I stink of ammonia when training hard... why?

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I stink of ammonia when training hard... why?

Postby maxxx » Wed Aug 12, 2009 11:08 am

I'm a few months shy of my BJJ purple belt. In order to prove (to myself more than anyone else) I deserve it, I'm putting in more time on the mat. I'm doing two and a half hours of BJJ four times a week.

But when I'm training really hard I end up smelling of ammonia. My wise black belt instructor informs me this is because my body is breaking down protein by knocking a nitrogen atom off the end and burning the amino acids, releasing the nitrogen molecule as ammonia. I also sweat a lot.

So, my questions, if anyone has the answers, are...

1. Am I sweating out ammonia because my body doesn't have enough fluid to keep the ammonia in my urea/urine and dispose of it that way?
2. Am I really breaking down protein/muscle?
3. If so, do I need to increase my carb or protein intake?

To be honest, I've pretty much gone through my 3 years of BJJ with a kind of "roll up and train hard" mentality, not taking any special steps.

Any advice welcome!
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Postby tal » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:18 pm

I don't know. But unless your instructor has a medical degree I wouldn't take what he says as gospel.

I'd recommend going to see a doctor and getting an expert opinion.

Others may have some input though.
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Postby bronco » Wed Aug 12, 2009 8:27 pm

I also have this minor problem from time to time. As far I understand it your trainer is basically correct that the body is breaking down protein for energy. As far as I know the only bad things that comes out of this is the smell.

Eating more carbohydrates might work, if I remember correctly eating some carbohydrates before training has stopped the smell for me in the past. The only other advice I can offer is to soak your training clothes in water after every session.

I wouldnt see a doctor about it.
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Postby Gelert » Thu Aug 13, 2009 9:12 am

It is most likely what has been suggested already to a greater or lesser extent - firstly, ammonia is made when ATP is hydrolysed in muscle to yield AMP, and accumulates if you are doing hard work faster than it can be displaced. The downside to this is that a buildup of ammonia can subtly alter the function of quite a few neurotransmitters. Or it can be the result of digestion of branched chain amino acids.

You may want to reconsider your hydration, nutrition and training so that your muscles aren't being attacked like this as it isn't optimal.

Be aware that it can also be a sign of rhabdomyolysis, which can be caused by excessive muscle strain and has serious consequences for your health (e.g. if it leads to renal failure, 20% of people die from it) or another condition related to liver or kidney function.

So if you are concerned, do see your doctor.
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Postby bronco » Thu Aug 13, 2009 10:47 am

[quote="Gelert"]It is most likely what has been suggested already to a greater or lesser extent - firstly, ammonia is made when ATP is hydrolysed in muscle to yield AMP, and accumulates if you are doing hard work faster than it can be displaced. The downside to this is that a buildup of ammonia can subtly alter the function of quite a few neurotransmitters. Or it can be the result of digestion of branched chain amino acids.

How is the ammonia normally displaced from the muscle? Does a buildup in the muscle lead to secretion of ammonia in the sweat? And if ammonia is allways produced during the hydrolisation of ATP, does this means intake of protein is irrelevant?

[quote]You may want to reconsider your hydration, nutrition and training so that your muscles aren't being attacked like this as it isn't optimal.

In which of the processes above are the muscles attacked?

Hope you dont mind some questions :) .
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Postby Gelert » Thu Aug 13, 2009 11:45 am

Not at all :D

Normally to make energy, the schoolbook version is that ATP is hydrolysed to ADP to release one phosphate group to do business.

ATP --> ADP + Pi

This can be converted back then by your mainstream, heavy duty metabolism

ADP + Pi --> ATP

to be used again.

However, there is a cost-saving mechanism in muscles based around adenylate kinase which takes two molecules of ADP to make one molecule of ATP and one of AMP as a way of keeping down the pool of ADP and clawing back some bonus freebie ATP:

2ADP --> 1ATP + 1ADP

This unfortunately means that there is an increasing pool of fairly useless AMP which is building up. Apparently a bit of AMP boosts glycolysis, but for the most part it is a waste of space. So your muscle cells want to bin it. To this end, AMP deaminase uses water to:

AMP + H2O ---> Inosine monophosphate and NH3

The NH3 (ammonia) can pick up annoying loose protons to become NH4+ (ammonium) and be binned from the muscles fairly easily - out via your urine, ultimately.

If too much is being made in comparison to your urine output generally, then it goes elsewhere - hence the smell.

Now the reference to "attacked muscles" is being a little bit too keen on my part if the above is what is going on. That said, ammonia is toxic, which is why we seek to eliminate it via urea and excretion from the kidneys. If that is insufficient, it is obviously bad news. It is bad news too because it means that the build up of other "bad" metabolites e.g. lactic acid is happening to no small extent.

More severe explanations, for example, rhabdomyolysis, which can occur as a result of prolonged or intense exercise would by definition result in attacked muscles - and maintaining renal function by hydration is key to survival in those circumstances.


On the other hand, breaking down the body's own protein for energy is unlikely - it's a very desperate thing to do. Usually takes several days of fasting before it is initiated, and even then it aims to keep muscle protein.
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Postby Dave Noisy » Thu Aug 13, 2009 7:09 pm

In line with what Gelert is saying, if your body is using protein as a fuel source, it might be indicative of a lack of carbs...

What's your diet like? Mind listing what you've eaten on one of the days this has occurred?
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Postby maxxx » Fri Aug 14, 2009 10:29 am

[quote="Dave Noisy"]What's your diet like? Mind listing what you've eaten on one of the days this has occurred?


As I said, I've pretty much just stumbled through the past few years without giving nutrition any special consideration.

Here's what I'd eaten...

Porridge with soya milk and dates for breakfast
A coffee and a few drinks of water at work
A banana mid-morning
Durum wheat (Ebly) with red/yellow pepper, avocado and marinated tofu for lunch

Dinner after training.
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Postby Herbsman » Sat Aug 15, 2009 11:35 am

Did you ask your doctor?
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Postby maxxx » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:53 pm

Here's what seems to be happening... Lack of fluids beforehand.

I've limited myself to 1 coffee at work, but am making sure lots of water is drunk before and now have a post-training drink (Holland and Barrett chocolate soya protein, 2 tbsp flax seed oil and 2 tbsp glucose).
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