The science of muscle fatique, how to get less fatique and more performance

by Paul Reller, L.Ac

Understanding muscle fatique will enhance your ability to train harder without injury. Research has uncovered that the physiological cause of muscle fatique is the leaking of calcium ions due to overuse tissue injury. Calcium ions carry much of the energy that your muscles utilize to exert strong contraction, and when the tissues of muscle innervation are torn during normal workout, calcium ions leak into surrounding tissue, eventually causing muscle fatique. When calcium ions accumulate, the firing of the muscle is weakened, local circulation is reduced, and surrounding tissue irritation causes excess inflammatory reponse. These factors work together to inhibit continued strong firing of the muscle. If the local tissue is not cleared of irritating chemicals, a myofascial trigger point syndrome may develop which chronically hinders muscle firing, and also causes chronic pain.

The tissues of innervation in the muscle are called the sarcoplastic reticulum. Like all muscle tissues, when there is strong overexertion, tissues experience microtears and physiological damage that needs to be repaired. Muscle soreness is one symptoms of normal damage to tissues from exertion. A holistic protocol allows the athlete to pay attention to all of the needs of the body to repair tissues, clear accumulations, and restore a healthy supply of nutrients for the next workout. Maintenance of optimum circulation to the area and promotion of optimum stimulation of tissue regrowth are key to performance enhancement and quick healing. Anabolic steroids helped the athlete to stimulate faster tissue repair, but with the banning of performance enhancing chemicals, the athlete must again turn to enhancement of their own natural hormonal health, and a complete array of factors that combine to provide optimum tissue healing and performance.

Calcium channels in the endoplastic reticulum are voltage dependant. Treatment with acupuncture and electrical stimulation has been researched and found effective to relax muscles and enhance this metabolism. Repair and maintenance of these calcium ion channels, as well as natural calcium channel blockers, may be utilized to increase endurance by inhibiting excess leakage of calcium ions. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are oxygen free radicals that exert extracellular stress on these calcium channels, causing increased calcium leakage during heavy workout. The right antioxidant chemicals will help the body clear these ROS to decrease damaging stress on calcium ion channels.

Fatique is also induced as a response in the brain to heavy exercise. Excess production of serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan and the catalyzing enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase produces a sense of fatique in the brain that is very powerful. Scientific study (cited below) confirms that one of the herbs that is sold as Siberian ginseng, Acanthopanax senticosus, is able to reduce these neurotransmitter excesses and thus reduce fatique sense as well as caffeine. Propolis, Siberian ginseng, Astragalus and Ligustrum fruit are combined in Health Concerns Full Force tincture to help achieve less sense of fatique to increase athletic stamina. Acupuncture stimulation was also proven to decrease these fatique causing physiological excesses in the brain, and a study cited below shows this proof.

Underlying health problems that affect athletic performance

Along with soft tissue maintenance, myofascial release, professional guidance with herbs and nutrient supplements, and unique instruction in targeted stretch and exercise, the Licensed Acupuncturist is also able to analyze and treat health problems that get in the way of optimum performance, such as asthma, allergies, hormonal imbalances, menstrual irregularities, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, etc. Treatment of various nagging underlying health conditions with natural holistic medicine may greatly aid the athletic performance.

Herbal and nutrient products that can be utilized safely to aid the optimum natural performance, enhance tissue repair, insure the optimum circulation and utilization of blood nutrients

Some of the Chinese herbs that have been used for centuries to enhance athletic performance are heavily researched, and work by stimulating the natural systems in the body, not be replacing these systems with drugs. Some examples include Herba epimedii (Yin yang huo), which was cited in a 4th century BC herbal classic as a bodybuilding agent, and contains chemicals that have been shown to exert calcium channel blocking which vasodilates arteries, enhances immune activity to modulate inflammation, and has potential to enhance hormone metabolism. Cistanche deserticola (Rou cong rong) is also listed as a bodybuilding agent in the Chinese classic, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, and scientific study has found that animals show prolonged endurance and increased ability to perform in oxygen deprived conditions with sufficient dosage of this herb. The herb is also able to stimulate the hypothalamus pituitary axis to increase natural anabolic steroid metabolism, and has been shown to aid tissue repair and immune response. Adaptogenic herbs aid the body’s natural ability to handle physical stress, and herbs such as Rhodiola rosea and Eleutherococcus (Siberian ginseng) are well studied and proven to enhance both endurance and performance. Rubus coreanus Miguel (Fu pen zi, or Cha tian pao), a genus of black raspberry, was proven to significantly reduce exercise fatique in animal studies, and proven to be a potent antioxidant as well, boosting antioxidant effects by 150-300% in studies. Schisandra chinensis (Wu wei zi) is another much studied medicinal berry that if found to have both adaptogenic and antioxidant effects, increases endurance, increases physical working capacity, and benefits swimming under load in an atmosphere with decreased air pressure (see study cited below). Reishi mushroom is a well known immune enhancer, but is also shown to increase ATP production in studies. Cordyceps is another immune enhancing herb that has been shown to increase ATP production. Propolis is derived from bees, and various types of propolis have been proven to act as metabolic stimulants, antioxidants, and exert liver protective effects. A high content of usable amino acids are found in propolis, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, precursors of human growth hormone, as well as glycine, proline and threonine, which aid cartilage repair. These and other beneficial herbs are available in professional formulas that are safe and effective.

The supplements mentioned above can be prescribed in the correct manner, given with beneficial herbal formulas, and myofascial release and deep tissue massage to enhance your athletic training. This would be a complete regimen tailored to individual needs by this physician. Below is a list of various key nutrients, herbs and formulas that may be utilized to create the optimum protocol for each individualized strategy.

  • Creatine: Creatine depletion in muscles during heavy workouts has long been documented. While supplements are popular, there is a healthier way to insure adequate creatine availability. 50% of creatine is made from other amino acids in the liver, kidney and pancreas. Ingested creatine is highest in wild game meats and fish. Wild ocean fish (not farmed) will supply much creatine along with healthy fatty acids. Vegetarian foods high in certain amino acids (arginine, methionine & glycine) will provide the building blocks for creatine production in the body as well. Glycine is abundant in a healthy diet, but these other amino acids may be supplemented. Supplementing with L-arginine and SamE is recommended. L-arginine is the enzyme most crucial to efficient creatine biosynthesis. Herbs with arginine include shudi/rehmannia, coriander and white mustard seed/baijiezi, as well as yiyiren/white pearl barley. Foods with arginine, methionine & glycine include lentil, mungbean, chickpea/garbanzo, fava bean, kale, spinach, asparagus, pistachio, sunflower seed, sesame seed & pumpkin seed, as well as soy. Barleygrass is also rich in methionine and many important nutrients. Dried barleygrass sprout is a valuable supplement, both for nutrition and as an inflammatory regulator. Herbal formulas to aid kidney and liver function and health along with the synergistic acupuncture treatments will greatly benefit efficiency in creating creatine for athletic training. Creatine phosphate has been found to be depleted by some muscle fibers at the point of muscle exhaustion, although this is not associated directly with muscle fatique during single high-intensity exercise bouts, but may be associated with fatique during workouts with repeated high-intensity exercise routines. Also, heavy long workouts create a higher need for key enzymes in anaerobic muscle use, and various amino acids could help the body decrease fatique in these circumstances.
  • Myelin: myelin forms the sheaths of the nerves and is the tissue that carries the nerve conduction; essential fatty acids, EPAQ/krill oil, L-arginine, & 5HTP, along with intake of healthy oils, nuts and seeds, will all be helpful to increase efficiency of myelin biosynthesis to aid training. Pumpkin seed oil, for example, will help build myelin and creatine as well as providing rich essential fatty acids for inflammatory regulation.
  • Antioxidants & Collagen: whole grape extract, a potent antioxidant for the tissues that contains resveratrol (increasing endurance), as well as whole pomegranate extract, are shown to be contain some of the best types of antioxidants to clear muscle and joint tissues of excess oxidant radicals. Combining these with natural collagen type 2 in the supplement Collagenex, is proven to deliver the needed collagen to effect faster tissue remodeling in joints and muscles after damaging heavy workout. This most important joint and tissue nutrient was heavily researched at Harvard Medical College to find a bioidentical supplement that was proven to actually contribute to increased collagen type 2 needs in joint tissue remodeling. Other antioxidants of merit include Vitamin C (Astr C) and coenzymeQ10-H2. An article explaining the various types of antioxidants can be found elsewhere on this website.
  • Collagen type 2 & topical glucosamine and MSM supplement: Studies at Harvard have confirmed that the most usable collagen II is obtained from a purified extract of collagen from analogous chicken tendon tissues. Whenever there is strong workout, tissues are torn and need to repair quickly. This increases the need for collagen type 2, and your cells may not be able to produce enough to achieve as fast as tissue repair as you would like. Health Concerns uses the latest study information to formulize Collagenex 2, with eggshell membrane chemicals to improve absorption and utilization. Typically, athletes have taken glucosamine and chondroitin to achieve these results, but studies show that these ingredient taken orally do not reach the tissues before they are broken down, and that most companies do not put the advertised amounts of chondroitin in the product due to expense. Utilizing Collagenex 2, and even Resinal E (herbs and enzymes) will help speed tissue recovery after heavy workouts. To deliver glucosamine and MSM directly to the affected tissues, a topical cream is recommended, and bioidentical pregnenelone cream with a variety of tissue nutrients and anti-inflammatory herbal extracts is ideal in this regard. Pregnenelone, as a bioidentical plant extract, is also effective for providing greater bioavailability of precursors for your body to produce DHEAS, or androgen precursor hormone. This strategy increases the anabolic potential without direct supplementation that is considered illegal in modern sprorts competitition, and is very safe and effective.
  • Flavonoids: bioflavonoids are a large class of chemicals common to plants and animals that exert potent antioxidant clearing, modulate inflammatory reactions, improve circulation, and enhance tissue repair; a balanced blend of gentle herbs that contain a variety of flavonoids is found in Flavonex. This will enhance capillary or microcirculation health in the muscle tissues, especially benfiting fast twitch muscle, or heavy, exercise.
  • Calcium and magnesium aspartate: this is the calcium used in the muscle to power the nerve signaling contraction and relaxation as well as to buffer the excess acids produced by heavy anaerobic activity. They are combined with a few herbs in SPZM. Since aspartic acid is utilized in muscle firing, a molecule combining calcium with aspartate insures that more of the calcium will carry to the muscle. All calcium supplements are not the same.
  • PKA: pyroxidine alpha ketoglutinate, a metabolic cofactor in utilization of fats and carbs by the tissues as well as steroid hormone production in the adrenal and other cells is found in Adrenosen, which combines adrenal cortex extract with gentle herbs to enhance athletic performance. Adrenal cortex extract is another means of providing the body with enhanced bioavailability of precursors to natural adrenal anabolic hormones. The added benefits of this approach is that your body maintains the protective regulatory hormonal balances that promote optimum health in all regards. Natural promotion of anabolic hormonal health provides benefits without the side effects and long-term consequences seen with synthetic anabolic steroids.
  • Lcarnitine and alpha lipoic acid: together are shown to increase mitochondrial health to produce ATP, the fuel of your muscles. L-Carnitine L-Tartrate: found in studies to decrease exercise-induced muscle tissue damage, and increase insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3. Other anabolic hormonal effects were not observed in studies. Other beneficial cofactors for improved ATP production include certain metabolites of Vitamins B2 and B3, which are the precursors to FADH2 and NADH, which are required in the body to produce ATP. Increased ATP production is important in athletic activity to provide muscle energy, improve firing, and delay fatique. A sustained release formula of B2 Riboflavin and B3 Inositol hexacotinate is available in the formula ATP Cofactors.
  • Dribose: ATP is the fuel inside of cells, just as calcium ions are the source of energy outside of the muscle cells. D-ribose is required for cellular production of ATP, and when muscles are exerted fully, increased ATP production is required. D-ribose supplement, taken before heavy workouts, may help supply the raw ingredients for this increased production of ATP. D-ribose is a 5 carbon carbohydrate that is easily metabolized. D-ribose is also an essential building block for guanosine triphosphate and neurotransmitter production and bioavailability. Balance of serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, melatonin and nitric oxide is key to healthy central nervous system regulation of fatique and performance. While ATP is not a direct limiting factor in studies of muscle fatique, adequate supply could enhance overall performance, and D-ribose could have indirect effects decreasing fatique in heavy workouts.
  • Larginine: an essential component of creatine, myelin, and collagen; this amino acid also aids tendon repair, as well as other tissues, benefits liver function, and aids antioxidant activity. Arginine is proven to aid immune function, help detox tissues, facilitate in the increases of muscle mass and reduction of body fat, and assists in the release of growth hormones crucial for optimum muscle growth and tissue repair. Decreasing meat consumption may significantly impact arginine availability in the body, and while arginine is generated in the protein digestion an breakdown (the urea cycle), a concurrent increase in arginase enzyme limits the availability in circulation. Arginine in the form of arginine free base is a more effective product, as it is free to be utilized in circulation. Freebase refers to the pure basic form of an amino acid, as opposed to its salt form, which the body uses to store arginine. Scientific studies have suggested that L-arginine and other amino acids were found to speed healing of microfractures in bone, increase local blood supply, supplement growth factors, and improve collagen synthesis. A 2009 study on laboratory animals (Sinha S, Goel SC: Indian Journal of Orthopedics 2009 Oct;43(4):328-34) found that the combination of arginine and lysine exerted significant benefits on fracture healing, assesed with both radiological and histomorphological anaylysis. L-lysine is an essential amino acid found in the food sources, eggs, chees, lima beans, nutritional yeast, soy, potatoes, fish, and red meat. Arginine, on the other hand is not as readily available in the diet, and is also produced in the body when dietary needs to not sufficiently supply it.
  • SamE: methionine: an essential component of creatine which also aids membrane fluidity for more efficient nerve firing and cellular metabolism, and has been shown to aid tendon repair and antioxidant activity
  • Proteolytic enzymes: serratiopeptidase is a powerful enzyme clinically proven to aid tissue repair and inflammatory disorders, and is available in SerraMend. Other more common enzymes are available in Resinal E, a tissue repair anti-inflammatory herbal formula with enzymes, and in Chzyme, an herbal formula to aid digestive function. Nattokinase is also an effective potent proteolytic enzyme useful in clearing of accumlations of protein fragments from tissues. The accumulation of protein fragments in tissues can both decrease function and firing, and cause increased discomfort and pain. Hardening of tissues in dysfunctional states is usually attributed to both calcium ion accumulation and accumulation of protein fragments. Tissue membranes are composed of protein and fat combinations (lipoproteins), and tearing of tissue membranes produces protein fragements that need to be cleared in circulation.
  • Barley grass powder: more digestible than wheat grass but similar in makeup, containing 3 types of anti-inflammatory biologics, enzymes, SOD antioxidant, and other nutrients.
  • Niacin: aids vasodilation and muscle nourishment. Niacin is a form of Vitamin B3, and a number of niacin-like chemicals can be utilized for enhanced circulation and neural firing, and benefit the heart muscle and liver metabolism. Niacinamide and Inositol hexacotinate are 2 forms of B3 that may exert specific effects that you want.
  • Amino acid combinations: various amino acid combinations supply the protein building blocks that the muscles need to repair quickly and maximize lean muscle tissue. While a healthy amino acid profile from food is most desirable, a supplement provides the nutrients when the athlete is not able to consume an optimal diet. Various formulas are available, most of them are very similar, with key ingredients being L-isoleucine, Leucine, and Lysine, essential for tissue repair. Amino Edge by Vitamin Research combines these and other amino acids with iron, potassium, selenium and glutamic acid, which research shows are also helpful to optimum muscle performance. Protein supplements are also widely used in sports performance enhancement, and the choice of a protein source is very important. Soy protein products may create an accumulation of chemicals that are difficult to digest and create some potential health problems. Smart protein products utilize undenatured whey protein and low temperature processing to protect naturally occurring bioactive proteins, and are higher in content of leucine, methionine, glutamic acid, and lysine. Whey protein versus soy protein studies showed that whey has a better biological value (digestability and assimilation of amino acids), better net protein utilization (percent of amino acids converted to usable protein), better protein efficiency ratio (measure of gain in body weight per weight of supplement), better amino acid score, and equal protein digestibility corrected to amino acid score. Soy protein has a better concentration of arginine and glutamine, but these amino acids are more regulated in the body, and protine supplements do not necessarily provide increased availability in circulation. Combining smart protein whey supplement with freebase arginine is clearly the best choice and avoids the potential negative effects of soy that is not properly processed with a fermentation process. If increased glutamine itself is desired, a separate pure glutamine powder is recommended, although glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and stored in tissues with a highly regulated release physiology. For a healthy athlete, glutamine supplementation probably does not help bioavailability, whereas glutamic acid supplementation in whey powder smart protein may aid this regulatory process and provide more optimum use of glutamine as needed in the body .

Maintenance and repair of the body are both aided by a therapeutic regime of acupuncture and soft tissue mobilization, or TuiNa. Acupuncture is able to stimulate any physiological mechanism to help cure illness or improve health. The effectiveness depends on the skill of the practitioner. Acupuncture is also symbiotic with herbal therapies and tonics to achieve maximum effect, and when combined with manual physiotherapies, creates a very effective course of therapy. Repair of tissue injury can be accelerated, pain relieved, and overall health and function of the liver, kidney and hormonal system can be enhanced. Steroid hormones can be at their peak naturally without cheating. Many acupuncturists are now knowledgeable in modern sports medicine and work to complement the care of the trainer and M.D. Peak athletic performance requires a well tuned body and the Licensed Acupuncturist can provide that extra addition to the athletic regime that prevents injury and allows the best performance.