DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What with all the interest in supplements, why is there so little information on amino acids? Shouldn’t we know their names and their function? Any basic information you can supply would be appreciated. – H.H.

Amino acids are of great concern to athletes, especially bodybuilders. They do deserve attention from all.

They are the building blocks of protein. Muscle is protein. The logical conclusion is to up the amount of amino acids in order to up the size and strength of muscles. Not exactly true.

The amino acid requirement is given as protein requirement. The protein requirement of an average person is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kilogram). Athletes need more. A participant in the Tour de France, for example, needs about 1.4 grams per pound (3 grams per kilogram). Bodybuilders strive to get that much protein on a daily basis. Other athletes need less – around 0.54 to 0.8 grams per pound (1.2 to 1.8 grams per kilogram).

It is not necessary to home in on a particular amino acid. If you have a varied diet, you will get all of them. You want the names? OK. They are leucine, lysine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, cysteine, histidine, phenylalanine, methionine, tyrosine and tryptophan. I once knew the names by heart. Your request sent me searching for a biochemistry text.

Athletes often talk about branch chain amino acids. Those are leucine, isoleucine and valine. The theory is that these amino acids take a fast track to muscles and build muscle size quickly. I don’t know about that. They are also said to stimulate the release of fat as a fuel for body energy. That conserves precious muscle glycogen, the sugar that provides muscles with high-octane energy.

I hate to resort to using a phrase such as “balanced diet.” Here I must. A balanced diet provides all the protein and amino acids most need.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Last week, after making a tackle, I got a burning sensation in my left arm and hand. It lasted only a short time. The coach called it a burner and said I will be OK. What is a burner, and will I be OK? – T.T.

The burner question surfaces every football season.

In the lower neck/shoulder region is a network of intertwined nerves that provides the nerves for arm and hand muscles and for the transmission of sensations – heat, cold, pain, itch and touch – from arm and hand to the brain.

In a tackle, if the head is forcibly bent toward a shoulder, the nerve network is stretched. It sends to the brain a pain message felt as a shock or burn.

Burners that last only a few seconds do not result in permanent damage.

Burners that last longer need to be evaluated by a doctor. If the doctor detects a nerve problem, then appropriate treatment prevents lasting trouble.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I never have trouble with acne until football season. Every season I break out with back acne. I do not have a single pimple on my face. Why does this happen? – E.E.

The most plausible explanation is shoulder pads. If the pads rest on bare skin and if they have not been meticulously cleaned after every use, they make back acne almost inevitable.

Start cleaning your pads after every use, practice and game. Every time you put the pads on, wear a clean T-shirt to provide a protective barrier for your back skin.

Get any one of the many acne products you can find on drugstore shelves and use it daily. You won’t see a dramatic improvement overnight. Treatment does not make current acne disappear. It prevents new pimples from forming. It might take six weeks before you see improvement.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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