How to Speed up MCL Surgery Recovery: Top 5 Tips

Learn about what makes the medial collateral ligament in your knee vulnerable, and use these MCL surgery recovery tips to get back in the game as quickly as possible.

Your medial collateral ligament (MCL) is one of four major ligaments that hold your knee joint together. An MCL tear can sometimes be so severe that it requires surgery to repair or replace. If you or a loved one has recently suffered an MCL injury, you’re probably looking for answers. This article reviews the probable causes of MCL tears, what happens during a repair procedure, and what you can do to help accelerate MCL surgery recovery.

What Is the MCL?

The medial collateral ligament is one of the four stabilizing ligaments in the knee. Ligaments connect bone to bone (whereas tendons connect bone to muscle), and an injury to any one of them can compromise your range of motion, not to mention your quality of life. The knee’s tendons include the following.

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): The ACL is the most commonly injured ligament. It crosses diagonally between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone), providing stability during side-to-side knee rotations.
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL): Your PCL also connects the shin to the thigh bone, but it is positioned at the back of the knee, allowing it more protection from injury.
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL): The LCL connects thigh to shin bone and is positioned on the outside of the knee joint.
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL): The MCL is the tissue band that runs on the inner side of the knee, connecting your shin and thigh bone.

These ligaments each help stabilize the complicated, weight-bearing joint that is the knee, and a tear to any one of them can cause pain and disability.

Common Causes of MCL Injury

MCL sprains and tears are ligament injuries that are often caused by direct blows to the knee. Because it’s located on the inner side of the knee and leg, the MCL is otherwise protected. (If you touch your knees together, your MCLs are side by side.) It’s a safer position than that of the LCL, which is on the outer side of the knee, but each of these ligaments are vulnerable during contact sports like football or hockey, where impact with another player can force the knee out of alignment, straining or tearing the ligaments that hold your leg bones together.

Types of MCL Tears

MCL injuries are graded based on their severity.

  • Grade I: This is the least severe injury, when the ligament is overly stretched but not torn.
  • Grade II: A partial tear of the MCL is a grade II injury, which may not need surgery, only proper care during the recovery period.
  • Grade III: The most severe MCL injury is a complete tear, which can cause great pain and joint instability. Surgery may be required to fix grade III injuries.

MCL Injury Symptoms and Non-Surgical Treatment Options

You may know an MCL injury by the following symptoms.

  • Tenderness or pain along your inner knee
  • A popping sound during the injury
  • Knee joint swelling
  • A giving or locking sensation in the knee

A doctor may perform a physical examination or order X-rays or MRI scans to confirm the injury, assess its severity, and rule out other causes of knee pain such as bone injury.

Treatment options for knee injuries are determined on a case-by-case basis and through consultation with your doctor, but common non-surgical treatments include:

  • Resting the knee to allow time for healing
  • Icing the injury to reduce inflammation
  • Compressing the knee in a bandage or knee brace
  • Elevating the joint higher than your heart to reduce swelling
  • Taking NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to ease swelling and pain
  • Utilizing crutches to aid mobility while your injured knee heals
  • Attending physical therapy rehab to help strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee

Surgery may be necessary in extreme cases.

Surgical Solutions to MCL Tears

Luckily MCL tears rarely require surgery, but sometimes the ligament is so thoroughly torn that it is not in a position to heal itself. If your doctor recommends surgery, the procedure will mostly likely be eligible for a minimally invasive arthroscopic repair (using a tiny camera inserted through a small incision), allowing for faster recovery times.

Refastening the MCL to the bone may involve stitches, bone staples, metal screws, or a suture anchor depending on the position of your tear and the health of the tissue at the time of surgery. A mid-ligament tear on the other hand may simply be stitched together by your surgeon.

How to speed up MCL surgery recovery.

MCL Surgery Recovery: The Top 5 Tips to Speed Healing

While ACL reconstruction is one of the most involved procedures in sports medicine, requiring the harvesting of tendons from other areas in the leg (like the hamstrings or quadriceps) and reattaching them inside of the knee, MCL procedures can heal in a matter of weeks or even days. Here are five basic tips to help accelerate MCL surgery recovery time.

1. Follow All Medical Advice

While it’s true that no one knows your body or your pain thresholds as well as you do, your doctor nevertheless has the wisdom collected from years of experience and can help you avoid complications like infection or poor healing. This tip includes obvious steps like attending all follow-up appointments (or rescheduling them if you can’t make it that day), and taking all medications—including pain meds—as directed and to completion.

This is because pain meds are another form of crutch prescribed to help you heal faster: the less pain you feel as you get active again or while you attend physical therapy rehab, the more likely you are to regain your full range of motion.

2. Use Heat and Ice Therapy

Don’t use an ice pack and a heating pad at the same time of course, but icing your knee after surgery can help reduce swelling and pain, while heat therapy can ease stiffness, relax muscles, and increase circulation to the area as you heal. You’ll know which therapy feels right when the time comes, but if you want specific medical advice for an optimal recovery, never hesitate to ask your doctor or another qualified health care professional.

3. Don’t Rush Recovery

Because injury to the inner part of the knee is commonly due to sporting, those recovering from MCL surgeries are often active people. It can drive you nuts to be house-bound after an MCL procedure, but in the long run it is so much better to keep off your knee as much as possible for as long as your doctor recommends.

Think about it: if you’re antsy to get back out there now, imagine how infuriating it would be to reinjure your knee due to prematurely returning to vigorous activity, and then to have to endure the recovery process again. Take up knitting if you have to, download some games onto your phone if you must, but be sure to rest as long as recommended by your doctor or physical therapist.

4. Rest Well with Proper Sleep

If you’re not used to sitting around recovering all day, it might be tempting to nap your way through knee surgery recovery. While naps are not discouraged (and some attribute napping to the success of great thinkers like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Winston Churchill), getting proper sleep involves going to bed at the same time each night.

Tips for being able to fall asleep on time each night include having a regular pre-sleep routine, and going to bed in a cool, dark, and quiet room.

5. Feed Your Recovery

One of the best ways to speed up recovery is to make sure your body has everything it needs to rebuild, and that mean adequate protein input and, on the cellular level, sufficient amino acid supplies. Evidence has shown that supplementing with amino acids after just about any surgery can help speed recovery times because it gives your body the building blocks required to create new muscle tissue and replace weak or damaged cells with new and better ones. Ask your doctor if he or she recommends certain foods for a recovery diet, and be sure to stock up on a high-quality amino acid powder for extra MCL recovery support.

Getting Well with Your MCL

Medial collateral ligament injuries thankfully heal very well, and you can help that healing process along with these tips. With a speedy recovery, you’ll be back on your feet in no time!

ACL Surgery Recovery: Top 5 Tips to Accelerate Healing

Learn the basics of ACL placement, injury risk factors, replacement procedures, and the top five tips for how to accelerate your post-op healing after an ACL restoration surgery. 

Your ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of four major ligaments in your knee, and it’s also the one most frequently injured due to sports and accidents. If an ACL injury is too severe, ACL surgery will be performed to help restore strength and stability to the knee. Give your knees a rest and keep reading for the details of how the ACL works, what surgery may involve, and how to accelerate your recovery timeline once you’ve returned home and are ready to get back on your feet.

The ACL’s Position and Uses

Bones, cartilage, and ligaments, specifically your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone), all meet at your knee joint. Ligaments are the structures that connect bones to other bones (unlike tendons, which connect bone to muscle). The four ligaments that hold this whole joint together are the:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL): Your ACL runs diagonally between your femur and tibia, providing side-to-side rotation stability and keeping the shin bone from slipping in front of the thigh bone.
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL): The LCL runs from the thigh bone to the shin on the outside of the knee joint.
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL): Your MCL is a tissue band inside the knee which connects your thigh bone to your shin bone.
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL): Our PCL connects thigh to shin bone and is positioned at the back of the knee. It is injured much less frequently than the ACL.

ACL surgery recovery tips to accelerate healing.

Common Causes of ACL Injuries

Sports medicine sees a lot of ACL tears, mostly because an ACL knee injury is commonly caused by high-impact sport activities like:

  • Soccer
  • Football
  • Baseball
  • Skiing
  • Hockey

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that most of these injuries happen when players collide, and there are nearly 200,000 ACL tears and injuries diagnosed in the United States each year. About half of those patients will undergo ACL reconstructive surgery, which is somewhat invasive but recommended for athletes, young and active patients, people with chronic knee pain due to injury, or those who have limited or compromised range of motion without the procedure. Not everyone will choose ACL reconstruction, but for those who do, there is an extended recovery process, which often involves taking instruction from a physical therapist.

What Happens During ACL Reconstruction?

Speak with your doctor and your surgeon about the specifics of your unique case, but in general, a fully torn ACL needs to be replaced with a tendon from somewhere else. Common sources for these replacement tendons are:

  • Hamstrings: This tendon connects your knee to the muscles in the back of your leg.
  • Patellar tendonsThese tendons attach your kneecaps (patella) to your shin bones.
  • QuadricepsFrom the front of your thighs, this graft is usually a last resort if other tendons do not take.
  • Cadaver tissue: This is an allograft, a tendon taken from a dead body.

Your doctor will confer with you on which option is best, what is involved in receiving anesthesia, and the pre- and post-operative instructions issued for the sake of your health and in service of an ideal surgical outcome.

ACL Procedure and Risks

Let’s run through what a general ACL surgery entails, plus certain common risks your health care providers will review with you before operating.

The Procedure

Once you are placed on an IV and under sedation, the graft tissue is extracted first (if it is not coming from a cadaver), and then given “bone plugs” to anchor it to the bones in the knee.

Next, the ACL is removed and the area cleaned with the assistance of a thin camera (this is called arthroscopy). A drill is then used to create small holes that the bone plugs will be attached to using screws, posts, or staples.

Once the new ligament is in place, your surgeon will test that the range of motion is adequate and the ligament secure, then stitch and dress the wound before outfitting it with a stabilizing brace. Should you need extra steps during this procedure, such as a meniscus repair, the surgery may take longer, but you should be able to return home at the end of the day.

The Risks

Surgical procedures all involve a certain amount of risk:

  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Improper healing
  • Graft rejection
  • Disease transmission (from an infected cadaver)
  • Continued knee pain, stiffness, or weakening
  • Loss of range of motion

Evaluate your health and your risk factors with your surgeon before taking on ACL reconstruction surgery. The AAOS states that between 82% and 90% of these surgeries are successful, with patients regaining full range of motion and knee stability.

Tips for ACL Surgery Recovery

The recovery timeline for such a serious surgery can take months, an average of 8 months for about half of the athletes who undergo it. Post-op recovery time depends on your age, overall health, the success of your surgery, and your ability to get physical therapy. You may experience pain and several months of restricted activity with the aid of a knee brace, a crutch, or perhaps even a wheelchair. Here are some tips to help accelerate your healing and get you back on your feet faster.

1. Attend All Appointments and Physical Therapy Sessions

The best way to ensure your recovery is going well is to make sure the experts are looking it over regularly. That means attending every follow-up appointment even if you’re feeling fine and going to physical therapy for as long as possible. Your doctor may be able to spot issues in your recovery before they become infections or rejections, so if you have to miss an appointment, be sure to reschedule. Be sure also to tell your doctor if you experience any pain, fever, or discomfort that doesn’t seem right: it could be the first sign of a serious complication to your knee surgery.

Likewise your physical therapist will not only help you regain strength in your leg but will also give you advice on stretching, moving, and pivoting as you heal and return to your former activity level so you won’t experience a reinjury. Be sure to take advantage of all the physical therapy sessions your health insurance covers.

2. Take All Instructions Seriously (and Take Your Medicine!)

Much like the recommendations in the first tip, it’s important to listen to all the medical advice your doctor gives you, be it written or verbal, and to take all your medications as prescribed and to completion. The first 2 weeks post-surgery will probably feel pretty lousy, but after that you may be tempted to lapse on particulars like pain medication.

Pain meds are not issued lightly, and they are meant to do more than just dull the pain; they’re also meant to help you recover faster. Physical therapy is likely to be painful too, and every weight-bearing step may hurt for a while. Rather than let the pain discourage your movement, take your medications as prescribed and lean on them for the appropriate amount of time.

3. Eat Well and Sleep Well

Recovering from any surgery means rebuilding tissue, which means you’re going to need protein, and plenty of it. Ask your doctor if nutritional supplementation or vitamins are advised in this crucial window, as amino acid supplementation has been shown to lead to improved post-op recovery. You also need to get an adequate amount of dairy and vegetables too, for bone strength and digestive health as you rest.

Speaking of rest: sleep is one of the best medicines around. Go to bed at the same time each night in a cool, dark room, and follow the same pre-sleep routine (brushing your teeth, reading a book, etc.) to help you fall asleep and stay asleep regularly.

4. Reduce Swelling

In the first week after the orthopedic surgeon sends you home, your knee may be swollen and inflamed. Safely reducing that inflammation with cold therapy (an ice pack) and over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen) could not only help speed recovery but also help reduce your pain. Be sure to check with your doctor about safety precautions if you are prescribed other medication—you don’t want to mix medications.

5. Don’t Push Yourself Too Hard

While the goal of this surgery is to get your knee back its full extension and range of motion, trying to return to your old routine (and especially sports) right away could tear up this new lease on life before it’s fully healed. If you want to do any physical activity beyond basic daily movement, be sure to clear it with your doctor or physical therapist first so you hopefully don’t have to do this surgery twice.

Ace Your ACL Surgery Recovery

Your medical team will have the best advice for you, so while these general tips may hopefully serve you well, don’t hesitate to ask a professional more familiar with your unique circumstances—that’s ACL recovery advice you can bank on. Rest well, recover well, and know that we wish you the very best.

PEMF Therapy: The History, Science and Safety

PEMF therapy has been safely in use for decades: in hospitals, research facilities, and even in NASA’s treatment protocol for astronauts returning from space. Can this noninvasive therapy help relieve your pain?

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy or PEMF therapy may sound like something out of a sci-fi future world, not least because it’s been used by NASA to help mitigate muscle atrophy and bone loss in astronauts. However, it is a real technology that can aid pain management, and this article has the facts you’re looking for regarding PEMF treatment and the science behind its sensational health claims.

What Exactly Is PEMF Therapy?

PEMF therapy devices emit electromagnetic waves at different wavelengths to help stimulate and encourage the body’s natural recovery mechanisms.

You might wonder how PEMF technology can be beneficial to the body when other electromagnetic pulses, like the ones emitted by X-ray machines and microwaves, are detrimental to your body. It’s the duration and the frequency that make the difference: PEMF therapy devices generate waves in short bursts at very low frequencies, closer to the electromagnetic waves that occur in nature. In fact, the majority of the waves experienced during PEMF treatments have a lower frequency than those you’d be exposed to during a thunderstorm.

Does PEMF Therapy Actually Work?

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy has been used to improve circulation, bone healing, energy levels, depression, sleep function, immune function, and the rate of injury healing. The low frequencies in PEMF therapy pass through the skin and penetrate into muscles, tendons, bones, and even organs to activate cell energy and encourage their natural repair processes.

Cell membranes have positive and negative magnetic charges, but since those cells can degrade over time or become damaged due to injury, sometimes these charges fail to function. That means your cells are then incapable of exchanging the ions that are transporting the chemical compounds your body needs, like potassium and calcium. The symptoms that arise from this type of failure to function include chronic pain, fatigue, and inflammation. PEMF is a noninvasive way to target these areas, and call the body’s attention to them.

PEMF therapy: the history, science, and safety.

Scientific Proof Behind PEMF Therapy

Here is what scientists have been able to show regarding the use PEMF therapy.

5 Facts About PEMF Machines

Have we stoked your curiosity about PEMF machines? Here are some more interesting facts to know.

1. Many of the Original PEMF Machines Were Developed in Eastern Europe

The first PEMF devices came from the Czech Republic, found their way to Hungary in the 1980s, and swept through Europe by the 1990s. The original PEMF devices were quite large, consisting of a Helmholtz coil. A patient was placed inside of the machine to receive a uniform dose of magnetic energy. Modern PEMF machines are about the size of a yoga mat and use the magnetic loop coil invented by Nikola Tesla long before the invention of the PEMF machine.

2. PEMF Therapy Was First Approved by the FDA in 1979

The first FDA-approved PEMF system was meant to stimulate bone healing and treat nonunion fractures, and since then has come into use for various post-surgical healing therapies, pain relief, and even treatment for depression. The machines are safe for use on humans and animals.

3. PEMF Technology Was Then Adopted by NASA

Wider therapeutic uses of PEMF technology emerged after 2003, when NASA did a 4-year study on the use of electromagnetic fields to stimulate repair and growth in mammalian tissue. Once pulsed electromagnetic fields were successfully used to help astronauts after their return from space, scientists theorized that the cause of astronaut fatigue, depression, and bone loss has to do with being away from the beneficial magnetic field that naturally emanates from the Earth.

4. PEMF Therapy Has a Long Track Record of Clinical Success

PEMF therapy has years of positive clinical success in treating the body at the cellular level using pulsing electromagnetic waves at specific frequencies. Since its 1979 FDA approval, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy has been known to treat a wide array of conditions in clinical trials performed by hospitals, physiotherapists, rheumatologists, and neurologists.

5. PEMF Machines Are Completely Safe, Unlike X-ray Machines

Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are often referred to as radiation. EMFs are invisible fields of energy associated with lighting pulses and electrical power. There are two radioactive categories EMFs fall into based on their wavelength and frequency.

  • Non-ionizing: This is low-to-mid-level radiation that is generally understood to be harmless to humans, and can be found in computers, microwaves, radio frequencies, cell phones, bluetooth devices, power lines, and MRI machines.
  • Ionizing: These are mid-to-high-levels of radiation, and have the potential for DNA and/or cellular damage with long exposure, like UV rays from sunlight and X-ray machines.

Should You Explore PEMF Therapy?

A disruption to the electrical currents of your cell membranes can lead to a lifetime of pain, so if you’re suffering from joint pain, chronic pain and fatigue conditions, or a recent injury, PEMF therapy might be an option for you.

If you’re concerned about PEMF therapy quackery, or worried about PEMF therapy side effects, know that this technology has never been associated with any adverse or negative side effects, and consult with your doctor or a trusted health care expert to see if electromagnetic therapy might be the noninvasive treatment option that’s right for you.

How to Speed up Healing: From Sunburns to Surgery Recovery

The wound healing process, much like our physical activity levels, tends to decline as we age. Here are some scientifically backed tips on the best ways to speed up healing, from minor cuts and scrapes around the home, to post-surgical recovery and muscle tissue rebuilding.

Whether you have a cut, a burn, or are healing from a surgical procedure, there are ways to help speed up healing and close your wounds faster. The wound healing process, much like our physical activity levels, tends to decline as we age. The older we get, the longer our healing time takes, leading in some instances to chronic wounds that never really go away. To speed up wound repair, here are some tips for helping your body along.

Speed up healing: from sunburns to surgery.

At-Home Healing: Small Wounds and Scar Reduction

When it comes to home remedies for wound care, there are a lot of old wives’ tales still around. Some of them make a certain amount of sense when considered scientifically, like waiting 30 minutes to swim after you eat may well help you avoid a minor cramp. However, not all of these folktales are true enough to keep repeating or insisting on. Not everyone will get a minor cramp if they swim after eating, and even if they do, it won’t cause them to drown. And yet still we wait, and tell children to wait, and keep the myth going.

When it comes to how to speed up wound healing, there are a lot of practices that don’t really apply. Some say leaving a wound open to dry in the air and “breathe” helps it heal faster, but that isn’t true if it’s now open to dirt and possible infection. To stop infection, many douse a wound in alcohol or peroxide—talk about pouring salt on a wound!

In truth, leaving a wound to dry out is not ideal, and can even slow healing and increase pain. Wounds need moisture to heal, and moist wound healing speeds up healing and reduces scarring. Here are some other tips on how to foster faster healing and reduce the risk of scarring.

1. Clean and Disinfect

Before touching a wound, wash your hands. When it comes to cleaning the wound, start with clear water and a clean cloth to remove any dirt or particles from the wound. If there are pieces of debris in a wound (your kid took a wipeout on their skateboard and has gravel embedded in the scrape, for example), use a pair of tweezers to remove them. The tweezers should be sterilized with some isopropyl alcohol, but alcohol is not advised directly on the open wound.

Instead, once the wound is clean, apply an antibiotic cream, ointment, or spray to the wound area, and make your call about what kind of bandage applies. If it’s an open wound like a wide scrape, a gauze and a wrap may be called for, but a cut on a finger might need only a bandaid to reduce the risk of infection and speed healing.

Remember not to pick at any scab that forms, because a scab is the body’s natural bandage.

2. Encourage Blood Flow

Nobody can heal you better than your own body, but there are ways to help it along. You’ll notice when you get a scrape or a bruise that the area seems to heat up. That’s because the body has dispatched its in-house medical team via your bloodstream.

To increase blood flow to the skin and surrounding area, you can apply a heating pad or hot water bottle, or place the wound area in some warm water for 15-30 minutes. It’s not a high-tech method but it does help, especially for wounds on your extremities (fingers, toes, arms, and legs) where your blood vessels are smaller, or for anyone with poor circulation, like the elderly.

If adding heat is uncomfortable, massaging the surrounding area is another way to usher blood to the site of injury.

3. Reduce Inflammation

After encouraging healthy blood flow, your wound may experience unhealthy inflammation. A burn that you got from pulling dinner out of the oven might feel like it’s still burning for days after, and you’ll want some kind of anti-inflammatory to help relieve the pain.

Many people think of the gel-like insides of the aloe vera plant for burns, and this is an age-old home remedy that actually works! Aloe vera is a succulent plant originally native to Africa that has a gooey substance in its leaves called mucilaginous juice, and while the plant is 99% water, it does have two chemicals within that improve wound healing.

According to researchers, many of the healing effects of aloe vera are due to the glycoproteins and polysaccharides present in the plant’s pulp. The polysaccharides increase cellular movement, leading to faster tissue regrowth, and the glycoproteins help relieve pain and control the inflammatory response. Together these compounds aid and possibly improve your immune system.

There is even more evidence out of a 2015 study that suggests there are further helpful compounds in aloe vera for cutaneous wounds (like sunburns). For instance, glucomannan stimulates the growth of fibroblasts responsible for collagen, skin cell, and tissue building. Other chemicals found in aloe vera may also help foster blood vessel regrowth, making it a fantastic, natural anti-inflammatory to have on hand for minor wound healing.

4. Get More Protein, Vitamins, and Nutrients

There are certain power foods that contain the nutrients your body needs to rebuild itself, including vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium. You’ll find these nutrients in dark green leafy vegetables and in orange, yellow, and red fruits and veggies (eat the rainbow!), like bell peppers, tomatoes, oranges, and more.

One of the biggest factors when it comes to tissue and wound healing though? Protein. Omega-3s come from fish along with fish’s protein content, and you can get an assortment of your essential amino acids from various meats and dairy products.

Amino acids are needed for wound healing, so if you’re not a meat-eater, you can increase your protein intake with certain vegetarian and vegan protein foods, or with an amino acid supplement while you heal.

How to Speed up Healing After Surgery

Outside of household and playground injuries, recovery after surgery is a whole different ball game. No matter where it is on the body or how good the chances for a speedy recovery are, surgery still carries a certain amount of risk, and so does surgical recovery. Once you’re sent home from your procedure, you’re going to want to heal as quickly and safely as possible. Here are some tips for how to do so.

1. Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions

While it’s true that no one knows your body quite like you do, doctors don’t give out suggestions willy-nilly. Their medical advice is based on data and research collected from all different kinds of patients over years and years of procedures.

If a doctor tells you to avoid activities for a specific amount of time after a procedure, it’s in your best interest to heed that advice. If you’re told to avoid driving, avoid sexual intercourse, avoid alcohol, or avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds for a couple of weeks, this is for your safety, and so you don’t end up back in their office with a new injury or complication. You may be feeling good enough to return to normal activity, and that’s great, it means your healing is right on course! And yet there may still be healing processes going on beneath your skin that need a little bit more time.

2. Eat the Right Recovery Foods

As true as it was for minor wounds, eating a nutrient-dense diet is even more important after a surgery, because you’re healing much deeper wounds. Although you may have a loss of appetite or digestive discomfort after a surgery, it’s important that you eat a healthy diet by any means necessary (broths, smoothies, amino acid powders), because certain foods are actually going to feed your recovery process.

Again, vitamin C and zinc can help with healing, and can be had from fruit and beans. Iron and vitamin B12 help in forming new blood cells and can be found in fish and eggs. Sports and sugary drinks should be avoided for the time being, as should refined sugar foods.

Protein is more important than ever, as many surgeries by nature involve cutting through tissue and muscle, and the amino acids in protein can help speed post-surgical recovery. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are all strong sources of protein, but if a doctor tells you to take a protein supplement, look for a comprehensive amino acid supplement. For recovering after surgery, you may need more protein than a normal diet or your appetite can provide, and supplementing may be a necessity.

3. Follow-up, Ask For Help, and Get Moving Gradually

Surgical recovery may take a while and involve follow-up appointments, physical therapy, and/or at-home assistance. During this time, it’s important to keep all appointments with your health care team, because a diagnostic such as bloodwork could alert your doctor to a problem before it becomes an infection. Likewise, physical therapy could help you correct something like a limp before it becomes a misalignment.

Asking for help from your family or your medical team may not be your usual tendency, but it is necessary and encouraged for the sake of a speedy and successful recovery. If problems are allowed to fester, you could end up back in the hospital or on bedrest, and in danger of new problems altogether, like muscle atrophy.

4. Don’t Smoke

This is a tip that may not apply to all, so if you don’t smoke or have never smoked, skip ahead. However, if you are a smoker or live with one, the effects of cigarette smoking can counteract your wound healing.

Nicotine tightens blood vessels, and the more constricted your blood vessels are, the harder it is for all the other recovery work you’re doing to matter. The nutrients you eat won’t be going to the right places, the muscle you’re building takes longer to thrive, your wounds take longer to heal, and more carcinogens and harmful substances are coming in at the same time. If you’ve ever wanted to quit smoking, after a surgery it’s more important than ever, and can make even more of a positive health impact.

The Need for Speed

Some things can’t be rushed, and a lot of the time your health is the tortoise racing against the hare: slow and steady wins the race. Diet and exercise are long-haul habits that make all the difference. While that’s also true when it comes to a lot of aspects of healing, the more you can do to support your body’s healing mechanisms and get out of their way, the faster the process goes and the lower the chance you’ll have any more problems arising from the initial issue.

Whether it’s a cut, a sunburn, a broken limb, or a surgical operation, anything can go from bad to worse if you’re not careful. Luckily there are resources you can use and advice to be had on how to speed up healing in a successful and sustainable way. Take these tips into consideration, seek medical advice if needed, and know that we wish you a speedy recovery.

Serrapeptase: The Science Behind the Supplement

Mostly used by health care professionals in Japan and Europe for reducing inflammation after trauma, surgery, or in other inflammatory circumstances, serrapeptase is also available as a dietary supplement for its various health benefits. Find out what serrapeptase is, how it was discovered, and which of its supposed benefits have the strongest evidence backing them.

Serrapeptase, also known as serratiopeptidase, serratia peptidase, or silk worm enzyme, is an isolated enzyme from bacteria found in silk worms. Mostly used by health care professionals in Japan and Europe for reducing inflammation after trauma, surgery, or in other inflammatory circumstances, it is also available as a dietary supplement for its various health benefits. This article will explore the science behind those health claims, discuss the potential side effects of serrapeptase, and help you decide whether this anti-inflammatory is right for you.

What Is Serrapeptase?

The serrapeptase enzyme is a proteolytic enzyme, which means it has the ability to break down proteins into their building blocks, amino acids. It’s an enzyme produced by the bacteria living in the silk worm’s digestive tract, and specifically it’s the enzyme that allows an emerging moth to dissolve and digest its own cocoon. If you’re the kind of person who finds bugs and worms to be skin-crawlingly gross, it might do you well to think less about where this enzyme comes from, and more about what it and other proteolytic enzymes like bromelain, chymotrypsin, and trypsin can do to benefit you.

Discovered throughout the 1950s, these enzymes were used in the United States to relieve the inflammation caused by ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-surgical swelling. By 1957, the Japanese were using serrapeptase in the same manner, and in the 1990s these different enzymes were compared and it was found that serrapeptase was the most successful at reducing inflammatory responses. Since then it has become more widely used in Europe and Japan for its anti-inflammatory benefits.

The Benefits of Serrapeptase

Though serrapeptase is relatively new to the medicinal scene, there have nevertheless been many studies done to document its effectiveness and safety. Here are some of the benefits that have been observed from the use of serrapeptase.

Serrapeptase supplements: the science and the speculation.

May Reduce Inflammation

This is the health benefit serrapeptase is best known for, reducing inflammation in instances like tooth removal or post-surgery recovery. It’s thought that serrapeptase works by decreasing inflammatory cells at the site of injury. The anti-inflammatory effects of serrapeptase were shown in a clinical trial on the surgical removal of wisdom teeth, and serrapeptase was found to be more effective at improving lockjaw than more powerful drugs like ibuprofen and corticosteroids.

Though corticosteroids improved facial swelling more effectively on the first day post-surgery, the differences on the second day were insignificant. While more research is still needed to define the best uses of serrapeptase going forward, the researchers in the study did note that serrapeptase had a better safety profile than the other drugs analyzed, which may make it particularly useful in cases of drug intolerance in patients, or those who have adverse side effects with stronger drugs.

May Prevent Infections

There is evidence that serrapeptase may decrease the risk of bacterial infection by acting as a “biofilm buster,” so-called because bacteria have the ability to join together and form a protective barrier or film around themselves. The biofilm shields them from antibiotics long enough that their rapid growth can take place and cause infection. Serrapeptase can inhibit the formation of biofilms, increasing the efficacy of antibiotics in cases like Staphylococcus aureus (Staph. aureus), or staph infection, one of the most common opportunistic dangers associated with hospital stays.

Both animal and test-tube studies have shown that serrapeptase combined with antibiotics was more effective than treating Staph. aureus with antibiotics alone, including those strains that have become drug-resistant. An example of a drug-resistant form of staph infection is MRSA (methicillin resistant Staph. aureus), an especially dangerous infection to those who are already hospitalized in immune-compromised states.

May Reduce Pain

Pain being a symptom of inflammation, serrapeptase has been known to reduce pain by inhibiting certain compounds. For example, in one double-blind study that examined the effects of serrapeptase in about 200 people with inflammatory conditions of the ear, nose, and throat, researchers found that those who took a serrapeptase supplement had significant reductions in mucus production and pain severity than did those who took a placebo.

Another study found that serrapeptase reduced pain significantly compared to a placebo in 24 participants following the removal of their wisdom teeth. More research is needed for scientists to be sure of serrapeptase’s effects, but these findings show promise for those hoping to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) after medical procedures.

May Help Dissolve Blood Clots

It is thought that by acting to break down fibrin (a protein formed in blood clots) as well as damaged and dead tissue, the serrapeptase enzyme could help treat atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis involves plaque buildup inside your arteries, which leads to a hardening and narrowing of the arteries and an increased danger from blood clots.

If serrapeptase is successful at dissolving plaque or blood clots, it could reduce a person’s risk of stroke or heart attack. However, not enough studies have been done showing a direct effect, and so while there is potential that serrapeptase has a role in treating blood clots, more research is warranted.

May Be an Aid Against Chronic Respiratory Disease

Chronic respiratory and chronic airway diseases affect the lungs and breathing apparatuses of the body. Serrapeptase’s potential to clear mucus and reduce inflammation in the the lungs could help improve breathing in those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary hypertension, which is a form of high blood pressure in the vessels of your lungs.

These chronic conditions are ongoing and incurable, and yet managing the symptoms effectively (as with increased mucus clearance and better dilation of air passages) can greatly improve a person’s quality of life. One month-long study of 29 participants with chronic bronchitis involved a test group that was given 30 milligrams of serrapeptase per day, which resulted in less mucus production than the control group, better lung-clearing ability, and greater ease of breathing.

May Treat Endometriosis

Due to the potential serrapeptase has for targeting dead tissue and scar tissue throughout the body, some believe there is potential in using serrapeptase for endometriosis treatment. Endometriosis occurs when endometrial cells grow outside the uterus, in the tissues surrounding the pelvic area, causing pain and often issues with fertility.

Likewise with conception issues arising due to ovarian or uterine cysts, serrapeptase for fertility is another natural therapy that currently has more anecdotal evidence than scientific research done on it, though that does not mean the research won’t be done, nor that it wouldn’t be a safe supplement to try in consultation with a qualified health care professional.

May Help Relieve Alzheimer’s Disease

One study on rat models revealed that the proteolytic enzymes nattokinase and serrapeptase may have a therapeutic application in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, modulating the different factors that characterize the disease. Oral application of these enzymes provided a decrease in transforming growth factor, acetylcholinesterase activity, and interleukin-6, all of which are found in high levels among patients with Alzheimer’s disease. While more research still needs to be done, Alzheimer’s is a medical condition that needs any relief options available.

Potential Serrapeptase Side Effects

Because it’s such a new commodity, people are rightly concerned that there could be potential serrapeptase dangers. There are not many published studies touching on potential adverse reactions to taking serrapeptase, however some studies have reported the following side effects.

As there is a lack of data on the long-term safety and tolerability of this enzyme, should any side effect occur after you take it, you should stop immediately and seek medical advice. What works for some may not work for all, and so your judgement is paramount when it comes to whether you’re getting the benefits you want.

How to Take Serrapeptase

It’s advised against taking serrapeptase with any sort of blood thinner, or other dietary supplements like turmeric, garlic, or fish oil which could increase a risk of bruising or bleeding. For serrapeptase dosage, it’s recommended to take between 10-60 milligrams per day (the range used within the various studies) on an empty stomach, and to avoid eating for at least 30 minutes afterwards.

When purchasing the supplement, choose a product in an enteric-coated capsule to prevent your stomach acid from neutralizing the enzyme before it reaches your intestine. Without a strong enough capsule, the enzymatic activity could be deactivated before it has a chance to work.

How long does it take serrapeptase to work after you take it? For pain and swelling it can have immediate effects post-surgery, but for more gradual or ongoing treatments, the effects might be felt over a period of weeks. It truly depends on your condition, your health, and how you’re using the supplement.

The Secrets of Serrapeptase

Our understanding of serrapeptase is far from comprehensive at this moment. There is one study linking it to treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome and anecdotal evidence suggesting serrapeptase for weight loss (albeit temporary). There are far more clinical studies on the use of serrapeptase for reducing inflammation, fighting infections, and preventing blood clots, but researchers are still exploring its uses. Should you be interested in seeing what serrapeptase supplementation can do for you, we only ask that you do so wisely, and with a willingness to consult a medical professional about any results you find, be they bad or good.

Essential Amino Acid Supplements and Bariatric Surgery

Let’s take a look at the different types of bariatric surgery available, the benefits and risks of these procedures, and how amino acids can help you maintain the nutrition so important to your health both during recovery and long after this weight-loss procedure is over.

According to figures from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), the number of Americans choosing to undergo bariatric surgery has risen steadily over the past several years, with over 200,000 undergoing the procedure in 2017 alone.

However, while the obesity epidemic leads more and more people to consider a surgical solution to excess weight, many may not realize that the physical changes to the digestive tract caused by bariatric surgery also result in changes to the body’s ability to absorb nutrition.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the different types of bariatric surgery available, the benefits and risks of these procedures, and how amino acids can help you maintain the nutrition so important to your health both during recovery and long after the procedure is over.

Types of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is performed on severely obese individuals who have not been able to lose weight with diet and exercise alone.

Generally, the procedure is not recommended unless you have extreme obesity, characterized by a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater, or a BMI of 35 and at least one obesity-related health problem, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, or heart disease.

The surgery works by changing the shape of or removing portions of the stomach and (sometimes) small intestine. In the United States, three types of bariatric surgery procedures are most commonly performed:

  • Gastric bypass
  • Gastric banding
  • Gastric sleeve

Each type of surgery also has its advantages and disadvantages.

1. Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass

The Roux-en-Y gastric bypass works by dividing both the top of the stomach from the bottom and the first part of the small intestine. The bottom end of the small intestine is then attached to the newly created pouch at the top of the stomach.

This procedure reduces both the amount of food the stomach pouch can hold at any one time and the small intestine’s ability to absorb calories and nutrients. This type of gastric bypass surgery is also typically not reversible.

2. Biliopancreatic Diversion with Duodenal Switch

In this second, more complicated form of gastric bypass, approximately 80% of the stomach is removed. The majority of the small intestine is then bypassed by connecting the end portion of the intestine to the duodenum.

Like the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, this procedure works to reduce both stomach capacity and calorie and nutrient absorption. However, because it also carries with it more risks, the biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch is generally limited to people with a BMI greater than 50.

3. Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding

Gastric banding is a laparoscopic surgery in which an inflatable band, commonly known as a lap band, is placed around the upper portion of the stomach. When the band is inflated, it creates a small pouch that restricts the amount of food the upper portion of the stomach can hold.

4. Sleeve Gastrectomy

Gastric sleeve surgery actually makes use of the first part of the biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch, drastically reducing the size of the stomach until it’s shaped like a tube.

Benefits of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery can help patients avoid serious health problems by improving many of the health risks associated with severe obesity. These include:

In addition, the weight loss that results from bariatric surgery may improve mobility and reduce symptoms of arthritis, thereby increasing the ability to engage in physical activity.

Side Effects of Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery also comes with both short-term and long-term risks. These include:

  • Infection
  • Acid reflux
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Dumping syndrome
  • Low blood sugar
  • Malnutrition
  • Diarrhea
  • Hernias

The Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (LABS) program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recruits bariatric surgery patients in order to track both short-term and long-term outcomes of surgery.

LABS has found that approximately 4% of individuals have at least one major adverse outcome within a month of surgery. The program has also shown no difference in adverse outcomes with different bariatric procedures.

Bariatric Surgery and Body Composition Changes

Bariatric surgery causes weight loss in most individuals, and the greatest percentage of that weight loss is a reduction in fat mass. However, it’s been demonstrated that lean body mass is reduced by approximately 20% as well.

This is an unfortunate finding, as lean muscle lays the foundation for successful weight loss and maintenance as well as optimal health.

However, the good news is that the addition of an amino acid supplement to the diet following bariatric surgery can minimize the loss of lean body mass.

Essential Amino Acid (EAA) Supplements and Weight Loss Following Bariatric Surgery

Weight loss following bariatric surgery is fundamentally governed by the same principles that govern any other weight-loss program—that is, weight is lost due to a negative energy balance.

In other words, the amount of energy you consume throughout the day must be less than the amount of energy you expend. And since calories are the unit of energy we’re talking about here, a negative energy balance simply refers to a caloric expenditure that’s greater than caloric intake.

However, losing weight isn’t as simple as dropping pounds. If it were, it wouldn’t matter whether those pounds were in fat or muscle.

But you want to lose fat and preserve muscle, so weight loss must be focused on losing just the fat. After all, that’s the definition of successful weight loss.

Unfortunately, when you reduce the number of calories you eat, you potentially negatively affect muscle mass in two ways.

Protein Intake

If you don’t change the composition of your diet, your protein intake is going to be cut in half along with your caloric intake. To avoid this, you need to keep your protein intake high so you can preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss.

But to do this, you have to double the percentage of calories you’re taking in as protein just to maintain the same amount of protein you normally eat.

For example, if you consume 25% of your calories as protein, to keep protein levels constant during weight loss, 50% of the calories you eat need to be protein.

And given that most forms of protein provide at least half their calories as carbohydrates and/or fats, that means your entire diet may have to be composed of foods from the protein food group.

Muscle Protein Synthesis

In addition to the negative effects on protein intake, a negative energy balance also makes it much harder to maintain the same rate of muscle protein synthesis when calories are cut.

In the human body, protein is constantly being built up and broken down. And we’ve known for more than a hundred years that the amount of protein needed to maintain this balance between protein synthesis and protein breakdown is influenced by energy intake (in the form of nutrition), which fuels the energy cost of protein synthesis.

However, when you reduce the number of calories you eat, muscle protein is inevitably lost. And this is the fundamental challenge of maintaining muscle mass when you’re losing weight.

How does all this play out in light of the negative energy balance created by bariatric surgery?

Muscle can only be preserved following bariatric surgery if enough essential amino acids (EAAs) are available to stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a degree sufficient to maintain muscle mass. And the most effective and practical way to accomplish this goal is by increasing dietary EAA intake.

Bariatric surgery is for severely obese individuals who have not been able to lose weight by calorie restriction.

The loss of lean body mass—and muscle mass, in particular—is dramatic following bariatric surgery.

This undesirable effect reflects, in part, an impaired ability to digest intact protein (the “whole” form of protein we ingest via food sources, made up of strings of individual amino acids connected to one another, as opposed to the separated amino acids found in free-form amino acid supplements) effectively, especially in the first few weeks after surgery.

In addition, patients who go through any surgical procedure may develop anabolic resistance. When this happens, intact protein loses its normal effectiveness in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

Unlike intact proteins, such as meat and eggs, free EAAs are extensively digested and absorbed even after bariatric surgery, so their effect on muscle protein turnover is fully retained.

The fact that free-form EAAs can be formulated to overcome anabolic resistance is another potential advantage of relying on EAA-based nutrition following bariatric surgery.

How Many EAAs Are Needed to Maintain Muscle Mass After Bariatric Surgery?

You need to consume at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day to maintain muscle mass during weight loss. So, if you weigh 350 pounds, you need to eat 190 grams of protein, or about 400 grams of protein food sources such as meat, fish, and dairy products.

That’s about 2,000 kilocalories just from protein food sources alone!

Add to this the fact that the normal total caloric intake during weight loss following bariatric surgery is about 1,200 kilocalories per day, and it’s clear the numbers don’t add up.

You just can’t get enough protein from food sources to maintain lean mass.

This is particularly relevant when we’re talking about weight-loss surgery, as the amount—and sometimes type—of food bariatric surgery patients are able to eat after the procedure is limited.

Thankfully, this disadvantage can be remedied by supplementing with a free-form EAA formula. Not only have EAAs been proven to help you lose the fat, but they can also ensure you retain that all-important muscle.

Let me explain how this works.

Based on our earlier example—and given the normal proportion of EAAs in high-quality dietary proteins—a protein intake of 190 grams per day would translate to about 80 grams of EAAs.

However, in the early stages after surgery, it may not be feasible to eat more than 50 grams of protein per day, or about 20 grams of EAAs.

In this scenario, your diet would be 60 grams short of enough EAAs to maintain lean body mass, so to make up the difference, you’d need to consume 60 grams of EAAs in the form of a dietary supplement.

And this is as simple as taking a 15-gram dose of EAAs 5 times a day. In fact, a recently published study showed that 5 × 15 grams of EAAs was sufficient to maintain lean body mass during weight loss.

As your ability to obtain protein from food sources increases with time, the amount of supplemental EAAs required to maintain muscle mass will decline, but an intake of at least 30 grams of EAAs will ensure continued maintenance of muscle mass.

If you think you or a loved one may be a candidate for weight-loss surgery and would like more information on the different procedures available and what to expect before, during, and after surgery, I encourage you to visit the ASMBS website.

And if you’re already preparing to undergo bariatric surgery, I recommend exploring essential amino acid supplementation to support your nutritional intake during recovery and beyond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toll Surgery Takes on the Body

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

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

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

Why People Lose Muscle Mass and Function During Recovery

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

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

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

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

The Physiological Processes Behind Muscle Loss

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

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

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

How Hormones and Inflammation Drive the Catabolic State

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Amino Acid Therapy to Help Your Body Heal

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

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

How Essential Amino Acids Decrease Muscle Loss

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

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

The Crucial Role Played by mTOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Scientific Evidence on Using Amino Acids for Surgery Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategies for Preserving Muscle Strength and Function During Recovery

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

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

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

Be Sure to Prioritize Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make a Post-Surgery Nutrition Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Ulcerative Colitis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the large intestine and rectum. Symptoms usually develop over time and may develop into life-threatening complications. Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments.

There are many diseases that can affect the gastrointestinal system, from irritable bowel syndrome to Crohn’s disease, but ulcerative colitis is one of the most debilitating. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, 1.6 million Americans have inflammatory bowel disease, and ulcerative colitis affects 907,000 of them. How does ulcerative colitis differ from other digestive disorders, and what exactly is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the large intestine and rectum and causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Symptoms usually develop over time and may lead to life-threatening complications.

Complications of ulcerative colitis can include swelling of the colon (toxic megacolon), a hole in the colon, bone loss, blood clots, colorectal cancer, and even liver disease.

Ulcerative Colitis Causes

The cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown. Doctors used to suspect that diet and stress were responsible for the disease, but they now believe that diet and stress are not the cause but can indeed make the disease worse.

Immune system malfunction is considered a possible cause, because when the immune system reacts to an invasion, it attacks the cells in the digestive tract.  Mistaking food and gut bacteria as invaders, white blood cells proliferate in the lining of the colon, causing chronic inflammation and ulcers.

Despite the lack of consensus on a precise cause, risk factors may include age, race or ethnicity, and family history (you may be at risk if you have a close relative who has or had the disease).

Ulcerative colitis usually affects people before the age of 30, and Caucasians are more likely to develop this condition.

Ulcerative Colitis Symptoms

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis depend on the level of inflammation, and they are classified according to location.

Ulcerative colitis is a disease that affects the large intestine and rectum. It is an inflammatory bowel disease, also known as IBD, which causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Symptoms usually develop over time and may develop into life-threatening complications.

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:

Bloody diarrhea Abdominal pain
Cramps Bloody stool
Rectal pain Urgent need to defecate
Inability to defecate Unexplained weight loss
Joint pain Tiredness
Fever Stunted growth in children

Types of Ulcerative Colitis

  • Ulcerative proctitis: The mildest form of ulcerative colitis, ulcerative proctitis is characterized by rectal bleeding and inflammation in the region closest to the rectum.
  • Proctosigmoiditis: Here, the inflammation occurs in the rectum and sigmoid colon. Symptoms are typically bloody stool, abdominal pain, and inability to produce bowel movements but with the strong urge to do so.
  • Left-sided colitis: The inflammation that occurs with left-sided colitis travels to the descending colon and results in bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping on the left side, and weight loss.
  • Pancolitis: This type of ulcerative colitis inflames the entire colon. Symptoms may be more intense and weight loss drastic.
  • Acute severe ulcerative colitis: The rarest type of colitis, it’s acute, severe, and affects every part of the colon.

Your health care provider will use blood tests to check for signs of anemia or infection and a stool sample to diagnose ulcerative colitis. To investigate further, your doctor may order a colonoscopy, a more invasive exam that allows for a view of the entire colon using a thin, lighted tube with an attached camera.

If the colon is too inflamed for a colonoscopy, your doctor with opt for a flexible sigmoidoscopy to examine your rectum and colon. If a complication is suspected, a CT scan may be ordered, and if symptoms are especially pronounced, your physician may take an X-ray to rule out a condition such as a perforated colon.

Ulcerative Colitis Treatment Options

The type of treatment depends on the severity of the condition—and it may take time to find a medication that helps because not everybody reacts in the same way to drugs. It is crucial to follow your doctor’s directions because many of these drugs have side effects. You can also check out this article on the best and worst foods to eat for ulcerative colitis to help manage your symptoms.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Anti-inflammatory drugs include 5-aminosalicylates (the primary choice for mild to moderate ulcerative colitis) such as sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), mesalamine (Asacol HD, Delzicol, others), balsalazide (Colazal), and olsalazine (Dipentum). Corticosteroids are generally used in cases of severe ulcerative colitis that don’t respond to other treatments—these drugs have strong side effects, so long-term use is not recommended.

Immune System Suppressors

These drugs help lower inflammation, but they also suppress the immune system response. The most common immunosuppressant drugs include Azathioprine (Azasan) and mercaptopurine (Purinethol). Cyclosporine (Gengraf) is usually prescribed to people who have had issues with other medications. This drug has serious side effects and is not for long-term use.

Drugs such as infliximab (Remicade) neutralize a protein produced by your immune system, and they are usually proscribed for those with severe ulcerative colitis who have had issues with other treatments.

Other Medications

Antibiotics are usually prescribed to ulcerative colitis sufferers running a fever. Anti-diarrheal medications (Imodium) may be effective for severe diarrhea. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be used. Do not use ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and diclofenac sodium (Voltaren), which can exacerbate symptoms. Iron supplements can help manage anemia in patients with chronic intestinal bleeding.


Surgery can be effective in eliminating ulcerative colitis, but the procedure removes the rectum and the entire colon. The surgeon constructs a pouch from the end of the small intestine and attaches it directly to the anus, allowing the patient to expel waste without using a bag to collect stool.

It is important to mention that patients with ulcerative colitis are at higher risk of developing colon cancer. Frequent screenings are recommended. If the disease goes beyond the rectum, a surveillance colonoscopy should be done every 1 to 2 years.

How to Treat Ulcerative Colitis with Amino Acids

Studies suggest that L-arginine, a nonessential amino acid known to keep the immune system strong, can help patients who have ulcerative colitis. In a rat model, L-arginine supplementation healed the intestinal mucosa. Another test analyzed the effect of L-arginine on patients with histologically-proven pancolitis. The experiment showed that L-arginine concentration may prove to be useful as a biomarker for ulcerative colitis disease severity.

More generally, ulcerative colitis patients are at risk of nutrient depletion, particularly during an inflammatory flare-up. To counter this, the European Society for Enteral and Parenteral Nutrition recommends an increase in dietary protein intake to a level as much as twice the recommended dietary allowance for healthy individuals in order to maintain muscle mass and function. This level of intake may be impractical to achieve, and complete digestion may be limited.

Adding an essential amino acid supplement to the diet may provide important beneficial effects. When provided in free form, amino acids are fully digested in the small intestine and therefore act locally through the luminal side via the bloodstream to reach mucosal sites distant from the sites of absorption. Amino acid supplementation has been shown to provide beneficial effects on the inflammatory response, oxidative stress reactions, and other favorable effects in the gut. In addition, supplementation with essential amino acids will help to maintain muscle mass and metabolic health.

Amino Acids and Gaining “Good” Weight After Serious Illness, Surgery or Injury

Recovery almost inevitably involves regaining the weight that was lost. It is important that the regained weight is largely muscle, and that you don’t replace the muscle you lost with new fat. The key to gaining good weight is optimal amino acid nutrition.

Obesity has become such a pervasive problem in the United States that few people think about gaining weight on purpose. That is, until they lose a drastic amount of weight due to serious illness, surgery, or injury. The weight lost in these circumstances includes a significant amount of muscle. Recovery almost inevitably involves regaining the weight that was lost. It is important that the regained weight is largely muscle, and that you don’t replace the muscle you lost with new fat. The key to gaining good weight is optimal amino acid nutrition.

Why Illness, Surgery, or Injury Often Results in Weight Loss

When you become seriously ill, undergo the physical stress associated with major surgery, or suffer a severe injury, your body may enter what’s known as a catabolic state.

The catabolic state refers to the rapid loss of weight, especially muscle, accompanying physiological stress. Some events that might cause a catabolic state include major surgery or trauma, serious chronic diseases like cancer and heart failure, or acute illnesses such as pneumonia. Even a serious case of the flu can create a catabolic state. There are two components of the catabolic state:

  1. Changes in muscle metabolism that are part of the stress response
  2. Decreased appetite

Many catabolic states involve hospitalization during the most severe stage, perhaps even in the intensive care unit. Receiving an adequate intake of nutrients in a severe catabolic state becomes challenging for several reasons. First, the normal anabolic (muscle building) response to protein intake diminishes, a condition called anabolic resistance. Second, glucose metabolism is altered significantly—insulin resistance kicks in and fat accumulates in the liver. And third, fatty acid levels in the blood drastically increase. During the acutely severe stage, the debilitative effects of bedrest are often superimposed onto those fundamental elements of the body’s stress response.

The primary nutritional focus for helping individuals weather a catabolic state with the most minimal damage possible should be the consumption of essential amino acids (EAAs). Providing your body with a steady supply of essential amino acids can effectively slow down the loss of muscle that accompanies anabolic resistance. Even EAAs have a limited effectiveness in the catabolic state, however, and some degree of muscle loss is inevitable.

Full Recovery Involves Gaining Good Weight

Once the initial health issue has passed and you’ve entered the recovery phase, you may actually be happy to have lost some weight. The problem with this perspective is that the stress response specifically targets muscle loss. Although some fat is lost as well, a significant portion of weight loss that occurs in a catabolic state comes directly from your muscle mass.

Further, it’s important to make peace with the fact that you will almost inevitably regain the weight that you lost in one way or another. The key is to restore your lost muscle mass, and avoid unfavorably affecting your body composition by regaining the weight you shed as fat.

Making a Healthy Weight-Gain Meal Plan

Making the decision to gain weight should not be interpreted as a license to binge on high-calorie, sugary, salt-laden junk food. While that could very well provide you with the extra calories required to gain weight, you’ll be undermining your overall health in the process.

The point of gaining good weight is to restore your lost muscle mass and subcutaneous fat, not to build up deposits of belly fat that have been linked to adverse health outcomes including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The best healthy weight-gain strategy for you will depend on your individual circumstances and goals; however, there are certain strategies for devising a healthy weight-gain meal plan and exercise protocol that can be universally beneficial.

The Importance of Protein

Protein should be the macronutrient that dominates your meal plan for gaining good weight. As you may be aware, your muscles are formed from protein. Making protein the base of your diet, therefore, makes it far more likely that the extra calories you take in will be transformed into muscles, not excess body fat.

Initially, anabolic resistance lingers after recovery, which will limit the efficacy of the protein you consume. As your physical condition improves, your body will become more efficient at putting the dietary protein you consume to work promoting muscle growth.

Research has consistently demonstrated that getting your extra calories from protein results in more lean muscle mass gains and less fat mass gains.

A study published in JAMA compared the effects of low-, normal-, and high-protein diets on weight gain and body composition. All participants ate diets designed to provide approximately 40% more calories than needed to maintain their current weights. The authors found that participants on the high-protein diet gained significantly more lean body mass—in other words, muscle mass—than those on the normal- and low-protein diets.

Aim to consume between 25% and 30% of your daily calories in the form of high-quality protein. Another way to conceptualize the amount of protein needed to gain weight is to shoot for between 0.7 and 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Depending on your calorie intake, you may find you have room to increase that.

One thing to keep in mind: protein is highly filling. You may find that increasing the number of grams of protein you eat each day substantially reduces your appetite. That’s why increasing your protein intake is also a helpful strategy for meeting weight-loss goals (albeit, without the overall strategy of eating more than enough calories to meet your body’s energetic needs). While this could make it challenging for you to eat the extra calories needed for weight gain, I’ll provide helpful tips on how to overcome this hurdle later on in the article.

Structuring your diet around protein will involve incorporating a variety of high-quality protein sources, such as:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Many dairy products
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Unless you have dietary restrictions that rule out animal proteins, I recommend making those the focal point of your healthy weight-gain meal plan. Animal-based proteins, including many dairy products, not only contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to build muscle, but also have a higher ratio of overall calories from protein. On average, about 50% of the calories in animal protein food sources come from protein. In contrast, around 70% or more of the calories in many plant-based protein food sources may come from carbohydrates.

How to Handle Fats and Carbohydrates

Since your primary—and quite likely, unfamiliar—goal is to gain weight, you may need to adjust the way you typically think about food. If you’re accustomed to restricting your carbohydrate or fat intake, this is the moment to let go of that. Placing limits on how much fat or how many carbs you eat will only make it harder for you to eat the calorie-dense foods required for healthy weight gain.

Yet another reason to prioritize animal protein as a mainstay of your meal plan for gaining good weight is that the majority of the non-protein calories in these foods come from fat. While many of us have been conditioned to think eating fat is harmful, that is certainly not the case—especially if you are recovering from a catabolic state. Adding more healthy fats to your diet is a wonderful way to increase your total caloric intake and support your body as it re-builds lost muscle.

If you’re going to worry about eating too much of any of the three macronutrients (and as long as you’re eating healthy, whole foods, there’s little cause for any concern at all), direct your attention to carbohydrate consumption. The metabolism of dietary carbohydrate requires the effective action of insulin, and the catabolic state induces a resistance to the normal action of insulin that may persist for months. Insulin resistance makes carbohydrate metabolism less effective as an energy substrate. In simpler terms, this makes it more likely that the carbohydrates you consume will be converted to fat and stored in the liver.

Because of this potentiality, I find it reasonable to limit carbohydrate consumption to between 20% and 30% of your overall caloric intake. That said, you will likely see the greatest weight-gain results if you include plenty of protein, fat, and carbohydrates at each meal.

Strive to eat at least three macronutrient-optimized meals per day. If you have a good appetite (and the physical activity routine I describe below will help to stimulate that), you should also feel free to add in energy-dense healthy snacks whenever possible.

As you regain your muscle mass and approach complete recovery, your basic diet should evolve towards one of the diet options that suits your individual needs and preferences. Maintaining a high-protein intake (about 25% of your daily calories) will help to maintain the muscle you have regained during recovery.

24 of the Best Foods to Help You Gain Weight in a Healthy Way

Whole, single-ingredient, healthy foods should form the basis of your healthy weight-gain meal plan. However, as I mentioned in reference to high-protein foods, these foods do tend to be more filling than the quick-and-easy processed foods that can be so tempting to rely on. This can make it challenging to create the calorie surplus necessary to gain weight.

To encourage yourself to eat enough of these foods to gain the weight you lost, get creative with your use of spices, sauces, and condiments. Make your meals so irresistibly delicious that you simply have to clean your plate.

Another helpful tip for getting the amount of calories needed to gain weight fast is to emphasize energy-dense foods. These foods contain a high number of calories relative to their weight. Here are seven types of energy-dense foods to add to your grocery list:

  1. High-fat dairy: There are a plethora of good options in this category. Think whole milk, full-fat yogurt, organic cheese, and so on. If you’re vegan, full-fat coconut milk is your best option.
  2. Meat: Let your tastes, and the usual best practices for buying meat, guide you. Choose pasture-raised or free-range options whenever possible. And the fattier the cut, the better.
  3. Nuts: Go nuts for nuts! Avoid overly processed options—you can always add your own flavor enhancers if you like. Almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts are particularly nutrient-rich. Nut butters can be a fabulous, calorie-dense treat, but steer clear of varieties with added sugar.
  4. Fats and oils: It’s hard to get more energy-dense than fats and oils! Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter all have many desirable characteristics. And don’t forget avocados, that beautifully fatty fruit!
  5. Root vegetables: These starchy veggies are the perfect way to add healthy carbohydrates to your plate. Load up on sweet potatoes, yams, rutabaga, turnips, and even plain old potatoes.
  6. Grains: Whole grains can be another solid option when it comes to healthy carbohydrates. Try making oats for breakfast or serving brown rice with your dinner.
  7. Healthy snacks: This is the broadest category, and your personal tastes will, of course, come into play here. Some of my personal favorites include dark chocolate and dried fruit as well as homemade granola and trail mixes.

You may have noticed that few fruits and vegetables appear on the list above. I’m certainly not suggesting that you stop eating fruits and vegetables, however, those foods are unlikely to contribute significantly to the caloric excess you are attempting to create.

Exercising to Rebuild Lost Muscle Mass

Exercise is always important in relation to muscle mass and function, and never more so than when you are recovering from a catabolic state. Exercise is the best way to reverse muscle loss and regain normal function. Prioritizing exercise—and strength training in particular—during your recovery period encourages your body to store the extra calories you eat as muscle, not fat.

However, depending on your particular situation, it may be difficult to follow the general guidelines of the American College of Sports Medicine for the amount and intensity of exercise. It may be necessary to go to a physical therapist initially, followed by an experienced trainer, to formulate the best plan for recovery exercises.

The general guideline of resistance exercise 2 times per week and aerobic exercise 5 times per week is appropriate, with the understanding that the level of intensity can be quite limited at first. Try to increase the weight you lift as well as the number of repetitions and sets you do over time. When it comes to cardio, there’s no need to deprive yourself of the fitness benefits associated with this type of exercise, but be sure to adjust your caloric intake to account for the calories you burn off. Remember, your goal at the moment is to consume an excess of calories.

The key to successful recovery is understanding that your exercise capacity will eventually return if you stick with it. This may be easier said than done in the depleted state after recovery from a catabolic state, but there is no substitute for persistence.

Using Essential Amino Acid Supplements to Maximize Your Recovery

As I explained earlier, essential amino acids play a key role in helping your body recover from catabolic stress. That’s part of the reason why it’s so vital that you increase your protein intake.

You may also find it helpful to add on an essential amino acid supplement specifically formulated to target an increase in muscle mass and function.

Ideally, you will want to take your essential amino acid supplement between meals to avoid the muscle loss that normally occurs in the absence of the absorption of dietary protein. As you regain strength, you will want to start coordinating the timing of your supplement intake with your exercise routine. It is optimal to take essential amino acids about 30 minutes before exercise and then again after exercise. Regardless of how light the exercise is, it is, in fact, activating the muscle to begin the process of restoration to full strength. Essential amino acids should be taken in conjunction with whatever physical activity you perform.

You’ll want to choose an amino acid supplement formulated with essential amino acids in a relatively pure form. That means avoiding blends that include other ingredients that simply add non-protein, non-amino acid calories.

The dosage of essential amino acids that gives the greatest stimulation of muscle protein synthesis is 15 grams—more than 15 grams at one time won’t provide much additional benefit. On a gram-for-gram basis, smaller doses may be more effective. A dose as low as 3.6 grams has been shown to be a potent stimulator of muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, there is quite a bit of flexibility in dosing.

Nonetheless, the larger the dose (up to 15 grams), the greater the muscle gain with each dosage. For optimal restoration of lost muscle, 15 grams twice per day between meals will give you the fastest results.