Understanding Autophagy: Loose Skin, Chronic Disease and Cancer—Some Scientists Say It Could Be the Key to Treating and Preventing All of These 

Maximize the ability of autophagy, a cellular cleansing process, to prevent loose skin after weight loss, chronic diseases, and even cancer. Read on to learn about the science behind autophagy as well as how it can help those on weight-loss journeys.

Autophagy (pronounced ah-TAH-fuh-gee), a medical term, describes a regenerative cellular process that decreases your risk of developing a multitude of serious diseases, extends your lifespan, and improves your overall health and well-being. In some circles, there’s particularly intense interest in the impact of autophagy on loose skin following weight loss, a frustrating side effect that can require surgery to address.

Read on to learn about the science behind autophagy as well as how it can help those on weight-loss journeys.

What Is Autophagy?

In simple terms, the concept of autophagy can be defined as follows: without external nutrients, the body begins to consume itself. The term comes from the Greek words “auto” meaning self and “phage” meaning to eat.

While this may sound like the premise for a horror movie, it can be incredibly beneficial. During the process of autophagy, specialized membranes seek out cells that are dead, damaged, or diseased and use their component parts for energy or to make new cells.

“Think of it as our body’s innate recycling program,” said Dr. Colin Champ, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in an interview. Other experts have summed it up as “cellular housekeeping” or “cellular quality control.”

Though Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve originated the term “autophagy” in 1963, much of what we now know about this vital process was not discovered until well into the 2000s. In fact, pioneering Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won a Nobel Prize for his investigations into the mechanisms of autophagy in 2016. Scientists working in the field, however, caution that what we currently don’t know about autophagy would fill far more books than what we do.

7 Proven Benefits of Autophagy

Autophagy plays a fundamental and essential role in overall cellular function by recycling disused or dysfunctional components that, if left in place, can become problematic. By doing so, autophagy can prevent the development of several types of diseases. Here are 7 proven ways autophagy benefits your health.

1. Decrease Systemic Inflammation

A 2017 review published in Clinical and Translational Medicine states that “increasing evidence” demonstrates autophagy can help to prevent the development of inflammatory diseases.

“Autophagy plays critical roles in inflammation through influencing the development, homeostasis and survival of inflammatory cells, including macrophages, neutrophils and lymphocytes; effecting the transcription, processing and secretion of a number of cytokines, as well as being regulated by cytokines,” the authors state. Essentially, this means that autophagy helps to ensure that all the cells regulating your body’s inflammatory processes are working properly.

The authors go on to say that studies suggest autophagy’s positive influence on inflammatory cells offers promise as a therapeutic intervention for diseases linked to inflammation, including:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Obstructive pulmonary disease

2. Treat Neurodegenerative Diseases

Findings published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, a leading journal in its field, point to autophagy as a way to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.

As we’ve established, autophagy repurposes cellular components, including misfolded proteins. The accumulation of misfolded proteins is believed to cause symptoms of many neurodegenerative diseases to worsen. So, by preventing that, autophagy can mitigate the severity of those diseases.

3. Safeguard Mental Health

Some research has shown that when autophagy does not occur with sufficient frequency, your mental health can be negatively impacted.

A study published in Molecular Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal, looked at the connection between autophagy and mental health. When they analyzed the brains of schizophrenia patients, the authors found clear reductions in post-mortem levels of proteins that control autophagy. They determined that the direct association between autophagy and the progression of schizophrenia could offer a pathway to new methods of treatment.

4. Increase Longevity

A review published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation claims that inducing autophagy can counteract cellular aging processes and enhance the metabolic activity of your cells, resulting in increased longevity.

This claim stems from experimental findings, and it’s not yet clear exactly how autophagy increases anti-aging activity and extends life spans, though studies with mice have shown that to be the case.

5. Suppress Tumor Growth

It’s clear that the process of autophagy is intimately linked to the development of cancer, but exactly what effect it has on tumor initiation and development remains somewhat murky.

Per a review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, “Many studies have found that autophagy plays dual roles in cell survival and cell death in the context of tumor initiation and development.” The authors elaborate that while autophagy has been shown to suppress tumor formation in certain instances, it also seems to contribute to cancer progression by supplying nutrients to cancer cells in others.

More research is needed to fully understand how to harness the power of autophagy to prevent cancer. In the future, however, the authors believe it could be “a potentially effective therapeutic strategy in anticancer therapy.”

6. Support Maintenance of a Healthy Weight

Some of what we know about autophagy comes from research in what happens in its absence. For instance, a study done with mice and published in Cell Metabolism found that deleting an essential autophagy gene led to higher body weights, increased fat mass, and higher rates of glucose intolerance.

According to the authors, these findings indicate that an autophagy deficiency may play a role in the development of obesity.

7. Prevent Sagging Skin Post-Weight Loss

Though this benefit does not have rigorous scientific support, solid anecdotal evidence indicates that autophagy can help those who have lost weight—particularly, individuals who have lost a lot of weight—from needing skin removal surgeries. Dr. Jason Fung, a nephrologist who specializes in research into fasting, has developed a program designed to help people successfully lose weight and reverse conditions linked to weight gain, such as type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and fatty liver.

“We’ve never sent a single person for skin-removal surgery,” said Dr. Fung in an interview. “We have anecdotal cases where people have lost 120, 130 pounds, and they said their skin also shrank, too.”

Fung believes this happens because the body harvests the protein contained in excess skin. “Remember, during fasting, you’re activating a pathway within your body that says, ‘Okay, we need to buckle down because we’re in a time of famine, so to speak, and we don’t need all that extra skin, so let’s burn it. And if you need it, we’ll build it again.’”

How to Increase the Efficacy of Autophagy for Loose Skin

Is It Possible to Trigger Autophagy?

Though it has not yet been definitively proved that it’s possible to trigger autophagy in humans, studies done with animals indicate that fasting and calorie restriction may be means of inducing autophagy.

A literature review published in Ageing Research Reviews in 2018 found that “the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that autophagy is induced in a wide variety of tissues and organs in response to food deprivation.” In other words, there’s a very high likelihood that if you fast, autophagy will occur.

Studies done with mice have historically delineated 24 hours as the marker for when autophagy sets in, but it’s not clear whether the same would hold true for humans. Dr. Fung believes that autophagy most likely sets in during the later stages of an extended fast, “somewhere around 20 to 24 hours is my guess, and it probably maxes out somewhere around 32 hours, again, my best guess.”

While scientists have yet to agree upon a surefire way to trigger autophagy, this process does occur naturally, though it’s unclear how frequently or extensively it takes place without outside stimulus. Fasting, exercise, and other forms of physiological stress seems to cause the process to accelerate.

However, it’s quite challenging to measure autophagy (technically, what would be measured would be termed autophagic flux) in humans, as it requires tracking the levels of minuscule proteins, including protein 1A and LC3.

Does Autophagy Have Any Negative Effects?

While autophagy clearly has a host of remarkable benefits, it can cause problems too. An article published in PLOS Biology termed it a “double-edged sword.”

Author Andrew Thorburn of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine explained that “autophagy’s effects may work for both the good and the bad of an organism.” When it comes to conditions like treating bacterial infections, autophagy sometimes leads to improvement and sometimes causes conditions to worsen. According to Thorburn, using autophagy effectively will require a better understanding of which cells it degrades and under what circumstances.

It’s important to note as well that using fasting as a method for inducing autophagy comes with its own risks. There are no universal medical recommendations at this time, but most experts agree that extended fasts—going without food for 36-, 48-, or even a full 72 hour-fast—should only be undertaken by those in good health. Extended fasting should not be done too frequently either. As a general rule, it should only be undertaken 2 or 3 times annually. Confer with a trusted doctor before embarking on a fast to make sure it’s safe for you.

If you have previously engaged in unhealthy food restrictions behaviors or have been diagnosed with an eating disorder like anorexia, it’s likely best to avoid fasting.

Expert Advice on Triggering Autophagy

Because autophagy is a stress response, to intentionally trigger it, you will have to endure some discomfort. “It’s our ancestral and evolutionary response to dealing with feast and famine in times of stress,” said Dr. Champ.

If you’d like to try triggering autophagy, one of these three methods is a good place to start.

1. Enter a State of Ketosis

If the idea of fasting feels daunting or there are reasons you should avoid it, evidence shows you can also activate autophagy by entering ketosis. By restricting your carbohydrate intake and increasing your fat intake, you can shift your body into a state in which it uses fat rather than carbs as its primary source of fuel. This is the scientific basis for the immensely popular high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, commonly abbreviated as the keto diet.

In order to adhere to the keto diet, you’ll need to keep your carbohydrate intake at no more than 5% of your total calories, your protein intake between 20% and 30%, and your fat percentage at between 60% and 70%.

Studies have shown that entering ketosis can bring about significant fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Other proven medical uses for the keto diet include improving the treatment of epilepsy and other brain conditions (in fact, it was developed to treat epilepsy in children), lowering your risk of diabetes, and assisting your body in defeating cancerous tumors.

According to Champ, “Ketosis is like an autophagy hack. You get a lot of the same metabolic changes and benefits of fasting without actually fasting.”

2. Experiment with Intermittent Fasting

Extended fasts can be grueling, but that may not be necessary in order to spur autophagy.

A Brazilian research team published a research review indicating that intermittent fasting can help increase autophagy, which makes cancer treatments more effective and reduces side effects. They note, however: “Additional studies are required to better understand the molecular mechanisms evoked by fasting, aiming to identify the context in which fasting may be beneficial as an adjunct to cancer treatment.”

In the meantime, it certainly seems worthwhile to give intermittent fasting a try, if for no other reason than the wealth of benefits they mention that have been associated with intermittent fasting, such as an extended lifespan and a lower risk of diseases including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Neurodegenerative conditions

As with extended fasting, there are limitations on who should try intermittent fasting. It’s typically not advisable for children, pregnant women, or individuals with diabetes or other blood sugar issues to follow this fasting protocol.

3. Engage in Regular Exercise

As you may know, exercising creates microscopic tears in your muscles. When your body repairs those tears, that process leads to bigger, stronger muscles. It appears that exercise also increases the rate at which your body carries out autophagy.

A study published in Nature, an international journal of science, found: “Acute exercise induces autophagy in skeletal and cardiac muscle of fed mice.” The authors discovered that after 30 minutes of running on a treadmill, the rate at which mice recycled their own cells via autophagy increased significantly and continued to do so until the 80-minute marker at which point rates leveled out.

Scientists have not yet pinpointed the threshold require for humans to kickstart autophagy. Dr. Daniel Kilonsky, a cellular biologist specializing in autophagy, says that at the moment, it’s proving quite difficult to answer that question.  However, he reminds us that exercise, like intermittent fasting, has many other benefits.

3 Possible Methods for Triggering Autophagy

Additional Advice on Naturally Addressing Loose Skin

If your primary interest in autophagy has to do with its potential role in addressing loose skin following weight loss, you may want to incorporate these other natural methods for resolving loose skin without plastic surgery.

A key aspect of doing so is improving skin elasticity. Without proper elasticity, your skin cannot adapt to physical changes such as weight loss. To maintain or enhance skin elasticity, you’ll need to sustain an adequate supply of collagen.

All the collagen in your body begins as procollagen. To make procollagen, your body uses two amino acids: glycine and proline. Certain nutrients have been shown to increase the rate at which your body produces those amino acids, such as vitamin C, copper, selenium, and zinc.

Citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and raw liver all contain high concentrations of vitamin C. Organ meats are generally high in copper, as are cashews, sesame seeds, lentils, and cocoa powder. You can get plenty of selenium from seafood (salmon in particular) and Brazil nuts, while oysters and red meat are rich in zinc.

Consuming foods high in glycine and proline themselves also boosts procollagen production. Good sources of glycine include gelatin as well as pork and chicken skin, while egg whites, dairy products, wheat germ, mushrooms, asparagus, and cabbage provide lots of proline.

Because your body needs a balanced supply of all the amino acids in order to effectively utilize them, you’ll also want to eat foods with overall high levels of amino acids, like:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Legumes
  • Tofu

Interestingly, eating foods high in collagen, such as bone broth, is not necessarily the best way to raise levels in the body. That’s because when you consume protein, your body breaks it down into its component amino acids.

3 Possible Methods for Triggering Autophagy

When to Take BCAAs: Pre- or Post- Workout? Morning, Noon or Night?

When is the best time to take BCAA supplements: pre-, during, or post-workout? Is it safe to consume them before bed? What about in between meals? We have the science and the answers.

There are many reasons to take protein supplements, and not all of them have to do with working out. Vegetarians and vegans often take them to make sure they’re getting enough plant-based protein. Those recovering from surgery are often on doctor’s orders to consume more protein to help heal faster. Those working to lose weight also find that consuming more protein helps fuel their energy and their weight-loss efforts by curbing hunger and increasing muscle growth. All of the above is even more true for those who consume protein like whey, creatine, or BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) to boost their workout or to build muscle: you need enough protein to function, you need even more protein for recovery, and you need to control your calorie consumption as you aim to bulk up. If you’re new to trying BCAAs, the first question you have after what they are and how do they work is likely to be: when to take BCAAs? We have the best practical advice here.

Muscles, Amino Acids, and BCAAs

Muscles are made out of protein, and protein is made out of amino acids. Specifically, the human body needs all nine essential amino acids (EAAs) to synthesize any new muscle protein. Of those nine essentials (as opposed to the nonessential amino acids that your body can make on its own, meaning it’s not essential to consume them in food), three are branched-chain amino acids, so called because of their molecular structure.

So what are the three BCAAs and why are they singled out for workout supplements? Let’s start with their names.

  • Leucine: This is the amino acid thought to make the biggest difference when it comes to building new muscle proteins.
  • Isoleucine: An isolated form of leucine (hence its name), isoleucine helps regulate blood sugar levels and energy production.
  • Valine: This BCAA is important not only for maintaining muscles but also for supporting immune function.

Together these three aminos make up about 40% of the EAAs in the body, and about 18% of the EAA content of muscle. They are broken down in the skeletal muscles directly instead of in the liver with the majority of the other EAAs, which leads researchers to theorize that they play a more direct part in energy production during exercise. Not only are BCAAs essential building blocks for protein synthesis and muscle growth, but they also positively impact your blood sugar levels and help ward off exercise fatigue.

All of the essential amino acids depreciate more rapidly during exercise due to a protein breakdown process known as catabolism (more on this later). If you are fit, active, and looking to build more muscle, you’ll want to increase protein-rich foods in your diet, which is why taking targeted amino acids like BCAAs is so popular among fitness aficionados.

Muscles, Amino Acids and BCAAs

The Scientifically Proven Benefits of BCAA Supplementation

Here’s a quick rundown on the science behind BCAAs, and why so many professional bodybuilders use them.

1. Increased Muscle Growth

Leucine particularly has been shown time and time again to stimulate new muscle protein synthesis. This 2017 study showed that those taking 5.6 grams of BCAAs post-workout enjoyed an increase in muscle protein synthesis 22% higher than the control group.

2. Decreased Exercise Fatigue and Muscle Soreness

Some fatigue will always be a part of a proper workout: if you’re not at all tired after a workout, you’re probably not doing it right! But exercise fatigue that sets in too soon or when your workout is hardly begun? You may be suffering from a low energy source, and that is where BCAAs can come in swinging.

Studies show that when your BCAA levels decrease, your tryptophan levels increase in the brain. Tryptophan is the amino acid that famously makes a turkey dinner so sleep-inducing. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, and serotonin leads to feelings of fatigue and lethargy.

Because BCAAs are burned up in the muscles during a vigorous workout, making sure your body has more than enough to burn through helps delay exercise fatigue, providing time for a few more reps or a few more steps.

BCAAs can also help mitigate delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), so that you can go strong with more workouts per week because you aren’t still achingly sore from the last one. BCAAs have not only been shown to decrease muscle damage and protein breakdown during workouts, but they also lead to fewer reported instances of delayed onset muscle soreness when tested against a control group.

3. Prevention of Muscle Wasting

While muscle protein is forever in a cycle of build-up and breakdown, actual muscle wasting occurs when protein breaks down at a far faster pace than it can be rebuilt. It happens to those who are malnourished or fasting excessively, as well as to the sick and the elderly. But it can also happen to those who overexert themselves in workouts.

During times of muscle wasting, it’s important to resupply the body with the building blocks of protein that are the amino acids, which includes BCAAs. Studies reveal that one of the effects of BCAA supplementation is to inhibit muscle protein breakdown, not only in those seeking to gain muscle with resistance training or reach new heights with endurance exercise, but also in those with cancer and other wasting diseases.

Counterbalancing Catabolism

Muscle breakdown is known as “destructive metabolism” or catabolism, and while it’s a process that bodybuilders do their best to ward off, it’s also part of the natural cycle between catabolism and anabolism.

Muscle protein turnover is not unlike the regenerative properties of a forest fire. Balance is the key. Catabolism of protein molecules that are old or damaged is great; it clears the dead wood and repurposes those nutrients for healthy new growth. However, when your body doesn’t have enough amino acids to build with, unlike a forest it will start chopping down healthy molecules to meet the production demand of new lean muscle mass. This is why the timing of protein supplements like BCAAs is important.

That being said, it should be noted that an abundance of BCAAs without the rest of the nine essential amino acids will not effectively prevent unnecessary catabolism. Think of building new muscle like building furniture (perhaps with wood from the above-mentioned forest metaphor): the BCAAs are the different cuts of wood for the frame, but without cushions, fabric, springs, wood glue, nails, and screws, would you have a new couch, or just an overabundance of wood?

For this reason, we suggest taking BCAAs as part of a balanced formula of all the EAAs, because if the body lacks any one ingredient, it will burn down your hard-earned muscle tissue to take it.

Still don’t believe us? While studies on BCAA supplementation confirm that they boost muscle protein synthesis much better than a placebo, that boost is still 50% lower than the boost seen in studies with whey protein, which contains some measure of all nine essential amino acids. Taking anything less than all the EAAs is scientifically considered suboptimal, an important aspect to keep in mind when selecting the most robust and effective protein powder for your muscle-building workout.

Counterbalancing Catabolism

When to Take BCAAs

If you’ve decided BCAAs are what’s missing from your workout routine, the question still remains: when is the best time to take protein for optimal exercise performance, body fat loss, and muscle growth? The quick answers are:

  • Pre-workout: Always, for everything. To make sure you have the supplies on-hand for the vigors of your workout, take between 5 and 10 grams (depending on your body weight) of amino acids within half an hour before your workout. This helps boost your energy, endurance, and muscle recovery speed.
  • During workout: For resistance exercise and longer workouts, another dose of BCAAs can help see you through to the end and keep your muscles in A+ anabolic territory.
  • Post-workout: Across the board, yes again. While timing may vary, consuming more protein in the form of amino acids after any workout contributes to the rebuilding efforts of your muscles.
  • Before bed: This one is for bodybuilders in particular. Consuming complex proteins your body can digest while sleeping helps prevent catabolism while you rest.

The more fat burning and bodybuilding you do, the more nutrients you will need from both whole food sources and amino acid supplements. This could mean supplementing with meals or between meals multiple times a day depending on your body, your body goals, and your workout regimen. When it comes to sports nutrition, fitness professionals, athletes, or those undergoing rigorous training periods may need to consume anywhere between 15 and 20 grams of BCAAs along with other proteins each day, far more than those who are working out a handful of times or fewer per week to stay in shape throughout their daily lives.

When to take BCAAs for muscle building?

Boosting with BCAAs

The amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the core components of BCAA supplements, and while their effectiveness is proven in the areas of fitness and muscle building, it’s also known that BCAA powders or supplements alone underperform when compared to more comprehensive EAA supplements and proteins. Take your BCAAs, but take them alongside the rest of their essential team for optimal results.

What Do Astronauts Eat? Which Essential Nutrients Make It to Outer Space?

What does it take to get food into space? What do astronauts eat in space? What has spaceflight taught us about human health, and how can you use those findings to improve your health? We have (some of) the answers.

What do astronauts eat? Is it some sort of nutritional toothpaste or protein cube? Are there traditional kitchens in space modules? How far away are we from a Star Trek-style food replicator?

While it’s not yet reached the level of science fiction, space food has come a long way from where it started, not just for the sake of the crew members’ taste buds, but for their health and the necessity of maintaining earthly levels of muscle and bone mass in zero gravity conditions. Our own Dr. Robert Wolfe, who developed an amino acid supplement for civilian consumer use, has contributed to this very NASA research in the sphere of muscle preservation and amino acid supplementation in space. We have the details below on what astronauts eat, why certain nutrients are so essential, and what that tells us about the health of all humankind.

What’s on the Menu for NASA Astronauts?

When the U.S. space program first began, astronaut food was not so great. The same way that food packages for our soldiers have evolved into more nutritious fare (and now come in self-heating food containers), NASA space food has come a long way, and the same is true for the European Space Agency.

Astronauts who first braved the final frontier ate freeze-dried powder, concentrated food cubes, and aluminum tubes full of liquid gels. There was no real variety of flavor choice either, though one of the first evolutions of space food was to provide taste options like applesauce, butterscotch pudding, and shrimp cocktail as soon as the packaging improved enough for freeze-dried preservation.

Hot water was available on space missions by the 1960s with the Gemini and Apollo programs. This advancement enabled astronauts to rehydrate their food and enjoy easier access to hot meals. By the 1970s, the food pouches included up to 72 different flavors, and today the technology is even more advanced, allowing astronauts to better enjoy their food during long periods in zero gravity.

Taste isn’t the only factor to consider, of course: priority one is to make sure astronauts are as healthy as possible. Here are a few of the factors at play when it comes to feeding men and women who aren’t Earth-bound.

1. Nutrient Needs

There can be no cutting-corners in space: astronauts need 100% of their daily required nutrients and minerals from the food they eat. That means that not only do scientists and nutritionists have to figure out a way to transport and preserve the various foods we enjoy so casually on Earth, but they also have to take into account which nutrients astronauts need different levels of, like vitamin D (which we get from spending time in sunlight), sodium, and iron. Astronauts need low-iron foods because they’re working with fewer red blood cells while in space, but vitamin D and sodium are needed in higher levels to support bone density. There are no sunny days on a space station, and a lack vitamin D can lead to dangerous bone loss or spaceflight osteopenia.

Food selection also takes into account storage requirements, packaging necessities, and sensory impact (smelly food on a space station, where you absolutely cannot open a window to the vacuum of space, is not good for astronaut morale).

2. Astronaut Feedback

While the mission at hand is the priority of the astronauts sent into space, the main mission of so many other minds on the ground is astronaut health, well-being, and stamina. That means that not only can astronauts provide feedback on preferences they have for the packaged meals, but they are also allowed “bonus foods” they can bring along independently, a choice that garnered a lot of public interest and attention in 2013 when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield crowd-sourced ideas for what foods he could bring along for a 6-month stay on the International Space Station (ISS) with fellow astronauts, American Thomas Marshburn and Russian Roman Romanenko.

The requirements for bonus foods include having a long shelf life and being appropriate for space travel: nothing that can explode, nothing too wet or messy, and, of course, nothing too smelly for the sake of international (and interstellar) cooperation.

Hadfield ended up taking along foods like dried apple pieces, chocolate, orange zest cookies, jerky, and maple syrup in a tube, all sourced from his Canadian homeland. Those were treats on top of the menu selection each astronaut gets to choose before departing: they can have the same thing every day, or plan for a 7-day meal cycle so no one food gets too dull.

3. Future Hydroponics

NASA researchers are still looking for ways to grow fresh food in space. With an 18-month mission to Mars in the works, the Advance Food System division of NASA has already chosen 10 crops that would provide the nutrition needs for those in space. Those foods are:

  • Bell peppers
  • Cabbages
  • Carrots
  • Fresh herbs
  • Green onions
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes

Their hopes are to one day get rice, peanuts, beans, wheat, and potatoes growing in space too (you may have seen Matt Damon on the big screen farming potatoes in The Martian, but as of yet that is science fiction still just beyond our reach).

What do astronauts eat in space?

What Do Astronauts Eat? A Space Menu

According to NASA’s own website, astronauts have choices for three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with the calories provided adjusted to the needs and size of each astronaut. The types of food range from fresh fruits (for the first few days before they spoil), nuts (including peanut butter), meats like seafood, chicken, and beef, desserts like brownies and candy, plus beverages like lemonade, fruit punch, orange juice, coffee, and tea. While they can’t yet grow rice in space, they can be sent up with it and other foods like cereals, mushrooms, flour tortillas, bread rolls, granola bars, scrambled eggs, and mac and cheese.

Long-term storage of food in space means that a lot of the food items are rehydratable: dried until the astronauts add water generated by the station’s fuel cells. Many items are thermostabilized or heat-treated to destroy any enzymes or microorganisms that might cause the food to spoil. Packaged fish, fruit, and irradiated meat can be transported into space this way, along with more complex packaged meals like casseroles. Beverages all come in powdered form until they are mixed with water at the time of consumption. Condiments like mustard, mayo, ketchup, and hot sauce (strangely enough) stay exactly the same, and can be sent to space in their commercially available packets.

1. Ham Salad Sandwich

This is actually the first meal that American astronauts had on the moon. Not unlike the chicken, egg, or tuna salad sandwiches we enjoy on Earth, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate these sandwiches along with “fortified fruit strips” and rehydratable drinks on the very first lunar excursion. Time magazine states that the Apollo 11 mission ate four meals in total on the moon’s surface, and that their resulting waste is still left behind today in the lunar module.

2. Tubes of Applesauce

Another first here: the first food eaten in space by an American (John Glenn), and this one confirms a lot of what people assume about food during space travel: it’s in a tube, thick enough so it won’t float away from you in a microgravity environment. Just like squeezing out toothpaste, the first American in space squeezed applesauce out of an aluminum tube during the Mercury space mission of 1962.

3. Rehydratable Mac and Cheese

The instant macaroni and cheese you pour hot water over isn’t wholly unlike the kind they eat in space. The same goes for other dishes besides this standard American comfort food, like chicken and rice, dried soups, and instant mashed potatoes. Astronauts can even eat breakfast cereals this way, which come fortified with essential nutrients and packaged with dry milk and sugar for that familiar taste of home.

4. Irradiated Lunch Meat

“Irradiated” sounds like this food just came out of Chernobyl, but in fact most of what astronauts eat is irradiated (not radioactive) to eliminate any traces of insect activity or microorganisms that might otherwise spoil or damage the food before the astronauts can partake. It happens to food on Earth too, especially seafoods and other animal products that have a high potential to spoil when preserved for a long period of time, but it’s also done to fresh fruits and seasoning herbs too. It’s all FDA- and NASA-approved for safety.

5. Cubed Foods (Like Bacon)

Here’s another menu item in line with what the imagination expects: cubed food was part of a space diet from the very beginning, and that still remains true in some instances. In the early days, these bite-sized cubes were rather unappetizing. Let’s just say that along with the hassle of squeezing tubes and dealing with the crumbs from freeze-dried foods, which might interrupt instrument functioning on the vessel, the cubes were not a crowd favorite. (To reduce crumbs, sandwiches and food cubes like cookies used to be coated in gelatin, which makes spaceflight sound less glamorous than ever.)

One of those cubed foods was bacon squares. That’s right: compressed bacon that was enjoyed regularly by the Apollo 7 astronauts according to Popular Science—they were much the favorite over bacon bars, most of which returned to Earth when the mission was complete. Now the nearest approximation to bacon cubes on the International Space Station are some freeze-dried sausage patties, not unlike the kind many people keep in their home freezers.

The variety of food has since expanded to over 200 menu items, but some of them (like chicken dishes) are still cut up into bite-sized chunks: no one has time to carve a turkey in space.

6. Shrimp Cocktail and Hot Sauce

The most popular dish on the International Space Station across the nations is shrimp cocktail. With a powdered sauce infused with horseradish, for whatever reason, among the hundreds of dishes from Russia, the United States, and Japan, shrimp cocktail is the most highly preferred.

Maybe it has something to do with that spicy sauce, because another people-pleaser in space is hot sauce. Even for those star-walkers who don’t like hot sauce back home, hot sauce in space not only livens up otherwise bland dishes, but some astronauts say that taste doesn’t work the same way in space, and that all of the food tastes bland to them, including their usual favorites.

Likewise hot sauce also works practically to help clear the nasal passages: if you get a stuffed up head in space, there’s no fresh air to be found. That “stuffiness” may be what accounts for an inability to taste most flavors and why hot sauce has become a favorite for many.

7. Liquid Spices

Without gravity’s assistance, you can just pepper or salt your food in space like you would on the ground. That leads to items like liquid salt and pepper, so that the spices are actually applied directly to the food instead of floating off to get grit in the space station’s sensitive machines or to end up in a fellow astronaut’s nose or eyes. Salt is applied in the form of salt water, while pepper is suspended in an oil.

8. Powdered Liquids

All the drinks in space start as powders, including orange juice, apple cider, coffee, and tea. The powder is pre-loaded in a foil laminate package. So the dusty particles cannot escape, astronauts must secure the water source to a connector on the packet to add liquid. After that, they drink it from a straw (sort of like a Capri-Sun, but with way more at stake).

Not all foods work in powdered forms however. Ground control used to send people to space with freeze-dried astronaut ice cream, but it’s no longer included on the International Space Station. The astronauts disliked it too much due to its crumbly, chalky texture, which felt uncomfortable against their teeth and left an unpleasant film on the tongue.

9. Tortilla Wraps

Instead of bread (another crumby entity) or lettuce (which wilts), NASA now uses tortillas to make sandwich wraps for space travel. They’re partially dehydrated, and can last up to 18 months on the ISS. It was only thanks to Mexican payload specialist Rodolfo Neri Vela that tortillas were introduced to the space food system, where they are now invaluable.

The ability to last for long periods of time is essential due to the inherent delays in space travel. Fresh fruit and veggies sent to space have to be kept in a special fresh food locker that is resupplied a little more frequently by a space shuttle, but when the supply comes in they have to be eaten quickly before they spoil and rot.

10. Thermostabilized Fish

Remember the irradiated lunch meat from before? Thermostabilization is another type of heat treatment applied to food that may have destructive microorganisms. It’s the same tech used on Earth before canning our seafood, be it tuna, salmon, or sardines. While fish is one of the smellier items allowed on the ISS, it’s nevertheless too important a source of protein and nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids to do without.

What the NASA Diet Tells Us About Human Nutrition

It is imperative that the food sent up with our astronauts helps them keep muscle mass in space, and the same goes for bone density. The more scientists learn about what space does to the human body and how to protect astronauts from damage, the more the world learns about overall human health.

For example, studies on astronaut Scott Kelly and his twin brother reveal how leaving the bonds of Earth impacts the human body, and suggests how long we as a species can withstand the weight loss of zero gravity. Space travel biology provides data on human biology we may never have known otherwise, and here’s how it can positively impact you.

New muscle growth cannot happen without the proper balance of all nine essential amino acids. Discovering that ideal ratio was the first step, and developing the formula was the next. Now there is a supplement appropriate for people under extreme conditions to preserve the muscle they have and replace the muscle that is lost with new growth, reversing space- or age-related muscle loss. In that sense, space exploration and experimentation today is a lot like Star Trek: in many ways exploring space involves finding out what it means to be human.

The Space Between

As humans we should all be proud of the advances we’ve made in space travel, and just how far we’ve gone as a species. Likewise we here at the Amino Co. are proud to be associated with the important work Dr. Wolfe has done, and the findings he’s brought back from NASA that are now accessible to anyone looking to preserve or build muscle, even under circumstances that are literally out of this world. Explore the available formulas, and help your body become space-strong.

Pulled Chest Muscle: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Chest pain could mean anything from a heart attack to a pulled chest muscle: learn the symptoms of muscle strain to better identify it, and discover the best ways to treat and prevent this injury in the future.

Straining a chest muscle can cause a sharp pain in your chest, a sensation that, if it’s anywhere near the heart, may well scare people into thinking they’re having cardiac issues. While a pulled chest muscle is not as serious as a heart attack, it is nevertheless painful and not as easy to pinpoint as, say, a pulled hamstring.

Your chest muscles are responsible for supporting your upper body and for helping you breathe properly, and can have a negative impact on the health of your back if they’re not in optimal working order. This article discusses the symptoms of a pulled chest muscle, common causes of the strain, and different treatments you can try to find the cure to what ails you.

The Muscles of the Chest

The major muscles of the chest are the appropriately named pectoralis majors, the fan-shaped muscles that go from your armpits to the center of your breast bone (sternum). These muscles help move your shoulders and keep your arms attached to your body.

The pectoralis minor muscles are smaller triangular muscles under each pectoralis major. They run along your upper ribs (just below your collarbone).

Then there are your intercostal muscles, which run between the ribs and help form the chest wall. They expand and contract your chest cavity to allow for the inflating and deflating of your lungs as you breathe. Straining muscles in this area may make breathing more laborious. As much as 49% of chest pain experienced by people comes from what is known as intercostal muscle strain.

Pulled chest muscle: signs, causes, and treatment.

Symptoms of a Pulled Chest Muscle

Muscle strains occur when any muscle is overly stretched or torn, and each one needs care and rest to repair itself. The symptoms of a pulled chest muscle may include:

  • Acute muscle pain (a sharp pull)
  • Chronic muscle pain (a dull ache)
  • Pain during breathing
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty moving the area

If this pain comes about suddenly due to strenuous activity or exercise, it’s recommended that you seek medical attention, as it may be more serious than just a strain.

Chest pain is an emergency if it is also accompanied by dizziness, fainting, sweating, a racing pulse, fever, sudden sleepiness, unexplained irritability, or difficulty breathing: these are signs of a heart attack and should be treated with the utmost seriousness.

Causes of a Pulled Chest Muscle

If your heart is not involved in the chest pain you’re experiencing, then you may well be looking at a strained or pulled chest muscle. This can come about from overuse, from heavy lifting, or from sports like tennis, rowing, golf, or gymnastics, which call for repetitive motions of the upper body. The other common causes of chest muscle strain include:

  • Lifting while twisting (like taking boxes on or off a shelf)
  • Reaching above your head for extended amounts of time
  • Repetitive sports motions
  • Skipping warm-ups before sporting activities
  • Contact injuries from sports, accidents, or falls
  • Muscle fatigue from overuse
  • Hard coughing or sneezing during illnesses

Keep in mind that certain people may be more at risk of straining their chest muscles. For example, older adults vulnerable to falling injuries have a corresponding higher risk of pulling a chest muscle. Athletes are at high risk due to the nature of competitive playing. Those involved in car accidents also have a higher rate of chest muscle injury, sometimes from the safety devices involved in a vehicle (like seatbelts and airbags in cars).

Children have the lowest risk of experiencing a pulled chest muscle because of their higher flexibility, which is why it’s always important for us non-children to stretch properly not just before sports, but before any strenuous activity. Basically, break out the yoga mat before you rearrange the living room furniture to repaint the walls: it might save you from being sore and achy the next day (or for the rest of the week).

Diagnosing Chest Pain

Since it’s easy to suspect pain in the chest area as a potentially life-threatening issue with your cardiovascular health, a visit to the doctor may be in order. Rest assured: it’s not a waste of anyone’s time, because depending on the severity of the injury, a pulled chest muscle could lead to chronic back pain and may need a physical therapist to fully remedy. A doctor may first rule out heart disease or other medical conditions (like broken bones, which may call for an X-ray) as the cause of your pain, and then conduct a physical exam to evaluate the severity of the sprain.

Other Possible Causes of Chest Pain

It’s important to seek medical advice when you’re experiencing chest pain, because other causes may include:

Pulled chest muscle: signs, causes, and treatment.

Acute vs. Chronic Muscle Strains

If your pain is indeed caused by a pulled muscle, the doctor will first evaluate whether your muscle strain is acute or chronic.

  • Acute: An acute muscle strain arises from direct injury or trauma due to an accident or fall.
  • Chronic: Chronic strains are those caused by repetitive motions, whether they’re movements from your job, from a sporting activity, or other tasks you perform regularly (like picking up your kids).

The doctor will then likely assign a grade to the strain according to the level of severity.

  • Grade 1: The first grade is the lowest one, affecting less than 5% of the muscle fibers.
  • Grade 2: This is a moderate-grade tear signifying partial muscle rupture or loss of strength.
  • Grade 3: A high-grade tear entails complete muscle rupture and may require surgery to properly repair.

How to Treat a Pulled Chest Muscle

The first and standard response to a muscle strain anywhere is RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. How does that work for your chest?

  • Rest: Cease activity for at least 2 days after your injury, and if when you return to light activity you still feel pain, rest some more.
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack to the strained area for 20 minutes, 3 times a day to reduce swelling, inflammation, pain, and soreness.
  • Compression: If it’s possible, wrap an Ace bandage to stabilize the area, but be sure to leave it loose enough to allow for circulation.
  • Elevation: As you move around throughout the day your chest is already elevated, but what about at night? Sleeping on an incline (a soft wedge or stacked pillows) or in a recliner can help.

If your doctor sends you home with general advice, you may choose to use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to help alleviate the pain. This should be fine as long as you follow the instructions and don’t mix them with any other medications—ask your doctor directly if you have any hesitations or questions about taking painkillers. Ask also about dietary supplements that can help you rebuild and heal muscle faster, like amino acid supplementation.

For chronic strains, better treatment may involve wearing braces at work or while sporting, attending physical therapy, or changing your exercise routine to build strength in the surrounding areas.

For severe tears, if surgery is suggested, discuss your care and concerns directly with your medical team and surgeon. While light strains may be brushed up with a little rest and self-care, chest injuries that limit your breathing could put you at greater risk of a lung infection, so breathing exercises may be advised and are easy to perform at home.

Puff up Your Chest with Pride

Depending on the severity of your injury, you may be able to return to physical activity quickly, right back to the bench press. However, if returning to normal activity continues to cause pain, you may need a longer recovery period for complete pain relief.

To prevent future muscle strains, be sure to warm up before exercise or strenuous activity, be careful when lifting heavy objects, climbing or descending stairs, or lifting weights, and above all listen to your body when it twinges or aches. No one knows your body and its limits like you do, and becoming aware of an injury before it becomes chronic can save you from a lifetime of pain and complications.

Tight Lower Back Discomfort: What Causes It, Plus 10 Stretches to Relieve Low Back Pain

If you have tightness and pain in your lower back, the first thing you want to do is identify the cause, and then you want to stretch out and strengthen the area. This article has information and advice on both topics.

Having a tight lower back isn’t just a matter of discomfort: if your muscles are tensed and kinked, it means they aren’t working properly to keep your bones and balance in line. Not only does alleviating lower back tension help increase your comfort, but it can also help prevent debilitating back injuries before they occur. Read on to find out what causes tightness in your lower back, plus 10 safe lower back stretches you can utilize to ease the tension and find pain relief.

Back to Basics: The Common Causes of Lower Back Pain

The lower back is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body. Evolutionarily, while our brains are marvelously protected by the skull, and our most vital organs (the heart, lungs, and liver) are caged in by our ribs, our lower torso and lower back are practically wide open. This is a side effect of early man standing upright while our ape ancestors still move around on all fours. We gained the opposable thumb, but now all the weight of our brains and organs rests on one column of bone, nerves, and muscle tissue located in our lower back.

If we still walked on our knuckles, lower back pain and injury wouldn’t be one of the leading causes of workplace and household harm, but since science is all about moving forwards, not backwards, let’s talk about what might be holding us back.

1. Insufficient Lumbar Support

There are many places where you may be getting improper lower back support, including:

  • At your desk: Sitting for long periods of time is bad enough for your health and blood flow, but if you spend all day hunched over and typing, your muscles are constantly tensed up, trying to hold this unnatural posture. Experts recommend ergonomic desks and chairs, opting for a standing desk if possible, or taking regular, frequent breaks to stand and stretch.
  • As you walk: Your body is like a Möbius strip, it neither begins nor ends; it’s just one continuous loop. Tension in your neck, for example, can mess up your gait, just as uncomfortable or unsupportive shoes can cause back pain all the way to the neck. Making sure you have proper shoes for your feet (especially if they’re overpronated or your have foot tendonitis) can ease pain, prevent limping, and possibly help avoid back tension.
  • While you sleep: Sleeping on a mattress that’s too soft, or without proper hip support (which can be helped by sleeping with a pillow between your knees) can lead to a tight lower back and difficulty moving first thing every morning.

2. Exacerbating Exercise Techniques

There is a reason physical therapists and personal trainers cost a pretty penny: expert knowledge of anatomy helps them see from where your muscle pain is arising and how best to fix it. When most of us have lower back pain, we assume something is wrong with our lower back, but it could be a matter of having one leg shorter than the other, a tightness in our shoulders that’s causing a misalignment, or just bad movement habits we’ve picked up along the way.

Guided exercise can relieve tight lower back pain that already exists and help prevent muscle tension and sprains we don’t even know are on the inevitable horizon. Taking a fitness class or consulting a trainer could be all the diagnosis you need to fix chronic lower back pain if it’s caused by inexpert exercise practices. Just remember: there’s no shame in being wrong when you start out with fitness: every expert trainer was once a beginner too.

3. Strain and Improperly Healed Injury

Some people use their lower back far more than the rest of the populace. If you’re a mover or warehouse worker, you probably already know to wear a back brace and lift with your knees, but some injuries will surprise you regardless. If you’re a medic, rescue worker, or homecare nurse, you may be called on to lift another person out of a dangerous position (a patient in a car wreck for example, or someone who’s fallen in the enclosed space of a bathroom). And what about athletes who have to quickly contort their bodies in reaction to the games they engage in? Some careers and activities make your lower back more susceptible to injury than others.

One tweak or muscle strain can linger if you don’t have time to rest the injury properly, and reinjury on top of that becomes more and more likely with each day. While not everyone can take the recommended time off to heal and rest, proper stretching can help a sprain heal faster and loosen the area so that reinjury is less likely to occur.

Tight Lower Back Symptoms

You may recognize a tight lower back by these tell-tale symptoms.

  • Lower back pain
  • Back muscle cramping
  • Back spasms
  • A dull, constant backache
  • Stiffness, tension, or a contracted sensation in the back
  • A tightness in your hips, pelvis, or legs

Some soreness after working out or doing some heavy lifting is to be expected, but if the pain doesn’t subside after a few days, you may be looking at a more persistent injury that needs to be handled with care lest it gets worse.

Tight lower back pain: 10 helpful stretches.

10 Stretches to Help Alleviate a Tight Lower Back

Here are some simple exercises and stretches you can do to increase your back’s flexibility and loosen up lower back tension, from hips to hamstrings and more. It’s important to help straighten the hips and the spine, and strengthen the legs as well, so we’ve covered all the bases when it comes to tight lower back pain relief.

1. Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose)

Viparita Karani is a yoga pose also known as “legs up the wall” because, well, you rest your legs up against the wall. It engages your pelvic muscles, lower back, and the back of your neck, but primarily provides a deep stretch for your hamstrings and relaxes your lower back and pelvis.

  • Assume a seated position with your right side against the wall.
  • Place your left elbow on the floor and carefully swing your legs up so that the back of your legs are against the wall and you’re lying with your back flat on the ground. (Use a cushion to elevate your hips or back your hips away from the wall if this stretch is too deep for you at first.)
  • Allow your arms and back to relax.
  • Hold this position for at least 2 minutes as your tendons and muscles adjust.

2. Standing Hip Circles

This is a convenient exercise that can be done anytime and just about anywhere (before bed, upon waking, on the elevator, during a bathroom break, etc.), and targets the abdominal muscles, the erector spinae muscles (the ones that run the length of your spinal column), your pelvic muscles, and gluteal muscles. It helps to loosen your hip muscles and engage your core muscles for a nearly full-body stretch.

  • Strike a standing stance with your feet slightly wider than your hips.
  • Place your hands on your hips and gently sway your hips from side-to-side.
  • Then rotate your hips in a clockwise direction, making 10 large circles.
  • Switch to counter-clockwise circles for another 10 revolutions.

3. Balasana (Child’s Pose)

The Balasana yoga pose is more commonly known as child’s pose. It stretches your hamstrings, your gluteus maximus, your spinal extensors, and your posterior muscles. By taking the pressure off your lower back, you can experience immediate relief and help stretch and lengthen.

  • Start from a kneeling position and sit back on your heels.
  • Bend forward as far as you can with your arms extended (use a cushion or pillow under your chest or forehead if the initial strain is too much).
  • Allow your bodyweight to settle down and your tension to ease for at least 1 full minute.

4. The Windshield Wiper Stretch

This great stretch needs a bit of floorspace to sprawl out on, but it can beneficially impact the sacral muscles (at the base of the spine), the pelvic muscles, the erector spinae muscles, and your obliques.

  • Lay on your back, splaying out your arms and bending your knees up.
  • Exhale as you slowly drop your knees to either the left or right side, while turning your head to look in the opposite direction.
  • Inhale as you return to the starting position.
  • Continue with the other side, and alternate back and forth for 1 minute.

5. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Leg Stretch)

This yoga pose involves your lower back, hamstrings, erector spinae muscles, abdominal muscles, and gluteus maximus. It also helps align the spine.

  • Lay down on your back with your legs extended.
  • Lift up your right leg (at first) while leaving a slight bend in both the right and left knees.
  • Lace your fingers behind the right leg or hook a band or towel over the right foot.
  • Hold your right leg in an upright stretched position for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat this stretch on the left side, alternating back and forth 3 times each.

6. Pelvic Tilts

This exercise focuses on your abdominal muscles and increases flexibility in your lower back region, as well as your hamstrings, sacral muscles, and gluteus maximus.

  • Lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor.
  • Engage your core muscles to press the lower curve of your spine flat to the floor.
  • Hold that position for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat the tilt at least 3 times (increasing repetitions as you get stronger).

7. Bridge Stretch

Not unlike the pelvic tilt, the bridge stretch can build up strength in your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus.

  • Start from the pelvic tilt’s beginning position (back and feet on the floor, knees bent and pointing upwards).
  • Lift your hips and buttocks off the ground towards the ceiling.
  • Lift your chest and back even further off the ground so your contact points with the floor are now your head, shoulders, arms, hands, and feet.
  • Hold for 1 minute, and repeat at least 3 times.

8. Knee-to-Chest Exercise

This stretch utilizes the quadriceps, pelvic muscles, spinal extensors, and gluteus maximus to help loosen up your lower back muscles.

  • Lay on your back with your legs extended.
  • Draw your right knee to your upper body with fingers laced over your shin.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  • Release the right leg and repeat with your left leg.
  • Then draw both knees to your chest for 30 seconds.

9. Chakravakasana (Cat-Cow Pose)

This is two yoga poses in one, combined to help stretch and flex the spine, hips, and abdomen. It engages your core muscles, specifically your abdominal muscles, erector spinae muscles, gluteus maximus, and triceps.

  • Start from a tabletop position (on all fours).
  • Inhale and look up as you allow your belly to drop towards the floor (this is the cow pose).
  • Arch your back upwards towards the ceiling as you exhale (cat pose).
  • Flex back and forth between these poses for 1 minute.

10. Shavasana (Corpse Pose)

Don’t let the name disturb you. This yoga pose is the end of the line for your stretching routine, not your life. It’s designed to let your body rest and relax after all this productive stretching, and gives you a moment to release any remaining tightness or tension throughout your body.

  • Lay on your back coffin-style with your arms beside your body, palms facing upwards.
  • Space your feet out as wide as your shoulders and let your feet splay to the sides.
  • Breath deeply with a clear mind as your body relaxes.
  • Stay in this position for 5-20 calming minutes. Your call!

Loosen Up

A tight lower back can be caused by anything from poor posture to tight hamstrings or weak core muscles. Regardless of where the tension originates, you can address it with the above-listed stretches.

If for any reason stretching leads to more pain and not less, consult a fitness or chiropractic professional to get specific advice on your technique, to receive physical therapy, or to seek medical advice for any underlying issues (like arthritis, sciatica, a slipped disk, osteoporosis, etc.) that are causing your back problems in the first place.

With the right exercise routine, many people can loosen up a tight lower back, and subsequently sleep better, work better, and play better every day of the week.

Trigger Point Injections: What They Are, When They’re Needed and How They’re Performed

Find out how trigger point injections work, what the procedure entails, and what the post-procedural care requires. This treatment option for myofascial pain syndrome could help restore your quality of life.

Trigger point injections are designed as pain management for myofascial pain syndrome.  We’re helping you decide if trigger point injections are right for you by providing an in-depth definition of the procedure, when it’s medically justified, how it’s done, and what the potential side effects may be.

What Is a Trigger Point Injection?

Trigger point injections are intended to provide pain relief by inactivating (basically stunning or inhibiting) certain trigger points involved in the symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome. To do this, a health care professional inserts a small needle containing a local anesthetic or saline, and possibly a corticosteroid, into the trigger point causing the muscle pain in order to subdue it.

What Is Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

Myofascial pain syndrome is a muscle disorder that causes pain around what’s known as myofascial trigger points. It’s a distinct syndrome from fibromyalgia, which also causes tender points throughout the body, though both of these conditions could occur in the same patient at the same time, making each of them more difficult to diagnose and treat.

Myofascial trigger points are hyperirritable spots that create musculoskeletal pain. They may have palpable nodules that exist in taut bands of muscular fibers, and they are still not widely understood even in the medical community. Treatment of these trigger points can involve ultrasound therapy, manipulative therapy, spray and stretch therapy using a topical anesthetic, or trigger point injections.

Trigger point injections are not required for every case or even every trigger point, especially if noninvasive physical therapy is effective. However, if a trigger point experiences chronic pain in certain areas like the lower back, a small needle injection may be the most effective treatment. The injection may be a corticosteroid, an anesthetic like lidocaine or bupivacaine, or a mixture of both.

Indications for Trigger Point Injections

Trigger point injections are indicated for those patients who have health care findings consistent with active trigger points (distinct from latent trigger points that don’t need treatment as they are asymptomatic). Other widespread pain disorders such as endocrine disorder or fibromyalgia are not eligible for trigger point injections unless they have myofascial pain trigger points also.

Seek medical advice to decide if injecting these points of muscle spasm is the safest way to treat painful areas, including the trapezius muscle (upper back and neck pain), the erector spinae muscles (along the spinal cord), the iliocostalis muscle (low back pain), and other areas of muscle which, if afflicted, can cause referred pain (pain felt in other areas that are not the origin spot), tension headaches, and a decline in quality of life.

Your doctor will examine your skeletal muscles for a local twitch response (a contraction or dimpling of the skin as muscle fibers tense), take into account your pain level and “jump response” to the exam, and discuss your various treatment options.

Contraindications for Trigger Point Injections

Trigger point injections have contraindications for:

  • Those with bleeding disorders or those on anticoagulants
  • Pregnant patients
  • Patients who are ill or who have conflicting medical conditions
  • Those with a higher risk of infection (such as those with diabetes mellitus or who are debilitated)
  • Patients on steroids

While a steroid injection can act as a nerve block, there have nevertheless been studies that show dry needling (needling without injection, akin to acupuncture for musculoskeletal disorders) may provide some relief, though a scientific consensus has not yet been reached. Researchers also warn against “sham needling” practices that are not done by properly trained medical personnel.

Trigger Point Injection Procedures: What to Expect

Here’s what you can expect at a trigger point injection procedure.

  • The needles involved will be long enough to reach the deepest muscles requiring treatment.
  • The area will be sterilized before injection.
  • Your health care provider will prepare the injection with local anesthetics and/or steroids.
  • The doctor will position you for best access to the affected muscle groups, and may also use ultrasound guidance to precisely pinpoint the injection.
  • Your clinician will isolate the trigger point area by pinching the skin between their fingers to keep it in place during the injections (the needling and injecting will be repeatedly redirected without removing the needle from the subcutaneous level of the skin).
  • This treatment of trigger points will include post-procedural care on your part: resting for 1-2 days and avoiding strenuous activity and pain-provoking activities that could overstress the muscles.

Your doctor will make sure you’re aware of potential complications resulting from trigger point injections, which could include vasovagal syncope (sudden fainting), hematoma formation, skin infection, pneumothorax (a collapsed lung), or needle breakage.

Trigger point injections: how they work.

Post-procedural Care

To ensure the best success with trigger point injections, post-procedural care may include the following.

Proper Stretching

While it’s important not to overstress the muscle, it is still recommended that you use your muscles to their full range of motion to help relieve stiffness and reclaim normal muscle functioning. To help your muscles relax and optimize the effects of the injections, stretching after your trigger point injections is an integral post-procedure component.  Your doctor will most likely stretch you as soon as the procedure is complete, and then send you home with instructions to continue proper stretching on your own.

Active Exercise

The whole purpose of undergoing trigger point injections is to restore full use of your muscles, and active exercise will help determine whether or not the treatment was effective. These exercises will target muscle stretching, muscle strengthening, and muscle conditioning to help relieve myofascial pain. Staying active with exercise will also help reduce the chances of developing more trigger points in your muscle fibers as you increase your muscle endurance.

Once you’ve built up enough strength via training, conditioning exercises like jogging, jumping rope, tennis, swimming, and/or bicycling are encouraged at least twice a week going forward.

Don’t Be Triggered

Alleviating neck, back, and shoulder pain are major aspects of physical medicine, and getting expert help with treating myofascial pain syndrome can help improve your quality of life while living with this musculoskeletal disorder. Trigger point injections are the last hope for pain relief for many, and they may finally bring you the treatment you need.

Building Muscle After 50: Top 7 Tips to Go from Sedentary to Stacked

Discover how to build muscle and maintain strength after turning 50: types of workouts, frequency of workouts, and how to supplement effectively now that you’re half a century strong.

One of the biggest concerns that face us as we age is muscle loss. Age-related muscle loss begins in our 30s and ramps up after 50. In advanced years that muscle loss can ultimately contribute to frailty if it’s not combated with proactive muscle building along the way. While those who have kept up with physical activity throughout their 20s and 30s have a much better foundation to build on, it’s never too late to begin weight training or resistance training, gaining muscles that get stronger the more they’re used. Because of these reasons, building muscle after 50 is necessary to keep you healthy and active for the rest of your life.

Sarcopenia: The Silent Breakdown

Age-related muscle loss is known as sarcopenia, and it’s one of the reasons that some of our grandparents lose their independence. The muscle loss that begins in our 30s and doubles down in our 50s gets even more aggressive after 70, but it’s not necessarily a downward slope. Studies show that we can gain muscle clear into our 90s, so not only is building muscle after 50 in the cards, but building muscle after retirement is a go as well. So what’s the holdup?

The issue is aging, and the fact that while we’re young we often don’t have to work as hard to stay fit and recover quickly. Side effects of aging come on gradually, and muscle-building efforts need to increase along with it. Maintenance just won’t cut it: to build muscle we have to challenge ourselves to workouts that are hard to perform at first, and when that level is mastered, we have to go harder.

Octogenarian bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd was interviewed by The Independent, and revealed that she didn’t start her targeted muscle-building efforts until she was 56 years old, and this was after a lifetime of no exercise and even being exempt from phys. ed. in school because of car accident injury she’d had as a child. Nevertheless Ernestine says that she went from being a receptionist (a sedentary job) to a professional bodybuilder, in better shape and with more energy in every new year. In 2010 she was declared the oldest competitive female bodybuilder by the Guinness Book of World Records.

If, like Ernestine you’re starting from scratch after 50, how do you begin? Read on for some starter tips.

Top tips for building muscle after 50.

The Top 7 Tips to Begin Building Muscle After 50

When a young man or woman decides to build muscle, it often takes no more effort than just trying. Some weight lifting, some cardio, and before these youngsters know it they’ve got muscle groups popping up in places they didn’t even know they had. But for older adults, building muscles is not just about losing weight and looking good, muscle gain starts to become vitally important to staying healthy and independent as we approach our 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

As you age, not only do your joints creak and your hairs turn gray, but your muscle cells start to get eaten up and then not replaced. The younger we are, the more quickly the metabolic process revolves between catabolism (metabolism involving molecular breakdown to access energy) and anabolism (the metabolism of building new complex molecules like muscle proteins with that energy). When we get older, that process—along with so many others—slows down.

Reaching 50 is ideally the halfway point of a long and healthy life, and maintaining muscle strength is important if we want another strong 50 years on this earth. So without further ado, here are seven ways you can optimize your protein intake and start building muscle after 50.

1. Come to the Light

If you want to safely begin to build muscle after years of a largely sedentary lifestyle, you don’t want to head straight to the bench press. It’s not fun but it’s true: a twinge or a tweak to any one of your joints in these early days could snowball into a very severe injury if you’re not careful, derailing your efforts before you even really get going. You’ll get to the deadlifts and barbells soon enough after you’ve built up sufficient strength, but when starting out, start light.

Embracing lighter free weights can spur muscle growth without putting your wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints in any risk whatsoever. Studies show that more reps with lighter weights can stimulate protein synthesis just as well as lower amounts of reps with heavier weights. Lighter-weight training not only helps prevent initial injuries, but it also serves as a useful tool for repairing injuries. Similarly, higher reps with lighter weights leads to real muscle gain in older adults, so the only thing you’re losing out on is risk, not reward.

Once you build up a foundation of muscle, you and your joints will be strong enough to load up a barbell with ever-increasing weights, but as you begin, light is alright. Play to your strengths when it comes to strength training, and you’ll invariably improve as you age.

2. Stay on the Move

A sedentary lifestyle is dangerous to people at any age, but the damage done by inactivity compounds as we get older. To gain muscle, you have to not only incorporate a strength training program but also keep up with cardiovascular health. If your blood isn’t pumping well, you’re not getting the steady supply of oxygen and nutrients needed to build new protein for your muscles.

The cardio impact of walking and running changes in older adults, as seen in this 2010 study comparing younger (24 +/- 3 years) and older (64 +/- 6 years) participant groups. If you’re starting from scratch, begin with walking, increase to jogging and then treat yourself to new pair of running shoes, and know that you’re contributing to your muscle-building efforts with every new mile you cover.

3. HIIT Back

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to burn calories and build muscle quickly for all ages and fitness levels. HIIT is characterized by alternating short bursts of intense physical activity with periods of rest, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it can particularly benefit seniors down to the cellular level, and even reverse certain symptoms of aging.

While experts don’t recommend that every workout be a HIIT workout, cycling it into your workout regimen can help push your abilities to higher heights. And if you’re in a HIIT class full of athletes, just remember that your high intensity is different from their high intensity, and that’s a-okay!

4. Rest to Recover and Rebuild

Regular exercise doesn’t mean constant exercise, and in fact research shows that rest days are just as valuable for muscle building as workout days are. Recovery time means rebuilding time for your muscles, while overtraining syndrome occurs when excessive exercise is paired with an inadequate amount of resting time. The results of overtraining come with side effects that disturb the body’s neurologic, endocrinologic, and immunologic processes, along with the unwelcome symptom of mood changes.

Your recovery times over 50 may be longer than they would be if you started working out in your 20s or 30s, but you’ll know your body best: rest as long as you need, and then get back at it with the gains you’ve made.

5. Stretch It Out

If your muscles are tight, it’s imperative that you stretch them. Stretching before (particularly dynamic stretches) and after your workout helps to limber up the muscle fibers and reduce the risk of muscle strains and sprains, whether you’re working out on your own or under the guidance of a personal trainer.

A full-body workout is not complete without stretching, so be sure to pencil it in, as increased flexibility can help you avoid injury and perform better in your workouts.

6. Good Things Come in Threes

Have you heard of the rule of thirds? It’s a photography guideline for visually pleasing picture compositions. Do you know what “omne trium perfectum” means? It’s Latin for “everything that comes in threes is perfect.” Those rules apply to your strength-training workout frequency too: 3 days a week is a perfect minimum.

While the more’s the better, especially if you’re diversifying your workouts (lift weights on one day, go for a run on the next, etc.), it’s nevertheless true that strength training at least 3 days a week can lead to good progression in muscle building and is a great place to start.

7. Feed Your Need

You cannot make muscles without protein. More specifically, you cannot synthesize new muscle protein without a proper amount of all nine essential amino acids. Most people looking to build muscle know that a high-protein diet and possibly consuming whey protein supplements will help them in gaining muscle, but just because you’re getting enough protein doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting all the amino acids required to build lean muscle without your body cannibalizing the other muscle cells you have to supply the demand.

Research shows that consuming protein regularly throughout the day and especially after a workout helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis to its optimal degree in elderly people who are well advanced beyond age 50. To gain muscle while maintaining what you already have built, we recommend choosing a muscle-building protein supplement that has a full host of balanced amino acid content so you have all the ingredients you need to create new muscle.

You’ll Muscle Through

Building muscle mass is far from being a young person’s game: it’s everyone’s game to play and to win. While it’s important to start cautiously if you’ve never worked out before, it’s never too late to start building muscle, and the more you gain, the younger you’ll feel, as it’s been scientifically proven that proper fitness can reverse certain aspects of the aging process.

The health benefits of building muscle after 50 go far beyond improving your body weight and maintaining a trim physique. The strength-training efforts you start today can help you lose weight and, according to the American Bone Health organization, also help improve your bone density, which will matter more and more in the coming decades. Lifting weights or engaging in HIIT exercises 3 times a week could mean staying strong for the rest of your life.

Betaine Sources, Uses and Health Benefits

Betaine supplementation may help improve liver detoxification, heart health, digestive function, muscle building, body fat loss, and more. Find out how this amino acid derivative works.

Betaine is a methyl derivative of the amino acid glycine and can be found in food sources like sugar beets, spinach, shellfish, and wheat. As a methyl donor in chemical reactions within the body, betaine is important for liver and kidney health, and without it there can be fatty accumulation in the liver leading to serious cerebral, coronary, vascular, and hepatic diseases—dangerous consequences for your brain, your heart, your bloodstream, and your liver. With a sufficient amount of betaine you can protect your organs, improve certain cardiovascular risk factors, and increase your physical performance. For more about where betaine comes from and how it impacts your health, read on.

What Is Betaine? Where Does It Come From?

A naturally occurring amino acid derivative, betaine is also known as trimethylglycine (TMG). It’s a nonessential nutrient, meaning we don’t have to consume it to get it, as our normal functioning produces betaine as a byproduct of the nonessential amino acid glycine. However, beneficial amounts of betaine can be found in foods, including:

  • Sugar beets
  • Rye grain
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat bran
  • Sweet potato
  • Turkey breast
  • Beef
  • Veal
  • Spinach
  • Shellfish

Betaine was first discovered in the 19th century in sugar beets, which is where its common name is derived from. Its scientific name, trimethylglycine, describes its chemical composition: a glycine derivative attached to three (tri-) methyl groups on the molecular level. This is what gives it the ability to be a methyl donor (along with vitamin B12 and folic acid) when it comes in contact with other chemical compounds throughout the body. Methyl donation occurs in a process called methylation. The methylation process is crucial in protein function and many other critical actions in the body.

Betaine is also an organic osmolyte, a compound involved in the osmosis process, moving fluid into and out of cells to maintain fluid balance and prevent cell shrinkage or rupture. An imbalance there could lead to cell death.

The Health Benefits of Betaine

Betaine has long been a subject for scientific study in the realm of heart health and the prevention and treatment of heart disease, but more recently people have been taking betaine to enhance their exercise performance and improve their body composition as well. For more on how betaine can impact liver detoxification, heart health, digestive function, muscle building, and body fat loss, read on.

Betaine sources, uses, and health benefits.

1. Liver Function and Detoxification

Fatty acid buildup in the liver can lead to severe health consequences, including obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. Fatty acids can accumulate due to dietary choices like eating too many sugary or fatty foods or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Liver buildup of fatty acids can cause abdominal pain, fluid retention, cardiovascular problems, and muscle wasting, not to mention damage and scarring to the liver. While the liver is one of our most resilient organs (able to heal itself in ways that our heart and our kidneys, for example, cannot), long-term damage and scarring can build up too, causing permanent damage and even liver failure or death.

The use of betaine treatments for hepatoprotection against conditions like fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis has proven effective due to betaine’s ability to aid in recovery from liver damage and protect the liver from certain hepatotoxins like ethanol or carbon tetrachloride. Those toxins can find their way into our bodies through contact with pesticides, herbicides, and even some prescription medications. Detoxing them from the body without long-lasting liver damage is one of the top benefits we can all gain from betaine.

2. Heart Health

The cardiovascular benefits of betaine are the most thoroughly documented by researchers. By quickly and safely reducing the plasma homocysteine concentrations in our bloodstream, betaine protects us from homocystinuria, a condition characterized by high homocysteine levels that can lead to the development of arterial plaque and ultimately heart disease.

Betaine can lower homocysteine levels by providing homocysteine molecules with one of its three methyl groups, transforming homocysteine into the amino acid methionine, which is beneficially used in protein synthesis and liver cell protection against toxins, like in cases of acetaminophen (Tylenol) poisoning. Betaine has even gained Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for safe use in treating homocystinuria.

3. Digestive Aid

Our stomachs require a sufficient amount of stomach acid to digest the food we eat. If you have low stomach acid (a condition called hypochlorhydria), your food will only be partially digested, resulting in a lower absorption rate of the nutrients you consume. In some instances (as in the case of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals) we can only gain the necessary nutrients needed to live and function by consuming and then absorbing them. Absorption disorders can quickly lead to different forms of anemia, malnutrition, and wasting that detrimentally impact our health. Gastrointestinal overgrowth of Candida (a yeast bacteria) has been scientifically linked with lower levels of stomach acid.

The biggest component in stomach acid is hydrochloric acid (HCl), and an estimated half of individuals over 50 are not producing enough of it. Luckily betaine HCl, a combination of betaine and hydrochloride naturally found in beets, can work as an effective treatment for hypochlorhydria (a total absence of stomach acid). When taken as a supplement, betaine HCl increases the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, aiding digestion and enhancing the absorption levels of nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and protein.

It should be noted, however, that betaine HCl should not be taken by those who have peptic ulcers, severe atrophic gastritis, or an inflammation of the stomach lining. While it used to be an over-the-counter drug often combined with vitamin B6, this form of betaine has since been banned (in 1993) from over-the-counter sale because it could not be recognized as “generally safe” by the FDA. It is now only available in supplement form, and because supplements are largely under-regulated, you should consult a health care professional for medical advice on the proper doses of betaine hydrochloride before taking it.

And while we’re on the subject, betaine hydrochloride should not be confused with betaine anhydrous, which is the FDA-approved form of betaine that is deemed safe and effective for treating high levels of homocysteine.

4. Muscle Building and Fat Loss

Due to betaine’s role in metabolizing protein, it has recently come into popular use as a workout supplement for muscle building and bodyweight management. Included in many pre-workout nutrient formulas, clinical trials have shown that betaine supplementation can help increase muscle power and endurance all while promoting the loss of dangerous body fat. This combination results in improved body composition for those who utilize betaine as a workout enhancement.

Be Better with Betaine

Betaine supplementation is not advised for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women. This is due not to any adverse side effects reported, but because of a lack of scientific evidence on the effects of high betaine levels in those populations. Likewise betaine hydrochloride can be dangerous for anyone with peptic ulcers or issues with their stomach lining, and should only be taken under a doctor’s approval.

However, as betaine is a naturally occurring compound in our bodies and vital for many important functions, it’s otherwise regarded as a safe way to protect your liver, enhance your physical performance, and help your heart. Consult with a medical professional if you have any hesitations, and find out what betaine supplementation could do for you.

The Best Amino Acids for Energy

Which aminos help with energy production, muscle building, weight loss, sleep cycles, and more? Find out the difference between nonessential and essential amino acid supplements, plus the science behind how they work in the body.

When people supplement with amino acids, they’re usually looking for some very key boosts: muscle building, weight loss, and energy. Whether it’s energy to get through a workout or bodybuilding session at the gym, or energy that carries you through your daily activities (of which greater muscle strength and less body fat also help), amino acids are effective supplements for improving your health and physical performance. But which are the best amino acids for energy? Let’s explore some of the options.

The best amino acids for energy.

The Best Amino Acids for Energy

Here are some of the amino acids that have been proven to help increase energy, decrease muscle fatigue, and improve athletic performance.

1. Citrulline

Citrulline is a nonessential amino acid, meaning it is naturally produced in your body. However, people often supplement with citrulline to boost their exercise performance, mostly because one of citrulline’s uses is to increase blood flow to your body and muscle tissues. Citrulline does this by revving up your body’s production of nitric oxide, a vasodilator that relaxes the blood vessels and opens them up, allowing more oxygen and other nutrients to move through the body faster, thereby increasing energy and stamina.

This 2015 study found that taking citrulline supplements allowed cyclists to bike 12% longer than the placebo group, while this 2010 study showed that taking citrulline increased the amount of reps bodybuilders could do by 53% over the control group.

Citrulline is also known to help reduce muscles soreness and appears to be totally safe for use, with no adverse side effects reported up to 15 grams.

2. Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is another nonessential amino acid that improves muscular endurance, enhances anaerobic exercise capacity, and reduces muscle fatigue. Beta-alanine helps combat the acid buildup in your muscles during intense exercise (especially short bursts of energy like sprints or a single strength-training session). Increasing levels of beta-alanine could help improve your physical performance and prolong your endurance.

A brief yet effective pre-workout supplement, the one reported side effect of beta-alanine supplementation is a feeling of tingling skin if taken in high doses.

3. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The branched-chain amino acids are three of the nine essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine. BCAAs are so-called because their chemical structures involve branching chains of molecules. Naturally found in high-protein foods like meat, fish, eggs, and plant sources of protein like beans and legumes, BCAAs and the other essential aminos are substances your body needs to consume, if not by food then by supplement.

Many athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness-minded folk will take BCAA capsules or powders to help enhance their workouts because these particular amino acids make up over 30% of our muscle protein. BCAA supplements have been studied and scientifically proven to help improve running endurance, reduce both physical and mental fatigue, and diminish muscle soreness after activities like running and weight training.

The only problem with BCAAs is that they are only a third of the nine essential amino acids needed to create new muscle, and that excessive amounts of BCAA powders taken without the other six essential aminos can lead to counterproductive catabolism—basically the cannibalizing of your muscle tissue to access those other amino acids. Not only does catabolism reduce your lean muscle mass, but it also damages your energy levels, because you’re wasting energy on destructive metabolism instead of the virtuous cycle of only using energy to build, repair, and maintain muscle growth.

4. Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in your body, and the essential amino acids are the ones you need to import from outside the body, because they cannot be synthesized within. EAA supplements contain not only the three branched-chain amino acids, but the other six as well: histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. They help with everything from hormone creation, immune support, muscle building, metabolism regulation, and energy transport. Here are some of the most vital roles each essential amino plays in your body.

  • Valine: A branched-chain amino that stimulates the growth of new muscle and is actively involved in energy production.
  • Leucine: This branched-chain amino acid is used in both new protein synthesis, muscle repair, wound healing, blood sugar regulation, and the production of growth hormones.
  • Isoleucine: The final branched-chain amino, this isolated form of leucine (hence the name) is heavily concentrated in your muscle tissue where it aids muscle metabolism and energy regulation.
  • Histidine: This neurotransmitter is used to create histamine and is needed in digestion, sexual function, immune response, and for regulating your sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm).
  • Lysine: Used in hormone and enzyme synthesis, lysine also plays a major role in new protein creation, energy production, and the generation of elastin and collagen (which keep our joints, skin, and hair supple, making lysine one of the amino acids for anti-aging).
  • Methionine: This amino is important for tissue growth, zinc absorption, detoxification, and metabolism.
  • Phenylalanine: Precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, this amino also helps produce the other nonessential amino acids.
  • Threonine: Another contributor to elastin and collagen for anti-aging, threonine also aids in fat metabolism for energy usage.
  • Tryptophan: Most often thought of as the chemical in turkey which makes you sleepy, tryptophan regulates sleep, mood, appetite, and is needed to create serotonin (the “happy hormone”).

As you can see, all the essential amino acids are needed to build muscles and produce the fuel needed to use them, making each and every one an important amino acid for energy. The best supplements for improved energy should come with a whole host of EAAs.

The Energy Enhancement of Essential Amino Acids

Energy creation and expenditure is a cycle in the human body, requiring not only the generation of energy from food and body fat, but also the use of it to build and strengthen our muscles. Here is how supplementing with essential amino acids contributes to each aspect of the energy cycle.

Improve Exercise Performance

The branched-chain amino acids have been extensively studied to show they increase physical performance and reduce energy fatigue. A recent 2017 study found that BCAAs significantly improved muscle recovery and decreased the muscle soreness experienced by athletes over the placebo group in a 16-person trial. A 2017 review of eight other studies found that BCAAs across the board helped to promote muscle recovery and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Even leucine alone has shown an ability to increase strength performance in untrained, non-athletic men (although this increase is greatly limited by the availability of all the other EAAs)—that means amino acid supplements are a great place to start for those who are new to fitness.

Prevent Muscle Loss

When working out and when getting older, we lose muscle mass to other needs in the body. Though BCAAs alone cannot definitively preserve your muscle, and BCAAs without a balanced amount of the other essential aminos might cause catabolism as they seek the other ingredients they need to synthesize new protein, a more thorough amount of the essential amino acids have been shown to preserve muscle mass and prevent muscle breakdown.

This 2009 study of older adults who were on bed rest and susceptible to muscle atrophy demonstrated that 15 grams of EAAs helped maintain muscle protein synthesis, while the placebo group’s muscle synthesis decreased by 30%. Another 2009 study found equivalent results in older women who were able to preserve and even increase lean body mass with supplemental EAAs. When talking about amino acids for anti-aging, preventing age-related muscle wasting is a huge area of importance.

Promote Weight Loss

EAAs can be effective in stimulating fat loss, significantly decreasing the percentage of body fat in men over an 8-week study (the same effects have been shown in animal studies). While fat is, in a sense, a fuel source (the principle behind the ketogenic diet for example is to train the body to burn fat for energy almost exclusively), an excessive amount of fat, especially around your midsection, is not only dangerous to your cardiovascular health, but it’s also a lot more cumbersome weight to carry throughout your day, requiring extra energy that could be better spent. EAA supplementation can lead to better metabolism performance, greater muscle mass, and lower body fat all at once.

Amino Energizer

The best amino acid supplements should contain all the essential amino acids relevant to building muscle, producing energy, and losing excessive weight. The health benefits derived from the right aminos go beyond sports nutrition and into the realm of optimum nutrition for your longevity and quality of life. Check out Amino Co.’s own blend of balanced essential amino acids to see if it doesn’t boost your energy levels, your fitness performance, and your overall well-being.

How to Get the Best Amino Acids for Muscle Growth

Discover the important differences between BCAAs and EAAs for athletic performance, including the best amino acids for muscle growth, workout recovery, plus improved sleep, mood, energy, and fat metabolism.

Muscle protein turnover is a constant state of activity: repairing, replacing, and rebuilding every day. This is true for everyone, though for those who work out or do strenuous labor regularly, the rate is even faster. It’s also true that as we age, this process slows down, meaning the more we do and the older we get, the more support we need to maintain and grow our muscles. Those who hit the gym frequently have probably heard about amino acid supplements, but which are the best amino acids for muscle growth? Branched-chain aminos? The ones in creatine or whey protein? This article has the rundown on the amino acids responsible for muscle synthesis, and advice on how to get all the relevant amino acids for new muscle growth.

Branched-Chain vs. Essential Amino Acids

Branched-chain amino acid supplements (or BCAAs) are incredibly popular workout supplements among athletes and bodybuilders for their purported muscle-building abilities, but BCAAs are only a third of the essential amino acids (EAAs) needed to create new muscle. Here are the important differences when it comes to amino acids for working out.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

BCAAs are taken as supplements to increase muscle gain, improve muscle recovery, and boost athletic performance. However, it’s a little more nuanced than that on the molecular level.

Branched-chain aminos are so-called because of their chemical structures, the branching chains of their chemical bonds. They are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, and they do indeed play vital and irreplaceable roles in muscle building.

BCAAs are metabolized in your muscles, not via the liver, which means they hit your bloodstream fast when you consume a BCAA supplement, and are especially useful for workout energy. Scientific studies show a link between BCAA consumption and improved glycogen energy storage, decreased workout fatigue, and greater muscle mass. So…what could possibly be the drawback?

The Issue with BCAA Supplements

BCAAs cannot work alone. This meta-analysis of the relevant research done over 30 years (between 1985-2017) found that there are no human studies that show BCAAs working independently to improve athletic performance or increase protein synthesis. While they definitely play a role in new muscle growth, they are not the magic bullet that many fitness enthusiasts are led to believe. How can that be so?

Well, the meta-analysis referenced above highlighted two distinct studies that both showed BCAA supplementation can actually decrease muscle protein synthesis when they are overabundant. As mentioned previously, it takes all nine of the essential amino acids to create new muscle, and without a sufficient amount of every EAA, the excessive amount of BCAAs in the body may accelerate the catabolic rate of muscles (catabolism being a destructive metabolism, the very thing most bodybuilders take supplements to guard against).

In two of the studies profiled, muscle tissue was being broken down much faster than it was being repaired due to the fact that the overwhelming amount of BCAAs in the subjects were seeking to complete their job: achieve protein synthesis. To do this they cannibalized muscle tissue to derive the other six essential amino acids that could not be found quickly enough anywhere else. It’s sort of like the way certain parasites kill their hosts, even though it’s an illogical action: molecules and basic organisms aren’t thinking about the bigger picture, they have one purpose and will clear a path of destruction to complete it if necessary.

Long story short, BCAAs cannot create new muscle alone, without all the ingredients necessary for new protein synthesis, they can actually work against your goals.

Other BCAA Concerns

BCAAs only work to improve muscle growth in those who just so happen to have a sufficient amount of the other essential amino acids in their bloodstreams. Too many BCAAs taken as a solo supplement can have some other negative side effects.

  • A too-high dose of BCAAs can interrupt serotonin production: Serotonin is one of your happy hormones, part of the group of chemicals like dopamine and your endorphins that keep you from feelings of depression and anxiety (among others). Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan, which uses the same carrier as BCAAs to reach the brain. With extra BCAAs clogging the brain bus, tryptophan uptake decreases, and serotonin production declines.
  • Increased amounts of BCAAs lead to B vitamin depletion: The metabolic requirements of utilizing extra BCAAs includes using several B vitamins, which then leads to a B vitamin shortage. B vitamins are needed for a multitude of other bodily functions, and a deficiency in B vitamins can interrupt hormone production, nervous system functioning, and digestion.
  • Excessive BCAA concentrations can lead to blood sugar and insulin issues: Increased levels of BCAAs may be a predictor of type 2 diabetes onset, and are linked to a higher risk of insulin resistance.

The best amino acids for muscle growth.

Essential Amino Acids

The positive promises of branched-chain amino acid supplements can still be had, so long as you get them in proper balance with the rest of the essential aminos. The best supplements for muscle growth will include all of the amino acids you can’t make yourself, which includes those treasured BCAAs.

Essential vs. Nonessential Amino Acids

Amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein in the body, and have everything to do with muscle gain and protein synthesis. They also have a firm hand in our hormone production, our enzyme creation, our cognitive functioning, and our metabolism.

There are 20 main amino acids in the human body, and while 11 of them can be synthesized in-house and are deemed nonessential, 9 of them are essential to consume from outside the body (like plant and animal protein sources: fish, eggs, beans, etc.). Those nine essential aminos are:

  1. Valine (BCAA): Aids in energy production and stimulates muscle regeneration.
  2. Isoleucine (BCAA): Prevents muscle breakdown and is important in energy regulation and immune system activity.
  3. Leucine (BCAA): Vital in blood sugar regulation, growth hormone synthesis, and protein synthesis.
  4. Lysine: One of the amino acids for joint pain due to its role in collagen, elastin, and our connective tissues.
  5. Methionine: Supports liver function, heart health, and the processing and elimination of body fat.
  6. PhenylalanineHelps synthesize dopamine and norepinephrine, providing antidepressant and pain-killing effects.
  7. ThreonineAnother player in connective tissue (like lysine) and fat metabolism (like methionine).
  8. Tryptophan: The precursor for serotonin, important for appetite, mood, and healthy sleep.
  9. HistidinePrecursor to carnosine, which reduces lactic acid buildup and helps relieve muscle soreness.

Each of the essential amino acids plays a role in either muscle building, fat burning, energy creation, or joint health, or all of the above. Don’t stop at BCAAs when supplementing. Get the full deck of essential amino acids to truly improve your workout and increase your muscle growth.

Get the Essentials for Muscle Growth

To reiterate: BCAAs aren’t bad, they just aren’t the full package that amino acid supplements have to offer. They can’t build muscle all on their own, and too many BCAAs without the rest of their EAA cohort can have counterproductive or even destructive effects on your health.

A full roster of essential amino acids can aid muscle repair, improve exercise recovery, help suppress your appetite (due to the EAAs which work in the brain to regulate satiety and hunger hormones), improve cognitive function, aid weight loss, enhance metabolic processes, and lead to better sleep.

With EAAs, your post-workout recovery improves alongside your body weight, blood flow, lean muscle mass, and muscle strength. Add a complete, well-balanced EAA supplement to your sports nutrition regimen to get the very best of everything.