Want to protect your gains in the gym and give your muscles what they need to grow? Amino acids could be the key to achieving your goals. Read on to find out more.
When at rest, our bodies’ breakdown of muscle protein exceeds the rate at which it builds protein (also known as protein synthesis). When this is the case, you won’t be able to build muscle.
Exercise, such as resistance training, activates your body's muscle protein synthesis mechanism, putting you on the road to gaining muscle. You'll still need to consume the appropriate nutrients, such as amino acids alongside a calorie-excess diet, in order to grow muscle.
Amino acids play an important role in muscle growth, and can also help reduce muscle protein breakdown and damage. They can also supply energy to muscles during a workout, helping to maintain strength. Additionally, some amino acids have been shown to have nootropic effects, promoting neurotransmitters involved with energy, focus, neural drive and cognition.
So if you’re looking to bulk up, supplementation with amino acids can help.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are known as the ‘building blocks’ of protein, which is the foundation for building muscle.
Your body needs 21 different amino acids to function correctly. They are used in most of your body’s processes, because they form proteins, hormones and enzymes, as well as providing vital energy to your cells.
9 of these 21 amino acids are called essential amino acids (EAAs) as they are essential to obtain from our diet because they cannot be synthesized in the body. Whereas the other 11, although still required for the formation of proteins are not essential to get from our diet because they can be synthesized in the body in a healthy individual.
Good natural sources of EAAs include lean meat, eggs and soy products, such as tofu and edamame beans. Excess amino acids are not stored in the human body, like fats and starch (glycogen) so they need to be consistently on a daily basis.
Essential and Nonessential Amino Acids
The 9 EAAs are Leucine*, Isoleucine*, Valine*, Phenylalanine, Methionine, Histidine, Lysine, Threonine, Tryptophan. 3 of them * (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). They are specific types of EAAs and have a branched molecular structure – hence the name. They are particularly important for muscle gain.
The non-essential amino acids are: Alanine, Asparagine, Aspartic acid, Glutamic acid, Glutamine*, Arginine*, Cysteine*, Tyrosine*, Glycine*, Ornithine*, Proline*, Serine*. 8 of these * are considered as conditional amino acids, a relatively new classification. These amino acids are produced only under specific circumstances, typically when your body is fighting off an illness or dealing with stress.
Both essential and non-essential amino acids play an important role to support our life.
Non-proteinogenic amino acids and amino acid derivatives
Amino acids are not just limited to those above-mentioned 21 that make up the human body and animal protein, nearly 500 amino acids have been identified in nature. Sometimes these are referred to as non-proteinogenic amino acids.
Although non-proteinogenic amino acids are not used as protein synthesis building blocks, they can still have significant nootropic and functional advantages for the human body, particularly when it comes to enhancing athletic performance and muscle growth. Some examples include L-theanine, L-citrulline, L-carnitine, Creatine, Beta-alanine, Gamma-aminobutyric acid and Taurine.
Why are amino acids important for muscle growth?
Amino acids are important for muscle growth because they can help stimulate protein synthesis, provide energy and prevent muscle breakdown.
While resistance training puts your body into muscle protein synthesis mode, it needs nutrients to ensure that the balance falls into muscle building’s favour. This is known as an anabolic response. When combined with exercise, amino acids have an additive effect on muscle protein synthesis.
Research has shown that the signal for the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis is the extracellular concentration of one or more EAA. For example, a study in 2002 found that an orally administered dose of EAAs taken after resistance training led to the stimulation of net muscle and protein synthesis after exercise. This has also been found to be the case among older individuals, with research showing that EAA supplementation improved both lean body mass and basal muscle protein synthesis in elderly people.
Research has also revealed that amino acids can reduce muscle protein breakdown and damage. A 2017 research review found that there was evidence for BCAAs being effective for recovery and minimising muscle damage caused by exercise. A more recent systematic review in 2020 also concluded that BCAAs were capable of reducing delayed onset muscle stiffness (DOMS) in trained subjects, boosting their recovery.
Amino acids’ ability to supply muscles with energy during a workout can also help to maintain strength. For instance, one study published in 2018 found that the ingestion of EAAs before a weightlifting workout led to the research group having more strength in their biceps than the control group who were given a placebo.
READ MORE: Top 10 benefits of amino acids
How can you use amino acids to help you build more muscle?
Amino acids can be gained from protein-rich foods such as chicken and tofu, but they can also be added to your diet via supplements in the form of free-form EAAs in drinks and whey-based protein drinks, for example.
While rich in protein and amino acids, dietary sources of EAAs can be slower to enter your system because they must be digested first. This means that they are not always ideal to consume directly before or after your workout. As a source of protein, whey-based protein drinks will also take some digestion, as well any EAAs produced in tablet form.
Free-form amino acids, however, such as the EAAs found in our Amino RECOVERY and are absorbed more quickly.
In terms of timing, studies have shown that consuming EAAs during or within 30 mins of a workout, can be very helpful by helping to mitigate the breakdown of muscle and any soreness after your workout.
If you struggle with energy and motivation to get to the gym to lift sometimes a caffeinated pre-workout may help like our Amino FOCUS. We've included amino acids such as Tyrosine, Theanine and Citrulline due to their nootropic effects in promoting the neurotransmitters involved with energy, focus, neural drive and cognition.
READ MORE: Nutrition Tips To Build Lean Muscle
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