Muscle wasting, which is a decrease in muscle mass that is sometimes accompanied by accumulation of fat deposits and scar tissue, occurs either as a process of aging, when it is known as sarcopenia, or during convalescence because of injury or illness. Your muscles use a wide array of nutrients to carry out their everyday functions and to assist growth and repair. Knowing which nutrients your muscles use and including them in your diet or through supplementation may help prevent muscle wasting.
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Prolonged illness or recent surgery can deplete your body of the amino acid glutamine. This nutrient, the most prevalent free amino acid in the body, is found in high concentrations in your blood and muscle tissue. Metabolic stress depletes blood glutamine levels. To maintain glutamine levels in your blood, your muscles increase production of glutamine and donate from their stores, but levels could still become depleted. Glutamine is also used as a source of energy by the cells that line your intestinal tract. In glutamine deficiency, the intestinal cells' function suffers and your ability to absorb the nutrients in food decreases. Supplementing with glutamine is good insurance to prevent muscle wasting and to expedite your recovery from illness and injury.
Whey protein, the protein component of milk that is extracted during cheese manufacture, may prevent sarcopenia, a type of muscle wasting in the elderly, according to a study in the January 2008 issue of the journal "Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care." Combined with resistance training, whey can help maintain muscle mass, especially when consumed within a few hours of exercising. In this way, whey protein may help decrease age-related diseases and improve quality of life.
Creatine, a source of energy for your muscle cells, may reverse age-related loss of muscle mass, according to a study published in the May 2011 issue of the journal "Amino Acids." Short-term use of creatine in high doses can increase muscle mass and strength, decrease fatigue and improve endurance. When coupled with resistance training, creatine promotes these improvements along with increased bone mass to a greater extent than resistance training by itself. Brain and cognitive function also benefit from creatine supplementation. Researchers note that creatine's safety and low cost make it a useful supplement for preventing muscle loss and age-related decline.
A low-sugar diet that keeps your insulin levels low can preserve muscle mass and prevent fat accumulation, says registered dietitian Jeff Volek, R.D., Ph.D., author of the book "Men's Health TNT Diet: The Explosive New Plan to Blast Fat, Build Muscle, and Get Healthy." When insulin levels are chronically high, your body's cells attempt to limit its effects by decreasing their numbers of insulin receptors, a condition known as insulin resistance. In advanced cases, insulin resistance results in a swing to the opposite extreme, whereby cells become starved for amino acids and glucose and, as a result, muscle protein break downs. To keep your insulin levels on an even keel, avoid processed carbohydrates and opt for whole grains. Also, choose fresh fruits over dried or canned.