The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer and Protein Supplements for Muscle Growth

What are the top five best weight gainers and protein supplements for muscle growth and workout support? Find out what it takes to build new muscle and bulk up as you work out.

In order to bulk up and build muscle you must be taking in optimum nutrition. Muscle mass cannot be created without the building blocks of protein (amino acids) and enough fuel for the energy that muscle creation requires. So if you’re on a journey to muscle building, make sure you take the best weight gainer and protein supplements along. What are they, you ask? We have the answers, backed by scientific research.

How to Build Muscle: The Basics

The formula for muscle growth is pretty simple: you gain muscle when the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown.

To activate this formula, you must push your workout to demand new muscle creation, and then supply your body with enough muscle-building nutrients to meet that demand. That means extra energy and protein support before and after your workout, plus enough fuel to minimize muscle breakdown (catabolism) while you sleep.

If your body is lacking in any of the main ingredients needed for lean muscle creation, it will start harvesting other muscle cells for those supplies. It’s like tearing the plumbing out of your house to outfit a guest house: it doesn’t make sense, but what the body needs, it takes, regardless of logic.

But never fear. You don’t have to worry about stealing nutrients from your precious muscles as long as you have the right nutrient intake. Let’s find out the the best weight gainer and protein supplements for you.

The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer Supplements for Muscle Growth

The Top 5 Best Weight Gainer Supplements for Muscle Growth

While many people think they work out to lose weight, it would be more correct to say they’re working out to lose body fat. Muscle is denser than fat, so for those looking to become lean and strong and for those looking to bulk, the goal is actually to gain weight in the form of muscle mass, and there are high-quality protein and mass gainer supplements to help.

1. Milk Protein Supplements

It seems almost too obvious to mention, but you need protein to build muscle bulk. Muscle is made of protein, and study after study shows that protein supplements help exercising adults gain more muscle than those who don’t consume extra protein. These protein supplements specifically include whey protein (derived from the liquid part of milk) and casein supplements for exogenous amino acid support during wake and sleep.

When to take protein supplements, pre- or post-workout (or both), depends on the type of workout you’re doing. How much depends on your body composition and your bulking goals. As a macronutrient, protein should be between 10% and 35% of your daily calorie intake, and researchers suggest between 0.6 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day to support muscle growth (calculate your own serving size).

Along with whole food proteins, protein powder supplements like casein (derived from the solids of milk that make up cheese) and whey protein powder can help put your muscle gain over the top. Whey is fast-digesting and casein slow, so taking them together covers all the bases.

2. Creatine

Eating a high-protein diet is one thing, but for real gains in lean muscle mass and overall bulk weight, high-quality protein supplements maximize your muscle-building profits. Creatine is a protein supplement derived from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. It’s consumed naturally from animal meat and seafood and is one of the most popular supplements for muscle growth and bodybuilding.

Creatine has been widely studied and has proven results in increasing muscle mass, improving rapid energy production (important for workout endurance), and consistently enhancing performance and muscle gain.

Creatine monohydrate supplements have been shown over and over again to be safe and effective at anywhere between 20 grams per day as a loading dose (split into 4 servings) and 3-5 grams for indefinite maintenance of muscle mass.

3. Weight Gainers

What separates weight gainers from protein supplements isn’t a lack of protein—weight gainers are high in both protein and carbs—it’s that they’re specifically designed to be high-calorie supplements for those who have a hard time gaining weight no matter how much they eat. Weight gainers are essentially protein supplements plus concentrated carbohydrates and fats for extra energy and bulk.

Some of the most popular products include:

  • MuscleTech Mass Tech: With 840 calories per serving and 63 grams of protein from whey, casein, and creatine monohydrate, this product also adds the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) for extra workout support. Flavors come in Chocolate, Vanilla, and Birthday Cake.
  • BSN True Mass 1200: The best mass gainers are those with a higher calorie count per serving, and this product delivers 1,200 calories per 310-gram serving. With 50 grams of protein, 213 grams of carbs, and 17 grams of fat, BSN True Mass 1200 flavors include Chocolate Milkshake, Strawberry Milkshake, and Cookies & Cream.
  • Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass: Even higher in calories with 1,250 per serving, this product has 50 grams of protein, 252 grams of carbs, and 4.5 grams of fat in flavors like Banana, Chocolate, and Chocolate Peanut Butter.
  • MusclePharm Combat XLThe calorie content is 1,270 per serving, with 50 grams of protein and 7 grams of fat, in Chocolate Peanut Putter, Chocolate Milk, and Vanilla flavors.
  • Dymatize Super Mass GainerHigher still in calories at 1,280 per serving, this mass gainer has 52 grams of protein from whey, casein, and eggs, plus 246 grams of carbs and 9 grams of fat.

Easily ordered online via Amazon or directly from the manufacturers, these types of pro gainers provide a sort of universal nutrition profile, with protein for lean mass creation, complex carbohydrates for energy and bulk, and fats like MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) for healthy weight gain.

With so many options available, you can find products with animal proteins from grass-fed, cage-free sources, maltodextrin from non-GMO organic tapioca, and even gluten-free options with no artificial sweeteners for your weight gainer shakes.

4. Exercise Boosters

There’s almost no way to gain muscle without exercise, so optimizing your workout energy and performance is important. Here are a few supplements to boost your workout.

5. Essential Amino Acids

Speaking of amino acids, as we mentioned at the top of this article, there is no new muscle creation without amino acids, specifically the full host of all nine essential amino acids. While many protein supplements focus on the branched-chain aminos, BCAAs are only three out of the nine essential aminos, and if any one of the essentials is deficient, the body starts catabolizing other muscle molecules to get it.

While studies show that BCAAs are indeed critical for new muscle growth, so are the other six essential amino acids, and other studies have found that supplementing with the BCAAs on their own doesn’t show any preferential effects towards muscle building. You need a balanced EAA supplement to truly benefit new muscle growth and bulk.

Gain Muscle, Gain Weight

Alongside whole food protein sources, supplements designed for weight gain, workout support, and new muscle creation can go a long way towards setting you up for success as you work to bulk up. We here at AminoCo are proud to offer a product with all the essential muscle-building amino acids, along with other nutrients for muscle growth, liver health, detox support, and more, all to provide the fitness-minded with the best of everything.

What Is Percussive Massage Therapy and Who Does It Help?

Percussive massage therapy: used by world-class athletes and trainers, and available for personal use. What is a percussion massage and who would it benefit the most? Find out here.

The percussion massager: it’s a machine that looks not unlike a nail gun, and it’s used to rapidly pummel soft tissue. What is percussive massage therapy good for treating and who needs it the most? We have these answers and more, including the top three percussive massagers on the market.

What Is Percussive Massage Therapy?

Percussive massage guns are designed to penetrate deep into your soft tissues using rapid, concentrated blows. This massage technique promotes localized tissue repair, aids in pain relief, and essentially forces relaxation into tight or damaged muscles. Also known as vibration therapy, these power massagers are used in sports medicine and by chiropractors to treat sore muscle tissue, encourage blow flow, deter lactic acid buildup, and support muscle recovery.

Who Needs a Percussion Massage?

Most people will experience some benefit from a percussive massage, assuming they’re strong enough to absorb the force of the massage head. Beyond that, those who work out vigorously and those who are training for a sporting event or are amateur or professional athletes will find a percussive massage tool helpful for relieving soft tissue pain, improving range of motion, and preventing delayed onset muscle soreness. In fact, it’s even beneficial for those who are recovering from surgery.

Percussive Massage Therapy and Muscle Stimulation Benefits

Percussive massage devices are handheld motors with power dense foam balls that move back and forth between 30 and 40 times per second. These machines can help cut down on muscle pain in the following ways.

1. Warm-Up and Improved Athletic Performance

A percussive massager can help stimulate blood flow and improve blood circulation to your muscles before and after exercise or sport, helping you prevent injuries and reduce potential muscle soreness much the same way a stretch and warmup can.

These machines are used by world-class trainers to help condition professional athletes, sometimes even between breaks at events like the NBA Finals. Massagers can treat and even prevent cramping and fatigue, help stretch out the connective tissues, and improve muscle strength and recovery time.

2. Pain Relief and Muscle Rehab

Percussion massages help relieve muscle soreness so you feel less pain without having to resort to drugs. This is applicable when it comes to the small-scale healing after an intense workout and to the rehabilitation of your muscles after suffering serious injury or undergoing surgery.

Percussive massages not only speed the recovery process by stimulating robust circulation to the area, but also cause contractions in the muscle that help strengthen it, which is incredibly helpful for those who cannot take part in physical therapy and are at high risk of muscle atrophy.

3. Medical Aid

Above and beyond the benefits to your muscles, percussive therapy can also be used after surgery to help increase your lymphatic circulation and break down internal scar tissue. This helps speed up a patient’s recovery time by elongating muscle fibers, reducing muscle spasms, and preventing stiffness in their joints.

4. Post-Surgery Cosmetic Benefits

Just as percussive massage helps break down internal scar tissue, it can also help with breaking up externally visible scar tissue. Moreover, percussive massage therapy helps accelerate healing by reducing inflammation and increasing the circulation that helps prevent swelling.

5. Relaxation and Stress Relief

Along with all the physical benefits that come from percussive massage therapy, there are also benefits for mental health and emotional well-being. By improving oxygen’s circulation throughout the body and unkinking your muscles, percussion massages help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and stimulate the lymphatic functions that are part of your immune system and detox operations.

What Is Percussive Massage Therapy?

The Top Handheld Percussive Massagers

If you’re interested in owning your own percussive massager, here are some of the top sellers along with their key features.

1. TheraGun G2PRO

This professional-grade, battery-operated massager has an adjustable head for flexibility, offers 2,400 percussions per minute, and is strong enough to provide you with a deep-tissue massage. Downsides, however, include only one speed and a 20-minute max battery life, though it does come with two batteries in a carrying case that you can switch back and forth. The G3PRO model has 50% less noise than the G2PRO.

2. TimTam

The TimTam massage therapy device has a 90-degree articulating head for reaching different tissues of the body, a variety of head shapes, and offers 2,000 percussions per minute. The major downside is that it’s quite loud.

3. Hyperice Hypervolt

The laser-gun-looking Hypervolt, much like a foam roller, can be used for both stimulation and recovery. With three speed settings and four head attachments (ball, fork, flathead, and bullet), it has 3 hours of battery life, is quieter than the majority of massagers, and provides 3,200 percussions per minute. The only downside outside of its high cost is its non-adjustable head.

A Final Note of Caution

If you’re looking to use a percussive massager personally and outside of the guidance of a doctor or physiotherapist, there are some cautions to be aware of. Percussion therapy massagers are not recommended for use if you have any lumbar injuries, are pregnant, have any cardiovascular issues, are diabetic, or on blood-thinning medications. Just to be safe, ask your doctor or a trusted health care professional if you are fit enough for percussive massage.

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

What are the top 10 nutrients and vitamins for post-workout muscle recovery? Which foods contain them naturally, and who should supplement where? This article answers all your questions about vitamins for muscle recovery.

If you’re looking to build muscle, you’ll have to master the balancing act between muscle protein breakdown and buildup, and that requires leaving time and space for muscle recovery. Vigorous exercise causes microtears and normal muscle damage that is then repaired by the body. This process makes your muscles stronger and tells your body that more muscle is needed. You can support muscle function and reduce the time spent with sore muscles during this post-workout window, so long as you have the proper nutrient support for rebuilding. So what are the best nutrients and vitamins for muscle recovery? We have the top 10 contenders.

How Muscles Are Built

Muscle recovery is an intrinsic part of building new muscle. It doesn’t just start in the gym either: it has one foot planted firmly in your kitchen. Your body needs proper nutrition and hydration to perform well at the gym, and then it needs the same again to clear out the cellular debris caused by workouts and build anew.

The average American diet is made up of more than 70% processed food, but even an extremely healthy diet may fall short if you’re pushing yourself to bulk up. Likewise, a general multivitamin may not do the trick either: if you’re working up to your body’s limit and striving to reach past it, you need more than average support. The CDC estimates that the general population has iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B6 deficiencies, and these deficiencies are more keenly felt by those who work their bodies to the max.

Outside of the whole grains, dietary fats, and protein you get from your food, what else is needed to promote strength and achieve lean muscle growth?

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

The Top 10 Nutrients and Vitamins for Muscle Recovery

Sports nutrition prioritizes high amounts of protein in the diet for those seeking to build strength and muscle mass. That is because protein contains the building blocks of muscle, the essential amino acids needed to synthesize all new muscle. What other nutrients do you need to consume to get the most out of your workout in the recovery window? Here are the top vitamins for muscle recovery.

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays an important role in protein synthesis, and so, along with being important for eye health and serving as an antioxidant against the damage of free radicals, it’s also a key vitamin for muscle growth. Vitamin A contributes to workout strength thanks to its role in the creation of glycogen, the stored form of glucose energy (from sugar) that provides you the rapid strength needed for more reps, for sports like sprinting, and most certainly for weightlifting. Vitamin A is essential for bone health too, which walks hand-in-hand with muscle strength, but due to factors like diets low in fats, alcohol use and abuse, and diabetes, many people are deficient in vitamin A.

To get more natural vitamin A from your diet, look towards carrots, fatty fish like salmon, and eggs.

2. Vitamin B3

Vitamin B3 (which also goes by the name niacin) supports muscle-building efforts by cleaning up your cholesterol ratio (promoting “good” HDL numbers while reducing “bad” LDL levels) and supporting the production of necessary hormones.

Vitamin B3 can be had by consuming animal foods like meat, fish, and eggs, and by eating plant foods like seeds and bananas.

3. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6, another B-complex vitamin, targets circulation and heart health by boosting red blood cell production and maintaining the necessary level of nitric oxide in the blood, which relaxes our blood vessels and allows our blood to flow freely.

Found naturally in foods like fatty fish, bananas, and chickpeas, vitamin B6 is also well represented in vitamins and supplements, so you may just find a hefty dose in your multivitamin of choice.

4. Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9, otherwise known as folate or folic acid (the synthetic version of folate), is important in human development from the womb to the tomb. It’s important as a prenatal vitamin for pregnant women, and it remains important throughout our lives for energy production, muscle tissue repair, and new muscle cell creation.

Vitamin B9 is found in foods like spinach and avocado, a healthy fat. It’s widely prevalent in multivitamin formulas and protein powders made for workout recovery, muscle repair, and more.

5. Vitamin B12

The last of the impressive family of B vitamins on this list, vitamin B12 works closely with folate for muscle repair and is essential for producing the red blood cells needed to deliver oxygen to our muscles.

Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods like meat, dairy, poultry, and fish, and vegans and vegetarians may suffer from a B12 deficiency due to their reliance on plant-based foods. For those who don’t eat meat, soy products, nut milks, and fortified cereals have some vitamin B12, and supplementation with B12 is often recommended to shore up any gaps.

6. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is well known as the cold- and flu-battling antioxidant, but did you know it helps with muscle recovery too? Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, vitamin C both supports your immune system and reduces the lactic acid buildup in your muscles after a workout (the main culprit for muscle soreness). Vitamin C also boosts collagen production, which is needed for skin and connective tissue health and repair.

Food sources of vitamin C don’t stop at citrus fruits like oranges. You can also find high levels of vitamin C in leafy greens like kale, which is known as a superfood thanks to its abundance of vital nutrients.

7. Vitamin D

We can synthesize vitamin D from the sunshine we soak up through our skin, but vitamin D deficiency is nevertheless all too common, in part due to lifestyle necessities like working inside, but also due to circumstances outside of our control, like the melanin content of our skin, or even where we live. There are fewer hours of sunlight during the winter months, and those living in more northern locales may deal with a lack of sufficient vitamin D-rich sun throughout the year.

Vitamin D is critical for helping us absorb calcium, making it important for bone strength and dozens of other processes like insulin reaction, mood balance, and muscle protein synthesis.

Vitamin D foods include fatty fish, dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, beef liver, soy milk, and mushrooms if they’re left to soak up sunlight before you consume them. To optimize the effectiveness of vitamin D, make sure you also get enough vitamin K (found in dark, leafy green vegetables). If your vitamin D levels are low, sun exposure, as well as supplementation, is recommended.

8. Vitamin E

Vitamin E is known for encouraging skin tightening and suppleness, slowing down signs of aging, and helping to guard against free radical damage. Working out and vigorous physical activity creates oxidative stress in our bodies that needs to be met with antioxidant aid from nutrients like vitamin E.

Vitamin E can be found naturally in nuts, seeds, spinach, avocado, and fish such as rainbow trout. In addition to antioxidant support, vitamin E also helps flush out toxins and cellular waste, which is why it’s part of our recommended liver flush diet.

9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

If you eat a standard American diet, you’re likely to have a skewed omega-3-to-omega-6 fatty acid ratio. The ideal is as close as possible to a 1:1 ratio, but due to the overabundance of omega-6s (thanks in part to vegetable oils in processed foods and the difficulty and cost associated with eating natural omega-3 foods), many first-world residents have around a 20:1 ratio when it comes to omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. We can optimize this ratio by eating more omega-3s.

Omega-3s are needed to help reduce post-workout muscle soreness and promote muscle growth (not to mention skin, brain, joint, eye, and cardiovascular health).

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the highest concentrations in fatty, oily fish like sardines, tuna, and mackerel, but they can also be found in eggs, nuts like walnuts, avocados, or fish oil supplements.

10. Amino Acids

There is no rebuilding muscle without a proper amount of all nine essential amino acids. Many workout aids and protein powders focus on the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), but they are only one-third of the full host of necessary aminos for muscle recovery and new muscle growth. If your body has to repair your muscles without a sufficient supply of amino acids, it will catabolize nearby muscle cells for these molecules, which is like building an addition on your house using supplies you have to rip out of the walls already built.

Amino acid foods include “complete protein” foods, such as quinoa, animal meats, and eggs, and complementary proteins like beans and lentils that almost contain all nine amino acids, but still need to be combined with another food like a whole grain for the rest. When actively building muscle, it’s important to keep your essential amino acid levels at max capacity at all times, which is where amino acid supplementation comes in handy.

Supplementing for Muscle Recovery

We here at AminoCo have an amino acid formula that combines a scientifically balanced amount of all nine essential amino acids, with protein support from creatine and with the inclusion of vitamins needed to reduce muscle cramps and aid workout performance. On top of a whole foods diet that contains lean protein and nutritionally dense plant foods, make sure you’re getting the best vitamins and amino acid support for your post-workout muscle recovery.

Glycine for Sleep: The Amino Acid for Better Rest

Glycine for sleep and so much more: find out how this amino acid and neurotransmitter aids your body’s most important functions, and learn how to supplement with it for better sleep quality, vital organ protection, and supple skin.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which probably makes you think of all things muscle, like muscle repair and new muscle creation. You do need all nine essential amino acids to build muscle, but amino acids perform a wide variety of important tasks in the body, including regulating your sleep-wake cycle and the quality of sleep you experience. Glycine is one of those amino acids working tirelessly behind the scenes so that you can get a good night’s sleep. We have the details on the effects of glycine for sleep, and how you can utilize it to optimize your sleep patterns.

What Is Glycine?

Glycine is a naturally occurring nonessential amino acid. It is the simplest in structure of all the amino acids, and yet it’s just as important in daily functioning. Glycine is used to make vital substances like various enzymes and hormones in the body, and it’s also used to synthesize new protein, a role it plays in muscle maintenance and growth.

The human body naturally produces glycine, but it’s also found in protein foods and can be taken as a dietary supplement. While glycine deficiency is extremely rare, studies have shown that low levels of glycine are associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, which we’ll cover in a bit.

Insufficient glycine levels may also be associated with chronic sleep problems, and glycine supplements could function as a natural sleep aid.

Glycine for Sleep: Scientifically Proven Effectiveness

Glycine for Sleep: Scientifically Proven Effectiveness

Daytime sleepiness coupled with an inability to fall asleep easily can quickly interrupt your quality of life. It’s more dangerous to drive or commute to work if you’re not properly rested, it’s more difficult to concentrate on your daily tasks, and it saps the enjoyment you should be experiencing when your work is completed each day. Here are some of the scientifically backed data points showing that glycine ingestion could lead to better sleep.

1. Sleep-Promoting

Glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter operating in our central nervous system. That means it has a role to play in hearing, vision, motor movement, and our intake and processing of sensory information. By working as an inhibitor, glycine has a calming effect on the central nervous system. The dietary glycine we consume has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, enter our brains, and go where it’s needed.

Perhaps working with other inhibitory neurotransmitters like the amino acid GABA (the exact mechanisms are still not fully understood by researchers), glycine has the ability to help “quiet down” the nervous system and effectively promote sleep.

2. Enhances Memory Formation, Organization, and Retrieval

Memory formation and memory organization are deeply connected to healthy, adequate sleep. One of the other roles glycine performs in the brain is to activate excitatory NMDA receptors, which are keys to synaptic plasticity and the creation of new synapses for learning and memory retention.

Research shows that glycine may be beneficial to memory retrieval in both old and young participants in instances of disrupted sleep, like jet lag or having to work a night shift. Researchers also suggest that glycine may be able to help those with Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and schizophrenia in the area of memory retrieval.

3. Encourages Deeper Sleep

Studies on glycine’s effect on sleep have revealed that glycine ingestion before bedtime improves the subjective sleep quality of those dealing with insomnia. Researchers studied both rat and human subjects, and found the same effects in both, with more information coming from the rat models on the inner workings of glycine.

Glycine taken orally significantly increased the concentration of glycine in the cerebrospinal fluid of rats. Researches noted an increase of cutaneous blood flow coupled with a decrease in core body temperature. A low core body temperature is maintained during human sleep, revealing another facet of how glycine may beneficially interact with our sleep patterns.

4. Calms Anxiety

Studies on glycine for anxiety work closely with serotonin and its relationship to restful sleep. Serotonin is known as the “happy hormone” because it contributes to feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and well-being. Serotonin is also needed to create the hormone melatonin, which encourages deeper sleep and is often lacking in those with sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea.

By increasing serotonin levels, you can lessen anxiety and promote restful sleep, and consuming glycine has been shown to elevate serotonin levels and encourage healthy sleep cycles, both of which provide much needed anxiety relief.

5. Improves Daytime Performance

A study on the effects of glycine on subjective daytime performance in partially sleep-restricted healthy volunteers asserts that about 30% of the general population suffers from insomnia. Knowing that, researchers chose to test the effects of glycine on the daytime levels of fatigue and sleepiness on people restricted to 25% less of their usual sleep time. They then measured the cognitive performances of the participants.

The results found that those who were given glycine instead of a placebo reported significantly less fatigue and sleepiness, and demonstrated improvements in psychomotor vigilance tests. The researchers also measured circadian rhythms by looking at the suprachiasmatic nucleus (one of a pair of small nuclei in the hypothalamus of the brain). While they found no changes in the circadian clock, they did find that glycine altered specific neuropeptides in the brain, which they suggest accounts for glycine’s ability to improve feelings of sleepiness and fatigue in those who are sleep deprived.

A previously linked study also found that taking supplemental glycine helped people reach slow-wave sleep faster, providing the benefits of deeper REM sleep in a shorter amount of time. This benefit may extend to better mental performance during the day, even when sleep is restricted.

Other Benefits of Glycine Supplementation

The use of glycine in both animal models and human volunteers shows that it has a beneficial impact on the polysomnographic changes in our brains and bodies. But glycine amino acid supplementation can benefit even more than sleep. For instance:

  • Antioxidant support: Glycine is one of the three amino acids needed to create glutathione, an antioxidant that protects the body from the oxidative stress damage caused by free radicles.
  • Collagen creation and skincare: Ingesting glycine promotes collagen levels in the body and helps keep our connective tissues supple and young. Externally, glycine soja oil from soy contains all of the essential amino acids along with vitamin E, and is commonly found in skin conditioning products, beauty supplies, moisturizing soaps, and bath oils.
  • Creatine and workout aid: Glycine is needed to form creatine, a substance you most likely know as a main ingredient in protein shakes that are used to build muscle bulk. Creatine provides fast energy to muscles, making it a vigorous workout aid for any strenuous activity, from weightlifting to sprinting.
  • Liver protection: Glycine has been shown to help prevent alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic cirrhosis.
  • Heart health and blood pressure support: Glycine treatment has been found to improve the usability of nitric oxide in the body, increasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack.
  • Diabetes management: Glycine aids in both preventing and managing the development of type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity and response.

Glycine Foods and How to Supplement with Glycine

“Glycine” comes from the Greek word glykys (γλυκύς), meaning “sweet-tasting.” In fact, the original betaine, now known as glycine betaine, was first discovered in the sugar beet in the 19th century. Glycine in supplement form still tastes quite sweet, and for that reason it is easily added to foods and beverages like oatmeal, coffee, protein shakes, yogurt, and pudding. Natural glycine foods include high-protein options like:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

Dosages and Possible Adverse Side Effects

When studied, up to 90 grams of glycine can be administered every day for several weeks without adverse effects. However, the standard effective dosage is between 3 and 5 grams per day. It’s also important that you seek professional medical advice before adding glycine or any other supplement to your routine if you are already on medications or if you are pregnant or nursing. Some reported potential side effects of supplementing with glycine include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Soft stools

Glycine: Neurotransmitter Extraordinaire

There you have it: glycine is not only effective at improving sleep but also a vital contributor to many functions in the body, including maintaining healthy skin and protecting the liver and the heart. By ensuring that you have sufficient amounts of both your essential and nonessential amino acids like glycine, you can improve your whole-body health.

Protein Replacement Therapy: A Promising Medical Treatment Approach

Protein replacement therapy is a method for treating diseases and disorders by replacing missing proteins in diseased cells. Clinical trials show it can help to treat rare diseases, like recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa, as well as common conditions such as heart disease. Here’s what you should know about the science behind protein replacement therapy as well as its potential applications.

Most laypeople haven’t heard of protein replacement therapy, but the world of molecular medicine is abuzz with interest in this promising medical treatment. A chief aim for those working in the field of molecular medicine is to develop an efficient way to reliably replace missing proteins in diseased cells. Gene therapy is one possible method for achieving that, but according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a database overseen by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this experimental approach comes with considerable risks and significant advances will need to be made before it becomes safe. Other methods of protein replacement therapy, however, do not require the transfer of genetic material into cells, which eliminates some of the most significant issues that arise with gene therapy while still allowing for the delivery of missing or deficient proteins.

Read on to learn more about protein therapy and its potential treatment applications.

The Science of Protein Replacement Therapy

So far, most of the research into protein replacement therapy has been focused on its use for the treatment of rare monogenic diseases. These conditions occur because of a single defect in a single gene found in human DNA. Though these diseases are considered rare, experts estimate there are over 10,000 of them and that they affect millions of individuals around the globe.

Supporting Research Into Treatments for Rare Diseases

Developing treatments for rare diseases can be quite challenging, in part because companies are less likely to make a profit off such treatments, and therefore less likely to fund research into potential treatments and cures. In an effort to address this, several countries have passed legislation to encourage companies to develop drugs to treat “orphan diseases,” a classification applied to “diseases with a prevalence of less than 200,000 affected individuals in the United States and less than approximately 250,000 affected individuals in the European Union (EU),” per an article titled “Protein Replacement Therapies for Rare Diseases: A Breeze for Regulatory Approval?” that was published in Science Translational Medicine in 2013.

The U.S. Orphan Drug Act, passed in 1983, extends regulatory, commercial, and tax incentives to companies investigating drugs designed to treat orphan diseases. In 2000, the EU passed a similar piece of legislation and multiple other countries have since followed suit. Currently, genetic diseases (along with rare types of cancer and drugs with pediatric indications) rank among the top three in terms of approved orphan drug treatments. And protein replacement therapies for monogenic diseases is a popular subcategory within that realm.

Justifying the Use of Monogenic Protein Replacement Therapies

Blood factors and enzyme replacement therapies for lysosomal storage disorders were two of the first monogenic protein replacement therapies (MPRTs) to receive regulatory approval with orphan drug classification in the United States and EU. When these drugs went to market, manufacturers introduced what’s known as “orphan pricing,” a system in which high premiums are charged to compensate for limited demand. According to the Science Translational Medicine article, the cost of MPRTs, a category that includes drugs like Fabrazyme, Elaprase, and Naglazyme, tops $200,000 annually while sales come in at over $100 million.

Given those numbers, it’s hardly surprising how much attention has been paid to the prices charged for orphan drugs, and, subsequently, the difficulties faced by health care systems when it comes to reimbursement. Determining which patients should be approved for these costly treatments requires complicated calculations, and not everyone agrees on which criteria should be used.

The paradigm so far has been that the use of MPRTs can be reimbursed in the United States, most member countries of the EU, and Japan. It’s also common practice for these drugs to be provided at no cost in countries with low average household income levels and underdeveloped health care systems.

The authors of the Science Translational Medicine article argue that in order to justify the high prices charged for orphan drugs and the rates at which health care systems reimburse for their use, manufacturers must demonstrate that they are, in the long-term, cost-effective treatments. While clinical trials have shown that long-term use of MPRTs can be safe, clinically effective, and lead to health-related improvements in terms of quality of life, more research is needed to conclusively prove that their use leads to net reductions in health care costs.

13 Vital Facts About Protein Replacement Therapy

Potential Applications for Protein Replacement Therapy

Clinical trials have investigated the use of protein replacement therapy for a variety of conditions, including:

Two of the most promising applications to date are for the treatment of recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa and heart failure.

Protein Replacement Therapy for Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa

Studies conducted on the use of protein replacement therapy to treat recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa have yielded highly promising results.

This disease belongs to the epidermolysis bullosa family, a collection of genetic disorders related to structural proteins in the skin. Individuals with these disorders have atypically fragile skin and mucous membranes that are prone to splitting and blistering. To compound matters, the underlying gene defect compromises wound healing. If wounds do manage to heal, extensive scarring is typical.

Recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB), one of the most severe iterations, happens when the gene coding for type VII collagen protein either does not function properly or is absent. This protein helps the two primary layers of the skin—the epidermis and the dermis—adhere to each other. Without it, the skin often separates, leading to blisters and a higher risk of infection.

The NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases highlighted research done with mice that indicated protein replacement therapy could be the key to treating this debilitating genetic condition.

The research, published in Molecular Therapy and the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, examined two techniques for replacing absent or defective type VII collagen with the goal of improving wound healing and reversing both structural and molecular defects in the skin of individuals with RDEB.

The first technique involved topically applying human recombinant type VII collagen (rC7) to the backs of mice with normal collagen genes. After 2 weeks, the team of researchers led by David T. Woodley, M.D., and Mei Chen, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California discovered that the rC7 had been stably incorporated and sped up the skin’s healing process. It also decreased scarring compared to untreated mice. The beneficial effects lasted for 2 months.

Next, the researchers tried topical applications of rC7 on RDEB skin grafts attached to the backs of mice. When rC7 was applied to broken skin, it was successfully incorporated and improved wound healing. However, when it was applied to intact skin, it was not incorporated. The researchers concluded that this limits the use of topical rC7 as it can only help to increase the rate of healing for existing wounds and cannot prevent the formation of wounds or blisters.

The second technique was intravenous administration of rC7. The research team began by wounding the skin on the backs of mice with normal collagen genes and injecting rC7 into their tail veins. They discovered that the rC7 traveled to the wounds where it was successfully incorporated. Again, it appeared to accelerate healing. They found no evidence of rC7 in healthy, wound-free skin or internal organs.

Subsequently, the team examined the effects of administering rC7 intravenously to mice with RDEB skin grafts. The injected rC7 traveled to the skin grafts where it “created new anchoring fibril structures, which hold the epidermis together.”

According to study authors Drs. Woodley and Chen, “Intravenous delivery of rC7 opens up new prospects for more systemic treatment of the disease. Our data suggest that intravenous rC7 not only improves the healing of multiple RDEB-related wounds simultaneously, but it can also prevent new blisters from developing in RDEB skin.”

Protein Replacement Therapy for Heart Failure

While much of the excitement about protein replacement therapy has to do with its use for the treatment of rare genetic disorders, it shows promise as a treatment for more common health conditions too.

Myocardial infarction (heart attack) and heart failure are among the top causes of death in the United States and other countries. A myocardial infarction occurs when blood flow to a segment of heart muscle drops below adequate levels. The greater the length of time before treatment to restore blood flow takes effect, the greater the loss of cardiac muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes. Because the adult heart has little capacity for regeneration, the cardiomyocytes lost in the aftermath of a myocardial infarction get replaced by different types of cells, resulting in scarring and, frequently, heart failure.

To develop an efficacious means of promoting heart regeneration, researchers must find solutions to a multitude of quandaries. It appears that protein replacement therapy utilizing modified mRNA (modRNA) may avoid many common pitfalls. “Modified mRNA (modRNA) is a safe, non-immunogenic, efficient, transient, local, and controlled nucleic acid delivery system,” noted the authors of a 2019 article published in Molecular Therapy.

Increased understanding of the molecular pathways and genes involved in heart disease has led scientists to believe protein replacement therapy could be used to target signaling pathways involved in heart disease progression. Per the Molecular Therapy article cited above, delivering replacement proteins to the myocardium (the muscle tissue of the heart) can encourage the regeneration of cardiomyocytes.

Gene Therapy

Some approaches have fallen into the subcategory of gene therapy, which involves placing a defined gene into a cell to either replace a defective gene or to increase the amount of a certain gene in a specific cell or tissue in order to increase production of a needed protein. Some examples of work in that vein included using viral vectors like adeno-associated virus (AAV) to mediate the delivery of either FGF1 and p38 MAP kinase proteins or periostin.

However, the use of viral vectors comes with the risk of viral genome insertions. While preclinical studies have returned encouraging results, namely, “robust and consistent gene expression,” there has also been evidence of adverse effects, including immune responses to the viral vectors.

Direct Delivery of Proteins

As experts continue probing how best to use gene therapy to treat cardiac disease, a consensus is growing that the most practical way to change the expression of a protein of interest is to deliver the corresponding protein directly to the myocardium. This circumvents problems associated with other delivery methods, such as the potential immune responses triggered by viral vectors. It’s also been linked to benefits such as:

  • Higher levels of protein expression
  • Improved dose regulation
  • Enhanced control

Direct protein comes with some issues of its own, however, including the short half-life and overall instability of injected proteins.

Modified mRNA Therapy

Unlike gene therapy and the direct delivery of proteins, mRNA-based therapies have proven to be highly promising methods of treating heart disease as well as other disorders. One reason for that is its overall safeness, because mRNA does not integrate into the genetic code.

The first successful use of direct mRNA transfer occurred in the late 1980s in mouse models. Then, in 2008, a team of researchers from the Department of Neurosurgery and Department of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the Laboratory of RNA Molecular Biology at The Rockefeller University in New York, and the Department of Host Defense at the Research Institute for Microbial Diseases in Osaka discovered how mRNA therapy could be used in genetic and regenerative medicine. Essentially, by modifying mRNA with a naturally occurring modified nucleoside pseudouridine to produce modified mRNA (modRNA), researchers changed its structure so that the body was better able to utilize it to address issues related to protein defects or deficits.

According to the authors of the Molecular Therapy article, modRNA “allows rapid, transient, and efficient gene expression to a specific time window after cardiac injury.” They further state that modRNA protein replacement therapy could be “an excellent therapeutic agent to address experimental and clinical needs to induce cardiac regeneration and promote cardiac function in ischemic heart disease.”

Key Takeaways About Protein Replacement Therapy

Protein replacement therapy offers a way to treat diseases by transporting missing or deficient proteins to cells, thereby correcting the dysfunction that results in disease. Other techniques for doing this involve transferring genetic material into cells, which comes with a higher level of risk.

At this time, one of the most pertinent applications for protein replacement therapy is as a treatment for rare monogenic diseases, which fall into a category called “orphan diseases” because manufacturers are less likely to develop drugs to treat them due to the limited financial incentive for doing so. While some experts view protein replacement therapy as a much-needed option in a realm with a dearth of viable potential treatments, others feel manufacturers still need to do more work to show that using these treatments ends up being a cost-effective decision for health care systems.

It’s important to note, too, that the promise of protein replacement therapy is not limited to rare diseases. Clinical trials have shown it can also be used to overcome one of the central challenges of treating myocardial infarction and preventing heart failure.

As researchers continue to explore applications for protein replacement therapy, it seems likely that they’ll uncover an even broader swathe of diseases and conditions it can be used to treat.

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.

Amino Acids for Pregnancy

Amino acids for pregnancy and optimal fetal development, plus their dietary sources. If you’re eating for two, make sure you’re getting these vital protein-building aminos.

There are many nutrients you need more of when pregnant—folic acid, calcium, iron, etc.—because a whole new human being is being built from scratch: head, shoulders, knees, and toes. To build the body tissue and musculature of a brand new baby, pregnant women also need a lot of extra protein, including the amino acids contained within protein foods. Which amino acids for pregnancy should you be consuming, and where can they be found? The following article has the answers you’re looking for.

Maternal Nutrition Needs

Here’s a quick rundown of the extra nutrients needed during any common pregnancy and where to find them.

1. Folic Acid

Folic acid is included in prenatal vitamins for a reason: this B vitamin is necessary for preventing brain and spinal birth defects known as neural tube defects, and possibly heart defects and cleft palates as well. While you’ll need to supplement with folic acid before and during pregnancy, there are fortified and enriched food sources of it too. Folic acid can be found in:

  • Beans and lentils
  • Breads
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cornmeal and corn masa products (tortillas, taco shells, and pupusas)
  • Flour
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Orange juice
  • Pasta
  • White rice

2. Iron

Iron is the mineral used to make hemoglobin, which is the protein needed to carry oxygen throughout your body. Not only do you require more iron for the blood you’re supplying to your growing baby, but you also need enough iron so that the baby can build a blood supply of his or her own. Iron can be found in:

  • Beans, nuts, and dried fruits like raisins
  • Certain cereals, breads, and pastas
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Poultry, lean meat, and seafood

You may also want to consume more vitamin C (easily found in colorful citrus fruits), because vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron you consume, which could then help prevent anemia and low birthweight.

3. Calcium

Calcium is the mineral that helps build a brand new skeleton, and without a sufficient amount in your diet, your body will start dissolving your own bones to get the calcium it needs for your baby. That could lead to osteoporosis later in life, so an abundant supply of calcium is definitely required during pregnancy. You can find calcium in:

  • Broccoli
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Kale
  • Orange juice (if calcium has been added)

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another aid in absorption, this time for calcium uptake. It’s also important for proper immune functioning and for developing your baby’s muscles, nerves, and teeth. You can find vitamin D in:

  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel)
  • Vitamin D-enriched milk or cereal

5. DHA

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid critical for brain and eye development. If your prenatal vitamin does not contain DHA, ask your health care provider how best to supplement with it, and be sure to eat plenty of:

  • Low mercury fish (salmon, herring, halibut, trout, and anchovies)
  • DHA-enriched eggs
  • Fortified beverages (orange juice and milk)

6. Iodine

Iodine is important for synthesizing hormones and forming your baby’s nervous system (the spinal cord, nerves, and brain). Again, iodine isn’t always included in prenatal vitamins, so be sure to eat plenty of:

  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Enriched and fortified foods
  • Fish
  • Iodized salt

All of these nutrients play important roles in the development of a healthy baby, and certain amino acids are needed too.

Amino acids for a healthy pregnancy.

Amino Acids for Pregnancy

The essential amino acids are the building blocks for new muscle growth in the body and vital nutrients for both mom and baby. The only way to get essential amino acids (including the branched-chain amino acids regularly consumed by bodybuilders) is to eat them, either via food or dietary supplement.

Your body can synthesize nonessential amino acids in-house and appreciates the extra nonessentials it gets from outside sources, but you may need more of them throughout the duration of a healthy, normal pregnancy. Which amino acids are the most important during pregnancy? Here they are, along with why they matter.

The Essentials

These essential amino acids are needed for protein synthesis and the health, development, growth, and survival of your baby.

Threonine

There are very few in-depth human studies on the amino acids required during human pregnancy. However, using an animal model of pigs to determine which amino acids are needed during each trimester of pregnancy, researchers have found that higher amounts of threonine are required during the first and third trimesters.

When pregnant, the mother’s dietary protein intake needs to increase, resulting in the metabolism of amino acids into her and the baby’s systems. A higher protein requirement is critical for fetal growth and development, and threonine specifically is necessary for forming tooth enamel, collagen, and elastin, important for supple skin, hair, and joints. Threonine can be found in:

  • Beans and lentils
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Pork
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Lean beef and lamb
  • Salmon
  • Shellfish
  • Soy foods

Lysine

Lysine is an essential amino needed for building muscle, repairing tissue, regulating enzymes and hormones, and maintaining bone strength. Lysine can be consumed by eating:

  • Eggs
  • Fenugreek seed
  • Fish (like cod and sardines)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Red meat, pork, and poultry
  • Soy products
  • Spirulina

Isoleucine

This branched-chain amino acid is an isolated version of another branched-chain amino acid, leucine. Isoleucine is used in hormone production, wound healing, and blood sugar regulation, and also helps control energy levels in muscle tissue. Isoleucine can be consumed via:

  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Lentils
  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Nuts and seeds

Tryptophan

Tryptophan plays one of its most important roles in the proper growth of newborn infants, and in utero as well. Tryptophan is also needed for regulating melatonin (for a healthy wake-sleep cycle) and for synthesizing serotonin (the “happy” hormone), so mother will appreciate having a good supply of it too. Get your tryptophan from:

  • Chicken
  • Cottage cheese
  • Turkey
  • Wheat germ

The Nonessentials

These nonessential amino acids help regulate immunity, gene expression, antioxidant responses, and neurological function during pregnancy.

Glutamine

The most abundant free amino acid in the body, glutamine is needed for gut functioning, immune support, wound healing, and cell energy fuel. Glutamine foods include:

  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Seafood

Glutamate

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter needed for sending signals between our nerve cells and is important in learning and memory. Glutamate can be found in:

  • Broccoli
  • Cured meats and cheeses
  • Grape juice
  • Fish sauce
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Ripe tomatoes
  • Soy products
  • Walnuts

Arginine

Arginine (also known as L-arginine) becomes nitric oxide in the body, which helps our blood vessels relax and open up, improving blood flow and circulation. Arginine can be found in:

  • Legumes
  • Meat
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Seaweed

Protein and Pregnancy

The protein turnover in early pregnancy has been found to be similar in pregnant and non-pregnant women, but a 15% and 25% absolute increase in protein synthesis happens in late pregnancy, during the second and third trimesters. Multiple studies have shown that increased protein intake during pregnancy results in a risk reduction for small-for-gestational age infants, meaning that protein may prevent intrauterine growth restriction and help build up the baby’s body weight. Amino acid transport and uptake are interrupted in cases of intrauterine growth restriction, and put the baby at risk of low birthweight and growth retardation.

The above-mentioned amino acids are low during pregnancy, as they are being put to greater usage. High-protein foods could help replenish them and go far in ensuring a healthy pregnancy and steady growth and weight gain for the baby, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Eating for Two

Low protein intake during pregnancy could be detrimental to the process, but so could an imbalanced amino acid intake. All of the amino acids are needed at some stage of pregnancy, with the above-listed aminos being the more critical ones during the late stages of pregnancy when the baby’s body weight is growing rapidly. For this reason researchers insist that “amino acid intake recommendations during pregnancy should be gestational stage–specific,” so consult with your doctor before taking any sort of supplement or vitamin to make sure that it’s appropriate for the baby’s stage of growth. Other than that be sure to eat well, as a healthy diet should help you get everything you and your baby need.

Muscle Atrophy: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

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

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

Muscle Atrophy: Definition

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

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

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

Muscle atrophy: causes, treatment, and prevention.

Muscle Atrophy: Causes

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

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

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

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

Muscle Atrophy: Symptoms

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

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

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

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

Muscle Atrophy: Diagnosis

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

Can Muscle Atrophy Be Reversed?

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

Muscle Atrophy: Treatment

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

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

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

Muscle Atrophy: Prevention

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

Stay Active

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

Stay Nourished

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

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

Seek Physical Therapy

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

Try Passive Movement

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

Preventative Measures

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

Eliminate Atrophy

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

Are Beans a Complete Protein?

Find out whether beans are a complete protein, and also learn about the health benefits that beans have to offer for weight management, digestive comfort, heart health, and blood sugar control.

You’ve heard about complete proteins, and you know that beans are a great non-animal protein source, but you find yourself asking, “Are beans a complete protein?” We will provide you with that answer, as well as the specific definitions of what makes a complete protein, and whether or not so-called “complementary proteins” get the job done in providing you with all nine of the essential amino acids that keep your body growing and functioning.

What Is a Complete Protein?

When someone speaks of a “complete protein” they are referring to the amino acid content of a food. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in the body, meaning they are involved in building muscle, repairing tissue, and so much more (like producing your much-needed hormones).

There are 20 different amino acids in the human body, nine of which are considered essential, meaning they must come from a food source because the body can’t create them in-house. A complete protein has all nine of these essential amino acids, not least because for protein synthesis and muscle creation in the body, all nine are necessary.

Examples of complete proteins are eggs, chia seeds, Greek yogurt, quinoa, and soybeans. These are all great sources of protein that are either non-meat or plant proteins, and thus are especially valuable for those keeping vegetarian diets as well as vegan diets (where it’s all the more difficult to get enough protein).

When talking about foods, complete proteins must have all nine essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. If a food is lacking in one or two amino acids, it needs to be eaten with a complementary protein to make for a complete protein meal.

What Are Complementary Protein Combinations?

When you have a food that has, say, eight out of nine essential amino acids, or you have a food with all nine but two of the amino acids are only present in trace amounts and, therefore, not enough for your body to effectively use, well… what then? Of course, it’s not as if an incomplete protein is suddenly trash food to be thrown to the wolves, so what can you do?

No worries: if a complete protein is what you’re after, then you might easily pair two foods in one dish, each of which have complementary amino acid profiles. What one food lacks, the other makes up for, and vice versa!

One of the best-known examples is hummus eaten with pita bread. The protein in whole wheat is almost complete, deficient only in the amino acid lysine. Meanwhile the protein in chickpeas does contain a significant helping of lysine, which together makes this Middle Eastern staple a complete protein snack. Combine one whole wheat pita and 2 tablespoons of hummus, and you net 7 grams of protein. Other easy combinations for complementary protein sources include a whole wheat bread and peanut butter sandwich, hemp seeds added to a dish with lentils, or non-Greek yogurt combined with almonds or sunflower seeds.

So… Are Beans A Complete Protein?

The answer is: not without rice! Most beans are high in lysine but low in the essential amino acid methionine. Whole grain rice on the other hand is low in lysine, but rather high in methionine. On top of that, rice and beans is one of the simplest and most affordable vegan meals around (for those who are only interested in plant sources of protein), and one of the easiest sources of protein you can make for dinner. In a 1-cup serving of rice and beans you can gain a complete protein content of 7 grams. This meal choice is also a great way to load back up on carbs and protein after a workout.

The Many Health Benefits of Beans

Beans are valuable not just as a source of protein for your daily protein requirements, but for many more of the nutrients your body needs. Check out the following nutrition facts about beans, and see if you don’t feel like making rice and beans a regular staple of your household.

Learn whether beans are a complete protein.

The Bean Family

Beans are seeds that come from the Fabaceae flowering plant family, and are technically classified as legumes (a member of the pea family). Other legumes are peanuts, lentils, and (of course) peas. The bean family includes the following varieties:

  • Black beans
  • Soybeans
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Lima beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Kidney beans
  • Navy beans
  • Red beans

The Health Benefits of Beans

Outside of its protein and amino acid content, check out just what else beans can offer to your health and well-being with these six facts.

1. Nutrient Density

Beans are full of the vitamin folate, which is vital for pregnant women and for anyone in their early childhood or adolescence, which are periods of time when we are growing rapidly. Note here that dried beans have close to double the folate of canned beans. Though it may take an extra step in preparation, cooking your own beans from their dried form is better for you in the folate department. However, even canned beans contain more folate than so many other foods, so they’re still worthy of inclusion if they’re easier for you to work with. A lack of folate can lead to folate deficiency anemia, which can result in heart palpitations, fatigue, irritability, and loss of appetite.

Some other important nutrients in beans include zinc, iron, magnesium, and fiber, needed regularly in our diets for comfortable digestion and gut health.

2. Heart Health

Consuming beans on a regular basis shows a correlation in scientific studies to a reduced likelihood of death from stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases. A multi-study analysis from 2013 showed a clear connection between the consumption of beans and a reduction in risk from coronary heart disease, while even more research suggests that beans have the potential to lower dangerous LDL cholesterol levels, another contributor to heart disease.

3. Antioxidant and Anti-Cancer Properties

Rich in the antioxidants known as polyphenols, which help combat the damage done by free radicals in the body, beans can help prevent certain forms of cancer according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, as well as unhealthy inflammation. There has been research showing that black beans specifically have the highest antioxidant effect, which you may want to take into consideration when you’re choosing between beans at the grocery store.

4. Glucose Metabolism and Diabetes

Because beans are high in fiber, they can help prevent diabetes and stabilize blood glucose levels. Beans are often considered a diabetes superfood, with the American Diabetes Association saying specifically that pinto, navy, kidney, and black beans are each full of important vitamins and minerals like potassium and magnesium. Soybeans are also contributors to pancreatic health, and the pancreas produces the insulin that regulates blood sugar in the human body.

5. Appetite Control

Not only do people often feel fuller after eating beans due to their starch and fiber content, which cuts down on their caloric intake each day, but these healthful aspects of beans can even help prevent food cravings in the first place. Appetite control means a greater ease at losing body weight, which is valuable for those struggling with obesity and the health concerns that accompany the condition.

6. Preventing Fatty Liver Issues

When fats accumulate in the liver, it could lead to the metabolic disorder that is fatty liver disease. Beans can contribute to the prevention of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, another health benefit from this protein provider (even if it’s not at the golden ratio of a “complete protein”).

These Beneficial Beans: Are There Any Downsides?

The most common complaint about beans is that they can cause gas and increase intestinal discomfort as a result (beans, beans, the musical fruit…). Though it’s usually not dangerous, some may find having extra gas to be quite unpleasant. There is a way to better avoid the issue: by hot-soaking, boiling, or pressure-cooking beans, you can reduce the chance of having gas or intestinal issues as a result of your meal. This practice may also be of use to those with IBS or inflammatory bowel syndrome who may want to include the protein and nutrients of beans in their diet, but must be wary of the strong fiber content on the digestive tract.

Protein, Pro-Beans

Long story short: no, beans are not considered one of the independent sources of complete protein, but they can easily become complete when paired with whole grain rice or cornbread (which go together as well as red beans and rice in that they’re all complete proteins). When searching for complete protein foods, it’s vital not to limit yourself when complementary proteins combos are available as well. You should welcome beans into your diet not just for the sake of your health, but for the rich variety of flavors and textures that make living well both a pleasure and a joy.