- 20 Kinds of Amino Acids
- What Are Amino Acids?
- Types of Amino Acids
- Can Amino Acids Be Harmful?
- Amino Acids
- How Amino Acids were Discovered
- Classifications of Amino Acids
- Properties of Amino Acids
- Table of common amino acid abbreviations and properties
- 20 Amino Acids and their Functions
- Consuming too many protein supplements could be doing you more harm than good
- What are BCAAs?
- What did the study find?
- What does this mean for us?
- If you want to know the REAL truth about BCAA’s and their “benefits”, then you need to read this article.
- What to know about essential amino acids
- The 9 Essential Amino Acids & What Are They And Why Do We Need Them?
- amino acids
- The 9 Essential Amino Acids
- The Real Deal on Amino Acids in a Plant-Based Diet
- 1. Leucine
- 2. Isoleucine
- 3. Lysine
- 4. Methionine
- 5. Phenylalanine:
- 6. Threonine:
- 7. Tryptophan
- 8. Valine
- 9. Histidine
- How Much Do You Need?
- Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
- 7 Foods High in Essential Amino Acids
- The Only 4 Things You Need to Know About Amino Acids
20 Kinds of Amino Acids
There are twenty kinds of amino acids that support the body, each having their own functions. There are as many as one hundred thousand kinds of proteins that constitute the body, and these comprise only twenty kinds of amino acids in various combinations. These twenty amino acids are essential to the body. In addition to being the materials for proteins, they are used as an energy source for the body when needed. In addition each amino acid plays an important and unique role in the body, as detailed below.
- Valine, Leucine & Isoleucine
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic Acid
To read more about
Valine, Leucine & Isoleucine
- All of these 3 amino acids are called branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).
- They perform the important functions of increasing proteins and serving as an energy source during exercise.
- BCAAs are amino acids present largely in myoproteins.
- An important amino acid as it is an energy source for the liver.
- One of the amino acids which most easily used as an energy source.
- Reported to improve alcohol metabolism.
- Used as a material for synthesis of glucose (blood sugar) needed by the body.
- Essential to the health of the liver.
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- An amino acid needed to maintain normal functions of blood vessels and other organs.
- Plays an important role in expanding blood vessels to facilitate the blood flow.
- Nitric oxide, which is required to expand blood vessels, is made from arginine.
- An amino acid that is useful in eliminating excessive ammonia from the body.
- Reported to enhance immunological function.
- Arginine possesses various functions, which the body utilizes when necessary; like when blood flow is insufficient during exercise; or when ammonia, a fatigue-causing substance, is increased; or when body resistance is likely to decrease.
- An amino acid needed to maintain normal functions of the gastrointestinal tract and muscles.
- One of the amino acids contained most abundantly in the body.
- Plays a role in protecting the stomach and intestinal tract.
- Used as an energy source for the intestinal tract in particular.
- Reported to protect the liver and to increase alcohol metabolism.
- Essential to the health of the liver
- Glutamine is used as an energy source for the intestine and is an indispensable component to maintain its normal function. This amino acid is also used to enhance liver function.
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- It is a representative essential amino acid.
- Tends to be insufficient when we are on a diet centered on bread or rice.
- Deficient in flour and polished rice.
- Flour lacks lysine the most, especially when compared to the ideal amino acid pattern.
- The deficient amino acid should be supplemented to enhance nutritional value.
- A project by the United Nations University has shown that lysine tends to be deficient in developing countries where people depend on flour as their protein source.
- If amino acids such as lysine are deficient it may lead to growth failure.
- Contained in asparagus in large amounts.
- An amino acid which is most easily used as an energy source.
- Maybe used as an ingredient of nutrient preparations.
- Aspartic acid is an amino acid which is located most closely to the TCA cycle, the site of energy production.
- The TCA cycle can be likened to the engine of a car. Based on this mechanism, each of our body cells generates energy.
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- Glutamic acid is often referred to as Glutamate.
- Contained in wheat and soybean in large amounts.
- An amino acid which is most easily used as an energy source.
- An important taste component of Japanese stock soup. It is contained in various natural foods.
- Reported to accelerate early recovery from fatigue during exercise.
- The main component of “collagen” which constitutes the skin and other tissues.
- Serves as a fast-acting energy source.
- Proline is a most important amino acid as a natural moisturizing factor that brings moisture to the skin
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- Cysteine is easy to be deficient in the infants.
- Synthesized from methionine in the human body.
- With infants the ability of this cysteine synthesis activity is not sufficient.
- An essential amino acid which is used to form active sites of enzymes.
- An essential amino acid which is used to produce various substances needed by the body.
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- An essential amino acid which is used to produce histamine and others.
- An essential amino acid which is used to produce various useful amines.
- Used to produce various useful amines and is sometimes called aromatic amino acid together with phenylalanine and tryptophan.
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- An essential amino acid which is used to produce various useful amines.
- It is an amino acid which is located close to the TCA cycle (place of energy generation) together with aspartic acid.
- Used to produce glutathione and porphyrin, a component of hemoglobin.
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- Used to produce phospholipids and glyceric acid.
What Are Amino Acids?
Called the “building blocks of life,” amino acids can be obtained in healthy amounts by eating foods that contain them.
Amino acids are compounds that combine to form proteins.
Naturally found in our bodies, they’re often referred to as the “building blocks of life.”
Amino acids are needed for the production of enzymes, as well as some hormones and neurotransmitters.
They’re also involved in numerous metabolic pathways within cells throughout the body.
You can obtain amino acids through the foods you eat.
After your body digests and breaks down protein, amino acids are left in the body to help do the following:
- Break down food
- Grow and repair body tissue
- Provide a source of energy
- Perform other bodily functions
Types of Amino Acids
Amino acids can be placed in three different groups:
Nonessential amino acids: These are produced naturally by your body and have nothing to do with the food you eat.
The following are examples of nonessential amino acids:
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
Essential amino acids: These can’t be produced by the body and must come from the food you eat.
If you don’t eat foods that contain essential amino acids, your body won’t have them. The following are essential amino acids:
It isn’t necessary to eat essential amino acids at every meal. You can get healthy amounts by eating foods containing them throughout the day.
Animal-based foods such as meat, milk, fish, and eggs provide essential amino acids.
Plant-based foods such as soy, beans, nuts, and grains also contain essential amino acids.
Over the years, there has been controversy about whether vegetarian diets can provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids.
Many experts believe that while it may be harder for vegetarians to maintain an adequate intake, they should be able to do so if they follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines of 5 to 6 servings of whole grains, and 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits, per day.
Conditional amino acids: These are usually not essential to everyday living but are important when you’re sick, injured, or stressed.
Conditional amino acids include:
When you’re ill or injured, your body may not be able to produce enough conditional amino acids, and you may need to give your body what it needs through diet or supplements.
Talk with your doctor about the safest way to do this.
Can Amino Acids Be Harmful?
When your body has too much of amino acids, the following effects can occur:
- Gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating
- Abdominal pain
- Increased risk of gout (buildup of uric acid in the body, leading to joint inflammation)
- Unhealthy drop in blood pressure
- Changes in eating patterns
- Need for your kidneys to work harder to maintain balance
Most diets provide safe amounts of amino acids.
Still, talk with your doctor if you plan to follow a diet that’s very high in protein or one that includes amino acid supplements for any reason — including any supplements taken to support intense athletic training.
Amino acids are a crucial, yet basic unit of protein, and they contain an amino group and a carboxylic group. They play an extensive role in gene expression process, which includes an adjustment of protein functions that facilitate messenger RNA (mRNA) translation (Scot et al., 2006).
There are over 700 types of amino acids that have been discovered in nature. Almost all of them are α-amino acids. They have been found in:
The amino acids are essential components of peptides and proteins. Twenty important amino acids are crucial for life as they contain peptides and proteins and are known to be the building blocks for all living things on earth. They are used for a protein synthesis. The amino acids are controlled by genetics. Some unusual amino acids are found in plant seeds.
The amino acids are imperative for sustaining the health of a human body. They largely promote the:
• hormones production
• muscles structure
• nervous system
• vital organs working
• cellular functioning.
If amino acids are deficient the protein synthesis would stop.
Without alpha-amino acids human may experience fatigue, irritability, hormonal imbalances and sometimes even depression.
To understand the amino acids’ abbreviation, it is important to know why their names have been shorten in the first place. A reason is to make them easy to identify and to use more manageable three-letter system. For instance, the simplest amino acid, glycine is depicted as H—Gly—OH, with the “H” and the “OH” being “H2O”, which represents the H2O at the time of amino acid condensing in order to form a peptide.
Another way to look at the three-letter abbreviation system is that it captures the amino acid residual state, which comprises proteins and peptides. When the system was introduced, it was thought primarily to save space, rather than simplify amino acid names. It is important to know that, when one-letter system is used, such as “G” for glycine, which is more commonly used nowadays, it is referring to synthesized peptides from the coded amino acids groups.
How Amino Acids were Discovered
The amino acids are a result of protein hydrolysis. Throughout the centuries, amino acids have been discovered in a variety of ways, though primarily by way of chemists and biochemists of high intelligence who possessed the greatest skills and patience and who were innovative and creative in their work.
Protein chemistry is age-old, with some dating back thousands of years ago. Processes and technical applications such as glue preparation, cheese manufacturing and even the discovery of ammonia via the filtering of dung, occurred centuries ago. Moving forward in time to 1820, Braconnot prepared glycine directly from gelatin. He was attempting to uncover whether proteins acted like starch or whether they are made of acids and sugar.
While progress was slow at that time, it has since gained plenty of speed, although the complicated processes of protein composition have not entirely been uncovered even to this day. But many years have gone by since Braconnot first initiated such observations.
Much more should be discovered in the analysis of amino acids as well as finding new amino acids. The future of protein and amino acids chemistry is lying in biochemistry. Once that is accomplished—but only until then will our knowledge of amino acids and proteins be satiated. Yet it is likely that day will not come anytime soon. This all adds to the mystery, complexities and strong scientific value of amino acids.
Classifications of Amino Acids
Experts classify amino acids based on a variety of features, including whether people can acquire them through diet. Accordingly, scientists recognize three amino acid types:
3. Conditionally essential
However, the classification as essential or nonessential does not actually reflect their importance as all 20 amino acids are necessary for human health.
Eight of these amino acids are essential (or indispensable) and cannot be produced by the body. They are:
Histidine is an amino acid that is categorized as semi-essential since the human body doesn’t always need it to properly function therefore dietary sources of it are not always essential. Meanwhile, conditionally essential amino acids aren’t usually required in the human diet, but do become essential under certain circumstances.
Finally, nonessential amino acids are produced by the human body either from essential amino acids or from normal protein breakdowns. Nonessential amino acids include:
• Aspartic acid
• Glutamic acid
An additional amino acids’ classification depends upon the side chain structure, and experts recognize these five as:
• Cysteine and Methionine (amino acids containing sulfur)
• Asparagine, Serine, Threonine, and Glutamine (neutral amino acids)
• Glutamic acid and Aspartic acid (acidic); and Arginine and Lysine (basic)
• Leucine, Isoleucine, Glycine, Valine, and Alanine (aliphatic amino acids)
• Phenylalanine, Tryptophan, Tyrosine and Histidine (aromatic amino acids)
One final amino acid classification is categorized by the side chain structure that divides the list of 20 amino acids into four groups – two of which are the main groups and two that are subgroups. They are:
3. Acidic and polar
4. Basic and polar
For example, side chains having pure hydrocarbon alkyl or aromatic groups are considered non-polar, and these amino acids are comprised of Phenylalanine, Glycine, Valine, Leucine, Alanine, Isoleucine, Proline, Methionine and Tryptophan. Meanwhile, if the side chain contains different polar groups like amides, acids and alcohols, they are classified as polar. It includes Tyrosine, Serine, Asparagine, Threonine, Glutamine, and Cysteine. If the side chain contains carboxylic acid, the amino acids in the acidic-polar classification are Aspartic Acid and Glutamic Acid. Furthermore, if the side chain consists of a carboxylic acid and basic-polar, these amino acids are Lysine, Arginine, and Histidine.
Properties of Amino Acids
The properties of α-amino acids are complex, yet simplistic in that every molecule of an amino acid involves two functional groups: carboxyl (-COOH) and amino (-NH2).
Each molecule can contain a side chain or R group, e.g. Alanine is an example of standard amino acid containing methyl side chain group. The R groups have a variety of shapes, sizes, charges, and reactivities. This allows amino acids to be grouped according to the chemical properties of their side chains.
Table of common amino acid abbreviations and properties
Amino acids are crystalline solids which usually are water soluble and only sparingly dissoluble in organic solvents. Their solubility depends on the size and nature of the side chain. Amino acids have very high melting points, up to 200-300°C. Their other properties varying for each particular amino acid.
20 Amino Acids and their Functions
Only 20 amino acids are found in the human peptides and proteins. These naturally occurring amino acids are used by cells to synthesize peptides and proteins. They are typically identified by generic formula: H2NCHRCOOH.
The primary difference between the 20 amino acids is a different structure of R group. Below the essential amino acids and their respective functions are shown.
Non-polar, aliphatic residues
Glycine (G/Gly). Slices DNA and produces different amino acids. One of the three most important glycogenic amino acids. Read more about Glycine.
Alanine (A/Ala). Important source of energy for muscle. One of the three most important glycogenic amino acids. The primary amino acid in sugar metabolism. Boosts immune system by producing antibodies. Read more about Alanine.
Valine (V/Val). Essential for muscle development. Read more about Valine.
Leucine (L/Leu). Beneficial for skin, bone and tissue wound healing. Read more about Leucine.
Isoleucine (I/Ile). Necessary for the synthesis of hemoglobin. Read more about Isoleucine.
Proline (P/Pro). Critical component of cartilage, aids in joint health, tendons and ligaments. Keeps heart muscle strong. Read more about Proline.
Phenylalanine (F/Phe). Beneficial for healthy nervous system. It boosts memory and learning. Read more about Phenylalanine.
Tyrosine (Y/Tyr). Precursor of dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline. Increases energy, improves mental clarity and concentration, can treat some depressions. Read more about Tyrosine.
Tryptophan (W/Trp).Necessary for a synthesis of neurotransmitter serotonin. Effective sleep aid, due to conversion to serotonin. Reduces anxiety and some forms of depression. Treats migraine and headaches. Stimulates growth hormone Read more about Tryptophan.
Polar, non-charged residues
Serine (S/Ser). One of the three most important glycogenic amino acids, the others being alanine and glycine. Maintains blood sugar levels, and boosts immune system. Myelin sheaths contain serine. Read more about Serine.
Threonine (T/Thr). Required for formation of collagen. Helps prevent fatty deposits in liver. Aids in antibodies’ production. Read more about Threonine.
Cysteine (C/Cys). Protective against radiation, pollution and ultra-violet light. Detoxifier, necessary for growth and repair of skin. Read more about Cysteine.
Methionine (M/Met). An antioxidant. Helps in breakdown of fats and aids in reducing muscle degeneration. Read more about Methionine.
Asparagine (N/Asn).One of the two main excitatory neurotransmitters. Read more about Asparagine.
Glutamine (Q/Gln). Essential for helping to maintain normal and steady blood sugar levels. Helps muscle strength and endurance. Gastrointestinal function, provides energy to small intestines. Read more about Glutamine.
Positively charged residues
Lysine (K/Lys). Component of muscle protein, needed in the synthesis of enzymes and hormones. It is also a precursor for L-carathine, which is essential for healthy nervous system function. Read more about Lysine.
Arginine (R/Arg). One of the two main excitatory neurotransmitters. May increase endurance and decrease fatigue. Detoxifies harmful chemicals. Involved in DNA synthesis. Read more about Arginine.
Histidine (H/His). Found in high concentrations in hemoglobin. Treats anemia, has been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Read more about Histidine.
Negatively charged residues
Aspartate (D/Asp). Increases stamina and helps protect the liver; DNA and RNA metabolism, immune system function. Read more about Aspartate.
Glutamate (E/Glu). Neurotransmitter that is involved in DNA synthesis. Read more about Glutamate.
This page was last updated: 12 September 2019.
Consuming too many protein supplements could be doing you more harm than good
- A new study claims done on mice suggests that consuming too many protein shakes and supplements may have harmful side effects.
- Research from the University of Sydney concluded that relying too heavily on BCAAs (branched chain amino acids, which are found in protein shakes) may reduce lifespan, and cause weight gain and a lower mood.
- The key advice is to make sure you get your protein from a variety of sources, as this will ensure you’re consuming the right balance of all nine essential amino acids.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Thanks to the current vogue for fitness, the protein supplement industry is booming.
From bars and BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) to shakes and even chocolate, there are seemingly endless protein-boosted products on the market to help you get your post-workout fix.
But a new study done on mice now suggests excessive protein consumption may ultimately be doing us more harm than good.
Researchers at the University of Sydney found that although protein is great for building muscle, consuming too many protein supplements could reduce lifespan, negatively impact mood, and lead to weight gain.
Though the study wasn’t done on humans, their main conclusion was that protein products aren’t necessarily bad for you, and protein is essential for repairing muscle, but you need to make sure you vary your protein sources and don’t rely too heavily on one.
Read more: Lifting heavy or light weights will give you different results — here’s how to know which ones to use
“While diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates were shown to be beneficial for reproductive function, they had detrimental effects for health in mid-late life, and also led to a shortened lifespan,” said lead study author Dr Samantha Solon-Biet.
“What this new research has shown is that amino acid balance is important — it’s best to vary sources of protein to ensure you’re getting the best amino acid balance.”
What are BCAAs?
There are 20 amino acids in total, nine of which are essential. If your diet contains enough of those, your body can make the 11 others itself.
BCAAs are essential amino acids found in foods containing protein, such as red meat, dairy, chicken, fish, and eggs, as well as beans, lentils, nuts, and soy proteins.
They are made up of three of the nine essential ones: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are broken down in muscle, whereas the other essential amino acids are mainly broken down in the liver.
Read more: You’re probably squatting wrong, according to Ellie Goulding’s personal trainer
While whey protein powders are typically high in BCAAs, many gym-goers consume BCAAs separately as well, usually in the form of a powder added to water — this is likely the translucent liquid you may see fitness fans sipping during their workout.
Unlike protein powders, BCAAs contain no carbohydrates or fats, but they actually tend to be higher in calories.
The idea is that consuming BCAAs throughout the day will contribute to muscle growth, boost workout performance, and aid recovery, but many in the fitness industry think they’re unnecessary.
Some fitness companies have even launched EAA (essential amino acid) products containing all nine essential amino acids instead of just the three found in BCAAs.
“The biggest difference between BCAA and EAA is that BCAA contains a 4:1:1 ratio of three essential amino acids whereas EAAs deliver a superior blend of all nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make itself,” Dawid Lyszczek, New Product Developer at Myprotein, told INSIDER.
What did the study find?
The researchers examined the impact of BCAAs and other essential amino acids such as tryptophan on the health and body composition of mice.
Some were given twice the normal amount of BCAAs needed for life, others the standard amount, others half, and others a fifth.
It was found that the mice who were fed the most BCAAs increased their food intake, which led to obesity and a shortened lifespan.
What’s more, consuming high levels of BCAAs appeared to block tryptophan getting to the brain, which is known to boost mood.
Read more: Here’s why Scarlett Johansson’s personal trainers suggest always eating dark chocolate before a workout
“Supplementation of BCAAs resulted in high levels of BCAAs in the blood which competed with tryptophan for transport into the brain,” explained Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, researcher from the School of Life, and Environmental Sciences Professor .
“Tryptophan is the sole precursor for the hormone serotonin, which is often called the ‘happiness chemical’ for its mood-enhancing effects and its role in promoting sleep. But serotonin does more than this, and therein lay the problem,” he said.
“This then lowered serotonin levels in the brain, which in turn was a potent signal to increase appetite. The serotonin decrease caused by excess BCAA intake led to massive overeating in our mice, which became hugely obese and lived shorter lives.”
What does this mean for us?
Registered dietitian and author of “The Low-Fad Diet” Jo Travers BSc RD MBDA believes the first thing to note is that the study was conducted on mice, and so the takeaways can’t be directly applied to humans.
“However, it does raise an important point about the roles of each nutrient and that balance is important,” she told INSIDER.
Travers stresses that eating a balanced diet should be your main priority.
“Getting a range of all foods — not just proteins — is important,” she said.
“For example, eating protein with carbohydrates stimulates the uptake of other amino acids to the muscles leaving tryptophan free to cross into the brain unimpeded, allowing more serotonin to be made.
“I think the thing to take from this is to get variety in your diet and get the balance right.
“Fill half your plate with veg, a quarter with carbs and a quarter with protein and the chances of you getting everything you need and not too much of what you don’t is really high.”
If you want to know the REAL truth about BCAA’s and their “benefits”, then you need to read this article.
The global market for supplements is huge. It’s predicted to hit 45 billion by 2022. But with each supplement sold comes the many benefits its promised to deliver. And as shown in my how to take creatine article, some supplements actually do hold true to their promises whereas others simply take advantage of the misinformed.
One very popular supplement, branched chain amino acids (or BCAA’s), has grown into a multi-million dollar industry based on the concept that they create an anabolic environment for muscle growth. Take a look at any popular supplement company’s website and you’ll very likely find a sales page of them preaching the many benefits of BCAA’s and why you should buy theirs.
They’re also something that I personally used for years with the belief that it would help with my muscle recovery and help preserve my muscle during a cut – especially during fasted workouts.
But do BCAA’s actually hold true to their promise? Well in order to find out, we need to first understand the concept behind them.
What Are BCAA’s and How Do BCAA’s Work?
Amino acids are basically the building blocks of protein and muscle. There’s a total of 22 different amino acids, with 9 of them being classified as essential amino acids – simply meaning that our body can’t produce them and we have to ingest them through various protein sources.
Now research has shown that three of these 9 essential amino acids are particularly effective at increasing protein synthesis and can thus be viewed as the more important amino acids for muscle growth. These 3 amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are exactly what make up the supplement BCAA’s. So technically, BCAA’s are just like any other complete protein (Whey, eggs, etc.) but with only 3 of the 9 amino acids.
The theory is that increasing our uptake of these 3 amino acids should theoretically lead to better muscle growth and prevent muscle loss based on their effect on protein synthesis.
..why BCAA’s may not actually “work”
Based on the concept previously explained, BCAA’s should provide a benefit to muscle growth. However, tere’s a catch that seemed to be overlooked. Several studies have shown that in order to achieve muscle protein synthesis, you need all 9 of the essential amino acids present. NOT just the 3 that make up BCAA’s.
And if only 3 essential amino acids are consumed, as in the case with the consumption of BCAA’s, then the availability of the other 6 essential amino acids in the body becomes the rate limiting factor for protein synthesis. Simply put – this makes the BCAA’s you consumed pretty much useless if taken alone, since you also need adequate amounts of the other 6 amino acids.
So theoretically, BCAA’s wouldn’t provide any benefit over other protein sources that have all 9 essential amino acids and are likely inferior to them. But.. let’s take a look at the evidence just to be sure.
What Does Research Say?
Theory is great and all, but what does actual research have to say?
Well, it definitely agrees with this idea.
In 2008, Katsanos and colleagues showed that muscle protein synthesis was greater after ingesting whey protein when compared to ingesting the same amounts of essential amino acids in isolated form.
And these were with all 9 of the essential amino acids, not just the three that are in BCAA’s. Suggesting that whey protein ingestion improves muscle protein synthesis through mechanisms that are beyond those associated with its essential amino acid content.
In agreement with this, one 2017 study by Jackman and colleagues found that when male subjects ingested 5.6g of BCAA’s following their workout, the resulting protein synthesis response was only about 22%.
This is only around half of what would be achieved with an equivalent dose of whey protein
So it’s clear that BCAA’s are in fact inferior to other complete protein sources like Whey protein. Meaning that it would be more beneficial AND cheaper for you to use Whey instead.
And as stated by researcher Alan Aragon who’s done extensive research on the topic:
“You’ll get several other beneficial compounds within whey that are missing from isolated BCAA’s (lactoferrin, immunoglobins, lactoperoxidase, glycomacropeptide) AND Whey will likely provide greater satiety than just taking BCAA’s.”
What About BCAA’s During Intermittent Fasting (Fasted Training)?
But with that being said, what about using BCAA’s for fasted training in order to prevent muscle loss?
Well, this is where it gets really interesting.
As I mentioned earlier, if BCAA’s are taken alone then you only get 3 of the 9 essential amino acids. And when you’re in a fasted state, the only source for the other 6 is from breaking down your muscle tissue.
So as expected, recent research from the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that when taking BCAA’s in isolation, it actually:
- Decreases protein synthesis
- Increases protein breakdown
- Interferes with the absorption of amino acids
Which is all the opposite effect of what you’re looking for, and is thus not ideal to use when fasting.
So what can you do instead?
Well, fasted training doesn’t seem to cause muscle loss in the first place as long as your daily protein intake is sufficient. And this holds true for both fasted cardio and fasted weightlifting.
For example, one 2013 study analyzed Muslim bodybuilders who continued to train during Ramadan. They found that those who trained in a fasted state during Ramadan experienced no differences in body composition or muscle loss when compared to subjects who trained in a fed state.
But in the event that your strength suffers when weight training in a fasted state, I’d suggest taking a scoop of Whey protein or having a small protein rich meal before your workout instead of BCAA’s.
Although this will break your fast, many people are unaware that BCAA’s do contain calories and will break your fast due to the insulin response it elicits. Just like any other protein, they contain ~4kcal/g which is roughly 40 calories for a typical 10g serving of BCAA’s. The reason why some labels show BCAA’s as “0 calories” has to do with the FDA regulations – they don’t view individual amino acids as containing calories, which just isn’t true.
So if you’re going to break your fast anyways, you’re better off sticking to a complete protein source!
Are BCAA’s Completely Useless?
For the most part, I think it’s safe to say that BCAA’s are for the most part useless. The various studies showing they improved lean body mass were heavily flawed and often funded by supplement companies. And the studies showing that BCAA’s help with muscle soreness are legitimate but are always compared to a non-protein placebo (meaning the results don’t really hold any value).
The only case BCAA’s might provide some benefit is with vegans who struggle to intake adequate amounts of the branched chain amino acids (isoleucine, leucine, and valine) through food alone. But in this case, I’d suggest taking BCAA’s with another protein source to avoid the negatives I discussed earlier.
Another possible benefit is that if you’re in the habit of taking BCAA’s and find it helps with your mental focus or you just genuinely enjoy the product, then that’s perfectly fine – the placebo effect can be very beneficial! However, I’d again advise taking it with another protein source (e.g. whey protein before the gym then BCAA’s during your workout).
In fact, one 2013 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that “the addition of 5g of BCAA’s to a beverage containing 6.25 g whey protein increased muscle protein synthesis to a level comparable to that induced by 25 g of whey protein.” Meaning that there’s likely a synergistic effect of taking BCAA’s with Whey – but this is still unclear and will depend on the quantity of BCAA’s that are already present in your Whey protein. So if you’re going to continue using BCAA’s, take it with Whey or at least shortly before or after ingesting Whey (or any protein source)!
- An adequate protein intake will render BCAA-supplementation as (for the most part) useless.
- BCAA’s aren’t as effective at promoting protein synthesis as Whey or other complete protein sources (and they’re more expensive!)
- BCAA’s might even be detrimental when fasted. Instead, train fasted or ingest Whey (or another complete protein source) before your workout.
That’s pretty much it for this article. I hope you all enjoyed it and I hope it opened your eyes up to some of the misconceptions that the supplement industry loves to create. Although I used to be a proponent of BCAA’s, I think that part of being an evidence-based fitness professional is being open to new evidence which often means changing/challenging your own biases and beliefs. And I’ve done just that regarding my stance with BCAA’s.
On that note, I’m planning to do an in-depth analysis similar to this one on various other supplements. So let me know in the comments below what you’d like to see me review! In the meantime, stay updated by giving me a follow on Instagram , Facebook , and Youtube! Cheers!
The TRUTH About BCAA’s and Muscle Growth (10 Studies)
What to know about essential amino acids
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.
Share on PinterestHigh protein foods, such as tofu and quinoa, contain amino acids.
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.
The 9 Essential Amino Acids & What Are They And Why Do We Need Them?
We’ve all heard of amino acids, but what exactly are they, and why are they essential to our diets?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are organic compounds containing an amino group (-NH2) and a carboxy group (-COOH). As about twenty percent of the human body is made up of protein, amino acids make up a large proportion of our cells, muscles, and tissue.
Amino acids are integral to to the biological processes that happen within our bodies, such as giving cells their structure, transporting and storing nutrients, as well as forming our organs, glands, arteries and muscles. They’re also essential for healing wounds and repairing tissue, especially in the muscles, skin, bones, and hair.
There are 23 proteinogenic (protein building) amino acids in total, and over 100 natural amino acids, which are non-proteinogenic. Of the proteinogenic amino acids, 9 are essential, 11 which are nonessential, and 3 of which are not found in the human body.
Essential amino acids are not produced naturally by the body, so they have to be obtained from the foods we eat. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Each of these amino acids have unique properties and play crucial roles in our working bodies.
Non-essential amino acids are produced in the human body, so they are not essential to our diets. There are also three amino acids (selenocysteine, pyrrolysine, and N-formylmethionine) which are not found in humans, but are non-standard protein-building amino acids found in plants and other organisms.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) refers to three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are amino acids that have aliphatic side-chains with a branch in their atomic structure. Branched-Chain Amino Acids account for 35% of the essential amino acids in our muscles.
So how do we get the amino acids that we need, and what exactly do they do? Here’s a quick insight into each of these powerful little molecules.
The 9 Essential Amino Acids
Leucine helps to stimulate muscle strength and growth, and helps to retain lean muscle when dieting. Leucine is the main amino acid directly responsible for activating an essential compound in muscle called mTOR(mammalian target of rapamycin), which is directly responsible for up-regulating protein synthesis. Leucine provides the basic building blocks for muscle and helps to synthesise more. Leucine also helps to regulate blood sugar levels by moderating insulin into the body during and after exercise, and has a positive impact on our brain and neurotransmitters.
Isoleucine is an isolated form of leucine that helps the body produce haemoglobin. Haemoglobin carries iron in the blood and regulates blood sugar which is burned for energy in the muscles during exercise. Whey protein isolate is naturally high in Isoleucine.
Isoleucine also assists nitrogen growth within the muscle cells, which is a large part of our structural and DNA makeup.
Sources of Isoleucine: soy, meat and fish, dairy and eggs, cashews, almonds, oats, lentils, beans, brown rice, legumes, chia seeds.
Lysine is one of the main amino acids that is responsible for muscle repair and growth, and has also been shown to boost the body’s immune system. Lysine also helps the absorption of other minerals in the body and is needed for the synthesis of collagen which is the main element needed for the formation of connective tissue and bones in the body.
Methionine is important for the growth of new blood vessels and muscle growth, and it contains sulphur, which is integral to tissue and muscle health. Without enough sulphur in the body, people can be susceptible to arthritis, damaged tissue, and have trouble healing. Methionine also aids in the production of muscle growth and the formation of creatine, which is needed for energy. Methionine can also dissolve fat within the body and reduces fat deposits in the liver.
Phenylalanine is turned into the amino acid tyrosine within the body, which is needed to make proteins and brain chemicals such as epinephrine, L-dopa, norepinephrine, and thyroid hormones. Phenylalanine therefore has a large impact on our mood and mental health.
Threonine supports health function of the immune system, liver, heart, and the central nervous system. It is also needed to create glycine and serine, amino acids that are necessary to produce elastin, collagen, and muscle tissue. It is essential for the healthy working of the muscles, and help to keep them strong and elastic. Threonine also helps to build strong bones, and can help to accelerate the healing of wounds and tissue injuries.
When tryptophan is absorbed by the body, it is eventually turned into serotonin – the chemical responsible for making us feel happy, is a neurotransmitter, and helps to lower stress levels and depression. Tryptophan is also known for inducing a relaxing effect on the body, and promotes healthy sleep patterns, as well as supporting brain function and nervous system function.
Valine is essential for optimal muscle growth and repair. It helps to supply the muscles with extra glucose responsible for energy production during physical activity, making it essential for endurance and overall muscle health. It also helps to smooth working of the nervous system and cognitive function, as well as curing metabolic and liver diseases.
Histidine supports brain health and neurotransmitters (in particular, the neurotransmitter histamine). It also helps to detoxify the body by producing red and white blood cells, which are needed for overall health and immunity. Histidine can even help protect tissues from damage caused by radiation or heavy metals.
The best source of amino acids?
There are many amino acids on the market that are manufactured chemically. This can be done with chemical synthesis or extraction from protein sources. Synthesized amino acids differ in effect, depending on the way that they were genetically engineered. We recommend obtaining amino acids from a natural protein source, rather than a synthesized substitute.
Whey protein is one of the few sources that naturally contain all 20 amino acids, making it a complete protein.
Bare Blends’ whey protein isolate blends have a superior amino acid profile, and are especially undenatured. They provide our bodies with the most functional protein to recover, repair and build muscles, and also boosting our immunity.
The convenience factor of our vegan protein blends, or whey protein blends is an important one – as with after exercise it is important to fuel our bodies with amino acids straight away so they can begin recovering our muscles immediately.
These blends are also extremely handy for quick, nutrient-dense breakfast smoothies when you don’t have time for anything else. Blending up a serve of our WPI with dairy/nut milk or your liquid of choice, with some frozen fruit is a delicious healthy breakfast which will keep you sustained, and contain the protein and amino acids which your body needs to recover and perform optimally.
Protein is one of the most crucial nutrients to the human body and a little bit of protein can go a long way in improving varying aspects of your health. From the strength of your body to that of your hair, skin, and nails, protein’s amino acid chains perform vital tasks within your body that make it a prime nutrient to be sure you get enough of. Protein is also essential for healthy neurotransmitter function, along with overall energy levels. While carbs and fats have their place in a diet, most everyone knows that protein is a nutrient we shouldn’t leave out.
The Real Deal on Amino Acids in a Plant-Based Diet
Luckily, all foods contain a little protein, and a large variety of plant-based foods provide many of the essential amino acids once believed to only exist within animal-based foods. Essential amino acids are amino acids that are the building blocks of protein that our body can’t produce by itself. In other words, if we don’t eat them, we won’t get enough of them. But steak, beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and milk are not the only sources of essential amino acids; plants have plenty of them our bodies can use the same way.
Out of the 22 amino acids that exist, nine are essential and 11 are non-essential. Below are a list of the nine essential amino acids and plant-based foods that are good sources of each. Some sources of amino acids, like chia and hemp seeds, also offer all essential amino acids, making them a complete protein, though remember that all plant-based foods can form complete proteins within the body once ingested.
We also highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest meatless, vegan, plant-based and allergy-friendly recipe resource to help you get healthy!
Here’s what each essential amino acid does and where to find it:
Leucine is one of the best essential amino acids for stimulating muscle strength and growth, and also referred to as a BCAA (brand-chain amino acid). Leucine helps regulate your blood sugar by moderating insulin into the body during and after exercise and can even help prevent and treat depression by the way it acts on neurotransmitters in the brain.
Good plant-based sources include: seaweed, pumpkin, peas and pea protein, whole grain rice, sesame seeds, watercress, turnip greens, soy, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, figs, avocados, raisins, dates, apples, blueberries, olives and even bananas. Don’t limit yourself to one food of these choices, and aim for a serving of either seaweed, leafy greens, hemp seeds, chia seeds, grains, legumes, seeds, or beans at each meal to be sure you get enough high-quality plant protein.
Isoleucine is another BCAA similar to leucine, however with a few different responsibilities. It is an isolated form of leucine that specifically helps the body produce energy and hemoglobin. It’s also vital assisting in nitrogren growth within the muscle cells, especially in children.
Lysine is responsible for proper growth and in the production of carnitine (a nutrient responsible for converting fatty acids into fuel to lower cholesterol). It also helps the body absorb calcium for even further bone strength and also aids in collagen production. It’s vital to get enough of this amino acid since deficiency can lead to nausea, depression, fatigue, muscle depletion and even osteoporosis.
Good plant-based sources of lysine include: beans (the best), watercress, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spirulina, parsley, avocados, soy protein, almonds, cashews, and some legumes with lentils and chickpeas being two of the best.
Methionine helps form cartilage in the body through the use of sulfur. Sulfur is a mineral essential to the production of bone cartilage and no other amino acids contain sulfur aside from methionine. People who don’t eat enough sulfur-containing foods to produce methionine in the body may suffer arthritis, damaged tissue, and poor healing. Methionine also aids in the production of muscle growth and formation of creatine, needed for optimal cellular energy.
Good plant-based sources of sulfur include: sunflower seed butter and sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, oats, seaweed, wheat, figs, whole grain rice, beans, legumes, onions, cacao, and raisins.
This amino acid comes in three forms: L-phenalynaline (a natural form found in protein) and D-phenalynaline (a form produced by a laboratory), and DL phenalynaline (a combination of both forms). Always eat food-based sources before choosing supplements or enriched food products with a lab-derived version of this amino acid. Phenylalanine is important in the body because it turns into tyrosine once ingested, which is another amino acid that’s needed to make proteins, brain chemicals, and thyroid hormones. Not obtaining enough of this amino acid can result in brain fog, lack of energy, depression, lack of appetite, or memory problems.
Threonine supports a healthy immune system, heart, liver, and central nervous system health. It also helps maintain a balance of proteins within the body to assist in overall repair, energy, and growth. This amino acid also helps the body’s connective tissues and joints in good health by producing glycine and serine in the body, two essential amino acids needed for healthy bones, skin, hair, and nails. In the liver it helps with fatty acid digestion to prevent fatty acid build-up and liver failure.
The highest sources of this amino acid are: watercress and spirulina (which even exceed meat), pumpkin, leafy greens, hemp seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and sunflower butter, almonds, avocados, figs, raisins, quinoa, and wheat . Sprouted grains are also excellent sources of this amino acid as well.
Known as the relaxing amino acid, tryptophan is vital to a healthy nervous system and brain health, along with sleep, muscle growth and repair, and overall neurotransmitter function. It’s one of the most prominent amino acids found in turkey, milk, and cheese that cause those foods to make you feel sleepy and relaxed. Tryptophan also converts to serotonin once in the brain, which creates a happy feeling tied to lower levels of stress and depression. It’s best not to consume milk and cheese sources (or turkey) for your tryptophan content whenever you get the chance. Animal foods promote inflammation and there are tons of plant-based sources you can choose instead.
Valine is another BCAA needed for optimal muscle growth and repair. It’s also responsible for endurance and the overall maintenance of good muscle health.
This amino acid helps transport neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) to the brain and also helps overall muscle health within each muscle cells. It even helps detoxify the body by producing red and white blood cells needed for overall health and immunity. Not obtaining enough histidine can result in arthritis, sexual disfunction, and even deafness. It can also make the body more susceptible to the AIDS virus.
How Much Do You Need?
So how much protein do you need? Everyone is different depending on their training goals or overall lifestyle goals. If you’re eating a vegan diet, use this handy online calculator to see how much is enough and to find out the best sources and see the Vegetarian Resource Group for more information on protein in a vegan diet.
Overall, eating a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods will provide you with all the essential amino acids your body needs for optimal growth, repair, and health. Feel free to make your own vegan protein bars, and even skip those store bought protein powders by making your own at home. Getting protein in a vegan diet is versatile and easy, so take advantage of these foods however you can.
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
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We all know the importance of eating fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, healthy fats, plant based proteins and whole grains, but as you get older, it’s particularly important to focus on foods high in essential amino acids to minimize muscle loss.
Why? Age related muscle loss—sarcopenia—can create a whole host of issues for individuals including loss of balance, mobility, strength, flexibility and in general, a less healthy lifestyle. The 9 essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and without those, you can’t repair and rejuvenate your muscles.
REJUVENATE is a patented blend of all 9 essential amino acids.
All sources of protein, whether plant or animal based, contain essential amino acids. The amount of each essential amino acid in each food will vary however.
Meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish are complete sources of protein because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Soy, such as tofu or soy milk, is a popular plant-based source of protein since it contains all 9 essential amino. Nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and whole grains are excellent sources of protein but only form a complete protein when they are consumed together. Each on its own is lacking a few of the essential amino acids.
The best advice is to always ensure your diet includes a variety of foods. If your appetite is lacking due to illness, recovery from surgery, or exercise, you may need a supplement such as REJUVENATE to get extra essential amino acids in your diet.
7 Foods High in Essential Amino Acids
Lean meats are a great way to make sure you are getting protein and all 9 essential amino acids, without overdoing the fats. Turkey, lean meats, and poultry are all high in essential amino acids and relatively low in saturated fats when compared to red meats.
Fish for life
An excellent source of essential amino acids and heart healthy fatty acid, Omega 3s, is found in salmon. It’s an easy fish to prepare, tastes good and can help you limit your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
But if salmon isn’t your favourite, fish of all types contain so many of your essential micronutrients and the essential amino acids your muscles crave to stave off any loss.
Cottage cheese, low-fat cheeses and dairy products like yogurts for your smoothies have all 9 essential amino acids, are high in protein, as well as vitamins A, D, E, B12, and an important source of calcium, which contributes to bone health.
Including a protein smoothie in your daily diet, made with Boomer Nutrition protein powder and Rejuvenate will give you a boost of all the essential amino acids your muscles are craving to ensure that you can maintain them, slow any loss and keep your energy up.
Eggs contain complete proteins and come in their very own, recyclable container. One egg contains all nine essential amino acids needed to make up a complete protein, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K B2, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper. You can even get them enriched with extra Omega 3s.
In addition to being just about the perfect food to boost your energy and reverse muscle loss, they are the most versatile food to cook with.
- Scramble them with some herbs or cheese.
- Enjoy them over easy or sunny side up, with some whole grain toast.
- Put together a fabulous frittata with a lot of great veggies, like broccoli and tomato to wow your friends and family with at brunch.
- Keep a few hard boiled eggs in the fridge, for an on the go snack.
Legumes & Beans
Members of the legumes and bean family include peas, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, peanuts, cooked kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans & edamame.
All are excellent sources of plant based proteins, but not necessarily a good source of essential amino acids. Since they are not complete proteins—containing all the essential amino acids to help fight muscle loss—it is best to combine legumes with grains such as Quinoa as what Quinoa lacks, legumes contain and what legumes lack, you can get in Quinoa.
Quinoa is a super grain for good reason. It is one of the few plant foods that is high in protein and contains all 9 of the essential amino acids while also being high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and many vitamins.
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, walnuts, macadamia, cashews or brazil nuts are THE perfect snack for when you are super busy and on the run. Seeds of all kind, like pumpkin and sesame, are also great to mix in for a boost in essential amino acids. Portable and delicious, a handful of nuts before you exercise or to stave off a late night snack attack will help you to keep your eating under control, and healthy, however, nuts and seeds are not complete proteins. They alone will not provide all nine essential amino acids, but will add plenty of plant based protein to your diet
While it is true that there is no magic potion that can slow the aging process, eating well to ensure you are getting all of the essential amino acids that your muscles need to build protein and rejuvenate themselves is a great start.
REJUVENATE works with or without exercise, to help reverse the effects of aging on your muscles.
Eating a diet rich in all nine essential amino acids and exercising is the best defense against sarcopenia. Choosing foods that help slow aging can keep your energy up, overall health in check, prevent disease and slow some of the physical effects of aging.
The Only 4 Things You Need to Know About Amino Acids
As a healthy eater, you probably know a thing or two about carbs, protein, and fats. But we’re guessing there’s one thing you don’t give much thought to: amino acids. They’re essential for life, and yet, WTF are they!?
If you’ve ever taken the time to Google the term, you likely got a mind-boggling answer about carbon bonds. Luckily, there is a more straightforward answer: “Amino acids are the building blocks of protein,” says Elizabeth Shaw, R.D.,an adjunct nutrition professor at San Diego Mesa College. “Unlike carbs or fats, proteins need to have amino acids to form their structure.”
If that still seems like a lot of technical jargon, here are the only things you really need to know.
1. Protein is made up of amino acids.
​News flash: We need protein to live. It’s present in every cell and helps us build and maintain healthy bones, muscle, and skin. Protein, which is found in nuts, seeds, dairy, fish, meat, poultry, and beans, is essentially a long chain of amino acids. So when your body breaks down protein from food, amino acids are what’s left.There are three types of amino acids: essential, nonessential, and conditional. (Creative, right?) Essential are the kind that can’t be made by your body but are necessary for survival (more on that below). While nonessential seems to imply “not needed,” it actually describes amino acids that your body produces on its own. Conditional amino acids are the kind you usually only need if you’re ill or stressed.
2. Your body can’t produce all of them.
Of the 20 total amino acids, there are nine your body can’t make on its own.”These amino acids must come from food sources,” says Amy Gorin, R.D. “Without them, the body’s cells would use their own proteins to get those missing amino acids. Eventually, this would lead to degradation of the muscles and organs.” Translation: No bueno for your body.In case you’re curious, the nine essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Your body needs each of these in different amounts to build muscle, break down food (i.e., digest it), repair tissue, and many other functions. For example, tryptophan (which gets a false bad rap for making you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner) helps your body make serotonin, a chemical that’s sometimes referred to as a mood-regulating hormone.
3. Eating a wide variety of real food is enough.
You don’t have to go crazy trying to figure out which foods do or don’t have certain amino acids, as long as you’re eating a decent variety of protein sources every day. Gorin offers this example: If you ate plain 2 percent fat Greek yogurt, pistachios, an apple, and whole-grain cereal for breakfast, you’d be getting a small amount of every essential amino acid—and that’s just one meal.So what about supplements? Read enough health blogs and you’re bound to come across BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids. There are three BCAAs: isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Because some studies have suggested BCAAs play a role in exercise performance and recovery, they’re popular amongst bodybuilders and athletes, though these findings have been inconsistent.Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion. Gualano AB, Bozza T, Lopes De Campos P. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 2011, Jun.;51(1):0022-4707. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Shimomura Y, Inaguma A, Watanabe S. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 2010, Sep.;20(3):1526-484X. But in general, whole foods are a better choice.“Speaking for the average athlete—not the Olympian out there—there’s no reason to take a supplement unless there’s a medical indication you need one,” Shaw says. “You can get amino acids from food sources, even as a vegetarian, and still build your muscles.”If you’re still interested in supplementation, it’s best to speak with a doc or dietitian before starting.
4. Don’t worry about combining incomplete proteins.
You’ve probably heard that rice and beans are a complete or complementary protein, meaning that when you eat them together, you get all essential amino acids at once. Separately, each is considered an incomplete protein, meaning it’s low in one or more essential amino acid. Researchers used to believe that incomplete proteins needed to be eaten together (at the same meal in a single sitting) in order for your body to best use them. But that’s no longer valid.“You don’t need to eat the complementary proteins in the same meal,” Gorin says. “So if you have a salad with black beans at lunch and a stir-fry over brown rice for dinner, you’re getting those complementary proteins in the same day.”But she also stresses: Don’t overthink this. “What’s more important is including a protein source—such as chicken, salmon, eggs, Greek yogurt, tofu—with every meal,” Gorin says. If you’re eating a balance of protein sources, healthy fats (think nuts or avocados), and whole grains (think brown rice or 100 percent whole-grain bread), you’re probably getting a healthy balance of amino acids, Gorin says.
We’ve teamed up with our friends at KIND to help break down some complicated nutrition facts. KIND has even more great content about the ingredients that make for a flavorful life happening over on Medium. Follow Ingredients by clicking below and be sure to recommend the articles you love.