Masters CrossFit Athlete John Mariotti Trains for the CrossFit Games 2014

John Mariotti (age 57) stands at the top of this year’s Masters CrossFit Open Competition. John’s path to Crossfit began with a meniscus tear that brought his ultramarathon-career to a sudden stop. He turned his focus to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but was frustrated by his younger, stronger, faster competitors. John bought a book by Pavel Tsatsouline, the famed Russian Kettlebell Master and author of The Russian Kettlebell Challenge: Xtreme Fitness for Hard Living Comrades and started training on his own. He discovered CrossFit in 2009, using it to gain an edge in Jiu-Jitsu, but he quickly fell in love with CrossFit as a sport in itself.

John has been a life-long athlete. In addition to Jui-jitsu and ultra marathons, John has been involved in TaeKwon-Do (6th degree black belt) Grappling, sprint triathlons, swimming , football, wrestling, track, water polo and snowboarding. Years of training and competition have taken their toll. It’s tough being a masters athlete. “My shoulder is tweaky, my knee has some tendinitis . . . but I’ve suffered nothing that has forced me to stop training. Some things caused a bit of a slow down or modification but not much. I’m pretty lucky that way.”

John’s strategy for avoiding injury includes lots of mobility training and massage. He goes for Assisted Release Therapy weekly, does thorough warm-ups before WODs, sleeps well, takes fish oil. “Besides that,” he says “I try not to do anything too stupid.”

Training for the games.

John placed 31st in his division in the 2013 CrossFit Open. John was extremely fit, but he knew he would need to fine tune his game in order to make it into the top 20. He looked for a coach, and was taken on by CJ Martin of CrossFit Invictus.   CJ worked with John to improve his technique for all the elements that had appeared in the CrossFit games. John has found the time spent with CJ to be extremely helpful. “CJ is a master coach in this area. He seems to know just how hard to push and when to back off a bit. He also keeps my mobilization and diet and sleep in mind as well.”

Today, John feels as good as he has felt all year. That’s a good feeling coming into competition. This has been a hard and busy year for John. He has moved from California to Dallas, TX to open a CrossFit box of his own: CrossFit Odyssey. In spite of the pressures of opening a business and adjusting to a new environment John has continued to meet challenges head-on. He competed in the TX state weightlifting championships in January and took first place in his age and weight division.

Diet for a Masters CrossFit Athlete

crossfit shirts or kettlebell shirts for crossfit athletes
WODMASTERS Shirts for Men and the Women who think they are awesome.

John trains on a diet of “real food.” “Food is a joy for me and I never feel deprived eating the way I do.” He eats mostly paleo with lots of animal protein, fats and vegetables. He includes a lot of carbohydrates (potatoes are a huge favorite) as well. He does not eat grains with the exception of rice and avoids dairy and sugar.   He is an infrequent drinker.   John cooks for the week on Sundays. He has been following this diet for years, but has only recently increased his carbohydrate consumption. The carbs have been helping him deal with his high volume of training.

Advice for Masters Athletes in Training and Competition

When asked what advice he could off fellow masters athletes John responded :“It is easy for us get over-trained, especially if we just follow the same programming the younger guys do. Recovery is slower and PRs and gains are further between. Most of us still have that fire and try to keep up with the younger guys and that can be costly. Our minds and spirits are willing but the flesh doesn’t cooperate quite the way it did in years gone by. That being said…I can do things now that I could not do in the past…muscle ups, handstand pushups and double unders come to mind. I can lift more weight than I could 5 years ago. I move as quick as I did years ago and I have a much better “engine” than just a few months ago. My resting heartbeat is 43, which is as low as it has ever been. We can all get better…stronger, more skilled, and have better technique as long as we train smart as well as hard.”

John can be found at CrossFit Odyssey in Dallas, TX.

Depression Brain. Folate and Anti-Oxidants can help protect against damage

Depression brain.  Depression damages the brain and contributes to memory problems

Depression is a brain disorder that interferes with many aspects of function.  The evidence for genetic susceptibility to depression is strong, although it may take a traumatic event, or even a series of traumatic events, to trigger it. The brains of people with depression differ from those of people who are not depressed.  Brain imagery studies show differences in brain regions related to cognition, sleep patterns, feeding behavior and sleep.  Studies have also demonstrated smaller brain volume, greater susceptibility to Alzheimers disease, heart disease and memory problems.  Depression is a bio-chemical problem that is strongly associated with other serious medical conditions that can further reduce quality of life and lifespan.

WODMasters Mona Lisa Hits the Bells
A WODMASTERS Mona Lisa Hoists Her Kettlebells Shirt is a Mood-Lifter for sure.

How is depression related to other diseases?

There is increasing evidence that depression may increase risk of other diseases by changing body chemistry.  These alterations may lead to decreased levels of anti-oxidants and increased oxidative stress.

Depression Brain and the Chemical Stress of Depression

WODMasters Our Lady of the Kettlebells
Our lady of the Kettlebells shirt for women.

Depression has been associated with elevated cortisol levels.  The general thought, originating with Hans Selye’s research, is that elevated cortisol leads to suppression of immune function.  There is a lot of good evidence supporting this, but more recent research indicates that even though cortisol levels may be elevated in depression, the immune system is not turned down– or at least not in the brain.  Increased immune activity can cause oxidative damage to surrounding tissues. One of the ways the immune system protects the body from attack is by blasting offensive material with highly reactive chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide.  The hydrogen peroxide blasts releases free oxygen, which damages the cell membranes of targets, and destroys them.  The blast is called an “Oxidative Burst.”  Another type of “Blast” is created by production of nitric oxide.  That type of “blast ” is a nitrosative burst. These “bursts” can damage healthy cells, especially when there is no appropriate target, such as infectious organisms.  New research is showing that depression increases immuno-inflammatory activity.  This activity can damage:

  • Lipids and Cell Membranes.  This can cause cell death
  • Proteins.  Also not good.
  • DNA.  DNA damage can result in cancer
  • Mitochondria.  Mitrochondria are needed to produce energy for cells.

Depression is also associated with

  • Reduced neurogenesis (growth of brain cells)
  • Reduced brain volume (popularly known as “raisin brain.”)
  • Memory problems and etc.
  • Increased vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease

Increasing immuno-inflammatory pathways can lead to decreases in production of melatonin and serotonin.

When the body increases activity of one pathway another pathway may be left with insufficient resources.  Upping the activity of the immune system may mean lowering activity of something else.  The molecule tryptophan is used in production of interleukins and tumor-necrosis factor alpha during activation of immunol-inflammatory pathways.  Tryptophan is also used in production of the neurotransmitter, Serotonin and the hormone melatonin.  Tyrptophan levels tend to be low in depressed people.  So are levels of serotonin and melatonin.  This may be because the demand for tryptophan is increased. Low serotonin is believed to be one of the factors causing the feelings of sadness and worthlessness of depression.  Anti-depressants such as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) help maintain levels of serotonin.  Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle.   Sleep disorders are hallmarks of depression.  It gets a lot more complicated and there is a lot more biochemistry involved.  If you want to learn more check out the references at the bottom of this article.  The point I’m hoping to make is that people who suffer depression may also be suffering more oxidative stress than is good for them and that depression is more than a psychological problem.

WODMaster - Experienced as Hell T-Shirt
Strong as Hell, Fast as Hell and beyond all else . . . Experienced as HELL. Join us. Wear the Shirt!

A question about depression.

Are the feelings of sadness, guilt, worthless , low serotonin and etc. secondary side effects of something else?  Robert Sapolsky has likened depression to the response one would have to a crushing physical injury.  Getting munched by a sabre-toothed tiger and surviving would mean an extended period of healing.  It would be good to get your immune system up and running, because bacterial infection would be sure to set in next.  Forget the neurotransmitters for now.  You should be asleep anyway.  Maybe in depression the body is settling in for a tedious recooperation and is then unable to turn off the response.  People can stay depressed for years. And apparently it can be very difficult to help break a patient out of it.  But what about long-term oxidative or nitrosative damage being done during the time someone is depressed?  Could increasing anti-oxidants help?  Could anti-oxidants protect depressed people from neuronal degeneration, shrunken brain volume, memory impairment and inability to think straight?

Anti-Oxidants and Depression.

Anti-oxidants may help.  Maybe.  There has been some interesting work on people who have genetic variants for an enzyme (MTHRF) important in folate metabolism.  Folate is a B vitamin.  Folate metabolites, like vitamins C and E, are powerful anti-oxidants.  Some people, for genetic reasons, are unable to metabolize folate very well.  People with genes that do not allow for efficient metabolism of Folate are at higher risk of depression (and several other disorders, including migraines).  By some counts, around 70% of people with major depressive disorder are poor folate metabolizers. People who have difficulty metabolizing folate can get around the problem by taking a folate supplement that is already in an advanced form: L-methylfolate.  In fact, some doctors are prescribing L-methylfolate along with anti-depressants to their depressed patients.  Deplin is a prescription L-methylfolate.  You can also get L-methylfolate non-prescription strength from health food stores or Amazon.  It is not yet understood how L-methylfolate may relieve depression.  But it is a strong anti-oxidant.  Does it help by reducing oxidative stress?  Would other anti-oxidants be helpful in treating depression, or in reducing the damage depression inflicts on the body?  We’ll be keeping on eye on research developments.

Final Takeaway

If you are suffering from depression get treatment and try to eat well.  Even if its hard.  A little L-methylfolate might help.

Papakostas, G., Shelton, R., Zajecka, J., Etemad, B., Rickels, K., Clain, A., Baer, L., Dalton, E., Sacco, G., Schoenfeld, D., Pencina, M., Meisner, A., Bottiglieri, T., Nelson, E., Mischoulon, D., Alpert, J., Barbee, J., Zisook, S., & Fava, M. (2012).L- Methylfolate as Adjunctive Therapy for SSRI-Resistant Major Depression: Results of Two Randomized, Double-Blind, Parallel-Sequential Trials American Journal of Psychiatry, 169 (12) DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.11071114

Haroon E, Raison CL, & Miller AH (2012). Psychoneuroimmunology meets neuropsychopharmacology: translational implications of the impact of inflammation on behavior. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 37 (1), 137-62 PMID: 21918508

Beets for Speed and Power. Walnuts for Endurance.

Cracked Earth Eye Pood Shirt on Beet Eater
All Seeing Eye Pood Kettlebell Shirt for men. Beets and walnuts make you harder to kill.  The shirt will too.  Our model is Olympic Lifting Coach Dutch Lowy.  Dutch trains Masters Crossfit Athletes for the Games Beets Nitrate and Physical Performance

Nitrate has been shown to improve exercise performance in healthy adults. Nitrate is metabolized to Nitrite and then Nitric Oxide.  Nitric Oxide dilates blood vessels.  Nitrate has been shown to reduce blood pressure, inhibit platelet aggregation (clumping) and improving irregularities in constriction and relaxation of blood vessel tissue.  Nitrate may also reduce inflammation, make arteries less stiff and stiff.  Healthy blood vessels and arteries allow more blood to be delivered to muscles during exercise.   There have been a number of new articles on beets as performance enhancers.  Beets are rich in anti-oxidants, but they are also high in nitrate.  Nitrate can be metabolized to NO, which is a vaso-dilator (relaxes and widens blood vessels.)  Nitrate from the diet, or nitrate supplementation may increase the response of type II muscle fibers to exercise.

Does Beetroot juice enhance exercise performance?

Given evidence that nitrate can increase muscle fiber activation, an experiment was undertaken to determine if beetroot juice would have similar effects.  The research team compared normal nitrate-rich beet root juice against a beet-root juice that had had its nitrate removed. VO2 kinetics and exercise tolerance were recorded. VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use.   The exercise session was a double-step protocol.  The beet root juice supplement resulted in a 22% increase in exercise tolerance and faster VO2 kinetics.  This indicates that it is most likely the nitrate that is providing the effect rather than something else in the beet juice.  Anti-oxidants for example.

VO2 maxis a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen a person can take in.

Until recently nitrate was thought to be primarily a problem.  Nitrate interferes with iodine uptake, so it could contribute to iodine deficiency. There are also associations between high nitrate consumption and cancer.  Associations among nitrate and cancers are strongest with nitrate from meat products.  It is possible that something else in meat increases cancer rates.  Many vegetables, besides beets, contain nitrate too.  High vegetable intake is strongly associated with lower risk of cancers, heart disease and early death. If you are thinking of using beets as a performance enhancing vegetable it would be important to know how long it takes

  • How long it takes for beets to be digested
  • How long it takes for nitrate to be metabolized to NO (nitric oxide)
  • When optimal levels are reached in the blood
  • What optimal levels are.

There has not been enough research to know how much is enough or how much is too much.  We do know that nitrate levels are highest 2-3 hours after a drinking beet juice. Conversion to nitrite and nitric oxide probably happens very quickly.  The test subjects in the Breese study took the beet root juice supplement for three days before starting the exercise protocols.

The Power of Walnuts

WODMasters Our Lady of the Kettlebells
Our lady of the Kettlebells shirt for women.

This is a tougher subject than beets.  Walnuts seem to lower inflammation.  Less inflammation may mean less pain during endurance exercise.  The effects of walnuts on endurance performance has been studied in mice (Kim & Kim 2013).   In this study a group of mice was dosed with walnut extract.  Mice were given Walnut Extract at 600 and 900 mg/kg.  This is probably awful lot of walnuts.  Another group was dosed with water and served as controls.  All the mice were given a forced swim test.  (Not a polite thing to do)  Time to exhaustion was recorded.  Walnut-dosed mice:

  • Got the equivalent of a human eating 42 grams of walnuts once a day for 4 weeks.  (About 1/3 of a cup)
  • Swam longer
  • Had lower lactate levels
  • Had lower ammonia levels
  • More glutamine
  • More liver glycogen.

The conclusion was that walnuts increase endurance

Take Away:

Walnuts and beets may give you a competitive advantage.  They may also make you healthier overall.

About the Author:

Andrea Kirk, MSc. PhD is a toxicologist affiliated with the University of Texas at Arlington’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center‘s School of Public Health.  Dr. Kirk does research on human exposures to environmental contaminants and micro-nutrient intake and excretion.

 

Vanhatalo A, Bailey SJ, Blackwell JR, DiMenna FJ, Pavey TG, Wilkerson DP, Benjamin N, Winyard PG, & Jones AM (2010). Acute and chronic effects of dietary nitrate supplementation on blood pressure and the physiological responses to moderate-intensity and incremental exercise. American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology, 299 (4) PMID: 20702806

 

Lidder, S., & Webb, A. (2012). Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables & beetroot) via the Nitrate-Nitrite-Nitric Oxide pathway British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04420.x Kim DI, & Kim KS (2013). Walnut extract exhibits anti-fatigue action via improvement of exercise tolerance in mice. Laboratory animal research, 29 (4), 190-5 PMID: 24396383

 

Breese BC, McNarry MA, Marwood S, Blackwell JR, Bailey SJ, & Jones AM (2013). Beetroot juice supplementation speeds O2 uptake kinetics and improves exercise tolerance during severe-intensity exercise initiated from an elevated metabolic rate. American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology, 305 (12) PMID: 24089377

Iron Deficiency, Anemia and Athletic Performance

Iron deficiency may slow down athletes, impair training and just making working out harder than it needs to be.

The Iron part of anemia, iron deficiency and athletes

Iron is important for athletes as well as everyone else.   Iron is needed for formation of Hemoglobin.  Hemoglobin is the molecule in blood cells that transports oxygen through blood.  People who have low levels of red blood cells are said to be anemic.  Anemia can be caused by many different things.  This article, however, will focus on anemia caused by nutritional deficiency.

Crossfit sports anemia Iron deficiency
A crossfit athlete trains for the games. Is iron deficiency hurting her performance?

Iron deficiency can slow you down and make your workouts harder and more frustrating than they need to be.   People who are iron deficient (or anemic) don’t carry oxygen efficiently.  The heart has to work harder to get oxygen to tissues.  Low oxygen can also cause “poop out” (just too tired to continue the workout).  No need to mention this . . . but . . .   an iron deficient person is not likely to compete well either.  Anemia is most common in women of reproductive age. Recommended intake of iron is 8mg/day for men and post-menopausal women.  It is 18/mg/day for women who are menstruating.  Iron deficiency anemia (anemia not caused by blood loss, injury, illness of metabolic disorder) is highest among women of reproductive age.  It is uncommon in young men and boys and more common in people over 50.  About 7% of masters adults may have iron deficiency anemia. (Looker et al. 1997)

The athlete part of athletes iron and nutrition

There have been a number of studies of iron intake and exercise performance in animals and in people.  Performance related studies have looked at work performance, fatigue, endurance, oxygen use and heart rate (McClung & Murray-Kolb2013)   Iron supplementation has been associated with:

Anemia, Iron deficiency and Athletes
A crossfit athlete fatigues during the crossfit games. Fatigue increases risk of injury.
  • Increased maximal exercise performance
  • Increased VO2 max (maximal oxygen consumption
  • Lower heart rate
  • Less fatigue
  • More voluntary activity
  • Improved work performance
  • Improved performance on fitness tests
  • Increased energy expenditure

Intense training can lead to anemia.  The popular term for training-induced anemia is Sports Anemia.  Possible causes are intestinal bleeding, iron loss through perspiration, inflammation and a generally faster rate of body iron turnover.    Many athletes (especially older athletes) use ibuprofen to cope with muscle soreness and aches and pains from injuries.  Chronic use of aspirin and ibuprofen can increase risk of iron deficiency because they can cause stomach bleeding.

Iron deficiency can cause some cognitive problems too.  These include spatial ability, attention, memory, executive functioning and planning. These abilities are important in everyday life.  They are also abilities that are essential to training and competition.

The nutrition side of athletes, iron and nutrition

Iron-rich foods include:

  • red meat
  • fish
  • poultry
  • beans
  • dried fruit
  • whole grains
  • chard
  • spinach
  • molasses (black strap style)

Other nutritional deficiencies can also make you vulnerable to iron deficiency even if you are getting enough iron.  Vitamin C and Folate are important too.  Low vitamin B12 also increases risk of anemia. There are a lot of interactions among Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, and Folate that are still poorly understood.  High folate combined with low B12 increases the risk of anemia and risk of cognitive impairment in older people.  Normal B12 and High Folate, on the other hand, protect against anemia and cognitive problems (Morris et al. 2007).  Annoying that there no simple answers.  The best strategy seems to be to eat a varied diet

Take Away

Use pain relievers in moderation.  Consider an iron supplement and make sure you are getting enough folate and vitamin C.  Don’t over do iron intake.  There is no evidence that extra iron will help you if you don’t need it.  Too much iron can cause damage on its own.

 

Andrea Kirk, MSc. PhD is a toxicologist affiliated with the University of Texas at Arlington’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center‘s School of Public Health.  Dr. Kirk does research on human exposures to environmental contaminants and micro-nutrient intake and excretion.  She is also a former whitewater, dog-sledding, ice-climbing instructor and back-country ranger turned box rat.

 

Looker, A. (1997). Prevalence of Iron Deficiency in the United States JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 277 (12) DOI: 10.1001/jama.1997.03540360041028

Morris MS, Jacques PF, Rosenberg IH, & Selhub J (2007). Folate and vitamin B-12 status in relation to anemia, macrocytosis, and cognitive impairment in older Americans in the age of folic acid fortification. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85 (1), 193-200 PMID: 17209196

McClung JP, & Murray-Kolb LE (2013). Iron nutrition and premenopausal women: effects of poor iron status on physical and neuropsychological performance. Annual review of nutrition, 33, 271-88 PMID: 23642204

Pasricha SR, Low M, Thompson J, Farrell A, & De-Regil LM (2014). Iron Supplementation Benefits Physical Performance in Women of Reproductive Age: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of nutrition PMID: 24717371

Masters Athletes Need More Protein than Younger Athletes

Masters Athletes may have some nutritional needs that differ from those of younger athletes. By Masters, we’re referring to athletes over age 40. This is currently the cut-off for Crossfit. Here’s what we know about Masters and protein:

  • Masters athletes may need more protein than younger athletes regardless of sport.
  • Consuming more protein may slow normal loss of muscle mass that occurs over time.
  • Masters athletes doing resistance training may need more protein than younger people because they don’t synthesize muscle proteins as quickly.
woman masters crossfit athlete high protein diet
Masters Crossfit Athlete competes in the Crossfit Games Open 14.1 in the 50-54 age category. She is wearing a WODMasters singlet. Check our designs.

Masters Athlete Nutrition: what we know today.

The amount of FDA recommended protein stands at about 0.66 grams per kilogram of body weight.  This number was derived by looking at many studies of people.  Some of the studies looked at the average amount eaten by healthy people.  Others looked at nitrogen balance: how much comes in vs how much comes out.  People who lose more nitrogen than they take in through food are said to be in negative nitrogen balance.  For these studies, the recommended amount would be the amount where the amount of nitrogen coming in is equal to the amount leaving (urine).  There are a number of limits with these approaches.  They do not answer the question of “what is best”.   They have not focused on athletes or older adults.   Weight lifters and others trying to add muscle have traditionally eaten a lot of protein.   Way more than 0.66 grams/kilogram. Eating more than the recommended amount of protein doesn’t seem to hurt.  Just don’t leave out other nutrients.

Cracked Earth Eye Pood Shirt
All Seeing Eye Pood Kettlebell Shirt for men. On request for women.

Scientists who work in this area have concluded that 0.8 g/kg is better for masters athletes than the old level of 0.66 g/kg.  Many people will find number low and may get upset about. Don’t worry if you’ve just had a WTF moment.  After all, we’ve been urged to consume at least a full gram of protein, 1.2 g/kg or even more. This may be perfectly valid if you are interested in strength gain or preservation of muscle mass during aging. We simply don’t know what is “optimal.”  “Optimal” will, of course, depend on many different factors.  The increase from 0.66 g/kg to 0.8 g/kg is 25%.  That is a big jump.

Here’s what may help preserve or increase muscle mass for masters athletes

  • Eat more than 0.8 g/kg/day to increase strength (you have to lift too.)
  • Get some protein soon after a training session
  • Some recommend taking 5 g/day of creatine monohydrate.  There is some evidence that it can boost strength gains and help increase fat free mass.  Keep in mind that creatine can also increase water retention.  Some of the gains in fat free mass may just be water.
  • For endurance: sadly, there is no evidence that carb loading helps.
  • Carbohydrates are important.  If your body doesn’t have carbohydrates it will use some of your protein for energy.  It will use fat too, but it will also use muscle.

What kind of protein is best for Masters Athletes?

There is a lot of research showing that red meat increases risk of cancer.  I know a lot of people like red meat.  But evidence says: avoid it.  If you do eat red meat avoid grilling or charring it.  Burning food creates carcinogens.  Cooking fats at high temperatures produces acrolein.  Acrolein may contribute to development of Alzheimers.  Vegetable protein (beans and nuts) seems to lower risk of cancer.  It also seems to lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.  The paleo diet is against beans.  There is really no reason not to eat beans other than that some popular diet books put them in the “bad” category.  Beans should be well-cooked.  If you are not used to eating beans . . . you will probably get better at digesting them peacefully.  You may even get good at it.

Take away:

It looks like masters athletes need more protein than others.  The  recommended increase from 0.66 g/kg/day to .80 g/kg/day is a 25% increase.  Until we know more, increasing your protein intake may help you maintain or increase muscle mass. Limit red meat. Many people seem to be devoted to red meat, but the vast majority of research indicates it is a risky protein source.  Avoid fish high in mercury (tuna, swordfish).  Mercury accumulates in the body over time and has been linked to a number of poor health outcomes. Increasing protein intake with vegetable protein is a healthy strategy.

 

 

Tarnopolsky MA (2008). Nutritional consideration in the aging athlete. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 18 (6), 531-8 PMID: 19001886

Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria C, Vupputuri S, Myers L, & Whelton PK (2001). Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Archives of internal medicine, 161 (21), 2573-8 PMID: 11718588

Position Statement (2010). Selected Issues for the Master Athlete and the Team Physician Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42 (4), 820-833 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181d19a0b

Can reducing ammonia production during exercise improve performance?

Ammonia may be a central player in fatigue and exhaustion.  Exercise releases of ammonia into the blood stream.  Once in the blood stream it travels to the brain where it can accumulate if the pace of entry is faster than the body’s ability to metabolize it.   Athletes in studies who had the hardest time completing an intense exercise task also had the highest ammonia levels.(Nybo 2005).

The brain gets rid of extra ammonia by combining it with glutamate to produce glutamine.  If the brain is using glutamate to get rid of ammonia it is possible that glutamate levels decrease.    Decreased brain glutamate can impair function and may contribute to some of the wonky feelings of exhaustion.  Glutamate is an important neurotransmitter.  It is an excitatory neurotransmitter.  Glutamate makes it easier for nerves to fire and transmit information.  Without glutamate brain function may slow.  This is a very simplified picture.  However, it may help explain a bit of what is going on with fatigue.  Brain uptake of ammonia has been demonstrated in a number of studies.  One thing that has been noted is that there may be a lot of variation in the amount of ammonia produced.  This was found in a study of highly trained endurance athletes.  Athletes were:

  • young men
  • very similar weight
  • similar height
  • similar VO2max
  • living in Denmark (Nybo 2005).

Is it possible that variability in ammonia levels helps some people go longer or harder than others?  Is it less ammonia production or better brain clearance?  What causes it: genetics, diet, differences in training?

Reducing Ammonia:  Is it possible? Would it help for competition or training? Would it hurt?

There have been several studies that have looked at reducing blood ammonia levels.  Much of this comes from research on people with liver disease.  People with liver disease tend to produce a lot of ammonia.  They may also suffer a lot of muscle loss and brain dysfunction.  Their situation though is quite different from that of an athlete.

Is there any research on reducing ammonia levels during exercise?

Yes. Apparently glucose does.  Subjects (Nybo 2005) who were given glucose supplement had only about a third of the ammonia level as did subjects who did not.  A 2008 paper found that giving professional football players 100 mg per kg of glutamine prior to training reduced ammonia in blood.  Lastly, walnuts.  A study of walnut extracts showed less ammonia in blood of mice after they were subjected to a forced swim test.  Mice receiving walnut extract were able to swim quite a bit longer than those who did not (see reference for details.)  One of the things that was particularly interesting is that mice were subjected to several tests over several weeks.  Performance improved in the Walnut-Extract Mice from week 1 to week 2 to week 3 and then tapered off.  They never dropped to the level of No-Walnut mice.  Here is a link to the graph: Link.  The researchers suggested that Walnuts may reduce ammonia and fatigue through their anti-oxidant properties.

Should I eat walnuts, glucose and glutamine during training?

There is no evidence that walnuts, glucose or gluamine will improve your performance over the long term.  In fact, trying to lessen your ammonia production during training may hurt.  In the Nybo study the athletes with the highest levels of  ammonia in plasma and brain were the athletes who did not get glucose AND had the lowest VO2 max.  VO2 max is a marker of aerobic conditioning.  It is possible that the body gets more efficient in dealing with ammonia produced during exercise.  If that is the case, minimizing ammonia production might also minimize your ability to deal with it.  Its too early to know.

What about walnuts, glucose and/or glutamine for competition?

Hard to say too.  But . . . an ability to reduce ammonia might reduce fatigue and let you go longer or faster.  It might give a competitive edge.  Keep in mind some people may simply be better at metabolizing ammonia.  It might be genetic.  Or it might be from hard training.  For an overview of amino acid metabolism:

 

Masters Crossfit training
One of the world’s top-ranked masters CrossFit athletes trains for the CrossFit games at The Black Box in Fort Worth

Qiu J, Tsien C, Thapalaya S, Narayanan A, Weihl CC, Ching JK, Eghtesad B, Singh K, Fu X, Dubyak G, McDonald C, Almasan A, Hazen SL, Naga Prasad SV, & Dasarathy S (2012). Hyperammonemia-mediated autophagy in skeletal muscle contributes to sarcopenia of cirrhosis. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 303 (8) PMID: 22895779

Nybo L, Dalsgaard MK, Steensberg A, Møller K, & Secher NH (2005). Cerebral ammonia uptake and accumulation during prolonged exercise in humans. The Journal of physiology, 563 (Pt 1), 285-90 PMID: 15611036

Snow RJ, Carey MF, Stathis CG, Febbraio MA, & Hargreaves M (2000). Effect of carbohydrate ingestion on ammonia metabolism during exercise in humans. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 88 (5), 1576-80 PMID: 10797115

Bassini-Cameron, A., Monteiro, A., Gomes, A., Werneck-de-Castro, J., & Cameron, L. (2008). Glutamine protects against increases in blood ammonia in football players in an exercise intensity-dependent way British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42 (4), 260-266 DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2007.040378

Paleo Breath and Paleo Sweat

If you have recently started a high protein diet and are wondering why your breath smells so bad . . .

Paleo Breath is common among people following the paleo diet (aka caveman diet). There may be two factors involved in Paleo Breath. The first is the accumulation of ketones from fat metabolism.  Ketones are excreted in urine, but there are ketones that also volatile . . . those come out in breath too. Acetone is one of these.   Acetone in breath smells a bit like rotten apples.  The other bad breath agent showing up in paleo diet or low carb diet is ammonia.  Ammonia may show up in breath when people metabolize protein for energy.  Ammonia smells more like urine.  Urine breath may be more disagreeable than rotten apple breath. Or not.  You can get ammonia breath without being on the paleo diet too.    Ammonia breath happens when people are burning protein.

Hard workouts makes your clothes smell worse.

If you have noticed a sudden worsening of smell in your locker or gym bag it may be a sign you are really pushing it during your workouts.  Congratulations. Ammonia concentrations in sweat increase during intense exercise as well as when protein is metabolized for energy.  Ammonia in sweat will make your workout clothes smell nasty.   It may make you smell bad too.

Cracked Earth Eye Pood Shirt
Look good even if you smell bad with a WODMASTERS limited edition weightlifting shirt. Dutch Lowy, model.

Ammonia in breath: a hot research topic

A lot of exciting work is being done on ammonia in breath.  While ammonia breath in people who follow high protein, low-carb or paleo diets may be an annoyance or embarrassment, ammonia in the breath can be caused by other problems and signal health concerns.   Ammonia in breath is elevated in people with kidney and liver disease.  Ammonia in breath may also be a sign of esophogeal or gastric problems (like cancer) or lung infections.  If you are eating a protein diet/paleo diet and are otherwise healthy the chance that your bad breath is being caused by a serious health problem are extremely, extremely small.  Still, research on breath is just fascinating.   We may soon be able to diagnose medical problems by having someone breath into a device that would create a profile of breath components.  This may help catch cancers early, so they could be treated earlier and more effectively.  It may also help us better understand physiology in general.  A just-published study has found that ammonia levels are elevated in the breath of obese children.  The obese children in the study also had other factors in breath that differed from their normal-weight peers.   Its not clear yet what elevated ammonia levels mean in over weight children.  A sign of impending diabetes perhaps?

Breath Profiles for Health and Sports

While research on breath is focusing on detection of serious health problems there are so potential applications for general health and sports performance. Ammonia levels in breath (or perspiration) may help coaches and athletes determine exactly when an athlete researches a particular training threshold.

Take Away

Yes, your clothes will smell like cat pee if you don’t wash them after a heavy workout.  If you are following a high protein/paleo diet, showering will help control body odor by washing high-ammonia perspiration off your skin.  Mouth bacteria break-down products form ammonia in breath too. They can produce enough ammonia to confound breath analysis studies.  Nose sampling gives better data. Keeping you teeth and mouth clean should help with paleo breath too.

 

Effros RM, Casaburi R, Porszasz J, Morales EM, & Rehan V (2012). Exhaled breath condensates: analyzing the expiratory plume. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 185 (8), 803-4 PMID: 22505753

Alvear-Ordenes I, García-López D, De Paz JA, & González-Gallego J (2005). Sweat lactate, ammonia, and urea in rugby players. International journal of sports medicine, 26 (8), 632-7 PMID: 16158367

Alkhouri N, Eng K, Cikach F, Patel N, Yan C, Brindle A, Rome E, Hanouneh I, Grove D, Lopez R, Hazen SL, & Dweik RA (2014). Breathprints of childhood obesity: changes in volatile organic compounds in obese children compared with lean controls. Pediatric obesity PMID: 24677760

A New Source of Protein for the Athletic and the Sedentary?

A New Source of Protein?

This is an odd and interesting bit of research.  It relates to reaborption of nitrogen . . . and presents the possibility that more protein is conserved than previously thought.  First dietary nitrogen 101: Nitrogen is a major component of amino acids.  Amino acids are needed to form proteins.  We can synthesize some amino acids ourselves, but others need to be obtained through diet.  Dietary protein provides nitrogen and amino acids from plant or animal sources which are resynthesized into human proteins.  Unused nitrogen is converted into Ammonia and Urea and excreted.

Can nitrogen be reabsorbed from the intestines?

WODMasters Eye Pood Kettle Bell
Even if you don’t have the right microbial stuff, you can still look awesome and powerful with the right shirt

The answer is a shocking “maybe.”  A new nutritional study (published ahead of print in the Journal of Nutrition) has found that nitrogen appears to be reabsorbed.  This makes little sense at first glance.  Until we consider the vast populations of microorganisms that reside in the gut.  Until recently, they were all thought of as “germs” that needed to be quashed.   That has changed.  We are learning more and more about how important they are for our health and even our survival.

The study is titled:

Nonprotein Nitrogen Is Absorbed from the Large Intestine and Increases Nitrogen Balance in Growing Pigs Fed a Valine-Limiting Diet.

Valine is an essential Amino Acid, so these animals were fed a protein-deficient diet.   Then researchers administered urea or casein into the cecum of pigs.  Let’s consider this research a step toward greater understanding of how nitrogen may be recycled in living animals.  Not a new way to increase protein for strength.  (Although who knows.  It might work.) The urea was synthesized using Nitrogen-15.  Dietary nitrogen is Nitrogen 14.  Using nitrogen-15 lets the team know where the cecum-delivered nitrogen ended up.

Findings:

Researchers found that more than 80% of the cecum delivered nitrogen was absorbed.  Some of it was excreted in urine, but some was retained. This is a shocker.  I know.   Humans cannot synthesize protein using nitrogen.  So WTF?  The researchers propose that urea traveled through the bloodstream and into to the small intestine.   Bacteria (some of which can make amino acids using urea or plain nitrogen) in the small intestine then used the extra urea to make amino acids.  Amino acids produced by bacteria could then be absorbed the host (animals).

Takeaway:

More research would need to be done to confirm that this happens.  But it is very interesting.  Humans vary in the types of bacteria they host.  Bacterial populations vary according to diet, environment, chance (?) and who knows what else.  Do people get extra protein from bacteria?  Does this happen under normal circumstances (i.e. not piped in through the back end.)?  One thing is sure: there is a lot to learn. ResearchBlogging.org

Columbus DA, Lapierre H, Htoo JK, & de Lange CF (2014). Nonprotein Nitrogen Is Absorbed from the Large Intestine and Increases Nitrogen Balance in Growing Pigs Fed a Valine-Limiting Diet. The Journal of nutrition PMID: 24647394

Low Vitamin D, Atherosclerosis and CardioVascular Disease

Crossfit or Kettlebells: New mens shirt
Watch for our new 2014 Eye Pood Shirt. In press as we speak.

Vitamin D has received tremendous interest over the last ten years.  One of the many things to come out about Vitamin D is that is that it protects against vascular calcification.  Vascular calcification causes or contributes to:

  • Stiff arteries
  • Poor elasticity
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Kidney damage
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Early death

That is terrible.  Not long ago calcification was considered a normal part of aging. Then it was considered an issue of cholesterol and a high fat diet.  The contributions of dietary cholesterol and dietary fats continue to be explored and challenged, however, researchers are uncovering other factors.  Vitamin D insufficiency has been strongly associated with risk of poor health and death.  This includes increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  Research groups are  now working to figure out more of the details.

Chronic Vitamin D Deficiency vs. On-again Off-again Vitamin D deficiency

A recent article in the Journal of Nutrition reports on an investigation of Vitamin D and vascular calcification.  The study used groups mice.  It lasted 32weeks.  Different groups of mice were fed either

  1. mouse version of a typical Western diet with adequate vitamin D for 16 weeks
  2. mouse version of a typical Western diet with low vitamin D for 16 weeks
  3. mouse version of a typical Western diet low vitamin D for 32 weeks
  4. mouse version of a typical Western diet with low vitamin D for 16 weeks then switched to a normal D diet for another 16 weeks.

Research Findings

Mice on the 16 week low vitamin D diet had more calcified arteries than mice fed the higher vitamin D diet, but not by that much.  (See the article for details).  The low vitamin D diet, however. turned up something interesting:

  • Vascular cells in the Low Vitamin D mice appeared to change into osteoblast-like cells.  Osteoblasts are build bone.  They also create dense, crosslinked collagen and create a matrix for bone.   This may not be the best thing for vascular health.
  • Mice fed a low D diet for 32 weeks had significantly more plaque than other mice, more osteoblast-like cells and more tumor necrosis factor.
  • Mice who were returned to the normal D diet had less calcification.  This is a nice finding.  It looks like increasing vitamin D  will improve the quality of arteries if your diet has been low in vitamin D.

Takeaway:

It looks like low vitamin D plays a strong role in hardening of the arteries. Not all is lost,  Damage you have accumulated to date may be reduceable.  Please note too that this was a study of dietary vitamin D and not vitamin D made through sun exposure.  You can make your own vitamin D with exposure to sun light.  Please remember not to go overboard.  Too much vitamin D may also cause calcification of arteries.

Nadine Schmidt, Corinna Brandsch, Alexandra Schutkowski, Frank Hirche, & Gabriele I. Stangl (2014). Dietary Vitamin D Inadequacy Accelerates Calcification and Osteoblast-Like Cell Formation in the Vascular System of LDL Receptor Knockout and Wild-Type Mice Journal of Nutrition

Ellam T, Hameed A, Ul Haque R, Muthana M, Wilkie M, Francis SE, & Chico TJ (2014). Vitamin d deficiency and exogenous vitamin d excess similarly increase diffuse atherosclerotic calcification in apolipoprotein e knockout mice. PloS one, 9 (2) PMID: 24586387

Nutrition, Fitness, Health, News, Style and Research for Adventurous Women