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Winning Ways:
Eat to Compete

Wednesday, June 17, 1998

By Gregory "Graig" White
SJSports Physical Fitness Advisor

In this day and age of athletes looking to gain an edge over the competition, amino-acid supplements have become a big part of many athletes' training protocols. Aminos have been marketed as high tech supplements that are better than the ones commonly found in the foods we eat.

What are amino acids you may ask? Aminos are the individual building blocks of protein. Several amino acids joined together make a protein. Different combinations of aminos result in different proteins. More than 20 different aminos are used to make all the proteins the body requires. The body can produce all but eight aminos on its own. These amino acids are essential and are supplied by foods rich in proteins such as eggs, milk and meat.

The protein needs of most athletes can be met with 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Why do athletes take amino-acid supplements, if getting the necessary grams of protein from normal food is so easy? The answer, plain and simple is marketing. During intense exercise, protein is broken down by muscle. In response, manufacturers of amino-acids claim athletes should replace lost protein with aminos. However this may not be the best advice.

Muscle protein will be broken down only when glycogen, energy in the muscle, is used up. In order to preserve muscle protein, instead of taking amino acid supplements, athletes should build up glycogen stores by eating more carbohydrates. Eating extra protein in amino acid form will not improve performance. Any protein not used by the body will be stored as fat. The extra weight can reduce speed, also extra protein and amino acids produce nitrogen. Extra nitrogen is excreted from the body by the kidneys. This process, joined with the loss of water during exercise can lead to dehydration which robs an athlete of endurance and strength.

Before investing your hard earned money on the latest amino acid powder or tablets, spend some time with your strength coach to find out how to meet your protein needs with regular food.

Gregory "Graig" White is Head Strength and Condition Coach at Rutgers University in Camden. Graig is a consultant to area high school athletic programs and has probably conditioned someone you know.

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