Choosing the best amino acids to add to your diet often requires a little bit of research and guidance, but not to worry! We have all of the information you need to find the right options for your lifestyle and needs, including:
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are the framework of the human body. They come together by design specified to the biological system in need. Aminos string together to form hormones, connective tissue, organs, skin cells, hair, nails, enzymes, bones, and, of course, muscle.
Amino acids typically begin their journey into the human body via protein structures. Aminos are known as the “building blocks of protein” because they come together in specific order(s) to create unique protein structures. Since body systems create highly differentiating demands for protein, amino acids synthesize to form to the preferred protein structure.
Amino acids are found predominantly in animals, both in muscle and connective tissues. However, they may also be sourced from many different plant sources as well, including lentils, legumes, seeds, tree nuts and more. More on this shortly.
Many choose to take in extra aminos through various forms of supplements like protein and collagen powders, as well as amino acid powders and pills.
What are the benefits?
Amino acids, and more importantly the completed structure of protein, is extremely important for the entire human body. Twenty one amino acids are used to create the foundation for practically every system in the human body.
Some examples of amino acid dependent functions in the body include:
- neurological function
- thyroid function
- hormone synthesis
- muscle growth and repair
- wound healing
- bone repair and growth
- energy transfer
- and many more
A great example of this is the digestive system. To start, a hunger signal is sent via specific hormones such as Ghrelin, which is built with amino acids. Then, the act of eating is done by muscle activation in the mouth. Following the bolus of food down the esophagus, we run into digestive enzymes that begin being secreted into the mouth and then meet the food in the small intestine to finish the job. These are all composed of amino acids.
Once broken down in the small intestine, the protein from the food is now in its bioavailable form; amino acids. These are then absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestine via active transport (energy requiring) through junctions in the intestinal wall that are composed of and partly controlled by, you guessed it, amino acids. The digestive system is simply one example of how the human body so heavily relies on amino acids and protein in general for daily functioning.
Getting a good supply of protein and amino acids can sometimes prove daunting. Especially with many people fasting as a weight management therapy. Situations in which people fail to intake an adequate amount of protein (depending on the research and opinion of the researchers this may be .25 grams of protein per pound of body weight, all the way up to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight) may lead to recommendation and/or physiological demand of a supplement to achieve necessary amounts.
For instance, a competitive athlete may need double the amount of protein and thus amino acids than a normal person that predominantly sits all day at work. Both, however, may benefit from amino acid supplementation for different reasons. In such cases a supplement may be warranted. As with the majority of dietary supplements, it can be tough to know what to look for and just how to look for the highest quality options. This is no different with amino and protein supplements.
Is it better to take protein or amino acids supplements?
Protein powders would be the most efficient and likely cost to dose ratio option to supplement with. The hurdles to keep in mind with protein powders begin with allergens. A recent meta analysis compiled years of protein supplement research into a hierarchy of absorbability based on sourcing. The top five options were all animal based sources. This means that if someone has a specific animal allergy, they may need to be careful when choosing. This is of course the same when it comes to plant sources as well. That being said, with respect to religious and ethical considerations, animal based protein options are the top choice for bio availability.
When choosing, a good checklist for animal protein is:
- certification (organic, non GMO, etc),
- lactose amount, protein per scoop (preferable >20 grams)
- amount of branched chain aminos (BCAAs) known as leucine, isoleucine and valine
With plant based, look for many of the same; source, certifications, heavy metal testing, BCAA amounts, and variety of sources. Plant proteins with respect to soy do not contain the full twenty one amino acids necessary to qualify as a complete protein. Therefore, blends typically garner the largest variety of necessary aminos.
How do I add amino acid supplements to my diet?
Moving on to other amino acid supplements the next best options include BCAAs and EAAs (essential amino acids). These come in the form of powders, pills and sometimes liquids. BCAAs are the primary building blocks of muscle, and are also the most insulinogenic and growth promoting amino acids. EAAs are the nine essential amino acids that the human body is not capable of synthesizing. The EAAs contain the three BCAAs. The easiest way to ascertain these aminos is by intaking a powder supplement. Pills are effective as well, however the amount of dose to promote a satisfactory intake is extremely high.
Read Up →Transparent labs has created this great review compiling results from several studies about BCAA’s
As for the liquids, these tend to be very expensive. As with choosing protein powders, choosing amino supplements deserves the same scrutiny. All of the same parameters apply, i.e. quality, certifications, heavy metals, sources, etc. Most amino acids begin as corn. It's important to buy from brands that are willing to disclose the quality of the corn they use. Other individual amino acids such as carnitine, methionine, tryptophan, etc, are typically either synthetic or corn derived.
Synthetic amino acids are not necessarily a reality yet. But, “non natural” options typically grow on bacteria in a lab setting. These serve the same purposes and have not shown thus far to be problematic or less effective than the other options.
Amino acid supplements work the same way that ingesting the naturally occuring sources do, but they offer an easier and many times more effective method of dosing. Specific conditions, such as muscle wasting during cancer treatment, typically increase demand of aminos outside of the normal modality of food intake due to nausea or incapacitation. For this and many other scenarios, use an alternative amino supplement to maintain proper system functioning. i.e. maintaining muscle mass.
Aminos are also easier to digest than the complete protein counterpart, making it a preferred method to ingest the building blocks of muscle for recovery before, during and immediately after exercise. Many times this method is able to bypass digestive discomfort and yield higher bioavailability.
Try Our Amino BCAA + EAA - Raspberry Lemonade
Is it safe, and can I take them every day?
Amino acids serve as a daily supplement or alternative to standard protein intake. Aside from allergies to certain aminos or amino sources, most are capable of daily supplementation with clearance from their designated medical professional. Amino acids are powerful nutraceuticals, so we want to use them in an intentonal way. The vast majority of amino acids are safe and effective in the absence of underlying conditions.
The body will pool up excess amino acids to use as needed and then excrete extra via the kidneys. Most athletes and highly active individuals may benefit from daily supplementation before, during and/or after exercise. Aminos are one of the most effective supplements for
improving recovery and reducing muscle soreness/fatigue. Furthermore, creatine is the most studied and proven sports nutrition supplement in history. In fact, it is so important that humans make it endogenously. This can only happen if the key amino acids that compose creatine, arginine, methionine and glycine are in abundance. Coincidentally, creatine is also essential for energy production which means even non athletes should make sure to attempt to maintain adequate intake of these key aminos.
Suffice to say that daily or even exercise dependent dosing of amino supplements are likely safe and effective for most people, obviously depending on their individual health status and health care practitioner’s discretion.
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Switching gears to the more average Joe intake of aminos, needs still abound for this group as well. Some want to take carnitine to aid in weight loss or brain function. Arginine for blood flow and vascular health. Others may take glycine for sleep or theanine for stress reduction. All of the aminos are typically recommended for daily use depending upon the individual’s need(s).
You can find the protein powders and supplements I recommend for workouts here. If you’d like to create your own plan with a coach here at Nutrition World, be sure to make an appointment for a wellness consultation.
Though the safety profiles are excellent, anyone worried about side effects should always check with their medical provider before adding them to a daily regimen. It doesn’t hurt to get an opinion from a doctor that has a good understanding of nutritional supplements over one that does not, as well.