Tag Archives: Dutch Lowy

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