I Hope This Doesn’t Make Your Head Hurt

There are many dangers that can come from participating in physical activities.  In many cases, athletes are required to put their bodies on the line to perform the best that they can.  Unfortunately, this can lead to many different types of injuries that are detrimental to the athlete’s well being.  There should always be an attempt to avoid injuries but, in many cases, they cannot be evaded.

One of the most common types of injuries is a muscle tear/sprain.  To many people this may not seem like a big problem, but a muscle tear/strain can be extremely dangerous.  In addition to rest, protein is necessary to muscle repair and growth.  More details into this can be seen in a previous post.

Another common, yet dangerous, injury is the concussion.  Over 3.8 million concussions occur each year due to sports related injuries.  Although athletes with concussions are advised to rest and are not given anything else to help them, there may be other options available to improve their condition.

A study shows that high doses of fish oil (omega 3 fatty acid) can reduce the brain trauma caused by concussions.  Rats treated with fish oil received a 98% reduction in brain damage after a concussion when compared to rats not given fish oil.  This is believed to occur because omega 3 fatty acid has properties that appear to reduce inflammation.  In the case of a concussion, it can reduce the neural inflammation in the brain and therefore reduce brain damage.  Omega 3 is able to do this because it produces not as much and less active prostaglandins when it attaches to the prostaglandin-creating enzyme COX 1.  This is compared to the amount that the body usually produces with omega 6.  Prostaglandin is a chemical responsible for inflammation, so omega 3 helps to reduce inflammation by not producing as much of it.

Overall, omega 3 fatty acid can be useful in treating concussions and is recommended to be taken immediately if possible to reduce neural inflammation as much as possible.


Protein and Exercise: Worth the Money?

Almost all athletes and coaches recognize and understand the importance of having a good nutrition when it comes to sports performance. Many studies have been by scientists and their results have been published in sports science and sports medicine journals. These scientists have shown that nutrition can have a major impact on the molecular, cellular, and bodily functions that occur during exercise and recovery. In this post, we will primarily look at protein and protein supplements, and to what extent is it actually useful to athletes during exercise and post-exercise recovery.

For a person over 18 years, the current dietary reference intake set by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) is 0.8 grams per kg body weight per day. However, this does not factor in how much physical activity one does. Sports scientists and nutritionists agree that the intake number is greater for athletes, as protein is needed to aid the repair of muscle fiber damage, to help muscles adapt to training conditions, and to help replenish energy. The ADA recommends protein levels for endurance athletes 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg body weight per day, while for resistance and strength-trained athletes 1.6 to 1.7 g/kg body weight per day.

In order to look at whether protein ingestion helps during exercise, studies were done using energy substances that contained both protein and carbohydrates (CHO).

These studies used these substances, and compared how people did in actual exercise when they took at as they were exercising and when they did not. The results were that there basically was no difference in performance when both of the exercise trial results were looked at. A similar study was done with amino acid supplements, but like these studies, the results showed that there was no difference in performance no matter whether the supplements were consumed or not.

Taking in proteins immediately after exercise is probably the most beneficial way to get something good out of proteins. This is because it helps the body create muscle proteins, while at the same time replenishing the body’s supply of glycogen. Here is a diagram of how protein come into play in muscle synthesis:

What scientist are debating is whether protein is able to do its two main jobs during exercise recovery when it is taken with carbohydrates, especially during a prolonged recovery. This would be something that lasts a few hours. However, some sports scientists have done studies that show that when protein is taken with carbohydrates after exercise and then exercise is done subsequently after, there is no difference in performance from if none of these substances were taken at all.

In conclusion, based off the studies that we have seen and read about, we conclude that the best time to have protein is immediately after exercise. It has the best effects, especially with muscle recovery. We also highly suggest that you all follow the ADA’s set and idealized standards for daily protein intake. If you want to learn more about protein and how it effects the building of muscle, check out this video:

Protein and Building Muscle

Stay Warm in These Cold Times

As we get further and further into the winter season, the days will become colder as we go on.  However, this does not stop athletes from going outside and participating in activities.  Athletes try to tough it out through the harsh weather, but they still try to stay warm in any way that  they can.


Over a variety of other items, one of the most convenient, popular, and easy to use is the hand warmer.  Hand warmers utilize exothermic chemical reactions to produce heat that the user feels.  There are a few different methods for this to happen, but the most common is a classic oxidation reaction that occurs in disposable hand warmers.  The inside of the pouch consists of iron powder so when it is exposed to the air, it starts to rust.  This reaction (4Fe + 3O2 → 2Fe2O3) is what produces the heat that the user feels.  Some other ingredients in the pouch are used to make the hand warmer more efficient.  Carbon is used to spread the heat out more evenly and a compound called vermiculite is used to help insulate the pouch to keep it warm for a longer period of time.


The other type of hand warmer is a reusable pouch with a liquid and small disk inside.  Once the disk is pushed, the liquid appears to freeze and the pouch gets warm.  This is because the liquid is supersaturated sodium acetate (CH3COONa) and is able to crystallize once the disk is crushed.  The bonding process for the sodium acetate to become sodium acetate trihydrate (shown below) crystals is exothermic and that is why heat can be felt.  These crystals also have the distinct and advantageous property to be able to melt at relatively low temperatures.  Sodium acetate trihydrate can melt into its water of crystallization at around 58°C and can even be allowed to cool and remain in this state if it is heated to 100°C.  This allows it to be reused over and over again and why hand warmers are so useful.



The Thermodynamics of Life

Everyone who has taken biology in school has either learned or read about metabolism, catabolism and anabolism. However, these studies did not go very into depth about the thermodynamics of these processes. This is useful to athletes, because metabolism is the source of energy in human beings and could be a major advantage if used to its fullest.


It is easiest to describe these constantly occurring reactions as a process in order to aid understanding. In this example, a molecule containing potential energy is broken down into many smaller particles, releasing energy. In the catabolic reaction, the system is exothermic and has a positive entropy change due to more moles being in the products. Thus, the Gibbs free energy value is negative and this reaction is spontaneous.


Anabolism, on the other hand, is the opposite, requiring energy and building a few larger molecules from many small ones. This makes the system endothermic with a negative change in entropy, which means the Gibbs free energy value is positive and this reaction is non-spontaneous.

One very important metabolic process is respiration.Image

This uses catabolism to take the energy of bonds in large molecules and transfer that to the cell in order for it to undergo necessary functions. This is a reaction that occurs in all cells of all people to keep them alive. However, one important piece of respiration is oxygen, because respiration is an aerobic reaction. When athletes stress their bodies, oxygen is not able to circulate to every cell in the body as efficiently and this usually causes a lactic acid fermentation reaction to occur.


This is where there is still a demand for energy in the cells, but there is no oxygen so another pathway to energy is used which has the by product of lactic acid. Lactic acid gets a lot of grief from athletes, but the science behind the legs of lead is more interesting than one might realize. What is actually happening is that so much lactic acid is being produced that not all of it can be flushed out fast enough and the increase in acid lowers the pH of the body, subjecting the athlete to temporary acidosis, which causes the pain and the screaming instinct to stop.


(Skip to 2:20 for the race)This video shows Michael Johnson, an American sprinter breaking the world record in the 400m. Johnson is probably one of the best at managing the pain of acidosis from running, and he is certainly the best athlete from his event. But how did he get such big muscles to have such efficient metabolic reactions?

The buildup of tissue comes from anabolism. This is what requires energy in the metabolic process and is associated with the feeling of soreness after a workout. However, this soreness will be worth it, because whenever the new tissue is created it is stronger and better suited for the job it is doing. Michael Johnson got to where he was from hard work and practice. However, there are some in the professional sports world who gain an unfair advantage from using anabolic steroids.


Steroids are banned from professional sports for two main reasons. Morally, the competition is not as legitimate and rewarding if all of the people are using muscles they did not develop themselves and naturally. Perhaps more importantly, anabolic steroids can also have adverse side effects that are dangerous to the health of the athlete.

The fact of the matter is that science does not care what the authorities have said and thermodynamics are still going to work even under a ban. Whether it is ethical or not is not relevant to the reaction, but it is clear that anabolic steroids can help to build muscle which is useful in breaking the home run world record.

Umbrellas Can’t Help You Here

In many activities such as gymnastics, climbing, and weight lifting, there are dangers present if something were to slip due to moisture buildup on the hands.  Measures need to be taken in order to avoid accidents.  This is why people that participate in those activities put what is known as chalk on their hands before they start.

The chalk that they use is magnesium carbonate (MgCO3).  MgCOis a white salt with a trigonal crystalline structure that has a variety of uses ranging from building material to laxative.  The reason why MgCO3 is used to keep hands dry is that hygroscopic.  A substance that is hygroscopic can attract water molecules to it, through either absorption or absorption, and suspend it within itself.  These substances will attract water from both the atmosphere and perspiration, therefore making sure that the athlete’s hands will stay dry.  Usually, the substance that is absorbing the water goes through some sort of physical change due to its increase in volume.  Thankfully, the amount of water MgCO absorbs absorbs when compared to its volume is minimal and it does not have a noticeable change.  In more extreme cases, hygroscopic substances may act like this:

Sports chalk plays an important role in keeping athletes safe.  It is important for some to use because it can possibly save their life.

Chill Out: How Biofreeze Works

After a long and hard practice, many athletes not only feel tired and dehydrated, but also feel pain in some parts of their body. In order to combat this pain, pharmaceutical companies are beginning to create products for this sole purpose. One popular product in the sports pain-relieving category is Biofreeze. This is a lotion or cream that is a product of Hygienic Corporation. In order to use this product, all you have to do is apply this cream onto the area that is in pain.

The main ingredients in Biofreeze are natural menthol, ILEX, and camphor. ILEX, also known as Ilex paraguariensis, comes from a type of holly bush that can be found in South America. This has been used by some Native Americans as an amplifier. Thus, it would be used with another medicinal herb to make its effects stronger.

Ilex paraguariensis

Camphor comes from the Cinnamonum camphora tree, which can be found in countries like China, India, and Africa. It has cold properties and has been used by some cultures as a numbing agent for the sensory nerves.


Menthol (C_10 H_20 O), probably most important ingredient in Biofreeze, is an organic compound that naturally occurs in the essential oils of mint plants, such as peppermint and spearmint. This chemical has the property that causes it to produce a cooling effect when it is exposed to one’s skin or when it is inhaled. This cooling effect is only a SENSATION, not an actual drop in temperature.

Structural Diagram of Menthol

Structural Diagram of Menthol

Biofreeze’s pain relieving mechanism has not yet been fully understood. However, scientists have come up with two ideas or this. One is based off of Gate Control Theory. This theory is founded on the idea that pain is transmitted to the brain along 2 different fibers of nerves. The first of these fibers is the A-delta fiber, which is large and carries pain messages that are usually quick and intense. The second is the “C” fiber, which is small and usually carries chronic pain messages. When someone is in pain, the “C” fiber sends a signal to the spinal cord, which sends neuron to the brain, which “produces” the sensation of pain. Basically, Gate Control Theory states that one can block the signals of the “C” fiber by activating the A-delta fiber to inhibit the perception of pain. As Biofreeze is applied, a sensation is sent through the A-delta fiber, which activates an inhibitory nerve. This inhibitory nerve blocks the pain message from the “C” fiber. Thus, the pain is blocked.

Diagram of what is happening

Diagram of what is happening

The second idea is based more off of the menthol in Biofreeze. This theory states that the menthol in the Biofreeze binds with temperature sensitive receptors on the A-delta fiber known as TRPM8 receptors. When the menthol binds, calcium ions are released. It is believed that these ions are what help modulate pain signals through the opiod system of the body. The binding also causes the brain to perceive cold sensations also.

The Road to Gold: Producing Olympic Medals

The Olympic Gold medal is possibly the most iconic symbol of athletic achievement and excellence in today’s society. However, it may be surprising to learn that they are not, in fact, made of pure gold;. Sure, the bronze is made of pure bronze, an alloy made up of tin and copper, and the silver is 92.5% pure. But the gold medal is in fact identical to the silver, only with a 6-gram coating of gold. the process by which this coating is made and applied to the otherwise second-place medal is called electroplating.

Electroplating is achieved through electrodeposition. As the name implies, a coating, most often a metal, is adhered to a surface by an electric current.

As seen in the figure above, the two metals are hooked up to some form of power supply: the recipient metal is negatively charged to act as the cathode, and the donor metal is positively charged to act as the anode. For Olympic medals, the cathode is the silver base, and the anode is pure gold. These metals are then immersed in an acidic solution, usually sulfuric acid in the case of Olympic medals, which also contains a salt of the metal to be deposited. The positively charged portion of the dissolved salt, the metal, is attracted to the cathode and receives electrons, losing its ionic nature and reverting back to its metallic form. The gold anode, meanwhile, is slowly oxidized and dissolves into the solution, replaces those cations being attracted to the cathode.

In order to make this possible, these equations must be taken into account:

Q = m n Na Qe , the amount of charge “Q” required to reduce the depository metal is equal to the number of moles “m” of metal times the number of electrons “n” times Avagadro’s number “Na” times the charge of an electron “Qe“. Avagadro’s number times the charge of an electron is referred to as the Faraday constant “F”.

If the number of moles deposited must be known, and assuming constant current flow, the charge “Q” can be determined with the equation  Q = It , where “I” is the current and “t” is the number of seconds the current is applied.

To determine the weight of the deposition, simply mulitply the number of moles by the molar weight of the metal. Finally, the determine the thickness of the deposit, we use the equation T = w / AD , where “T” is the thickness, “w” is the weight determined, “A” is the area of the recipient metal, and “D” is the diameter of the recipient metal (AD is the volume of the cathode).

Therefore, to determine how thick the layer of gold will be, we can combine the above equations thusly:

T = w/AD = Mw It/nFAD

After the proper amount of gold is applied, the design for the medal heated to 750 degrees to soften the metal, and the desired design is impressed at extreme pressure with a die press. However, there is still more equations and factors in this long and difficult process. Such a lengthy effort for so small object: the result, however, is well worth the effort.