Muscle loss can occur for many reasons, including high cortisol levels, overtraining and irregular sleep patterns. An important stress hormone, cortisol triggers the fight or flight response that enables your body to cope with the extreme physical stress of training. In the long term, high cortisol levels can cause your body to break down muscle tissue for energy. A few natural supplements can counteract the effects of cortisol and overtraining to prevent muscle loss and help you achieve your fitness goals.
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One simple way to prevent muscle loss is by taking in carbohydrates. Supplemental forms of carbs exist for muscle loss prevention before, during and after your workout. These products include waxy maize, maltodextrin or dextrose. Low-glycemic carb choices such as oatmeal, whole grain pastas and breads, sweet potatoes and many fresh fruits inhibit muscle breakdown by slowly releasing sugar to working muscles. You can take 30 to 50 g of high-glycemic carbs (fruit juice or dextrose) one to two hours before training, then 30 g during and 60 to 100 g immediately after your workout.
Proteins help prevent muscle loss by providing amino acids for muscle repair. You can boost your protein by having a serving of beef, chicken, fish, egg or turkey one to two hours before working out and/or immediately after. Whey makes another great source of protein because the body digests it very quickly, especially important before and after workouts. Whey protein immediately boosts muscle protein synthesis, while casein, the curd component of milk, digests very slowly, inhibiting muscle loss for hours after ingestion. A whey-casein protein blend can give you the best of both worlds.
Branch chain amino acids or BCAAs prevent muscle loss by providing an energy source, which prevents the body from using its own muscle for fuel. BCAAs achieve this feat because they are metabolized directly in muscles, rather than in the liver like most other amino acids. The three BCAAs are L-leucine, L-isoleucine and L-valine. Usually taken in a 2 to 1 to 1 ratio, respectively, they immediately inhibit muscle breakdown, according to "Natural Anabolics" by Jerry Brainum. Take 5 g before, during and/or after your workout.
MCTs or medium-chain triglycerides absorb very quickly in the body and give you fast energy, according to “Homemade Supplement Secrets” by Jeff Anderson. MCTs' unique chemical structure makes it hard for your body to store them as fat. MCTs also have a thermogenic effect, meaning they increase the rate at which your body burns fat. This potent source of fuel (fat has 9 calories per gram compared to 4 in carbohydrates) also prevents muscles from turning to their own amino acids stores to make energy.
Many natural substances blunt the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which plays a role in muscle loss. Some of these act as adaptogenics, meaning they help your central nervous system adapt to physical stress without augmenting anabolic hormones (DHEA, testosterone and growth hormone) directly. Cortisol inhibitors include rhodiola rosea, schizandra, magnolia bark extract, ashwagandha and holy basil. Phosphatidylserine and the amino acid L-theanine may also help to inhibit the production of muscle-devouring cortisol.