By Myprotein Writer Žiga Meh
When it comes to bodybuilding, fitness lifestyle and healthy nutrition, people tend to know everything about protein and almost nothing about amino acids… except that they are good for recovery. I would say that you could easily find a couple, if not more, gym rats who do not know that amino acids are basically structural units that make up protein. To put it simply…We get protein from food and as we digest it, protein is broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are then selectively put together to make specific protein chains that make up muscle fibres.
Why Are Amino Acids Important?
About twenty percent of the human body is made up of protein, including bones, skin, muscles, cartilage and some hormones. Protein is crucial in biological processes and amino acids are the building blocks of it. There are about 22 standard amino acids of which 9 are called essential amino acids. This means that the body cannot synthesize these amino acids or enough of them for normal growth and so they must be obtained from food or other supplements.
The Benefits of Amino Acids
Amino acids have a number of different benefits. The majority of our muscles and cells are made up of amino acids, meaning they act to help us perform many bodily functions, for example, several different metabolic processes and giving cells structure. They are essential in the transport and storage of nutrients, whilst also playing a role in the functioning of organs, tendons and arteries.
Amino Acids for Health and Well being
Amino acids are crucial for healing wounds and repairing tissue in bones, skin and muscles. Similar to vitamins and minerals, they are fundamental for our well-being and provide a source of fuel for health, growth and functioning of the body. Authors of the book ‘The Amino Revolution’, by Rober Erdmann and Meirion Jones, states: “Unfortunately, in the real world countless factors are working to prevent our bodies from receiving a full and balanced supply of these all-important substances. Among these factors are the pollution caused by burning fossil-fuels, the hormones fed to cattle, the intensive use of fertilizers in agriculture, and even habits such as smoking and drinking, all of which can prevent our bodies from fully using what we eat. Worse still is the amount of nutrition that is lost from our food through processing before we actually get to eat it…By providing the body with optimal nutrition, amino acids help to replace what is lost and, in doing so, promote well-being and vitality (1989).”
Amino Acids for Weight Loss and Muscle Gain
Usually people in the gym have two goals: gain weight (muscle) or lose weight (fat). Weight loss or fat loss is achieved when you burn more calories than you eat and amino acids, along with vitamins and minerals, play a role in it. If we dive into the details, amino acids help stimulate our body to produce fat-burning hormones and one of them is the growth hormone. It is responsible for protein synthesis and fat oxidation, however, it is very expensive to buy, and must be used under medical supervision, so it is safer to boost the production naturally. Some studies have shown that certain amino acids, if taken in appropriate quantities, can help with that. The three most notable are: Glutamine, Arginine and Methionine. As far as glutamine goes, one study showed that a high fat diet with glutamine supplementation ended with a loss of body fat. Glutamine can also boost the energy available to the muscles and decrease sugar cravings.
BCAA’s and Leucine
While most women want to lose that extra bit of fat, men mostly crave for bigger muscles- whereby leucine may be a big factor, according to Jeff S. Volek, a professor in The Human Performance Laboratory. Leucine is able to stimulate protein synthesis and the body is then able to build muscle easier and it can spare muscle when dieting. Leucine is one of the essential amino acids and it is one of the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are found in muscles (along with valine and isoleucine). BCAAs are used as fuel for muscles so their levels decrease after exercise. In the past amino acids were seen simply as substances needed to make muscle, but recent studies have shown that leucine is more than just a building block. As mentioned before, stimulating protein synthesis is key to building muscle and drinking whey protein after exercise increases that. Lately, scientists have shown that amino acids in the blood boost protein synthesis in muscles, mainly leucine. They researched protein synthesis on animals feeding them various formulations of amino acids. In the end, they found out that consuming just leucine had the same effect as consuming all the amino acids, coming away with the result that leucine was the driving force behind stimulating protein synthesis.
How Much Amino Acids Should I Take?
Now that you know what amino acids are, their benefits and how they work, you are probably wondering how much to take and where you can find them. The dosage depends on various things. When building muscle, the appropriate amount of protein should be between 1.2 to 2g per kilogram of body weight and a little bit more when losing weight to sustain muscle. From that protein you should get at least 2.5g and up to 8g of leucine a day. The dosage for isoleucine should be around 48-72mg per kilogram. All in all, the whole dose of combined BCAAs should range from 10g to 20g a day, depending on age, health of the individual, bodyweight and level of performance. As for the essential amino acids, a dose of around 10g a day is suggested.
These are rough guidelines and are based on my opinion, because there are no scientific studies on what is the ideal amount of amino acids to take. It varies, so the best advice I could give is to try it out yourself and adjust depending on your needs. If you feel like you do not build enough muscle or feel sore for days after a workout, increase the amount, but stay within reason.
Sources of Amino Acids
Besides the non-essential amino acids, which the body can produce itself, the main sources for essential amino acids are food, supplements and whey protein. The biggest amount of amino acids can be found in whole foods, like eggs, fish, chicken, turkey and lean beef. If in a certain day you do not have enough time to prepare meals, you can always drink a whey protein shake as this can deliver all the amino acids that you need for building muscle and recovery. Milk would also be a good alternative, because it is naturally loaded with BCAAs and sugar aids in recovery. The last option, which is likely to come in handy for those involved in a great deal of sport and exercise, is a BCAA supplement in the form of a powder, drink or tablet. If your diet consists of healthy and diverse food and your physical activity level is low to moderate you may not need to buy expensive supplements and there is not a lot of scientific evidence that would suggest supplements are a better source than food. However, during physical activity the demand for amino acids is increased whereby a BCAA supplement may come in handy. Instead of these BCAA supplements, I advise buying whey protein powder, if you do not get enough protein from food.
A Take Home Message
To sum up, amino acids are the staples of a healthy and fit life(style) and have countless benefits. Make sure you consume nutrient-dense food and that you get enough amino acids for whatever goal you are working towards.