Amino acids, proteins, and exercise performance

Jack Medina, President
Designs For Fitness

Re: Question about 15 year old Boy needing a Protein Supplement to gain muscle!

I received your E-mail and will respond in more detail later today when I have more time. Suffice it to say now that what your Son is being told about Protein Supplementation and Branched Chain Amino Acids is simply NOT supported by any Scientific literature anywhere. Muscles are NOT made of protein, they are made of water. Seventy-eight percent of a muscle is water (which is why Steroids, HGH and Creatine work); they cause the muscle to retain water. If the muscle retains water it gets bigger; with bigger usually comes stronger; but the side effect risks are simply not worth it!

Second, at age 15 your Son probably doesn't have the hormone developed in his body that allows him to get much (if any) muscle bulk. Extra protein is NOT going to help ----gain any muscle. If it would help I would be the first one to tell you. Spending the money on this Protein Supplement is a waste. The information you are getting on Branched Chain Amino Acids is simply not true and is unsupported by research. I'll comment more about this later.

In order to gain one pound of Muscle you must take in 2500 calories more than required by the body in 7 days, have a good exercise program of the correct type and drink plenty of good filtered water each day; then you have the potential (and ONLY the potential) to gain one pound of muscle in 7 days. This fact is in any good Sports Nutrition book ( I recommend "Sports & Exercise Nutrition" by McArdle, Katch & Katch - Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (Publishers): 1-800-638-3030. These authors are 3 of the most respected in Sports Science anywhere in the world.

To figure out how much Protein your Son needs each day, take his weight, divide it by 2.2 (converting to Kilograms), then multiply the answer by .8 to 1.6 maximum. This will tell you how many grams of protein he needs each day. Use .8 for the average person and 1.6 for the person training hard 4 or 5 days per week. If your Son eats two good meals each day, he gets up to four and a half times the amount of Protein he needs. If he eats 3 lousy meals each day he gets about two and a half times the Protein needed. He literally has to starve to death not to get enough Protein. Any extra Protein, if --- is in really good shape will be converted by his body back to a carbohydrate and stored as Glycogen in the muscles or Glucose in the blood for use when he needs it later; it can also be converted to urine and run through the urinary tract as a waste product. If he is out of shape the extra protein is most likely converted back to Fat and stored.


Jack Medina, President
Designs For Fitness

For years, experts and non-experts have been debating whether or not athletes, particularly those who wish to gain muscle mass, should consume extraordinary amounts of protein in their diets. Protein powders and special amino acid mixtures have held their places among the top sellers in the dietary supplement field.

What contribution does protein make to energy requirements? Does the consumption of carbohydrate speed up the production of protein in muscles? How much protein do athletes in various sports need in their diets? Are proteins good enough, or is it better to consume specific mixtures of amino acids that are purported to improve protein buildup in muscles? Here is what the Experts say:

1. How much of the energy expended during exercise of various types can be attributed to the use of proteins and amino acids as fuels?

The majority of energy for all types of exercise is derived from carbohydrates and lipids. For endurance exercise, the estimates vary from 2-3% up to as much as 10 %. There are no estimates for resistance exercise.

2. What are the basic determinants of whether or not muscle size increases when one trains with resistive exercise?

The primary stimuli for determining muscle growth are resistance exercise training and the interaction of the training with food intake. Protein and carbohydrate consumption are secondary to these two considerations.

3. How much dietary protein should an athlete consume on a daily basis?

Strength and endurance athletes may need to consume 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram body weight each day. Still, because athletes typically increase their energy intake during training, they should be able to obtain the protein they need from their ordinary foods and need not resort to special protein supplements. With the possible exception of athletes who are vegetarians, it is extremely unlikely that any athletes in Western countries would need to use protein supplements.

4. Is it better to consume special mixtures of amino acids to increase muscle growth, or can proteins in ordinary meals do the job just as well?

Proteins in ordinary meals are probably just as effective as amino acid supplements for increasing muscle growth. In addition, frequent feeding of small meals may be preferable to a single large meal in order to help maintain blood amino acid concentrations over a longer period of time.

There is no evidence that consuming special mixtures of amino acids or certain kinds of proteins offers any advantage as far as increasing muscle growth.

5. How important is it to eat plenty of carbohydrates, in addition to proteins, if one wishes to maximize muscular development?

To maximize muscular gains, an athlete should be taking in more food energy than is being expended, and carbohydrates should be the major energy source, i.e., at least 50% of the total caloric intake.

6. Can supplements of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) taken before and during exercise delay the onset of fatigue?

The best studies directly testing the effect of consuming BCAA on performance show that BCAA ingestion does not benefit performance. In fact, a potential side effect of BCAA ingestion is an increase in plasma and muscle accumulation of ammonia, which itself can contribute to fatigue. On balance, it appears that ingestion of BCAA is not effective in improving exercise performance.

Despite claims to the contrary, branch-chained amino acids do not seem to be important fuel sources during exercise, regardless of intensity, and their is no solid rationale for BCAA supplementation.

Reference: Sports Science Exchange Roundtable, Volume 11 (2000)
Kevin Tipton, Ph.D.
Martin J. Bibala, Ph.D.
Mark Hargreaves, Ph.D.