Amino acids fill a lot of useful roles in our bodies and are commonly known as the building blocks of proteins. So what do amino acids do? They are necessary for important processes such as neurotransmitter and hormone synthesis as well as the building of proteins. Some amino acids can be taken as supplements to give your body an athletic boost and even improve your mood. Here are five important functions that amino acids assist us within our daily lives:
- They help our bodies break down food. When you eat a source of protein and it reaches your stomach, enzymes called proteases along with hydrochloric acid break the protein down into smaller chains of amino acids. These amino acids continue on into your small intestine while the pancreas begins to release enzymes and a bio carbonate buffer which work to decrease the amount of acidity in the food we digest. This process allows the amino acid chains to break into individual amino acids, further nourishing the body.
- They enable us to grow taller. Certain amino acids stimulate human growth hormones, enabling us to grow tall when taken as an adolescent or child.
- They repair body tissue. When exercising, the body demands an excess of protein to rebuild and repair stressed or strained muscles. Amino acids are the basis of proteins and as such are essential in muscle recovery.
- They help build muscles. The use of amino acid supplements along with a sturdy workout routine works as a catalyst in building healthy, strong muscles.
- They can be used as a source of energy for our bodies. Several amino acids are converted to pyruvic acid which replaces glucose or fatty acid, breaking it down to use as fuel for the body and providing you with a source of energy.
What Are Amino Acids?
You may have heard of amino acids in correlation with muscle growth and bodybuilding, but you may not know what they are. They are organic compounds made up mostly of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, as well as a side chain group which is variable. There are nearly 500 known amino acids that occur naturally, 20 of which are present in the genetic code. Amino acids are an essential part of most proteins and can be found in many foods that are rich in protein. Amino acids may also be taken in supplement form without the accompanying protein. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a three part chain of amino acids that are commonly used in muscle growth and recovery and are commonly ingested in supplement form.
What Are The Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)?
There are 2 types of amino acids, essential and non-essential. Our bodies need 20 types of amino acids in order to function properly and grow. Although all of them are important, nine of these twenty are considered essential, while the other 11 are classified as non-essential. These 9 are known as essential amino acids (or EAAs). The non-essential amino acids are produced by the body whereas the essential ones need to be taken in through food or supplements. The best places to find essential amino acids are animal proteins such as meat, eggs, seafood, dairy products and poultry. Quinoa, buckwheat and soy are a few plant-based foods that are also complete protein sources and contain all the nine essential amino acids. Beans and nuts are also plant-based sources of protein, but are considered incomplete since they are missing one or more of the essential nine amino acids.
Protein gets broken down into amino acids when ingested, and these amino acids then move on to help your body with many different things like regulating immune function and building muscle.
There are a few non-essential amino acids which are counted as “conditionally essential,” meaning they are essential only under certain circumstances such as when sick or under stress. Take arginine, for example. Arginine is an amino acid which is generally considered non-essential and is produced by the body. However when the body is fighting a disease, like cancer for instance, the body needs to get arginine through supplements or diet in order for the body to properly function.
The essential amino acids are:
- Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine fills an important role in the make-up and function of enzymes and proteins as well as in the production of other amino acids. It is necessary for tyrosine, epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine all of which are neurotransmitters.
- Valine: This amino acid has a chain which branches off to the side of its molecular structure and is one of three branch-chained amino acids. It helps stimulate muscle regeneration and growth and plays a big part in energy production.
- Threonine: Threonine is an integral part of structural proteins that are essential components of the skin and connective tissue like elastin and collagen. Threonine also contributes to the metabolism of fat and immune function.
- Tryptophan: Tryptophan is necessary to keep proper nitrogen balance and is needed prior to serotonin which is a neurotransmitter regulating your mood, appetite and sleep. Tryptophan also has a reputation for causing drowsiness.
- Methionine: This one has a role in detoxification and metabolism. It’s also essential for the absorption of selenium and zinc, which are vital minerals for your health, as well as tissue growth.
- Leucine: Leucine is the second one of the three branched-chain amino, like valine, and it is important for muscle repair and protein synthesis. Leucine also works to regulate blood sugar levels and stimulate the healing of wounds. It also produces growth hormones.
- Isoleucine: Isoleucine is the last in the previously mentioned branched-chain amino acids. It is heavily concentrated in muscle tissue and is part of muscle metabolism. It also plays a part in energy regulation, hemoglobin production and immune function.
- Lysine: Lysine is involved in the absorption of calcium, protein synthesis, and hormone and enzyme production. It’s also essential for the production of elastin and collagen, immune function and generating energy.
- Histidine: This amino acid is used to make a neurotransmitter called histamine that is an important part of sleep-wake cycles, digestion, immune response and sexual function. It’s necessary for maintaining a protective shield around your nerve cells called the myelin sheath.
Although amino acids are generally noticed for the part they play in muscle repair and development, they are very important parts of bodily functions and are at the center of a good many vital functions and processes. This is why a deficiency in essential amino acids will impact your nervous system, reproductive system, immune system, and digestive system negatively.
What Are The Benefits Of Amino Acid Supplements?
Even though it is possible to find essential amino acids in a large variety of foods, the use of amino acid supplements in concentrated doses has been proven to provide certain health benefits.
Tryptophan is necessary in the production of serotonin which is a chemical in your body acting as a neurotransmitter. Serotonin is a regulator of sleep, mood and behavior and low serotonin levels contribute to depression and sleep disturbances. Studies have shown that using tryptophan supplements can help boost your mood, improve sleep and reduce symptoms of depression.
If you have read the section above on the nine essential amino acids then you may recall the three branched-chain amino acids(or BCAAs). These are commonly used to improve athletic performance, alleviate fatigue and stimulate the recovery of muscles after working out. Studies have shown that using branched-chain amino acid supplements works even better for muscle recovery and reducing muscle pain after strenuous exercise than rest.
BCAAs have also been proven to assist in weight loss. Studies have shown that men who have a strict strength-training regimen benefit from 14 grams of BCAAs a day getting significantly better results in the loss of body fat than without them.
When To Take Amino Acids?
So we’ve covered the benefits of amino acids and what they do to help our bodies. But when is the best time to take them? If you’re ingesting them through your food, then naturally you’ll be taking them along with your meals.
The best time to take BCAA supplements is when you exercise. Add 5-10 grams to your protein shake both before and after your workout. When taking BCAAs, you can afford to intake slightly less protein and the amino acids will compensate for the deficit.
For most other amino acid supplements, the ideal time to take them is once a day along with one of your meals, the same as if you were getting them from your food. The recommended daily dosage per 1kg of body weight for the essential amino acids are as follows:
- Valine: 24mg
- Histidine: 14mg
- Tryptophan: 5mg
- Isoleucine: 19mg
- Threonine: 20mg
- Leucine: 42mg
- Phenylalanine: 33mg
- Lysine: 38mg
- Methionine: 33mg
In summary, what are the benefits of amino acid supplements? The nine essential amino acids provide us with muscle repair and growth, protein synthesis, nutrient absorption, tissue repair, improved mood and even better sleep.