DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am into bodybuilding in a big way and have made progress, but not enough to satisfy me. I spend long hours in the gym, and I love every minute of it. I can’t figure out what I might be doing wrong. How about nutrition? I haven’t paid much attention to it. Does it have much impact on bodybuilding? – R.R.

ANSWER: Nutrition has as big a role in building muscle size and strength as lifting weights has.

Your question inspired me to search for information on the subject. I found an excellent article written by Jeff Volek from the University of Connecticut. It’s in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, volume 36, No. 4, April 2004, pp. 689-696. Maybe your local library can get a copy for you.

The gist of the article is that what you eat and when you eat it greatly influences muscle growth and the production of hormones that influence muscle growth. Those hormones include insulin, testosterone, growth hormone and insulinlike growth factor, a hormone that promotes growth of all body tissues.

Lifting weights has two effects. It stimulates protein synthesis and also leads to protein breakdown. Muscles grow when synthesis exceeds breakdown.

When amino acids and carbohydrates are taken within three hours after a weightlifting session, protein synthesis greatly increases. Amino acids are the basic units of proteins, and proteins are the stuff of which muscles are made. The amino acids most important for achieving this effect are ones called essential amino acids (amino acids the body cannot manufacture on its own) and branched-chained amino acids, ones that have a special chemical configuration. Let me end it by naming them: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. You can take them in powder form (from a health food store). All that is needed is 6 grams (.21 ounces) of the powder. The carbohydrate requirement can be met with 35 grams (1.2 ounces) of table sugar.

A well-balanced meal within three hours of exercise provides the same stimulus if it has protein and carbohydrates. Good protein sources are eggs, milk, meat, fish and poultry. Fruits, grains and vegetables provide the carbohydrates. Not only do carbs influence protein synthesis, they also restore muscle glycogen – muscle sugar that provides energy for muscle contraction.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have very flat feet – pancakes. I wonder if this is the reason why my feet hurt so much after running. I’m getting to the point where I can’t run the distances I would like to because of foot pain. – F. H.

ANSWER: Some flat-footed people suffer no consequences from flat feet. Others, however, are like you.

With flat feet, the big-toe side of the foot strikes the ground first. Normally the little-toe side should. After the inner side of the foot strikes the ground, the foot rolls farther inward. That puts stress on the foot and the leg and can make both sore.

Try an arch support, which you can find at almost all drugstores. If it doesn’t work, see a podiatrist, who can fashion a custom-made foot support that can keep the feet from rolling inward when they hit the ground.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a runner and a cigarette smoker. I figure that the running cancels out anything bad that comes from smoking. Does this make any sense? – J.F.

ANSWER: Not a bit, but you are not the only one who has written to me with this notion.

Cigarette smoke irritates the breathing tubes. They constrict, and they fill with mucus. Breathing tube constriction and excessive mucus are not useful for running, and they are not negated by it. If you are not coughing now, you will be.

In addition, the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke displaces oxygen from red blood cells. You are shorting your muscles of their oxygen supply. If you don’t feel short of breath from running even short distances now, you will.

It’s a pipe dream to believe running can protect you from cigarette damage.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is it OK to drink alcohol while taking tranquilizers? My daughter does both.

She is an executive with a very stressful job. The tranquilizers keep her calm. She claims she has to drink alcohol because her job involves many social functions, almost nightly, where alcohol is served. I would greatly appreciate your opinion on this matter. – M.M.

ANSWER: Most tranquilizers come with a warning not to drink alcohol while taking them. Tranquilizers depress the transmission of nerve signals between brain cells. So does alcohol. The additive effect of tranquilizers and alcohol can lead to oversedation.

Why does your daughter feel compelled to drink alcohol during the social functions she must attend? I know many executives who had a problem with alcohol addiction and who attend such functions but never feel the compulsion to partake of alcohol simply to please clients.

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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