Muscles! Just the word conjures images of brawn, strength, aggression, and doggedness. How strange to have all these associations when the muscle is only a bunch of connective tissue with the unique ability to shorten when stimulated by an electrical signal from the nerves.

A muscle is a system made up from varieties of tissues, such as connective tissues and muscle cells. I could break these tissues down into more levels of classification, but I’ll just let you know that there are three main types of muscle cells in the body — the cardiac muscle in the heart, the smooth muscle in and around many of your organs and blood vessels, and the skeletal muscle that moves you around when you exercise.

Depending on your system of classification, there are over 600 skeletal muscles in your body. All these muscles are based on one type of tissue — proteins. Proteins are the basic structural elements of the body.

Proteins in turn are made from tiny subunits called amino acids. Different arrangements can make up different amino acids, which are used to build different things in your body. Twenty different amino acids are required by the body to form the different tissues of the body, such as enzymes, blood proteins, and of course, muscles. There are billions of possible combinations of the 20.

Nine of them can’t be manufactured by the body, so they must be found in the foods you eat. If some of these are missing from your diet, then you’re malnourished and your body won’t be able to manufacture certain proteins, resulting in illness or deformity.

Proteins are formed by linking amino acids together with bonds called peptide bonds. Different proteins can be linked together to form muscle tissue. Two things are required for your body to manufacture muscle mass — a stimulus, such as heavy endurance work or exercise, and a complex chain that links the planning, manufacture, transport, and assembly of muscle tissue.

It’s the complex process of manufacturing muscle that I want to talk about this week, and I’ll leave the exercises that stimulate your body to increase muscle mass to later articles.

I think that everyone interested in fitness has heard of steroids, or if you’ve been paying close attention you may call them anabolic steroids. Just these words conjure up a picture of crazed bodybuilders injecting themselves with big doses of veterinary supplies.

But rather than that, let’s inject a little sense into this discussion. Steroids are naturally present in everyone’s body. They play a vital role in stimulating your body to constantly build protein to replace the tissues that have worn out, or to build up extra tissue in areas of the body under regular strain from work or exercise.

Steroids are hormones formed in special endocrine glands in the body. They are carted around the bloodstream by carrier proteins.

If your body perceives a need for extra muscle mass in a certain area, it will unload some steroid hormones at that site. Steroid hormones are a bit like lipids (fats), so they easily bridge the walls of cells and enter the cells.

Another taxi protein picks up the hormone and transports it across the cell and into the nucleus or inner sanctum of the cell. The nucleus of the cell is the brains of the cell. At the core of the nucleus is the blueprint for the way every cell of the body is constructed.

This blueprint is encoded on deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA as we commonly know it. DNA (another strand of protein) contains the secret instruction codes for manufacturing proteins.

The steroid hormone opens a particular section of the DNA sanctum, collects the code stored there, and then passes the code to a messenger, called RNA (ribonucleic acid). RNA bears the code out of the nucleus to the factory of the cell, where amino acids are pulled out of storage and manufactured into a specific protein according to the code carried by the messenger RNA.

The DNA has codes for manufacturing proteins of all kinds for jobs as diverse as building your brain to building your hair and fingernails.

Protein makes up 10 to 15 percent of every cell in the body. Imagine the complex functions occurring inside your body every second: growth, repair, digestion, heart pumping, lungs breathing, heat production, movement, thinking, hearing, and so on.

Without the amino acids stored in the cell, the messenger RNA, the transport proteins, and the exact hormones, proteins just will not be manufactured. The balance between all these parts of the process of producing proteins is finely controlled by another series of hormones, which are released to keep everything in balance.

By now you should realize that without all the processes of protein manufacture in place, eating or drinking these mega doses of amino acids will be wasted.

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