Wellness Database: Exercise
Daily exercise may be the single most important thing a person can do to improve their health. This is completely free and doesn't need to take more than 20 or 30 minutes, three times a week. An added bonus is that most exercise occurs outside which means you can also receive a dose of Vitamin D. Regular exercise strengthens the heart and improves nitric oxide production.
Dr. Louis Ignarro: Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as leucine, valine, isoleucine are “chained” together by carbon atoms, and are among the key building blocks of healthy muscles. Exercise depletes amino acids quickly, so for athletes it is important to replenish them for the body to function at a high level. Failure to do so by an athlete who works out vigorously can cause plateauing and prevent gains in strength, speed, and stamina. BCAA deficiency can also lead to metabolic problems, such as toxicity in the blood and urine. Making regular gains in physical performance requires regular consumption of branched-chain amino acids through foods and supplementation. Maintaining sufficient BCAA levels also carries with it health benefits such as better brain function, greater muscle strength and improved endurance. Uses for athletes: • Maintaining plasma levels of key amino acids. • Optimizing post-exercise muscle growth. • Preventing muscle tissue damage. • Improving workout power. • Preventing post-workout inflammation. Benefits of BCAA In a recent study from the University of Tokyo, it was found that amino acid supplementation affected hematological and biochemical parameters in elite rugby players. According to the study, after just 90 days of supplementation, almost all of the athletes reported improvement in vigor and earlier recovery from fatigue. This is just one of several ongoing studies that point to the benefits of adding regular BCAA supplementation for enhanced athletic performance and greater energy. Other benefits include: Improved Recovery – Most athletes feel a substantial decrease in the amount of muscle soreness after workouts once they begin taking BCAA supplementation. Muscles grow during recovery from the damage caused by pushing them to failure; faster recovery means that you will meet your size and strength goals faster. Enhanced Endurance – BCAA boosts nitrogen in the form of the amino acid L-alanine, which provides the body with a source for the production of glucose after glycogen stores are depleted. Thus, BCAAs may enable you to train at higher intensity levels for longer periods of time. Increased Fat Loss – Studies show that supplementation with BCAAs triggers significant and preferential losses of visceral body fat. Studies suggest diets high in BCAAs help to reduce adipose tissue from the abdominal region. Recommended Athlete Supplementation • L-leucine – 500 mg 2 to 3 times daily • L-isoleucine – 250 mg 2 to 3 times daily • L-valine – 250mg 2 to 3 times daily
Dr. Louis Ignarro: Antioxidants for Athletic Performance
Antioxidants are a popular and effective group of nutrients that include vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and help prevent cellular damage. As part of the normal oxidation of food to convert it into energy, free radicals are formed. Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons. Because they have a negative electrical charge, these electrons are drawn to the positively charged protons in nearby cells. This process of “stealing” a proton from a cell’s nucleus can cause cellular and DNA damage, possibly leading to cancers and age related diseases.
Athletic performance and other types of movement increase the rate of blood flow to muscles, which, in turn, delivers more oxygen and other nutrients to the body. As oxygen usage increases, so too does the production of free radicals. You cannot avoid creating free radicals in your body, making protective antioxidants that much more important.
Apart from their other benefits for cardiovascular health, muscle building, and disease prevention, antioxidant-rich foods such as blueberries are full of nutrients that provide elementary particles that pair off with free radicals, preventing them from causing cell damage. Antioxidants appear naturally in many fruits and vegetables, as well as in nuts and grains. Eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole fruits and vegetables will help you get a steady supply of antioxidants.
Important antioxidants include:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
In addition to eating foods rich in antioxidants, it is a good idea to increase your intake as part of a daily supplementation regimen, especially when you exercise regularly. Antioxidant supplements can complement your diet as well as keep your antioxidant levels steady during times when you cannot eat your usual balanced diet, such as when traveling for work or competition.
Benefits of Antioxidants
Preventing Muscle Damage – The main benefit of antioxidant supplementation is that it reduces or prevents cellular damage following strenuous exercise. A “cocktail” of antioxidants neutralizes free radical molecules and promotes the healing and growth of muscle tissue during the recovery phase.
Improved Recovery – Many experts in nutritional medicine think that Vitamin E is also involved in the recovery process that follows exercise. Currently, the amount of Vitamin E needed to produce these effects is unknown, but the prevailing opinion is that diet may supply enough Vitamin E for most athletes.
Dietary Antioxidant Sources
- Green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
- Broccoli and brussel sprouts
- Berries, cherries, and red grapes
- Cranberries, apples, and strawberries
- Citrus fruit
- Vegetable oils, nuts, and avocados
- Red wine
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea, cinnamon, turmeric, and curcumin
Recommended Daily Dose
Always consult with your personal physician before starting or stopping any regimen if you are taking prescription or other medication.
- Vitamin C – 2,000-4,000 mg
- Vitamin E – 1,000 IU
- Carotenoids – 25,000 IU
- Zinc – 30 mg
- Selenium – 200 mcg
- Curcumin – 400-1,200 mg
- Green Tea Extract – 100-750 mg
- Resveratrol – 100-200 mg
- Alpha Lipoic Acid – 300-600 mg
- Pomegranate Extract – 1,000 mg
Plasma Vitamin C May Improve Physical Performance for Elderly Women
Summary: Plasma vitamin C concentration was positively correlated with better strength, balance and overall fitness in a study involving 655 elderly Japanese women in their seventies. Researchers in Tokyo examined anthropometric measurements, physical performance, lifestyles, and plasma vitamin C concentrations of participants in this cross-sectional study. A total of 655 subjects who did not take supplements were analyzed. Plasma vitamin C concentration (8.9 (1.5) ?g/mL) was positively correlated with handgrip strength, length of time standing on one leg with eyes open, and walking speed, and inversely correlated with body mass index. These results suggest that vitamin C status may be associated with improved parameters of physical performance in elderly women.
Multi-Nutrient Supplement Helps Maintain Physical Health and Active Lifestyle
Summary: Researchers found that a multi-nutrient supplement offered benefits to recovery, anti-inflammation and physical performance in middle aged men and women. In a study comprised of 31 active men and women with an average age of 54, volunteers were randomized to take either the multi-nutrient supplement or a placebo for a 28 day cycle, followed by 1 week of no intervention, and then another cycle of 28 days on the other regime. The supplement contained vitamin B5 (20mg), B6 (6mg), folic acid (.4mg), B12 (.25mg), taurine (500mg), 1-leucine (2,000mg), isoleucine (500mg), valine (500mg), Cat's Claw (uncaria tomentosa, 100mg), quercetin (100mg), green tea (50mg), and Biovin full spectrum whole grape extract (25mg). The researchers found improved inflammatory status, and increased energy levels in both men and women. Benefits to joint pain, strength, and power were had by men but not women (on average), while women, but not men, experienced improvements in both anxiety levels and balance. This study suggests that a multi-nutrient supplement may help middle-aged individuals maintain physical health and an active lifestyle.
Reference: "A Multi-nutrient supplement reduced markers of inflammation and improved physical performance in active individuals of middle to older age: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study," Dunn-Lewis C, Kraemer WJ, et al, Nutrition Journal, 2011 Sep 7, (DOI:10.1186/1475-2891-10-90)
N-Acetylcysteine Supplementation May Reduce Muscle Fatigue
Summary: In a randomized study involving 29 sedentary men, supplementation with 1,200 mg/d N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for a period of 7 days was found to be associated with improvements in muscle fatigue and VO(2max), controlled lactate production, and maintenance of total antioxidant capacity (TAC). Additional research is warranted.
Reference: "N-Acetylcysteine Supplementation Controls Total Antioxidant Capacity, Creatine Kinase, Lactate, and Tumor Necrotic Factor-Alpha against Oxidative Stress Induced by Graded Exercise in Sedentary Men," Leelarungrayub D, Khansuwan R, et al, Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2011; [Epub ahead of print]. (Address: Oxidative Stress, Nutrition and Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory, Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Associated Medical Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand).
Dr. Andrew Myers: Nutrition and Recovery
All athletes depend on sufficient recovery to repair damaged muscles, connective tissue, and joints, replenish depleted nutrients, and clear the body of lactic acid and other performance-damping waste products. Many athletes seem reluctant to give recovery its due, perhaps from the misguided thinking that more work is always good. But in reality, recovery is an integral component of the process of athletic training and overall fitness.
Recovery has four basic parts:
Sleep: Most people do not get enough deep, restorative sleep. This is a problem for the sedentary office worker who wants to be more alert; it’s a crisis for the finely tuned athlete hoping to excel during competition. Active athletes should get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
Stretching: Stretching before and after workouts prevents injury, but it is most beneficial when muscles are warm after a heavy exercise program. Stretching lengthens muscle fibers, strengthening them and making them more amenable to the sudden flexion and contraction of power surges in major sports. It also improves circulation and the function of the lymphatic system.
Inactivity: Rest and inactivity – simply refraining from athletic training and letting your body be idle – is essential to effective recovery, especially injury prevention. Many athletes injure themselves in training because they over-train and fail to pay attention to the signals their bodies send: sore muscles, exhaustion, tightness, or joint pain, among others.
Deep Muscle Work: Many exercise programs feature recovery weeks after three or four weeks of rigorous strength and cardiovascular training. These recovery weeks are not idle; they include workouts that engage the body’s aerobic and anaerobic systems without pushing the muscles toward injury. The lighter athletic activity also accelerates the removal of lactic acid from tissues due to increase blood flow. Very effective recovery disciplines include core work, yoga, and deep stretching.
Recovery is the time when the body adapts to the eustress of physical training by developing new muscle mass and restoring the body’s glycogen levels. The period directly following an intense workout is particularly important for athletic training. During this time, the body is especially drained and vulnerable to injury and exhaustion.
Diet and Recovery
The recovery diet should be rich in two macronutrients: lean protein and complex carbohydrates. For meals immediately following a workout, consume carbohydrates and protein together, as the carbohydrates increase protein absorption. These dietary suggestions reflect the need to combine foods for recovery:
Chocolate Milk: A pint of low-fat chocolate milk has about 300 calories, 50 grams of carbohydrates, and 16-20 grams of protein, making it a perfect start to your post-workout meal.
Lean meat and brown rice: Chicken or steak plus rice delivers a protein punch, along with fiber and complex carbohydrates. Also, the protein/rice combination increases the feeling of being full so that you eat only what your body needs to recover and don’t consume excess calories.
Fish: Salmon, tuna, tilapia, and other white fish are all terrific low-fat, high protein choices. Add a sweet potato or high-carbohydrate steamed vegetable like broccoli or cauliflower and you’ll get plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, and fiber to replenish your glycogen stores and rebuild muscles, while stopping inflammation.
Dr. Andrew Myers: Nutrition and Endurance
Many athletes rely on endurance to succeed in their athletic endeavors. Endurance is simply the ability to sustain a consistent level of exertion for a long period of time. There are four types of endurance: aerobic, anaerobic, speed, and strength. All involve producing ATP as fuel from glucose in the bloodstream and glycogen stored in the muscles. But each has a different mechanism and places different demands on the body.
Aerobic endurance exercise is done at a level at which the body relies on fuel intake and oxygen, creating very little waste. The longer aerobic work continues, the more it relies purely on the aerobic systems and less on the anaerobic for energy. Aerobic endurance is built using long-term distance exercise such as running and cycling, which improves the body’s maximum oxygen uptake, known as VO2Max, and interval training, which optimizes the heart’s ability to pump blood.
Anaerobic endurance work occurs when the body is working at a high enough intensity that systems must use the fuel stored in muscles as glycogen, thereby reaching the anaerobic or lactate threshold. This quickly results in oxygen debt and lactic acid accumulation, which leads to muscle fatigue and eventual failure. Athletes needing to build their anaerobic endurance will do so typically with high-intensity intervals of resistance-based training, combined with short recovery periods.
Speed endurance basically reflects the ability of muscles to contract more rapidly, such as in 800-meter races and other long sprints. Speed endurance is highly anaerobic, given that training to increase contraction speed involves heavy repetition at high intensity, typically multiple intervals at 80% of maximum heart rate and higher.
Strength endurance is about developing the ability to sustain the contraction force of the muscles over time. This is vital for all athletes, as even marathoners and ultra-distance runners have a periodic need for “surges” of power during races. Strength endurance develops via disciplines such as weight training and circuit training. Strength endurance is relevant for all sports, as it centers on the ability to repeat powerful muscle contractions for as long as possible before failure.
A diet for endurance should center on complex carbohydrates, your body’s major fuel source. Ideally, at least 50% of an endurance athlete’s diet should consist of complex, slow-digesting carbohydrates, such as brown rice, whole grains, oatmeal, vegetables, and legumes. A balanced endurance diet should also include sufficient lean protein to repair muscles damaged by long runs or cycling workouts, along with the healthy fats needed for cardiovascular health and preventing inflammation, leading to quicker recovery.
Recommended endurance foods:
Chia seeds – This is perhaps the ultimate running food. Chia seeds contain high levels of antioxidants, a great deal of protein and dietary fiber, and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and zinc. They are also gluten-free.
Green, leafy vegetables – Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and bok choy are perhaps the healthiest foods available in terms of nutrients per calorie. They are bursting with antioxidants, fiber, important phytonutrients, anti-cancer agents, and vitamins like A and C.
Quinoa – Quinoa is a South American seed that is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. Dense in fiber and protein, and rich in manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, and calcium, Quinoa is an ideal energy food.
Bananas – Bananas are portable complex carbohydrates and electrolytes. These fruits are ideal for endurance athletes because they are easy to digest, contain a great deal of potassium (which is lost through perspiration), and provide a quick boost of carbohydrate energy.
Dr. Andrew Myers: Nutrition and Strength
Muscular strength is essential to virtually all sporting pursuits, from team sports such as football and baseball, to sports that emphasize explosiveness such as basketball, track, field, and martial arts. Even endurance sports like a triathalon have a strength component, because strength in athletes is simply the controlled application of mechanical force to a resistant surface or object. In running, it’s the ground. In swimming, it’s the water. In baseball, it’s the ball. In boxing, it’s your opponent’s face.
Strength (or power) also comes into play in training. Much of the training regimen for any athlete will be resistance training: the lifting of weights to cause muscle contractions. These can include weight lifting, body weight exercises, and core exercises. Over time, such action damages muscle fibers, and the recover from that damage through rest, hydration, and nutrition leads to muscle growth, increased metabolism, greater strength, and increased lean body mass.
Greater muscle strength also reduces the risk of injury as muscles are better able to support the joints and skeletal system and more resistant to exercise-induced trauma. According to the Mayo Clinic, strength training also improves muscle tone and coordination and reduces the decline in muscle mass that usually accompanies age.
Because the application of muscular force is anaerobic, strength-related exercise causes the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles. Depending on its duration, intense exercise requiring power and explosiveness – ski jumping, volleyball, powerlifting – taps into one of two anaerobic energy systems, neither of which rely on oxygen as a catalyst for the chemical reaction that produces energy. As the muscles are pushed to failure (pain or the inability to further contract without rest), lactic acid accumulates in the tissues. Beyond a certain threshold (the lactate threshold) lactic acid begins to cause fatigue, thereby negatively impacting performance.
This may not have a noticeable effect on casual exercisers, who either do not engage in anaerobic exercise intense enough to cause lactic acid buildup at sufficient levels or engage primarily in aerobic exercise, which does not cause lactate accumulation. However, the rigorous workouts and competitive performance of athletes, pro or amateur, makes the lactate threshold relevant.
The goals of athletes seeking to build strength are typically twofold: to build muscle while keeping body weight low. The more you weight, the more energy it takes to propel that weight through the motions of your sport. And, since fat does not exert force, it follows that reducing body fat must be a dietary goal alongside developing muscle.
Here are some ideal strength building foods:
Lean Meat – Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, can provide up to 30 grams of protein per serving with a low saturated fat content.
Fish – Salmon, anchovies, tuna, sardines, cod, tilapia, and halibut are some of the best options for athletes after their daily protein fix.
Egg whites – A typical egg white contains about four to five grams of protein, making this a power food for athletes.
Complex Carbohydrates – Brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and oatmeal are great examples of quality complex carbohydrates. These carbohydrates digest slowly and release their energy gradually, providing long-term fuel to muscles during difficult exercise.
Nuts – Nuts are an ideal protein sources for athletes who don’t eat meat. Nuts contain substantial protein as well as high levels of healthy fats that reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health.
Dr. Andrew Myers: Nutrition and Speed
Speed plays a vital role for many types of athletes. Athletes who rely on speed ask their bodies to deliver explosive performance in short bursts designed to propel them forward on the playing field faster than their opponents. Athletic speed comes from the performance of the “fast-twitch” muscle fibers. These muscle fibers can contract quickly and with greater force than the blood-rich “slow-twitch” muscles, but these movements can only be sustained for a short time before they become painful. Athletes focused on speed train specifically for speed, forcing the muscles to work to decrease contraction time, improve “turnover” (the time it take to move one limb through a motion such as a stride or swim stroke and start the other limb on that same motion), and optimize the neural networks and motor pathways that carry the contraction signals to the muscles.
Many types of movement are part of the general term “speed”:
This is usually regarded as “first step” acceleration. In other words, how fast can an athlete go from being relatively motionless to at or near top velocity, especially in comparison to an opponent? The most common examples here would be a first-step dribble in man-to-man defense on basketball, a wide receiver running to get open in football, and a base stealer sprinting to the base in baseball. In all cases, quickness is more important than raw speed, because what beats the opponent is nearly immediate acceleration.
This is the fat application of muscular power; it can be thought of as “speed meets strength.” Jumping, in many forms, is probably the most familiar type of explosiveness: a basketball player rising for a dunk, a gymnast doing a floor exercise, or a boxer unleashing a lightning-fast combination of devastating punches.
This is the type of speed most people think about when they hear the word - speed in a line, such as on a running course. This kind of speed might have to be sustained for several minutes of the athlete is engaged in something like a one-mile race or a goal-to-goal run on the soccer field. Fast turnover of the legs is vital to sustained speed.
This is speed applied to non-linear movement, the ability to quickly contort the body to move laterally as well as vertically. Agility also involves such qualities as flexibility and strength, but, in an athletic setting, it demands speed first and foremost. Examples include mogul skiers, soccer players, and football running backs, all of whom must change direction with lightning speed during the course of their sports.
Maintaining sufficient stores of needed nutrients at the cellular level enables your body to respond to the demand for speed. Muscles can contract more powerfully to provide explosiveness. Nerve impulses reach muscle more quickly to direct the body through agility moves. The mitochondria in the cells manufacture the additional energy necessary for quick “first step” action, whether playing in a pickup basketball game or diving for a shot as a soccer goalie. Muscles gain the ability to maintain speed longer during the anaerobic activity of sustained running or cycling, allowing you to spring on the track or pass other cyclists on the triathalon course.
As it is for most of the body’s systems, nitric oxide is a critical element in producing athletic speed. NO controls the vascular tree that directs blood flow to the areas of the body screaming for oxygen and nutrients during a sprint or other speed-based activity. By controlling the dilation of blood vessels, NO also regulates blood pressure as the body changes position, such as in a 50-meter swim or a hurdles race. This helps to maintain blood flow to the brain and other critical areas of function that are affected by dynamic movements of the body.
When a runner, or other speed athlete, engages the anaerobic system and the mitochondrial energy sources that power muscles during the fast movements of a sprint or cycling race, NO optimized the transport of glucose to working muscles. By allowing blood to flow more freely, NO enables critical systems to receive energy, shed heat, and get the oxygen they desperately need.
Sufficient levels of NO are therefore critical for optimal speed, and, as they cannot come from exercise if the athlete lacks the energy, oxygen, or circulatory volume to engage in intense work, NO promotion must come from diet and supplements. Proper supplementation is the key to unlocking the potential of NO, which, in turn, unlocks the maximum energy contained in the food you consume and the oxygen you breathe.
Nutrients for Speed
Because intense speed training and competition so readily deplete the body of key nutrients, athletes who desire peak performance should not limit their nutritional intake to dietary sources alone. Despite the news that supplement use is currently falling among athletes, we would like to see this trend reversed. As more and more athletes become aware of the importance of augmenting dietary nutrients with unadulterated nutrients in supplement form, we believe this will occur.
There are several nutrients that have been shown to be beneficial for the sprinter, runner, or other type of athlete seeking to increase speed.
As part of natural mitochondrial respiration, the process by which chemical reactions produce fuel for our cells, various types of free radicals form in the tissues. Exercise amplifies this effect while depleting the body’s supplies of antioxidants. Antioxidants are the body’s main defense against the cell-damaging properties of these molecules, which is why the foundation of antioxidant intake must be a widely varied diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables.
Creatine is one of the primary fuels for the kind of short-term muscle use that occurs during sprints, speed skating, and other intense, speed-based sporting activities. Unfortunately, natural creatine levels in the body decline with age, leaving athletes with less quick-release energy for short-burst, high-intensity workouts or competitions. Added to the natural decline in fast-twitch muscle fiber and stride length that also come with the passage of time, its easy to see why speed-based athletes tend to lose their ability to remain competitive at high levels sooner than endurance athletes do.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Speed workouts damage muscles, resulting in inflammation and soreness. By minimizing this tissue inflammation, a a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can both reduce post-workout pain and reduce the risk of injury. Consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids has also been shown to speed up the body’s basal metabolic rate, aiding in fat loss and the maintenance of lean body mass – an obvious competitive advantage for runners.
Supplementing with arginine optimizes the ability of the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels, to produce nitric oxide, the powerful gas that relaxes and expands vessel walls to allow for greater circulatory volume. Consuming sufficient arginine through supplements improves NO production and blood flow, allowing the muscles, tissues, and organs used during all phases of competitive running to perform more efficiently and recover more quickly.
Exercise and Amino Acids Improve Muscle and Speed in Elderly
Summary: In a randomized controlled trial involving 155 community-dwelling elderly sarcopenic women aged 75 years and older living in Japan, exercise and amino acid supplementation together were found to be associated with improved muscle mass, muscle strength, and walking speed. Subjects were randomized to one of four groups: exercise plus amino acids; exercise alone; amino acids alone; or health education. Exercise consisted of twice weekly attending a 60 minute training program, and the amino acid supplementation consisted of 3 g of a leucine-rich essential amino acid mixture, twice/daily, for 3 months. Results found that the exercise plus amino acid supplementation group experienced the greatest benefits, particularly in leg muscle mass and knee extension strength. The authors conclude, "The data suggest that exercise and AAS together may be effective in enhancing not only muscle strength, but also combined variables of muscle mass and walking speed and of muscle mass and strength in sarcopenic women."
Reference: "Effects of Exercise and Amino Acid Supplementation on Body Composition and Physical Function in Community-Dwelling Elderly Japanese Sarcopenic Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial," Kim HK, Suzuki T, et al, J Am Geriatr Soc, 2011 Dec 5; [Epub ahead of print]. (Address: Research Team for Promoting Independence of the Elderly, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, Tokyo, Japan).
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Nutrients and Diet
Alpha Lipoic Acid Amino Acids Antioxidants Arginine Calcium Carnitine Carotene Chromium Picolinate Citrulline Coenzyme Q10 DHEA Fat Fiber Fruit and Vegetables Garlic Ginkgo Biloba Glucosamine Vegetarian Diet Green Tea Iron Lutein Lycopene Magnesium Mediterranean Diet Multivitamins Nitric Oxide Nuts Olives Omega 3 Fatty Acids Policosanols Polyphenols Pomegranate Probiotics Pycnogenol Red Yeast Rice Salt Saffron Selenium Soy Theanine Vitamin A Vitamin B Vitamin C Vitamin D Vitamin E Vitamin K White Tea Zinc