Amino acids. What are they, and why should we worry about them? First of all, amino acids are the building blocks of muscles. Without amino acids, our muscles would never develop. So how do we make sure we get enough? And what kinds should we get?
What are amino Acids?
There are two types: essential, and non-essential (clever names, right?). Non-essential amino acids are those that our body has the potential to make on its own. That said, just because your body potentially can make them, doesn’t mean that it will. Your diet, activity level, and other environmental factors contribute to what amino acids your body produces, and how much of them it can produce.
Essential amino acids are those that our body cannot produce on its own, and must get from food, or supplements. Here are the essential amino acids (if you feel like writing this down, or checking labels on your supplements): Valine, Leucine, Isoleucine,Lysine, Tryptophan, Threonine, Methionine, and Phenylalanine.
The first three in that list are BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids). Because these amino acids are more complex, they can be broken down by the body during exercise. This can help spare your own muscles from breaking down during strenuous activity.
Do they improve performance?
Yes. In fact, a study done by the Australian Institute of Sport shows that taking BCAAs before exercise improved athlete performance by up to 10%.
They also found that daily supplementation of amino acids led to 5-6% strength gain in powerlifting athletes, as well as improved muscle gains for novice and professional powerlifting athletes (when compared to training alone).
How much should you take?
The scientific community seems a bit diverse on this opinion, but a minimum for a rarely active person would be around 15 mg per day. For someone trying to bulk, anything less than 1000 mg would be a waste (1000 being a minimum). For everyone else, you’re probably needing to fall somewhere in between that.
So where do we get them?
Well, food, first of all. Essential amino acids can be found in beef, eggs, turkey, soy, and most other meats. If you’re a vegetarian (or vegan), there are other alternatives. Soy would be the first, and best option. If you’re willing to take dairy products, you can get them there as well. If you’re strictly vegan, you can still get them from wheat products, hemp, or legumes.
If you’re serious about building muscle, or if your activity level is high, taking amino acid supplements is a recommended way to go. You can get the equivalent of a full day’s worth of essential amino acids in just one serving. If you’re heavy into weight lifting, a few servings per day (before, during, or even after training) is ideal. If you’re just hitting the mats every so often, they will still help you with recovery.
Most protein shakes will have some amino acids in them as well. Their content is fairly high, but a protein shake after a workout usually isn’t enough to give your body the amount of amino acids it needs.
So, who can take amino acids? Are they safe?
They are very safe and anyone can take them. They occur naturally within our own bodies, and in the foods that we eat. Almost any healthy food that you eat will have at least some amino acids in it.
The more you take in, the better your body can function under physical stress. So check the labels on your food and supplements to make sure you’re getting enough.