By Will Brink, author of:
Muscle Building Nutrition
Muscle Gaining Diet, Training Routines by Charles Poliquin & Bodybuilding
Diet Supplements Revealed
Real World Fat Loss Diet & Weight Loss Supplement Review
One of the most common problems faced by strength training athletes is joint
pain. "Oh my shoulder is killing me" or "my knee has been bothering me for
months" or "I have been living on pain killers to get rid of this ache in my
elbow" are common complaints that can be heard in any gym at any time. Oddly
enough however, this topic is not covered very often in most bodybuilding/fitness
magazines. Maybe the topic is just not all that "sexy" or "cutting edge," but if
you're one of the thousands of people whose gains in muscle are being side
tracked by joint troubles, then you don't give a damn about sexy or cutting edge-you
just want relief!
In the past few years I have noticed an increase in letters
and e-mail from people complaining about their joints. In all honesty, I would
estimate 80% or more of most bodybuilders joint pain is totally avoidable. If
you look at people who have chronic joint pain, nine out of ten times you can
see why they would have an aching appendage that causes them pain. More often
that not, they (1) rarely warm up adequately, (2) they train too long and/or too
often, (3) they use overly heavy weights/low reps more often than they should,
(4) they don't take time off to allow their joints, tendons, muscles, etc., to
recuperate from heavy workouts, (5) they use less than perfect form during heavy
lifts, (6) they don't take in adequate nutrients, or (7) all of the above!
Now of course we have all had an ache or pain in a knee, elbow , or other joint
at times, but chronic long term pain is another story. This article is going to
assume that the reader has joint pain NOT because he (or she) is doing any one
of the above seven common mistakes, but has joint pain due to some other factor
out of their control. If you warm up and stretch thoroughly, train for no longer
than an hour three-four days per week, cycle your weights and reps, take time
off when you need it, have good form, take in adequate nutrients, and still have
joint problems... than this might be the article for you.
Types of joint problems
There are of course different types of problems that cause common joint pain in
athletes and "normal" people alike. Bursitis, tendinitis, various types of
arthritis, and other afflictions, can be the cause of a person's aching joints.
Briefly, here is a description of the most common types and causes of joint pain
that afflict athletes:
Arthritis: There are many different forms of arthritis. The two most common are
osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Of the two, osteoarthritis is by far
the most common to bodybuilders and other athletes. Caused by wear and tear on
the joints, osteoarthritis is characterized by a deterioration of the cartilage
at the ends of the bones. The once smooth cartilage becomes rough thus causing
more and more friction and pain. Left untreated and unchecked, this can become
very debilitating for the hard training athlete. Chronic osteoarthritis has
ended the career of numerous athletes.
Bursitis: In our joints there are small fluid filled sacks called bursae. The
bursae's job is to assist in the muscle/joints movement by cushioning the joints
and bones against friction. If these sacks become inflamed and/or injured due to
various causes (see above training mistakes), a chronic pain called "bursitis"
can result. It's most often found in the shoulder or elbow (A.K.A tennis elbow)
but can also be found in other joints of the body. It hurts like hell and can
ruin a workout quickly if left untreated.
Tendonitis: Tendonitis is probably the most common cause of pain to bodybuilders
and other athletes and is (luckily) the easiest to treat. However, if left
untreated and the person just "works through the pain," it can become a real
problem that will put a quick end to your gains in muscle. Basically, tendinitis
just means the tendon(s) around a joint have become severely inflamed from
overuse, micro injury, etc. Though it might sound simple enough, for people who
suffer from chronic tendinitis it's no joke and a real pain in the...joint!
Again, this article is going to assume that the reader warms up properly before
working out, does not severely overtrain, yada, yada, yada, as mentioned in the
beginning of this article. If the reader (you?) is in the gym all day, thinks
one set on the bench press is a warm up, and feels anything over 3 reps is high
rep training, than you need go no further to find the answers to what's
bothering your joints!
The treatment options we are going to look at relate to
natural compounds, or mixtures of natural compounds, that could save a person
with aching joints years of pain and possibly even more. Unfortunately, the
treatments offered by traditional medicine at this time are generally of little
use to highly active people. Most of the treatments for joint problems address
the symptoms (pain, swelling, etc) rather than the cause and can often make the
problem worse in the long run. Non-steroidal anti- inflammatories, cortical
steroid injections, joint replacement, and the always useful "stay off it"
advice does not tend to yield the results most athletes want.
If you look at the names of the aforementioned types of joint problems, you will
notice they all end with the term "itis," as in tendin-itis, arthr-itis, and
burs-itis. The suffix "-itis" means "inflammation of " according to The American
Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine. Knowing this, you can see that
bursitis means inflammation of the bursea sack, tendinitis means inflammation of
the tendons, and arthritis means....well you get the point. Medical terms for
afflictions that end in "-itis" tell us that though the causes and
manifestations are different, the final problems is one of inflammation.
Inflammation is characterized by pain, swelling, redness, and less obvious
symptoms. This leads us finally to our list of natural compounds/products that
might just save the joints of the person reading this article who thought their
workouts would never be the same because their joints are giving them so much
trouble. These products tend to address not only the symptoms of the problem-that
is the inflammation-but the underlying causes as well.
As strange as it might seem, the main ingredient (gelatin) in good old Jello
might be just what the doctor ordered for painful joints. Gelatin has been
market world wide for many years as a food and as a supplement. Gelatin is made
from animal collagen. In all animals-including man- collagen is an essential
structural protein that forms an important part of bones, tendons, and
connective tissues. It is a tough insoluble protein that is essential for
keeping the many cells and tissues of the body together. Gelatin contains an
exceptionally high content of two amino acids which play an important part in
collagen formation, namely proline and glycine.
In fact, it takes 43 grams of dried egg whites
or 35 grams of dried non fat milk or 89 grams of lean beef to equal the amount
of proline in just 10 grams of hydrolyzed gelatin. Though the body can form
these two amino acids on its own, it has been suggested that under certain
conditions the rate of synthesis may be insufficient to provide essential body
requirements and degradation can exceed synthetic processes (i.e. there is a
steady loss of body collagen). The intake of hydrolyzed gelatin appears to be an
alternative route to getting chondrocytes (cartilage producing cells) and
osteoblasts (bone forming cells) of the body sufficient amounts of these
important amino acids for making structural proteins. Although chondrocytes are
critical for collagen formation, their number is limited and their ability to
form this much needed protein is influenced by heredity, age, physical activity
(too little or too much), injury, and availability of nutrients.
Although bone metabolism is quite complex and not fully understood, there is a
growing number of studies showing the intake of just ten grams per day of
hydrolyzed gelatin is effective in greatly reducing pain, improving mobility and
overall bone/cartilage health. Several randomized, double-blinded, crossover
trials have shown improvements in symptoms related to joint pain (Adem et. al.
Therapiewoche, 1991). The people at Knox (the Jello people) have made a product
specifically for bone health and joints called NutraJoint. It contains
hydrolyzed gelatin, calcium , and vitamin C. Calcium is of obvious importance to
bone health and vitamin C is an essential and limiting nutrient for connective
tissue formation. NutraJoint is cheap, has no side effects, and tastes good. I
recommend one packet mixed with OJ with breakfast for people suffering from
A fatty acid with the long and hard to pronounce name of Cetyl Myristoleate has
been receiving a good deal of attention by researchers concerned with joint pain
and health. Being it's difficult for the reader to pronounce-or for me to write
for that matter-I will just call it CMT for the remainder of this article, OK?
Discovered by a researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CMT looks
very promising as a compound that greatly reduces joint pain due to a variety of
causes. In animals CMT was found to be very protective of joints from different
chemicals that would normally cause arthritis in these animals. Though the human
research at this time is not as solid as we would like, CMT has already
developed a following with some alternative medical practitioners and by those
who suffer from joint pain. Several bodybuilders I work with swear by the stuff
though I cant vouch for it at this time as I have had no personal experience
with this product. Also, its effects seem to work rather quickly and relatively
small amounts can be used. 12-15 grams spread out over an entire month appear to
be effective. Exactly how CMT works is unclear but it might have something to do
with a reduction in pro-inflammatory prostaglandins (see below) or some other
mechanism. EHP Products Inc. makes a CMT product that is endorsed by the
researcher who discovered it. They can be reached at 888-EHP-0100. A company
called G nS Marketing also sells CMT (they call it CMO) and can be contacted by
Flax oil for everything!
Many bodybuilders and other athletes are starting to see the many benefits of
flax oil for all sorts of uses. One obvious use of flax oil is a reduction in
pain due to any type of inflammatory condition, including joint troubles. To
understand why this is so, the reader must now endure a crash course in the
topic of essential fatty acids and the many products made by these fatty acids
found in the body. If you already know all this stuff you can skip over this
material, but if you don't know it, you will need this information for the rest
of the article.
The definition of an essential nutrient is anything the body cannot make itself
and therefore must be obtained from the diet. We need to eat an assortment of
vitamins and minerals, approximately nine to eleven amino acids, and two fatty
acids to stay alive and healthy. The two essential fatty acids (EFAS) are called
linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. The first being an Omega-6 fatty acid
and the latter being an Omega-3 fatty acid. If the term "Omega-3 fatty acid"
rings a bell for you it should. Fish oils are also well publicized and
researched Omega-3 fatty acids (see below) that have been shown to have many
benefits. "So what does all this have to do with my aching joints?" you are
thinking. Ok, here is the skinny on why you had to endure that previous section.
Flax oil is exceptionally high in Omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid).
Omega-3 fatty acids, from fish, flax, etc., have been shown in the scientific/medical
literature to reduce inflammation of any kind.
Remember the "-itis" part of the word relating
to joint problems? How do you think non- steroidal anti- inflammatories work?
They reduce inflammation, but they also come with potential side effects and
health problems. So how does flax oil do this wonderful thing? From both of the
essential fatty acids the body makes something called prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins are very short lived hormone-like substances that regulate
cellular activity on a moment to moment basis. Prostaglandins are directly
involved with regulating blood pressure,inflammatory responses, insulin
sensitivity, immune responses, anabolic/catabolic processes, and hundreds of
other functions known and yet unknown. The long and the short of all this,
without going into a long and boring biochemical explanation, is: Omega 3 fatty
acids are responsible for forming the anti -inflammatory prostaglandins and the
Omega 6 prostaglandins are responsible for making many of the pro-inflammatory
prostaglandins, and other products derived from EFAS. A high intake of Omega 3
oils reduces inflammation (and pain) by this mechanism. Obviously, it's a lot
more complicated than that, but hey, I only have so much space to write.
People who add in 1-3 tablespoons a day of flax oil to a protein drink, or over
a salad, often notice a reduction in pain in their joints, not to mention all
the other great things EFAS can do for the hard training bodybuilder. Flax oil
can be found in any large health food store under such brands as Flora, Omega,
Barleans, and several other names (Even better than flax perhaps, Udo's Choice
oil is a great blend of different oils. More info can be found at Udo's site
connected to the links section of this web page).
High quality kitchen sink formulas
I call these products "kitchen sink formulas" because they add in just about
everything you could want in a formula for painful joints. Two high quality
product of this type that come to mind are the Natural Pain Relief products by
Inholtra and The Life Extension Foundation. These products contain Glucosamine(s),
Chondroitin Sulphate, the fish oils EPA/DHA, Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), vitamin
E, fat soluble vitamin C (ascorbyl palmitate), and Manganese aspartate. "So what
does all this stuff do?" you are asking yourself. Briefly:
Glucosamine is considered by many as one of the best natural products for the
treatment and prevention of cartilage degeneration. It is in essential part of
cartilage, synovial fluid, and other components of joints. Chondroitin sulphate
is related to glucosamine and is part of a family of modified sugars that form
structural molecules in cartilage. As mentioned previously, the Omega 3 fish
oils (EPA/DHA) are renowned for improving pain and inflammation in joints and
other areas of the body. GLA is a fatty acid derived from the Omega-6 class of
fatty acids but has been shown to have many properties similar to that of the
fish oils/flax oil in its ability to reduce inflammation through the production
of the favorable anti-inflammatory/anti-auto immune prostaglandins.
The anti -
oxidants vitamin E and C are added because it is well known that free radical
pathology is part of the damage that takes place in the joints. Finally, the
trace element manganese is needed as a co- factor in many enzymatic processes
related to cartilage synthesis and cartilage integrity. Now you know why I call
them kitchen sink formulas! Taken singularly, the above ingredients appear to
have marginal effectiveness. Taken as a complex, they appear to be very
These are very well rounded and complete-though slightly different-formulas for
people looking for some relief to their joint troubles, or any chronic
inflammatory condition for that matter. However, I have found most people will
need to take more than the manufacturer recommends to see real results, though
this is not true 100% of the time. The Life Extension Foundation can be
contacted by calling 800-826-2114 or http://www.lef.org
Conclusion and Recommendations
If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from chronic joint pain when
you hit the gym, first make sure you are not making any of the most common
mistakes outlined in the beginning of this article. Secondly, get an opinion
from a good sports medicine doctor as to exactly what your problem is. You don't
want to self diagnose what could be a serious problem. Finally, start with one
of the above products and see if it improves your condition. Wait at least a few
months before you make your assessment. Add in a second or third product if you
don't think you are getting the results you want, which would be of course less
pain and greater mobility through the joint in question. Hey, I never said it
was going to be cheap and easy, but if serious joint pain is taking all the fun
out of your workouts, it will be worth your time and money. See you in the gym...
Diehl-HW and May EL. "Cetyl myristoleate isolated from Swiss albino mice: an
apparent protective agent against adjuvant arthritis in rats." J. Pharm-Sci,
Cochran C. and Dent R., "Cetyl Myristoleate - A unique natural compound valuable
in arthritis conditions." Townsend Letter for doctors, #168:70-74, 1997.
About the Author - William D. Brink
Will Brink is a columnist, contributing consultant, and writer for various
health/fitness, medical, and bodybuilding publications. His articles relating to
nutrition, supplements, weight loss, exercise and medicine can be found in such
publications as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life
Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body
International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women?s World and The Townsend Letter
For Doctors. He is the author of Priming The Anabolic Environment and Weight
Loss Nutrients Revealed. He is the Consulting Sports Nutrition Editor and a
monthly columnist for Physical magazine and an Editor at Large for Power
magazine. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the
natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and
He has been co author of several studies relating to sports nutrition and health
found in peer reviewed academic journals, as well as having commentary published
in JAMA. He runs the highly popular web site BrinkZone.com which is
strategically positioned to fulfill the needs and interests of people with
diverse backgrounds and knowledge. The BrinkZone site has a following with many
sports nutrition enthusiasts, athletes, fitness professionals, scientists,
medical doctors, nutritionists, and interested lay people. William has been
invited to lecture on the benefits of weight training and nutrition at
conventions and symposiums around the U.S. and Canada, and has appeared on
numerous radio and television programs.
William has worked with athletes ranging from professional bodybuilders,
golfers, fitness contestants, to police and military personnel.
See Will's ebooks online here:
Muscle Building Nutrition
A complete guide bodybuilding supplements and eating to gain lean muscle
Diet Supplements Revealed
A review of diet
supplements and guide to eating for maximum fat loss
He can be contacted at: PO Box 812430
Wellesley MA. 02482.
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