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Amino Acids

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What are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of the body that make up proteins. These make up the muscles, tendons, and organs, to name a few. All the cells in your body depend on them for growth and maintenance. The body can make some of the amino acids from other nutrients, but others it can’t. The body must get these amino acids from your diet. These are called essential amino acids (EAA) and include the Branched Chain Amino Acids (aka BCAA). As you can imagine, amino acids are key factors to good health and critical to athletic performance. If you don’t get your EAA from your diet, it will adversely affect your health and-your performance as an athlete. For a quick video about amino acids - watch here

What are their function / Benefits:
Help increase muscular size
Help increase strength
Help improve endurance & reduce fatigue
Help speedup recovery & reduce muscle soreness
Overall improved athletic performance 

There are hundreds of amino acids in nature, but only 21 are protein building (proteinogenic) in the human body - of which 9 are essential. 

Essential Amino Acids: Histidine, Isoleucine+, Leucine+, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine+

Non-essential or Conditionally Essential Amino Acids: Alanine, Arginine*, Aspartate (Aspartic Acid), Cysteine*, Glutamate (Glutamic Acid), Glutamine*, Glycine*, Proline*+, Serine*, Tyrosine*, Asparagine*, and Selenocysteine. *conditionally essential

NOTE: Pyrrolysine is considered the 22nd protein building amino acid but it’s not used in humans.

Diet & Supplementation
Amino acids can be plentiful in the diet, so long as you eat balanced meals with foods rich in amino acids – such as chicken, fish, meat, nuts, lentils, dairy, and whole grains. Whey protein also has a rich amino acid profile – featuring the highest biological value of any protein (which means the EAAs are absorbed and used efficiently compared to other sources). It also offers the highest concentration of BCAAs of any dietary source of protein – with about 26g of BCAAs per 100g of protein. For vegans, pea protein is a great alternative, offering a complete array of amino acids, including BCAAs. 

For added benefits, amino acid supplements offer isolated amino acids or groups of isolated amino acids (such as BCAAs) in higher levels than typically offered in protein supplements. This is where it gets fun, and the athlete can take specific supplements with specific goals in mind.

Examples of athletes using amino acid supplementation would be the endurance runner or cyclist looking for an extra boost during training or competition – using beta-alanine to help boost energy production during training or a race. Using this amino acid would help improve muscle strength and endurance, as well as delay fatigue. Another example is a CrossFitter using a BCAA supplement to support both muscle building and performance during training and competition, as well as supporting recovery and rebuilding of muscle tissues. 

Common Amino Acids used in sports nutrition products:

Beta-alanine: This amino acid benefits both strength and cardiovascular performance and has been shown to improve muscle endurance, reduce lactic acid burn, and increase muscle recovery.  Products such as Proven Nutrition’s BETA and Beta Red Pre-Workouts Performance Formula focus on this amino acid. These products are most often taken pre-workout and during long hours training. 

L-Glutamine: This amino acids helps support the body’s production and regulation of human-growth hormone, which helps accelerate the rate of muscle growth. Other benefits include digestive health, immune health, and antioxidant defense. An example of this would be taking an L-glutamine Powder and is best taken post workout, but can also be taken before and after intense workouts to help avoid muscle fatigue.  

Citrulline Malate: This amino acid has been shown to improve circulation, reduce fatigue, improve physical endurance, improve muscle recovery, and reduce muscle soreness. L-Citrulline is converted to L-Arginine in the kidneys, and is more effective at increasing L-Arginine levels in the body, than L-Arginine supplementation. An example of this amino acid supplement is Proven Nutrition's CITRULLINE and CORE. This is best used pre-workout.

Aspartic Acid: This is an amino acid regulator of testosterone synthesis and is shown to increase levels of testosterone without the side-effect of increased estrogen. It also helps improve male fertility and sperm quality. An example of this is Proven Nutrition's D-AA Testosterone Booster which is taken daily. 

BCAA’s – BCAA's are branched chain amino acids  and are directly related to muscle building and maintenance. They also help prevent muscle breakdown during rigorous exercise. BCAA's are referring to the three essential amino acids - leucine, valine, and isoleucine. Read a full article on BCAA’s here. Examples of products featuring BCAAs include Klean BCAA + Peak ATP, GU Roctane BCAA capsules, Roctane Energy Drink Mix, and RECOVERY Amino Power Capsules. BCAAs can be taken before, during and after workouts. 

Leucine: This is the most effective EAA when it comes to muscle growth and is a BCAA. It is responsible for the regulation of blood sugar levels and the growth and repair of tissues in the skin, bones, and skeletal muscle. Leucine is not only a building block for protein, but also signals your muscles to increase protein synthesis. Examples of products that contain this amino acid include all BCAA products as well as GU Roctane Energy Gel and PhysioPhyx LPR. 

This BCAA promotes muscle recovery, as well as regulates blood-sugar levels and stimulates HGH release. 

Valine: This amino acid helps the repair and growth of muscle tissues and is also a BCAA. 

Taurine: This is a sulfur-containing amino acid that is naturally found throughout the body and assists in regulating the heartbeat and muscle contractions, as well as neurotransmitters in the brain. It helps protect against muscle cramping, and can also increase mental alertness and concentration. Lastly, it is associated with increases in VO2 max and helps reduce lactic acid buildup, which is key for athletes. An example of a product using Taurine is Hammer Nutrition's Fully Charged. This product is best used pre-workout. 

Bottom Line

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are necessary for the building, maintenance and recovery of muscle tissues. Every athlete, no matter what the sport, can benefit from amino acids – both rich in the diet and through supplementation. 

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