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Guide to Amino Acids

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Guide to Amino Acids

by Antihero

With the abundance of supplements being touted and introduced in recent times, amino acids have been cast aside and aren’t being included in supplement regimen’s as much as they used to be. There are thousands of supplements on the market, but few are as underrated as the amino acids. Time and time again, I have been asked the many questions related to them, which most commonly are:

1. What is an amino acid?
2. How many amino acids are there?
3. What are EAA’s (Essential Amino Acids) and what do they do?
4. What are Non-Essential Amino Acids, and what do they do?
5. When should I take amino acids?

Hopefully, this article will answer any and all questions on relation to the use and supplementation of each amino acid.

1. What is an amino acid?
In relation to chemistry, an amino acid is a molecule that contains both an amine and carboxyl group. Without getting too far into biochemistry, understand that this is the basis of the amino acids, but the positioning of atoms within this chain is what dictates what the final amino acid will be. More importantly (at least for this article), amino acids are the “building blocks” of protein and have many different individual effects on your metabolism.

2. How many amino acids are there?
There are 20 total amino acids, and each one of them is required for the body to perform certain functions. The 20 amino acids can be broken down into two groups: Essential Amino Acids and Non-Essential Amino Acids. Essential amino acids are named as such because you must take them in through your diet, however non-essential amino acids can be synthesized in the body (meaning your body can break down other amino acids to manufacture the ones you need).

3. What are EAA’s (Essential Amino Acids) and what do they do?
There are 8 Essential Amino Acids, they are: Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. Each one of them has a specific function in the body and must be taken in through diet.

Isoleucine
Isoleucine is one of 3 Branch-Chain Amino Acids (more commonly referred to as BCAA’s). Isoleucine plays an important role in promoting muscle growth and recovery when taken after physical exercise. Aside from that, it is also needed in the formation of hemoglobin, as well as helping regulate blood sugar and energy levels, and in blood clot formation.

Leucine
Leucine is another one of the 3 Branch-Chain Amino Acids. Leucine is the “jack of many trades” so to speak. It is responsible for: decreasing the rate of protein degradation, increasing protein synthesis, preserve muscle glycogen, and maintain a positive nitrogen balance. Because of all the functions of this amino acid, it’s easy to see why it is so important to athletes and bodybuilders.

Lysine
Lysine is important due to its role in producing carnitine. Lysine helps to allow the body to absorb and conserve calcium and aids in the formation of collagen. Collagen is used in the formation of skin, bones, tendons, and cartilage.

Methionine
Methionine is used in the breakdown of fats, as well as aiding the digestive system and removing heavy metals from the body. It is also helpful as an antioxidant, and is one of three amino acids needed for the body to create creatine monohydrate.

Phenylalanine
Phenylalanine plays a role in protein synthesis, promotes a positive nitrogen balance, and is a metabolic precursor of tyrosine.
~ Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a condition in which someone lacks the enzyme that breaks down phenylalanine. For this reason, people with PKU need to limit their intake of aspartame and other phenylalanine containing products.

Threonine
Threonine is utilized to promote proper function of the liver, cardiovascular system, central nervous system, and immune system. It also aides in building tooth enamel and bones, as well as speeding the healing of wounds and recovery from injury

Tryptophan
Tryptophan is required in the production of niacin and serotonin. Serotonin is most noted for it’s effects on promoting healthy and restful sleep as well as elevating and stabilizing mood.

Valine
Valine is the third of the Branch-Chain Amino Acids. It is important in stimulation repair and growth of muscle tissue, in addition to promoting a positive nitrogen balance. Valine can be used as an energy source, which spares the glycogen stores in the muscles.

4. What are Non-Essential Amino Acids and what do they do?
Non-Essential Amino Acids do not need to be obtained through diet. The body has the ability to breakdown other amino acids to manufacture any of these when you don’t have high enough amounts already available. The 12 Non-Essential Amino Acids are: Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartate, Cysteine, Glutamate, Glutamine, Glycine, Histidine, Proline, Serine, and Tyrosine.

Alanine
Alanine is used for transferring nitrogen between tissues and increases the use of blood sugar as an energy source.

Arginine
Arginine is most commonly known for its vasodialation properties, but it also helps to speed wound healing, enhance sperm production, and prevent muscle wasting. This is another of the 3 amino acids required in the production of creatine.

Asparagine
Asparagine promotes healthy metabolism and nervous system function.

Aspartate
Aspartate has been shown to increase endurance, and increase resistance to fatigue. It also aids in the construction and synthesis of other amino acids.

Cysteine
Cysteine is used for detoxification of the body, as well as promoting collagen production. It is also required in the production of taurine as well as being a component of glutathione.

Glutamate
Glutamate is used by the body as a neuro-transmitter which opens the receptors for sodium and calcium.

Glutamine
Glutamine has been proven to support healthy immune system function as well as reduce muscle deterioration. In recent studies, it has been shown to have cell-volumizing effects.

Glycine
Glycine helps promote muscle repair and growth in addition to assisting in the conversion of glucose to energy. It also is essential for the functioning of the digestive system by regulating synthesis of bile, as well as being responsible for collagen production. Glycine is the third amino acid required for the body to produce creatine.

Histidine
Histidine is mostly used to produce and repair the sheaths that surround nerve cells. It is also an important component of proper sexual function.

Proline
Proline is necessary in the production and maintenance of collagen and cartilage. It has also been shown to have muscle sparing effects.

Serine
Serine is utilized in fatty acid metabolism, healthy immune system function, maintenance of myelin sheaths, production of tryptophan, and muscle formation.

Tyrosine
Tyrosine helps to regulate mood, speed up metabolism, and stimulate the nervous system. It is involved in the creation of chemicals that control appetite, pain sensitivity, and the body’s reaction to stress.

5. When should I take amino acids?
Amino acid supplementation is going to be most effective pre, intra, and post-workout. That will supply your body with a steady amount of free form amino acids for quick use while you are training and to begin recovery as soon as possible when finished training. Taking an amino acid supplement first thing in the morning can also be a good idea because your body has been in a state of catabolism throughout the night. However, there is no reason to take an amino acid supplement before bed because free form amino acids do not elevate blood concentrations of the amino acids for a long enough period of time to be beneficial.

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Sources:
1) “Isoleucine amino acid information page”. Salamander Concepts. November 27, 2008 <http://www.anyvitamins.com/isoleucine-info.htm>.
2) “Essential Amino Acids”. Wikipedia. November 27, 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essential_amino_acid>.
3) “Amino Acids”. Wikipedia. November 27, 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amino_acid>.
4) South, Clayton. “L-Leucine (C6H13NO2)”. November 27, 2008 <http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/southfacts_lleucine.htm>.
5) “Lysine”. University of Maryland Medical Center. November 27, 2008 <http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/lysine-000312.htm>.
6) “Methionine Amino Acid Information Page”. Sallamander Concepts. November 27, 2008 <http://www.anyvitamins.com/methionine-info.htm>.
7) Kreutz, Serge. “Phenylalanine”. November 27, 2008 <http://phenylalanine.net/>.
8) “Threonine”. VitaminStuff. November 27, 2008 <http://www.vitaminstuff.com/amino-acid-threonine.html>.
9) “Tryptophan Amino Acid Information Page”. Sallamander Concepts. November 27, 2008 <http://www.anyvitamins.com/tryptophan-info.htm>.
10) “Valine Amino Acid Information Page”. Sallamander Concepts. November 27, 2008 <http://www.anyvitamins.com/valine-info.htm>.
11) South, Clayton. “L-Alanine”. November 27, 2008 <http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/southfacts_alanine.htm>.
12) “Arginine (L-Arginine)”. MayoClinic. November 27, 2008 <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/l-arginine/NS_patient-arginine>.
13) South, Clayton. “Aspartic Acid”. November 27, 2008 <http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/aspartic.html>.
14) “Cysteine Amino Acid Information Page”. Sallamander Concepts. November 27, 2008 <http://www.anyvitamins.com/cysteine-info.htm>.
15) South, Clayton. “Glutamine”. November 27, 2008 <http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/glutamine.html>.
16) “The Amino Acid Glycine”. VitaminStuff. November 27, 2008 <http://www.vitaminstuff.com/amino-acid-glycine.html>.
17) “The Amino Acid Histidine”. VitaminStuff. November 27, 2008 <http://www.vitaminstuff.com/amino-acid-histidine.html>.
18) “The Amino Acid Proline”. VitaminStuff. November 27, 2008 <http://www.vitaminstuff.com/amino-acid-proline.html>.
19) “The Amino Acid Serine”. VitaminStuff. November 27, 2008 <http://www.vitaminstuff.com/amino-acid-serine.html>.
20) “The Amino Acid Tyrosine”. VitaminStuff. November 27, 2008 <http://www.vitaminstuff.com/amino-acid-tyrosine.html>.

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