Saturday, May 11, 2013

Exercise, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and recovery

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Every day, I have to do some exercise, whether running, rowing, swimming, cycling, gymnastics, weightlifting, or even just walking. And if I can't get any exercise, I turn into a fidgety and grumpy monkey. When my friends find out that I exercise everyday, a look of shock-amazement appears on some of their faces. Many complain of DOMS from just one session; they say they have to rest a few days before they can go at it again.

I did get DOMS from weightlifting when I was a beginner, and I still get DOMS if, for example, I squat heavy after not having done squats for a few weeks. But as you perform the exercise or movement regularly and consistently, any soreness you feel will probably gradually reduce until you do not suffer from DOMS.

What can help with DOMS though, as well as recovery from strenuous exercise and heavy lifting, are branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). There are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine and valine. All three BCAAs are essential amino acids, which means that your body cannot synthesize them - you have to eat foods that contain them.

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Charles Poliquin has written a nifty article listing the benefits of BCAAs, based on research. In summary, the benefits of BCAAs are as follows:
  1. BCAAs Enhance Muscle Protein Synthesis 
  2. Higher BCAA Levels Correlate With A Lean Body Composition
  3. BCAAs Result in a Better Testosterone to Cortisol Ratio and Muscle Building
  4. Greater Strength Gains from Taking Leucine with Training
  5. BCAAs Result in Lower RPE and Greater Endurance Performance
  6. BCAAs Can Decrease Muscle Soreness, Particularly DOMS
  7. Take BCAAs to Improve Mental Function and Reaction Time
  8. Improve Mood and Decrease Depression with BCAAs
  9. Take BCAAs To Protect the Liver and Prevent Liver Disease
  10. BCAAs Prevent Diabetes and Improve Insulin Sensitivity 
  11. Live Longer and Improve Your Health with BCAAs
If you wish to read more about BCAAs, Charles Poliquin has a lot of other short articles on their benefits, as and when he comes across some research. You can access the list of articles here.

Since 2011, I have been taking BCAAs when I exercise. This is especially since I usually train first thing in the morning after a cup of coffee, in a fasted state. I have noticed that when I take BCAAs, my body composition shifts a little more towards a greater lean:fat ratio as compared with not taking BCAAs when I work out. I have also noticed that my recovery is faster, and there is less of a cortisol build up when I exercise (the symptom being a swollen abdomen).

Consequently, even though some people think BCAAs are a little pricey, I think their benefits are well worth their cost. Separately, I should also flag out that I do not usually take the recommended serving size of 3-4 scoops, but only one scoop per exercise session. That is how a jar of BCAAs have been able to last me a 3-4 times as long, and with sufficient benefits.

The BCAAs I have been taking are Scivation's Xtend. After some research in 2011, I settled on Xtend because it was highly recommended by many bodybuilders for its taste, solubility, and because it is the only brand of BCAAs I know of that also comes with vitamin B6, glutamine and citrulline malate. Its latest blend also includes electrolytes.

Xtend is available in orange, watermelon, grape, raspberry, lemon lime and green apple. So far, my favourites are watermelon and grape. Watermelon tastes like fruit punch, and grape tastes a little like Ribena. Green apple tasted strange and was kind of nasty. I have heard good things about the lemon lime, and recently included it in my re-order.

Especially if you live outside the US, is the best and cheapest place to order Xtend from. Their large jars of about 1170g each cost US$75.02, and can be shipped internationally via their US$4 "Global Priority Mail by DHL" option. occasionally offers free international shipping, and that is one of the best times to order Xtend.

Otherwise, if it is your first time ordering from iHerb, the coupon code "XOJ002" will save you US$5-10 on your first order.

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