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What Are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are essentially the building blocks of protein, which are required for many important functions and processes within the human body. There are 22 standard amino acids which can be grouped together to become these proteins. There are also non standard amino acids which aren’t involved in the protein making process. Of the 22 standard amino acids, 20 are found in the human body. Of those 20, nine are considered essential amino acids; that is we must consume them in our diet as they cannot be synthesised in the body. The other 11 can be synthesised from the essential amino acids. Some amino acids are also termed conditionally essential amino acids; that is they become essential only during certain circumstances such as during illness or in infancy.

Where Do Amino Acids Come From?

Amino Acids can be found in many foods, from plant based to animal meats. Animal meats are considered the best source of amino acids and the most bioavailable (easiest to absorb) as well as the most complete; that is, all of the amino acids are present. Plants however generally don’t contain all the amino acids and the amino acids are considered less easily absorbed. There are however exceptions such as soy and quinoa to name a few.

Amino Acid Benefits

As amino acids are the building blocks of protein and protein is present in all cells and tissues of our body, one can see why amino acids are absolutely necessary for everyday wellbeing and proper functioning. On top of that certain increased intakes of amino acids can be useful such as arginine during times of illness and for wound healing or cysteine which has some antioxidant potential and has been studied for its ability to reduce some negative effects of excess alcohol consumption. However, the most important use for amino acids is for muscle repair, muscle recovery & muscle growth.

Amino Acid Benefits for Bodybuilding

Humans require a certain amount of protein per day as our body uses up a certain amount of protein per day for normal functioning. If we do not consume enough protein, the body grabs the protein from our muscles which can be detrimental and result in muscle loss. As bodybuilding and any other exercise increases the breakdown of proteins, anyone wanting to maintain muscle mass or build muscle mass requires protein, either in whole form or as amino acids. Correct timing of amino acid supplementation can help maximally stimulate muscle growth.1 The branched chain amino acids of leucine, valine and isoleucine are also considered great for recovery purposes.

Amino Acid Negatives & Side Effects?

Generally speaking, there are little negative side effects to increased amino acid consumption or supplementation. However some amino acids such as tyrosine, at high doses can cause unwanted symptoms such as increased heart beat, palpitations, etc. Usually, excess amino acids are either used up, excreted or stored as fat. Increased reliance on amino acid supplements, especially incomplete formulas can mean that the body is not getting enough of another amino acid or another nutrient. This is most often the case when someone relies too heavily on supplementation over food sources of amino acids.

Amino Acids Recommended Doses & Ingredient Timing

The current Australian guidelines for healthy adults is to consume at least 0.8g/kg of bodyweight of protein per day. So if you were 80kg, you would need to consume at least 64g of protein. The more physically active you are, the more protein you need to consume. While there are certain circumstances where you need a large amount of protein, 2g/kg of bodyweight of protein is more than enough for even the most intense trainers. Studies have also been able to show that the essential amino acids are perhaps the most important portion of protein for muscle growth and recovery. Current recommendations are for at least 6-20g of essential amino acids to be consumed within 3 hours post workout for maximum muscle gains. Amino acids can also be taken during and before workouts to aid in recovery and growth.

Amino Acid Supplements

There are hundreds of amino acid supplements. These supplements can range from single amino acid supplements to blends to branched chain amino acid supplements to protein powders, pre-workouts and other nutritional supplements containing added amino acids.

Stacking Amino Acids

One can stack amino acids with most supplements from protein powders to fat loss supplements to pre-workouts. Before considering buying an amino acid supplement, talk to a trained professional to see if the supplement is right for you.

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1. Kreider RB, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Campbell B, Almada AL, Collins R, Cooke M, Earnest CP, Greenwood M, Kalman DS, Kerksick CM, Kleiner SM, Leutholtz B, Lopez H, Lowery LM, Mendel R, Smith A, Spano M, Wildman R, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN, Antonio J. ‘ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations.’ J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Feb 2;7:7.
2. National Health & Medical Research Council - Nutrient Reference Values - http://www.nrv.gov.au/ - Last Accessed 4/5/12


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