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Part 2: 5 common questions I get about building muscle with one kidney

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

As a bodybuilder with one kidney, I often get asked the same questions from kidney cancer survivors or people with kidney health concerns about protein, exercising, supplements, and water. I posted my first roundup here. Now, check out part 2.

Two dumbbells, with one on top of the other.

Q: I'm no longer taking workout supplements because I have one kidney, and now I feel like I'm not making any progress. Are my expectations too high?

A: Your expectations are not too high for the goals you've set for yourself and your one kidney. But you should adjust your expectations for how quickly you will see these results, whether or not you are using workout supplements. You have to give yourself time, especially if you are bodybuilding naturally. For experienced lifters, it takes 3 to 4 weeks to see muscle growth. For beginngers, it can be up to 8 weeks. Plus, our muscles lose size and strength as we age, so it takes more effort to build muscle. So, have patience with yourself and your body.

Q: I have read that people who do not have fully functioning kidneys should be careful taking vitamins. Is this true?

A: Everyone should be careful taking vitamins, not just people with one kidney or reduced kidney function. Generally speaking, taking too much of any vitamin can cause toxicity. It can lead to nausea, vomitting, muscle weakness, confusion, pain, loss of appetite, dehydration, excession urination and thirst, and kidney stones. If you're concerned about your vitamin intake, start paying attention to these symptoms. Also, ask your doctor for a comprehensive panel to evaluate your vitamin levels and develop a plan to get them to where they need to be.

Q: Are there any supplements you would consider safe for me to take to help build muscle with one kidney?

A: Creatine monohydrate is one of the safest, most researched supplements that you can take to help optimize muscle growth and recovery. Creatine, however, can affect your creatinine levels, so speak with your doctor first before starting adding creatine to your routine. If you want to boost your performance... I cannot overestimate the importance of nutrition. Research shows that eating simple carbs 30 to 60 minutes before a workout will give you the energy you need to push yourself at the gym (if you're eating complex carbs, aim for 2 to 3 hours beforehand). Combine nutrition with a targeted, personalized training program, and there's no doubt you'll see the progress you want to see. (Pro-tip: Want to stimulate muscle growth? Make sure you reach or are close [1-5 reps] to failure on the last rep of your last set.)

Q: I feel tired all the time, which is affecting my performance in the gym. I want to start using protein powder and workout supplements, but I am worried about the impact on my kidney function. What should I do?

A: Supplements will not solve your fatigue issue; they will only mask them. It's like drinking a whole pot of coffee to stay awake when you know you're tired because you didn't get enough sleep the last three days (not that I would know... ;) ). So, before adding supplements to your diet, take an honest assessment of your sleep and nutritional health. Are you getting enough shuteye? Are you eating enough to fuel your body? Are you eating for bulking, maintanence or a cut? If you are trying to lose weight and eating a low-carb diet, you may feel low energy for a few different reasons, including (but not limited to) loss of water-soluble vitamins from calorie restriction, vigrous activity that requires a higher energy intake from food, and loss of potassium and sodium. If you trying to maintain or build muscle, and you feel a loss of energy, you may not be eating enough food (or enough carbs) to compensate for how much energy your body is burning. Your sleep may also be disrupted. Take care of the sleep and nutritional variables first, and if you are still feeling a loss of energy, speak with your doctor. There may be other health factors at play (think hormonal imbalance, reduced renal function, depression, undiagnosed health conditions).

Q: I am considering a plant-based mass gainer. Do you have any recommendations or are these a no for people with one kidney?

A: I would be careful using any type of mass gainer, even a plant-based one. Research shows that in large quantities, mass gainers can cause kidney stones. I wouldn't say it's a no-go, but you do need to be extra diligent about the impact on your body, making sure you intake enough fiber and drink enough water. But don't take this as medical advice; speak to your doctor first before starting any supplements.


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