What Are Amino Acids and Why Do People Take Them?
Not all types of workout supplements stand the test of time, but one option that has been around for as long as people have studied nutritionism is the amino acid supplement. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein — both plant and animal proteins — and they play essential roles within your body.
Different types of amino acids can be found in any health food or supplement store, whether they be pills, powders, or dietary additives.
It would be understandable if you thought amino acids were just another synthetic workout booster, but that is far from the truth. Amino acids are necessary nutrients for all humans and are found in the foods we eat.
These supplements exist because it is crucial to get the full range of necessary amino acids for your body to function. They are especially critical for those who go to the gym, as boosting your amino acid intake can improve workout recovery and muscle growth.
What Are the Different Amino Acids?
Amino acids are the molecules that make up proteins. There are three types of amino acids: essential amino acids, nonessential amino acids, and conditional amino acids.
Essential amino acids are not produced by the body, meaning you need to get them through food intake. When the proteins we consume are broken down, we are left with the amino acids which continue to work within the body.
Nonessential amino acids are naturally produced by our bodies. While, in most cases, it does not hurt to add more of them to our diets, these amino acids do not require an outside source to provide them.
Conditional amino acids are only necessary for certain situations, such as when the body is under duress.
Below are some examples of the different amino acids and what they do.
The Essential Amino Acids
The essential amino group includes:
- Histidine: This amino acid is a neurotransmitter that aids in sexual function, digestion, the cycle of sleeping and waking, and so much more.
- Isoleucine: This amino acid is essential for muscle metabolism, hemoglobin production, and your immune system.
- Leucine: Leucine is critical for protein synthesis and helps the cells balance the loss of cellular proteins with the creation of new proteins.
- Lysine: Lysine helps your body absorb hormones and enzymes from food. It also aids in calcium absorption.
- Methionine: This amino acid helps your body absorb zinc and selenium.
- Phenylalanine: This amino acid is a building block for norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine.
- Threonine: This amino acid helps your body produce collagen and elastin.
- Tryptophan: This amino acid helps you produce serotonin.
- Valine: Valine helps your body derive energy from carbohydrates.
Nonessential Amino Acids
In general, nonessential amino acids support many of the basic body functions, such as the formation of red blood cells, the growth and repair of tissue, and the synthesizing of hormones. Here are some of the nonessential amino acids that our bodies make:
- Aspartic Acid
Conditional Amino Acids
As previously stated, these amino acids are not necessary for our bodies to have all the time. However, in situations of illness or stress, these amino acids become essential for our bodies to have. Some situations when these amino acids are needed include during pregnancy or after the body goes through extreme trauma such as surgeries.
Here are some examples of conditional amino acids:
- Glutamic Acid (Glutamate)
What Are BCAAs?
Nine of the many amino acids are classified as essential amino acids, and three of these amino acids are called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). The three branch-chain amino acids are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, which are found in foods high in protein.
BCAAs can make workout recovery more efficient, and they can stimulate muscle growth. BCAAs can be found in foods such as meats, eggs, yogurt, soybeans, quinoa, cheese, and other high-protein options.
Alternatively, nutrition shops around the country will have BCAA supplements, often in the form of powders that you can add to a drink.
BCAA Supplements vs. Protein Supplements
BCAAs are basically an isolated component of what you can find in protein supplements. Protein powders contain BCAAs, but they also contain a number of other amino acids beyond the branched-chain ones. This means that while simple BCAA supplements do improve muscle growth and recovery, protein supplements will have a wider range of effects.
Protein must be broken down into its individual amino acids, which is not the case with BCAAs. In many cases, protein will be the better option for gaining mass and losing weight. However, BCAAs are a great option for people who want to improve their energy and recovery before and after workouts.
What Are the Benefits of BCAAs?
BCAAs are more than just a supplement to give you energy in the gym. Here are some of the ways BCAAs can help you maintain an active lifestyle:
- Help you gain lean muscle mass: BCAAs do not pack on calories like many other dietary supplements, and the muscle mass you gain when taking them is more likely to be lean and clean.
If you are not trying to bulk up, then BCAAs are a good idea.
- Can improve symptoms of liver disease: Studies of the human body’s biochemistry have shown that BCAA supplements can improve outcomes related to liver cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy. Because BCAAs are natural amino acids, they are necessary additions to your diet and can help you stay healthy.
- Help reduce fatigue: BCAAs can improve focus and efficiency in the gym. Proper nutrition will always improve your ability to work out without getting exhausted, and the proper amino acids are a big part of that.
Make sure you are eating the proper amount of protein so that you get your necessary amino acids.
- Can reduce muscle soreness after a workout: In addition to keeping your energy levels high before a workout, BCAAs can prevent soreness afterward. While a level of soreness is expected and even necessary for the workout process, BCAAs can make you more comfortable and prevent soreness from becoming debilitating.
Should You Take BCAAs?
Your number one method of getting your BCAAs should be getting them through your daily food intake. Reaching your daily recommended levels for essential amino acids should happen as you are consuming your daily meals.
With that in mind, many people can still benefit from utilizing BCAA supplements. Supplements support an active lifestyle and give you a clean run of BCAAs that can make your daily workout more comfortable and efficient. They avoid the extra calories and amino acids that protein powder includes, making them a simpler addition to your diet.
If your goal is to build muscle and pack on weight, you might be better off sticking to protein supplements and getting the full package of amino acids. But if you are just trying to focus on your health while seeing performance benefits in the gym, BCAAs are worth adding to your daily smoothie.
BCAAs may seem like another type of protein powder, but there is a lot more to them than that. They allow for increased muscle growth and energy by getting you the essential amino acids that you need to maintain an active lifestyle.
BCAAs might not have the ability to let you pack on muscle mass like protein powder can, but many lifestyles would benefit from BCAA supplements. Make sure you are eating protein-heavy foods to get your BCAA fix naturally before you turn to BCAA supplements for a boost.
BCAAs, like most protein powders, are best taken within your ideal anabolic window. Make sure you have the tools on hand in the gym with a Haven Athletic bag. These bags are the pinnacle of space and organization for anyone who takes the gym seriously. Haven bags let you make sure you don’t have to leave any of the necessities at home, so you can have all your dietary supplements ready in the hour following your workout.
Check out Haven Athletic for more info on how to make the most out of your hours in the gym.
Amino acids: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia | Medline Plus
Five Proven Benefits of BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) | Healthline
BCAA vs. Protein Powder | Livestrong
BCAAs: Benefits of Branched-Chain Amino Acids | Medical News Today