The Experts Guide To: Amino Acids

Nutrition, Supplements,

The Experts Guide To: Amino Acids

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Our Amino Acids guide will teach everything about Amino Acid supplements and BCAAs from muscle building, fat loss and recovery.

Amino Acids are incredible supplements, they are critical to life, and have many functions in thye bodie’s metabolism. They fulfill the basic foundations of well-being like vitamins and minerals whilst also optimizing those micronutrients and providing the fuel for growth, health, good functioning of the body and genetic transcription.

The first few amino acids were discovered in the early 1800s. In 1806, the French chemists Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin and Pierre Jean Robiquet isolated a compound in asparagus that proved to be asparagine, the first amino acid to be discovered. Another amino acid that was discovered in the early 19th century was cystine, in 1810, although its monomer, cysteine, was discovered much later, in 1884. Glycine and leucine were also discovered around this time, in 1820.

What Are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the structural building blocks of protein. They are found in protein rich sources, such as meat and fish. Amino acids form the basic components of all living cells, found in virtually every part of the body. They are essential for the maintenance, growth and repair of muscle tissue.

Protein is broken down in digestion to its single amino acid component. Chemical bonds are formed between these single amino acids to make thousands of different proteins and enzymes. There are 20 amino acids that fall into 2 categories: essential and non-essential, you can find them listed below.

Aspartic acid
Glutamic acid

Non-Essential Amino Acids

12 amino acids are termed non-essential as they can be made from other amino acids as well as from carbohydrates and nitrogen.

Essential Amino Acids

8 amino acids are termed essential and must be supplied in the diet. They are essential as they can’t be made in the body.

Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) are the 3 essential amino acids linked together:


BCAA’s are particularly important for weight training because they make up one third of muscle protein. BCAA’s are essential for excessively stressed muscle to:

Promote healing
Supply energy
Speed recovery
Prevent muscle tissue breakdown
Convert to other amino acids when a deficiency arises
Amino acid supplements

Amino acid supplements come in the form of tablets or capsules. They supply a high source of BCAAs and a balance of other amino acids, which are difficult to get from whole foods. On the other hand, protein powders must be broken down in digestion into amino acids. Amino acid supplements do not contain sweeteners, fillers, dyes or carbohydrates that are found in protein powders.

Amino Acids Effects

During exercise, muscles are broken down and need to be repaired and rebuilt for muscular growth. Combined with heavy training, amino acids create a muscle building environment to encourage growth and repair. By maximizing your training adaptations, performance can be improved.

Amino Acids Have Been Shown To:

Increase lifting capacity
Decrease muscle breakdown following exercise
Increase muscle mass
Decrease fatigue
Increase immune function
Increase antioxidant capacity
Decrease protein breakdown during exercise
Supply energy
Increase growth hormones & Insulin-like growth factor IGF-17

Those Who Are Involved In The Following Activities Should Benefit From Amino Acid Supplementation:

Strength and power training
Long intense endurance training
Athletes on a low carbohydrate diet
New to strength training
Weight loss program
Vegetarian or vegans
Returning to training following injury or illness
Team sports that are long in duration and involve repetitive sprints ie football.

Improved Performance

Daily amino acid needs are higher if you train regularly. Your body needs more amino acids after exercise to repair the muscles. To increase muscle size and strength, higher protein content in the diet creates the ideal environment for adaptation and growth. Amino acids have several roles within the body to aid performance that are discussed below.

What is Nitrogen Balance?

To understand nitrogen balance, we must first understand the structure of amino acids. Amino acids are made of the molecules carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. Nitrogen molecules are not found in carbohydrates or fats, only in protein. Nitrogen balance refers to the balance of nitrogen entering the body in the diet and the amount leaving the body. When intake is greater than loss, the body is in a positive nitrogen balance. This positive state provides an anabolic or muscle building environment.

Build Muscle Strength and Size

Your body must be in a state of positive nitrogen balance for muscle building. High intakes of amino acids increase nitrogen balance, providing the best environment for growth. Research shows muscle protein synthesis rates are higher when protein and amino acid intakes are high. Furthermore, improvements in lean body mass during a weight training program were greater with amino acid supplementation. Essential amino acids, including the BCAAs, are particularly known to aid muscle building.

Reducing Fatigue

The causes of fatigue are extremely complex, caused by both energy depletion and the central nervous system (CNS). Over the past 20 years research has supported the role of the brain and CNS in fatigue during exercise that doesn’t deplete energy stores. Increased activity of the serotonergic system during exercise increases feeling of:

perceptions of effort
motivational loss

These factors limit physical and mental performance. During exercise involving physical and mental skills, such as football, fatigue can impact performance. BCAAs and tyrosine have been found to manipulate neurotransmitter precursors to delay the onset of fatigue. Studies have found that BCAAs taken before exercise improved mental and physical performance, although not all research agrees.

What is IGF-1?

Insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is a protein hormone similar in structure to insulin. It has an anabolic effect on the body, being one of the most natural potent stimulators of cell growth.

Increases Anabolic Hormones

Amino acid supplementation increases the amount found in the blood. Research shows increased concentrations of amino acids in the blood boosts the gene expression of IGF-1.

IGF-1 is a protein hormone that stimulates cell growth with muscle tissue being especially affected. Its production is stimulated by growth hormone, another hormone that encourages growth and cell reproduction. The release of IGF-1 stimulated from amino acid supplementation is unclear with some research supporting this view and others not.

Prevent Muscle Tissue Breakdown

BCAAs help prevent muscle tissue breakdown during exercise. BCAAs also have the ability to be used directly as an energy source by the muscles. Research demonstrated that 4g of BCAAs reduced muscle tissue breakdown during and after exercise. Glutamine plays a major role in preventing tissue breakdown and boosts the immune system.

How To Use Amino Acids?

Amino acid blends and BCAAs typically come in capsule form. Recommended uses vary slightly depending on the potency of the product, however the optimum time to supplement is both pre and post workout.

Glutamine is available in a tasteless white powder that dissolves in water. For more information please see SNC’s Buyers guide to Glutamine.

Types Of Amino Acids

As described in ‘what are amino acids’, they are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different types and they form different combinations to create 1000’s of different proteins. Amino acids can be divided into 2 categories which are the essential amino acids, including the branched chain amino acids, and non-essential amino acids.

Amino acids can be used in capsule form for high doses of specific amino acids. High quality protein and meal replacement shakes generally supply a good source.

When Choosing An Amino Acid Supplement Look Out For 2 Things On The Nutritional Label:

A high supply of the BCAAs which are leucine, isoleucine and valine.
The amino acids should be L-form (e.g. L-arginine “L meaning Levo”) denoting a naturally occurring amino acid. Other forms, such as d-forms are poorly absorbed and may be toxic.

Potential And Adverse Effects?

Excessively high intakes of branched chain amino acids (BCAA) may reduce the absorption of other amino acids.

Amino Acid FAQs

Will Using BCAA’s Be Better Than Using A Whey Protein Powder?

Protein powders and protein based meal replacement powders typically contain high amount of branched chain acids. Therefore using both may not be necessary.

Are Amino Acids Better Than Whole Food For Achieving High Protein Intakes?

The sole use of supplements to supply nutrients should be discouraged. Supplements should be used to make up for short falls in your diet. Any use of supplements should be in conjunction with whole food. Although you can obtain protein solely from whole food, this can prove challenging for several reasons.

Many high protein foods have a high fat content and the financial and time expense involved in selecting, buying, preparing and eating high protein whole foods on regular intervals throughout the day can be overwhelming. Amino acids provide convenient, quick alternatives to supply your body with the best nutritional value amino acids without the hassle.

If I Choose To Reach My Amino Acids Needs Through Whole Food and Protein Powders, Are There Any Tips To Get The Most From These Food Sources?

Absolutely. If you feel your protein intake from whole foods and/or protein based supplements is sufficient, amino acid supplements may not be necessary. If this is the case a good tip is to look out for vitamin B6 content. It plays an essential role in protein metabolism. Basically it helps improves the efficiency that protein is broken down into the amino acids.


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