Maintaining Muscle Mass During Cancer Treatments
Advanced cancers often mean intensive treatments with very serious side effects. Often both muscle and fat are lost when cancer progresses and treatments like chemotherapy and radiation are required.
Because so many patients experience chronic nausea and changes in food tastes, they often seem to waste away, and that process in and of itself can limit a doctor’s ability to treat patients.
Many people know about the nausea caused by the chemo treatment, but don’t know about the caloric burn associated with some treatments. Some radiation treatments can burn up over 2,000 calories per treatment. Think about that, when you get on a treadmill or an elliptical trainer, how many calories do you burn. What is more, the radiation stays in your body and can continue to burn calories when you are in recovery after treatment.
Weight loss, from starvation mode, attacks the whole body. Literally, you start eating yourself. Common knowledge is that a pound of fat contains 3,500 calories and a pound of muscle contains 2,500 calories. If you are in the negative of a 1,500 calories a day due to your inability to consume or digest food and the excess calorie burn from radiation:
||% body fat
||Fat Loss per Wk
|Muscle Loss per Wk (pounds)
The better shape you are in, only makes the numbers worse. A person that is 15% body fat will lose 3.5 pounds of muscle and .75 pounds of fat.
Doctors will often encourage patients to “fat up” before treatment. And this obviously helps some, but the muscle loss is still very real, and you will finish treatment with a lower amount of muscle.
Fortunately, however, there are ways to maintain muscle mass during treatment, leading to more positive outcomes. Take a look at a few options now.
- Strength Training: During treatment, it is possible to keep those muscles strong, no matter how weak you may feel. It’s best to begin some light strength training as soon as you begin treatment, but make certain you discuss it with your doctor first. You should do some light training a couple of times a week, but make certain it doesn’t make you feel off-balance or that your platelet count isn’t too far down on training days. If you do decide some strength training is right for you, simple options like straight leg raises, step ups, and heel lifts are your best bet. You may also want to work with a physical therapist or a personal trainer to come up with the right plan to meet your needs. If you follow this path you must intake food / calories / protein because you do not want to increase your loss of calories.
- Stay Hydrated: It may not seem like hydration has much to do with muscle mass, but it’s actually really important. Water is the single most important nutrient your body needs, and it’s as true for your muscles as it is for any other system. If you can’t stand the thought of plain water, flavor it with fruit or cucumbers to help increase your want to drink it. Eating plenty of water packed veggies and fruits can help as well. Veggies and fruits are important in other areas in cancer treatment as often the opioid pain medicines cause digestive issues as well.
- Increase Your Protein Intake: What you eat can matter. Protein is muscle food, and the more you can eat while you’re undergoing treatment, the better off your body will be. While the standard recommendation is .8 grams per kilogram of weight, if you’re trying to keep that muscle mass where it is during intense treatment, you may want to increase that number a bit. Further, the quicker you can consume the protein, the more you can consume, so foods and drinks high in protein can really help.
Trying to decide where to get your protein? We carry a full line of all-natural protein shakes and all-natural liquid egg whites to help make your life just a little easier and keep your muscles just a little stronger.
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