Having recently attended the International Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conference (ISENC) over at Newcastle last week, I had the pleasure of listening to the man you see on stage to the left of the image of meat. This man was none other than Professor Luc Van Loon from Maastricht University in Holland, he is the World’s leading researcher in skeletal muscle metabolism, which by default makes him a world authority in protein metabolism.
The image above is an experiment that Mr van Loon had his Phd student perform, it is one of the more basic tasks this student will have to complete in their research career, but no less intriguing! The image shows 350g of red meat cut into chunks, with the title ‘Bedrest’ written above it. Believe it or not, the amount of meat you see pictured is the amount of skeletal muscle you lose over your body after just 1-2 weeks of bedrest as a consequence of injury for example. Shocking right!? The total grams of muscle tissue you lose will of course depend on your starting point, but in an average resistance trained athlete… here is what you can expect to lose.
This places the emphasis on pre- habilitation, the process of doing all you can to minimise muscle breakdown as injury occurs. This might involve basic measures such as applying ice, consuming anti- inflammatory drugs and elevating the injured area, right through to eating the correct nutrition e.g. high protein and omega 3’s, and performing isometric muscle contractions if of course the site/ type of injury permits. One of the resounding messages from this particular seminar (which during the conference saw in excess of 20 seminars) was that the injured area could lose around 3% muscle mass in just 1-2 weeks, and that some direct measures may minimise this breakdown.
Diet and minimising muscle breakdown
Many of you will have guessed that nutrition will be key to minimising muscle breakdown during injury, and the chief nutrient in this is protein! During periods of physical stress, protein requirements can rise by up to 10-25% depending on the severity of the injury (and even more in the instance of burns and severe trauma). Ensuring that your body receives between 1- 2g protein per kg bodyweight is crucial at the best of times, so these requirements can increase further still in times of injury. Inflammation is a real issue is recovery from injury, therefore adequate omega- 3 ingestion is important for its inflammatory mediation. Add to this the importance of getting in the full range of vitamins and minerals in order to aid tissue recovery and connective tissue repair and muscle wastage should be ameliorated.
Direct methods to minimise muscle breakdown
This is new and cutting edge stuff so research is still coming out on it, but Prof. Luc van Loon went on to explain how new evidence has shown that Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) may reduce, or even stop muscle wastage completely if applied to the injured area. It should go without saying that this should only be performed by a professional practitioner and not attempted yourself, but several studies (one of which was performed on comatose patients in intensive care) seem to demonstrate the skeletal protective nature of NMES (Dirks et al. 2014). However these studies also showed that muscle preservation with NMES was only possible if dietary protein intake was adequate via the diet.
Dirks, M, L., Wall, B, T., Snijders, T et al. (2014). Neuromuscular electrical stimulation prevents muscle disuse atrophy during leg immobilization in humans. Retrieved 23rd December, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24251881