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Exploring Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Life

Exploring Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Life

Article At A Glance

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and adequate amounts of all essential amino acids are required for adequate protein synthesis.

There are nine essential amino acids and these must be consumed through dietary sources.

BCAAs, a subgroup of three essential amino acids, and conditional amino acids, typically nonessential but can become essential in specific circumstances such as illness, stress, or intense physical activity.

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Amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of life and required for the synthesis of body protein and other important nitrogen-containing compounds, such as creatine, peptide hormones, and some neurotransmitters. 

There are 20 amino acids, nine of which are essential and must be obtained through food or supplements. Amino acids are classified into three groups: essential (EAA & BCAA), nonessential, and conditional.

In this blog post, we’ll uncover the difference between EAA + BCAA, Conditional and Non-Essential amino acids, and explore some benefits, reasons to take them and potential side effects.

What are Essential Amino Acids (EAA)?

Your body requires nine essential amino acids that it cannot produce, emphasizing the importance of consuming them through your diet. A protein is said to be complete when it has enough EAAs, and each of these amino acids plays a unique role in the body.

 

The nine EAAs are Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. Among the nine essential amino acids, three are classified as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). These amino acids are significant due to their significant role and impact in regularly muscle mass and growth.

What are Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

BCAAs refer to the three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are a subgroup of the nine EAAs and are considered the most anabolic.

Daily protein sources, such as eggs and meat, typically provide an adequate amount; however, they are frequently supplemented, especially by athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts, because of their role in muscle growth and development.

What are Non-essential Amino Acids?

Unlike essential amino acids, the body can produce non-essential amino acids(NEAAs), making them not crucial to consume in your diet. One exception of when you might be required to consume NEAAs in your diet would be during long-duration, intense exercise (triathlon, marathon etc).

The non-essential amino acids include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, histidine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. While the body can synthesize non-essential amino acids, various factors may influence their production, including diet, overall health, and certain medical conditions.

What are Conditional Amino Acids?

Conditional amino acids are a group of amino acids that are usually nonessential, meaning that our bodies can produce them.

However, these amino acids may become conditionally essential under certain conditions, such as illness, stress, or intense physical activity, requiring external sources for optimal functioning.

Examples of conditional amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, and tyrosine.

Supplementing with conditional amino acids during times of increased demand can support overall health and aid in recovery, ensuring that our bodies have the necessary building blocks to adapt and thrive in challenging circumstances.

Benefits of BCAA and EAA

BCAA and EAA supplements have been studied extensively for their potential benefits.

  1. Muscle growth: Both BCAA and EAA supplements have been shown to promote muscle protein synthesis, which is essential for muscle growth and repair.
  2. Exercise performance: Some studies suggest that amino acid supplementation may improve exercise performance by reducing fatigue, increasing endurance, and delaying the onset of muscle soreness.
  3. Recovery: BCAA and EAA supplements may help with muscle recovery by reducing muscle damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress after intense exercise.
  4. Weight loss: Some studies suggest that amino acid supplements may aid in weight loss by reducing appetite, increasing metabolism, and promoting fat loss.
  5. Brain function: BCAA and EAA supplements may also improve brain function by increasing neurotransmitter levels, which are essential for mood, memory, and cognitive function.

Recommended Dosage

The ideal daily dose of amino acids varies based on factors such as your physical size, body weight, lean body mass, activity level, and so on. A combination dose of all essential amino acids is recommended.

Recommended: 3-8 grams, between meals, once or twice daily

Although BCAA and EAA supplements are generally considered safe, some people may experience mild side effects like nausea, headaches, or diarrhea.

Frequently Asked Questions for Amino Acid Supplements

Can amino acid supplements help with muscle recovery after injury or surgery?

Amino acid supplements may support muscle recovery after injury or surgery by providing the necessary building blocks for tissue repair. However, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and recommendations.

Do amino acid supplements have any benefits for vegetarians or vegans?

Yes, amino acid supplements can be beneficial for vegetarians and vegans to ensure they meet their daily requirements for essential amino acids, particularly if their diet lacks sufficient protein diversity. Please note though, not all amino acid supplements are vegan friendly, so always best to check the label first.

How do I know if I need to supplement with amino acids?

If you're not getting enough protein from your diet or have increased protein needs due to factors like intense physical activity or recovery from illness or injury, supplementing with amino acids may be beneficial. Amino Acid supplements can be most useful during a cutting phase, allowing you to still fit protein into your diet in a low calorie way.

Can amino acid supplements be used for weight loss, and if so, how effective are they?

Amino acids can be useful in reducing appetite and supporting metabolism, which makes them useful for weight loss. Amino acid supplements are generally very low in calories too, making following a diet much easier. Of course, Amino acid supplements should be used as part of a comprehensive weight management plan, balanced diet and regular exercise.

Summary

Amino acids are essential for our health and well-being as they play vital roles in muscle growth, immune function, and recovery.

Supplementing these amino acids can support immune function, aid tissue repair, and optimize overall health and understanding the importance of these amino acids empowers us to make informed choices for our nutrition and well-being.

Still not sure what Amino Acid supplement is right for your training? Reach out to us or pop in-store!

References

  • Amino Science. (2018, April 5). How many grams of amino acids do you need a day?. The Amino Company. https://aminoco.com/blogs/amino-acids/many-grams-amino-acids-need-day

  • Examine.com. (2022, September 28). Essential amino acid (EAA) health benefits, dosage, safety, side-effects, and more: Supplements. Examine. https://examine.com/supplements/essential-amino-acids/

  • Examine.com. (2023, February 1). Branched-chain amino acids health benefits, dosage, safety, side-effects, and more: Supplements. Examine. https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/

  • Frank, K., & Nguyen, K. (2023, February 1). Branched-chain amino acids health benefits, dosage, safety, side-effects, and more: Supplements. Examine. https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/

  • Switch Nutrition . (2023). Eaas vs bcaas – you’re doing it wrong!!!! Switch Nutrition. https://switchnutrition.com.au/blogs/news/eaas-vs-bcaas-youre-doing-it-wrong


 

Authors: 
Teigen Faux, Exercise Physiologist (Honours)

Reviewed:
Stephen Brumwell, Nutritionist (ANTA #40048) for Scientific Accuracy

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