the rate of protein synthesis can catch up with, or exceed, the rate of protein breakdown.

Eleven of the amino acids in body protein are nonessential, which means the body produces them on its own to meet the demands of protein synthesis rates. By contrast, EAAs such as leucine must be consumed in the diet since they can’t be produced in the body. For this reason, consuming sufficient EAAs is mandatory for increasing the rate of muscle protein synthesis.

Leucine Muscle Building Supplements

Muscle protein can’t be built with leucine alone. In fact, for new muscle protein to be produced, all of the EAAs must be available in proportion to their respective contributions to the composition of that protein.

Since leucine is the most abundant EAA in muscle protein, comprising about 23% of the total EAAs, high leucine intake is essential for the production of muscle protein. Consequently, the profile of EAAs consumed for the purpose of stimulating muscle protein synthesis—whether in a natural protein food source or an amino acid supplement—must contain a relatively high proportion of leucine.

There’s no debate about the importance of leucine as a building block of muscle protein. Neither is there any controversy regarding the need for leucine to make up at least 20% to 25% of consumed EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

The question is, rather, whether the effects of leucine are so unique that this one substance should constitute a disproportionately greater amount of a dietary amino acid supplement compared with the other EAAs. In other words, is leucine supplementation alone beneficial for building muscle?

Keep in mind that this question is relevant only to amino acid supplements, as there is no natural protein source made up of more than 23% leucine, and there is no natural protein source that contains only leucine. So, in order to answer this, we must first understand leucine’s role as a nutraceutical.

Leucine has been called a nutraceutical because it has the ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis on its own and is more than just one of the components of muscle protein. In fact, leucine can actually initiate the process of protein synthesis by activating a group of intracellular compounds known collectively as initiation factors.

The key initiation factor activated by leucine is a protein called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which acts as a sensor within the cell. When leucine concentrations are low, mTOR receives the signal that there’s not enough dietary protein present to build new skeletal muscle protein and is deactivated. But when the concentration of leucine within the cell increases, mTOR is activated.

Activation of mTOR can increase the amount of muscle protein produced, provided there are enough of the other EAAs (in addition to leucine) available to make complete proteins.

Muscle Protein Synthesis and mTOR

In normal, healthy adults, mTOR can be activated and muscle protein synthesis stimulated with a balanced EAA supplement, so there’s no need for extra leucine. However, in many clinical states, muscle protein synthesis is just not as responsive when EAAs are consumed, either as food or as supplements.

When this happens, it’s referred to as anabolic resistance—the reduced stimulation of muscle protein synthesis in response to protein intake. Anabolic resistance often occurs alongside conditions such as cancer or severe trauma or illness or during the regular process of aging.

During a state of anabolic resistance, an EAA supplement containing a disproportionately high amount of leucine (35% to 40%) may be needed to activate mTOR and overcome the resistance.

My team and I actually discovered this in 2006, when we studied the beneficial effects of an EAA mixture with leucine on muscle protein metabolism in elderly and young individuals. You can read about the study, published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, here.

But leucine is not the only way to activate mTOR. Resistance exercise can also further elevate mTOR, providing the potential for increased muscle protein synthesis. However, when engaged in resistance training, sufficient EAAs must be available for the further activation of mTOR to translate into increased protein synthesis.

Put simply, you can’t make something out of nothing. And that’s because a shortage of even one EAA will limit the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, even after a heavy resistance workout. So while mTOR activation isn’t always linked to increased protein synthesis, it is an anabolic signal when all the necessary components are present.

Leucine Alone Isn’t Enough

The best way to envision the role of leucine in protein synthesis is to think of the EAAs as a football team, where leucine is the quarterback and the other positions are filled with other EAAs, each with their own specific role. Just as a team of only quarterbacks wouldn’t have much success in a game, a nutritional supplement wouldn’t have much success if it contained only leucine.

There have been a number of studies examining the effectiveness of leucine as a nutritional supplement. And as predicted by the analogy above, leucine alone has been shown to have little effect on muscle building—according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Compare these findings with a study we published in the journal Clinical Nutrition that showed how a formulation of EAAs with a high proportion of leucine (35% to 40%) helped overcome anabolic resistance and improve muscle mass, strength, and physical function in the elderly.

Leucine is important, but it can’t do the job alone!

Leucine and Muscle Protein Breakdown

The role of leucine in stimulating muscle protein synthesis has been studied extensively, but the building of muscle is determined not only by the rate of protein synthesis but also by the balance between the rates of synthesis and breakdown.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that leucine also has the ability to reduce the rate of muscle protein breakdown and, thus, muscle loss. One reason for this is that leucine can stimulate the release of the hormone insulin, and the suppression of muscle protein breakdown by insulin is well known.

As one of the BCAAs, leucine can also suppress protein breakdown directly. However, suppressing muscle protein breakdown only helps build new muscle if the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of breakdown, and this may not occur when consuming just leucine or BCAAs.

In fact, a reduction in muscle protein breakdown caused by leucine or BCAAs alone is accompanied by a corresponding reduction in the rate of muscle protein synthesis. This reflects the fact that the major source of EAAs for building new muscle protein is the EAAs that are released by protein breakdown. Therefore, if muscle protein breakdown is suppressed, the availability of EAAs for protein synthesis is also reduced.

As in the case of muscle protein synthesis, leucine can play a potentially important role in building muscle by inhibiting the rate of muscle protein breakdown, but to increase the anabolic response—meaning synthesis is greater than breakdown—all the EAAs must be consumed.

Leucine and Performance

Leucine is oxidized at an increased rate during endurance sports. This is evidenced in a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology: Respiratory, Environmental and Exercise Physiology. Although a large portion of total energy production isn’t derived from leucine oxidation during exercise, the amount of leucine oxidized is significant in terms of the amount available for incorporation into protein.

In other words, the increased oxidation of leucine during exercise can make its availability—or lack thereof—limiting for the production of new muscle protein.

This is why it’s necessary to consume EAAs in general, and leucine in particular, post exercise. Consuming protein shakes, whey protein, or EAAs after exercise will not only prevent the loss in muscle protein that would occur otherwise (because of the oxidation of leucine) but will also increase muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle strength and function.

Leucine and Type 2 Diabetes

We’ve known for 50 years that blood concentrations of leucine (and the other BCAAs) are elevated in individuals with type 2 diabetes. This knowledge has spurred theories that the BCAAs, and leucine in particular, are somehow involved in the development of insulin resistance and, ultimately, type 2 diabetes.

A recently proposed theory that’s been gaining popularity is based on the premise that the activation of mTOR may be involved in causing insulin resistance. However, this theory is contradicted by studies that have shown that increasing leucine concentrations in dietary supplements not only doesn’t cause insulin resistance but may also, in some circumstances, actually improve blood sugar control.

Studies have also shown that supplementing with all the BCAAs can improve insulin sensitivity in a variety of insulin-resistant states.

Additional Benefits of Leucine

Leucine serves other functions as well. For example, it:

  • Increases the number of muscle mitochondria—the organelles where adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is generated to fuel muscle contraction during exercise
  • Promotes the growth and repair of bone tissue
  • Stimulates growth hormone production
  • Speeds wound healing

Perhaps the most important takeaway here is that leucine—like most things in life—can’t do what it does alone. It needs the help of all the EAAs to be the magic bullet of muscle building the body needs.

Is leucine the “magic bullet” of muscle building?

What’s with HMB Supplements?

HMB has been shown to promote muscle gain in individuals who are working out. However, this muscle-promoting effect is dependent on adequate availability of essential amino acids (EAAs). HMB supplements without the support of EAAs just don’t cut it.

From hydroxymethylbutyrate to beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (or β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate), HMB—a chemical produced when the body breaks down the amino acid leucine—is known by a variety of names. But what exactly are HMB supplements?

HMB supplements are promoted as nutritional substances that can help speed wound healing and support individuals with muscle-wasting diseases such as cancer and HIV. Proponents also tout HMB supplements (or HMB in combination with creatine monohydrate) as a way to slow the muscle wasting that comes with aging.

To be fair, research does support the presence of some beneficial effects of HMB. For example, it’s been shown to promote muscle growth in individuals who work out. However, it should also be noted that this muscle-promoting effect is dependent on the adequate availability of essential amino acids (EAAs).

In other words, HMB supplements in isolation, without the support of EAAs, have a minimal effect on muscle building.

How Does HMB Work?

HMB and the EAA leucine are closely linked, and it’s necessary to understand the relationship between them to understand how HMB works.

Leucine is the most abundant of the nine EAAs found in muscle protein. It also acts as a nutraceutical aid in turning on the body’s muscle-building switch. In fact, it’s one of the three branched-chain amino acids—the others being isoleucine and valine—that make up about a third of muscle protein. Some experts also propose that leucine turns on the process of protein synthesis (muscle building) via the action of HMB.

HMB is a metabolite of leucine, meaning it’s derived from the breakdown of leucine. In a series of step-by-step reactions, about 15% of the leucine present in blood is also irreversibly broken down to ammonia and carbon dioxide. This sequence of reactions by which leucine is reduced to its basic components is called a metabolic pathway.

But there’s more than one metabolic pathway involved in the breakdown of leucine. And it’s actually via a minor pathway that the leucine metabolite HMB is produced, yet it’s still proposed to be the active component of leucine. However, as leucine is being broken down by the body, only about 5% of it is broken down via the pathway that results in HMB.

Combine this with the fact that only 15% of leucine is broken down at any given time, and it’s clear that the amount of HMB produced by leucine breakdown makes up only a very small percentage of available leucine.

As a result, the concentration of HMB in body fluids is far less than that of leucine. And since results with dietary supplementation aren’t achieved unless the concentration of HMB is increased many times above the normal physiological level, it’s unlikely that leucine’s effects on muscle protein synthesis are, in fact, mediated by HMB.

However, when the availability of HMB is increased using dietary supplements, it seems to work as a nutraceutical in the same way leucine does in that it activates the molecular mechanisms involved in the initiation of protein synthesis.

Specifically, the increase in HMB concentration supplied by supplementation activates a molecule known as mammalian target of rapamycin, or mTOR.

The molecule mTOR plays a key role in controlling the initiation of protein synthesis. When mTOR is activated, a series of additional chemicals involved in the initiation of protein synthesis is activated as well. And when all of these molecules are switched on, the process of protein synthesis begins. Likewise, when mTOR is activated by excess levels of HMB, the process of protein synthesis is also stimulated.

A sustained increase in muscle protein synthesis should ultimately be reflected by an increase in muscle strength, function, and mass over time. However, the use of HMB alone does not result in an increase in protein synthesis.

In fact, any increase in protein synthesis resulting from HMB supplements will last only as long as there’s an adequate supply of EAAs. And once there’s a dip in the EAA supply, the effect of HMB stops as well.

HMB Needs EAAs to Work

If you activate mTOR but your body doesn’t have enough EAAs circulating in the bloodstream, then muscle protein synthesis will only be increased to a limited extent.

As stated earlier, muscle protein contains nine EAAs, each of them unique and each a vital component of newly produced proteins. Unlike the 11 nonessential amino acids, EAAs can’t be produced in the body and have to be obtained through dietary sources.

However, if you aren’t getting enough EAAs through protein-rich foods or EAA supplements, then your only source of EAAs is the protein already present in your body.

In this case, your body begins to break down its protein stores and release the component amino acids, including EAAs, for use by the cells of the body. However, under normal conditions, only about 85% of amino acids released in this manner are reincorporated into protein; the rest are lost to oxidation.

But let’s circle back to HMB.

To be effective on its own, HMB must increase the efficiency of EAA reutilization for protein synthesis. However, as we just indicated, that process is already 85% efficient, which means there’s a definite limit as to how much more efficient the recycling of EAAs back into protein can be.

Therefore, it becomes clear that dietary supplementation with HMB works only when there’s an excess amount of EAAs available. And an excess supply of EAAs can occur via only two mechanisms:

  • EAAs must be consumed at the same time as HMB
  • The rate of protein breakdown must be accelerated

However, an increase in protein breakdown would only undermine the beneficial effect of an increase in protein synthesis, as protein gain is the result of the balance between protein synthesis and breakdown. Thus, supplemental doses of HMB can only result in a sustained increase in the net gain of muscle protein if consumed at the same time as an abundant supply of EAAs.

Benefits of HMB Supplements

All this being said, there are still a few conditions—such as catabolic states involving rapid muscle loss—that may benefit from HMB supplementation. This is because protein breaks down much more rapidly in catabolic states such as critical illness or HIV.

This protein breakdown provides extra EAAs that would, under normal conditions, be oxidized. In these situations of increased EAA availability that occur during catabolic states, the anti-catabolic action of HMB may help maintain muscle mass and function and decrease the rate of muscle protein breakdown.

However, recommendations for catabolic states generally specify that HMB should be included as part of a multifaceted approach for muscle maintenance that also incorporates resistance training and a high-protein diet for EAA maintenance.

Exercise also accelerates muscle breakdown (via muscle damage that occurs as a natural part of muscle use) and EAA oxidation. Consequently, the use of supplemental HMB may result in improved performance by improving the reutilization of EAAs released by protein breakdown for the synthesis of new protein.

Is HMB Better Than EAAs Featuring Leucine?

The body’s response to dietary supplementation with HMB alone is similar to that resulting from supplementation with leucine alone.

Just as HMB requires the presence of elevated levels of all the EAAs, so, too, does leucine require the other EAAs to be effective. In addition, the body’s response is more robust when leucine is included as part of a mixture of all the other EAAs than when it (or HMB) is used alone.

Two studies performed in the same laboratory, using the exact same protocol, demonstrate this most clearly. In one experiment, the effectiveness of HMB was assessed, and in the other experiment, the effectiveness of a mixture of EAAs (containing about 40% leucine) was determined.

Both studies investigated how effective HMB and EAA supplements were, compared with a placebo, at diminishing the loss in muscle mass and function that normally occurs with inactivity.

The subjects tested were over the age of 65, and both lean body mass and performance on various physical function tests were measured before and after 10 days of strict bed rest.

In the first study, following 10 days of bed rest, participants were put through a strength training program for a period of 8 weeks. In addition, beginning 5 days prior to bed rest and lasting until the end of the rehabilitation phase, the control group received a placebo powder and the subjects in the experimental group received 1.5 grams of HMB twice daily in its calcium salt form, for a total of 10 weeks of supplementation.

In the second study, participants in the control group received a placebo, while subjects in the experimental group received 15 grams of EAAs 3 times a day throughout the entire 10 days of bed rest. However, in this study, neither group received any weight training.

When comparing the data collected on all the subjects included in these studies, it becomes clear that the major differences between HMB and EAAs can be seen in terms of the tests of physical function—all of which have been validated as representative of the normal physical requirements for activities of daily living in older adults.

While the placebo group had major impairments in all tests of physical function after 10 days of bed rest, those given EAA supplementation—but not HMB supplementation—had significantly improved outcomes.

For example, the time required for subjects to go from a standing position to the floor and back up again (floor transfer test) increased by approximately 40% in the placebo group. Floor transfer rate was also not significantly affected by HMB supplementation. However, the group given EAA supplementation shortened their floor transfer time by 6%.

In another example, the time required to walk up a flight of stairs increased by 18% in the placebo group. HMB once again had no beneficial effect on this response, but those receiving EAA supplementation showed virtually no increase in the amount of time it took them to perform this task.

Finally, the number of toe raises (test of foot flexibility) that could be completed in 1 minute was reduced by almost 80% in both the control group and the HMB supplementation group, whereas the loss of this function with bed rest was completely prevented with EAA supplementation.

These bed rest studies are the only direct comparison that’s been completed of the muscle-building effects and strength gains provided by dietary supplementation with HMB and a formulation of EAAs. Yet the results clearly demonstrate the beneficial effects of EAAs in preventing declines in physical function and fail to demonstrate any beneficial effect of HMB alone.

These results are also consistent with the fact that stimulation of protein synthesis requires the availability of excess amounts of all component amino acids—especially EAAs.

While HMB’s activation of mTOR and other molecules involved in the initiation of protein synthesis may result in a transient increase in muscle protein synthesis, this increase can’t be sustained at a rate sufficient to result in improvements in physical function.

The HMB Takeaway

HMB is widely promoted as a muscle-building molecule that stimulates protein synthesis. While in some cases HMB supplementation may provide benefits, direct comparison with EAA supplementation highlights the fact that any benefit provided by HMB is minimal.

Whatever molecular signaling occurs as a result of HMB supplementation can instead be achieved by taking an EAA supplement that contains leucine. The availability of all EAAs—which are not present in HMB supplements—in excess amounts is required for a sustained increase in protein synthesis, muscle cell growth, and body composition changes that result in greater lean mass versus fat mass.

Furthermore, combining HMB with EAAs would not be expected to be particularly helpful, as the EAAs would elicit the action of HMB on their own.

HMB Supplements

How Essential Amino Acids Can Prevent and Even Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids.

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids (EAAs).

It’s Never Too Early to Combat Age-Related Muscle Loss

There’s nothing wrong with embracing the mentality that 40 is the new 20, but don’t fool yourself into believing age is nothing more than a number. Growing older does come with certain physiological changes. Yet there’s no reason your golden years can’t be every bit as vibrant as your youth. And the sooner you acknowledge how the passage of time influences certain biological processes, the better off you’ll be.

As you grow older, age-related muscle loss, which scientists refer to as sarcopenia or age-related sarcopenia, begins to erode your lean muscle mass. This process likely begins earlier than you think. Once you reach the age of 30, you begin to lose between 3% and 8% of your overall muscle mass each decade. The rate of decline increases once you turn 60.

Understanding Anabolic Resistance

Muscle loss with aging occurs because as the years wear on, we lose the ability to make new muscle protein from dietary protein. The impaired ability to build new muscle protein is called anabolic resistance.

When your body enters an anabolic resistant state, it has trouble getting the motor started. The starter for the motor, in this case, is a factor inside the muscle cells called mTOR. mTOR starts the whole process of protein synthesis. The activation of mTOR begins a cascade of responses that ultimately result in the initiation of protein synthesis. Together these responses are called initiation factors.

In aging muscle, the reactivity of mTOR and the other initiation factors is blunted, and this is a basis of anabolic resistance.

The Vicious Cycle of Age-Related Sarcopenia

This ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass leaves older adults with less control over their bodies. Age-related changes to your muscle tissue and muscle strength don’t just influence your ability to excel during a strength-training workout, they also make you more prone to falls and other types of injuries.

Age-related sarcopenia can kick off a vicious cycle: your muscle strength decreases, which limits your ability to carry out physical activity, which causes further muscle loss. Ultimately, this can result in what health care professionals refer to as frailty, a condition that leaves you extra susceptible to external stressors more hearty individuals would be able to navigate with few to no lasting consequences.

Researchers have identified age-related sarcopenia as the primary factor behind the frailty we associate with aging, such as an increased propensity to fall, compounded by a higher likelihood of suffering an injury such as a broken hip due to a fall and the decreased ability to heal in the aftermath of such an injury.

The more frail you become, the greater the impact of each stressor. As the adverse effects of minor illnesses and injuries accumulate, individuals find it more and more challenging to live independently. Increased frailty also heightens the risk of early death.

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids (EAAs). It's Never Too Early to Combat Age-Related Muscle Loss There's nothing wrong with embracing the mentality that 40 is the new 20, but don't fool yourself into believing age is nothing more than a number. Growing older does come with certain physiological changes. Yet there's no reason your golden years can't be every bit as vibrant as your youth. And the sooner you acknowledge how the passage of time influences certain biological processes, the better off you'll be. As you grow older, age-related muscle loss, which scientists refer to as sarcopenia or age-related sarcopenia, begins to erode your lean muscle mass. This process likely begins earlier than you think. Once you reach the age of 30, you begin to lose between 3% and 8% of your overall muscle mass each decade. The rate of decline increases once you turn 60. Understanding Anabolic Resistance Muscle loss with aging occurs because as the years wear on, we lose the ability to make new muscle protein from dietary protein. The impaired ability to build new muscle protein is called anabolic resistance. When your body enters an anabolic resistant state, it has trouble getting the motor started. The starter for the motor, in this case, is a factor inside the muscle cells called mTOR. mTOR starts the whole process of protein synthesis. The activation of mTOR begins a cascade of responses that ultimately result in the initiation of protein synthesis. Together these responses are called initiation factors. In aging muscle, the reactivity of mTOR and the other initiation factors are blunted, and this is a basis of anabolic resistance. The Vicious Cycle of Age-Related Sarcopenia This ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass leaves older adults with less control over their bodies. Age-related changes to your muscle tissue and muscle strength don't just influence your ability to excel during a strength-training workout, they also make you more prone to falls and other types of injuries. Age-related sarcopenia can kick off a vicious cycle: your muscle strength decreases, which limits your ability to carry out physical activity, which causes further muscle loss. Ultimately, this can result in what health care professionals refer to as frailty, a condition that leaves you extra-susceptible to external stressors more hearty individuals would be able to navigate with few to no lasting consequences. Researchers have identified age-related sarcopenia as the primary factor behind the frailty we associate with aging, such as an increased propensity to fall, compounded by a higher likelihood of suffering an injury such as a broken hip due to a fall and the decreased ability to heal in the aftermath of such an injury. The more frail you become, the greater the impact of each stressor. As the adverse effects of minor illnesses and injuries accumulate, individuals find it more and more challenging to live independently. Increased frailty also heightens the risk of early death. [infographic] How Muscle Loss Creates a Downward Spiral As your muscle strength decreases, it becomes more difficult to be physically active. This results in more lost muscle mass and strength, which can culminate in what health care professionals refer to as frailty. Frailty makes you more susceptible to stressors like illness and injury. The more frail you are, the greater the damage done by each subsequent stressor. Ultimately, it becomes more and more difficult for frail individuals to live on their own. Becoming increasingly frail also raises your risk of early death. [/infographic] While that all sounds grim, you have the ability to preserve—and even increase—your muscle mass as you grow older. Physical activity such as resistance exercise inarguably plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass as you age; however, nutrition will have just as strong—if not an even stronger—influence on your ability to preserve and build muscle. Optimizing Your Nutrient Intake to Combat Muscle Loss As you may be aware, when it comes to providing your muscle fibers with the optimized nutrition they need to maintain themselves and grow, protein is the macronutrient to prioritize. When you don't provide your body with enough protein, your body will lose the ability to keep up muscle mass and bone density. Determining your ideal protein intake can be challenging. Studies have shown that many factors affect the quantity of protein your body requires on a daily basis, such as: Age Gender Physical activity habits Muscle mass to fat ratio Keep in mind, too, that your muscle mass to fat ratio differs from your body mass index (BMI). It's entirely possible to be quite thin and still have high levels of fat compared to lean muscle, which increases the likelihood that you'll develop age-related sarcopenia. According to findings published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, eating between 25 grams and 30 grams of protein with each meal "maximally stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older adults." The authors noted, however, that when elderly subjects consumed protein and carbohydrates together or ate less than 20 grams of protein per meal, that blunted muscle protein synthesis. Choosing the right protein sources will ensure each gram does the most work. When it comes to selecting protein sources, there's one element you should pay the closest attention to: their amino acid content. If you're aging and seeking to combat muscle wasting, you'll benefit the most from increasing your intake of an amino acid called leucine. Why Leucine Matters So Much Leucine, an essential amino acid (EAA) called a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) because of its chemical structure, is one of the most important dietary regulators of mTOR activity. If the proportion of leucine in an essential amino acid mixture is increased to an amount that exceeds its normal contribution to the composition of dietary protein, that EAA supplement can then effectively activate mTOR in aging muscle. However, leucine alone is not enough. You may have noticed that I did not recommend taking a leucine supplement, but rather an amino acid supplement formulated to contain a higher concentration of leucine. That's because all nine essential amino acids need to be present in the proper proportion to produce new muscle protein. You can think of leucine as the quarterback of a football team—it may be the pivot point of how the team performs, but without the other players the team is not going to have much success. How the Other 8 Essential Amino Acids Contribute When you consume a large amount of the EAA leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. And since the enzyme that breaks down leucine is also responsible for metabolizing the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine, they also get broken down at an increased rate. Consequently, the proportions of valine and isoleucine in an EAA formulation containing abundant leucine must also be increased. Lysine is another EAA with distinct characteristics—it is not transported into muscle as readily as other EAAs are. For this reason, the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate anabolic-resistant muscle includes proportionately more lysine than is reflected in the composition of muscle protein. So, even though it may seem logical to provide EAAs for a muscle-building supplement in a profile similar to the makeup of muscle, adjustments can be made to boost the signal and improve delivery of amino acids to overcome the anabolic resistance that results in muscle loss. The remaining five EAAs—phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and histidine—also need to be included in a mixture of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In order to include disproportionately high amounts of BCAAs and lysine, however, the proportionate contribution of these additional EAAs must be reduced below what occurs in muscle protein. [infographic] Building an Optimal Essential Amino Acid Blend to Address Age-Related Muscle Loss First and foremost, you'll want high concentrations of leucine, an EAA and BCAA. Leucine activates mTOR in aging muscle, helping to stimulate maintenance and growth. You'll also need all the other EAAs—think of leucine like a quarterback. No matter how skillful that player is, he still needs the rest of his team to win. For the best results, you'll want to increase the proportions of the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine. You'll also want to up the lysine content. To make room for these adjustments, you'll need to scale back on the amount of phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan and histidine you include. [/infographic] The Science Behind How Essential Amino Acids Prevent and Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss A wealth of research has been conducted on the link between amino acids and age-related declines in protein metabolism, muscle function, muscle growth, and more. The scientists behind one study set out to examine how an amino acid mixture enriched with leucine affected muscle protein metabolism in both young and elderly subjects. They found that ingesting the enriched EAA mixture resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. The mixture of EAAs was 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older individuals on a gram-per-gram basis than was whey protein isolate, which is a very high-quality protein by traditional means of assessment. Another study showed that a specifically formulated EAA supplement decreased loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with bed rest and recovery from hip replacement. This is especially relevant when it comes to preventing muscle loss associated with aging, as older individuals are more likely to experience extended hospitalization and more likely to suffer adverse consequences from the inactivity imposed by hospital stays. Yet another study demonstrated that daily supplementation with EAAs improved muscle mass and function in healthy, active elderly women. The authors wanted to determine whether essential amino acid supplementation improves post-absorptive muscle protein fractional synthesis rate, lean body mass, muscle strength, and other physiological processes. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial found that ingesting the essential amino acid blend stimulated the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate as well as IGF-1 protein expression. Overall, the authors concluded that EAA supplementation improved lean body mass as well as muscle protein synthesis and that it could be a means of offsetting the "debilitating effects" of age-related sarcopenia. [infographic] 5 Science-Backed Ways EAAs Offset Age-Related Muscle Loss Researchers have shown that an amino acid blend enriched with leucine resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. An essential amino acid blend proved 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis than whey protein isolate. An EAA supplement reduced losses of muscle mass and strength related to bed rest. Daily supplementation with EAAs can improve muscle mass and function. Studies show that EAAs can improve lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis, making them a possible means of treating age-related sarcopenia. [/infographic] Key Takeaways to Help You Remain Healthy and Vital as You Age Experts from across the globe agree that both the loss of muscle mass and the loss of muscle strength are highly prevalent and important risk factors for disability and potential mortality as individuals age. This makes identifying treatments for age-related muscle loss a key priority when it comes not only to improving average life expectancy for older people, but also reducing health care costs and enhancing overall quality of life. Ensuring an optimal protein intake will form a foundational part of any successful strategy for maintaining muscle mass (and bone density!) as you age. The kind of protein you eat will be just as impactful as the amount. Leucine, an EAA and BCAA found in certain protein sources, makes uniquely significant contributions to the muscle maintenance and growth processes within the human body. Consuming amino acid supplements designed to contain higher concentrations of leucine (as well as certain other helper amino acids) can dramatically influence your body's ability to retain and increase lean muscle mass as you age. The difference between the effectiveness of EAAs and intact protein cannot be made up just by consuming more of the intact protein, because the optimal profile of EAAs will never be achieved with intact protein. If you're interested in learning more about the advantages of essential amino acid supplements compared to dietary protein sources, this article is an excellent place to start. And if you'd like a quick takeaway in a nutshell, here it is: when it comes to amino acids for muscle loss with aging, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

While that all sounds grim, you have the ability to preserve—and even increase—your muscle mass as you grow older.

Physical activity such as resistance exercise inarguably plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass as you age; however, nutrition will have just as strong—if not an even stronger—influence on your ability to preserve and build muscle.

Optimizing Your Nutrient Intake to Combat Muscle Loss

As you may be aware, when it comes to providing your muscle fibers with the optimized nutrition they need to maintain themselves and grow, protein is the macronutrient to prioritize. When you don’t provide your body with enough protein, your body will lose the ability to keep up muscle mass and bone density.

Determining your ideal protein intake can be challenging. Studies have shown that many factors affect the quantity of protein your body requires on a daily basis, such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Physical activity habits
  • Muscle mass to fat ratio

Keep in mind, too, that your muscle mass to fat ratio differs from your body mass index (BMI). It’s entirely possible to be quite thin and still have high levels of fat compared to lean muscle, which increases the likelihood that you’ll develop age-related sarcopenia.

According to findings published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, eating between 25 grams and 30 grams of protein with each meal “maximally stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older adults.” The authors noted, however, that when elderly subjects consumed protein and carbohydrates together or ate less than 20 grams of protein per meal, that blunted muscle protein synthesis.

Choosing the right protein sources will ensure each gram does the most work. When it comes to selecting protein sources, there’s one element you should pay the closest attention to: their amino acid content. If you’re aging and seeking to combat muscle wasting, you’ll benefit the most from increasing your intake of an amino acid called leucine.

Why Leucine Matters So Much

Leucine, an essential amino acid (EAA) called a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) because of its chemical structure, is one of the most important dietary regulators of mTOR activity. If the proportion of leucine in an essential amino acid mixture is increased to an amount that exceeds its normal contribution to the composition of dietary protein, that EAA supplement can then effectively activate mTOR in aging muscle.

However, leucine alone is not enough. You may have noticed that I did not recommend taking a leucine supplement, but rather an amino acid supplement formulated to contain a higher concentration of leucine. That’s because all nine essential amino acids need to be present in the proper proportion to produce new muscle protein.

You can think of leucine as the quarterback of a football team—it may be the pivot point of how the team performs, but without the other players the team is not going to have much success.

How the Other 8 Essential Amino Acids Contribute

When you consume a large amount of the EAA leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. And since the enzyme that breaks down leucine is also responsible for metabolizing the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine, they also get broken down at an increased rate. Consequently, the proportions of valine and isoleucine in an EAA formulation containing abundant leucine must also be increased.

Lysine is another EAA with distinct characteristics—it is not transported into muscle as readily as other EAAs are. For this reason, the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate anabolic-resistant muscle includes proportionately more lysine than is reflected in the composition of muscle protein.

So, even though it may seem logical to provide EAAs for a muscle-building supplement in a profile similar to the makeup of muscle, adjustments can be made to boost the signal and improve delivery of amino acids to overcome the anabolic resistance that results in muscle loss.

The remaining five EAAs—phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and histidine—also need to be included in a mixture of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In order to include disproportionately high amounts of BCAAs and lysine, however, the proportionate contribution of these additional EAAs must be reduced below what occurs in muscle protein.

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids (EAAs). It's Never Too Early to Combat Age-Related Muscle Loss There's nothing wrong with embracing the mentality that 40 is the new 20, but don't fool yourself into believing age is nothing more than a number. Growing older does come with certain physiological changes. Yet there's no reason your golden years can't be every bit as vibrant as your youth. And the sooner you acknowledge how the passage of time influences certain biological processes, the better off you'll be. As you grow older, age-related muscle loss, which scientists refer to as sarcopenia or age-related sarcopenia, begins to erode your lean muscle mass. This process likely begins earlier than you think. Once you reach the age of 30, you begin to lose between 3% and 8% of your overall muscle mass each decade. The rate of decline increases once you turn 60. Understanding Anabolic Resistance Muscle loss with aging occurs because as the years wear on, we lose the ability to make new muscle protein from dietary protein. The impaired ability to build new muscle protein is called anabolic resistance. When your body enters an anabolic resistant state, it has trouble getting the motor started. The starter for the motor, in this case, is a factor inside the muscle cells called mTOR. mTOR starts the whole process of protein synthesis. The activation of mTOR begins a cascade of responses that ultimately result in the initiation of protein synthesis. Together these responses are called initiation factors. In aging muscle, the reactivity of mTOR and the other initiation factors are blunted, and this is a basis of anabolic resistance. The Vicious Cycle of Age-Related Sarcopenia This ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass leaves older adults with less control over their bodies. Age-related changes to your muscle tissue and muscle strength don't just influence your ability to excel during a strength-training workout, they also make you more prone to falls and other types of injuries. Age-related sarcopenia can kick off a vicious cycle: your muscle strength decreases, which limits your ability to carry out physical activity, which causes further muscle loss. Ultimately, this can result in what health care professionals refer to as frailty, a condition that leaves you extra-susceptible to external stressors more hearty individuals would be able to navigate with few to no lasting consequences. Researchers have identified age-related sarcopenia as the primary factor behind the frailty we associate with aging, such as an increased propensity to fall, compounded by a higher likelihood of suffering an injury such as a broken hip due to a fall and the decreased ability to heal in the aftermath of such an injury. The more frail you become, the greater the impact of each stressor. As the adverse effects of minor illnesses and injuries accumulate, individuals find it more and more challenging to live independently. Increased frailty also heightens the risk of early death. [infographic] How Muscle Loss Creates a Downward Spiral As your muscle strength decreases, it becomes more difficult to be physically active. This results in more lost muscle mass and strength, which can culminate in what health care professionals refer to as frailty. Frailty makes you more susceptible to stressors like illness and injury. The more frail you are, the greater the damage done by each subsequent stressor. Ultimately, it becomes more and more difficult for frail individuals to live on their own. Becoming increasingly frail also raises your risk of early death. [/infographic] While that all sounds grim, you have the ability to preserve—and even increase—your muscle mass as you grow older. Physical activity such as resistance exercise inarguably plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass as you age; however, nutrition will have just as strong—if not an even stronger—influence on your ability to preserve and build muscle. Optimizing Your Nutrient Intake to Combat Muscle Loss As you may be aware, when it comes to providing your muscle fibers with the optimized nutrition they need to maintain themselves and grow, protein is the macronutrient to prioritize. When you don't provide your body with enough protein, your body will lose the ability to keep up muscle mass and bone density. Determining your ideal protein intake can be challenging. Studies have shown that many factors affect the quantity of protein your body requires on a daily basis, such as: Age Gender Physical activity habits Muscle mass to fat ratio Keep in mind, too, that your muscle mass to fat ratio differs from your body mass index (BMI). It's entirely possible to be quite thin and still have high levels of fat compared to lean muscle, which increases the likelihood that you'll develop age-related sarcopenia. According to findings published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, eating between 25 grams and 30 grams of protein with each meal "maximally stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older adults." The authors noted, however, that when elderly subjects consumed protein and carbohydrates together or ate less than 20 grams of protein per meal, that blunted muscle protein synthesis. Choosing the right protein sources will ensure each gram does the most work. When it comes to selecting protein sources, there's one element you should pay the closest attention to: their amino acid content. If you're aging and seeking to combat muscle wasting, you'll benefit the most from increasing your intake of an amino acid called leucine. Why Leucine Matters So Much Leucine, an essential amino acid (EAA) called a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) because of its chemical structure, is one of the most important dietary regulators of mTOR activity. If the proportion of leucine in an essential amino acid mixture is increased to an amount that exceeds its normal contribution to the composition of dietary protein, that EAA supplement can then effectively activate mTOR in aging muscle. However, leucine alone is not enough. You may have noticed that I did not recommend taking a leucine supplement, but rather an amino acid supplement formulated to contain a higher concentration of leucine. That's because all nine essential amino acids need to be present in the proper proportion to produce new muscle protein. You can think of leucine as the quarterback of a football team—it may be the pivot point of how the team performs, but without the other players the team is not going to have much success. How the Other 8 Essential Amino Acids Contribute When you consume a large amount of the EAA leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. And since the enzyme that breaks down leucine is also responsible for metabolizing the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine, they also get broken down at an increased rate. Consequently, the proportions of valine and isoleucine in an EAA formulation containing abundant leucine must also be increased. Lysine is another EAA with distinct characteristics—it is not transported into muscle as readily as other EAAs are. For this reason, the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate anabolic-resistant muscle includes proportionately more lysine than is reflected in the composition of muscle protein. So, even though it may seem logical to provide EAAs for a muscle-building supplement in a profile similar to the makeup of muscle, adjustments can be made to boost the signal and improve delivery of amino acids to overcome the anabolic resistance that results in muscle loss. The remaining five EAAs—phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and histidine—also need to be included in a mixture of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In order to include disproportionately high amounts of BCAAs and lysine, however, the proportionate contribution of these additional EAAs must be reduced below what occurs in muscle protein. [infographic] Building an Optimal Essential Amino Acid Blend to Address Age-Related Muscle Loss First and foremost, you'll want high concentrations of leucine, an EAA and BCAA. Leucine activates mTOR in aging muscle, helping to stimulate maintenance and growth. You'll also need all the other EAAs—think of leucine like a quarterback. No matter how skillful that player is, he still needs the rest of his team to win. For the best results, you'll want to increase the proportions of the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine. You'll also want to up the lysine content. To make room for these adjustments, you'll need to scale back on the amount of phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan and histidine you include. [/infographic] The Science Behind How Essential Amino Acids Prevent and Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss A wealth of research has been conducted on the link between amino acids and age-related declines in protein metabolism, muscle function, muscle growth, and more. The scientists behind one study set out to examine how an amino acid mixture enriched with leucine affected muscle protein metabolism in both young and elderly subjects. They found that ingesting the enriched EAA mixture resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. The mixture of EAAs was 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older individuals on a gram-per-gram basis than was whey protein isolate, which is a very high-quality protein by traditional means of assessment. Another study showed that a specifically formulated EAA supplement decreased loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with bed rest and recovery from hip replacement. This is especially relevant when it comes to preventing muscle loss associated with aging, as older individuals are more likely to experience extended hospitalization and more likely to suffer adverse consequences from the inactivity imposed by hospital stays. Yet another study demonstrated that daily supplementation with EAAs improved muscle mass and function in healthy, active elderly women. The authors wanted to determine whether essential amino acid supplementation improves post-absorptive muscle protein fractional synthesis rate, lean body mass, muscle strength, and other physiological processes. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial found that ingesting the essential amino acid blend stimulated the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate as well as IGF-1 protein expression. Overall, the authors concluded that EAA supplementation improved lean body mass as well as muscle protein synthesis and that it could be a means of offsetting the "debilitating effects" of age-related sarcopenia. [infographic] 5 Science-Backed Ways EAAs Offset Age-Related Muscle Loss Researchers have shown that an amino acid blend enriched with leucine resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. An essential amino acid blend proved 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis than whey protein isolate. An EAA supplement reduced losses of muscle mass and strength related to bed rest. Daily supplementation with EAAs can improve muscle mass and function. Studies show that EAAs can improve lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis, making them a possible means of treating age-related sarcopenia. [/infographic] Key Takeaways to Help You Remain Healthy and Vital as You Age Experts from across the globe agree that both the loss of muscle mass and the loss of muscle strength are highly prevalent and important risk factors for disability and potential mortality as individuals age. This makes identifying treatments for age-related muscle loss a key priority when it comes not only to improving average life expectancy for older people, but also reducing health care costs and enhancing overall quality of life. Ensuring an optimal protein intake will form a foundational part of any successful strategy for maintaining muscle mass (and bone density!) as you age. The kind of protein you eat will be just as impactful as the amount. Leucine, an EAA and BCAA found in certain protein sources, makes uniquely significant contributions to the muscle maintenance and growth processes within the human body. Consuming amino acid supplements designed to contain higher concentrations of leucine (as well as certain other helper amino acids) can dramatically influence your body's ability to retain and increase lean muscle mass as you age. The difference between the effectiveness of EAAs and intact protein cannot be made up just by consuming more of the intact protein, because the optimal profile of EAAs will never be achieved with intact protein. If you're interested in learning more about the advantages of essential amino acid supplements compared to dietary protein sources, this article is an excellent place to start. And if you'd like a quick takeaway in a nutshell, here it is: when it comes to amino acids for muscle loss with aging, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

The Science Behind How Essential Amino Acids Prevent and Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss

A wealth of research has been conducted on the link between amino acids and age-related declines in protein metabolism, muscle function, muscle growth, and more.

The scientists behind one study set out to examine how an amino acid mixture enriched with leucine affected muscle protein metabolism in both young and elderly subjects. They found that ingesting the enriched EAA mixture resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. The mixture of EAAs was 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older individuals on a gram-per-gram basis than was whey protein isolate, which is a very high-quality protein by traditional means of assessment.

Another study showed that a specifically formulated EAA supplement decreased loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with bed rest and recovery from hip replacement. This is especially relevant when it comes to preventing muscle loss associated with aging, as older individuals are more likely to experience extended hospitalization and more likely to suffer adverse consequences from the inactivity imposed by hospital stays.

Yet another study demonstrated that daily supplementation with EAAs improved muscle mass and function in healthy, active elderly women. The authors wanted to determine whether essential amino acid supplementation improves post-absorptive muscle protein fractional synthesis rate, lean body mass, muscle strength, and other physiological processes. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial found that ingesting the essential amino acid blend stimulated the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate as well as IGF-1 protein expression. Overall, the authors concluded that EAA supplementation improved lean body mass as well as muscle protein synthesis and that it could be a means of offsetting the “debilitating effects” of age-related sarcopenia.

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids (EAAs). It's Never Too Early to Combat Age-Related Muscle Loss There's nothing wrong with embracing the mentality that 40 is the new 20, but don't fool yourself into believing age is nothing more than a number. Growing older does come with certain physiological changes. Yet there's no reason your golden years can't be every bit as vibrant as your youth. And the sooner you acknowledge how the passage of time influences certain biological processes, the better off you'll be. As you grow older, age-related muscle loss, which scientists refer to as sarcopenia or age-related sarcopenia, begins to erode your lean muscle mass. This process likely begins earlier than you think. Once you reach the age of 30, you begin to lose between 3% and 8% of your overall muscle mass each decade. The rate of decline increases once you turn 60. Understanding Anabolic Resistance Muscle loss with aging occurs because as the years wear on, we lose the ability to make new muscle protein from dietary protein. The impaired ability to build new muscle protein is called anabolic resistance. When your body enters an anabolic resistant state, it has trouble getting the motor started. The starter for the motor, in this case, is a factor inside the muscle cells called mTOR. mTOR starts the whole process of protein synthesis. The activation of mTOR begins a cascade of responses that ultimately result in the initiation of protein synthesis. Together these responses are called initiation factors. In aging muscle, the reactivity of mTOR and the other initiation factors are blunted, and this is a basis of anabolic resistance. The Vicious Cycle of Age-Related Sarcopenia This ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass leaves older adults with less control over their bodies. Age-related changes to your muscle tissue and muscle strength don't just influence your ability to excel during a strength-training workout, they also make you more prone to falls and other types of injuries. Age-related sarcopenia can kick off a vicious cycle: your muscle strength decreases, which limits your ability to carry out physical activity, which causes further muscle loss. Ultimately, this can result in what health care professionals refer to as frailty, a condition that leaves you extra-susceptible to external stressors more hearty individuals would be able to navigate with few to no lasting consequences. Researchers have identified age-related sarcopenia as the primary factor behind the frailty we associate with aging, such as an increased propensity to fall, compounded by a higher likelihood of suffering an injury such as a broken hip due to a fall and the decreased ability to heal in the aftermath of such an injury. The more frail you become, the greater the impact of each stressor. As the adverse effects of minor illnesses and injuries accumulate, individuals find it more and more challenging to live independently. Increased frailty also heightens the risk of early death. [infographic] How Muscle Loss Creates a Downward Spiral As your muscle strength decreases, it becomes more difficult to be physically active. This results in more lost muscle mass and strength, which can culminate in what health care professionals refer to as frailty. Frailty makes you more susceptible to stressors like illness and injury. The more frail you are, the greater the damage done by each subsequent stressor. Ultimately, it becomes more and more difficult for frail individuals to live on their own. Becoming increasingly frail also raises your risk of early death. [/infographic] While that all sounds grim, you have the ability to preserve—and even increase—your muscle mass as you grow older. Physical activity such as resistance exercise inarguably plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass as you age; however, nutrition will have just as strong—if not an even stronger—influence on your ability to preserve and build muscle. Optimizing Your Nutrient Intake to Combat Muscle Loss As you may be aware, when it comes to providing your muscle fibers with the optimized nutrition they need to maintain themselves and grow, protein is the macronutrient to prioritize. When you don't provide your body with enough protein, your body will lose the ability to keep up muscle mass and bone density. Determining your ideal protein intake can be challenging. Studies have shown that many factors affect the quantity of protein your body requires on a daily basis, such as: Age Gender Physical activity habits Muscle mass to fat ratio Keep in mind, too, that your muscle mass to fat ratio differs from your body mass index (BMI). It's entirely possible to be quite thin and still have high levels of fat compared to lean muscle, which increases the likelihood that you'll develop age-related sarcopenia. According to findings published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, eating between 25 grams and 30 grams of protein with each meal "maximally stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older adults." The authors noted, however, that when elderly subjects consumed protein and carbohydrates together or ate less than 20 grams of protein per meal, that blunted muscle protein synthesis. Choosing the right protein sources will ensure each gram does the most work. When it comes to selecting protein sources, there's one element you should pay the closest attention to: their amino acid content. If you're aging and seeking to combat muscle wasting, you'll benefit the most from increasing your intake of an amino acid called leucine. Why Leucine Matters So Much Leucine, an essential amino acid (EAA) called a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) because of its chemical structure, is one of the most important dietary regulators of mTOR activity. If the proportion of leucine in an essential amino acid mixture is increased to an amount that exceeds its normal contribution to the composition of dietary protein, that EAA supplement can then effectively activate mTOR in aging muscle. However, leucine alone is not enough. You may have noticed that I did not recommend taking a leucine supplement, but rather an amino acid supplement formulated to contain a higher concentration of leucine. That's because all nine essential amino acids need to be present in the proper proportion to produce new muscle protein. You can think of leucine as the quarterback of a football team—it may be the pivot point of how the team performs, but without the other players the team is not going to have much success. How the Other 8 Essential Amino Acids Contribute When you consume a large amount of the EAA leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. And since the enzyme that breaks down leucine is also responsible for metabolizing the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine, they also get broken down at an increased rate. Consequently, the proportions of valine and isoleucine in an EAA formulation containing abundant leucine must also be increased. Lysine is another EAA with distinct characteristics—it is not transported into muscle as readily as other EAAs are. For this reason, the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate anabolic-resistant muscle includes proportionately more lysine than is reflected in the composition of muscle protein. So, even though it may seem logical to provide EAAs for a muscle-building supplement in a profile similar to the makeup of muscle, adjustments can be made to boost the signal and improve delivery of amino acids to overcome the anabolic resistance that results in muscle loss. The remaining five EAAs—phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and histidine—also need to be included in a mixture of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In order to include disproportionately high amounts of BCAAs and lysine, however, the proportionate contribution of these additional EAAs must be reduced below what occurs in muscle protein. [infographic] Building an Optimal Essential Amino Acid Blend to Address Age-Related Muscle Loss First and foremost, you'll want high concentrations of leucine, an EAA and BCAA. Leucine activates mTOR in aging muscle, helping to stimulate maintenance and growth. You'll also need all the other EAAs—think of leucine like a quarterback. No matter how skillful that player is, he still needs the rest of his team to win. For the best results, you'll want to increase the proportions of the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine. You'll also want to up the lysine content. To make room for these adjustments, you'll need to scale back on the amount of phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan and histidine you include. [/infographic] The Science Behind How Essential Amino Acids Prevent and Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss A wealth of research has been conducted on the link between amino acids and age-related declines in protein metabolism, muscle function, muscle growth, and more. The scientists behind one study set out to examine how an amino acid mixture enriched with leucine affected muscle protein metabolism in both young and elderly subjects. They found that ingesting the enriched EAA mixture resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. The mixture of EAAs was 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older individuals on a gram-per-gram basis than was whey protein isolate, which is a very high-quality protein by traditional means of assessment. Another study showed that a specifically formulated EAA supplement decreased loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with bed rest and recovery from hip replacement. This is especially relevant when it comes to preventing muscle loss associated with aging, as older individuals are more likely to experience extended hospitalization and more likely to suffer adverse consequences from the inactivity imposed by hospital stays. Yet another study demonstrated that daily supplementation with EAAs improved muscle mass and function in healthy, active elderly women. The authors wanted to determine whether essential amino acid supplementation improves post-absorptive muscle protein fractional synthesis rate, lean body mass, muscle strength, and other physiological processes. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial found that ingesting the essential amino acid blend stimulated the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate as well as IGF-1 protein expression. Overall, the authors concluded that EAA supplementation improved lean body mass as well as muscle protein synthesis and that it could be a means of offsetting the "debilitating effects" of age-related sarcopenia. [infographic] 5 Science-Backed Ways EAAs Offset Age-Related Muscle Loss Researchers have shown that an amino acid blend enriched with leucine resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. An essential amino acid blend proved 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis than whey protein isolate. An EAA supplement reduced losses of muscle mass and strength related to bed rest. Daily supplementation with EAAs can improve muscle mass and function. Studies show that EAAs can improve lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis, making them a possible means of treating age-related sarcopenia. [/infographic] Key Takeaways to Help You Remain Healthy and Vital as You Age Experts from across the globe agree that both the loss of muscle mass and the loss of muscle strength are highly prevalent and important risk factors for disability and potential mortality as individuals age. This makes identifying treatments for age-related muscle loss a key priority when it comes not only to improving average life expectancy for older people, but also reducing health care costs and enhancing overall quality of life. Ensuring an optimal protein intake will form a foundational part of any successful strategy for maintaining muscle mass (and bone density!) as you age. The kind of protein you eat will be just as impactful as the amount. Leucine, an EAA and BCAA found in certain protein sources, makes uniquely significant contributions to the muscle maintenance and growth processes within the human body. Consuming amino acid supplements designed to contain higher concentrations of leucine (as well as certain other helper amino acids) can dramatically influence your body's ability to retain and increase lean muscle mass as you age. The difference between the effectiveness of EAAs and intact protein cannot be made up just by consuming more of the intact protein, because the optimal profile of EAAs will never be achieved with intact protein. If you're interested in learning more about the advantages of essential amino acid supplements compared to dietary protein sources, this article is an excellent place to start. And if you'd like a quick takeaway in a nutshell, here it is: when it comes to amino acids for muscle loss with aging, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

Key Takeaways to Help You Remain Healthy and Vital as You Age

Experts from across the globe agree that both the loss of muscle mass and the loss of muscle strength are highly prevalent and important risk factors for disability and potential mortality as individuals age. This makes identifying treatments for age-related muscle loss a key priority when it comes not only to improving average life expectancy for older people, but also reducing health care costs and enhancing overall quality of life.

Ensuring an optimal protein intake will form a foundational part of any successful strategy for maintaining muscle mass (and bone density!) as you age. The kind of protein you eat will be just as impactful as the amount. Leucine, an EAA and BCAA found in certain protein sources, makes uniquely significant contributions to the muscle maintenance and growth processes within the human body.

Consuming amino acid supplements designed to contain higher concentrations of leucine (as well as certain other helper amino acids) can dramatically influence your body’s ability to retain and increase lean muscle mass as you age.

The difference between the effectiveness of EAAs and intact protein cannot be made up just by consuming more of the intact protein, because the optimal profile of EAAs will never be achieved with intact protein. If you’re interested in learning more about the advantages of essential amino acid supplements compared to dietary protein sources, this article is an excellent place to start.

And if you’d like a quick takeaway in a nutshell, here it is: when it comes to amino acids for muscle loss with aging, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

Evidence Shows Using Amino Acids for Surgery Recovery Leads to Improved Outcomes

Injury and surgery place a similar type of stress on the body, and essential amino acid therapy can help mitigate this stress and accelerate muscle recovery. An essential amino acid supplement with abundant leucine can slow the net loss of muscle protein.

Surgery can be a life-saving necessity, but it places significant strain on the human body. Developing a proactive plan for navigating the post-surgery healing process can help surgical patients avoid—or at least mitigate the effects of—pitfalls such as protein-energy malnutrition, the loss of lean body mass, and systemic inflammation. High-quality scientific research indicates that essential amino acids can offset the physical stress caused by surgery and accelerate the recovery process. To understand the benefits of amino acids for surgery recovery, you must first have an understanding of the role amino acids play in the body.

Dietary supplements of essential amino acids are the most important aspect of nutritional therapy for recovery from injury or surgery.

It’s no secret that amino acids make vital contributions to your overall health and well-being, particularly when it comes to the growth and repair of muscle tissue.

There are two general types of amino acids: essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids. Both are necessary, but because your body can produce nonessential amino acids, you do not need to monitor your intake in the same way you must do for essential amino acids that must be obtained either from the food you eat or from supplements.

Researchers have found that a subgroup of essential amino acids called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) increase the body’s ability to  synthesize protein, regulate the rate of muscle tissue breakdown, repair muscle tissue, and transport fuel into muscle cells.

The Toll Surgery Takes on the Body

Think of surgery as a controlled injury. If you are hurt in a car crash, for example, you can go from perfectly healthy to seriously injured in a matter of seconds. The same is often true in the case of surgery.

When going in for elective surgery, you typically feel fine as the anesthesia is administered, but when you wake up, you feel roughly as if a truck ran over you. And even if an underlying pathological condition necessitates surgery, the stress of the surgery itself increases the challenge of rehabilitation.

Although the exact nature of the stress on the body may differ, the body’s response to either the controlled injury of surgery or an uncontrolled injury involves the same fundamental elements. The path to recovery can be nearly identical whether you are healing from an injury or from surgery.

Why People Lose Muscle Mass and Function During Recovery

Whether you are severely injured or recuperating from surgery, one thing’s for sure—you are going to lose muscle mass and function. It’s inevitable. Recovery requires some degree of inactivity, and inactivity means the muscles aren’t maximizing their movement and performance capabilities. This makes a decline in muscle mass and function inescapable. What you can control, however, is the degree of decline. It does not have to be substantial (more on that in a moment).

The detrimental effects of inactivity on muscle mass and function are well established. If you’ve ever had a broken limb put in a cast, you’ve seen the effects firsthand. When it’s time to remove the cast, you’re greeted with the startling withered look of a limb unused. Even if you have been working out the rest of your body, the limb that has remained inactive will show visible signs of decline. An event such as heart surgery that physically limits activity has the same effect as casting a broken limb but on the whole-body level.

The muscle loss triggered by inactivity is amplified by your body’s overall physiological response to injury, which we call the catabolic state. A catabolic state occurs in response to severe injury or illness and is characterized by whole-body protein loss, mainly due to increased breakdown of muscle proteins. The catabolic state can last anywhere from a week to several months.

Anyone who is interested in muscle building for functional or aesthetic reasons knows that failure to consume an adequate supply of nutrients—in particular, protein—slows the body’s rate of muscle protein synthesis, resulting in the loss of a certain amount of muscle. When your body enters the catabolic state, the loss of muscle mass and strength occurs at a much faster rate than it occurs in the absence of key nutrients.

The Physiological Processes Behind Muscle Loss

The simplest way to encapsulate the processes that result in muscle loss is to state that when the rate of muscle protein breakdown exceeds the rate of muscle protein synthesis, we lose muscle mass. Our bodies just can’t make enough new muscle protein to offset the rapid rate of muscle breakdown.

When our bodies enter a catabolic state, the rate of muscle protein breakdown shoots way up. It is not unusual for the rate of protein breakdown to increase by more than threefold!

A large increase in the rate of protein breakdown releases a flood of amino acids into the muscle cells. This increased availability of amino acids stimulates the rate of muscle protein synthesis. Unfortunately, the increased synthesis is not enough to balance the increase in breakdown. The net result is a large increase in the loss of muscle protein.

How Hormones and Inflammation Drive the Catabolic State

The catabolic state following surgery, injury, or illness stems from a variety of underlying factors.

First, a flood of stress hormones, most prominently epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol, activate the sympathetic nervous system. You have likely heard this referred to as the fight-or-flight response.

Next, inflammation kicks in. There are two types of inflammation, and their impact on the body is quite distinct. Local, acute inflammation arises at the site of injury or surgery. This type of inflammation can be quite beneficial in the early phase of wound healing. When local inflammation lingers too long, however, it can begin to inhibit tissue repair.

Systemic inflammation, also called long-term, chronic inflammation, has no identifiable benefits. In fact, this type of inflammation can escalate the catabolic state in the whole body, increasing the severity of associated muscle loss.

To better understand the impact systemic inflammation can have on the body, let’s examine that process in the context of a severe burn injury to the leg. A local response at the site of tissue injury would result in a decline in muscle protein synthesis and a loss of muscle mass and strength to the injured leg. A systemic response, however, disrupts muscle protein metabolism in the unburned leg to nearly the same extent as it does in the leg that sustained the severe burn injury.

Furthermore, the consequences of a catabolic state extend beyond muscle loss. Your appetite decreases, making it more difficult to consume the nutrients required to fuel muscle protein synthesis. Metabolic changes transpire, too, such as reduced sensitivity to the action of the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance may persist for months after other symptoms of the catabolic state have resolved.

Using Amino Acid Therapy to Help Your Body Heal

Loss of muscle mass and strength after injury or surgery delays recovery and an individual’s return to normal activity. In severe cases, or in elderly individuals with little reserve, muscle loss can be a direct contributor to mortality.

In all cases of injury and surgery, the speed and extent of recovery to normal functional capacity is determined in large part by how much muscle has been lost. Injury or surgery causes muscle loss at a rate so fast that consequences can be evident in a matter of days. If you can decrease the amount of muscle you lose, you can accelerate the time it takes you to recover. A balanced essential amino acid supplement can help tremendously with both those goals.

How Essential Amino Acids Decrease Muscle Loss

In order to decrease muscle mass losses during the recovery period, you must counteract the changes to your body’s protein metabolism processes.

After an injury (including the controlled injury of surgery), an alteration in muscle protein metabolism transpires, limiting the normal stimulatory effect of dietary protein on muscle protein synthesis. The lack of responsiveness of muscle protein synthesis to the normal stimulatory effect of dietary protein is called severe anabolic resistance.

The Crucial Role Played by mTOR

Anabolic resistance in the catabolic state occurs because of a molecular factor called mTOR inside the muscle cell. Under normal conditions, mTOR activates muscle protein synthesis, however, anabolic resistance in the catabolic state decreases mTOR activity. In order for muscle protein synthesis to return to optimal levels, mTOR activity must be escalated. Once this occurs, other intracellular molecules involved in initiating protein synthesis respond by escalating their activity levels as well.

So, how do we get mTOR up and running? By supplementing with a complete blend of free essential amino acids formulated with a relatively high proportion of leucine.

Perhaps you’re wondering: why not get leucine from the diet? One of the biggest therapeutic challenges presented by the catabolic state that arises after surgical procedures, injuries, or severe illnesses is reduced appetite. Loss of appetite makes it difficult to take in the dietary protein needed to offset increased muscle protein breakdown and help prevent muscle decline. For many, taking a well-formulated amino acid supplement is a desirable alternative to attempting to eat a sufficient amount of leucine-rich dietary protein.

Then there’s the fact that free leucine activates mTOR more efficiently than leucine contained in intact protein. This is because free leucine does not require digestion and is therefore absorbed more rapidly. Free leucine reaches a higher peak concentration in blood more rapidly than when leucine is consumed as part of an intact dietary protein that must be digested before the constituent amino acids can be absorbed. During the catabolic state, therefore, consuming a mixture of free essential amino acids with abundant leucine slows the net loss of muscle protein more effectively than either intact protein in a meal or meal replacement beverages do.

Once mTOR is activated by leucine, an increased availability of a full balance of all the essential amino acids is necessary to stimulate protein synthesis. Single amino acid therapy with leucine, or a combination of the three BCAAs, just won’t do it. Thus, although leucine is the key to overcoming anabolic resistance, consumption of leucine alone is not sufficient to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Dietary supplements of essential amino acids are the most important aspect of nutritional therapy for recovery from injury or surgery.

In addition to providing precursors for making new muscle protein, if enough essential amino acids are consumed, concentrations will rise high enough to inhibit muscle protein breakdown and stimulate protein synthesis.

In this way, essential amino acid nutritional therapy during the recovery period following surgery can help you return to full function by protecting against muscle loss. Taking an essential amino acid supplement can:

  • Activate mTOR
  • Provide amino acid precursors needed to make new muscle
  • Inhibit the breakdown of muscle
  • Improve the net balance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown

A stimulation of muscle protein synthesis and inhibition of muscle protein breakdown is the metabolic basis for restoring muscle mass and strength.

Key Scientific Evidence on Using Amino Acids for Surgery Recovery

Much of the work done on how best to preserve lean body mass in the wake of major surgery has been focused on protein breakdown and amino acid oxidation. The manipulation of hormones involved in the development of the catabolic state, as well as the stimulation of insulin and insulin-growth factors, has also been a major priority.

Decreasing the release of so-called catabolic hormones as well as insulin resistance in post-surgery patients has been shown to both lower rates of whole body protein breakdown as well as to minimize decreases to muscle protein synthesis. A key element of this, researchers have found, is providing the correct balance of nutrients.

According to findings published in Anesthesiology, delivering an infusion of amino acids to patients can actually reverse the catabolic state. Previous studies demonstrated that amino acid infusions can decrease whole body protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis, resulting in a positive protein balance.

A research team led by scientists from the Department of Anesthesia at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal enrolled patients scheduled to undergo colon resection, a surgical procedure that involves a hospital stay. On the second postoperative day, all patients received a solution of 10% amino acids. Levels of whole body leucine and glucose were measured, and blood samples were taken to analyze levels of hormones including cortisol, glucagon, and insulin.

The scientists found that the infusion of amino acids resulted in a positive protein balance as well as other beneficial metabolic effects. Their findings showed that the amino acids suppressed protein breakdown by over 25%, and that 12-16% of amino acids made available from proteolysis were redirected toward protein synthesis. “The infusion of amino acids in the current study caused an average increase in protein balance of 36.7 μmol · kg−1· h−1,” the authors wrote. They concluded that even the short-term use of amino acids after surgery can inhibit protein breakdown while stimulating protein synthesis.

A separate study carried out by a team based in Oregon and published in the June 28, 2018 issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery focused specifically on how amino acids impact post-surgical muscle volume loss.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial enrolled adult patients undergoing total knee arthroplasty (TKA), also known as total knee replacement surgery. The authors’ goal was to determine whether supplementing with amino acids during the perioperative period—which includes time spent in the hospital prior to as well as after surgery—can mitigate muscle atrophy.

Study participants ingested either 20 grams of essential amino acids (EAAs) or a placebo twice daily for 7 days prior to their procedures and for 6 weeks following them. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure quadricep and hamstring muscle volume at the time of enrollment and at the study’s conclusion. Data on functional mobility and strength came from patient-reported outcomes.

Compared with the placebo group, participants who took EAAs experienced significantly smaller losses of mean quadriceps muscle volume in the leg on which the operation was performed as well as their other leg. A greater muscle-volume-sparing effect was seen for the hamstrings of individuals who took EAAs than for those in the control group as well. The authors concluded that EAA supplementation is a safe way to reduce the loss of muscle volume for patients undergoing TKA.

Strategies for Preserving Muscle Strength and Function During Recovery

Even if you’re able to use amino acids to alleviate or avoid the the short-term catabolic state that follows physical trauma, your body will enter a depleted state marked by significant muscle loss. This will be evident in overall body weight loss—how many times have you heard that the only good thing about someone’s injury or surgery was that they lost weight?

As recovery continues, the lost weight will be gradually regained. However, without diligent adherence to an exercise and nutrition program, the lost muscle weight will be regained as fat. To return to your daily activities in the best possible health, it is crucial to replace the lost weight with new muscle, not fat. In this article, I go deeper into how amino acids can fuel good weight after a serious illness, injury, or surgery.

For our purposes here, I’ll provide an overview of best practices related to exercise and nutritional strategies to rebuild muscle during recovery.

Be Sure to Prioritize Exercise

At the outset of recovery, your capacity for exercise will be limited. Even so, it is essential to engage in both aerobic and resistance exercise as soon as possible.

Depending on the specifics of your situation, it may be advisable—or even mandatory—for you to engage in a structured physical therapy program. Whether or not that is the case, at some point in your functional recovery process, it will be vital to devise your own approach to reintroducing physical activity.

Aerobic exercise can take any form—walking, elliptical, cycling, swimming, and so on—as long as the option you choose elevates your heart rate to 120 beats per minute or above. As you regain your fitness, your speed and the amount of distance you cover will increase.

Some moderate stretching may also be needed to regain range of motion. As strength returns, work up to the recommended guideline of 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise. However, because most of your cardio output recovery will be walking as opposed to more strenuous aerobic activity, it’s advisable to increase to 5 hours per week of aerobic exercise in addition to resistance sessions.

Resistance exercise is the most important type of exercise for rebuilding muscle. Machines are optimal for resistance workouts, particularly at the outset. The loss of muscle function in the catabolic state impairs coordination, and the possibility of injury is greater with free weights. Machines provide specificity in terms of the muscles involved in any exercise, and this may be of particular importance when addressing specific areas affected by injury or surgery.

The weight lifted should be progressively increased as strength returns. Most individuals will find that they regain lost strength in a shorter period of time than that required to originally gain that strength. The amount of resistance used should be adjusted accordingly. A general guideline is to increase the resistance by 10% per week, but progress may be more rapid in the first few weeks of recovery.

Make a Post-Surgery Nutrition Plan

Nutrition plays a crucial role in recovery. Eating a balanced diet featuring ample high-quality protein is essential. However, that alone will not ensure you regain more muscle than fat.

The single most important aspect of nutritional therapy during the recovery period will be essential amino acid supplementation.

Essential amino acids are the active components of dietary proteins. Balanced essential amino acid supplements stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than any naturally occurring protein food source.

Essential amino acid supplements work synergistically with exercise to provide a greater stimulus than either produces on its own. To maximize the beneficial effects of each element, you should take essential amino acids 30 minutes before an exercise session as well as immediately following the session.

When consuming essential amino acids without accompanying physical activity, the greatest effect will be when taken between meals. That said, there is no wrong time to take an essential amino acid supplement. If you miss the optimal dosing window, simply take your EAA supplement at your earliest opportunity.

For more information on a balanced amino acid supplement created for recovery after injury or surgery, check out our Amino Company blends.

Sarcopenia: What Is It and What Can We Do About It?

Once age-related muscle loss becomes severe the condition is labeled sarcopenia. About 30% of people become sarcopenic. Adverse health consequences can result from even a modest loss of muscle.

It’s inevitable. We lose muscle mass and strength as we get older. And once age-related muscle loss becomes severe, the condition is labeled sarcopenia. About 30% of people become sarcopenic as they age. Although not technically accurate, sarcopenia has also become an umbrella term to refer to the general loss of muscle with aging.

Once someone has lost a significant amount of muscle, the functions of daily living are seriously affected. In fact, adverse health consequences can result from even a modest loss of muscle.

Consequences of Loss of Muscle Mass and Strength with Aging

There is widespread recognition that both muscle mass and strength are lost with aging. However, the physiologic significance of this loss is often underappreciated. It is well recognized that you can’t run as fast or hit a golf ball as far when you get older. If this loss of muscle strength becomes severe, basic activities can be affected, and this can have significant adverse effects on quality of life as well as much broader health implications.

Recent research has made clear that a significant loss of muscle mass and/or strength increases your risk of cardiovascular events and decreases your likelihood of surviving various diseases, including cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Low muscle mass also negatively impacts bone health and recovery from major surgery.

Muscle is at the core of each of these health problems because it’s the amino acid supply line for other tissues and organs in your body. When tissues and organs need an increased supply of amino acids for various stressors—to battle infection, repair wounds, control vascular function, balance metabolic processes, etc.—the amino acids are mobilized from the muscle tissue. Muscle also plays a role in maintaining a healthy energy balance.

Age-Related Muscle Loss Begins Before You Realize It

Quite often, people don’t recognize that they’ve lost muscle mass and function until they’re 70 years of age or older. This oversight is particularly noticeable in older adults who don’t participate in any organized recreational activities, as they don’t experience quantitative feedback on their performance.

It’s also not easy to recognize either the long- or short-term problems caused by loss of muscle mass and function. What’s the reason for this? It has to do with a phenomenon known as the “threshold effect.”

Here’s how it works: Muscle loss starts in some people as early as age 30. By age 50, almost everyone is starting to lose a significant amount of muscle. However, you may not notice this, as your body weight doesn’t change (or may even go up due to increased fat) and you can still comfortably perform your activities of daily living.

Sarcopenia is an umbrella term for general loss of muscle with aging.

As the loss of muscle progresses, basic function and physical activity may still be maintained, often until the onset of a health setback. Muscle loss occurs even faster when there’s a serious illness, injury, or surgery.

When the normal age-related rate of muscle loss is combined with the accelerated loss that occurs in response to a health crisis, physical function may be affected to the point where you suddenly notice a problem. The “threshold” has been reached.

It’s Easier to Prevent Muscle Loss than to Regain Lost Muscle

Exercise is key to maintaining muscle mass as you age. Indeed, research has demonstrated the benefits of strength training in the treatment of sarcopenia and shown that resistance exercise can increase muscle strength and help slow the progression of muscle atrophy.

How exactly does resistance exercise work? In essence, through the use of resistance bands or even one’s own body weight, small tears are created in muscle fibers. These fibers then undergo repair via the fusing together of satellite cells (found on the outside of the fibers). This process results in both muscle growth and greater strength and lean body mass.

However, if a significant amount of muscle atrophy has already occurred, you’re limited in the amount of exercise you’re able to perform. In addition, since the muscle tissue has been depleted, certain metabolic changes take place that make it less receptive to the beneficial effects of essential amino acids. This is called anabolic resistance.

Anabolic Resistance

The metabolic basis for this muscle wasting with aging lies in the fact that, over time, we break down more muscle than we build up. In other words, the rate of muscle protein breakdown exceeds the rate of muscle protein synthesis. What’s particularly interesting is that in the post-absorptive state (between meals), the rates of muscle protein synthesis and breakdown do not change with aging.

However, when dietary protein is consumed, a diminished amount of protein synthesis occurs. Normal protein nutrition is not as effective in older adults as it is in younger people. In fact, the same amount of dietary protein results in twice the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis in young individuals as it does in older, healthy individuals. And the lower protein diets often seen in older adults only compound this problem.

This dampened response, or anabolic resistance, is the principle reason why we lose muscle as we age. The situation is even more pronounced if an older person is under some kind of physical stress. Even a case of the flu will make anabolic resistance worse, and more serious diseases like cancer take an even greater toll.

Treating Anabolic Resistance and Sarcopenia with Hormone Therapy

The hormonal changes that occur with aging also act as a risk factor for accelerated muscle loss. This is particularly true for men, as testosterone is the primary anabolic hormone in this group, and the concentration of testosterone in the blood decreases with age.

Growth hormone secretion also shuts off virtually completely in both men and women as they age. This decline in turn affects the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which acts on immature muscle cells (muscle fibers) to increase muscle mass and plays an important role in muscle maintenance and repair (and insulin resistance, as the name suggests).

Although the debate is ongoing, some (but not all) evidence also indicates that the decrease in growth hormone plays a role in muscle loss with aging. As a result, testosterone therapy (for men) and growth hormone therapy (for both men and women) are used by some to counteract the loss of muscle mass and strength with aging. While this can be effective, hormone therapy needs to be closely monitored, as side effects are possible.

Treating Anabolic Resistance and Sarcopenia with Diet

Dietary supplementation, mostly with protein-enhanced beverages, has been marketed and used as therapy for sarcopenia in older individuals. The general idea here is to increase protein intake and help prevent the unintentional weight loss common in older adults by providing high-quality supplements like whey protein (since the typical diet is lacking in sufficient protein).

However, intact protein supplements (those containing whole proteins, with their strings of individual amino acids connected to one another, as opposed to the separated amino acids found in free-form amino acid supplements) have not proven to be consistently helpful in reversing muscle loss in older individuals.

The problem, as referred to above, is anabolic resistance. The normal action of dietary protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis is, again, diminished in older adults. Consequently, the use of protein supplements will not result in reversal of the loss of muscle mass and function seen in older adults.

However, there are several other dietary changes you can make that have been proven to affect muscle mass and strength.

Mediterranean Diet

Chronic inflammation has been implicated in the loss of muscle mass and strength that characterizes sarcopenia. This is because chronic low-grade inflammation affects both the breakdown of protein and muscle protein synthesis.

When you eat foods containing refined carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fats, they can trigger the immune system’s release of special proteins known as cytokines, which affect communication between cells. Cytokines can work to either reduce inflammation or increase it. When you consume foods like white bread, French fries, donuts, and processed meats, pro-inflammatory cytokines are released.

As the name suggests, pro-inflammatory cytokines contribute to inflammatory processes in the body. Over time, these same cytokines can play a role in creating a chronic inflammatory state, which has been implicated in diseases such as cancer, coronary artery and liver disease, diabetes, stroke, and atherosclerosis as well as degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis and sarcopenia.

However, diets high in fruits, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and fish have been shown in multiple studies to reduce levels of inflammation in the body. And one diet that has become well known for its track record of fighting inflammation is the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet is characterized by:

  • High consumption of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
  • Moderate consumption of red wine, fish, poultry, cheese, yogurt, and eggs
  • Low consumption of red meat, processed foods, and seeds

Vitamin D

While most of us are probably familiar with vitamin D’s role in promoting bone health, its role in preventing and treating muscle weakness and sarcopenia may be less well known.

In fact, vitamin D has been shown to decrease muscle inflammation and increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis, size and number of fast-twitch muscle fibers (involved in powerful bursts of movement), and skeletal muscle mass and function.

Here are 10 vitamin-D-rich foods to add to your diet.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their ability to help counteract inflammatory processes in the body, but did you know that studies have also shown they have the ability to overcome anabolic resistance and aid in the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia?

In fact, omega-3 fatty acids have even been shown to increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis, thereby helping to repair damaged muscle tissue and build muscle mass.

Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) and Muscle Loss

In the case of the anabolic resistance and muscle loss that occur with aging, the profile of EAAs in even a high-quality protein is ineffective. That’s because the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis in the presence of anabolic resistance differs from the profile of EAAs in any naturally occurring protein.

However, EAAs make for exceptional dietary supplements because you can precisely formulate them for optimal efficacy in specific circumstances. In fact, daily supplementation with a complete formulation of EAAs has been shown to reverse loss of muscle mass and function with aging more effectively than hormonal therapy, and there’s no risk of adverse side effects, as EAAs are natural (and essential) components of the diet.

EAAs can effectively counteract the various causes of sarcopenia and help protect against age-related muscle loss—even without exercise. In addition, EAAs can amplify the beneficial effects of both resistance training and hormonal therapy, helping to increase skeletal muscle mass, improve body composition, and enhance quality of life.

Beta-Alanine and Carnosine: Which Supplement Should I Take?

Beta-alanine and carnosine have a relationship worth exploring. With all the marketing claims of beta-alanine and carnosine supplements, there’s some confusion. Let’s set the beta-alanine and carnosine record straight.

For supplement connoisseurs, beta-alanine and carnosine have a relationship worth exploring. Carnosine helps you reach peak performance during high-intensity exercise, and beta-alanine helps boost carnosine levels in muscle. With all the marketing claims of beta-alanine supplements and carnosine supplements, there’s quite a bit of confusion in between. Let’s set the beta-alanine and carnosine record straight.

Beta-Alanine and Carnosine’s Relationship

Beta-alanine (also known as b-alanine, β-alanine, and a carnosine precursor) is an amino acid produced in the liver. It differs structurally (but not chemically) from its more abundant counterpart L-alpha-alanine.

L-alpha-alanine is one of the most abundant nonessential amino acids in the body. L-alpha-alanine serves as a constituent of almost all proteins in the body and plays an important role in shuttling nitrogen—released as a byproduct of amino acid degradation in muscle—to the liver. The liver then incorporates some of the L-alpha-alanine into proteins, and the leftover L-alpha-alanine serves as a precursor for the production of urea, which is then excreted in urine.

In contrast to L-alpha-alanine, beta-alanine is not credited with serving any direct role in the body. Beta-alanine is neither a component of body protein nor does it play a role in metabolic regulation (the process by which our cells regulate every chemical process required for life). The principal role of beta-alanine is to combine with the amino acid histidine to form the peptide carnosine. Benefits of beta-alanine on exercise performance are attributed to its role in the production of carnosine in muscle.

What Science Tells Us About Carnosine

Found in abundance in meat, poultry, and fish, carnosine (sometimes referred to as L-carnosine) is a dipeptide composed of two amino acids, beta-alanine and L-histidine, hooked together. A non-enzymatic free radical scavenger and natural antioxidant, carnosine mainly hangs out in muscle and brain.

Carnosine acts to reduce the rate of formation of a variety of substances that can be factors in the development or exacerbation of diseases including diabetes, atherosclerosis, chronic renal failure, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have found that carnosine can be particularly helpful when it comes to preventing damage caused by excessively high levels of sugar in the body. Both glucose and fructose molecules can bind with proteins, a process known as glycosylation. Not only does this damage the protein molecules, but it also stimulates inflammatory processes throughout the body. In fact, the glycosylation of protein is one of the four major destructive pathways activated by oxidative stress.

The metabolic effects of carnosine have contributed to its reputation as an “anti-aging” nutrient. As with other anti-aging compounds, carnosine levels decline with age. However, your carnosine intake affects the levels of carnosine in your muscle cells and throughout your body more than any other factor, including your age.

Carnosine helps you reach peak performance during high-intensity exercise, and beta-alanine helps boost carnosine levels in muscle.

How Carnosine Impacts Exercise

We’ve known for more than 50 years that carnosine functions as a buffer against acid produced in muscles during high-intensity exercise. The importance of carnosine as a buffer is debated, but there is a consensus that increasing muscle carnosine concentrations improves exercise performance during high-intensity activities. It is important, however, to understand the relationship between acid/base balance and exercise in order to appreciate the limit of circumstances in which carnosine in both Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibers extends its benefits.

When you engage in high-intensity exercise, hydrogen ions begin to accumulate in your muscle fibers. This leads to an increase in acid production and drop in intramuscular pH, which adversely impacts your performance.

Can you recall the burning sensation you feel in your muscles when you sprint? The feeling that tells you it will be impossible to sustain that level of exertion for longer than a few minutes? That’s the result of lactic acid accumulation.

If lactic acid were to build up in exercises of the non-high-intensity variety, such as endurance sports, there would be no endurance athletes, as a buildup of lactic acid cannot be sustained beyond a short period of time. A consequence of this effect is that even competitive endurance exercise is performed below the “lactic acid threshold,” or the level of exercise intensity that can be performed without any buildup of lactic acid. For example, lactic acid levels remain close to the minimal level throughout a marathon. The action of carnosine on buffering acid production in muscle can, therefore, only be expected to be of significant benefit during high-intensity exercise. This may be why the body innately produces higher concentrations of carnosine in the fast-twitch, Type 2 muscle fibers that power you through rapid, explosive movements.

Research indicates that boosting muscle carnosine synthesis can reduce the acidity in active muscles during high-intensity exercise. A Belgian research team examined how muscle carnosine content affects fatigue experienced by trained sprinters during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts. Their placebo-controlled, double-blind study found that increased levels of carnosine significantly decreased fatigue during repeated bouts of exhaustive dynamic contractions.

In addition to its buffering capacity, carnosine has several other physiological effects that can improve your athletic performance.

As I stated earlier, carnosine has impressive antioxidant properties. Levels of a type of free radical called reactive oxygen species (ROS) can spike during exercise, which some believe may increase muscle fatigue. Carnosine can help to flush those free radicals from your muscles, which may lower fatigue levels.

Carnosine also influences enzyme regulation related to activation of myosin ATPase your body uses to maintain ATP stores. As you may know, your body generates energy from its ATP (adenosine triphosphate) stores.

Research-Backed Benefits of Beta-Alanine

The primary focus of research conducted to date on beta-alanine supplementation has been the effect of beta-alanine on physical performance and body composition.

Carnosine helps you reach peak performance during high-intensity exercise, and beta-alanine helps boost carnosine levels in muscle.

The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on muscular endurance has the most research behind it. At least eight high-quality studies have shown that beta-alanine can lead to a significant increase in muscular endurance.

According to a double-blind trial published in Amino Acids, a peer-reviewed journal, after 28 days of beta-alanine supplementation, participants experienced less muscle fatigue and had a greater workload capacity at peak exhaustion.

The beneficial effects of beta-alanine supplementation on power output have also been well-documented. The authors of a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine had participants complete a resistance-training program while taking 4.8 grams of beta-alanine daily for 30 days. They found that this level of beta-alanine supplementation resulted in impressive gains as measured both by power output and work volume. One particularly indicative finding: at the end of the trial, participants who supplemented with beta-alanine could perform 22% more repetitions at 70% of their one-repetition maximum than those in the placebo group.

Beta-alanine can also influence your body composition by encouraging fat loss and stimulating muscle growth.

According to a double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted by researchers from the Human Performance and Physical Education Department at Adams State College in Colorado, beta-alanine supplementation can lead to the loss of fat mass without accompanying decreases to muscle mass.

The authors of a separate double-blind trial looked at the results of combining beta-alanine supplementation with high-intensity exercise. Participants who supplemented with beta-alanine while engaged in 6 weeks of high-intensity interval training benefited from a number of improvements that the placebo group who carried out the same training regimen did not, including increased lean body mass.

Beta-alanine supplementation can also enhance your anaerobic capacity, which has major implications for endurance performance. When you run, swim, cycle, or carry out any other form of aerobic exercise at a fast speed for a long enough period of time, your body will reach a point at which it’s consuming the maximum amount of oxygen it can. This is the moment when your anaerobic capacity comes into play. The greater the capacity of your muscles to work anaerobically—without the addition of more oxygen—the faster and longer you’ll be able to sustain that pace.

Findings published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and elsewhere have shown that beta alanine supplementation can positively affect your anaerobic capacity. This effect appears to stem from improved muscular endurance and reduced fatigue rather than cardiopulmonary interactions.

A number of studies have found that beta-alanine can help you exert yourself at a higher rate for longer periods of time while preventing fatigue. One study published in Nutrition Research showed that beta-alanine supplementation can lead to measurable decreases in fatigue rates, particularly when participants were working at maximum capacity. Subjective feelings of soreness and fatigue were also lower for the participants taking beta-alanine supplements than for those in the placebo group.

A separate double-blind, placebo-controlled study specifically examined how beta-alanine affects neuromuscular fatigue. The study’s authors enrolled participants with an average age of approximately 73, since the aging process depletes skeletal muscle carnosine content, which has been linked to a reduced muscular buffering capacity that then results in increased rates of fatigue. The authors found that beta-alanine markedly delayed the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and led to significant increases—28.6%—to participants’ physical working capacity at the fatigue threshold.

The Pros and Cons of Carnosine Supplements

Carnosine supplements are available from a variety of sources and marketed as being able to slow the aging process and help prevent and treat complications of diabetes. Carnosine supplementation is also advocated as a treatment for cardiometabolic health and cognitive function.

Despite the multitude of beneficial effects credited to carnosine in the body, there are limitations to its value as a nutritional supplement. Orally ingested carnosine is rapidly broken down to its component amino acids (beta-alanine and histidine). Plus, scientists have repeatedly found evidence of poor intestinal absorption of carnosine. For example, one study found large amounts of carnosine—up to 14% of the ingested dose—in participants’ urine 5 hours after they had ingested it.

Furthermore, a diet of beef, pork, and chicken is rich in carnosine, and the amount of carnosine recommended for a dietary supplement (1 gram per day) adds an insignificant amount to the total daily intake for meat eaters. Therefore, carnosine supplementation is not an effective way to increase the amount of carnosine in muscle. In the case of a vegetarian diet, carnosine supplementation may play a more prominent role in maintaining carnosine concentration in muscle.

Why Most People Benefit More from Beta-Alanine Supplements

The production of carnosine in muscle is limited by the availability of beta-alanine. As a result, dietary supplementation with beta-alanine is advocated as the most effective way to increase carnosine levels in muscle. The International Society of Sports Nutrition has issued a position statement on the effectiveness of beta-alanine as a nutritional supplement to raise muscle carnosine levels. The highlights of this report are as follows:

  1. Four weeks of consuming 4-6 grams of beta-alanine daily significantly increases muscle carnosine levels.
  2. Beta-alanine supplements appear to be safe.
  3. Tingling is the only reported side effect.
  4. Daily supplementation with 4-6 grams of beta-alanine improves high-intensity exercise performance in events lasting 1-4 minutes.
  5. Daily supplementation with beta-alanine may reduce the impact of neuromuscular fatigue in older subjects.
  6. Combining beta-alanine supplements with other supplements (such as essential amino acids) may be beneficial.

Carnosine Supplementation vs. Beta Alanine Supplementation: The Bottom Line

Carnosine can act as a buffer in muscle, thereby lessening the effects of excess acidity resulting from high-intensity exercise. This effect can improve high-intensity exercise performance but is unlikely to have much effect on endurance exercise. Other beneficial effects have been proposed (although not proven). Carnosine supplementation is ineffective in increasing the amount of carnosine in muscle because it is broken down to its constituent amino acids before tissue uptake can occur.

Beta-alanine is not known to have any direct physiological role but is the rate-limiting factor for carnosine synthesis. Studies have shown that beta-alanine supplementation can increase muscle carnosine content, and therefore, the buffering capacity of your muscles. This can result in significant improvements to physical performance as well as body composition.

Carnosine helps you reach peak performance during high-intensity exercise, and beta-alanine helps boost carnosine levels in muscle.

If you’re seeking to benefit from increased concentrations of carnosine, supplementing with carnosine itself is not the best way to achieve that goal. Instead, you’ll see far more profound effects from beta-alanine supplementation.