Amino Acids/BCAAs

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Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins... Learn more.

1. What are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Indeed, amino acids are the alphabet of life, combining to form protein structures including muscle tissue, enzymes and hormones.

What makes amino acids, which combine to form proteins, different from other macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats)? The reason they are called "amino acids" is that they all contain an amino group (NH2) attached to an acidic carboxyl group (COOH) and an organic side group (R). Carbohydrates and fats do not contain an amino group.

Amino acids are a remarkable and essential component of our genetic code and are present in every single cell in our bodies. Thus, amino acids are involved in a number of metabolic pathways that effect the breakdown of food and growth.

2. What are the different types of Amino Acids?

Amino acids are either essential (must be derived from one's diet), nonessential (can be synthesized within the body from the breakdown of proteins and other amino acids) or conditionally essential (amino acids which cannot be synthesized in certain situations and therefore must be consumed).

20 amino acids are important for humans. Nine of which are generally regarded as essential. They are: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, histidine, valine and phenylalanine. The nonessential amino acids are: alanine, serine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid and proline.

The amino acids considered conditionally essential are: arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine and tyrosine. Although they are not normally required in the diet, certain populations may require food sources to receive these amino acids as they may not synthesize them in adequate amounts.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's), a group of three essential amino acids, are different from the other 17 amino acids in that in one of their roles, they are a primary source of fuel for skeletal muscles. This makes them of particular value and importance to elite athletes as far as sports supplements are concerned. The branched chain amino acids are: valine, leucine, and isoleucine.

Essential Amino Acids Non-Essential Amino Acids Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
Valine* Alanine Arginine
Isoleucine* Serine Cysteine
Leucine* Aspartic acid Glycine
Lysine Cysteine Glutamine
Methionine Glutamic Acid Tyrosine
Phenylalanine Proline  
* Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's)

3. What are the best sources of Amino Acids?

In order for protein to be used most efficiently in the body, all of the essential amino acids must be present. A complete protein is one that contains all of the essential amino acids where as an incomplete protein does not. Examples of complete proteins, high in essential amino acids, are animal-based proteins such as chicken, beef, pork, fish, milk, cheese, as well as milk proteins such as whey, casein, egg and plant-based soy protein. Additionally, two incomplete proteins such as beans and rice may be combined to form a complete protein. Consuming optimal amounts of amino acids including essential, conditionally essential and nonessential amino acids will aid you in your quest to maintain a healthy body.

Contrary to popular belief, an adequate daily intake of essential amino acids can be obtained entirely from plant sources although it requires more of a conscious effort. If the vegetarian diet has sufficient variety and planning and contains adequate amounts of legumes, soy protein, seeds and nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables, then the recommended daily allowance of protein can be achieved. Vegetarians who consume eggs and milk products are much less likely to have a deficiency.

Some of the best sources of amino acids are protein shakes and energy bars, which are specifically formulated to have an ideal balance of essential amino acids to be effectively used within the body. Additionally, high-quality amino acid supplements in the form of tablets and powders are available from

4. What do Amino Acids do and what scientific studies give evidence to support this?

As previously mentioned, amino acids are the primary constituents of an array of structures vital to life. Amino acids may be linked together via peptide bonds to form proteins used by the body for anabolic purposes, assisting in the growth and repair of body tissues. They may also be broken down and used as energy in catabolic reactions.

Supplementing one's diet with additional amino acids can be highly beneficial, enhancing muscle tissue growth and serving as an energy source available during exercise. Due to the incredible efficiency of the human body, if adequate amino acids are not available during an intense workout, the body may start to cannibalize muscle tissue to make up for the deficit. That's why pre-workout amino acid supplementation and the postworkout anabolic window is vitally important for maintaining positive nitrogen balance and building muscle mass with protein (amino acids) consumption.

One study found that when a group of individuals was split up and given either 40 g of essential amino acids or a placebo, then followed an identical resistance training program, the group taking amino acids showed greater muscle growth.

A follow-up study was then conducted with the same protocols, except this time with 6 g of essential amino acids and 36 g of sucralose taken either pre-workout, postworkout, or at both times. what is interesting is that the data shows that group that consumed the essential amino acid and sugar combination before exercise produced a 158% greater anabolic effect than those who consumed it immediately after training (International Journal Of Sports Nutrition And Exercise Metabolism, 109-32. 2001). This study suggests that not only do amino acids assist muscle growth and energy for resistance training individuals, but the best time to consume this particular mixture is pre-workout.

5. Who needs Amino Acids and how much should be taken? Are there any side effects or symptoms of deficiency?

Everyone needs a daily amount of amino acids to live. Amino acids can be particularly beneficial to hard training athletes and bodybuilders bulking up who are looking to put on excess muscle mass.

Because the body cannot make or store essential amino acids, they must be consumed in one's diet daily. The RDA for protein (amino acids) for men and women is 0.83 g of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.377 g per pound of body weight); however, an athlete's protein (amino acids) requirements may be higher due to the constant protein breakdown caused by training.

Although it's debatable the adequate or optimal level of protein consumption, many personal trainers, sports doctors and scientists now recommend 1.2 to 1.8 g per kilogram of body weight for those who regularly exercise; depending on a persons type of training, intensity, duration, frequency, overall caloric intake and body composition goals.

Deficiencies are rare because most people consume enough amino acids in the average diet. Those who are at risk from amino acid deficiency and may benefit from amino acid supplementation are people on low calorie diets, vegetarians, people with allergies or stress-related diseases and people with hypoglycemia. Other people who may show signs of amino acid deficiency could be people with trouble digesting food. This could be due to a lack of digestive enzymes, which are synthesized by the body combining amino acids; but they may also be supplemented.

Excess protein consumption is generally not a major concern with amino acid supplements. Take your game to the next level in your quest for health and fitness with amino acid supplements from!

Author: Travis Smith, 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.