There is a small section of the fitness community who troll social media writing statements like ‘Amino Acids don’t work’ or that ‘Amino Acids are a waste of money’ and there is a small amount of truth to this, depending on who and what your goals are. This is a very important point.
Today we want to clear this issue up.
It’s our job as a responsible business to lay out the facts and to put all sides of the argument in context so individuals can make up their own minds and figure out what plan of action fits best for them.
It's also important for us to push back against scientific dogma/broscience where particular cohorts have ideas and viewpoints and think everyone should train and eat exactly the same as them. This is not how the real world works, no matter how much anyone thinks it.
We are all individuals who have their own specific goals, genetics, and environmental variation, and what works for you doesn’t necessarily work well for someone else, who is completely different.
Knowledge and science is relatively easy to gain in the first part of the equation, the application of that science in the real world is a little bit tricker and this is where those individuals normally come unstuck.
So let's get into it….
What are Amino Acids
Amino acid are the building blocks of all the protein inside all living things (including yourself). They are important for repair and growth and make up a large % of your body's non water weight. They are the building blocks of life essentially.
There are 21 amino acids that you are made from (depending on who you talk to, see image below) but there are many many more in the natural environment.
Each Amino Acids has a primary role and function in the body alongside multiple other roles. This is what makes each one unique. They are critical for normally healthy functioning.
Of the 21 there are 9 you must get from your diet, these are the essential amino acids, your body must obtain these through the food you eat. The other 12 can still be obtained from the diet but can also be manufactured by your body using the 9 essential amino acids.
Protein when consumed is broken down into amino acids in your digestive system and these can then be used by the body, that's why protein is important to consume regularly. Alongside this, there is no way to store protein or amino acids so regular consumption is important for optimal functioning.
Do Amino Acids work?
In short, yes Amino Acids work, as you can read from the above information, they are important in all bodily processes and for you to be alive and reading this. So yes, they work. This is where the trolls come unstuck because their argument is a blanket term for all amino acids.
To say that they don’t work is a ludicrous statement, as your body is consuming, manufacturing and using them all the time to stay alive.
Yes, most of the Amino Acids that you need, should be obtained from the protein you consume regularly in your diet. But free form amino acids supplements can also be used at specific times in specific situations to give athletes or certain health disorders particular unique benefits.
Doing this is in no way a replacement for optimal nutrition and protein consumption, it's exactly what it says on the tin, a supplement to a good diet. Supplements can be very powerful and helpful in real-world situations when perfect dietary conditions cannot be achieved.
With over 300,000 articles on google scholar looking at there effects during exercise, there are lots of arguments for and against. The real question is 'why are you using them and what is your goal?'
Why would someone say that ‘Amino Acids don’t work?’
This is where we can actually help individuals to define their argument, so it's specific and valid. Anyone with this viewpoint actually means something else.
There is a certain group of Amino Acids called the BCAA’s, these are 3 of the 9 essential amino acids and these are probably the most widely known about and sold Amino Acid product in the sport supplement market, as they have played a large role in the bodybuilding communities recent history. And as part of this have made there way into the mainstream in recent years.
People who aren’t in the know will assume that BCAA’s are synonymous with all amino acids and vice versa, rather than scientifically understand that they are only 3 or the 21 that you're body is currently made from.
The reason BCAA’s became popular is because of evidence in the 80’s and 90’s to show that they switch on muscle protein synthesis and tell the muscle to repair itself. And this science is still true, BCAA’s do play a role in switching on our muscle cells for repair, especially leucine. BUT what a lot of the most up to date evidence is showing is that this process is not as effective for switching on and sustaining muscle repair when the BCAA’s aren’t supported by the rest of the essential amino acids.
This leads people who have done some research to call out Amino Acids saying that they are ineffective, when actually they mean that the BCAA’s are not as effective as essential amino acids (EAA's) or a complete protein source for switching on and sustaining the repair process.
Alongside this, a second factor is that the majority of people who claim that Amino Acids don’t work are focused on predominantly building muscle and bodybuilding type training. Their focus is to grow, and grow as large as possible.
From the science we know the main way to pack on size is to increase your calorie intake from food and so using a BCAA supplement, which is low in calories, doesn’t on the surface end up helping their particular goal (although it will help to stimulate protein synthesis) there may be better nutrition tools to aid this goal like mass gainer shakes.
But just because it doesn’t necessarily help their main goal, they then think that everyone who trains is looking to build muscle and grow and this is far from the truth.
They need to consider that there are multiple goals like getting leaner, improving your health, and improving your performance in a sport and Amino Acids can play a large role in each of these other categories. Let us be clear, its not just about growth, size and building muscle, only a small but noisy percentage of athletes want this out come.
Only a small percentage of athletes can eat 6 protein-focused meals regularly throughout the day, while getting optimal hydration and sleep. It's just unrealistic to assume that this is normal, it's not for the average gym go-er or athlete.
In conclusion, yes Amino Acids work, of the 21 that our bodies are made from they all have a specific role and function to play to make life what it is.
We want to get most of our amino acids for growth and repair from a healthy balanced diet and this means eating protein regularly as it cannot be stored.
On top of this consistent intake of protein for normally growth repair and optimal functioning of cells, free form Amino Acid supplements (alongside any supplement that science proves works) can be used at specific times to give a desired effect.
EAA can be a very powerful intra-workout tool.
And in certain dietary cases these needs must be supported even more e.g vegans, elite athletics, dietary restrictions.
This is in no way a replacement of good nutrition and diet, this is to aid and support a particular goal.
There is no magic bullet but you will achieve a lot by selecting diet first, supplements second.
Amino acids DO NOT need to be used by everyone, but they can be an effective tool for optimising specific goals for certain individuals when used properly.
The key is to understand the individual athletes and their needs and not just throwing out blanket dogmatics ideas based on what you think works for you. Learn first and apply second.
We hope this helps. Got a question email [email protected] and we will get back to you.