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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.
Many of my clients, especially those that are college-aged ask me about alcohol. Specifically, they want to know does alcohol negatively affect their athletic performance and/or body composition. The simple answer is yes. We’ll talk about why and how below. But first, let’s talk about alcohol in general.
Personally, I drink alcohol, socially. At this point in my life I have one or two drinks a couple nights a week; whether it’s trying a new beer with my husband or a night out with girlfriends. What is it about alcohol that is so intriguing? Many use it as a reward or a way to unwind after a long day at work. Others like the way it allows them to let loose and forget about their worries for a while; while others very much enjoy the taste of specific drinks (Moscow mule, anyone). For the general public, sitting down with a glass of wine a couple nights a week is perfectly acceptable. In fact, some research suggests that regular consumption of moderate amounts of wine may protect against certain health conditions.
But what about athletes or people that have specific body composition goals? What role does alcohol play? Even for athletes, alcohol can be part of a well-chosen diet for social interactions; but where athletes run into trouble is when alcohol misuse becomes an issue. Here are some of the immediate effects athletes will feel with overuse of alcohol:
Overall recommendations: alcohol can be part of a balanced lifestyle; however, athletes should avoid alcohol during their training season; especially post-exercise when recovery and tissue repair are of the upmost importance.
Barnes, M. J. (2014). Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(7), 909-919.
Burke, L. M., Collier, G. R., Broad, E. M., Davis, P. G., Martin, D. T., Sanigorski, A. J., & Hargreaves, M. (2003). Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 95(3), 983-990.
Lourenco, S., Oliveira, A., & Lopes, C. (2012). The effect of current and lifetime alcohol consumption on overall and central obesity. European journal of clinical nutrition, 66(7), 813-818.
Parr, E. B., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2014). Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One, 9(2), e88384.
Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), 501-528.
Periodization refers to breaking something up into blocks or stages. With athletes, training is almost always periodized; meaning they have specific stages in training; each of which has a different goal. For example, these stages may look like:
During the competition season, there is usually not as much intense activity and conditioning going on. However, because the reason for competition season is, well um, competition; the athlete may have back to back weekends or even back to back days of competition. Therefore, during the competition season recovery becomes extremely important, so that athletes are ready to perform at their best for their next competition.
I realize that most athletes no longer have a dedicated “offseason”; however, what does fit into the offseason is injury. Obviously, activity level and goals change during injury. The number one goal should be to get the athlete better, so they can come back to their sport as strong or stronger than before.
The demands of these specific training periods put different strain and stress on the body; which means the nutrition needs change as well. Let’s use the example of a young gymnast, to see how nutrition needs change, based on the phase of training.
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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