Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ammonia Smell Post-Run

Reader Question:

Sometimes when I go for a long hard run-- I smell ammonia. I know this is my muscles (protein/amino acids) breaking down actually making ammonia. I thought (erroneously) by drinking a protein shake before running this would help the prevent my muscles from breaking down.  Never again (GI probs) I did also take a goo and water during the run.
Was I just not getting enough gels/carbs? How do I prevent myself from breaking down my muscles into ammonia?

Dietitian Answer:
Ammonia is part of protein's chemical structure.
When we break down protein for energy,
ammonia is deaminated
(cleaved off the rest of the protein structure)
and produces a smell.  

I've heard of this problem from other athletes I counsel so I am glad you asked! You are on the right track with your thoughts: you are likely breaking down muscles and protein to be used as energy. Ammonia is component of protein and the smell is created from the breakdown. Instead of eating more protein, you'll likely do better and feel less ill effects GI wise if you go for carbohydrates. Protein takes longer to digest, so that is why you likely didn't feel good on your run. Carbs our the body's preferred source of fuel and fastest source of fuel. Although we can use fat and protein for energy, It takes longer and isn't as efficient. Plus, it would be nice to keep our muscles! 

If it's a morning run, try some peanut butter and banana toast or oatmeal made with milk 1-2 hours before running. If you don't have that much time, go for a sports bar and/or piece of fruit. Then make sure to get in 30-60 grams of carbohydrates from your preferred source, probably a combination of sports gels or sports drinks. Pick something that you'll likely to eat during the run. If you don't like the pre-made sports foods, raisins or even candy would work. 

Let me know how that goes! If you're interested in some more ideas or more specific suggestions for your training, I am happy to arrange a time for us to sit down. 

Nutritionally yours, 

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