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Commonly found in energy drinks and other energy supplements, taurine is an ingredient that rarely gets any attention for the energy or performance boost that these drinks and supplements provide; these benefits are often attributed to the sugar or caffeine that saturates the products. However, the contribution of taurine to these benefits is being studied more now. After reading this article, you will know about taurine and the variety of benefits it can provide to training and normal life.
Taurine is an organic acid that got its name after being first isolated from ox bile in 1827 (taurus=bull or ox). It can be found in human bile as well as the brain, heart, retina, and platelets. Taurine is found in some foods, commonly in meat. It is essential for development and function of skeletal muscle, the retina, and the central nervous system, as well as cardiovascular function. Taurine is utilized in antioxidation, osmoregulation, membrane stabilization, the formation of bile acids, and modulation of calcium signaling. Manufacturing of taurine products occurs by extraction from animal products that contain taurine, or using chemistry to create it synthetically from simple ingredients.
Taurine works to assist several functions of the body as mentioned above. I’m going to focus on sharing the functions that I find most important for training in order of importance and strength of evidence (in my opinion).
- Training recovery/Inflammation
After consuming taurine for 14 days before the experiment (similar to creatine, taurine takes time to build up in the tissues), subjects performed 3 sets of eccentric curls to failure using 80% of their 1RM. The subjects experienced increased thiol content in the muscles, decreased muscle soreness, lactate dehydrogenase, creatine kinase, and oxidative damage after the experiment workout. These markers signal that the muscles experienced less lasting damage and increased ability to heal the damage that occurred.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and taurine both have mechanisms for reduced exercise-induced soreness and muscle damage. BCAAs are better at reducing creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase levels than taurine, while taurine is much better at reducing DNA damage. When taken together, this combination reduced muscle soreness and DNA damage and lead to faster recovery from bouts of exercise.
Taurine can significantly enhance glucose uptake (one of the rate-limiting factors of glycogen synthesis) after exercise, leading to higher glycogen stores in muscles post exercise. Adding taurine post workout also increased fat oxidation which was likely related to the ability of taurine to partition carbohydrates for glycogen synthesis.
Several other studies found taurine to reduce exercise-induced DNA damage, lessen the cell damaging effects and oxidative stress of exercise (likely associated with a decrease in superoxide radical production), maintain water balance in the muscle, and enhance the capacity of exercise due to its cytoprotective properties.
The same study that showed less muscle damage after 14 days of taurine consumption (da Silva), also found that strength increased significantly compared to the placebo group. I know everyone out there wants stronger biceps, if nothing else.
Likely due to the enhanced recovery mentioned in the previous section, taurine has been shown (in rats) to significantly increase the amount of voluntary wheel running the rats could perform after a long bout of exercise. The rats ran for 90 minutes, received taurine post-running, and then had the opportunity to run more 6 hours later. The taurine group voluntarily ran 50% more than the saline control group. The taurine seemed to remove signs of exercise-induced fatigue after the long bouts of running for the rats. The exact mechanism for this effect isn’t known yet, but this result could be particularly useful for athletes that train two or more times a day.
A combination of taurine and caffeine (particularly in ratios like those found in energy drinks) has been shown to provide significant performance enhancements in aerobic and anaerobic exercise, as well as cognitive increases in choice reaction time, memory, and concentration. A similar study looking at the effects of these energy drinks found that they significantly increase bench press muscle endurance; the subjects were able to perform more reps to failure over 3 sets with 70% of their 1 rep-max compared to placebo. This same study showed no increases in peak power or average power during a Wingate cycling assessment. However, a separate study also using a Wingate cycling assessment looked at taurine vs. caffeine vs. taurine+caffeine vs. placebo. The study found that all 3 non-placebo groups increased peak power and average power. The taurine+caffeine group had the most performance increase (as one might expect), but the taurine helped to reduce some of the side effects of caffeine (when compared to the caffeine only group) such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. The taurine alone was the best fatigue modulator of any of the groups.
- Fat loss/Diabetes/Reproduction
The rats that ran for 90 minutes in the previous section and then voluntarily ran 50% farther than the non-taurine group also consumed nearly identical amounts of food. This means the taurine supplement group consumed equivalent calories as the control group, despite running 50% farther in the voluntary exercise. Staying consistent with diet and exercise for fat loss is easier when hunger isn’t a big factor.
In a study of overweight and obese Japanese men, taurine supplementation decreased triglycerides and an index called the “atherogenic index” defined as (total cholesterol X HDL cholesterol)/HDL cholesterol)) significantly. Body weight decreased significantly (by 2%) in the taurine group without utilizing any other diet or exercise changes. Taurine seems to produce a beneficial effect on fat metabolism and may be important for heart disease prevention and fat loss in overweight/obese subjects. Another study noted the addition of taurine supplementation shows clear effects against increases in blood and liver cholesterol and triglycerides. This mechanism of taurine was shown in a later study to be useful for the prevention of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and could be used in the future as a preventative treatment option.
There are also several studies with limited data that suggest taurine has a potential role in the prevention of diabetes/metabolic syndrome. Since taurine affects several mechanisms that lead to metabolic syndrome (shown to the right), many scientists feel comfortable recommending taurine supplementation for prevention of these conditions.
A 2012 study in rats with diabetes found that taurine supplementation could help relieve wasting (loss of body weight), testicular damage, defect spermatogenesis, systemic oxidative damage, DNA damage, and low testosterone caused by diabetes. These benefits were mainly due to the antioxidant effects of taurine. A separate pilot study also found that diabetics absorb taurine less (~32% less) and excrete taurine more (~35% more) than non-diabetic individuals—further pointing to the benefit of taurine supplementation in diabetics.
The testosterone boosting effect has also been seen in rats with chronic supplementation and was particularly beneficial for “aged” rats. All the age groups (baby, adult, aged) saw significant increases in testosterone, with the aged rats getting testosterone boosted back up to normal adult levels. While this wouldn’t lead to steroid-like gains like many testosterone-boosting packs (and the salesmen that distribute them) want you to believe, chronically higher testosterone would likely have body composition and libido benefits. Taurine supplement stimulates the secretion of luteinizing hormone and testosterone, elevates testicular antioxidation, and improves sperm quality. Male reproduction (especially in aged animals) receives significant improvements with taurine supplementation.
It’s not just men that get reproductive benefits from taurine supplementation though! The relative risk of acquiring altered glucose metabolism (such as gestational diabetes) during previous pregnancies was higher as taurine levels decreased—a significant, inverse relationship even after adjusting the data for confounding factors like age, body mass index, and family history. A separate study looked at breast feeding found that taurine levels plummeted in mothers that were vegetarian (even those that still consumed dairy and eggs), putting the infant and the mother at risk of health complications—even if they did not have any other risk factors like obesity.
- Gut Health
Taurine has an important function in nutrition and control of endocrine functions. In mice, taurine was studied to see the effects on gut bacteria and metabolism. The taurine inhibited the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, providing benefit to the overall health of the gut. The taurine also increased metabolism in the gut.
- Brain Health
While people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, and Huntington diseases are rarely the people that would be training, the benefit these people can get from taurine could make it possible for them to be able to exercise more in general. In addition, the effects seen in this next study could go beyond improvements in cognition only for these populations; though the evidence so far only supports cognitive boosts in people with the above diseases.
Taurine has shown benefit previously in many forms of dementia; this study focused on Alzheimer’s. Mice with the equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease received taurine in their water for 6 weeks. These mice gained back their cognitive prowess, which made them equivalent to the age-matched mice without Alzheimer’s! The exact mechanism for the regained cognition is not known. However, it seems taurine hinders amyloid-β (assumed to be one of the main contributors to Alzheimer’s) from causing as much damage in the mice with Alzheimer’s, as well as providing protective effects like those mentioned above at the end of the training recovery/inflammation section.
There is a lot of research coming out in support of taurine; the studies I referenced were only a few of the ones I found that were more specific to training or that I found particularly interesting. Taurine benefits several systems of the body, and (similar to creatine) I believe that everyone can get a benefit from supplementing it. The general recommendation for supplementing taurine is 3-6 grams each day. Post-exercise seems to be the best time to supplement it, otherwise the time isn’t very important. You can take taurine with or without food; I mix it in with my post-workout protein and creatine.
- Taurine helps the body heal faster after training, and prevents damage and muscle soreness from lasting as long
- Taurine enhances performance for aerobic and anaerobic exercise, modulates fatigue, plus protects against some caffeine side effects
- Taurine offers beneficial effects for blood lipids as well as diabetes/metabolic syndrome
- Taurine helps men with testosterone and women with pregnancy and breast-feeding
- Taurine inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut
- In mice with Alzheimer’s, taurine allowed the mice to regain cognition to the level of their age-matched peers
- I recommend taking 3-6 grams of taurine every day, with or without food
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