Marathon Series Part 2: Muscle Care for Marathoners

Published on July 25, 2016 by Dr. NavNirat Nibber

Avid runners know the thrill of completing a marathon, the overwhelming sense of accomplishment when you cross that finish line after months of training. Imagine if you will, you are approaching the finishing line after 42 arduous kilometers and months of training, as you approach suddenly your muscles start cramping. So how can you build muscle? What causes these cramps? What can you do to prevent them, and how do you manage them when they suddenly come on? Keep reading to find out.

How to pump you up!
Marathon trainers are often well acquainted with the notion that building muscle mass is an integral part of their training regime. Increased muscle mass allows for increased strength, improved metabolism and joint support. As we age metabolic changes result in the progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. A number of proteins are involved in the modulation of muscle mass. Inhibition of muscle genesis is mediated by the protein myostatin and an enzyme called senescence associated beta galactosidase (SA-β-Gal.) While muscle generation is increased by follistatin, and muscle tissue differentiation is mediated by the proteins myogenin , MyoD, MEF2A, Myf5. Studies have shown that the levels of myostatin and SA-β-Gal will increase as we age, while follistatin, myogenin and the differentiation factors will all progressively decrease. Factors affecting these key proteins can promote healthy, non-exercise dependent, muscle growth.

Epicatechins are a type of molecule called a flavonoid which is found in high concentrations in green tea and dark chocolate. Flavonoids are a group of molecules that are derived from plants and have a very distinctive structure which makes them very strong antioxidants, and different types of flavonoids exhibit many effects based on receptor activation, or impact on signaling systems.

The antioxidant effects of epicatechin have been well documented. Further research has indicated epicatechin may play a role in supporting the vasodilator, nitric oxide which explains the cardiovascular effects of this flavonoid. New research has exposed epicatechin’s role in building strong and healthy muscles through a number of mechanisms. Epicatechin supports mitochondrial function in muscle cells. This helps the muscle maintain energy. Epicatechin also supports the follistatin mediated inhibition of myostatin, which as we described above can lead to increased muscle mass.

Muscle Cramps, cramping your style?
The involuntary contraction of muscles can be attributed to 3 major causes: circulatory, nerve conduction, and electrolyte imbalances. Circulatory insufficiency, possibly from narrowing of the blood vessels, limits the oxygen reaching the muscles. This shifts energy production to be anaerobic thereby increasing production of lactic acid. This can accumulate and interfere with appropriate muscle contraction, causing cramps. This will also impact the electrical gradient formed by the presence of electrolytes that surrounds nerves and exists within tissues. As mentioned this can be due to poor circulation, insufficient consumption of minerals (sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium) or from dehydration. This alters the muscle contraction as well as the nerve conduction that stimulates muscle contraction.

Prevention lays in addressing these causes. The simplest way to prevent cramps is adequate hydration. Further, hydrating with electrolyte solutions, and not the kinds that a full of sugar, and ensure that the muscles are bathed with all of the ingredients necessary for proper impulse and contraction. Circulation can be improved by ensuring that the vasodilatory molecule, nitric oxide, is in present. Nitric oxide is produced in the body, but precursors can be obtained from dietary  l-arginine and nitrates, such as those found in beets ( See our posts on the benefits of nirtic oxide here and here.) Repleting mineral deficiencies, particularly magnesium, can restore regularity of contraction. You can read Dr. Hrkals breakdown of magnesium supplements to find the right form for you.  When a cramp suddenly comes on it is important to “reset” the muscle and restore normal contraction. This can be achieved by rehydrating, and stretching the muscle, further, manual therapies such as trigger point ( or active muscle) stimulation can provide some relief. A previous post here on Dr. nibber also discusses treatments for sports injuries, particularly the benefits of Boswellia and curcumin for delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), that can speed recovery and get you moving again!

How do you address muscle health when you train? If you missed part I of our marathon series you can check it our here

References:
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McFarlin BK et al. Reduced inflammatory and muscle damage biomarkers following oral supplementation with bioavailable curcumin. BBA Clinical. 2016 February 17. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbacli.2016.02.003

Kim H1, Suzuki T, Saito K, Yoshida H, Kojima N, Kim M, Sudo M, Yamashiro Y, Tokimitsu I. Effects of exercise and tea catechins on muscle mass, strength and walking ability in community-dwelling elderly Japanese sarcopenic women: a randomized controlled trial. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2013 Apr;13(2):458-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0594.2012.00923.x. Epub 2012 Aug 31.