- Do You Need Amino Acids?
- Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
- Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
- Want to know more about Protein?
- Should I Be Taking Amino Acid Supplements When I Work Out?
- 6-Reasons Why You Should Take BCAAs Today
- Why Do BCAAs Matter?
- What Makes Them ‘Essential’
- Six Reasons to Take BCAAs
- How to Take BCAAs
- The Take-Home Message
- Essential amino acids: Definition, benefits, and foods
- What Are Amino Acids and How Do They Benefit You?
- What Are Amino Acids?
- Foods Containing Amino Acids
- Making a Complete Protein
- What Amino Acids Can Do for You
- Weight Management**
- Muscle Development**
- Branch-Chain Amino Acids: Uses and Risks
Do You Need Amino Acids?
Editors Note: This is Part 4 of the Ultimate Protein Guide. In this version, the minds at Examine.com (where brilliance is everywhere) tackle the question of amino acids. In particular, we review branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), essential amino acids (EAAs), and glutamine, and consider their role in muscle building and muscle recovery.
The information below is a purely scientific analysis of the benefits you receive from different types of amino acids. In general, if you receive enough protein in your diet, you probably don’t “need” to supplement with additional aminos.
I’ve experienced (non-scientific) benefits from taking additional BCAAs, whether it’s with recovery or muscle growth. Therefore, they are typically part of my training routine, especially when following an Alpha-style diet, such as the one prescribed in Man 2.0.
Did you know: glutamine for the purpose of building muscle tissue in healthy people is wholly unsupported.
To determine if you should add amino acids to your diet, read this and decide for yourself. -AB
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a collection of three amino acids with a side chain that is branched. They are leucine, isoleucine, and valine (usually in a 2:1:1 ratio).
They are marketed mostly to athletes during periods of caloric deprivation, as these BCAAs are found in all protein sources. Their niche lays in the fact that sometimes you only want these three amino acids and all the others merely add unwanted calories.
Leucine itself is known to be an anabolic factor and signal for muscle protein synthesis, and in the presence of inadequate nutrition (you’re eating less than normal) this anabolic signal appears to stall muscle cell loss.
This anabolic effect does, however, extend to most cell types rather than just muscle. While BCAAs tend to be high in leucine, all complete protein sources contain enough leucine to provide a benefit.
When looking at studies, comparing BCAAs to no protein intake makes it appear that BCAAs do benefit you. However, the limited studies comparing BCAAs to another protein source showed that BCAAs were no better.
While the nutritional label on BCAAs may not list any calories, this is because the FDA allows anything under 5 calories (per serving) to be listed as 0 calories.
BCAAs may have a role in preserving skeletal muscle mass during periods of severe caloric deprivation, but that is not something most people experience (and again, can be mitigated by consuming protein). The decision to use BCAAs may come down to a decision between 30 calories and 120 calories.
The bottom line:BCAAs will save you some calories, but their benefits over other protein sources is marginal, at best.
Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
Essential amino acids are in a grey area between BCAAs and whole protein sources, and rather than giving only the three BCAAs they give all amino acids that have the aforementioned essential status.
The most practical usage of essential amino acids would be to supplement the diet of a vegan who generally under-consumes protein and is not otherwise using protein supplementation. Additionally, they confer the same benefits as BCAAs, although with a slightly higher caloric content.
Practically speaking, however, the previous choice between 30 and 120 calories has now become a pedantic 80 calories and 120 calories. Practical situations in which EAAs are useful are highly limited to times where every calorie becomes critical.
The bottom line: EAAs are useful if you have no source of protein. Otherwise, hard to see any additional benefit.
Glutamine gets special mention here due to its popularity as a standalone supplement.
When looking at isolated muscle cells, glutamine introduction above normal levels appears to cause dose-dependent increases in muscle protein synthesis. It is from this information, as well as the clinical usage of glutamine in burn victims (to aid in tissue regeneration) that glutamine is marketed as a muscle building agent.
At this moment in time, glutamine for the purpose of building muscle tissue in healthy people is wholly unsupported. (Sorry supplement industry.) Glutamine deficiency, the prerequisite for glutamine actually building muscle, is probably more uncommon in nonclinical settings than scurvy.
That being said, because the intestines sequester glutamine so much the supplement does indeed make a good intestinal health supplement (which can also just be mimicked by protein sources with a high glutamine content such as casein).
The bottom line: Do not bother with a glutamine supplement. You will get enough via protein sources. However, it might help with intestinal health and your immune system.
Want to know more about Protein?
The following articles will tell you:
Should I Be Taking Amino Acid Supplements When I Work Out?
If you’ve spent any time in a weight room lately, you’ve probably been asked if you’re taking branch-chain amino acid supplements—sometimes referred to as “BCAAs.” There is no hotter supplement right now among body builders or recreational athletes looking to maximize their strength gains. But is there science to back up the BCAA hype? Yes and no. Let's start with the basics.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are the macromolecules that make up muscle.
In order for your body to make protein, it requires 20 different amino acids—nine of which it has to get from the stuff you eat.
These nine are known as “essential amino acids” because your body can’t make them and you can’t live without them, says Robert Wolfe, a professor at the Reynolds Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Wolfe has conducted three decades of NIH-funded research on muscle metabolism. He explains that the protein in your muscles is in a continual state of being broken down and reproduced. “In order to make protein—or muscle—all 20 of these essential amino acids have to be available to the body in adequate amount,” he says.
So what are branch-chain amino acids?
Among those nine essential amino acids, three are termed “branch-chain” amino acids because of their specific chemical structure. These three are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and there’s evidence they play an outsize role in promoting muscle growth.
One 2006 study in the Journal of Nutrition found BCAAs can “activate key enzymes” that promote muscle growth. More research shows taking BCAA supplements can also help a person hold onto muscle mass even while eating a low-calorie diet.
One of these BCAAs in particular, leucine, seems to stand above the rest when it comes to kick-starting muscle growth. “Leucine can be looked at as the quarterback,” Wolfe says. “You need all nine players to form a team”—meaning you need all nine essential amino acids to produce muscle—”but leucine is the key.”
More from VICE:
Should I be taking BCAA supplements?
No. You should be taking supplements that contain all nine essential amino acids—albeit with an extra helping of leucine.
“The concept of taking BCAA supplements is that muscle protein synthesis is limited by biochemical processes, and that these supplements will initiate that process,” Wolfe says. “But that concept ignores the basic problem that you can’t make something nothing.”
He says taking BCAAs without the other six essential amino acids is unhelpful— trying to start a grill with lighter fluid but no charcoal. “I’ve looked at this for many years, and there are really no beneficial effects in terms of muscle growth if you’re taking BCAAs alone,” he says.
There’s a growing body of research to back him up on this. One recent study from the UK found BCAA supplements alone do not maximize muscle growth. All nine essential amino acids are needed, that study concluded. “Athletes interested in enhancing muscle growth with training should not rely on these BCAA supplements alone,” the authors of that study said in a press release.
Todd Astorino, a professor in the department of kinesiology at California State University San Marcos, reiterates some of Wolfe’s points. He says supplements containing all nine essential amino acids “clearly enhance protein synthesis.” The same can’t be said of pills or powders that contain only BCAAs.
How beneficial are essential amino acid (EAA) supplements, and what should I shop for?
his research, Wolfe says these supplements are, on average, around three times more effective at promoting muscle growth than whey protein, which is the former gold standard for athletes looking to safely maximize muscle growth using OTC supplements.
Wolfe says there are several easy-to-find EAA supplements on the market today. And, now that the research is tilting the scales away from BCAAs and toward more-complete amino acid supplements, many more are poised to drop later this year.
While he isn’t willing to single-out specific products, Wolfe says athletes who want to maximize muscle gains should look for EAA supplements that contain 20 percent to 30 percent leucine (which, again, is the muscle-synthesis-stimulating QB of amino acids).
EAA supplements should also benefit older adults in danger of losing muscle due to aging, Wolfe says. But for this population, he says a supplement with a higher proportion of leucine—something around 40 percent—is a better fit.
He recommends ingesting EAA supplements before or during a workout, and says that these supplements are not a replacement for whey protein. “I think if you take them together, you get the benefits of both,” he says. “They don’t compete with each other.”
Are EAA supplements safe?
“ the research we have to date, there are no known adverse effects,” Wolfe says. “The thing to understand is, these are essential nutrients—you’re not giving something to the body that it isn’t used to seeing already.”
He says there have been some concerns that overdoing it with EAA supplements could put an extra burden on a person’s kidneys.
(Protein digestion can create a byproduct called urea, which your kidneys have to deal with. And too much urea can lead to kidney stones or kidney damage.
) But essential amino acids alone do not increase urea in the kidneys. “They can actually reduce the urea load on the kidneys,” he says.
While there is some research linking BCAAs to insulin resistance and diabetes, the long-term effects of taking amino acid supplements really aren’t known.
“I don’t freak out about these supplements, especially if the person taking them is healthy, but I might urge caution if you’re at high risk for diabetes,” says Mark Moyad, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan, and author of The Supplement Handbook.
Also—and this holds for any supplement—be sure to look for a product that doesn’t contain a bunch of add-on ingredients.
“Protein and amino acid supplements are a billion-dollar industry, so all these companies are trying to differentiate their products,” Moyad says. To do that, they often throw in extra ingredients—antioxidants or vitamins or plant compounds.
“But when they start adding other things, they get away from the science of what works, and there are a lot of unknowns,” Moyad says.
Those caveats aside, if you’re in good shape and looking for a safe, effective way to maximize your workout gains, essential amino acid supplements look one of your best options.
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6-Reasons Why You Should Take BCAAs Today
What is the big deal with BCAAs anyway? You may have heard a thing or two about them from your supplement-savvy training partner, but unless you have a background in biochemistry, you might not know why they matter or how to incorporate them into your training and nutrition regimen.
Why Do BCAAs Matter?
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), so named because of their nonlinear (“branched”) carbon atom configuration.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins, as you probably know, make up the structure of the body.
Amino acids are either produced in the body (termed, “nonessential”), or they must be supplied from the diet (termed, “essential”).
What Makes Them ‘Essential’
BCAAs are essential amino acids, meaning they are not made in the body, yet they constitute more than one third of the protein found in human muscle tissue! Rich dietary sources of BCAAs include dairy, egg, meat, poultry and fish.
Supplemental BCAAs are also widely available and often used within the context of sports nutrition. BCAAs are unique because, un most other amino acids, they are primarily metabolized within the muscle itself, as opposed to being broken down by the liver.
That has two important implications for performance:
- Rapidly Absorbed: BCAAs enter the bloodstream rapidly, bypass breakdown in the liver, and are readily taken up by active tissues (mainly muscle), and
- More Fuel: BCAAs provide an additional fuel source for working muscle, as BCAA breakdown for energy increases during prolonged exercise (Shimomura et al., 2006). BCAAs also play an important role in overall protein turnover, which is to say they help regulate whether the body is in a recovery (tissue building) or catabolic (tissue breakdown) state.
Of the BCAAs, leucine in particular has been shown to initiate muscle protein synthesis (building) and inhibit protein breakdown (Norton & Layman, 2006). This is key whether you are trying to build muscle, maintain lean body mass during caloric restriction, or simply reduce muscle breakdown during intense and/or long-duration exercise.
Six Reasons to Take BCAAs
1. BCAAs Delay Fatigue During Prolonged Exercise
BCAAs have been found to inhibit the onset of both central and peripheral fatigue during exercise, so you can go stronger for longer.
Peripheral fatigue (when your muscles get tired) is delayed because BCAAs are used as an additional energy source during prolonged exercise. Event after your body has used its glycogen stores, you can pull power from BCAAs in your muscles(Kainulainen, Hulmi, & Kujala, 2013; Gualano et al.
, 2011). Central fatigue (when your brain gets tired) may also be delayed by BCAAs that block the amino acid tryptophan from getting into the brain.
Tryptophan (the same tryptophan from your post-thanksgiving drowsiness) is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, a central fatigue substance which produces feelings of relaxation and sleepiness (Newsholme & Blomstrand, 2006).
BCAAs Improve Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance When Taken Regularly
Trained cyclists supplementing with 6 g BCAAs for a week leading up to a graded exercise test to exhaustion achieved a 4% higher VO2max, including 13% higher VO2 at the lactate threshold (LT) and 6% greater power output at LT compared to placebo (Matsumoto et al, 2009). As any athlete knows, a a small increase in performance can mean the difference between a podium finish…or not. In another study involving trained cyclists, researchers found that 10 weeks of BCAA supplementation (12 g/day) resulted in a 19% increase in all-out sprint peak power and 4% increase in average power relative to body mass when compared to placebo (Kephart et al., 2016). Importantly, the results of these studies indicate that BCAA supplementation can improve both aerobic exercise capacity and anaerobic performance!
3. BCAAs Fortify the Immune System
Intense, high volume training repeated over days and weeks can lead to fatigue, immune suppression, and overtraining if an athlete does not recover adequately between training bouts.
Chronic (long term) supplementation with 12 g BCAA daily has been shown to improve the immune response to several weeks of intense endurance training in cyclists (Kephart et al., 2016).
But how? Researchers have found that BCAAs can also be used by immune cells within the gut as a fuel source, which allows the immune system to regenerate itself more efficiently and protect against harmful pathogens (Zhang et al, 2017). A strong immune system aids in recovery and makes you less ly to get sick.
BCAAs Protect Lean Muscle (Insurance for your Muscles!)
BCAAs have been shown to preserve muscle mass under extremely catabolic conditions characterized by protein breakdown and muscle wasting, such as ultramarathons and high altitude mountaineering (Schena, Guerrini, Tregnaghi, & Kayser, 1992). During exercise, muscle protein breakdown, and in particular, BCAA breakdown for energy is increased (Shimomura et al., 2004). By providing supplemental BCAAs, the body is less ly to consume its own amino acid (protein) stores. Think of them as your muscle insurance policy!
5. BCAAs Promote Muscle Protein Synthesis
This is probably the number 1 reason weight lifters (aka meatheads) love BCAAs! As mentioned before, leucine is the most important of the three BCAAs for initiating muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which is necessary for muscle building.
A dose of 2-3 g leucine (depending on body weight) is generally considered effective to maximally stimulate MPS, and is often referred to as the leucine threshold (Norton & Layman, 2006). As a point of reference, one large egg contains about 0.5 g leucine, and 5-6 oz of most meat, poultry, or fish sources will provide the recommended 2-3 g amount.
Dairy products, and whey in particular, are high in BCAA content, which is why you’ll find whey protein in our Recovery Drink Mix!
BCAAs Reduce Exercise Induced Muscle Soreness and Damage
BCAA administration prior to and following exercise may reduce the severity and duration of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the painful sensation that lasts for several days after an intense or unaccustomed exercise bout (Shimomura et al.
, 2010). Furthermore, studies have shown that BCAA intake reduces muscle damage in response to both resistance training (Howatson et al., 2012) and endurance exercise (Coombes & McNaughton, 2000; Kim et al., 2013). That means you can bounce back faster and have less muscle soreness between challenging workouts.
How to Take BCAAs
Take between 4-20 g per day (that’s at least three BCAA capsules)
The exact dosage and ratio of leucine:isoleucine:valine is still a matter of debate in the literature, but most studies supplemented within a range of 4-20 g BCAAs per day, usually split into multiple doses.
Make it a habit – studies observe benefits after a week or more of supplementation
Favorable results have been seen with prolonged use, as it appears that the enzyme activity necessary to break down BCAAs increases in response to habitual intake. Many studies have observed benefits after a week or more of daily supplementation.
Use anytime – before, during, and after workouts
BCAAs can be taken before, during, and after workouts to rapidly increase amino acid levels in the bloodstream, promote protein synthesis, and prevent muscle protein breakdown.
They may also be taken between meals if you feel your diet is not providing adequate levels of BCAAs in the form of complete protein from meat, dairy, fish, eggs, etc. Supplemental BCAAs are sold encapsulated ( our Roctane BCAA Capsules), or in plain or flavored powder form, that can be mixed into liquid.
Keep in mind, however, plain (unflavored) BCAA powders are not everyone’s cup of tea, and can have a somewhat bitter taste.
The Take-Home Message
BCAAs are beneficial for athletes, individuals engaged in high volume or prolonged exercise, those on restrictive diets who many not get enough from whole food sources, or for anyone otherwise at risk of lean tissue breakdown.
Research has shown supplemental BCAA intake to be safe for healthy adults in doses of 4-20 g per day, with prolonged intake one week or more showing greater benefits than acute (short term) intake. Aim for 2-3 g leucine between meals, before, during or after workouts to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
Smaller amounts of BCAAs taken repeatedly over the course of a long training bout are ly beneficial for delaying the onset of fatigue and preventing muscle tissue breakdown.
Coombes, J. S., & McNaughton, L. S. (2000). Effects of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on serum creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase after prolonged exercise. Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 40(3), 240.
Gualano, A. B., Bozza, T., Lopes, D. C. P., Roschel, H., Dos Santos, C. A., Luiz, M. M., … & Herbert, L. J. A. (2011). Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 51(1), 82-88.
Howatson, G., Hoad, M., Goodall, S., Tallent, J., Bell, P. G., & French, D. N. (2012). Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 20.
Kainulainen, H., Hulmi, J. J., & Kujala, U. M. (2013). Potential role of branched-chain amino acid catabolism in regulating fat oxidation. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 41(4), 194-200.
Kephart, W. C., Wachs, T. D., Mac Thompson, R., Mobley, C. B., Fox, C. D., McDonald, J. R., … & Pascoe, D. D. (2016). Ten weeks of branched-chain amino acid supplementation improves select performance and immunological variables in trained cyclists. Amino Acids, 48(3), 779-789.
Kim, D. H., Kim, S. H., Jeong, W. S., & Lee, H. Y. (2013). Effect of BCAA intake during endurance exercises on fatigue substances, muscle damage substances, and energy metabolism substances. Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry, 17(4), 169-180.
Matsumoto, K., Takashige, K. O. B. A., Hamada, K., Tsujimoto, H., & Mitsuzono, R. (2009).
Branched-chain amino acid supplementation increases the lactate threshold during an incremental exercise test in trained individuals. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 55(1), 52-58.
A., & Blomstrand, E. (2006). Branched-chain amino acids and central fatigue. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(1), 274S-276S.
Norton, L. E., & Layman, D. K. (2006). Leucine regulates translation initiation of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after exercise. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(2), 533S-537S.
, Guerrini, F., Tregnaghi, P., & Kayser, B. (1992). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation during trekking at high altitude.
European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 65(5), 394-398.
Shimomura, Y., Murakami, T., Nakai, N., Nagasaki, M., & Harris, R. A. (2004). Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism: effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal muscle during exercise. The Journal of Nutrition, 134(6), 1583S-1587S.
Shimomura, Y., Yamamoto, Y., Bajotto, G., Sato, J., Murakami, T., Shimomura, N., … & Mawatari, K. (2006). Nutraceutical effects of branched-chain amino acids on skeletal muscle. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(2), 529S-532S.
Shimomura, Y., Inaguma, A., Watanabe, S., Yamamoto, Y., Muramatsu, Y., Bajotto, G., … & Mawatari, K. (2010). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 20(3), 236.
Zhang, S., Zeng, X., Ren, M., Mao, X., & Qiao, S. (2017). Novel metabolic and physiological functions of branched chain amino acids: a review. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, 8(1), 10.
Essential amino acids: Definition, benefits, and foods
The body needs 20 different amino acids to maintain good health and normal functioning. People must obtain nine of these amino acids, called the essential amino acids, through food. Good dietary sources include meat, eggs, tofu, soy, buckwheat, quinoa, and dairy.
Amino acids are compounds that combine to make proteins. When a person eats a food that contains protein, their digestive system breaks the protein down into amino acids. The body then combines the amino acids in various ways to carry out bodily functions.
A healthy body can manufacture the other 11 amino acids, so these do not usually need to enter the body through the diet.
Amino acids build muscles, cause chemical reactions in the body, transport nutrients, prevent illness, and carry out other functions. Amino acid deficiency can result in decreased immunity, digestive problems, depression, fertility issues, lower mental alertness, slowed growth in children, and many other health issues.
Each of the essential amino acids plays a different role in the body, and the symptoms of deficiency vary accordingly.
There are many types of essential amino acids, including:
Lysine plays a vital role in building muscle, maintaining bone strength, aiding recovery from injury or surgery, and regulating hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. It may also have antiviral effects.
There is not a lot of research available on lysine deficiency, but a study on rats indicates that lysine deficiency can lead to stress-induced anxiety.
Histidine facilitates growth, the creation of blood cells, and tissue repair. It also helps maintain the special protective covering over nerve cells, which is called the myelin sheath.
The body metabolizes histidine into histamine, which is crucial for immunity, reproductive health, and digestion. The results of a study that recruited women with obesity and metabolic syndrome suggest that histidine supplements may lower BMI and insulin resistance.
Deficiency can cause anemia, and low blood levels appear to be more common among people with arthritis and kidney disease.
Threonine is necessary for healthy skin and teeth, as it is a component in tooth enamel, collagen, and elastin. It helps aid fat metabolism and may be beneficial for people with indigestion, anxiety, and mild depression.
A 2018 study found that threonine deficiency in fish led to these animals having a lowered resistance to disease.
Methionine and the nonessential amino acid cysteine play a role in the health and flexibility of skin and hair. Methionine also helps keep nails strong. It aids the proper absorption of selenium and zinc and the removal of heavy metals, such as lead and mercury.
Valine is essential for mental focus, muscle coordination, and emotional calm. People may use valine supplements for muscle growth, tissue repair, and energy.
Deficiency may cause insomnia and reduced mental function.
Isoleucine helps with wound healing, immunity, blood sugar regulation, and hormone production. It is primarily present in muscle tissue and regulates energy levels.
Older adults may be more prone to isoleucine deficiency than younger people. This deficiency may cause muscle wasting and shaking.
Leucine helps regulate blood sugar levels and aids the growth and repair of muscle and bone. It is also necessary for wound healing and the production of growth hormone.
Leucine deficiency can lead to skin rashes, hair loss, and fatigue.
Share on PinterestSome diet sodas contain sweeteners with phenylalanine.
Phenylalanine helps the body use other amino acids as well as proteins and enzymes. The body converts phenylalanine to tyrosine, which is necessary for specific brain functions.
Phenylalanine deficiency, though rare, can lead to poor weight gain in infants. It may also cause eczema, fatigue, and memory problems in adults.
Phenylalanine is often in the artificial sweetener aspartame, which manufacturers use to make diet sodas. Large doses of aspartame can increase the levels of phenylalanine in the brain and may cause anxiety and jitteriness and affect sleep.
People with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU) are unable to metabolize phenylalanine. As a result, they should avoid consuming foods that contain high levels of this amino acid.
Tryptophan is necessary for proper growth in infants and is a precursor of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, mood, and pain. Melatonin also regulates sleep.
Tryptophan is a sedative, and it is an ingredient in some sleep aids. One study indicates that tryptophan supplementation can improve mental energy and emotional processing in healthy women.
Tryptophan deficiency can cause a condition called pellagra, which can lead to dementia, skin rashes, and digestive issues.
Many studies show that low levels of protein and essential amino acids affect muscle strength and exercise performance.
According to a 2014 study, not getting enough essential amino acids may cause lower muscle mass in older adults.
An additional study shows that amino acid supplements can help athletes recover after exercise.
Doctors previously believed that people had to eat foods that provided all nine essential amino acids in one meal.
As a result, unless an individual was eating meat, eggs, dairy, tofu, or another food with all the essential amino acids, it was necessary to combine two or more plant foods containing all nine, such as rice and beans.
Today, however, that recommendation is different. People who eat vegetarian or vegan diets can get their essential amino acids from various plant foods throughout the day and do not necessarily have to eat them all together at one meal.
Share on PinterestA person should speak to their doctor before taking essential amino acid supplements.
Although 11 of the amino acids are nonessential, humans may require some of them if they are under stress or have an illness. During these times, the body may not be able to make enough of these amino acids to keep up with the increased demand. These amino acids are “conditional,” which means that a person may require them in certain situations.
People may sometimes wish to take essential amino acid supplements. It is best to seek advice from a doctor first regarding safety and dosage.
Although it is possible to be deficient in essential amino acids, most people can obtain enough of them by eating a diet that includes protein.
The foods in the following list are the most common sources of essential amino acids:
- Lysine is in meat, eggs, soy, black beans, quinoa, and pumpkin seeds.
- Meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, and whole grains contain large amounts of histidine.
- Cottage cheese and wheat germ contain high quantities of threonine.
- Methionine is in eggs, grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Valine is in soy, cheese, peanuts, mushrooms, whole grains, and vegetables.
- Isoleucine is plentiful in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
- Dairy, soy, beans, and legumes are sources of leucine.
- Phenylalanine is in dairy, meat, poultry, soy, fish, beans, and nuts.
- Tryptophan is in most high-protein foods, including wheat germ, cottage cheese, chicken, and turkey.
These are just a few examples of foods that are rich in essential amino acids. All foods that contain protein, whether plant-based or animal-based, will contain at least some of the essential amino acids.
Consuming essential amino acids is crucial for good health.
Eating a variety of foods that contain protein each day is the best way for people to ensure that they are getting adequate amounts of essential amino acids. With today’s modern diet and access to a wide variety of foods, deficiency is rare for people who are generally in good health.
People should always talk to a doctor before using supplements.
What Are Amino Acids and How Do They Benefit You?
You’ve heard the term before, but have you considered exactly what amino acids are? We’re breaking down the ins and outs of these essential proteins to help you give your body what it needs to live vitally.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids contribute to the development of protein within the body and are vital in promoting wound repair and encouraging healthy tissue in muscles, bones, skin and hair. Amino acids are also crucial in eliminating waste deposits related to metabolism.
Foods Containing Amino Acids
the 22 amino acids, there are nine essential amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine and histidine. Foods containing all nine of these amino acids are called complete proteins. Some of these complete proteins include:
- Chia seeds
These complete proteins are essential to our overall health, which is why they are comprised of the essential amino acids. Our bodies need all nine of these essential amino acids for basic health; since our bodies cannot make them naturally, we must get them from other sources.
Making a Complete Protein
Foods that lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins, and must be supplemented with other proteins to make up for the missing amino acids.
Nuts eaten on their own, for example, are an incomplete protein because they don’t have all essential amino acids (called non-essential amino acids), but when you add a balancing food that contains the missing amino acids, you get a complete protein! You might be surprised to see just how many foods we eat together that make up complete proteins. It’s as if our body know how to make smart combinations.
Food combinations that make complete proteins:
- Hummus and pita
- Oatmeal and almond butter
- Rice and beans
- Peanut butter and bread
- Lentils and rice
Non-essential amino acids are proteins that our body can naturally produce on its own.
Non-essential amino acids play an integral role in removing toxins from the body, supports metabolism, encourage healthy digestion, and aid in promoting healthy body tissue.
The non-essential amino acids include cysteine, alanine, proline, serine, asparagine, glutamic acid, tyrosine, arginine, aspartic acid, glutamine.
To ensure you’re getting complete protein into your diet, a supplement can help. Vital Proteins Banana Cinnamon Collagen Whey or Bone Broth Collagen available in Chicken or Beef are three products that contain all nine essential amino acids while providing collagen protein that supports healthy hair, skin, and nails, aids in muscle recovery, and promotes bone and joint health.**
What Amino Acids Can Do for You
Studies have shown that amino acids, glutamine, can contribute directly to healthy hair and skin by supplying essential nutrients to strengthen connective tissue that supports skin elasticity, and hair and nail strength. Glutamine, a non-essential amino acid, is vital in maintaining skin health, however, our bodies produce it more slowly as we age. Since glutamine regulates the acid-base balance, it can support skin firmness.
Two amino acids in particular – arginine and carnitine – form creatine, which supports natural skin functions that ultimately produce collagen and elastin through cells that can repair damaged DNA.
The formation of collagen through creatine is important because connective tissue is protected and contributes to strong tendons, cartilage, and ligaments.
Healthy skin is reliant on the formation of collagen in order to replenish moisture which reduces fine lines, increases elasticity, and increases skin smoothness.
Studies have shown that high-protein foods help people feel fuller, longer, as opposed to foods heavy in carbohydrate or fat content, ultimately reducing overeating. A majority of carnitine, a non-essential amino acid, is found in the muscles. Carnitine has been shown to supply oxygen to muscles, which can aid in exercise recovery.
One of glutamine’s claim to fame is improving gut health, but glutamine can also be converted to glucose without affecting the body’s glucagon and insulin counts. This enhances the energy supply while passing up fat storage caused by insulin. Essentially, glutamine protects your body from storing sugars and fats, allowing you to feel more energized and alert.
Amino acids are essential for the growth and development of muscles. Methionine, one of the nine essential amino acids, has been shown to promote the production of creatine, which aids in the development of muscle mass, while lysine can help muscles recover after extensive movement.
One study showed that rats that were given essential amino acid supplements experienced increased muscle development, as well as bone mass and strength. This was due to increased calcium absorption within the bones as a result of the amino acid supplement.
Branch-Chain Amino Acids: Uses and Risks
Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients. They are proteins found in food. Your muscles “burn” these amino acids for energy.
The specific amino acids that make up the branched-chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The term branched-chain simply refers to their chemical structure.
Athletes may take oral supplements of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to try to help with recovery from workouts and enhance athletic performance.
Studies suggest that BCAAs may prevent muscle breakdown during exercise. But they are not ly to help with athletic performance.
People also take BCAAs as medicine to try to treat problems such as:
- Muscle wasting
- Chronic loss of appetite
- Certain brain disorders
In some cases, health care providers may deliver them intravenously (by IV).
Although more research is needed, BCAAs have been studied and may:
- Improve appetite in people who are malnourished or have cancer
- Improve symptoms related to hepatic encephalopathy or tardive dyskinesia
It is too early to prove whether BCAAs are helpful for diabetes or an inherited form of autism spectrum disorder, two other reported uses.
Dosages of BCAAs vary, depending upon the reason for use. Quality and active ingredients in supplements may vary widely from maker to maker. This makes it hard to establish a standard dose.
You can get branched-chain amino acids from these foods:
- Whey, milk, and soy proteins
- Beef, chicken, fish, and eggs
- Baked beans and lima beans
- Whole wheat
- Brown rice
- Almonds, Brazil nuts, and cashews
- Pumpkin seeds
Side effects. When taken up to six months, oral supplements of BCAAs have not often been linked with harmful side effects. However, side effects may include:
Risks. BCAAs may interfere with blood glucose levels during and after surgery. You may also be at increased risk if you have chronic alcoholism or branched-chain ketoaciduria.
Also, avoid using BCAAs if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Interactions. Talk with your doctor first if you are taking:
Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications or foods. He or she can let you know if the supplement might increase your risk.
The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. However, it has approved an injectable branched-chain amino acid to counteract nitrogen loss.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: “Branched-Chain Amino Acids.”
Novarino, G. Science, October 2012.
De Bandt, J-P. Journal of Nutrition, January 2006.
Huntington College of Health Sciences: “A Primer on Branched Chain Amino Acids.”
National Council on Strength and Fitness: “Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplementation.”
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