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If you’ve picked up an energy drink or pre-workout product recently, you may have noticed a common ingredient – taurine. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about taurine; specifically, why it’s in these products and what the proposed benefits are.
What is Taurine?
Taurine is an organic acid that contains a sulfur. Taurine is similar to the other sulfur containing amino acids, methionine, cystine, cysteine and homocysteine. It is a crucial amino acid for human and other species’ pre-term and newborn infants. Adults can make their own taurine; however, are probably somewhat dependent on taurine from food. Taurine is highly concentrated in meat, fish, and dairy products and is abundant in the brain, heart, breasts, testes, gallbladder and kidneys. The average human does not need to worry about taurine deficiency because it can be synthesized by the body from cysteine when vitamin B6 is present. Deficiency can occur in premature infants fed formula and in various disease states, like an error in inborn metabolism impairing one's ability to synthesis taurine.
What does Taurine do?
Taurine has several biological functions, including serving as a neurotransmitter in the brain, as a stabilizer of cell membranes, and as a facilitator in the transport of ions like sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Like GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), taurine is an important inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain; containing anticonvulsant and antianxiety properties. Taurine is able to act on glycine receptors, which mediates it's anti-anxiety effects. Some research has also suggested that taurine may have antidepressant properties, especially in people with diabetes. It acts as both a cell protecting agent by stabilizing cell membrane health, as well as exhibiting antioxidant like effects.
Why is Taurine Added to Energy Drinks and Pre-workouts?
There is ongoing research looking at the effects of taurine, specifically in diabetic patients, for depression, and as an ergogenic aid for athletes and active individuals. Here is a look at what has been studied so far:
Research has suggested that 3 grams of taurine in supplemental form (in addition to food intake) a day is a safe dose. Higher doses have been tested and well tolerated, but there is not enough evidence to suggest lifelong safety at higher doses. Common energy drinks and pre-workout products vary from 500 mg to 1,000 mg of taurine; therefore, unless you’re consuming multiple cans per day or several scoops of a pre-workout, you’re probably okay in regard to taurine levels.
Overall, taurine does have some potential benefits, such as helping to keep the heart, liver, kidneys, and eyes healthy, working as an antioxidant, and providing relaxing, sedative effects that could help someone with anxiety and/or depression. Clearly, there are conflicting results, but there does also appear to be some evidence suggesting that taurine may improve athletic performance under the right conditions. Like always, further research is needed!
Baek, Y. Y., Cho, D. H., Choe, J., Lee, H., Jeoung, D., Ha, K. S., ... & Kim, Y. M. (2012). Extracellular taurine induces angiogenesis by activating ERK-, Akt-, and FAK-dependent signal pathways. European journal of pharmacology, 674(2-3), 188-199.
Balshaw, T. G., Bampouras, T. M., Barry, T. J., & Sparks, S. A. (2013). The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle-distance runners. Amino acids, 44(2), 555-561.
Berton, O., & Nestler, E. J. (2006). New approaches to antidepressant drug discovery: beyond monoamines. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7(2), 137.
Hanna, J., Chahine, R., Aftimos, G., Nader, M., Mounayar, A., Esseily, F., & Chamat, S. (2004). Protective effect of taurine against free radicals damage in the rat myocardium. Experimental and toxicologic pathology, 56(3), 189-194.
Neubauer, O., & Yfanti, C. (2015). Antioxidants in Athlete’s Basic Nutrition.
Rutherford, J. A., Spriet, L. L., & Stellingwerff, T. (2010). The effect of acute taurine ingestion on endurance performance and metabolism in well-trained cyclists. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 20(4), 322-329.
Shao, A., & Hathcock, J. N. (2008). Risk assessment for the amino acids taurine, L-glutamine and L-arginine. Regulatory toxicology and pharmacology, 50(3), 376-399.
Sung, M. J., & Chang, K. J. (2009). Correlations between dietary taurine intake and life stress in Korean college students. In Taurine 7 (pp. 423-428). Springer, New York, NY.
Wood, R. I., & Stanton, S. J. (2012). Testosterone and sport: current perspectives. Hormones and behavior, 61(1), 147-155.
Zhang, C. G., & Kim, S. J. (2007). Taurine induces anti-anxiety by activating strychnine-sensitive glycine receptor in vivo. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 51(4), 379-386.
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By now, all my readers should know that I love sleep! Getting adequate sleep is one health facet that I discuss with all my clients, because it is the easiest, most effective way to start feeling better, fast! And, if you are an athlete or an active person, getting adequate sleep is one of the simplest ways to help your performance.
Everyone requires different amounts of sleep. Personally, I need at least 6 hours to function, while, if my husband gets even that much he feels groggier – so strange, I know! I tell my clients and athletes to aim for at LEAST seven hours. This ensures you are getting a good amount of rest and recovery, and that you get a decent amount of time in each sleep stage, including REM and non-REM sleep.
If you wear a Fitbit or another tracking device while you sleep, you have probably noticed you go through several different stages of sleep throughout the night. These stages include several non-REM and a REM sleep stage. During non-REM, brain activity is reduced, so you will not be dreaming during these stages. Non-REM sleep is the dominant sleep stage and includes several phases. During the first phase you are in a very light sleep; your eyes are closed, but you probably wake up very easily. During the second phase, you are still in a light sleep, but your heart rate begins to slow, and your body begins to prepare for deep sleep. Finally, during the third phase you are in a deep sleep. When woken up from this stage you may feel very disoriented… ever happen to you!? During non-REM sleep is when your body repairs, regrows, and rebuilds (bones and muscles); and this is when your immune system is strengthening. Quite literally, non-REM sleep helps with physical recovery! This is important for anyone with a strenuous job or participating in intense workouts.
So, how does REM sleep help us? This article “Everything you Need to Know about REM Sleep” explains it very well! REM sleep stands for Rapid Eye Movement sleep. This type of sleep is when the brain is highly active, you experience rapid eye movements, your muscles are nearly paralyzed, and you are probably dreaming. REM sleep only accounts for 10-20% of your total time spent sleeping, which is why you may have a hard time remembering your dreams, or why you may feel like you never dream. Just like non-REM sleep, REM sleep is beneficial for our health in many ways. REM sleep can help you:
Lerner, I., Lupkin, S. M., Sinha, N., Tsai, A., & Gluck, M. A. (2017). Baseline Levels of Rapid Eye Movement Sleep May Protect Against Excessive Activity in Fear-Related Neural Circuitry. Journal of Neuroscience, 37(46), 11233-11244.
Naiman, R. (2017). Dreamless: the silent epidemic of REM sleep loss. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1406(1), 77-85.
Total daily energy expenditure or TDEE is the total energy or calories used in a day. There are four components that make up TDEE: resting metabolic rate (RMR), thermic effect of food (TEF), non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), and exercise energy expenditure (ExEE).
Resting metabolic rate is the energy used by an individual for all cellular processes necessary to maintain life while lying around all day. AKA, the amount of energy or calories burned just to lay around and do nothing. For a 5’2”, 100-pound women, this is somewhere around 1200 calories. For sedentary individuals, RMR accounts for approximately 70-75% of their daily energy expenditure. RMR is different for everyone and changes based on weight, height, age, sex, and lean body mass.
Thermic effect of food is the increase is energy expenditure above RMR in response to the ingestion of food, which includes digestion, absorption, transport, and cell assimilation. Quite literally, we are using energy/calories when we eat food – energy is needed for digestion, absorption, and the transport of food through our GI tract.
Exercise energy expenditure is the energy used during exercise or activity. Exercise is defined as movements done for the purpose of improving or maintaining health or performance related physical fitness. Exercise is the most variable component of daily energy expenditure and changes based on the intensity, duration, mode, and frequency. On any given day, the expenditure from exercise can range from zero calories (for the non-exerciser or on rest day) to several thousand calories (think marathon or triathlon training).
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is the energy expenditure resulting from activity or movement that is not considered exercise. These movements may include fidgeting and activities of daily living, like walking, talking, gardening, or doing the laundry. One of the reasons sitting has been deemed the new smoking is because maintaining posture is considered a component of NEAT, and we maintain posture more regularly when we are standing. Sitting expenditure is lower than standing, as standing requires muscle contractions to maintain balance, which uses energy.
You can think of RMR, TEF, ExEE, and NEAT as the components that make up your metabolism. So, what are some ways to increase TDEE and ultimately metabolism?
Allison Tropf, MS, RD, CSSD
Allison is a Sports Dietitian in Michigan. She enjoys helping others reach their nutrition and fitness goals through reliable and trustworthy recommendations.
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