October 11, 2023
Supplement Spotlight: Muscle Health Blends
Making and maintaining muscle is key for metabolic health through and beyond menopause. The right ingredients can help.
By Selene Yeager
This post is sponsored by our Hit Play Not Pause sponsor Amino Co. The scientific evidence presented is the product of my own research and the personal take is very much my own.
Confession: I didn’t lift at all for about two months (maybe more…) this summer. I know, practicing and preaching. But among training for an Ironman 70.3 and preparing for a seven-day hut-to-hut bikepacking trip in the San Juan Mountains and soaking up every drop of summertime sunshine I could, the weights went untouched for weeks. We’re all human.
And I felt it. I lost that extra oomph that powers me up steep grades on my bike without undue suffering. The stairs felt steeper. Little achy niggles crept into my hips and knees. So with Labor Day in the rearview mirror and pumpkins popping up in the fields, I got back on the program and started lifting and trail running (a fall and winter favorite) in earnest.
I was fully prepared to be hobbled with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) as punishment for my weeks away. Except I wasn’t. In fact, I felt great. And just three weeks back lifting three to four days a week, not only do I have that power in my pedals and spring back in my step; not only are all those niggles in my hips and knees gone, but I also see muscle tone that’s been MIA for months.
I had a little help from one of the muscle health blended supplements out there, specifically an essential amino acid (EAA) and creatine monohydrate blend called Heal from Amino Co (who, yes, is a sponsor of the Hit Play Not Pause podcast; but they’re a sponsor because we love their stuff, not because we say what they tell us to say). And I’m here to say that supplementing my strength work with this type of muscle-protein synthesis stimulating cocktail has worked wonders.
Triggering Growth, Preserving Mass
We’ve talked and written about creatine almost ad nauseam at this point. And really if you’re listening to and/or reading the work of any number of training and muscle-health experts (as well as some brain health experts) right now, you’ve heard about the benefits of creatine from every corner of the internet.
For women in and beyond the menopause transition, research finds that creatine supplementation can help counteract the menopause-related decline in muscle, bone, and strength by reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, and serum markers of bone resorption, while also increasing bone formation. A recent study on older, untrained women found that those supplementing with creatine doubled the strength gained from a 10-week resistance training program compared to those not using creatine. And most recently, a meta-analysis of 10 randomized clinical trials reported that creatine boosts resistance training benefits in women (and men) over 50. The analysis found it also enhances performance in sports that “demand significant cumulative energy” like long-distance cycling, running, or triathlon.
Pairing creatine with essential amino acids makes good sense. Essential amino acids, especially branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine, isoleucine, and valine, stimulate muscle-protein synthesis, the process in which amino acids bind to your skeletal muscle proteins to build muscle. Both resistance training and eating protein help trigger muscle protein synthesis. Pairing the two works even better, which is why we encourage women to get protein in immediately following exercise like resistance training. Using a muscle-health blend with EAAs makes that super easy.
These supplements can help even if you get enough protein in your diet, which can be hard to do on the daily because they provide easily absorbed amino acids when you need them most. And as menopausal women, we need more. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends aiming for at least 10 to 12 grams of EAAs and 1 to 3 grams of leucine a day, in addition to a balanced array of essential amino acids. Research suggests that older women may need 3 to 4 grams of leucine per meal for maximal stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. An EAA supplement helps meet those marks.
Some essential amino acids, especially leucine, also help keep excess inflammation in check, so you’re not unduly sore even after a particularly hard workout session, race, or when you pick up the weights again after some time away.
Using Muscle Health Supplements
As the name suggests, Heal was specifically designed for recovery. So the EAA profile was formulated to help stimulate muscle protein synthesis even when you’re laid up nursing an injury, when muscle loss is usually the worry. In fact, a study on people confined to bed rest for 28 days found that those who employed EAA supplementation (along with carbohydrates) maintained their muscle mass through that period of immobility, while those who didn’t supplement predictably lost muscle mass.
You can use supplements like this on an “as needed” basis, taking higher doses (i.e., 3 scoops twice a day) when training is really tough or you’re injured. I’ve found that it works great just by taking a scoop a day. Though I had been using creatine separately for a couple of years now (and definitely felt it helped with strength), I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well it works synergistically with the EAAs (which I was previously taking more sporadically when I had an especially hard day on tap).
The company claims the Heal blend is three times more efficient at triggering muscle growth repair than any other protein source. It’s impossible to say whether that’s been true for me personally, but last week I paired a leg lifting day with a cross country style 5K race and the next day could skip up and down the stairs just fine, with minimal soreness or fatigue. That’s really the only evidence I need: the stuff works. And now that I’m back on schedule, I’m glad I have it handy to keep making more much-needed muscle.
If you choose to try amino acid supplements, The Amino Co is a sponsor. You can get 30% off with the code HITPLAY and receive a free gift for new purchasers at https://aminoco.com/hitplay.