Posted tagged ‘muscle’

We’re going to pump (clap!) you up

February 22, 2009

Shelly had a question: “My 14-year-old’s football coach wants him to take at least 120 grams of protein a day. Isn’t this too much? Is this the best way to ‘bulk up’?”

It is a good idea for adolescents looking to increase their muscle bulk to consume a diet rich in good quality protein. However, it sounds like this coach may be pushing this idea to the extreme, and may be over-emphasizing a very specific diet rather than encouraging a well-balanced, healthy regimen.

Growing adolescents need to consume about 50 grams of protein a day. The precise number depends on many factors, including the kinds of protein eaten and in what combination, but 50 grams is a pretty good estimate for most kids. It’s not very difficult to get that much protein, especially from meat sources—50 grams of protein can be found in six ounces of lean meat or fish. Rich plant sources of protein include soy (tofu), nuts, and beans. There are several good tables available showing more precise measurements of the protein content of foods.

Proteins are digested in a broken-down form, called amino acids, that are used in part to make muscle tissue. So it does make sense to adolescents looking to increase their muscle bulk, or “lean body mass,” to have a diet that offers plenty of protein building blocks for growing tissues. But there is no evidence that extra-high protein loading makes muscles grow any faster or bigger.

Super-high protein intake can stress the kidneys, and can lead to a loss of calcium and other nutrients in the urine. Though, again, the exact number depends on many factors, most exercise physiologists recommend a daily protein intake of no more than 2 grams per kilogram body weight per day. For an average 14 year old adolescent male (let’s say, 140 pounds), that’s about 125 grams. Larger kids could probably tolerate more than this, as long as plenty of water is consumed and the remainder of the diet is well-balanced. However, this is an expensive way to eat, and won’t really help build muscle any better than a good balanced diet with a more modest amount of protein.

There is absolutely no advantage to using hi-protein shakes or bars over good quality, protein-rich foods. Some vegetarians (or kids who just don’t like meat) may find it easier to get a high protein intake using these products, but they’re a very expensive source of protein. I would much rather encourage a teenager to consume lean meat, eggs, fish, and nuts at every meal rather than rely on a special, processed protein source.

Beyond diet, there are other essential elements to increasing lean body mass. One is resistance exercise—that is, weight training. Muscles must move against “extra resistance” in order to grow. I suggest that adolescent who wish to weight train do this with the help of a qualified coach or trainer, to teach them how to use the equipment safely and effectively. Maximum lifts should not be attempted until after puberty is complete. Younger adolescents should do exercises using small enough weights that at least 20 repetitions can be done at each set; older adolescents may wish to push the weights higher and reps lower than this to get maximum bulk. Resistance training should occur with a day of rest in between each session, using alternate muscle groups each day or using alternate days for cardiovascular training.

After diet and exercise, the third essential element needed for effective lean body growth is something that’s often overlooked: sleep. Muscle tissues grow most efficiently during sleep, and adolescents who skimp on sleep will find that even a vigorous exercise program will not get them the bulk they’re looking for. Teenagers need nine hours of sleep each night, and there is no short-cut for adequate sleep.

Ice v Heat for injuries

January 25, 2009

Mark wants to know how to treat injuries: “Why do doctors say to alternate between applying heat and ice? Since these are opposites, how could they both help?”

Heat and ice do two different things after an injury. Knowing which one is more suitable depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Ice numbs tissue, so it reduces pain. It can also reduce bleeding and bruising. Coldness also helps prevent or treat swelling, which is important—swollen joints have altered mechanics, so they don’t work right, and are prone to re-injury. A swollen, painful joint will also change the way a person walks and moves, which can create a risk for further injury at other body parts. Immediately following a musculoskeletal injury, ice is often one of the best ways to help. Ice itself can be uncomfortably cold, especially in children, so a better option might be ice wrapped in a towel, or a cool wet washcloth from the refrigerator. Don’t leave bare ice on a body part for more than 15 minutes to avoid frostbite, and check any area that’s being iced frequently—the skin can feel cool, but should never be close to frozen.

Warmth works in a different way. It relaxes muscles that often tense up after an injury, and it feels good. Warmth is usually used the day after an injury, when swelling is less of a problem. It’s great for pulled muscles, whiplash, and other injuries that don’t typically involve a broken bone. Warmth can make swelling, bruising, and bleeding worse. Electric heating pads should not be used on unsupervised children. Instead, use one of those warm-up things you put in the microwave, and check carefully that it isn’t too hot before putting it on a child. Topical heating creams smell kind of weird, but do help muscle injuries feel better. They’re hard to remove if a child objects to the warmth or smell.

I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever suggested alternating heat and ice after an injury—when did a doctor suggest that to you? It doesn’t make sense to me, either!