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January 29, 2008

Is Exercise More Harmful Than You Think? How To Protect Yourself With Whey Protein Isolate.

Training_abs72We all know that increasing our level of physical activity can be a major factor in improving many facets of our overall health.  And in our couch-potato culture, where just getting up from in front of the television to take a brisk walk around the block can seem like a Herculean task to many people, it's perfectly understandable that the pro-exercise mantra disseminated by health authorities has been a bit one-sided.

But, just like a powerful life-saving medicine, exercise too must be administered properly to avoid dangerous side effects.  And these days it's rare to hear any discussion of how harmful exercise can be if done incorrectly, to excess, or in the absence of proper nutritional support. 

Most of us have no idea of the damage that really occurs in our body when we push ourselves to the limit, but from our cells' perspective, it's clear that exercise can be a major source of inflammation, cellular trauma, and oxidative stress.  The stress of exercise can be especially damaging in individuals who are new to training, or who are resuming exercise after a prolonged layoff. 

So, when it comes to exercise, it seems that we're only as good as our recovery - meaning that the stresses imposed by physical activity can be cumulatively harmful if we don't go out of our way to specifically support the unique nutritional demands created by our increased activity.  Or, in other words, if we want physical activity to be beneficial to us and not harmful, we must supply our bodies with all of the tools they need to grow and adapt to the stress of exercise.

New to exercise or not, all of us should seek out optimal nutrition to greatly enhance our exercise efforts.  Remember, training itself is only half of the puzzle.  In addition to proper training, proper nutrition can very well be the difference between an Olympic champion and an also-ran, or the difference between a first-stringer and a "bench warmer."  And more importantly for most of us, proper nutrition can allow us to use exercise as a stimulus to grow stronger, healthier, and more resistant to aging throughout our lifetime.    

Stimulus - Response

Curling72_3In simple terms, when we exercise, we're creating what's called a stimulus-response reaction.  In this sense, exercise represents a "threat" to the status quo of the body.  The demands of exercise ideally cause the body to adapt by growing progressively stronger and more efficient.  Obviously, we want the stimulus (the workout) to result only in the desired response (i.e. building muscle, building endurance, or getting faster, stronger, leaner etc.) and not in injury and degeneration.

But what if the stimulus (our workout) is excessive, and actually does more harm than good?  What if our body just can't repair the damage we've caused, and, instead of the response we’re hoping for, our body actually begins to break down under the stress of training?

There are many times when this sort of harmful effect of exercise is noticeable.  The first is what could be called the "weekend warrior" syndrome.  An individual who is either new to exercise, or who is resuming exercise after a prolonged layoff, often has the tendency to overdo it, pushing his or her body beyond the limit of what could realistically be defined as "exercise," and more towards a form of ritualistic self-torture.

All of us who exercise have tested our limits in this way at one time or another, and have suffered the aching muscles and sore joints as painful reminders of the fact that we are indeed mere mortals.

And even well-trained athletes, whose bodies may have long since adapted so as not to experience muscle soreness per se, are often plagued with a host of more chronic conditions.  Joint and connective tissue degeneration and chronically impaired immune function, for example, are common in many high-level athletes.

Study Link - The effect on immunity of long-term intensive training in elite swimmers.

Exercise At The Cellular Level

Tcell There's no doubt about it, when looked at from a cellular level, intense exercise can be downright harmful.  Exercise has been shown to damage the very delicate structure of the cell and its components, activate our immune system, and cause significant increases in markers of inflammation.

We've written several times in the Integrated Supplements Newsletter about the harmful nature of this sort of metabolic damage called oxidative stress.  All of us suffer some degree of oxidative stress simply as a byproduct of normal metabolic functioning and aging, but bouts of intense exercise have been shown to cause massive increases in oxidative stress as measured by significantly elevated levels of damaged cellular fats (called lipid peroxides) in trained individuals.

Studies have shown that levels of inflammatory chemicals and these lipid peroxides may remain elevated for a full seven days after a single training session.

Study Link - Oxidative stress and antioxidants in exercise.

Quote from the above study:

"In summary, a variety of exercises damage tissue and can induce leukocyte infiltration and provoke extensive oxidative damage. Oxidant production by white blood cells is the most likely cause, as indicated by increases in systemic markers."

Intense exercise fries our cells, and the inflammatory "fireworks" it produces light our cells up like the fourth of July.  Exercise causes the production of huge amounts of harmful free radicals which rip through our cells like wildfire, destroying membranes, lipids, proteins and genetic material in their wake. This is exactly the sort of damage that any health-conscious person should be trying to prevent - not cause.  So, if exercise leads to such extensive damage, how the heck can anybody claim that exercise is so healthy? 

But alas, we all know that the human body is a masterwork of biological engineering, and we know that our body isn’t going down without a fight just because we decide to impress our fellow gym-goers by taking on those 100-plus pound dumbbells.

So, how exactly does our body respond and ultimately adapt to training stress, and how do these adaptations prevent total cellular devastation each time we exercise?

Antioxidant Enzymes and Exercise

Anybody whose been kicking around the fitness and nutrition industry for a while has surely heard of antioxidants - compounds which neutralize free-radicals and protect our cells from the damaging effects of stress and aging. 

And exercise, as we just mentioned, produces a ton of free-radicals, so it's logical to think that antioxidant supplementation, things like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, etc., may be valuable in preventing the excessive free radical damage caused by exercise.

And studies have shown that antioxidant nutrients do seem to work in this regard - at least a little bit:

Study Link - Exercise-induced oxidative stress before and after vitamin C supplementation

Quote from the above study - "It was concluded that exercise-induced oxidative stress was highest when subjects did not supplement with vitamin C compared to either 1 day or 2 weeks of vitamin C supplementation."

But the damage inflicted upon our cells by exercise can be so intense, that antioxidant nutrients may not be nearly enough to fully protect us.  And besides, many antioxidant nutrients aren't even able to be delivered to where the real action is - deep within the cellular structures called mitochondria.

Protecting The Power Plants

Smokestacks_2 You probably remember from your high school biology class that the mitochondria are the energy-producing "power plants" of the cell.  This is true, and it's also the main reason that the mitochondria in particular take such a beating during exercise.

Like sparks flying off of a campfire, the free radicals produced during exercise can pose a serious threat to everything in their vicinity. Just as one wayward spark from a campfire is capable of setting a whole forest ablaze, so too can the free radicals produced during exercise trigger a vicious chain reaction of mitochondrial and cellular damage. 

Exercise-stimulated free radicals are spewed out like machine-gun bullets damaging the lipids, proteins and even the DNA of the mitochondria.  And in order to clear up the resulting cellular debris, our immune system is called upon to mop up the damage.  White blood cells called leukocytes go about their business of "cleaning-up" this mess in a way similar to how they would handle and invading virus or bacteria.  In the process, they release even more destructive free radicals, which trigger inflammation and even more cellular damage.  Ultimately, if the sum total of this damage is severe enough, it could even trigger the death of the entire cell.

With exercise causing this sort of extensive damage, it's no wonder we often notice muscle soreness for a day or two after a good workout.  There’s a lot of cellular junk to clean up, after all.  But when you think about it, muscle soreness seems to be at its worst when we're new to exercise, or when we're beginning to exercise again after a prolonged layoff.  Have you ever wondered why this is?

Glutathione - Master Antioxidant

The stress of exercise is so intense, that our body tries to protect itself by taking matters into its own hands so to speak - our body doesn't just sit around waiting for us to pop antioxidant vitamins before it sets to work defending itself against our next exercise session.  Desperate times call for desperate measures and our body actually manufactures the "heavy hitter" antioxidants itself.

In other words, in response to the stress of exercise, our body can stimulate its own production of powerful antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes to protect us.  And, in fact, these endogenous (produced within the body) antioxidants often put nutritional antioxidants to shame when it comes to how effective they are at protecting our tissues.  This is largely because the antioxidants our body produces can go to work where it counts - inside the mitochondria.

One such knight-in-shining-armor antioxidant is called glutathione.  Hand-in-hand with an enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, glutathione can halt the chain reaction of free-radical damage produced during exercise by neutralizing such compounds as lipid peroxides and hydrogen peroxide.  In simple terms, glutathione is able to prevent a large portion of the damage inflicted by exercise and therefore helps to maintain the efficient functioning of the mitochondria.  Not only does this help to keep our cells youthful and vibrant, but it can also improve our exercise performance and recovery as well.

Glutathione is produced in our body from the amino acids glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid, and it, and the enzymes it needs to function, are produced in greater amounts in well-trained athletes.  The protection glutathione offers to those of us who workout regularly is probably a major factor explaining the health-benefits of exercise, and the improved longevity of workout enthusiasts.  When we stimulate antioxidant systems (like those involving glutathione) through exercise, these antioxidants not only protect us from exercise-induced damage, but also improve the very structure and function of our cells day in and day out for a lifetime.  But it takes time and consistent training to build these antioxidant systems to healthy levels.  This is probably a major reason why on-again, off-again training may actually do more harm than good. 

Remember how we noted that muscle soreness (i.e. damage) is always the most intense when starting, or re-starting an exercise program?  This is, in part, due to the fact that it takes consistent training to build and maintain glutathione function at heightened levels.  Strong antioxidant defenses and resistance to oxidative stress are the holy grails of exercise, and whether you realize it or not, heightened glutathione function is a huge part of what makes exercise healthy.  High levels of glutathione, and healthy mitochondria are two of the most direct markers of longevity yet discovered by science:

Study Link - Oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA is inversely related to maximum life span in the heart and brain of mammals

You’ve probably heard about the dangers of "yo-yo" dieting somewhere along the line, but there could easily be another parallel phenomenon known as "yo-yo" training.   You know what we mean - the type of training where you hit the gym hard for a few weeks, only to take the next few weeks off; and where this cycle repeats itself several times a year.  With sporadic training like this, it's possible to suffer all of damage of exercise and few of the benefits because our antioxidant systems never get kicked into high gear like they would with consistent training.  So, to reap the true benefits of exercise, stick with it, even if the going gets rough or your schedule gets busy.

What About Elite Athletes?

Runner But that's not to say that elite-level athletes are completely resistant to the harmful effects of exercise either.  Although they may have developed some protective adaptations to training, many elite athletes still wear themselves down by chronically and grossly over-training.  Yes, our body can protect us by producing glutathione, and yes, its production (and the production of its accompanying enzymes) is up-regulated by exercise, but that doesn’t mean that we can get away with self-torture.   Even in elite athletes, whose bodies are relatively very well adapted to training, glutathione levels can often be below the optimal range if their training volume is high:

Study Link - Antioxidant status and oxidative stress in elite alpine ski racers

Luckily for any athlete, as we alluded to earlier in this article, there are nutritional strategies which we can gear towards improving our recovery, and reducing the harmful effects of exercise.  We can do this specifically by increasing our production of glutathione. 

Boosting Glutathione With Whey Protein

We mentioned that Glutathione is produced in our body from the amino acids glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid, so as it turns out, the foods we eat, especially protein-rich foods, can directly influence glutathione production.

But before you fall for the "the-more-protein-the-better" mentality shared by many athletes and bodybuilders; and before you begin scarfing down massive amounts of the cheapest protein supplements you can find, realize that not all sources of protein are able to increase glutathione.  This is one major reason why, with protein supplements in particular, protein quality is so much more important than protein quantity.

Whey protein, and in particular, undenatured whey protein like that found in Integrated Supplements CFM® Whey Protein Isolate, is one of the few nutritional substances known to increase glutathione levels significantly. 

Study Links - Effect of whey protein isolate on intracellular glutathione and oxidant-induced cell death in human prostate epithelial cells

Antioxidant Activity of an Ultrafiltration Permeate from Acid Whey

And why is undenatured whey protein so important, you may ask?

The reason relates to the fact that our bodies' ability to produce glutathione is largely dependent upon the amino acid cysteine.  Cysteine is what's called a rate-limiting substance for glutathione synthesis, meaning, that while the other components of glutathione are usually plentiful in our body, cysteine is often lacking.  Think of an assembly line where one part of the product to be produced is in short supply and you'll get an idea of how important rate-limiting substances are to the metabolism - just one such deficiency can hold up the whole metabolic "factory." 

Now, of course, whey protein is an excellent source of cysteine, but that’s not all.  Undenatured whey protein, or whey protein which is produced so as not to break down or destroy and fragile proteins, is also a source of a very rare and delicate protein called glutamylcysteine

As the name implies, glutamylcysteine is part cysteine, and part glutamic acid, both bound to each other.  In essence, glutamylcysteine is two-thirds of glutathione present "prefab" in whey protein.  In essence, the production of glutathione is a "snap" for our body if glutamylcysteine is present.

It's worth noting too that the other amino acid in glutathione, glycine, is relatively lacking in whey protein.  For this reason, we’ve formulated the six flavored versions of Integrated Supplements CFM® Whey Protein Isolate with added glycine specifically to further support glutathione synthesis.  To the best of our knowledge, no other whey protein isolate on the market contains added glycine.

So, this glutathione-boosting effect allows whey protein isolate to stand head and shoulders above other protein sources when it comes to supporting immune function, antioxidant status, and overall health.  Despite the meaningless so-called "benefits" attributed to other protein sources (like the nonsensical "slow-digesting" or "timed-release" effect often attributed to cheap denatured calcium caseinate powders, for example), the fact is that there is simply no better protein supplement available for supporting muscle building, and recovery from exercise than whey protein isolate.

But because of the care which goes into its production, quality whey protein isolate is relatively expensive, and the companies selling it often make less profit.  The vast majority of the companies who use whey isolate in their products at all often "cut" it with cheaper types of whey to save money.  Right now, supplement companies are hard at work trying to sell you protein supplements which are little better than animal feed in the name of good nutrition simply to increase their profits.  If you fall for their schemes, you'll never reach your full athletic potential, and you could even end up doing more harm to your body than good.

We've formulated Integrated Supplements CFM® Whey Protein Isolate to contain only the patented CFM® brand of filtered whey protein isolate - absolutely no other types of protein are used.  There’s no ion-exchange whey isolate in it, no resin filtered isolates, no whey concentrate, no hydrolyzed whey, no lactose, no cholesterol, and no artificial flavors or sweeteners - just the cleanest, most undenatured protein available, CFM® whey isolate.

(For more detail on the different types of whey protein, we invite you to read our whey protein article.)

Exercise As An Anti-Aging Strategy

Done properly, and with sufficient nutritional support, there is probably no more effective anti-aging strategy than regular physical activity.  So, by all means - get out there and exercise!  Keep your body active.  Go to the gym, or go for a run, or a walk, or a hike.  But remember, the more intense your training is, and the harder you push yourself, the more you'll need to protect yourself as well.

So make sure you . . .

Eat lots of real, unprocessed food, like fresh fruits and vegetables loaded with antioxidants.
Get plenty of rest
Drink plenty of water
And make Integrated Supplements CFM® Whey Protein a part of your daily routine.

Your body will thank you for it for years to come.

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