Sports Medicine and Enzymes
last updated 8.25.05

Article for Sports Nutrition Magazine
copyright K DeFelice. January 2003.

Digestion. We all do it. But how well our bodies convert nutrition into something meaningful for our health is what really matters. Poor digestion may cost our bodies more nutrients and energy to process food than we gain from eating in the first place. When I became interested in digestive enzymes for supporting neurological conditions, I found an extensive, well-researched history of enzyme use in sports and healing going back to the early 1900s. Surprised? I was. There are two key uses of enzymes for anyone looking at sustained muscle development and maintenance.

The first obvious use for digestive enzymes is for proper digestion and effective assimilation of nutrients from any source, whether it is from whole foods or supplements. The idea is to get the nutrition from food into our bodies as efficiently as possible to build lean muscle mass and optimal health, rather than passing through unused. Digestive enzymes come from raw foods, your own pancreas, animal pancreas, or plant sources. Your body has a certain amount of nutritional resources and energy to work with at any given time. When resources are devoted to manufacturing enzymes for food breakdown by your body, they are not going into other uses…like muscle building and stamina. By supplementing with enzymes your body does not need to put its own raw materials and energy into digestion or producing the needed enzymes. Getting a boost in overall energy is a characteristic 'side-effect' of starting enzymes. Natural enzyme production decreases with age so digestive enzymes are suggested for anyone over 35 years of age.

Supplementing with plant-based enzymes is preferable over animal derived ones when possible. Pancreatic enzymes are destroyed by the stomach acid and must be protected (enterically coated) to reach the small intestine. Once in the small intestine they are released and begin the work of food breakdown. Plant enzymes are much more stable at different pH levels and temperatures. They are perfectly happy in the acidic stomach environment and begin food breakdown there. Food can be digesting for a good 60 minutes or more in the stomach before the food passes to the intestines (where plant enzymes continue working). Since nutrients are absorbed in the intestines, not in the stomach, this prolonged enzyme activity greatly enhances digestion. Nutrients are ready to be absorbed when they enter the intestines instead of waiting for food breakdown to start. Metabolism is optimized and your body's resources and energy are free for other tasks, such as muscle building or burning fat.

Eating every 3-4 hours along with plant enzymes may enhance this steadier uptake of nutrients, essentially setting-up a natural 'time-released' system. It is an effective way to get the most out of whole foods or supplements. Research shows that nutrition from whole food sources is preferable and better utilized by the body than synthetic counterparts. Whole foods are 'packaged' by nature for optimal use when eaten and science has yet to duplicate this. The synergistic effect you get is not seen when taking nutrients individually.

Since enzymes work on contact, you need to take them each time you eat for food breakdown. Fortunately, enzymes can be mixed in virtually any food or drink, or you can just swallow the capsules. Just be sure to take them at the beginning of a meal. If you are eating every 3 hours or so, one option is to mix the enzymes in any cool beverage and drink some throughout the day.

Enzymes are proteins produced by all living organisms, and, like all proteins, they consist of amino acids. What makes enzyme proteins different is how they behave in the body. By definition, enzymes are catalysts that make many essential biochemical reactions ‘happen’ without being used up or chemically altered in the process. As a catalyst, they help a chemical reaction take place quickly and efficiently. Eventually, the enzyme will wear out and the body uses the component amino acids as they would any amino acid resource.

Enzymes are very specific in their function. Having the right enzyme is like having the right key to open up a specific locked door. You must take the right enzymes for the right food types. If your diet or meal contains substantial amounts of proteins, you want a product that contains proteases. For starches, look for amylases. If you are consuming fats, these are broken down by lipases.

Enzymes tend to have the net effect of regulating body fat into an appropriate range for the individual. As long ago as 1932, Sansum published results on weight from a number of cases at the Potter Metabolic Clinic. Of 197 individuals who were underweight, 91 percent improved by gaining weight with enzymes. Of 29 individuals who were overweight, 93 percent improved by losing weight. Of the 54 individuals who started at an appropriate normal weight, 100 percent (all of them) remained at a constant weight.

Another essential component to optimizing digestive health are probiotics, the friendly bacteria. One of the many benefits these little guys deliver into the system is that they produce needed digestive enzymes and other compounds. Probiotics enhance nutrient absorption and a 'clean' gut. They control the bad bacteria which can release toxins in the body, cause bloating, gas, and malabsorption. Some foods, such as oligosaccharides, specifically enhance probiotic growth and are receiving increasing attention. The combination of enzymes and probiotics can be a powerful aid to intestinal health.
Besides digestion, the other key use of enzymes is for their therapeutic benefits. Proteases in particular are well known for their ability to speed muscle healing, blood cleansing, enhance circulation, promote joint health, provide yeast control, and other benefits. For these goals, you would take the enzymes between meals. I take proteases in between meals to relieve migraines and increase energy levels.

The therapeutic effectiveness of enzymes is so well understood in sports medicine that millions of enzyme capsules are sent to the Olympic training camp for both the German and Austrian teams to aid the athletes in stamina and quick healing. Proteases are also of interest because of their ability to support, enhance, and regulate the circulatory and immune systems – factors that help optimize workouts and muscle maintenance.

During training, the risk of muscle injury and deterioration is possible. The problem with some pain relievers is that they may not actually decrease the inflammation or promote healing. By lessening the pain response, you may simply not feel the pain, but risk re-injuring the muscle again before it has adequately recovered. Sports injuries are often treated with protease enzymes because of their ability to effectively reduce inflammation and at the same time speed the real healing of bruises, swelling, and other injuries. A study conducted by Dr. M.W. Kliene in 1990 on the effectiveness of proteolytic enzymes in 100 athletes reported a 'good' success rate in 76 percent of those that took enzymes compared to only 14 percent of the placebo subjects.

If keeping fat metabolized, enhancing muscle strength, and optimizing training is a goal, consider enzymes. Enzyme products will target special needs, so shop around for the right one to match both your diet and your goals. It is not 'you are what you eat', but rather you are what you successfully digest, absorb, and assimilate!

Enzymes Used in Sports Medicine

Enzymes have enjoyed an extensive and highly successful history in sports medicine. Taking oral digestive protease enzymes is a nice alternative to the many prescription and over-the-counter drugs available. Drugs often focus on providing temporary relief from pain and other symptoms. A group of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) is readily available and prescribed frequently, including pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. However, some medications may not actually decrease the inflammation or get rid of the problem. Rather they act by lessening the pain response. This means you just do not feel the pain of an injury, not that the injury has healed. Pain is a mechanism that lets us know that something is wrong in our body. It is much better to repair the damage than to just ignore the injury that is there.

Pain relief and rapid muscle and tissue healing is a great concern to those in sports medicine, including medical professionals and coaches, besides the athletes. NSAIDS provide temporary pain relief but can have dangerous effects on the health of athletes. These adverse effects include digestive problems, a decrease in overall performance, and the potential to make the injuries worse because the pain is masked. An athlete may feel better and use a muscle before it is strong enough. He risks re-injuring the same muscle or joint, sometimes even worse. Taking a pain reliever can be beneficial for our own comfort while the injury is healing; however, attention must be given to repairing the damage itself. Enzymes work to heal the injury, they don’t just mask the resulting symptoms.

Sports injuries are often treated with protease enzymes because of their ability to reduce inflammation and speed the healing of bruises, swelling, and other injuries (e.g. Blonstein 1967; Bucci 1995; Masson 1995). A study conducted by Dr M.W. Kliene and his coworkers at the Sports Medicine Investigation Center in Grunwald, Germany researched the effectiveness of proteolytic enzymes on 100 athletes. The results favored the enzyme treated subjects. Seventy-six percent evaluated the success rate as ‘good’ with protease enzymes while only 14 percent of the placebo subjects reported a good success rate (Kliene et al 1990). The effectiveness of enzymes is so well understood in sports medicine that millions of enzyme capsules are sent to the Olympic training camp for both the German and Austrian teams at the start of the Olympics to aid the athletes in healing quickly.

Several studies showed that when enzymes were taken before surgery, the swelling from the injury left around seven days quicker, on average, than those taking a placebo; post-surgery recovery was also much more rapid (e.g. Duskova and Wald 1999). NSAIDS can actually slow recovery from injuries because they inhibit the body’s natural physiological responses. Although studied extensively abroad, North America has not been as quick to recognize these conclusions, and adopt enzyme therapy.

Wobenzyme is a strong protease that has been extensively used and studied. More reading at this site:

Enzyme/Antioxidant Combo for Wound Support

A combination of bromelain, vitamin C, rutin, and grape seed extract provided significant gains in wound healing of plastic surgery patients, suggests a study from the University of Texas.

For more info on this story, Click Here



Selecting Products
Which Enzymes?
Dosing Guidelines
Mixing Suggestions
Interactions w/ other things
What to Expect Starting
General Trends
At School
Getting Started Step-by-Step
Enzyme Safety

Sensory Integration
Digestive Disorders
Food Sensitivities

Leaky Gut
Bacteria / Yeast

PDD/Autism Spectrum

Autoimmune / Neuro Cond.
Heart/ Vascular Health
Sports Medicine

This independent site is for education and information about digestive enzymes. There is a large need to provide practical and general information on enzyme therapy for a wide range of uses.

Enzymes have been around a very long time. Hopefully this site will help reduce the learning curve.

Ideas, comments, and questions are welcome.

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