What Is Percussive Massage Therapy and Who Does It Help?

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

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

What Is Percussive Massage Therapy?

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

Who Needs a Percussion Massage?

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

Percussive Massage Therapy and Muscle Stimulation Benefits

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

1. Warm-Up and Improved Athletic Performance

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

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

2. Pain Relief and Muscle Rehab

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

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

3. Medical Aid

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

4. Post-Surgery Cosmetic Benefits

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

5. Relaxation and Stress Relief

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

What Is Percussive Massage Therapy?

The Top Handheld Percussive Massagers

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

1. TheraGun G2PRO

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

2. TimTam

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

3. Hyperice Hypervolt

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

A Final Note of Caution

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

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

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

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

Back to Basics: The Common Causes of Lower Back Pain

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

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

1. Insufficient Lumbar Support

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

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

2. Exacerbating Exercise Techniques

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

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

3. Strain and Improperly Healed Injury

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

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

Tight Lower Back Symptoms

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

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

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

Tight lower back pain: 10 helpful stretches.

10 Stretches to Help Alleviate a Tight Lower Back

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

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

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

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

2. Standing Hip Circles

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

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

3. Balasana (Child’s Pose)

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

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

4. The Windshield Wiper Stretch

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

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

5. Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Leg Stretch)

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

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

6. Pelvic Tilts

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

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

7. Bridge Stretch

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

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

8. Knee-to-Chest Exercise

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

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

9. Chakravakasana (Cat-Cow Pose)

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

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

10. Shavasana (Corpse Pose)

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

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

Loosen Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarcopenia: The Silent Breakdown

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

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

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

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

Top tips for building muscle after 50.

The Top 7 Tips to Begin Building Muscle After 50

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

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

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

1. Come to the Light

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

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

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

2. Stay on the Move

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

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

3. HIIT Back

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

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

4. Rest to Recover and Rebuild

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

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

5. Stretch It Out

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

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

6. Good Things Come in Threes

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

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

7. Feed Your Need

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

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

You’ll Muscle Through

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

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

Amino Acid Powder: The Top 10 Benefits

Learn about the difference between BCAAs and EAAs, plus the top 10 health benefits of amino acid powders and when it’s best to take them for optimal workout performance. 

Amino acid powders are supplements taken much the same way as protein powders like creatine and whey protein. They are important to muscle building for a very simple reason: they are the bricks and mortar of your muscles, and without them your body cannot synthesize new muscle for repair or growth.

Many people are familiar with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), used by bodybuilders and the fitness-minded alike, but BCAAs are only three of the nine essential amino acids (EAAs) required for muscle creation. For more on the difference between BCAA and EAA supplements, plus the benefits you can expect from supplementing with amino acids, read on.

Top 10 benefits of amino acid powders.

BCAAs vs. EAAs

The three BCAAs are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, and they make up about 35% of our muscle protein. They are isolated for supplementation because they reduce the amount of protein breakdown that occurs due to vigorous workouts, and they help preserve the muscle’s stores of glycogen, which is the muscles’ quickest energy source. Leucine is the big player among the three, and it’s also one of the main components of whey protein.

However, the reason people sometimes consume BCAAs instead of whey protein is because when these amino acids aren’t bound up with other components, they can digest and absorb faster, giving them a bigger impact as a workout supplement. The reason some people take complete EAA supplements over BCAAs is similar: you can’t increase your muscle mass without all nine of them, meaning that a full court of EAAs has an even greater positive impact on your fitness goals.

The essential amino acids include:

  • Phenylanine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Methionine
  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

If you ever need a mnemonic device to remember them (taking a biology quiz maybe?), notice that in this order, the first letter of each essential amino acid spells out Pvt. T.M. Hill: good old private T.M. Hill can help you remember your EAAs, just as Roy G. Biv can help you remember the order of the colors in the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).

Essential amino acids are so called because they’re needed in your body, but your body can’t create them itself, so it’s essential that you gain them by ingesting them.

Essential amino acids are indispensable, and there are six more amino acids that are considered conditionally essential—arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, and tyrosine. Their creation in the body isn’t always possible (like when we are infants). The rest of the amino acids are made in-house by your body.

The Top 10 Benefits of Amino Acid Powder

When your goal is to build lean muscle with your workouts, protein is key, and you can’t have protein without amino acids. Here are the best benefits you can expect from taking amino acid powder as a workout supplement.

1. Balanced Dosages

The great thing about getting your amino acids in powdered supplement form is the same perk you get when using meal replacement shakes for weight loss: it comes pre-measured, guaranteeing that you receive the proper ratio of amino acids every time. Even high-quality protein supplements don’t always take into account the ideal ratio of amino acids that are scientifically required for building new muscles, so when shopping for the right workout aid, be sure to purchase a comprehensive and balanced amino acid powder, one that has exactly what you need in precisely the right amounts.

2. Improved Muscle Growth

Leucine especially shines here, as it has been clinically shown to boost muscle protein synthesis after physical exercise. That window of post-workout recovery is when your muscles are wide open for material to rebuild the cells that were damaged during exercise, and create even more muscle in preparation for the next workout. For more on the best time to take amino acid powder, read (or skip!) to the end of this article.

3. Increased Endurance

Amino acid supplements alter the way your body uses fuel, namely by changing the way you burn carbs and fat. Athletes like sprinters who require short bursts of strong energy have to deal often with glycogen depletion from their muscles. There’s only so much glycogen your muscles can hold, and if you use it up too quickly, you’ll run into fatigue or exhaustion and will have to cut your workout short. With amino acid supplementation, however, glycogen stores are better protected, as was seen in this 2011 study involving 7 men who were put through a workout designed to sap their glycogen supply. Those given amino acids instead of a placebo had a 17.2% increase in how long it took them to hit the wall of exhaustion.

4. Better Fat Burning

Amino acids protect glycogen stores by burning fat instead of glycogen for fuel. Amino acids help to retrain your body’s metabolic processes. For instance, the amino acid L-carnitine has been shown to increase fat loss without any other changes being made to your diet or exercise routine. If you’re on a low-carb diet like the ketogenic diet, even better: your body will learn to access your fat stores for energy as much as possible, because it can’t get the quick energy from carbohydrate intake.

5. Reduced Fatigue

Piggybacking off the above-mentioned benefits, amino acids have the ability to prevent the mental fatigue that can accompany really long workouts. When your amino acids are low, such as during a grueling workout, your body works to produce more, specifically tryptophan. And when the amino acid tryptophan gets too low, its production leads to feelings of mental fatigue and tiredness (it’s why turkey is considered sleep-inducing—the tryptophan in the meat!). If you’re supplementing with the proper amount of amino acids, this process never has to begin, and thus there is no extra tryptophan running around making you feel depleted and tired.

6. Increased Focus

Without extra tryptophan making you soporific, your mental focus is able to sharpen. Amino acid supplements have been shown to boost your short-term memory and mental processing abilities, and so are particularly valuable in competitive sports or contests, when fast strategizing can help you win.

7. Muscle Sparing

When you workout, you’re causing little micro-tears in your muscles. It’s necessary damage, sort of like how you need to be exposed to viruses to develop an immunity to them (it’s the reasoning behind vaccines, which contain deactivated viral cells).

Usually the muscle damage is minimal, just enough to stimulate your body into sending resources to repair and then rebuild bigger, better, and stronger muscles than ever before. Sometimes, however, muscles are broken down out of desperation for energy. This is catabolism, a destructive form of metabolism, and those who work out hard, especially bodybuilders, know to guard against it.

During the day you can feed your body energy, but what is your body eating while you sleep? In some instances it resorts to cannibalizing itself in a sense, breaking down the muscle you’ve worked so hard to build. Amino acids can help prevent catabolism by protecting your muscle fibers from taking too much damage in the first place; plus you can supplement right before going to bed (but more on when to take amino acid powders below).

8. Improved Post-Workout Recovery

Free amino acids in an amino acid powder are quickly absorbed, which helps increase your muscle protein synthesis rate and shorten your post-workout recovery time. The muscle soreness that used to linger can be dispatched much quicker with proper amino acid supplementation. Quicker recoveries mean you can work out again sooner, putting you in a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle), where workout and recovery revolve around one another in beneficial harmony.

9. Reduced Muscle Soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can be a real hinderance to your fitness goals, but because amino acids help protect your muscles better and rebuild them quicker, they’ve been scientifically shown to reduce muscle soreness.

10. Improved Athletic Performance

When you count up all the ways amino acid supplements aid you and your muscles, the finally tally shows that they improve your overall athletic performance in more ways than one. Smarter, better, faster, stronger: amino acid powders can help you be all of these things with just a few scoops a day.

When to Take Amino Acid Powder

The fourth edition of Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning states that our muscles are particularly receptive to amino acid supplements within the first 48 hours after a workout. Likewise a study published in Frontiers in Physiology asserts that 5.6 grams of just BCAAs ingested after strength training exercise leads to a 22% increase in muscle protein synthesis. Similarly the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reminds us that you need a healthy supply of all the essential amino acids to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is why we recommend a comprehensive EAA blend when seeking to build muscle tissue.

A number of studies have shown that all nine EAAs play important roles in muscle growth and repair, and when it comes to the timing of when you should consume your essential amino acid powder supplement, you almost can’t go wrong: pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout, plus another helping before bed if you’re concerned about catabolism. While some forms of workout will require more or less supplementation regarding dosage amounts, pairing amino acid supplementation with a high-protein diet will have you covered.

The Amino Advantage

In your quest to build lean muscle mass through working out and eating right, consider adding a high-quality, gluten free, non-GMO amino acid powder like the one we offer here at Amino Co. Amino acid powders give you an extra advantage in all your workout and sporting goals.

When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?

The best time to take protein supplements depends on your activity level, your personal goals, and the types of workouts you engage in. This article will provide you with specific, scientifically backed recommendations, and the reasoning behind that advice.

When taking protein supplements, people often wonder when exactly is the best time of day to consume them. Pre-workout? Post-workout? Is it okay to drink a protein shake before bed? Protein supplements can help people lose weight, build muscle, and recover from tissue damage due to injury or surgery. Because they’re so effective, most people want to be sure they’re utilizing protein the right way. So when is the best time to take protein? Short answer is: that depends on your health goals and the kinds of workouts you’re doing. For the longer answer and more detail, read on.

The Different Types of Protein Supplements

Protein is a source of energy for the body, essential for muscle growth, repairing damaged tissue, and preventing certain infections and diseases. Normal dietary protein comes from foods like meats, eggs, fish, dairy, grains, legumes, and seeds. Though animal products contain the most amount of protein, vegetables are sources of protein too, a fact well-known by those living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Of the most popular protein powders on the market in fact, a significant portion are plant-based.

Plant-based proteins include:

  • Soy protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Rice protein, which is lower in the essential amino acid lysine.
  • Pea protein, which has lower levels of the essential amino acid methionine and nonessential amino acid cysteine.
  • Hemp protein, which is low in lysine but high in fiber, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential, meaning your body can’t make them on its own, and needs to gain them from the foods you eat.

Dairy-based proteins include:

  • Whey protein, which is absorbed relatively quickly and contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Casein protein from milk curds, also containing the essential amino acids, and with a slower digestion rate than whey (which is why people often take casein before they sleep, so it will digest throughout the night… more on that timing below).

Animal-based proteins include:

  • Egg protein powder made from pure egg white protein.
  • Creatine, which is not found in plants but can be synthetically created. Though it is an animal protein, depending on its origin source, it may nevertheless be possible for vegans to use creatine as a supplement.

These are among the most commonly known protein powders available to buy, but we here at the Amino Co. have also developed an essential amino acid (EAA) blend that isn’t lacking or low on any of the amino acids required for protein synthesis and new muscle growth. It also blends free-form amino acids with whey protein and creatine, a nonessential protein that nevertheless has great value as a supplement. These forms of protein are used to help those who want to build muscle rapidly, and can even benefit those with muscle, neurological, or neuromuscular diseases.

The Varied Uses of Protein Supplementation

From muscle building to weight loss, here’s a quick look at all that supplemental protein can do to benefit your body.

Exercise Performance and Recovery

Added protein has been shown to increase endurance during training and workouts, as well as reduce soreness and speed up post-workout recovery. The timing of your protein intake matters here, whether you’re eating high-protein foods or taking supplements. Read on to learn about workout-specific timing recommendations.

Muscle Building

Muscles can only be built when you have the proper amount of amino acids for protein synthesis, and when you’re consuming more protein than your body breaks down during workouts. Taking a protein supplement, especially one that contains all the necessary EAAs for muscle growth, can make a huge difference. Finding the right anabolic window, the period of time when the protein you take in will go directly to your muscles, is something the International Society of Sports Nutrition has done extensive research on, and we, too, will provide specific scientific reasoning below.

Muscle Loss Prevention

Muscle mass is lost not only during intensive workouts, but also naturally as we age. Each decade you live after the age of 30 brings with it a higher risk of losing muscle (anywhere between 3-8% per decade). Proper protein intake is not only valuable to athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone who works out regularly, but it’s also important for each and every one of us as we age. Most Americans reserve their protein more for dinner than breakfast (3 times the amount on average is the difference between the two meals), and could use a supplemental boost of protein first thing in the morning to shore up their protein stores and help prevent the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Fat Loss Facilitation

Protein is filling enough to help curb hunger pangs and chemically contributes to appetite suppression by reducing the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. A high-protein diet raises your metabolism and increases levels of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). More satiety means fewer calories consumed throughout the day, which quickly leads to safe, maintainable weight loss and the reduction of dangerous body fat.

The Enduring Power of Protein

Popular because they’re convenient and effective, protein powders and supplements are here to stay and can offer you a wide variety of options, from self-mix formulas and powders to ready-to-drink protein shakes. If you’ve got your preferred protein supplement ready to go, then it’s time to wonder: when should you drink protein?

The Best Time to Take Protein Depending on Your Workout

Depending on your goals and activities, there are recommended times to take protein for the greatest effectiveness for your energy levels and muscle-building needs. Here are specific recommendations based on different types of workout activity.

The best time to take protein supplements.

Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout and post-workout

The amino acid leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and it promotes muscle recovery after workouts. Not only that, it activates protein synthesis, prompting new muscle to be built. One might think that due to leucine’s ability to boost endurance and stamina, one should take a BCAA supplement before a workout, but the science contradicts that idea. Not only are BCAAs only three of the nine essential amino acids needed to construct new muscle, leucine and the other BCAAs (isoleucine and valine) experience oxidative degradation during aerobic activity.

BCAAs are Insufficient Pre-Workout

Adding these limited amino acids before your workout, especially in the unbalanced form of BCAAs instead of a complete EAA formula, means that a greater percentage will be oxidized and used for energy instead of muscle building. Your body does not want to be out of balance, so a sudden overabundance of a few amino acids will cause the body to clean up and reduce them in order to maintain equilibrium.

Rather than risk burning off the protein you put in because your body is only looking for energy sources, it’s better to take a full measure of EAAs within the hour after your aerobic workout, when your body is looking for supplies to rebuild. Leucine will be there to prompt muscle protein synthesis, and the rest of the essential amino acids will all be included in the ideal ratio for generating new muscle growth.

EAAs are Effective Pre- and Post-Workout

That being said, taking a complete amino acid protein supplement before an aerobic cardiovascular workout (like a high-intensity interval training or HIIT class), not only provides the necessary ingredients for muscle building, but also helps fight fatigue in a way that only taking BCAAs can’t, by fueling your body with the amino acids that help produce dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Whether you’re walking, cycling, running stairs, or jumping rope, start by taking your EAA supplement 30 minutes before your workout session. The biggest benefit comes when you take your EAA supplement within an hour after your workout, when your blood flow is strong and active. Not only will the amino acids rush in to replace damaged muscle fibers with new muscle, EAAs can also help calm unnecessary inflammation. That will help quicken your recovery, allowing you to feel only the good side effects of working out, like increased energy and light euphoria, instead of soreness and fatigue.

Resistance Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout, during, and post-workout

Research has shown that EAAs given 30 minutes before a resistance exercise workout prompt muscle protein synthesis much more effectively than consuming EAAs afterwards does. Taking a protein supplement before this type of workout helps prevent the breakdown of muscle protein during the activity, and also increases blood flow to the muscles, thus getting the amino acids quickly into the muscle where they’re needed.

Consuming EAAs after a resistance workout is not harmful by any means, as that method, too, will prompt the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, but it’s not ideal to leave the consumption of EAAs until after your resistance training is complete. Our recommendation is to first and foremost take a complete protein supplement before a resistance workout, and if possible take them throughout and/or after as well to get the most benefit.

Bodybuilding

Best time to take protein: Pre- and post-workout, and also before bed.

Immediately before and after a weight-lifting workout, we recommend that you take 15 grams of EAAs each. An EAA supplement has been shown to have a faster effect on muscle protein synthesis than either whey or casein protein alone. However, our Amino Co. blend of free-form EAAs with whey and creatine support ensures that you get a fast dose of EAAs and that the EAAs from whey will digest more slowly as you work out, offering a steady supply to help prevent muscle breakdown. Creatine helps prevent catabolism by supplying faster energy than your body can naturally generate from muscle cell mitochondria. This means more energy for more reps, which ultimately means more work put in and more muscle gained.

An hour after your post-workout dose of EAAs, we recommend another 15-gram dose. On off days, continue taking these same doses, measured between meals instead of surrounding your workout. Lastly, it’s also recommended you take another 15-gram dose before bed to keep your muscles fed as you sleep and to help prevent muscle breakdown as much as possible. You work hard to gain your muscles, and we encourage you to protect those gains at every opportunity. Set your alarm to take one more dose around 4 am if you know you won’t have a problem falling back to sleep, that way your muscles never go hungry for fuel.

It should be noted here that bodybuilders aren’t the only ones who benefit from taking extra protein before bed. One study of 16 elderly men showed that those who consumed casein protein (which digests slowly) before bed had increased muscle growth over those who took a placebo, despite being less active individuals. When you’re sleeping, it’s the protein that counts, and not the activity.

Is There Any Downside to Taking Protein Supplements?

The majority of scientific studies into how our bodies process high amounts of protein show that you can safely consume plenty of protein without risk of harmful side effects. Unless your doctor advises against protein supplements or you have a known kidney issue like rhabdomyolysis, there is no need to worry about excessive protein intake; merely take your products as recommended and spread them throughout your day.

Timing Is Everything

At the end of the day, it’s true that people who work out need more protein, but even those with a less active lifestyle benefit from consuming extra protein for strength, for maintaining healthy weight levels, and for preventing the loss of muscle mass we all experience as we age.

Make a protein shake for breakfast, have another to curb your appetite between meals, and make another as a beneficial treat before bed. Know that the more regularly you take in balanced forms of protein like Amino Co.’s complete EAA blend, the more good you can do for your body. Whether you’re working out or not, upping your daily protein intake is safe and smart. Bulk up, slim down, and stay strong with protein!

What Are the Best Muscle Recovery Foods?

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

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

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

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

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

 Muscle recovery foods for prevention and relief.

Muscle Recovery Foods

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

Cottage Cheese

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

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

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

Sweet Potatoes

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

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

Baking Spices

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

Coffee

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

Turmeric

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

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

Oatmeal

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

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

Bananas

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

Peanut Butter

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

Nuts and Seeds

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

Manuka Honey

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

Green Tea

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

Cacao

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

Tart Cherries

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

Salmon

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

Eggs

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

Spinach

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

Resist Damage and Recovery Quickly

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

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

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

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

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

9 Natural Remedies for Back Pain Relief

Few things can be as immediately disabling as back pain. Looking for back pain relief? Here are some natural remedies that can help get the pain off your back.

Few things can be as immediately disabling as back pain. Our backs are a delicate and complex structure of muscles, ligaments, joints, and bones. Back pain can be caused by a wide range of injuries, dehydration, inflammation, and certain underlying health conditions, and back pain relief can be difficult to come by.

Be it acute or chronic, back pain causes a reduction in physical activity, lost productivity at work, and overall poor quality of life scores according to a study published in the journal European Spine. 

Low back pain is incredibly common, not only in the United States but also globally. In fact, according to findings from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study, low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Fortunately, there are effective natural pain management remedies that can help you enjoy life to the fullest.

Are You at Risk for Back Pain?

Nearly everyone will experience some type of back pain over the course of a year. According to a National Center for Health Statistics 2016 report, during 2012 more than 125 million adults in the United States had a musculoskeletal pain disorder. This staggering figure accounts for more than 50% of the U.S. adult population.

It must be noted that musculoskeletal pain is classified as pain related to nerves, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones, not just in the back. The Cleveland Clinic also puts fibromyalgia, arthritic pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome in the same category.

In the general population, researchers report the lifetime prevalence of back pain high at 85%. This surprising statistic comes from a comprehensive review conducted by researchers from the Department of Sports Medicine and Sports Nutrition in Germany.

This same review also found that in athletes, the lifetime prevalence can be as high as 94%, and it identifies rowing and cross-country skiing as sports with the greatest risk.

Of course, there are also risk factors for chronic pain conditions, such as occupations that increase your likelihood of suffering an injury to the back muscles or sustaining muscle pain. In a review of the National Health Interview Survey completed by the National Institutes of Health, the following occupations have the highest rate of low back pain—attributed directly to the job:

  • Construction and Extraction: 11.22%
  • Healthcare Practitioners and Healthcare Support: 10.61%
  • Personal Care and Service: 8.27%
  • Transportation and Moving: 7.74%

Your risk for developing back pain increases according to a cross-sectional study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases if you:

  • Are obese
  • Smoke
  • Are inactive
  • Have family members with chronic back pain

Types of Back Pain

Back pain can be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute back pain can last anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, and generally does not require traditional medical intervention. However, when back pain persists or worsens for 12 weeks or longer, the pain is considered chronic, and a consultation with your health care provider is advised.

Pain in the back can present in the:

  • Lower back
  • Middle back
  • Upper back
  • Neck and shoulders
  • Glutes

Back pain can be described as:

  • Nagging
  • Radiating
  • Throbbing
  • Pinching
  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

Keeping a journal of your pain can help you find a successful treatment. Take note of the type of pain, severity, when it occurs and for how long, the location of the pain, and what you were doing when it occurred. These details can help your wellness team identify the best course of action to relieve your back pain naturally.

Common Causes of Back Pain

According to Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Comprehensive Spine Care, there is a wide range of injuries and medical conditions that can cause back pain. Their list includes:

Muscle injuries and muscle strains Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal
Pregnancy Vertebral fractures
Scoliosis Obesity
Degenerative disc disease Tumors
Anxiety Pinched or compressed nerves
Osteoporosis Smoking
Lack of physical activity Aging

The Center for Comprehensive Spine Care makes a special effort to identify the symptoms of thoracic back pain. This type of back pain occurs in the upper back and it may indicate a serious or even potentially life-threatening underlying condition. If you experience upper back pain and any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Deformity of the spine
  • Nerve pain in the lower body
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs or lower body
  • Severe stiffness
  • Severe constant pain
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

9 Natural Remedies for Back Pain Relief

1. Fish Oil (2,000 milligrams a day)

Omega-3 fatty acids make an essential contribution according to the Harvard T.H. Chan’s School of Public Health. Omega-3s cannot be produced in the body; they must be consumed. The richest sources are coldwater fish, walnuts, and flax seeds.

Every healthy diet should include a variety of foods with these essential fats to reap their health benefits. However, when you are experiencing back pain, taking a high-quality supplement of 2,000 milligrams a day may be advised. In a landmark study conducted by the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical center, fish oil was shown to be as effective and safer than NSAIDs in relieving back pain.

While omega 3s are well-tolerated in food, check with your doctor prior to taking a fish oil supplement if you have type 2 diabetes, take blood thinners, or have a bleeding disorder or a shellfish allergy.

2. Turmeric (1,000 milligrams a day)

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that fights inflammation and reduces pain, is one of the most effective natural compounds in the world. Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Department of Experimental Therapeutics conducted a clinical trial that found that natural compounds including curcumin are more effective than aspirin or ibuprofen.

Curcumin’s health benefits extend beyond its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, in a systematic review published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers state curcumin is safe in doses up to 2500 milligrams a day and can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. Current clinical trials are focusing on curcumin’s ability to prevent cancer, fight cancer, and even make traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy more effective.

Incorporating turmeric into your diet is easy. The small orange root is now readily available in most grocery stores. Just look for it near the fresh ginger. But please note, when using fresh or powdered turmeric, to get its full benefit, it must be combined with black pepper. Piperine, an essential compound in black pepper, makes it easier for the body to absorb curcumin.

Turmeric is easy to incorporate into salad dressings, stews and soups, and rice dishes for daily enjoyment. When you feel you need an extra boost of curcumin’s anti-inflammatory powers, sip on a turmeric latte. This delightful warm drink can be made with ingredients in your pantry—just don’t forget to add the black pepper!

3. D-Phenylalanine (1,500 milligrams a day, for several weeks)

D-Phenylalanine, or DPA, is one of the essential amino acids that is recognized for its power to reduce low back pain according to University of Michigan’s, Michigan Medicine. They report DPA decreases pain and can inhibit chronic pain in some cases. There are currently 48 clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of phenylalanine on conditions like cystic fibrosis and PKU, as well as the levels needed for wellness.

To learn more about taking phenylalanine for back pain, check out this article.

4. L-Tryptophan (2-6 grams a day)

Tryptophan, most commonly associated with turkey “comas” on Thanksgiving, is another of the essential amino acids that can help when you are experiencing upper back pain, middle back pain, or lower back pain. Tryptophan plays a critical role in back pain relief by helping to repair muscle tissue that has been damaged. Additional tryptophan benefits include reducing anxiety and depression.

An important note about amino acid supplements: The balance of amino acids in your blood is a delicate one. Because certain amino acids hitch a ride on the same transporter for entry into the brain, increasing levels of one without increasing levels of the other can restrict access and adversely affect mind and mood. For this reason, it’s recommended to supplement with a complete essential amino acid blend formulated with an ideal ratio of aminos.

5. Collagen (2-5 grams a day)

A vital protein, and the most abundant in the human body, collagen is the substance that gives our skin, hair, ligaments, and tendons the fuel they need. If your joints creak or pop, you may not have enough collagen “greasing the wheel” between your joints. And that can increase the risk for joint deterioration that can cause arthritis and chronic back pain.

Collagen is recognized for improving skin health, hair health, IBS symptoms, cellulite, and muscle mass, and has even garnered a reputation as an effective treatment for joint disorders and osteoarthritis according to researchers from the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine. This study specifically points to the efficacy of collagen hydrolysate.

Think of collagen hydrolysate as gelatin. It is rich in amino acids, but it has been processed fairly extensively to make the proteins smaller and more easily absorbed. Seek a high-quality supplement from a reputable company to add to your diet. While generally considered safe, some mild side effects have been reported with collagen supplements, namely digestive upset and heartburn.

6. Acupuncture

A popular and time-tested holistic technique, acupuncture has been shown to improve chronic back pain. In a large-scale clinical trial, researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics evaluated the efficacy of acupuncture for back and neck pain, arthritis pain, chronic headaches, and shoulder pain. The researchers determined that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain and verified that acupuncture has more than a placebo effect.

7. Massage

Massage is known for relieving stress, anxiety, pain, and a variety of other health conditions. Professional athletes often turn to massage after a tough workout or game to help relieve sore or strained muscles. Massage therapists can target specific muscles, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues that are causing back pain.

There are a number of massage modalities, with some dating back to ancient China. Depending on the root cause of the back pain, a licensed and experienced massage therapist might recommend a deep tissue, sports, soft tissue, or Shiatsu massage. Massage is believed to relieve low back pain by improving circulation, releasing tension, increasing endorphin levels, and improving range of motion. Understand that it may take multiple sessions to accomplish relief.

8. Capsaicin Cream

Made from the compound found in cayenne and other hot peppers that cause the burning sensation and taste, capsaicin promotes pain relief, particularly for back pain, according to a study published in the journal Molecules. Available both over-the-counter and by prescription, a topical capsaicin cream can provide immediate back pain relief.

It is important to purchase a high-quality product and apply it as directed on the packaging. In itself, capsaicin can create pain, but it can also relieve the discomfort and pain caused by soft tissue injuries, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and muscle pulls or strains. Researchers believe that the heat generated by the capsaicin works by activating pain receptors that cause the brain to release pain-fighting hormones.

9. DIY Pain Relief Rub

Beyond using heating pads to soothe muscle tension and back pain, you can whip up a quick DIY pain relief rub. For a quick DIY topical back pain reliever (that smells great too!) use the recipe below. This home remedy is perfect for relieving lower back pain after a hard workout or pulling weeds. When applied, it provides a cooling, yet invigorating effect because of the menthol in the peppermint oil.

DIY Pain Relief Rub

  • 5-7 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 5-7 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5-7 drops marjoram essential oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil or jojoba oil

Mix all ingredients together until well combined. Massage into sore muscles and joints daily, or as needed.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

6 Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Back Pain

1. Exercise Regularly

The more you move, the better. Regular exercise is important for keeping your strength, flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular health at their pinnacle. Low-impact exercise like walking, riding a bike, and swimming are good options when you have back pain.

In addition to weight management, regular exercise has been shown to help:

Aim for 180 minutes each week, or 30 minutes a day, of moderate, low-impact exercise to relieve back pain and discomfort. The other health benefits will help to prevent additional injury and improve cardiovascular function.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

2. Stay Hydrated

Drink at least 8 ounces of pure water for every 10 pounds of body weight to stay properly hydrated. When you are dehydrated, the natural lubrication in your spinal discs is depleted and can result in backaches and fatigue.

Kidney stones and urinary tract infections are more worrisome side effects of dehydration and can both cause back pain. According to the National Kidney Foundation, it is vital to drink enough water during workouts and periods of hot weather as prolonged or frequent dehydration can cause kidney damage.

3. Lift Heavy Items Properly

Avoiding back injury is the best way to prevent back pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is important to use proper lifting techniques to avoid back pain. The Mayo Clinic recommends:

  • Starting in a safe position
  • Maintaining the natural curve of your spine
  • Using your legs to lift the weight
  • Squatting instead of kneeling
  • Avoiding twisting

4. Practice Pilates

Joseph Pilates developed this practice of stretching and body conditioning while interned during World War I. The reformer, which is widely used in Pilates studios today, is modeled after the first equipment he developed in the internment camp using bunk beds, springs, and ropes.

Pilates is focused on increasing core strength and creating long fluid muscle groups. This practice can help prevent injuries to the back and provide back pain relief. If you do have back pain, medical research shows that a regular Pilates practice is a great way to strengthen your core to prevent low back pain. In the just-released results of a randomized controlled trial, 12 weeks of Pilates practice improved chronic back pain.

Most metropolitan areas have established Pilates studios where experienced instructors and reformers are available. If a studio is not available in your area, Pilates equipment, including reformers, are available for home use.

5. Tai Chi

This ancient martial art has been practiced for thousands of years. It is characterized by slow, precise, and controlled movements—a very different discipline than other martial arts that focus on explosive power. Tai chi epitomizes the mind-body connection, as every fiber of your being must be engaged for best practice.

According to Harvard Medical School, the health benefits of tai chi include aerobic conditioning, improved flexibility and balance, better muscle strength and muscle response, and a reduction in falls. Tai chi can be practiced by virtually anyone, in any health condition. It involves low-impact and slow-motion isolating muscle groups responsible for core strength, balance, and confidence.

6. Yoga

Millions of Americans practice a form of yoga. This practice combines deep relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, and strength-training postures that are mixed together in balance to create a discipline known for reducing pain and improving balance, flexibility, and strength.

According to Harvard Medical School, yoga’s proven health benefits include:

  • Reducing your risk of heart disease
  • Relieving migraines
  • Fighting osteoporosis
  • Alleviating the pain of fibromyalgia
  • Easing multiple sclerosis symptoms
  • Increasing blood vessel flexibility (69%!)
  • Shrinking arterial blockages

Regular yoga practice can help you prevent injury and back pain. And, if you have low back pain, a systematic review and meta-analysis focusing on the effectiveness of yoga and back pain showed that yoga is effective for both short-term and long-term relief of chronic low back pain.

Natural remedies for back pain relief

Precautions

As mentioned above, back pain accompanied by certain other symptoms can be a sign of serious underlying health conditions. If you experience back pain and any of the following symptoms, please consult with your physician immediately:

  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling in any part of the body
  • Deformity of the spine
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Extreme stiffness
  • Severe constant pain
  • Changes in bladder or bowel function

Back pain symptoms tend to recur, with studies showing a recurrence rate of somewhere between 24% and 80%. To protect against future episodes of back pain, learn to lift heavy items properly and build your core strength to reduce your risk of injury.

At the End of the Day

Back pain is costly. It affects productivity at work, health care costs, and most importantly your quality of life. Whether acute or chronic, when you are in pain, the only thing you can focus on is effective back pain relief. Whether it strikes as lower back pain, middle back pain, or as neck and shoulder pain, pain is pain and finding the natural back pain remedy to ease your pain and speed up the healing process is essential.

Once the root cause of your back pain is determined, natural lower back pain remedies and upper back pain remedies are available. The key is finding the combination of treatments that work for you. Whether it is a high-quality amino acid supplement, a DIY essential oil rub, yoga, or Pilates, you can improve your quality of life and relieve your discomfort.

The Relationship Between Energy and Amino Acids

Energy is one of the primary markers of health. When people are asked about their health, low energy is often a common complaint. What many people don’t realize, however, is that energy and amino acids go hand in hand.

Energy is one of the primary markers of health. When people are asked about their health, low energy is often a common complaint. Likewise, when people are asked to identify a benefit from a nutritional supplement, “improved energy” is often the first thing they report. What many people don’t realize, however, is that energy and amino acids go hand in hand.

Almost everyone, even the most energetic among us, desires more energy. So it’s no accident that energy drinks have become so popular. However, the concept of energy is somewhat vague. What does having energy really mean?

To understand the relationship between energy and amino acids, we must first distinguish between physical and mental energy. These two types of energy are clearly related, but distinct. By considering physical and mental energy separately, we can better understand the physiologic basis for each.

Energy and Amino Acids: What Fuels Our Bodies?

Physical energy requires not just fuel for our bodies but also all the necessary vitamins and cofactors—the inorganic substances needed for certain enzymes to carry out their functions—required to convert food to an energy form our cells can utilize.

Assuming all vitamins and cofactors are available, the energy necessary for physiologic functions is derived from combining carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and (in some cases) alcohol with oxygen in a process known as oxidation. These energy substrates—molecules acted on by an enzyme—can thus be considered the “fuel” of the body.

The major form of chemical energy in the body is a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Energy is released when ATP is broken down to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphate.

ATP is regenerated by the metabolism of the macronutrient (food required in large amounts for optimum nutrition) energy substrates mentioned above as well as by the oxidation of amino acids.

Chemical Energy and Mitochondria

The energy needed to perform physical functions such as exercise comes from the chemical energy stored in ATP. ATP is the universal fuel used by all cells.

In general, food is digested and absorbed as its basic components (glucose and other simple sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids), which are then used for structural needs, stored away, or oxidized for energy.

The oxidation of nutrients into chemical energy involves complex biochemical pathways. The Krebs cycle, named for its discoverer, Sir Hans Adolf Krebs—and also known as the citric acid or tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle—involves a series of chemical reactions in which carbon structures derived from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are metabolized, with the production of ATP as a byproduct.

The TCA cycle operates inside mitochondria, which are specialized organelles within cells that are responsible for “digesting” nutrients and turning them into energy.

The energy and amino acid relationship.

Oxidation of Amino Acids for ATP Production

The majority of physical energy comes from the oxidation of fats and carbohydrates. However, every amino acid in the body can potentially be oxidized to produce ATP.

The amount of oxidation undergone by the essential amino acids (or EAAs)—the nine dietary amino acids that can’t be produced in the body and must be obtained from food—determines how much of each essential amino acid you need in a day.

The amount of protein synthesized by the body will decrease if a steady supply of EAAs is not maintained, leading to conditions such as muscle loss and impaired immune function. Therefore, any EAA that is oxidized must be replaced through the diet.

The oxidation of EAAs is important physiologically even though only a minimal amount of total energy production is derived from this process. For example, at rest, less than 10% of energy production comes from the oxidation of amino acids.

Exercise greatly increases the requirements for ATP, and part of that ATP comes from amino acid oxidation. This is one reason why the consumption of a number of whole foods and supplements, including whey protein, is recommended in the field of sports nutrition both pre-workout and post. However, amino acid oxidation does not increase uniformly during exercise.

Among the EAAs, there is a selective increase in the oxidation of leucine. However, even with the increase seen during exercise, leucine oxidation provides only about 3% to 4% of energy for ATP production. Yet leucine plays a crucial role in regulating protein synthesis and other metabolic processes, so extra leucine needs to be consumed after exercise to replace what was oxidized.

While amino acids, particularly EAAs, do not play a major role in overall energy production, there are a number of aspects of amino acid oxidation that are important for the body’s metabolic regulation. To understand the critical nature of EAA oxidation is to appreciate that the body regulates the availability of all EAAs at a relatively constant level.

Consuming a high-protein meal causes EAA availability to increase. This increased concentration of EAAs stimulates their oxidation and minimizes changes in EAA availability. By contrast, if you do not consume enough EAAs through your diet, metabolic adaptations occur that reduce the rate of EAA oxidation.

The oxidation of specific amino acids is important for the body. For example, the availability of certain amino acids depends on the oxidation of other amino acids.

Take tyrosine, for example. This amino acid is produced in the liver from the oxidation of the EAA phenylalanine. Maintaining an adequate amount of tyrosine in the blood is critical, as tyrosine is a precursor of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.

Specific tissues and organs also have metabolic preferences for certain amino acids. Most prominently, glutamine (a nonessential amino acid) is a preferred substrate for the gut.

Amino Acids Augment Mitochondria

Only recently have we begun to appreciate the difference in energy levels the number of available mitochondria and their ability to operate at full capacity can make. Both amino acid supplementation and exercise are known to increase numbers of mitochondria and enhance their function.

By contrast, alcohol or drug use has been shown to induce mitochondrial defects by increasing oxidative stress and damaging mitochondrial genetic material—deoxynucleic acid, or DNA. When alcohol damages mitochondrial DNA, it impairs mitochondrial function, which further increases oxidative cell stress, leading to a vicious cycle of accumulating cell damage and decreased energy production over time.

Mental Energy: What Balances Our Brains?

Energy drinks typically contain caffeine (with a range of 6 to 242 mg of caffeine, according to Consumer Reports) and perhaps some B vitamins.

Whether used to help one wake up first thing in the morning or as an afternoon pick-me-up, these beverages clearly aid in sharpening concentration and increasing the body’s overall feeling of energy.

Surprisingly, when it comes to maintaining mental energy and focus, amino acids play as important a role as caffeine. In contrast to caffeine, however, amino acids impact mental energy by modulating neurotransmitters within the brain.

Many of the brain’s neurotransmitters are produced through the conversion of amino acids as they pass through the blood-brain barrier. In addition, two amino acids—glutamate and aspartate—are themselves considered neurotransmitters.

The interaction of neurotransmitters in the brain determines many aspects of behavior. To simplify a very complex system, the key determinant of mental energy is the balance between the neurotransmitters dopamine (excitatory) and serotonin (inhibitory).

The amounts of dopamine and serotonin in the brain are dependent on the availability of the precursors for their productionTyrosine is the amino acid precursor of dopamine, and tryptophan is the amino acid precursor of serotonin.

Tyrosine is also derived from the oxidation of phenylalanine. However, neither phenylalanine nor tryptophan is made in the body, as both are EAAs.

Increasing the amount of phenylalanine consumed in the diet will, via conversion to tyrosine, increase mental energy by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain.

Conversely, increasing tryptophan consumption, such as through the use of the dietary supplement L-tryptophan, will induce a feeling of sleepiness or lack of energy by promoting serotonin production.

Amino Acid Balance and Mental and Physical Energy

Amino acids help support both physical and mental energy via a wide range of actions. While supplementation with individual amino acids may produce particular reactions, disrupting the body’s balance by consuming a single or small combination of amino acids may be counterproductive when it comes to other functions.

An amino acid supplement containing relatively high levels of phenylalanine (tyrosine is nearly insoluble and difficult to add to a dietary supplement) and low levels of tryptophan can provide mental sharpness and focus. However, an isolated increase in phenylalanine can also induce Parkinson-like symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Likewise, consumption of leucine can counter the accelerated rate of oxidation that occurs during exercise, but the use of leucine in isolation will activate the oxidation of valine and isoleucine, thereby limiting muscle protein synthesis.

Consequently, to replace the oxidized leucine and enhance post-workout muscle recovery, it is necessary to provide all three of the branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs—leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Finally, all EAAs must be available in sufficient quantities to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is the metabolic basis for increased muscle growth, strength, and function.

Hence, the gold standard approach for the maintenance of both mental and physical energy involves choosing a free-form amino acid formulation that takes into account not only the direct actions of the component amino acids but also the importance of maintaining a relative balance of EAAs to sustain maximal benefit.

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

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

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

Beta-Alanine and Carnosine’s Relationship

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

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

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

What Science Tells Us About Carnosine

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

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

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

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

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

How Carnosine Impacts Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research-Backed Benefits of Beta-Alanine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pros and Cons of Carnosine Supplements

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

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

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

Why Most People Benefit More from Beta-Alanine Supplements

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

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

Carnosine Supplementation vs. Beta Alanine Supplementation: The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

Creatine: What It Is, What It Does and the Best Way to Benefit

Creatine is probably the most researched dietary supplement. More than 500 papers have been published examining the response to supplemental creatine, generally on exercise performance. The large majority of these studies have shown beneficial effects of creatine on athletic performance.

The amino acid creatine was first discovered in 1832, when the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul extracted the compound from meat. However, over 150 years passed before the public paid any attention.

It wasn’t until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that creatine finally rose to notoriety, when the performance of several British athletes so exceeded expectations that it was later revealed they’d incorporated creatine supplementation into their nutrition regimen.

Since then, interest in this amino acid has only grown, with creatine now being reported as the most widely used performance-enhancing compound by both amateur and professional athletes.

In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Americans consume almost 9 million pounds of creatine each year.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a nitrogenous compound synthesized from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. While it’s considered technically an amino acid as well, creatine isn’t one of the 20 amino acids used to build the proteins in our bodies. Rather, it helps support energy metabolism in the muscles.

Because of this, creatine is probably the most researched dietary supplement in the world, with more than 500 papers already published examining the effects of supplemental creatine, especially on exercise performance. And, indeed, the large majority of these studies have shown beneficial effects of creatine on athletic performance.

Where Does Creatine Come From?

As stated earlier, creatine is produced in the body, but we can also obtain the amino acid from the foods we eat, especially meat and fish. People who have low levels of creatine in their diet, particularly vegetarians, seem to benefit the most from creatine supplementation.

Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance

How Does Creatine Help Exercise Performance?

Creatine supplementation actually performs two important functions for the muscles of the body.

  1. It provides the extra energy needed for high-intensity, short-duration exercise.
  2. It delivers that energy where it’s needed most.

Energy for High-Intensity Exercise

Creatine is converted to phosphocreatine, or creatine phosphate (CP), in the muscles. CP serves as a source of energy for explosive exertion, such as that found in sprinting and weight training.

In addition, the muscles of the body are powered by adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the major form of chemical energy needed for muscle contractions. However, muscles run through their supply of ATP very quickly, and something extra is necessary to help regenerate it.

This is where CP plays a role. CP is broken down by the muscles to provide the extra energy you need when you’re using more ATP than you’re regenerating in your mitochondria—the energy factories of the cell.

It’s this extra supply of energy (although quickly used up) provided as CP that’s credited with producing greater gains in muscle mass and strength from resistance training and improving performance in the high-intensity activities of athletes such as weight lifters and sprinters.

Energy Where It’s Needed Most

While it’s long been recognized that supplementing with creatine can increase the amount of CP in muscle—thereby improving athletic performance in areas that require more rapid use of energy than can be supplied by ATP production alone—the “energy carrier” role of the creatine-phosphocreatine system is less well appreciated.

Without the creatine-CP system, ATP would be unavailable to the contracting muscles because it’s this pathway that provides the cellular energy transport through which ATP moves from the mitochondria to the muscle cell site that needs it.

Benefits of Creatine Supplementation in Athletes

As mentioned earlier, creatine supplements are widely used by athletes, and the use of creatine has been shown to benefit those engaged in high-intensity, short-duration exercise.

Benefits of creatine for athletes may include:

  • Increased skeletal muscle mass
  • Increased muscle contraction speed
  • Increased strength
  • Improved muscle recovery
  • Enhanced fatigue resistance

However, the extent of the beneficial effect offered by creatine supplementation depends on how much is consumed in the normal diet and the athlete’s chosen sport.

For example, studies have shown that the benefits of creatine begin to wane after approximately 90 to 150 seconds. Therefore, athletes involved in endurance exercises such as long distance running wouldn’t achieve the same benefit with creatine supplements.

However, a recent study did show that creatine has the ability to raise the lactate threshold (the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate faster than it can be removed), which would result in endurance athletes being able to exercise longer without fatiguing.

In athletes, the beneficial long-term effects of creatine, such as improvements to body composition based on increased lean body mass, are generally attributed to enhanced training capacity. For instance, creatine supplementation may enable you to lift heavier weights, which in turn would help your muscles grow larger.

But what about older adults? Would creatine supplements help them too?

Benefits of Creatine Supplementation in Older Adults

The process of aging is associated with decreased muscle mass, strength, and function. And as we grow older, our ability to perform resistance exercise or high-intensity training often decreases.

However, a review of the literature indicates that creatine supplementation—even without resistance training—seems to enhance muscle creatine stores, muscle mass, strength, and function in older adults. Creatine has been found to increase bone mineral density in this population as well.

Other studies have also demonstrated the beneficial effects of creatine on neurological function in both younger and older adults.

Because of positive results in animal studies, there was initially great interest in the possible benefits of creatine supplementation in Parkinson’s disease. However, a recent meta-analysis did not find evidence to support its use, though more studies were recommended.

Adverse Effects of Creatine Supplementation

According to the Mayo Clinic, supplemental oral creatine is generally considered safe for a period of up to 5 years. However, there is some evidence that the use of creatine in high doses may cause heart, liver, or kidney damage.

Other potential side effects include:

  • Water retention
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle cramps

How to Supplement with Creatine

If you’ve decided you’re ready to add supplemental creatine to your diet, you need to know what forms are out there and when and how much you should take.

What Forms of Creatine Are Available?

Creatine is available in an almost bewildering array of forms. These include:

  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Creatine citrate
  • Creatine malate
  • Creatine ethyl ester
  • Creatine magnesium chelate
  • Creatine pyruvate

However, the best known and most studied form is by far creatine monohydrate. It’s also inexpensive and generally well tolerated by most individuals.

When Should You Take Creatine?

While creatine itself is not used for energy during exercise—unlike glycogen, your muscles’ primary source of fuel—as noted earlier, it does serve to transport energy in the mitochondria to contracting muscles.

Therefore, in theory, it shouldn’t matter whether you take it before your workout or after, especially when you consider its potential beneficial effect even without exercise.

A recent paper supports the notion that it’s preferable to take creatine—in the form of creatine monohydrate—after a workout. However, further inspection of the data the researchers used reveals that taking creatine after a workout really doesn’t make that much difference.

Other researchers have argued that the beneficial effect of creatine supplementation is more pronounced with pre-workout consumption, and still others maintain it doesn’t really make any difference.

The bottom line is that if there’s still a lot of debate on the best time to take creatine, the fact that you actually take it probably matters more than when you take it.

How Much Creatine Should You Take?

Taking as many as 20 grams of creatine powder or liquid a day for 5 days and as many as 5 grams a day thereafter is often recommended for optimal support of athletic performance.

However, doses at high levels such as these can cause undesirable side effects, including muscle cramping, nausea, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain, and dehydration.

It’s also likely that much smaller doses can help promote muscle growth and improved muscle function over time.

Unless you’re vegetarian or vegan, the typical daily dietary intake of creatine is about 1 gram, which is the same amount that’s produced in the body each day.

Therefore, a 1-gram dose of creatine would be approximately double the amount of creatine you get on a daily basis from your diet. This increase should be adequate to promote enhanced muscle protein synthesis—if supplemental essential amino acids (EAAs) are provided at the same time.

 Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance

Why You Need Additional Amino Acids with Creatine

Whether you’re an athlete looking to maximize performance and muscle gain or simply moving into your golden years and seeking to increase or maintain muscle strength as you age, your success rests on muscle protein synthesis.

This is because the muscle-building process is dependent on the activation of muscle protein synthesis to increase muscle mass and strength—even in the absence of exercise. And muscle protein synthesis requires energy in the form of ATP as well as amino acids to help build muscle proteins.

While creatine alone can provide extra energy for muscle protein synthesis, without increased availability of all EAAs, only a limited amount of new muscle can be produced.

This is why results from creatine supplementation can be variable. If adequate amounts of EAAs aren’t available, there can be only minimal stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.

What do we mean by this?

As stated earlier, there are 20 different amino acids that make up the proteins responsible for the construction of muscle fibers. And nine of these—the essential amino acids—are not produced in the body. For new muscle protein to be created, all the EAAs are needed in proportions specific to the composition of each particular protein.

An EAA supplement is a powerful stimulus of muscle protein synthesis, but the amount of protein produced will ultimately be limited by how much energy (in the form of ATP) is ready to go at the site of muscle protein production. And this is where creatine comes in.

Creatine provides the necessary energy to support an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis. And, consequently, there’s an interactive effect between EAA availability and the amount of creatine in muscles.

In other words, while creatine supplementation alone can’t produce new muscle protein, the presence of extra creatine can enhance the stimulatory effect of supplemental EAAs by providing the additional energy needed for the production of new protein.

For those interested in all the benefits creatine has to offer, this is indeed a winning combination.

Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance