“It smells like cat pee in here” – those are the words (or to that effect) were coming from my wife recently and she was talking about the roome where we place all our dirty laundry. I did not pay too much attention to it as we have a couple of cats and thought that they would be found out as the culprits. However my wife was a little more thorough and she soon narrowed it down to the under shirts I wear whilst cycling and thus I was identified as the perpetrator.
Muscle Tissue Breaking Down?
Even then, other than to make sure that I got my cycling kit washed as soon as possible after exercise, I did not think too much more on the subject. However this changed when the topic of the Ammonia smell that some athletes experience after training came up in an episode of the TrainerRoad Podcast that I was listening to. Obviously this immediately got my attention and even more so when the TrainerRoad guys mentioned that this could be due to your body breaking down muscle tissue to use for energy!
WHAT! This got my attention – Like most serious cyclists, I watch my diet very carefully, with the aim of keeping my weight down, but certainly not if it means losing strength!
SO the idea that my body could be breaking down my muscles was terrible, so I just had to find out more. Below are my findings after doing quite a lot of research.
Please note, I am in no ways an expert and I have only decided to publish this article as I have done the research and thought that it may be of interest to others. As always, if you are concerned about any aspect regarding your health or diet, it is best to seek professional medical advice.
Ammonia and your Body
Chemically, Ammonia is made up of three atoms of Hydrogen (H) attached to one Nitrogen Atom (N) = NH3.
I discovered that the key ingredient here is the Nitrogen as the only macronutrient within our bodies that contains it are amino acids, which also just happen to be the building blocks of protein.
Protein for Energy
As most of us know, the body’s first choice when it comes to energy production is carbohydrates and fats, however if it does not have enough of these, it turns to protein.
However I found out that the body will use some amino acids for energy every day and so in normal circumstances there is nothing we can do about it, nor indeed should it be something that we worry about so long as you supply your body with a good amount of it in the form of Protein.
The problem occurs when there is excessive amount of amino acids being used for energy. But how do we know if this is occurring?
That Smell of Ammonia
The smell of Ammonia is a potentially a signal that your body is burning too much mino acids:
When your body breaks Amino Acids down to use as energy, it removes the Nitrogen atom from the molecule. What is left is converted into glucose and then used as fuel. The body then tries to get rid of the nitrogen in the normal way in your kidneys, forming it into urea and then you excrete it in your urine.
However if there is too much Nitrogen for your kidneys to handle, it gets excreted as ammonia in your sweat. Thus if your sweat smells of Ammonia, it may mean that your body is producing more Ammonia than your kidneys can handle.
Just be aware that instead of you burning excessive amino acids, this could also possibly also be a sign that your liver is not functioning correctly. I discovered that there are many liver diseases that can make it difficult for your body to get rid of ammonia.
High Protein Diet
You could also notice this smell if your normal ammonia levels increase because of a high protein diet.
To excrete Ammonia in your urine and sweat your body needs water to transport it. If you are not sufficiently hydrated, the solution of water will contain a higher proportion of Ammonia and thus is bound to be more noticeable.
If you can exclude these factors listed above then perhaps now we can narrow the problem down to your body burning an excessive amount of amino acids for energy.
What to Do
The obvious solution is to provide your body with enough of its preferred fuel and at the right times. Here you need to make a judgement based on your many factors, including your current diet and when and how hard you exercise, but the main considerations to look into include:
- Adding more carbohydrates and fat to your diet
- Your food intake before and during your training
I hope some of this helps if you have a similar issue. I know that i will be experimenting over the coming weeks in order to find the right balance.